I was recently in a discussion regarding the notion of "relationship to deity" as we Heathens understand it. It's nothing like the mainstream Christian notion of "relationship to God"- though many people who would be Heathen, and who have had the Christian model of relationship demonstrated to them all their life- expect that we will approach our Gods in the same familiar and intimate terms.
We don't. I've discussed it before, in many places, but it never really gets old: the Gods are busy running the universe and keeping the Worlds safe from being destroyed by wicked, destructive powers. This is not to say that they don't sometimes give visions or guidance to individual human beings, but it's far from a common occurrence. The Gods don't micromanage our lives, nor do they give out their "personal cell numbers" to just anyone who decides that they'll worship them. The Gods- led by Allfather- have given mankind many great and powerful assets, including the Godly spirit within each man and woman, and their ceaselessly effective wisdom, as embodied in texts like "Havamal" and other writings in the lore of the past.
The Gods give us the capability to be wise, brave, clever, resourceful, and enduring. Their spirit in us tends towards these things. They give us copious advice through the ancestral lore. They inspire us with their very presence, which can sometimes be experienced in moments of sacred might. They upheld the ancestors who knew them, and they uphold us now, even if most human beings won't give them the time of day anymore.
The Gods have fulfilled their role in the Fate of human beings; we have to stand and do our part now- return the favor, as it were, and make the most of their gifts and their aid when we can get it. Humans have to live their lives on what powers and merits they can manifest in themselves.
The only "outside aid" we can expect beyond what the Gods have done is the help and protection of the spirits of our family-lines, and our ancestral powers, who do provide us with luck and guidance, in their own strange way. Life is full of uncertainties, and there is no reason to be overly concerned about this simple and universal fact. You just accept it and live the best way you can. That's real peace; conflict begins when you either delight in delusions about life's true nature, and the true nature of death- or when you sit around wishing that the way the world works was different. We're not going to improve the world; it is being woven out by Fate. We can, however, improve our perspectives and find peace.
Organic religions, like Heathen traditions, don't come pre-packaged with "instruction books" for life. You learn all that you can from wherever you can- your elders, parents, friends, and from ancestral tradition, like the myths and lore. Then you live. You are helped, and you help others. Most importantly, you try to gain wisdom from living- wisdom, that true manifestation of the supreme solar-minded insight and inspiration which rained onto mankind when Odhinn, the Allfather and Master of the Mysteries completed his timeless quest for the deepest vision of reality. Those same blessings are mediated by his strange doings (in the mythical past and in our here-and-now present) to those who are cunning and brave enough to be "Allfather's Own".
It's odd indeed to think that the Gods can be so important to us- and to all life- and yet we don't imagine that we are having two-way phone calls with them every time we pray, fain, or sacrifice. There is no reason to be perplexed here; it is the mighty example of the Gods that supply our needs for relationship with the ruling powers. Living the "Odhinnic Life"- living by the example of the great Godly Sorcerer himself- makes one "move in his channel"- move, think, and live according to his own ancient wisdom and his own actions, and thus, we channel many of the same experiences he had.
The result of this is twofold: a precious chance to find the secrets that Allfather found, and a chance to know that we are not living a life merely of our own making, but living in accordance with a greater pattern of Wyrd, a timeless pattern with proven results: results that end in wisdom, the death of the self, given over to the Greater Self- and if we are lucky, the arrival at the same condition that Allfather resides in, perpetually.
We don't become "Allfathers", ourselves; we become what we have the potential to be inside- wise and free spirits that drink from his endless cup of inspiration, served to us by his handmaidens. That we can achieve such a blessed state is the evidence we need that, at the core of us, is that deathless spirit "in-breathed" (in-spired) by Allfather. If we were only lumps of mud and organic material, as modern science would have us believe, no such realizations or awakenings would be possible.
There are no "lumps of dead matter" to be found, anywhere in the Nine Worlds. All matter is coexistent with the fire that impelled the creation of the world-system; all matter is energetic and alive in its own way. All energy and matter, which can be reduced to the strong, impelling subtle forces and the inert, tending-to-stasis forces, (Fire and Ice) are themselves arisen from a deeper layer of reality- the layer of Ginnungagap, the void of Ginn-powers, the extremely subtle and mysterious roots of all things which not even the wisest can penetrate unless he or she dies to all relative notions of "world" and "self".
