Yggdrasil and the Cross

THERE is an amazing parallel between Odinism and Christianity which I believe in either faith owes nothing to the other. It is that Odin and Christ both suffered torture on a tree. In the northern European tradition that tree is Yggdrasil, the ever-living tree that supports the cosmos. In Christianity it was a dead tree, a man-made instrument of public execution, the cross.

The similarities go beyond appearances, for both events are seen as god sacrificing himself to himself. Like all primitives, the ancient Germans and Hebrews laid great importance on making sacrifices to their gods. For our forefathers, however, propitiation of sins was never a reason for sacrifice. Prosperity, luck, victory, the gaining of knowledge are all likely motives of religious sacrifices in Odinism. However, there are no sources indicating the practice of penitential sacrifices amongst the Germans comparable to the Judeo-Christian tradition.

From this distinction arise all the other dissimilarities in the significance of these sacrificial events which far outweigh similarities of form.

Odin is the god of wisdom and his sacrifice was to gain knowledge, in particular the secrets of the runes. Through knowledge he increases his power and through his victory mankind benefits too. Christ’s sacrifice was to save men from their sins. In other words, the sacrifice of the cross was a penitential one. Christ’s sacrifice is explained as a mystery, something that surpasses human knowledge and understanding. Odin’s sacrifice is more mysterious in the sense that it opens the doorways of the imagination and induces us to believe that there is often more to things than meets the eye.

From a rational point of view bath stories sound puzzling. Why would the attainment of knowledge obtained through hanging from a tree? Why should salvation from sin be the result? For that matter why should anybody need to be saved from sin?

The Odinist logic falls into place when Odin’s ordeal is seen in the context of historic shamanism. The approach of death is known to bring clearer knowledge and awareness, and it was used in the past as a means of expanding the mind. In states of pain, exhaustion and approaching death inner discoveries have been made. Things fell into place for Odin in the shape of runes, which would ensure victory over the evil forces of chaos. The experiences and attainments of shamans, fakirs and the like should be viewed as a valid, rational subject of research.
Christ’s sacrifice can only be understood in terms of the old Hebrew temple sacrifices and in the context of the Christians’ complicated views of salvation, and their doctrines of salvation, as well rehearsed as they are, can only be understood in terms of ‘transference of guilt’.
Thus, Eve tempted Adam and guilt was transferred to Adam. Adam fell and guilt was then transferred to all living men and women. Guilt was transferred to the scapegoat and the Jews were let off. Man can transfer his guilt to Christ through the cross and will be let off too. Guilt is here seen as something concrete.

Yet wouldn’t even the most timid stand up for himself in a court of law and say he will be judged on his own merits and not take the blame for something someone else did? It is this odd concept of guilt being transferred from one person to another that seems so puzzling and absurd.
The Christians’ problem is that monotheism dictates that god must be perfectly just and perfectly merciful all the time, which is where the absurdity creeps in. Now, most of us have our moments of justice, such as when we punch an assailant on the nose, and of mercy, such as when we do not do so. Rarely, however, would we claim to be acting perfectly justly or with absolute mercy. When we are merciful to an assailant twice our size we are not being perfectly merciful. Never, though, do we claim to be combining perfect mercy and absolute justice at one and the same time, because it would be untrue.

Moreover, from a northern European and an English point of view the Christian god’s justice is tainted with barbarity. The excesses of god’s damning wrath indicate a severity which excludes mutual sympathy. Thus his mercy in saving a few elect, or in sacrificing his son, seem mediocre or dubious mercies. And his justice in making Adam and Eve’s life a misery, just because of a spot of youthful rebelliousness or in demanding the death of an innocent victim to pay for the crimes of others, is to say the least a case of going to extremes, being bound up in a complex of guilt transference.

One should not, however, be surprised at this differing attitude of justice. The ancient Germans had their laws and the Hebrews had theirs. We should not expect a foreign religion to embrace our idea of justice when theirs may have been a valid response to their own historical experiences. But we must take objection when Christian doctrine tries to pass off these weaknesses as the attributes of a perfect god.

Odin is not a perfect god and we can be more honest than the Christians. Odin is the self-sacrificing god who grows in stature when he discovers the runes. The biblical god is perfect and cannot change. He is an unnatural god because he cannot grow. His sacrifice is to satisfy an incomprehensible, outlandish and untenable code of justice. Odin’s sacrifice could almost be said to be the act that won him godhead.

Christ’s sacrifice is seen as making amends for Adam s sin of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Odin would have eaten the fruit, too, because his supreme aim was to gain knowledge. Through his victorious sacrifice man too can glimpse the divine mysteries.