Odinic Mysticism

I have been an Odinist for decades now. In that time I have often approached the Old Man for guidance in my spiritual development. Although mysticism is often frowned on in the modern heathen revival, it has always had a place in both the ancient and modern versions of the religion.

Let me take a moment here to give my definition of the word, as it is tossed around far too often for far too many different purposes. In addition to the mysterious union and the ecstatic experience, which is a whole topic itself, I believe that mysticism is a science, devoted to the analysis of the inner self, the subconscious and preconscious minds, and how these matters apply to behavior. It is designed to optimize the inner self, in order to bring a wide array of benefits. For one thing, the self knowledge that it brings can cure or ameliorate many psychological illnesses. It can change a person’s instinctive reactions so that they handle most situations much better than they normally would, maximizing the gain they get out of every situation. It helps a person approach even great pain and loss with equilibrium, and it minimizes suffering. It can improve physical health and speed healing times. It can improve physical capacities, increasing the effective strength that a person can use, via greater muscular coordination and hormonal changes. It can improve reaction speed and hand-eye coordination. And much more.

Of course, almost all knowledge of ancient heathen mysticism was lost during the Conversion. Stupid oral traditions. Fortunately, though, as mysticism is a science it can be approached via the scientific method. Meaning that simply observing myself, forming hypotheses as to why or how my inner mind was working, and then testing those hypotheses would carry me a great way. The few hints from the ancients we do still have served as touchstones. I freely studied every other mystic tradition the modern world had to offer. And I asked Odin to guide these pursuits. The result has been of great benefit to me, so I will here try to summarize, very briefly, the things that I have learned over the years.

The ultimate purpose of the mystic’s path is to develop the shift in perspective necessary for awakening the Svipal-self. Svipal, one of Odin’s names, means “changeable,” and the person who has awoken the Svipal-self has no permanent self or personality in the sense that most people understand those terms.

Of course, there is a lot of simplifying going on there. The idea of “awakening the Svipal-self” is not really correct. It’s something of a lie. But it’s a very good lie, and conveys more accurate information than trying to describe it truthfully would, as that would require dozens of pages. You see, the thing is, the Svipal-self is never asleep. You can never be separated from it. It is present in everything you do and think.

The Svipal-self is the original mind, the mind as it was before dualistic, conceptual thinking began. In other word, it is the basement level of the mind that lies deeper than the part that thinks in terms of things as being “this and not that.” It sees things as they are, without naming them, without being limited to a single point of view concerning them. The Svipal-self does not follow after feelings or thoughts, trying to hold onto them. The Svipal-self does not reject feelings or thoughts, trying to push them away. Instead, the Svipal-self allows feelings and thoughts to arise naturally, develop naturally, and pass away naturally, without interference. The Svipal-self is pure observation. It is the Odinic nature that everyone carries within them. Like Odin on the High Seat, nothing is hidden from the sight of the Svipal-self.

It is unfortunately very easy to be mistaken about the Svipal-self, though. Many people confuse it with the ego, the image of the self that everyone carries around in their own heads. However, the ego is not the true self, it is just a map. The map is not the territory, it is just a map. The ego is the product of discriminatory, conceptual thinking. The ego is this, and not that. It is the product of a limited perspective. Paying too much attention to it will produce only delusional thinking. Because of this, it is necessary to absorb certain lessons, to break the habits of thought that lead to such confusion. In this sense the concept of “awakening the Svipal-self” is an accurate depiction of heathen mysticism. The process of unlearning bad habits of thought and ending the narcissistic fascination with the ego is kind of like waking up.

There are many different causes of these bad habits of thought. The senses are chief amongst them. The human mind has evolved to pay a LOT of attention to the senses, as that is how one survives in the physical world. This causes the mind to think in an analytic and definite way. Emotions also give rise to these bad habits of thought. They are by design a form of dualistic thinking. They cause the mind to pay attention, to view everything in terms of the emotion. Beliefs also cause the same effect, all kinds of beliefs.

