References to the Norse god Odin abound throughout Orkney folklore, tradition and even the landscape.
In Norse mythology, Odin was the most powerful
of all the gods. Known as Allfather, Odin was generally depicted as an old,
long-bearded, one-eyed man, wearing a cloak and wide-brimmed hat.
Orkney has numerous placenames
that are thought to stem to Odin, places such as Odinsgarth, Odiness
and Otterswick - a corruption of the original name Odinswick. However,
when it comes to placenames, caution must be employed as many can
be ascribed to the personal names, Audun or Oddi.
Perhaps the most famous of the Odin landmarks
was the revered Odin Stone
in the Mainland parish
monolith was the focus of the unbreakable "Aith
o' Odin". The potency of this Stone o' Odin,as well as
the oath, was considerable and remained in common use until the
stone's destruction in 1814.
Although the words to the Odin Oath have been lost, transmitted as they were orally down the generations, an ancient Orkney poem, the Play o' da Lathie Odivere leaves us in no doubt as to Odin's involvement, referring as it does to "him dat hanged on da tree."
This vague sentence refers to the episode in Norse mythology in which Odin sacrifices himself on Ygdrassil, the world tree, to gain the knowledge of life, death and runes.
For nine days and nights he hung, suspended upside down, impaled by his spear, Gungnir.
This episode is remembered in the folk-rhyme:
Nine lang nichts i' da nippin rime,
Hange he dare wi' naked limb
As well as his role as oath-god, the one-eyed deity was also regarded by the Norse as the gatherer of souls, and to this end was responsible for leading the Wild Hunt on its nightime rampages across the sky.
No specific remnants of this tradition, found throughout Britain and Europe, is remembered in Orkney, although a few scattered tales of spectral black hounds may have some connection to this one-time widespread belief.
A well-known charm used in the northern isles for curing sprains clearly points at Norse heathenism. Although overlain at some point with Christian reference, the charm is an exact duplicate of the one used by Odin to heal the god Balder's horse. Click here for more details.
There are also certain veiled connections to Odin
within certain Orcadian harvest traditions.
For more details click