A Tale of Two Sacrifices
I wot that I hung on the wind-tossed tree
All of nights nine,
Wounded by spear,
A sacrifice to Odin,
A sacrifice of Myself to Myself,
Upon that tree of which none will tell
From which roots it doth rise.
Neither horn they upheld nor handed me bread;
I looked below me –
Aloud I cried –
Caught up the runes, caught them up wailing,
Thence to the ground fell again
Any spirituality, at its core, is defined by its most important myths. These will impact not only the adherent’s belief system but how they live their lives and view the world around them – their Weltanschauung. The core myth of Christianity is the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of the most important parts of our Lore concern the sacrifices made by Odin, and what was gained by them. Let's review and contrast these two stories, and consider the potential psycho-spiritual impact on believers in both faiths.
“I Did It for You, Man!” – Jesus’ Sacrifice
One of the most well-known, and oft-quoted, passages of the Christian bible is John, 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” At face value, this sounds nice. God loves you and killed his only son for your benefit. However, the real heart of the myth requires further investigation, and some clarification.
Why did Jesus need to be sacrificed? – Because each and every human is born in “sin”, stained and irredeemable. Destined, without the sacrifice of Christ, not just to “perish”, but to spend eternity in everlasting torment (in Hell, which the omniscient God so full of love had the foresight to prepare for them). There is no way that any individual can save themselves – no achievement, no personal sacrifice, no level of piety is sufficient, saving by the “grace” they receive through Christ’s torment and crucifixion.
Why was Jesus the sacrifice, rather than someone/something else? – According to Christian theology, Jesus, as part of the holy trinity, “consubstantial” with his father and the holy ghost, was perfect – an unblemished offering. The sacrifice of some human, or an animal, wouldn’t do. Only the suffering and death of the “best” could expiate all the sins from us dirty, dirty sinners.
Now, let’s extrapolate what the implications of the acceptance of this myth will be on a Christian’s psyche and way of engaging with the world. Whether consciously or subconsciously the impressions this belief imbues on the Christian’s mind include:
Ultimately, you are worthless in and of yourself. You were conceived in sin, and born tainted by original sin. Like everyone else on Earth, you deserve to be cast into a pit of flames. Only “grace” provides an escape route for your unworthy hide.
You should emulate Jesus, and sacrifice yourself for the most wretched. “Take up your cross” and follow Jesus’ example. Since you have no real value, renounce pride and embrace altruism ‘til it hurts. Do everything you can for those who can’t or won’t do for themselves. And don’t forget to forgive them, no matter what, even if they kill someone you love.
These are just two of the many ways the roots of Christian theology/philosophy impact people’s minds, their lives, and the way society functions. All the other moral precepts associated with that faith, that have seeped into the collective unconscious of our people for centuries – for millennia! – rotate around these core beliefs. Friedrich Nietzsche commented on the results of this in Beyond Good and Evil:
“How much more did they (the “spiritual” men of Christianity) have to do besides to worsen the European race?…Stand all evaluations on their head – that is what they had to do! And smash the strong, sickly o’er great hopes, cast suspicion on the joy in beauty, bend everything haughty, manly, conquering, domineering, all the instincts characteristic of the highest and best turned out type of “man”, into unsureness, agony of conscience, self-destruction, indeed invert the whole love of the earthly and of dominion over the earth and the earthly – that is the task the church posed for itself…”
“I Did It for Me, Man – You Should Do It, Too!” – Odin’s Sacrifice
The Allfather’s sacrifices were twofold – himself, on Yggdrasil, as described in the Havamal, as well as his eye, in the Well of Mimir. Since the former is more comparable to the crucifixion myth, we will focus on that here. Odin is on a perpetual quest “for more wisdom, knowledge, and power; self-transformation, self-evolution.” The runes contain within them mysteries of power and wisdom. Understanding and mastery of them at the level the Allfather sought allows not just greater potency in dealing with externals (the Cosmos, the forces of chaos and order, etc), but also opens the doors to a higher ability to mold, or intentionally evolve, the Self. The ordered universe is hierarchical. The higher in the hierarchy a being is, the greater his or her potential. Mortals such as ourselves can certainly use the runes, meditate on their secrets, and let them serve as a tool in our own self-evolution, However, the immortal Gods have access, by their very nature, to utilize the runes at a higher level, with greater results. But Odin sought, even more, to know and utilize the runes beyond the ability of even other Gods – beyond the capability of any living being. The God that approached Yggdrasil preparing to sacrifice himself knew that he would need to “die” in order to reach the plane of existence required to fully “own” the runes. So, when Odin hung himself from the Tree of Life, pierced by Gungnir, did he actually die, and come back to life? Yes, and no. Keep in mind we are speaking of an entity much different than a man, despite those characteristics He might share with us. Hanging from Yggdrasil, Allfather “killed” his Lower Self as a sacrifice to his Higher Self. This metamorphosized him into something more, something greater than he was before. The Higher Self Odin shed of the vestiges of chaos in his Lower Self, was able to “catch up the runes” in all their mystery and power. Once this “new and improved” Odin “to the ground fell again”, he was not only more powerful but had greater potential to evolve yet further. We can glean this from the following verses of the Havamal, where He tells us:
Then I learned to make myself fruitful And to be well-informed To grow and thrive as well; Words from me sought words, Deeds from me sought deeds. Havamal 141
Above, we extrapolated on what the crucifixion myth, and its philosophical baggage, meant to the psyche and spirit of the Christian adherent. Now, let’s consider what the psycho-spiritual influence of Odin’s example might be on the practicing Asatruar:
Emulation of the Allfather leads to self-overcoming. The Odinist starts from a very different place than the Christian. There is, for us, no “original sin”. When Odin, Vili, and Ve formed Ask and Embla (formed, not created ex nihilo), imbuing them with a portion of their divine spirit and intelligence, they did so with the knowledge that these spiritual children were inherently good – and with an expectation that our race would “grow and thrive” as well, as partners in maintaining the Cosmic Order.
The Allfather has no fear, as Yahweh did in regard to Adam and Eve, that his children will somehow threaten him by becoming more than they were. He wants, indeed demands, that we become wiser, stronger, and greater – spiritually and temporally – than we were before. Here the example of Odin’s sacrifice is instructional. We are to diminish and destroy our Lower Self – those chaotic traits and impulses inside us – in order that a new Higher Self may be born. No, we certainly should not do this by hanging or impaling ourselves. Remember, while we share some of the Gods divine intelligence and spirit, we are lesser beings in the Cosmic hierarchy, and the physical and moral laws that apply to them do not apply equally to us. Rather, our self-sacrifice (Lower Self sacrifice) must be done through a focused realization of our weaknesses and faults, followed by determined, planned actions impacting every aspect of our being – spiritual, mental, and physical. This is not motivated by the hyper altruism of the Christian, but for ourselves, our Gods, and our people.
Such a path is a hard and demanding one.
But the Allfather is a hard and demanding God.
Folkbuilder James Cummings