These aren’t in and of themselves bad things. You need your senses to get around. You need feelings to guide and fuel you. You need beliefs to make even minor decisions. The trouble is THAT these things are good and necessary things. We have to use them, even rely on them, in order to do anything at all. So it becomes so very, very easy to forget that all of these forms of perception and thought are limited, and convey only aspects or parts of the truth. It is easy to forget that they are merely useful tools, and that they cause blindness and ignorance as much as they produce knowledge and clarity. Once a person loses the habit remembering that these thoughts are only images, tools, approximations created by the mind to further survival and some kinds of pragmatic functionality, then bad habits of thinking are firmly established, and Svipal-nature is confused with the ego.

The need to disrupt these habits of thought are a big part of why the Odinic path is so difficult, so full of challenges. The concentration, surprise, and fear that Odinic challenges bring disrupt the normal flow of thinking. There is nothing like danger and hardship to clear and focus the mind. This stops the bad habits in their tracks. It may last for only a moment, or only until the crisis has passed, but with enough interruptions, better habits of thought can be learned.

The key thing to remember about the Svipal-self, at least at first, is that it has nothing to do. It is not like the ego, a thing that is full of desires and plans for fulfilling them. There is nothing at all that the Svipal-self feels that it has to do. However, like the bit about awakening the Svipal-self, this is also a convenient and informative lie. The surface interpretation is almost entirely wrong.

It is true that the Svipal self has no goals to pursue because they are enjoyable, or good, or noble, or even the right thing to do. The Svipal-self does not do things for the reasons that motivate most people. These motivations are based on limited, conceptual thinking. The goals are not truly understood, and misfortune often results.

Instead of doing things for the reasons that most people do them, the Svipal-self eats when hungry, and sleeps when tired. The Svipal-self will return a lost wallet to its owner because his or her own knowledge of the social bond, and the concepts of honor and orlog, prompts that behavior. The Svipal-self will teach when someone who can benefit from a lesson is nearby, and learn when a lesson is to be had. The Svipal-self acts in these ways naturally, in exactly the same manner that water rolls off a leaf.

It is important to remember that a person awakened to the Svipal-self is not a person who tries to do nothing. Such a person is not a person who tries to live simply. A person who has awakened the Svipal-self does not try to get rid of everything that is unnecessary or try to leave things as they are. These are also all deliberate actions, conceptual goals. When the life of a person who has awakened the Svipal-self requires simplicity, then that person will live simply. It is neither more nor less complex than that.

I do not mean to imply, by the way, that I have made any great strides in awakening the Svipal-self. These are just things that I have come to understand. There is a HUGE gap between an intellectual understanding and actually living something.

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14 thoughts on “Odinic Mysticism

  1. guymax says:

    Very nice. Thanks. Odinism is new to me, but now I can add it to my list of authentic traditions.

  2. Dver says:

    Reblogged this on A Forest Door and commented:
    Recent post from my partner’s blog, delving into a discussion of mystic practice in a way I relate to but personally have a hard time expressing. In a way, it was awakening the “Svipal-self” as he calls it, that instigated so many of the changes I’ve experienced in the past couple years in my religious practice and personal experience of the divine.

  3. Tamilia says:

    This is a great discussion of mysticism, and what it means to draw nearer to Odin’s might!! Your post comes at a time when I am able to accept the knowing shared here. Thank you, and Hail Odin!

  4. Tamilia says:

    Thanks for reblogging this, Dver! This article is right on time, like so many of your posts and reblogs :D.

  5. suzmuse says:

    fascinating!
    khairete
    suz

  6. silfrsmith says:

    Thanks for this. While I am not of your tradition, in the sense of what you described we are very much on the same path…

    Blessings.

  7. […] they did not seem to be my only possible allies. After last night’s dream and reading the article over at From the Labyrinth, perhaps Odin as the Changeable One has much to teach me in terms of Self-growth and […]

  8. We (my wife and I) completely understand everything that you’ve said here. We come initially from a Vedantic, non-dualistic path of enquiry into the nature of self, but feel drawn to this ancestral expression, being northern Europeans. It’s heartwarming and refreshing to read something so lucid from the Odinic perspective.

