Odin, the high god of Norse mythology, rode his eight-legged horse Sleipnir through the nine worlds dispensing ecstasy to all those who invoked him. Now an image of a man with a horse depicted on a gold pendant from the 6th century AD has been found by an amateur with a metal detector on a Danish island. Experts speculate it depicts Odin in part because it has the text “The High One,” one of Odin’s titles.
While the horse on the pendant does not have eight legs, the man’s head is hovering above it. The horse’s head appears to have antlers or horns. The pendant is believed to date to 536 AD, a year that was plagued by severed weather conditions.
Also depicted on the gold pendant is a swastika, which was not then a symbol of racism or white “supremacy.” The Nazis of pre-World War II and World War II Europe and later neo-nazis co-opted the symbol. It has been known for millennia in various places around the world, including among people of color, as a cosmic sign and one of good luck.
The gold and silver pieces found by a man with a metal detector on a Danish island may have been part of sacrificial offerings in 536 AD to the god Odin to avert harsh, cold weather. (Museum Lolland-Falster image)
The metal-detecting amateur, Carsten Helm, and his sons turned up the gold pendant and some other gold and silver pieces nearby on the island of Lolland. The Museum Lolland-Falster says Odin’s image has been found on many artifacts across Northern Europe, some with the words The High One, so they assume this is the same deity. Odin was and still is considered by neo-pagans or Asatruar the high god of the Aesir, one of two main families of Norse gods. The other are the Vanir, with whom the Aesir had some contact and intermarriage.
Odin in blue as the Wanderer, with Mime (Wikimedia Commons/Arthur Rackham painting)
“It is a really exciting discovery," says Marie Brinch, curator at the Museum Lolland-Falster. “Although it is a known type, it is a rare and exciting find—over time there have been only three found on Lolland, the latest in 1906—and from all over northern Europe we are aware of only around 1,000 pieces, most of which are from Denmark and the Nordic region.”
She said the pendant is so exciting because it is among the earliest depictions of Norse religion. This charm appears to show Odin as a shaman, she said. Shamans in ancient religions and still today make contact with the world of spirits in ecstatic union. As a god, it is possible Odin was in contact with shamans invoking him.
The museum says another interpretation of Odin’s image on the pendant is that he was a known as a healer of horses. The press release from the museum doesn’t mention this, but Odin’s vehicle or mount was a magical eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.
Norse-Mytology.org has a section on Sleipnir that states: “The eight-legged horse as a means of transportation used by shamans in their ecstatic travels throughout the cosmos is a motif that can be found in a staggering number of indigenous traditions from all over the world. Sleipnir is ‘the shamanic horse par excellence,’ just as Odin is the shamanic god par excellence.”
Odin on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir (public domain)
Another theory about the gold and silver jewelry is that it was part of a sacrifice, possibly including of humans, to avert the very cold winters of the 6th century AD. Ms. Binch explained:
“It is possibly linked to a major natural disaster that took place in 536. Written sources from both the Roman Empire, Europe, the Middle East and even China tell of a year when the sun was not shining and there was frost in summer. We do not know exactly what happened, but there are indications that a violent volcanic eruption or a meteor strike threw ash or dust in the atmosphere and thus caused a prolonged period of reduced sunlight. Such an event certainly made people afraid. The harvest failed, and neither humans nor animals were able to get enough to eat. In such desperate times it was natural to call upon the gods for help by sacrificing … and the more precious things, the better. The event has been traumatic for the survivors, perhaps we can find traces of the idea of Ragnarok – the end of the world. It is an interesting thought that the beginning of [the epic] Völuspá just mentions that the sun disappears, and then follows Fimbul Winter - three winters without summer between. … The correlation is striking. It was not just wealth, sacrifices were made, but magical amulets and symbols. And maybe it was hoped that the shiny gold could help bring the shining sun back?”
Top image: Odin Riding Forth on the Cover of "Legends and Lore" (Cory Funk / flickr)
By Mark Miller