Those extremely subtle and mysterious roots are not known to me directly, but I will say one thing about them: I know that they are living powers, for the reality of sentience, spirit, and mind arose from them, and no dead thing can produce something alive. Effects are always something of the nature of their causes. The cosmos is a storm of mighty living powers, many risen to high levels of sentience, like the Gods and humanity, others not so high, tending towards darkness and chaos as they do. But the entire "cosmic event" is a powerful and timeless explosion of life and life-interaction.
And the Allfather is the Master of its many mysteries. To live in respect and worship of Odhinn is very good- very wise; it is good and right that people should worship such a being who is so tied to our own arising as human beings and our own greatness as humanity. But it is even greater and wiser to live like Odhinn- to follow in his footsteps and actualize the stages of his quest for the mysteries. Living like him places you in an intimate relationship with him, even if you never see him in a dream or see him in person.
In a sense, living like him means that you "see" him in everything that you do, for the reality of these things is such that you can't separate their power from him. The goal is to "see" that undying spirit of yourself, which he breathed into your ancestors. When you "see" that, you have seen the very essence and nature of the Gods. It frees us from despair, doubt, and death. That's what real wisdom is, to me- freedom from despair, confusion, doubt, and death.
What does it mean to live the Odhinnic way of life? It means that you look to sacred accounts of Allfather's interactions and his own quest to wisdom, to inspire your own. Below are a list of "Odhinnic perspectives" that I have crafted as a means to guidance for myself and others who are interested in the greatest path to wisdom that a human being can walk.
1. The Allfather Sacrificed his lesser self to his Greater Self, in the name of wisdom.
The quest for wisdom is greater than any other quest. Odhinn was willing to "die" to everything he thought about himself, everything he believed, and every doubt, attachment, joy, and fear he knew, just to attain wisdom. Does this mean we should give up on everything we find important in our lives, and become monks? Naturally not- "dying" or releasing ourselves from the snares of the lesser self isn't about scorning the lesser self and letting it die of starvation; it is about understanding that a Greater Self exists, and understanding what the true relationship is between lesser and Greater.
The Greater Self, to use an example, is an ocean compared to the lesser self, which is like a fish in the ocean. The fish depends so much on the great (and to it, invisible) medium of the oceanic body. There is no fish without it; it is the source of life and sustenance to the fish. It is the medium in which the fish moves and thrives. It is the resting place of the fish when the fish dies and its body comes apart.
But in the meantime, the fish swims on, blithely unaware of this great oceanic power upon which it relies, depends, and in which it moves and lives. If we were reflections on the surface of a mirror, the surface of the mirror- which effortlessly upholds all reflections as they come and go- would be like our Godly nature, our undying Greater Self. No part of a reflection is exempt from depending on the mirror, or being upheld by it. Just so, no part of our so-called "lesser self" can be apart from the Greater; the Greater is merely silent, perpetual, and supportive- the very "strong force" that holds the entire cosmos together. To die to the lesser is to grasp oceanic consciousness while still having command of fish consciousness- it is to become both lasting mirror and temporary, passing reflection at the same time.
So, dying to our lesser self is really about understanding the reality of the greater and no longer according single-minded limitation and importance to the lesser things that live and die, constantly. You don't have to give up your house, your beautiful wife or handsome husband, or give up all your money- these things that most people are quite fond of and attached to- you just have to see them with the proper, greater perspective. You have to see them with a wiser perspective.
Understanding the insubstantial nature of lesser things is precisely how we "give them up"- even if we keep them after our breakthrough in understanding, and even if we go on enjoying them, we've still "given them up" in a very important way. We've given up our slavery to our limited ideas about the natures of these things- and the nature of what we call "ourselves".
Like Odhinn, you can be alive and dead at the same time, rich and poor at the same time, loaded down with possessions and free of possessions at the same time. You only "have" the Greater Self when you let greater, wiser perspectives temper and change how you experience the "lesser" self. This is a matter of being willing to sacrifice yourself, and things about yourself that you may enjoy- beliefs you may enjoy, feelings you may enjoy, or habits you may enjoy. You have to be willing to take risks, to lose and to suffer in order to gain. Odhinn gouged out his eye to have a drink from a well that gave him much wisdom- what will you tear out to gain wisdom?
