The 18 Spell Songs of Odin
The Rúnatal is a subsection of the Hávamál that describes Odin’s discovery of the runes. During this episode, the most wise of the gods sacrifices himself to himself in an attempt to gain a greater knowledge of the cosmos and potentially stave off the approach of Ragnarok. For nine days and nights Odin hung on the Yggdrasil, pierced by his own spear. Nine of course, was no random number to ancient Scandanavian society. It has a significant meaning in the esoteric understanding of the Norse reality, which is revealed in the nine worlds of the cosmos. This number is doubled in the section after the Rúnatal. Stanzas 145 to 14 describe eighteen magical songs that describe eighteen magical runes. These are known as the 18 spell songs of Odin.
Through Odin’s ordeal, in very warrior-like language, he “seizes” the runes. This secret alphabet contained the formula for all possible expression. After 9 long days, Odin had successfully obtained the vehicle that could convey magical language. He still, however needed to discover the wisdom that was elusively above it. For this reason, Odin descended into the underworld to the root of the tree of Yggdrasil, so that he may obtain what he sought. He drank from Mimir’s well and gained what he sought.
The following stanzas of the Havamal are words from Odin himself. They are the words that describe what Odin had gained while he hung on the Yggrasil. It includeds stanzas 145 to 164. Here are the 18 spell songs of Odin:
Those songs I know, which nor sons of men
nor queen in a king’s court knows;
the first is Help which will bring thee help
in all woes and in sorrow and strife.
A second I know, which the son of men
must sing, who would heal the sick.
A third I know: if sore need should come
of a spell to stay my foes;
when I sing that song, which shall blunt their swords,
nor their weapons nor staves can wound.
A fourth I know: if men make fast
in chains the joints of my limbs,
when I sing that song which shall set me free,
spring the fetters from hands and feet.
A fifth I know: when I see, by foes shot,
speeding a shaft through the host,
flies it never so strongly I still can stay it,
if I get but a glimpse of its flight.
A sixth I know: when some thane would harm me
in runes on a moist tree’s root,
on his head alone shall light the ills
of the curse that he called upon mine.
A seventh I know: if I see a hall
high o’er the bench-mates blazing,
flame it ne’er so fiercely I still can save it, —
I know how to sing that song.
An eighth I know: which all can sing
for their weal if they learn it well;
where hate shall wax ‘mid the warrior sons,
I can calm it soon with that song.
A ninth I know: when need befalls me
to save my vessel afloat,
I hush the wind on the stormy wave,
and soothe all the sea to rest.
A tenth I know: when at night the witches
ride and sport in the air,
such spells I weave that they wander home
out of skins and wits bewildered.
An eleventh I know: if haply I lead
my old comrades out to war,
I sing ‘neath the shields, and they fare forth mightily
safe into battle,
safe out of battle,
and safe return from the strife.
A twelfth I know: if I see in a tree
a corpse from a halter hanging,
such spells I write, and paint in runes,
that the being descends and speaks.
A thirteenth I know: if the new-born son
of a warrior I sprinkle with water,
that youth will not fail when he fares to war,
never slain shall he bow before sword.
A fourteenth I know: if I needs must number
the Powers to the people of men,
I know all the nature of gods and of elves
which none can know untaught.
A fifteenth I know, which Folk-stirrer sang,
the dwarf, at the gates of Dawn;
he sang strength to the gods, and skill to the elves,
and wisdom to Odin who utters.
A sixteenth I know: when all sweetness and love
I would win from some artful wench,
her heart I turn, and the whole mind change
of that fair-armed lady I love.
A seventeenth I know: so that e’en the shy maiden
is slow to shun my love.
These songs, Stray-Singer, which man’s son knows not,
long shalt thou lack in life,
though thy weal if thou win’st them, thy boon if thou obey’st them
thy good if haply thou gain’st them.
An eighteenth I know: which I ne’er shall tell
to maiden or wife of man
save alone to my sister, or haply to her
who folds me fast in her arms;
most safe are secrets known to but one-
the songs are sung to an end.
Now the sayings of the High One are uttered in the hall
for the weal of men, for the woe of Jötuns,
Hail, thou who hast spoken! Hail, thou that knowest!
Hail, ye that have hearkened! Use, thou who hast learned!
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