Through my years spent in Heathenry, I have noticed a trend regarding Óðinn among young, bright-eyed, busy-tailed new Heathens. Many Heathens tend to see Óðinn as a wise, grandfatherly figure. The kind of guy that would take you fishing and help you sort out all of your life’s troubles with his wry, old man wisdom, before cooking up a few steaks on the grill and telling you the secret to life. Or the kind of guy who selflessly sacrifices himself and everything he holds dear for the dream of a better world. A peaceful world, a world where goodness and honor prevail. Ha! Those poor fools!
The reality is, that despite Óðinn’s modern reputation, back in the day he was seen as a pretty scary dude that, unless you were a poet or an aristocrat, was best left avoided. Óðinn was the god of war, frenzy, and strife. His warriors were the Beserkers (think werewolves), he could summon ghosts from the grave to do his bidding (think zombies), he was the god of hanged men (usually executed criminals), and was considered to be an overall, spooky badass. It is possible that Óðinn’s lack of place-names and absence from human names in certain parts of Scandinavia (such as Iceland) was due to the fear people felt for this God and the death and chaos of war that he sometimes brought with him .1 This has often made me wonder if the reason Óðinn has so many different kennings is because everyone was too scared to say his name! E.O.G Truville-Petre reiterates the fear that people had for Óðinn back in the day, saying:
“We might expect the northern god of war to be noble, valiant, and an example to every soldier, but Óðinn was far from that. According to the sources in which he is most fully described, he was evil and sinister. He delighted especially in fratricidal strife and in conflict between kinsmen.”2
But did Óðinn’s reign of terror stop with the conversion of Scandinavia? Or the beginning of the Enlightenment? Or has he secretly been terrifying us for years through new means? It’s become pretty obvious to me that Óðinn has found his new niche in the horror industry, and if you look closely, you too can see how the guys that have been scaring the piss out of you since childhood were all really just Óðinn all along.
The Creeper, featured in Jeepers Creepers (2001), is a winged monster that hunts every 23rd spring for 23 days to feast on human body parts, which then become a part of its own body. He smells his victims through fear, and spends the first movie in the pursuit of a brother and sister on a road trip.
How can you tell he’s Óðinn?
This one is so obvious it hardly even bears mentioning. First of all, the Creeper wears the classic Óðinnic attire, complete with the tattered, wind-blown coat and broad brimmed black hat. Secondly, every time the Creeper is near, large flocks of ravens appear and seem to follow him wherever he goes. If these two giveaways weren’t enough, in the first movie the Creeper spends the duration of the film stalking one of the protagonists, Darry, until he finally captures him and takes what he’s wanted from him the whole time: his eyes. He then takes a peek at us through Darry’s empty eye-socket before the credits roll. Is this a nod to Óðinn’s own sacrifice of his eye at Mimir’s well? Ok Óðinn, we get the point. You’re scary.
Freddy Kreuger, who first appeared in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was a child killer who was captured by the police but escaped prosecution due to a legal technicality. He was then hunted down and cornered by the children’s parents in a boiler room where he used to take his victims. The parents burn him to death, after which he becomes a vengeful spirit who kills teenagers in their dreams.
How can you tell he’s Oðinn?
Though the wide brimmed hat and coy one-liners are a dead give away ( such as “How’s this for a wet dream?” as he’s drowning a teenager in a water bed in Nightmare on Elm Street 4), Freddy´s penchant for child sacrifice is another clue. In Ynglinga Saga, we learn that King Aun of Sweden made a deal with Óðinn to prolong his own life, where every 10 years Aun would sacrifice one of his sons to Óðinn:
“Odin then told him he should go on living as long as he gave him a son every ten years and further gave a name to each of the districts of his land according ot the number of those sons he offered up to Odin.” 3
Aside from this desire for child human sacrifices, we also know from Ynglinga Saga that Óðinn is a seiðr practitioner, which among its many functions grants Óðinn the ability to twist people’s minds and terrify them. Combine this with his kenning Sváfnir (“sleep bringer”), and the whole jig is up. Sorry “Freddy”, you’re not fooling anyone.
Count Dracula, as imagined by Bram Stoker, is a Transylvanian noble who is actually a centuries old vampire and sorcerer.
How can you tell he’s Óðinn?
First of all, Dracula was inspired by the famous nobleman Vlad the Impaler, who (as his name implies) would impale his victims on stakes. This is reminiscent of Óðinn’s weapon of choice: the spear, not to mention Óðinn was the god of nobles. Dracula also has the power to twist the mind (an old seiðr trick) and has power over creatures of the night, including wolves (Geri and Freki anyone?). We also know from Ynglinga saga, that like Dracula, Óðinn had power over the dead:
“and sometimes he awoke dead men from the earth and sat himself down under men who had been hanged; and se he was called Lord of the Ghosts or the Hanged Men.” 4
Aside from his ability to transform men and women into Vampires and thus awaken the dead, Dracula is of course most famous for his penchant for human blood. According to Grímnismál 19:
“Geri and Freki, tamed to war, he satiates,
the glorious Father of Hosts;
but on wine alone the weapon-magnificent
Odin always lives.”5
Uh huh, sure, I bet that red liquid Óðinn lives off of is “wine”. Nice try Drac. And what about those Valkyries? Don’t maidens that choose dead men seem just a little bit like Dracula’s brides? With this one, Óðinn was hiding in plain sight, disguising himself as a creepy, European nobleman. How original.
So the next time you find yourself trembling at the movie theater, just remember that you’re actually being had by a 4,000 something year-old Germanic deity, which should make the whole experience a little less terrifying. Or does it?
1Turville-Petre, E.O.G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Greenwood Press, 1975. 69
3 Snorri Sturluson. Heimskringla or The Lives of the Norse Kings. Tr. A.H. Smith. Dover Publications, 1990. 17-18
5The Poetic Edda. Tr. Larrington, Carolyne. Oxford University Press, 2008. 54