"The Speech of the High One
" from the Elder Saga
"I know I hung on that windy tree,
Swung there for nine long nights,
Wounded by my own blade,
Bloodied for Odin,
Myself an offering to myself:
Bound to the tree
That no man knows
Whither the roots of it run.
None gave me bread,
None gave me drink.
Down to the deepest depths I peered
Until I spied the Runes.
With a roaring cry I seized them up,
Then dizzy and fainting, I fell.
Well-being I won
And wisdom too.
I grew and took joy in my growth:
From word to a word
I was led to a word,
From a deed to another deed."
Meaning: The background to this masterpiece of Old Norse poetry is this: Odin hung himself upon Yggdrasill to know the secret of death. Odin constantly had a quest for wisdom, this was his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. He was not the all-creator, though he and his brothers created the world as we know it. (For when he and his fellow Gods die in Ragnarok, they will be replaced. The universe is not built around Gods, it is what it is for eternity.) Because of this Odin was always searching for wisdom, until he became the all knower. This story from which the poem is based leads to a major point. Odin descends into darkness, ino Hel, and out of it he finds not only more wisdom but more power over his magic through the Runes.
However another point to make is the parallel of Christ and Odin in this story. Actually it is a common story, something that Aleister Crowley points out in his Book 4, that all our mystical "godheads" go through these sorts of experiences. All must know death before they become all knowing. Christ is not accepted into heaven before he knows hell. Buddha does not know enlightenment before he finds out about death and disease. The list goes on.
Odin is in this fine tradition of Seers. He willingly knows death, a sacrifice "of himself to himself". His reward are the runes. Not only this, but he learned Nine Songs from the son of the giant Bolthor, father of Bestla, Odin's mother. These Nine Songs would lead to Odin's being able to secure the mead from Suttung's daughter in a later cycle.
The runes he learnt gave him many occult powers, including "the power to heal, to blunt or break metal, to anticipate and thwart evil intentions, to quench flames" and many other abilities. This is part of the magician's teaching, to know death, to become one with all parts of life, and then you will have a better control over your own powers. Many mystical/occult teachings have simulated deaths for their practicitioners, where you go into a "insane" state, (sometimes helped by drugs) and find your death.
Odin became the All Knower, the Wise, and was the terrible. Odin gave his eye to become more wise, and he gave his life. Odin was the most feared god for he could see into the future, and it was he who (it is thought) along with Freya decided the warriors who went to Valhalla. This poem is one of the best Old Norse poems I have read.
(The translation is the one you will almost always find in any book about these sorts of things, I'm not sure who did it, but I've seen it in many books, and I don't think it's copywrited (it is a 800 year old poem any ways).)