2. Allfather Welcomed a Dark Figure to his Table, and Offered his Hospitality and Friendship
Loki the Wolf's Father became bound to Odhinn through blood and troth. They shared horns and cups! Why ever? Such a dangerous, tricky figure being welcomed by Allfather? Won't Loki's giant Wolf-Son Fenris destroy Odhinn one day, with Loki leading the army that Fenris will be a part of? Sure. But the indistinct future doesn't mean squat when it comes to dealing wisely with what exists right now. Odhinn knows what role Loki has to play in the unfolding of things. Odhinn knows Loki's necessity, and he shows his acceptance of "things being risky and dangerous"- an acceptance that we all need to consider.
We all fail to live up to our highest ideals at times, and we all have risky behaviors, ideas, habits, and other dangerous powers in our lives. What do we do? Whine? Try to destroy the "other side" of things, as though it weren't necessary? It is necessary, even if it has disastrous consequences. Neither the universe nor these human societies or bodies are going to be around forever. Those dangerous powers that threaten to overthrow things are our constant companions and teachers, in a very real way- they keep us on our toes and they keep us preparing for the inevitable tests we must all face, when we are forced back down to the roots and to what is true and real.
Might as well set aside a cup of ale for the things you don't like about your life- because Fate wove them into your life for a reason, and wisdom comes from discovering that reason, not struggling against what cannot be changed. Every glorious feast or delightful meal ends up as a steaming pile of shit, eventually- that's no reason not to enjoy the feast.
Sure, every good thing is destined to be broken down- and destruction forever follows along with creation (and creation follows along with destruction)- and as much as these things might seem to be a real tragedy, consider it: Allfather and the Gods still made humans, and endowed us with spirit and life, and taught us to live well. Why would they, if all this was meaningless? Take the hint- live life happily. There must be a good reason why they thought it was worth it.
3. Allfather Wanders the World, In Many Shapes and Guises, in Search of Wisdom
He never seems to get enough! In many guises the Old Man treks about; his comings and goings are very mysterious. He seeks heroes to take as his own, seeks occult knowledge, new forms of sorcery to master, and seeks for goodness knows what else. He is the eternal student of the world- even a God in possession of omniscience still feels the need to wander and learn.
What can this mean? That knowing everything and working to know everything are not truly different- two sides of one coin. It tells us that omniscience is hard work, and that even a being that has the power to know everything- all the tidings of the earth, through his sorcery- still enjoys getting out sometime and seeing things with his own great eye.
The learning process must never end. It will never end. There's always new perspectives to learn, even on old knowledge that one may believe they have mastered. It is this "infinite" nature to wisdom and learning that makes them what they are, and makes them attributes of the Godly spirit in us. If they could reach some "limit", leaving us static and with nothing new to do or learn, they would not be worthy of a Godly essence. Our interactions with the world are never done, and the process of learning is ongoing.
There is no such thing as "forbidden knowledge", and no limits to what you should be interested in learning. Odhinn crosses every country and every region of every world looking to learn useful things. So do his men and women.
4. Allfather Rules the Gods and the Worlds through Subtlety, not Might of Arms
Yes, he has powerful weapons, like his enchanted spear Gungnir, but his real weapon is his mastery of the Runes and of sorcery- the power to alter the perspectives of other beings, to outwit them and to shift his shape like the God he is. His great knowledge, insight, and wisdom is what makes him Ruler of the Gods and the Worlds, not his magic spear. The penetrating Eye of Odhinn sees all things and through all things, to their roots- though what it "sees" there is not for us to know, but to discover.
If beating Giants to death and crushing the enemies of the Gods with brute force was enough to Rule the Cosmos, then Thorr would be in charge, not his father Odhinn. Wisdom rules the world- not savagery or muscle. It may not seem that way now, in our human world, in our times where wisdom doesn't seem to be high on the agendas of many governments, but cosmically speaking, it is wisdom that sits above strength in dominance and importance.
Might fades. Strength fades with age. Empires and armies fall. But wisdom remains, and a person strong in wisdom dies well, whereas a person who can only really beat people up well is carried away by death in terror- for their fists are useless when Hel casts Her noose around the fool's neck.
The men and women of Odhinn seek to fight smarter, not fight harder.
5. Allfather has a Dark Sense of Humor
...And so would you if you lived in perpetual awareness of your true self as an indestructible reality of spirit, and could now wander around the world, in many temporary, relative forms, enjoying life, experiencing excitement and fulfilling the needful work of Fate, without ever once having to slip into despair and doubt on account of your lost wits.
