About 10 years ago, I found myself reading Norse mythology and all the books considered part of the Heathen lexicon of lore. The whole reason I started reading books dealing with Norse mythology, history, and lore – I saw an unsettling picture of Odin on a website. The picture displayed him as an elder man with an eye-patch, but the look in his other eye came across like a leader offering a rebuke while simultaneously extending his hand.
The way that picture unsettled me actually prevented me from doing research into Heathenry for about six months. I was not sure I was ready to deal with another god after I had spent the majority of my life feeling betrayed by the Christian god; I certainly wasn’t sure I was ready to deal with a god that had the kind of unsettling presence I felt in that picture. I wrestled with the desire of wanting nothing to do with another god and wanting nothing more but to follow one. Internally, I waged a war against myself for half a year before I made a decision. I would brave the unknown.
I found the site that had housed the picture of Odin that I had originally seen, and I used the picture as a tool to imagine myself beside Odin in a place where we could safely talk. I didn’t struggle to figure out how to talk to him; I’d been raised in a tradition of spirit work. Actually, I tend to feel more comfortable and confident around spirits because of that – especially non-human spirits – than around people. Initiating conversation with Odin wasn’t difficult. The hard part for me was deciding to respond to the invitation he had offered through the way he had illuminated an image of himself that I happened to see.
Within the space of a few months of communicating and working with him, I learned a lot about both him and myself. I saw parts of me in him, like the willingness to break a promise to one person to ensure the safety and health of a community. I read forums where people openly railed against Odin for breaking oaths in the myths. He does break oaths in the stories, but the only time that happens is when the risk that would follow keeping the oath would prove higher than breaking it.
In all the stories I read, I started seeing Odin as a strategist and tactician, a war genius that was always several thousand steps ahead of everyone around him. I saw how he took in everything around him, even though he did not always voice it. I saw a god who was not afraid to experience new things, who knew when to be humble and when to be bold, and who treasured his friends and his community above the sanctity of everything else.
I also saw what others consider a darkness in him – the bloodlust, the thirst for war, the frenzy and ecstasy of magic at its finest. I have come to think of Odin’s thirst for war less as a desire to see people kill each other and more as a necessity in a grim battle against the cycle that eventually causes the destruction of the universe. I don’t think Odin cares about the causes of war that people invoke him for because the war he is waging against cosmic forces is of much more consequence. In some ways, he is the ultimate utilitarian strategist.
He is also a trickster. So much so, in fact, that people often forget that he is a trickster. People who shy away from Loki because of his trickster aspect often turn towards Odin, forgetting that Odin is just as much of a trickster as Loki is. Their trickster aspects seem to come from different places and serve different purposes, but there is a reason they are blood brothers. Odin’s trickster aspect seems to originate from his ability to disguise and deceive everyone around him; he almost always has an agenda to further his own cause. He weaves illusions and snares others in traps that they rarely see coming.
While Loki is also capable of shape-shifting and disguise, he also shatters illusions and uses the truth to confound people into doing what he wants. He sets up situations so that his enemies think that they have outsmarted and captured him; he turns the tides at the last moment and proves that his cunning is far superior. His strategy seems to rely on making plans on the spur of the moment; he is not a strategist that indulges in a lot of planning. He seems more like the type to trust his ability to get him out of tight spots, no matter the odds.
Together, the two of them are unstoppable. It is thus not surprising that the tale of Ragnarok shows them pitted against each other. Odin’s main goal is to keep the death of the universe at bay; his main aim seems to be to halt the progress of death. Loki’s main goal is to keep the cycle in motion; he is the embodiment of change. It thus makes sense that Odin and Loki would be incredible friends at the beginning of every cycle because everything is growing and expanding and changing in beautiful ways. At some point, though, a peak is reached and the universe begins to spiral more quickly towards decay. It is at that point the two of them must turn from the other because their goals clash horribly.
I learned this about Odin and Loki by reading the myths and the Eddas, and I learned by listening to them as they told me their stories in the astral realm. At some point, I learned enough to realize that I would be willing to commit myself to both of them in very different ways. I swore an oath to Odin, to be part of his army as a strategist and mage, an oath that keeps me bound to him as long as my soul continues to exist in any energetic form. I took this oath knowing exactly how deeply I was committing myself – I did not take it lightly.
Part of that oath, ten years ago, was that I would avoid the Christian god and Christianity to the best of my ability – a difficult thing to do in the middle of a Bible Belt. I threw out all of my old Bibles and Christian books. I stopped listening to Christian music, including Christian rock – a feat made more difficult by the fact that many alternative rock bands turn out to be Christian rock bands in disguise. I stopped letting friends drag me with them to church services. I did everything I could to rid my life of Christianity in all its guises.
Part of the reason I added that stipulation to the oath was that I knew how easy it would be for me to fall back into old patterns of letting friends/family take me to church with them, even though it made me miserable. I also knew how badly I yearned for a community, and the Christian church provides that for people. I did not want the temptation to be part of a community to tempt me away from one of the only gods who I had encountered who seemed to understand me at all. It was a stipulation, in other words, that I forced onto myself – it was not one that Odin required of me.
Still, for ten years, I avoided all things Christian. I refused to engage with the Golden Dawn system of ceremonial magic because it was rife with Christian symbolism. I couldn’t work with angels, even after encountering one, because of the stipulation I had placed on myself in the oath I took to Odin. I couldn’t really engage in relationships with people who weren’t atheist or polytheistic (and didn’t include the Christian god in their devotional practice). There was a lot I couldn’t do, which was fine for many years.
About three months ago, it started to really bother me that I couldn’t learn the systems of magic I was the most interested in because of that stipulation. It bothered me so much that I sat down one night and had a very long conversation with Odin about potentially renegotiating my original oath with him to have that stipulation removed. I purposefully approached him with a suggested alternative; I did not ask him to simply release me from that portion of the oath. After all, I had spent ten years offering him my refusal to engage with Christianity – I thus had to come prepared with something to offer in lieu of that.
So, I offered him blood. My own blood, to be exact. We discussed what that would entail, how often it would be, and we reached an agreement. Odin agreed to release me, and we renewed the oath with a new stipulation in place of the old one. The new oath was simply that I would continue to remain bound to his service as a strategist and mage, and I would offer him my blood once a month. In exchange for my oath, I gain access to a lot of places within the astral realm and can work with any/all spirits regardless of the religion that house them.
I try to do the autosacrifice on a Wednesday, since Wednesday is named for Odin. After I sterilize my hand with rubbing alcohol, I use a lancing device to prick my finger and place at least three drops (never more than nine) in a small offering dish that I then place on Odin’s altar. It’s a very small amount of blood, but blood magic is very, very potent. It is also incredibly important to ensure the environment is sterile before purposefully making yourself bleed.
While some may see using a lancing device as a “weak” method of offering blood, the reality is that blood carries a lot of potent magic regardless of the manner in which it is obtained. As long as Odin is satisfied with the offering (which he has been fine with so far), then I am less concerned about how other people view my methods. After all, it’s not like I’m making an offering to them.
In any case, autosacrifice is not a path meant for everyone, and I have met few gods who would approach a devotee and ask for such an offering. Among those I know who do offer their own blood to their gods have done so after discussing it with their gods. It is never appropriate to assume that any/all gods will accept blood offerings. Some gods can and will find it offensive, especially if you offer it to them without discussing it first. As with any offering, it is imperative to talk to the gods first about an offering you are considering giving them rather than assume that something you haven’t given them before will automatically be accepted. Gods can/do reject offerings, which is why developing a strong relational practice with the gods is so important.