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home / articles / heithanic studies / Huginn & Muninn

Huginn & Muninn

If I had to choose what I found the most amazing bit in our lore, you know the gun-to-your-head kind of choosing, I'd probably go with the image of Huginn and Muninn. I can't really say 'the myth of Huginn and Munnin' as it's not even a myth, it's a mere mentioning of, a line in a long work, a hint of a concept in Grminismal. Yet, to me it's perhaps the best kept secret in Germanic heathenry. Let me tell you why.

Odhins Ravens

Huginn and Muninn
Huginn and Muninn are of course Odhins ravens, who fly out into the world everyday to see what's going on for the All-father. They bring him back the news and thus Odhin knows what is happening on Miðgard. On itself already quite a beautiful concept. One can imagine our ancestors looking to the sky as a raven flew by, feeling watched by the one-eyed god. Ravens as a bird species have that mysterious look and feel. They are large on themselves, even if they have their wings wrapped tightly against their bodies. Their color pitch-black, making them look like dark messengers in the sky. Gorgeous in every way, but not the main reason why I like this part so much.

I like it, as it shows an amazing level of debt and insight. Huginn originally means thought (from Old Norse hugi; thought, mind) and Muninn means memory (from Old Norse muna; memory). With this in mind, the part of Grimnismal becomes quite different, as we can read Odhin (disguised as Grimnir) say:
Hugin and Munin fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,
yet more anxious am I for Munin.


Here we have then not so much Odhin speaking his worries about his beloved animals, but speaking of a concern for his own aging. He expresses a fear for losing his mind, his ability to think, but he is much more fearful for his memories. A rare occasion to see the All-father bow before a common enemy of all things living: old age.

But the interesting bits do not end there. Thought and memory form a strong duo that rely on each other, they need one another to function properly. It is impossible to think about something if you have no memory or knowledge about that particular thing. Without any memories, one has no reference to relate to, to create a theory or even a thought. One could only think about nothing, which is not thinking at all. On the other hand memories without thoughts serve no purpose. What lesson can be learned from a memory that is never considered?

Mimir and Hoenir

To further the mystery, we have to first look elsewhere. See, to me Huginn and Munnin have always seemed to be a different portrayal of Mimir and Hoenir. Both deities are shrouded in some mystery, but they appear together in the Heimskringla where we read how both these Ases were offered to the Vanir as hostages, in exchange for the Vanirs greatest gods: Njorð and Freyr. Mimir was held as one of the wisest Ases and Hoenir was made chieftain of the Vanir shortly after arriving. But whenever Mimir would not be at the side of Hoenir, Hoenir could not make decisions. He seemed completely dependant on his counterpart to make even the simplest of choices. This angered the Vanir so much that they decapitated Mimir. It is to be noted that even without a body Mimir continued to serve his purpose as wisest of Ases.

Mimir is an odd figure in the Germanic pantheon, one that can not be dealt with in the detail I would like in this small rant, but let me say this about him; he is the god that guards the well of Yggdrassil (also known as 'Mimirs pillar'), he is the god that demands Odhins eye for the secrets of the runes. He is considered wisest and his name literally means to remember (Indo-European root *mi-moro, to remember). His name is still present in modern Dutch in the word mijmeren, which means to ponder. Here then we have the god of memory, knowledge and wisdom. A god that like Muninn needs his counterpart in Huginn, or in this case Hoenir, to be able to function as much as his counterpart needs him. It is then clear why Hoenir needs Mimir at his side.

The wolves of Odhin

But the symbolism continues as we find Odhins ravens next to two other animals that accompany our All-Father on his throne: the wolves Geri and Freki. Where Huginn and Muninn stand for the mind and our rationality, these wolves stand for our bodies and hunger. Geri is often translated as greedy, which is actually slightly off. The word greedy implies an unnatural desire for more, to want more than you actually need or would consume. The proper translation would be more in terms of desire. The Proto-Germanic root *geraz is found in modern Dutch words like gretig and begeren which mean eager, desire or to wish. From these words stems the current word for greedy as well, but as an extension of. This is important, as it will shine more light on his companion. Freki stems from the Proto-Germanic *freka and is again still found in modern Dutch in the word vrek, which means miser, scrooge, someone who is truly greedy as we know the term today, who wishes to have more just to have more, not actually devour.

It is then interesting to note that Odhin has by his side two types of animals. One that stands for the mind, the rational. The other for the body, the lust, the hunger. Odhin himself is of course the epitome of Wuod, the spirited anger that lends him his name as Wodan. The divine inspiration, the essence of our very being, our drive, our soul. A division that we can find very clearly marked in the Voluspa, where Odhin, Hoenir and Loðr give life to the first humans. Odhin gives life and soul, Hoenir gives wit and thought (as we would expect from the god of thoughts) and finally Loðr gives color and form.

Tripartite of man

A tripartite we see in most Indo-European faiths and which also has been extensively covered by Plato amongst others. In greek philosophy it is called Thumos (spiritness, similar the to Wuod), Logos (logic, rational thinking) and Epithumia or Eros (appetite or lust). With that in mind we can conclude that the image of Odhin and his ravens and wolves is a very old image indeed, one that is tied with the creation and stands for us as mankind. From this we can learn a great lesson from Odhin himself. We should feed our hunger and lust from time to time, but never give into it fully. Just as Odhin feeds his wolves, but does not let them feast as the gods would. We should let our minds roam and pick up as much as we can, but never let them wander off. Just as Odhin lets his ravens fly over the world to come back to him. And finally we should focus on our drives and resolve to steady our path in life, like the All-Father himself.

I will leave you with a final note to ponder (pun intended), again from modern Dutch. We have an old saying Tegen Heug en Meug, meaning 'against Huginn and Muninn' that is still in use today. Where it apparantly used to mean 'against better judgement and ability', over time it formed to mean 'against my appetite'. What that means or implies I'll leave open for today as I'd like to end this rant with the idea that Odhins ravens are still called upon today in modern times. Something that brings a smile to my face.

 


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