On your happy journeys, you'd meet a Hel of a lot of beings who are nothing like you- whiners, greedy bastards, poufs, idiots, and drool-cup specials that seem to think that they are the most important beings in existence, and who cause themselves and others an enormous pile of trouble.
Glaring from under the brim of his hat with his drilling eye, Allfather knows the true nature of these confused beings. He knows what role they play in the scheme of things. He knows what forces wove them they way they are. He knows what the outcomes of their stupidity must be.
If you were like Allfather, you wouldn't be able to help yourself- you'd have some fun at their expense, at least some of the time. And in so doing, you'd show them a different way to be- maybe they'd get better. Maybe they'd whine even more and just end up being a lesson for posterity. Or maybe you'd help eliminate them, if that was better for them and for the world. From the outside, it might look like you were being a sneaky, slippery bastard. You might look lethal and cruel. But from the inside, the story is very different. For the truly wise, the story is always different.
They say "ruthlessness is the kindness of the wise"- and there is a drop of truth to that, when the whole story is seen. Sometimes, the wisest thing to do is pretty savage seeming. But you will always know real wisdom by its ends- when it leads to good places, to greater harmony, then it was good all along. The scale is long and hard to see, unless of course you see with the eye of wholeness. Most humans don't. Most men and women of Odhinn don't. And those that do, well, I doubt we'll ever know about them, fully- like Odhinn, they won't ever be what they appear. Their comings and goings will likely be obscure to us. But we can honor their ideal.
There's nothing left to do but have a good laugh when the truth about things is known. The show is all decided, falling away to the Ragnarok- Orlog will unfold as it must. All of the things that we've feared so much are really meaningless. We are fully free, at heart, and fully trapped by our paranoias and self-interested delusions. We won't take the gold drink that is offered us every day by the Fylgja-Women, the handmaidens to Odhinn who accompany us; we prefer to lick our spit and call it champagne.
Imagine that you took the drink! You'd be a drinker of the sweetest mead, awakened to the truth of things, and yet still surrounded by spit-drinkers. After you got over the shock of it (a shock you might not even have, considering how much you'd understand the necessity of spit-drinkers- you too, were once one, after all, and you managed to get some good out of it) you'd have to smile at the great perfection of it all. After that, it would be time for some fun.
Things that seem so tragic to others might be seen by you as cosmic comedy of the greatest quality. And the opposite is true- things others delight in may not delight you as much, knowing as you do what the true nature of things is. You'll be doomed to be like Allfather- always going your way in your own special sort of unconquerable freedom, destined to be misunderstood, feared, and ignored by people who drink spit.
And like Allfather, you'll be a great champion of the Gods and humankind, and of all worlds in which sentient life dwells. Your sorcery- your great insight- will see to it that you end up in places on your journeys where you need to be, for things to work out as they must.
6. Odhinn's Conquest of the Vertical Axis of Reality- the World Tree- gave Solar Salvation (Sig and Sal, the possibility of Victory and Health) to All Beings
And your conquest of the world-axis can do the same. Stop living an "all around me" life, that life that deals with a flat plane, north, south, east, and west- stop living on the horizontal. Look to the vertical, which allows perception and consciousness to rise to the heights and sink to the depths. In the depths of Hel are the Ginn-Powers, hidden, though come forth now as the Runes, as taught by Allfather after he won them. From the depths comes the Mead of Inspiration, won by Allfather and mediated to the whole world by him, in the form of his great Solar Eagle.
From the Depths and the Heights come different perspectives- perspectives that are co-existent with every "place" and "moment" here on the horizontal plane- and Allfather's Ravens forever fly back and forth whispering the keys to those perspectives. In the form of a serpent, he hisses about the great inspiration he found below, in the depths.
It is not the sun and life-force that Allfather mediates; it is the sun of spirit and the life-force of deathless eternity. It is the sun behind the sun, the life behind life. Those two suns are never separate; those two lives are never separate. His two Ravens are never separate, and he and his blood-brother, dark Loki, are never separate in spirit. His two wolves are with him at all times.
Allfather's lesser self (which is doomed to die at Ragnarok) is never separate from his Greater Self, which will live on from age to age, never dying. From that Greater Self he will emerge again in the regenerated world as the Reader of the Blood-Twigs, and continue on like nothing happened.
When will you rise to the heights, make the two into one, and overcome death and obscurity? Can you? The road is long and hard. Can our modern day produce such heroes? Allfather is still wandering about, waiting to see a few himself.