    Recently I had a vision in which Odin was revealed in the form of the Allfather: an infinite expanse of light and awareness that was not distinct from my own self (really, I couldn’t actually find a “my self” distinct from that light, that space!) I subsequently feel as if I am being called back to my forefathers’ faith. Finding this page is yet another milestone on that homeward trek! My wife and I are indebted to you for writing what you’ve written – you’ve given us hope and inspiration on our own paths. Hail!

    • Heilsa,

      I am glad you found the essay to be useful. My studies of Vedanta are somewhat cursory, but if I recall correctly, your vision of Odin as the Allfather and its relationship to your self is analogous to Brahma in Vedantic thought? It would seem then that you have come a long way on the yogic path, if I might use the term loosely to encompass other, similar paths. If I may ask, what are your practices? It is quite fascinating to see that the lore of one tradition can so easily be translated to another.

      I am also very glad to see other practitioners trying to tap into the enormous, untapped potential of heathen mysticism.

      Wes Thu Hal.

      • Alex Storrsson says:

        Hail! Sorry for the late reply, haven’t had a chance to check back here recently – lots of things going on, changing job, moving, getting back into good shape (all down to Woden!).

        You’d be right in seeing the Brahmic aspect to the vision. In the Shaivite branch of Hinduism, Shiva (who’s seen as the absolute, the Brahman you mentioned) is held to be both personal God – Woden* – and transcendental being – Allfather. The mystery at hand is that Shiva is everything: God, the world, even our own selves are all Shiva. Our true nature is Shiva. In the context of the vision I had, our true nature is Woden, who is the Allfather.

        My personal practice revolves around self-enquiry as espoused by recent saints and sages of India (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-enquiry_%28Ramana_Maharshi%29), but I find I only need to ‘practice’ like this when things are getting hazy in the mind (stray thoughts, cloudy awareness, backed up emotions and the like). Most of the time I let things take their course and act as is appropriate, but if my head starts to get sticky I take up spiritual practice to clear things up.

        The practice itself involves getting the mind to look into its own nature by asking the question “who am I?” Pretty simple, really: no visualisations, no postures, no breathing exercises, just a very frank examination of this thing we call “I”. If we follow the experience of “I” back to its source, we find silence, emptiness – Ginnungagap, the void of creation. There’s a primeval awareness, a fundamental existence that just is. Everything that we know and experience comes from this. It’s the Allfather, the source of all things: everything stems from here. Woden, in my mind, is the one who realised his own identity with the Allfather through self-sacrifice. Through giving himself to himself, he realised the truth of his self, and that truth is the Allfather.

        This is probably why Odinism appeals so strongly to me: the myths and character of Odin in themselves suggest this non-duality and self-sundering practice. To sacrifice one’s eye (“I”) for wisdom, or to sacrifice oneself to oneself – these are motifs expressed often enough in Hindu thought, let alone elsewhere in the Dharmic religions. I was thrilled to see them put so powerfully into our own lore: it made me sure that our own ancestors counted amongst their number figures of great wisdom and insight. Every culture has its wisdom tradition, I guess; ours just got trampled by Christianity for a while, only to resurface gloriously.

        Hope you’re doing well, need to take time to read more of your articles! Some friends of mine also found your blog recently and have been really digging it – there’s a strong movement of mystical Paganism up here in Edinburgh for some reason.

        Keep well!

        *I use Woden rather than Odin due to English heritage – it just appeals to me a little bit more for some reason. There’s a slightly different tinge perhaps, to which I’m better suited.

        • I like the self-enquiry method you describe here. It is similar to a technique that my old instructor in these matters taught me. I have found it most useful. I do agree that our ancestors had some deep and powerful traditions, lost to time and the foolishness of oral traditions. We see hints of it in the surviving stories, and the practices of specific mystic traditions, like the berserkers, seidhmen, and so forth.

