I experienced a bit of a religious crisis in 2018, anger and retributive wrath against injustice made me question whether I was even making the right choices for myself and the direction I am going for my spiritual growth. Accepting the call to worship Óðinn entails a considerable amount of growing pains. Being the god of knowledge, Óðinn reveals what must be known in order to accomplish the goal of preventing Ragnarök, and the more I learn the more there is to understand.
It’s easy to romanticize the Vikings and their way of life, there is so much that’s good! Their women had equal say in their communities, women had the power to divorce their husbands and own property, they had equal representation in court, and if a woman said “this man assaulted me” then her word was taken as absolute truth. There’s a story of a woman who went to her father-in-law and complained to him that her husband hit her, and he flew into such a rage that he killed his own son, just to restore her honor.
There is more to the legacy of Vikings that is hard to justify though, and it’s hard to feel at peace with the facts of reality of the past. The Germanic peoples kept slaves, and abused them terribly. They weren’t all women stolen from their homes from far away lands, these were also women from their own countries, neighboring villages, and even their own communities too. A woman who stole from a man could become his slave. Ibn Fadlan gives an honestly very horrifying accounting of the ritual burial rites of a Viking Cheiftan, and the “honor” bestowed upon one of his slave girls, destined to follow him into the afterlife. I wont recount it myself because it was very triggering for me, but it was a lesson that needed to be learned by anyone who wishes to follow the Heathen path.
It is taking some serious soul-searching to understand what it is that Óðinn could even want from me, or find valuable from a woman as a modern follower who would find all of this history of female sacrifice to be morally disturbing. How can one wear a Mjölnir with pride and also call themselves a feminist? A moral contradiction to say the least, to praise the gods that have the blood of sacrifice on their altars and give thanks to the ancestors who created the patriarchy we exist in, and yet personally stand against the tide of misogyny and misunderstanding in a modern world.
Through a delicate confluence of past and present, there is a new paradigm I’ve witnessed emerging from the ideas of others who also embrace progressive reconstructionist beliefs: we can rebuild on what was good before to make something new and vital, without also resurrecting old elements that would smother progressive ideals. Óðinn is not a god that wants the past to repeat itself, and history must be studied for the mistakes that should not be repeated. Óðinn’s embracing and love of femininity is not only reflected in his historical accounting of drumming with the völva in women’s garb, but his current reaching out specifically to women who are brave and confident. He’s a god that many men caution to stay away from or be fearful of, but honestly Óðinn is the type of deity to be disdainful of such dissuasive treatment of women following their faith, and the men who perpetuate it. He’s a god of war that understands that there is more to war than bloodshed on the battlefield, it’s also a labor of protecting what you love.
This post was helped with a lot of reflection given to the work and writings of Dyanne and and her fantastic archaeology blog on Tumblr, https://dyannehs.tumblr.com/ , and Diana Paxson’s publication https://hrafnar.org/articles/dpaxson/norse/odin-women/, to which I often reference when discussing Odin, and his nuanced characteristics.