Are Odin’s Ravens Muninn and Huginn symbolic for his Mind and Soul?

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The Norse god Odin has two ravens, named Muninn and Huginn.

hugin-muninEach day the ravens, Huginn and Muninn, fly over Midgard (Earth) and then later return to bring Odin information about the happenings of that day.

In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning (chapter 38), the enthroned figure of High tells Gangleri (king Gylfi in disguise) that two ravens named Huginn and Muninn sit on Odin’s shoulders. The ravens tell Odin everything they see and hear. Odin sends Huginn and Muninn out at dawn, and the birds fly all over the world before returning at dinner-time. As a result, Odin is kept informed of many events.

Although the ravens fly out each day, Odin fears that one day they may not return.

In the The Poetic Edda: Grímnismál, a disguised Odin expresses that he fears that they may not return from their daily flights.

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
Hugin and Munin fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,
yet more anxious am I for Munin.

Henry Adams Bellows translation:
O’er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.

The Poetic Edda: Grímnismál


The Norse concept of the self includes:

  • The personal consciousness or personality. The Mind, called the Munr
  • The energy which is the astral body. The Spirit or Soul, called the Hugr
  • And the physical body. The Body, called the Líkami 

When the body dies, the spirit (hugr) leaves the corpse and moves on to the afterlife. The mind (munr) or consciousness stays with the spirit or soul (hugr) when it leaves the body (likami).

Are Odin’s ravens, Muninn (Mind or Munr) and Huginn (Spirit or Hugr), representative of his mind and soul leaving his body as he astral projects himself?

Astral projection (or astral travel) is defined as an out-of-body experience that assumes the existence of an “astral body” separate from the physical body and capable of travelling outside it.

e5d9a273be1d36916a88646d855ad03dAre Odin’s ravens Huginn and Muninn actually symbolic to his well known shamanic practices. Odin’s ability to send his “spirit” (Huginn or Hugr) and “mind” (Muninn, Munr) to the trance-state journey of shamans. The Grímnismál stanza tells us that Odin worries about the return of Huginn and Muninn. This concern of his mind and spirit not being able to return to his physical body would be consistent with the danger that a shaman faces on the trance-state journey.

It is noted in the Prose Edda book, Gylfaginning, that Freyja often weeps tears of red gold because her husband Óðr (possibly another name for Odin) would go off “traveling” for extended periods. Perhaps she fears for him while he’s in a trance-like state that he may not be able to return to his body. She also mentions that he travels frequently.  Odin’s Ravens go out each day.  This would mean Odin goes into a trance each day.

Odin was a practitioner of seidh (old customs), which is known for the shamanistic practice of astral journeying.

Seiðr was an exclusively female elite matriarchal order of seiðkonur, led by a chief-shaman sorceress-seeress, who bore the title of ‘Wōtan’, from which the name Oðin was later derive, Seiðr has its origins in the Nordic Stone Age

In the Viking Age, the practice of seid by men had connotations of unmanliness or effeminacy, known as ergi, as its manipulative aspects ran counter to masculine ideal of forthright, open behavior. Perhaps it was seen as ergi or unmanly to get into a fight (holmgang) and then cheat by using the practice of seiðr to shift into the shape and strength of a bear.  It is a but unfair to pull out a handgun when in a fist fight, it’s considered a bit unmanly or ergi by modern standards.

Beorn by Lelia
Beorn by Lelia

Old Norse literature is rich in stories of shapeshifting. Some of the shapes most common in Old Norse literature include: bear, wolf, swan, seal, mare and hare, but it can take almost any animal form.

Perhaps the best known story of such astral travel is that of Boðvar Bjarki, who fought in the form of a bear (spirit-bear) while his lich, or Líkami (body), lay in trance (Hrólfr Kraki’s Saga)

Freyja and many of the other goddesses of Norse mythology were seiðr practitioners.

Perhaps the shamanistic seidr practice of astral traveling (the mind (munr) and spirit (hugr) outside of the physical body (likami), was how all the gods got around. Odin’s two ravens Muninn and Huginn, Thor being charioted by Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr, Freyja’s chariot pulled by two cats, etc..

by Njord Kane © 2016 Spangenhelm Publishing

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