          I am glad to see that there is strong mystical pagan tradition developing. It is not only useful, it is a sign that the ancient ways are truly reviving. I think that reviving an ancient mystic tradition in the modern, scientific age could allow us to make something truly unique and useful. I try to use science as much as I can in my own practice, and think that it can be taken much further. Any insights in this area?

          I get what you mean about Woden. I tend to see the different names as representative of his different heiti. Same minni, somewhat different hugrs in each case. Wuotan, for example, is much wilder, primal, and more violent than the courtly Odhinn is. I use the name Odin very deliberately, as I see that as a name for his heiti in the modern world.

          • Alex Storrsson says:

            Ultimately, spirituality of any sort must be scientific. It can’t be “airy fairy” else it tends to become lost to the mind and pretty imaginings. The Buddhists, for example, effectively apply the scientific method to the mind: through observation, experimentation, hypothesis and direct insight they’ve not only been able to create vast (and often conflicting) cosmologies and metaphysical systems – all of which clearly have deep, archetypical impact upon the human subconscious – but they’ve also managed to penetrate to the very core of human existence, realising the pure nature of mind that binds all things together.

            Amusingly, this is the one thing they tend to agree on – everything else, such as the nature of the world, the nature of the heavens/hells, of other beings like animals, spirits, or gods, these are all up for question, What’s not up for question is what’s absolutely clear given due investigation: that the foundation of reality is what I would call the self, which is that whose presence allows for the possibility of appearance of phenomena. Awareness, pure consciousness, all these bullshit terms are pointing the same way. It’s not demonstrable; it’s not definable; it’s not even differentiable from any particular thing except in theory. However, the fact remains that it is the direct experience of each and every being that they are the reality itself. The only difference is the degree to which they disbelieve it…

            It took me a long while to be able to get to the point where I could say with conviction born from experience that I’m this self, this reality. On paper it makes complete sense; but to actually know it as the truth of one’s existence requires investigation. In this way, science and spirituality can’t be sundered: they have to be taken together. If one can merge the two to the degree that one’s science becomes spiritual and one’s spirituality becomes scientific, you’ve got the perfect balance – so long as the end goal is full realisation of the non-dual truth (i.e. no sneaking off into intellectual or emotional cul-de-sacs). This is really what it’s always been about. You can look to Hindu yogis, Taoist sages, the priests of ancient Egypt or the old Hermeticists, you always find the same kind of attitude: unflinching investigation into truth through whatever avenues are available, which almost always comes to an investigation into the ground of one’s own being – for what can be true other than that which is fundamentally true for oneself? If it were true for half the universe but not the other half, there’d have to be a yet deeper truth that were true for all. This truth is the truth that is mutually binding; for everyone, this truth is the same.

            No matter the vehicle by which one comes to it, one eventually has to come to this. So I took raw spirituality, completely stripped down, but I know that the Hermeticists found it in great part by investigating – scientifically – the universe’s mechanics, the “mind of God” as they called it (and these guys were Pagans from Christ’s time – our modern scientific method comes from them). Einstein was a figure of similar bent – indeed, many are the scientists who’ve been drawn by their work into deep internal stillness and silence, such that the unspeakable truth of the thing can be known intuitively. Others come to this realisation through intense devotion to their chosen image of God or the Goddess, or through other modes of religion and worship. Infinite are the paths, in essence one, to one goal, the nature of which is oneself. The one thing which makes or breaks the journey is one’s dedication to the truth. This is supposedly the underlining aspect of both spirituality and science; really, they must be sides of one coin: one focuses on the outer, the other on the inner. When the two begin to reflect each other, we’ve begun to reckon the mystery. Now only wordless contemplation will suffice.

            (Sorry, went on a bit of a rant there – one of those mornings fit to burst with energy!)

  9. PeterJ says:

    It’s been quite a week. At the start of it I discovered that for the modern Druid consciousness would be God. Now Odin is turning out to be translatable into an Upanishadic symbol, Where will it all end?

    I would also be interested to hear more about the practices.

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