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In order to learn the secrets of the runes (symbols of some of the most powerful forces in the cosmos), Odin hangs himself from Yggdrasil, pierces himself with his own spear, and peers downward to the Well of Urn for nine days. He fasts during this time and instructs the other gods not to assist him in any way.

At the end of the ninth night he perceives some shapes on the depth of the Well. The runes have accepted his sacrifice (Odin is sacrificing himself to himself) and show themselves to him, and thus Odin is able to learn their secrets. 1

Not that this is not a great feat, but if the process might consist in going through an ordeal were a being "offers himself or herself" to the runes, overcomes or withstands the ordeal and the runes accept this sacrifice, it could look like something that others might be tempted to try.

Has any other god or entity in the Norse mythology, successfully or unsuccessfully, attempted to gain knowledge of the runes like Odin did?


1: One reference to this process.

  • 1
    What kind of an answer would be acceptable for a "no"? Positive (e.g. an explicit notion in the myth that nobody sans Odin gained the knowledge)? Negative (that analysis of the myths indicates no mentions of anyone else gaining the knowledge)? Contextual (analysis of how runes associated with Odin in historical context)? – DVK May 7 '15 at 16:54
  • I was thinking about that too. I'll go with the "negative": there is no other being "God, giant, hero, etc. who learned the runes (by any mean). I think that the "positive" approach says that only Odin gained knowledge on that myth. That's why I was wondering if there are other myths in which other characters try to do the same (or are even taught by Odin himself). I don't think that references can be provided for a "negative no" answer, and I don't expect one. That answer could be accepted until someone proves otherwise with a "yes" – Kreann May 7 '15 at 17:06
  • I could be wrong but IIRC Odin did teach humans the runes. – DVK May 7 '15 at 17:27
  • @DVK, you mean, specific humans? If that is in a myth would be a suitable answer. – Kreann May 7 '15 at 18:44
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    I think it was more like non-specific humans (rather like Prometheus teaching fire), but it's been a couple of decades since I saw that text and I may be mis-remembering (and definitely don't have a cite). Having said that, your last paragraph seems specifically interested in learning runes via the Odin method, NOT via regular scholarship. – DVK May 7 '15 at 20:52
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I think it's safe to say that at least the Norns knew the language of the runes from the Völuspá:

There stands an ash called Yggdrasil,
A mighty tree showered in white hail.
From there come the dews that fall in the valleys.
It stands evergreen above Urd’s Well.

From there come maidens, very wise,
Three from the lake that stands beneath the pole.
One is called Urd, another Verdandi,
Skuld the third; they carve into the tree
The lives and destinies of children

Translation taken from Norse Mythology for Smart People

We can, I think, safely presume that the Norn carved runes into the tree. Considering the power the Runes are supposed to possess, it would make little sense for the Norn to carve in anything else.

As a side, it's possible to take the Runic Language of the early middle age Norse and Germanic peoples as evidence that Odin taught Midgardians the Runes at some point. Although from my research it would seem that there is a lot of contention around this and around what the Odin Runes actually are/were.

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There's also an interesting Eddic poem called Sigrdrífumál in which the valkyrie Sigrdrifa instructs the hero Sigurd in runic magic. (Sigrdrifa, Victory-Bringer, is often identified with Brynhild, so it is possible she learned the runes from Odin, her former patron. The poem does not mention this, however.)

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