Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Always comes back to the Hanged Man (Modern Gods: Part 1)

I have mentioned on my previous blog, but I don't think I covered it here: I am a devotee of Odin/Othin/Wotan. It is a path that I never thought that I could be on, that I would be on, but here I am, almost 2 years later. While I do have Northern European ancestry, I don't necessarily put much stock into bloodline when the Gods come a-calling. I have always felt that if a God shows up and seems to wish to work with you, there is a reason. I'm not saying that you can't say no, but I am saying trying to reason the will of a God is like trying to puzzle a cryptographic cipher. You may figure out the pattern, but you'll go mad doing it.

My journey with Odin has been... interesting over the past while. I always find working with a God, learning the quirks and their mannerisms and how they communicate to be challenging. I also find the way in which they appear (and I don't mean *ta-dah poof* there they are, I mean how their presence reflects in your mind's eye) to be different depending on their needs, and the person.

When I think about depictions of the Gods, I always try to think of them in the context of when the source comes from - what period the literature about them was written, and how they would have been described. I think that Gods, because they are living entities, will shift their appearance and presence as time marches forward - not only to continue to be involved in the world, but also because they wish to remain relevant.

For example, many of the depictions of Odin from traditional Norse mythology have him appearing ready for battle, spear in hand, often riding Sleipnir. The tapestry on the left shows an earlier depiction of Odin. Wotan was generally the robed wanderer. Many people still associate these images with Odin in modern day. They are classic pieces, meant to conjure a time past, and connect us to that time.

As you move further in time, like with this 16th century Icelandic depiction, we have him outside of battle armor, but with a sword that would be more modern to that time, and he's clearly a member of the upper class or ruling class. Same with his hat, which looks part hat and part crown. He's also shown with a rather large sword, which would have been more common a few hundred years earlier. I find this depiction interesting, as it seems like there are numerous manuscripts from the time that depict him as a noble of some kind, as opposed to a obvious god. It's interesting, especially since in the next image they really go the complete opposite direction.

This version by Johannes Gehrts from 1906 draws on a lot of the popular Art Nouveau of the time - it's actually very Greco-Roman, but again, very common of the time. This style saw a massive upward surge in the late 1800's- early 1900's because of the Victorian obsession with historic revival. You see him here with the giant winged helmet, nude and shrouded in a cape, looking regal and powerful, surrounded by Hugin and Munin, and Geri and Freki. He looks like a king here, very powerful - completely opposite of the last image.

At the same time, you also saw this historic realism at the time, like with this piece in 1896 by Georg von Rosen. I like to think that this is the picture that inspired JRR Tolkein to create Gandalf. He looks wise and weathered. He looks harmless, until you catch that glint in his eye. This is pure wanderer Odin/Wotan. When I see this version of Odin, I am always expecting a test of knowledge. I am expecting a mind fuck, but in the best way possible. I expect a challenge. This has always been my favourite depiction of Wotan.

Now, you say, this is all nice, and thanks for the history lesson, but what does this have to do with anything? 

Well, dear friend, this brings me to modern day. Neil Gaiman tapped into the idea in American Gods, of Gods having to take more mundane forms to survive in our modern world of science and reason. I, being a modern witch, works with these types of energies. They make sense to me, much like working with the depictions of gods in the past made sense to my ancestors. They seem relevant.

When I think of a modern day Odin, I think of the wandering vagrant, the aged and gnarled hands, the squinting eye with a tinge of madness, the large beard. I think of him smoking a pipe, feeding the crows, drinking coffee sitting on a bench on a street corner crossroads. When spoken to, you get a toothy grin and honeyed, double entendres. There is always a sense that he knows a little more than he is letting on, like a private joke only he knows the punchline to. One eye doesn't look quite right, you think it might be glass, but you're not sure - but there is something unsettling about his gaze.

A little bit like this.


Working with Odin, I have found that he enjoys offerings of mead (especially homebrewed) and tobacco. I usually offer a weekly offering on Wednesdays in the form of a cigar and mead from my own stores. The last few weeks have been hectic with work and personal stuff, and I have been remiss in my offerings.

Well. Oops.

In the run of a year, I may see 3 people smoking cigars on the street. Maybe. Cigarettes, sure. Lots of those. But I may see someone from a wedding party or a tourist light up a cigar on the street once, twice a year.

This week, I have seen 5 bearded old men smoking cigars on the street. One of them was wearing an eyepatch. Yes, really. I try to look at everything with a critical eye, but really - there's coincidence, and then there is something slapping you upside the head with the desire for you to pay attention.

You think someone is trying to tell me something? Yeah. I sheepishly already have the cup set and ready to go for Wednesday.

This is part one of my modern Gods series. Stay tuned!