Odin is the Fickle Finger of Fate
To bring the Norse Mythology portion of this class to an end, let’s talk about Odin and his strangely fickle nature. Odin gives his favor as easily as he takes it away again. I don’t know that many people notice that in the Norse tales, Odin tends to be the only god who actually intercedes in mortal affairs (sometimes it’s Frigg, but she seems to do so with Odin’s involvement). If you want a baby, want to win in battle, whatever, ask Odin. I also love how Odin usually doesn’t show up with great pomp and circumstance. I almost picture a bunch of guys arguing and yelling, when this old dude just sort of saunters in, stabs a sword in a tree, nonchalantly says “pull this out and it’s yours” and then meanders off into the night. The scene where he shows up as Sigurd is preparing to kill Fafnir cracks me up. It’s like that slightly annoying elderly neighbor who shows up anytime you are working on a project in the garage. John Deere hat (with an eight legged deer) over the crew cut he’s had since “dubya dubya two”, plaid shirt, red suspenders, eyepatch, chewing on a toothpick, rocking back on his heels, hands (with one missing finger) shoved in his pockets and squinting up at the sky, “Hullo der! Sooo… whatcha got going on der? I remember back in tha’ day when we’d kill a dragon, we’d dig TWO trenches. But dat’s just me…. I hear da fishin’s good up at da lake dis year…” (My grandparents were old school rural Washingtonians, I couldn’t help casting my grandfather as Odin. As a completely tangential side note, many of my grandparents friends were loggers, farmers, etc and were missing body parts either from the war or hazardous work. When I was a little girl I thought that as you got older parts of you fell off like leaves on a tree.).
Odin’s favor is fleeting. I firmly believe that this is due to his knowledge of future events. He manipulates events like Bobby Fischer with a chess board. He stacks the deck by filling his hall with the best einherjar he can, but not before he has ensured they have done as much to further the plot here on earth. Odin doesn’t take away his favor because you have failed him, he does so because it’s time to do so.
I am still convinced that Brynhild’s continued sorrows are due to her defiance of Odin. She chooses to kill the king that Odin has promised victory to, and he puts her in a state of suspended animation on a mountain top surrounded by flame. This seems like an odd punishment, aside from the fact that inactivity would be hell for a shieldmaiden. In reality, I believe he is punishing her by setting up a lifetime of having break to every oath she has ever made to herself. She broke her oath to Odin, there for all her oaths will be broken. He has taken her free will from her, and forced her to give up the one thing that means anything to her; being a shieldmaiden. Brynhild/Brunhilde has always been my favorite character, and one that I can personally relate to. As someone who was, in a very literal way, raised by my mother to be a “sheildmaiden” (she made sure I knew how to fight, that I was tough, that I was unafraid to compete with men, that I had a sense of honor, etc. She was like the Great Santini in a Maidenform bra), I know how hard it is to lay down your arms. I always joked that I married my husband because he was the first man I ever met who could best me in a fair fight, not to mention he really did ride through the fire for me early in our courtship (the first year we were dating I ended up unemployed, both my grandparents died, and I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. The fact that he didn’t run for the hills still amazes me.). She is a woman who trusted her own judgment over Odin’s and paid by always having her heart’s desire dangled just out of reach. This may seem like a particularly cruel act on Odin’s part, but when you think about it the message is that you don NOT mess with Odin’s plans. Because Odin’s plans are Fate’s plans, and you can not change fate in the world of the Norse. The warp is set, the weft must follow. If Odin were to go easy on someone who meddled with the order, there would be chaos. Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria! (I have now quoted Ghostbusters in my English class. Good night, Bellingham!)