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Odin's ravens would continuously fly all over Midgard to collect information and bring it back to Odin.

In Norse mythology, Huginn (from Old Norse "thought") and Muninn (Old Norse "memory" or "mind") are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, Midgard, and bring information to the god Odin.

Wikipedia

In the poem Grímnismál, it is said that Odin is afraid the two ravens would not come back.

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.

Wikipedia

Why would a god be afraid that his ravens would not come back? Is there any secret meaning, connected to the ravens' names (Memory and Thought)?

  • 2
    Just my guess but might it have something to do with becoming demented? As Odin is mostly depicted as a wise old man. It's not uncommon for old people to lose their thought, memory and mind. – miva2 Aug 31 '15 at 15:52
  • I love how this question got downvoted such a long time after it was posted, and there were no other downvotes at the time. @downvoter, would you care to say why it is you downvoted? – nikaltipar Oct 31 '15 at 9:18
  • Hi naltipar, I'm going to assume I was the downvoter. Thing is, I didn't mean to downvote it! I was thinking about editing it so I can upvote it. Can you explain why you have Memory and Thought instead of just Memory and Thought? If the formatting is changed, I can go back to upvoting it and all will be right in the world. :) – C. M. Weimer Feb 22 '16 at 15:34
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I found a different wikipedia source, for Hugin a Munin which states:

Scholars have linked Odin's relation to Huginn and Muninn to shamanic practice. John Lindow relates Odin's ability to send his "thought" (Huginn) and "mind" (Muninn) to the trance-state journey of shamans. Lindow says the Grímnismál stanza where Odin worries about the return of Huginn and Muninn "would be consistent with the danger that the shaman faces on the trance-state journey

Although it seems that this approach of interpreting the ravens as a personification of the Odin's intellectual powers has been criticized too.

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11

The meaning of those two ravens is not 100% answered, yet. One possible explanation is as follows:

In the Norse shamanic tradition, Odin's ravens represent the powers of necromancy, clairvoyance and telepathy, and they were guides for the dead. This poem expresses the shaman's fear of his loss of magical powers.

The Well of Remembrance by Ralph Metzner, Shambala, Boston, 1994

However, it is implied the name of one of the ravens is mistranslated:

it’s often claimed that Munin’s name means “Memory,” but for this to be so, it would have to be derived from minni, “memory,” rather than munr, “desire.” The latter, however, is by far the more parsimonious derivation; if the former were the case, we should expect Munin’s Old Norse name to have been something like “Minninn” rather than “Muninn.” Moreover, the above verse from the Grímnismál makes much more sense if Munin’s name means “Desire” rather than “Memory”.

Norse Mythology for Smart People

Another possible explanation is the following, which is similar to first one:

Anthony Winterbourne connects Huginn and Muninn to the Norse concepts of the fylgja—a concept with three characteristics; shape-shifting abilities, good fortune, and the guardian spirit—and the hamingja—the ghostly double of a person that may appear in the form of an animal. Winterbourne states that “The shaman’s journey through the different parts of the cosmos is symbolized by the hamingja concept of the shape-shifting soul, and gains another symbolic dimension for the Norse soul in the account of Oðin’s ravens, Huginn and Muninn.”

My Travels with Huggin and Munnin

However, Rudolf Simek has an entirely different point to make, saying that the names of the ravens were only used in later times:

Rudolf Simek is critical of the approach, stating that "attempts have been made to interpret Odin's ravens as a personification of the god's intellectual powers, but this can only be assumed from the names Huginn and Muninn themselves which were unlikely to have been invented much before the 9th or 10th centuries" yet that the two ravens, as Odin's companions, appear to derive from much earlier times. Instead, Simek connects Huginn and Muninn with wider raven symbolism in the Germanic world, including the Raven Banner (described in English chronicles and Scandinavian sagas), a banner which was woven in a method that allowed it, when fluttering in the wind, to appear as if the raven depicted upon it was beating its wings.

Wikipedia

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  • One does not have to apply to general raven symbolism; there is certainly evidence suggestive of Odin together with ravens earlier than the 9th century. There are several vendel era depictions of a rider with a spear and one or two birds, e.g. the following detail from a helmet: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/… – andejons Dec 17 '16 at 20:51
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Having spend some time studying Icelandic and the older Norge, the Old Norsk seem more to me The Heart (remember, it was thought in this Nordic era that the heart was the center of thought in humans) and The Spirit or The Desire (Huginn og Muninn), both masculine here (the article is incorporated into the noun as one word and declines as such.)

So yes, I will go with The Desire or The Spirit to think and fight.

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  • 2
    Hi, and welcome to Myth.SE. Can you give some sort of link or citation for this, something for the rest of us to follow up on? Thanks! – C. M. Weimer Dec 17 '16 at 18:22
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It seems more logical for the ravens to be named "Thought," and "Desire." Reading Thor's statement about the daily flights of the ravens becomes much more clear if the names are "Thought" and "Desire." Paraphrasing Thor, he said: "I worry daily that I may lose the ability to think, but I worry more that I may lose the DESIRE to think." Who among us has not contemplated old age, and the inherent dangers of losing one's ability to think, but then worried far more about losing one's desire to think?

As one trained in psychology, in the European pattern, the meanings of the names of the ravens seems much more appropriate when it is assumed that the story is a paraphrased comment about the universal adult concern about losing one's ability to contemplate reality and the world; and how that concern is overshadowed by the fear that one may lose the desire to ponder reality.

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