Odin’s Ravens

In Norse mythology, Odin is a complex god associated with many emotions and facets of life, including witchcraft, poetry, knowledge, death, and war. Odin was married to the goddess Freya, who was associated with beauty and fertility. Odin rarely traveled without his two ravens, who were named Muninn and Huginn. The name Munnin means “mind” or “memory,” and the name Huginn means “thought.” The ravens, like Odin, are intelligent and perceptive creatures bestowed with special powers. As Odin’s pets, their role was to fly around the world (Midgard) and retrieve knowledge on people, places, and subject matter. Because of his strong connection with the two ravens, Odin is also sometimes called the “Raven God.”

Munnin and Huginn appear in many forms throughout the book Prose Edda. Rarely is there a scene where Odin is pictured, either in words or in illustrations, without his ravens. The ravens are generally portrayed sitting on Odin’s shoulders. Their images are also sometimes engraved onto Odin’s brooches, battle helmet, and sword. Regardless of their differing portrayals, however, the ravens’ mission always remains the same. Odin releases them each morning to circumnavigate the world. The birds essentially act as his eyes and ears, as they accumulate a wealth of information and relay it back to Odin. The sheer volume of information that the ravens return to Odin is enough to make him a powerful god with dominion over many aspects of life. The birds are loyal to their owner, but there are also written accounts of Odin worrying that the day will ultimately come when the ravens will leave and never return.

One of the main connections that Odin and the ravens share is explained through the cycle of life and death in Norse mythology. Ravens are scavenger birds commonly associated with battle, as they enjoy feasting on decaying and dead matter. In many Norse battle scenes, the sacrifice of human life was considered a gift of life to ravens, who would in turn respond with loyalty and faithfulness to the individual who gave them sustenance. Odin, who was a god of war, presided over the death of men in battle, as he sacrificed their remains for his birds. Sometimes, especially when long periods of time went without a major battle, Odin’s enemies were sacrificed to give food to the ravens. Ravens are also considered to be remarkably intelligent birds. Their role of acquiring information for Odin is therefore especially important, as Odin trusts the birds to return accurate news. Odin’s identity, independent of the birds, is one of intellect and complexity. For that reason, the ravens enhance Odin’s image as a wise and knowledgeable god.