Aside from being like an early medieval missile that never missed its target, this deadly weapon embodied the divine authority that Odin upheld.
Complex Daddy issues
Putting aside Anthony Hopkin's portrayal in the recent Marvel movie adaptation of Thor, Odin is undoubtedly one of the most beloved gods in the vast Norse pantheon.
He is the most revered of the gods and sits at the apex of the Norse pantheon; the all-seeing omnipotent "All-Father" (one of the many names he was called by adherents of the Old Norse religion) was most associated with warfare and magic, especially the runic alphabet.
Yet to simply portray him as the big daddy of Norse mythology would be way too simplistic.
Like so many of his earthly followers, Odin was a complex and multifaceted character. Whilst he may be associated with wisdom and knowledge, this association did not come cheaply as he was said to have lost an eye in the quest for runic insight.
Despite being revered as a chief god, he faced numerous struggles and hardships. He was often overseeing the other gods quarreling and bickering with each other, not least his two sons, Thor and Loki, and even sacrificed himself on the world tree, Yggdrasil.
It is his reputation of being a master of war, a god of strategic planning as well as battlefield destruction, that precedes him. This reputation is symbolized in the depictions of him wielding his magical spear, Gungnir.
Like Odin, Gungnir has more to it than meets the eye.
Any Norse god worth their salt has a magical weapon or item attached to them. Where would Thor be without his hammer, Mjöllnir, Freyr, and his sword, or Heimdall and his magical horn, Gjallarhorn?
Odin is no exception and is depicted, throughout Norse literature and art, with a magical spear called Gungnir. This was no ordinary weapon of war as Gungnir was said to have been forged by the dwarves, renowned for their artisanal expertise in metalworking.
According to the Norse sagas, when fashioning Gungnir, the dwarves also imbued it with magical properties, specifically the ability never to miss its target. Think of Gungnir as a sort of early medieval heat-seeking missile.
This was just another way in which Odin was a formidable opponent to anyone, or anything, that sought to cross him.
Gungnir was also said to have been forged with even more magical properties. Some of the Norse sagas seem to suggest that Gungnir could even control the outcome of a battle before it had started.
This is not the only early medieval depiction of a mighty spear as it bears a striking similarity to the "Spear of Destiny." This spear was said to be the one that had pierced the side of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion, and its holder could win any war.
- READ MORE: Viking spears: Odin's weapon of choice
Spears were often in the first line of both attack and defense in Viking battles, as they had several reach advantages over shorter weapons. Photo: Alex_Maryna / Shutterstock
A symbol of authority and justice
What is interesting about Gungnir, if we scroll through the many mentions of it in the Norse sagas, is that it takes on an important symbolic meaning as well.
First and foremost, the spear symbolizes Odin's role as the All-Father, the protector of the realm of Norse gods, Asgard. He used this spear, both literally and metaphorically, to protect Asgard from any and every threat or injustice.
Like a good Viking Chieftan, Odin was also responsible for upholding justice and maintaining order even in his heavenly realm. Aside from a symbol of law and order, Gungnir represents Odin's divine authority.
He should not be considered a "first among equals" in the Norse pantheon. Many Viking chieftains and rulers, including the later early medieval periods kings of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, took Odin as the ideal ruler par excellence.
Odin's spear was a sign of his divine authority, and many Viking leaders and warriors used similar weapons as symbols of their right to rule.
Weapons as symbols of authority and rule were used by Vikings, including both Harald Hardrada and Rollo with an axe, whilst Olaf Tryggvason wielded a sword made of gold and Erik the Red gave his sword a nickname, "Leg Biter."
- READ MORE: A complete guide to Viking weaponry
Role in Ragnarök
Gungnir was also, like all mythical Norse weapons, said to play an important part in Ragnarök. Scanning the Norse sagas, one can assume that Odin, as the protector of Asgard, would play a rather large role in this apocalyptic end of time.
Fending off the army of ghouls and ghastly creatures said to come and try and destroy Asgard, Odin wields Gungnir destructively. He is said to have had a particularly bloody and epic battle against the giant wolf, Fenrir, aided by his trusty magical spear.
Using Gungnir to ward off evil, chaos, and destruction only further underscores the protective role of Odin and his authority as the chief Norse god.
Gungnir, a magical spear imbued with magical and symbolic power, represents Odin's might and wisdom. There are many famous depictions and artistic renditions of Odin wielding Gungnir.
One of the most famous was a depiction sculptured by American artists Lee Lawrie on the U.S Library of Congress building. Lawrie sculpted Odin wielding Gungnir as one of several mythical figures associated with writing.
Now that is an honor worth losing an eye for..!
For the latest archaeological find and what it means about our understanding of the origins of Odin, visit The Guardian website here.
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