Odin’s Rune Song
Rúnatal or Óðins Rune Song, Rúnatáls-þáttr-Óðins (stanzas 139-146) is a section of the Hávamál where Odin reveals the origins of the runes. In stanzas 139 and 140, Odin describes his sacrifice of himself to himself:
I wot that I hung on the wind-tossed tree
all of nights nine,
wounded by spear, bespoken to Óthin,
bespoken myself to myself,
[upon that tree of which none telleth
from what roots it doth rise]
Neither horn they upheld nor handed me bread;
I looked below me–
aloud I cried–
caught up the runes, caught them up wailing,
thence to the ground fell again.
From the son of Bolthorn, Bestla’s father,
I mastered mighty songs nine,
and a drink I had, of the dearest mead,
got from out of Óthrærir.
Then began I to grow and gain in insight,
to wax eke in wisdom:
One verse led on to another verse,
one poem led on to the other poem.
Runes wilt thou find, and rightly read,
of wondrous weight,
of mighty magic,
which that dyed the dread God,
which that made the holy hosts,
and were etched by Óthin.
Óthin among Æsir, for alfs, Dain,
Dvalin for the dwarfs,
Alsvith among etins, (but for earth-borne men)
wrought I some myself.
Know’st how to write, know’st how to read,
know’st how to stain, how to understand,
know’st how to ask, know’st how to offer,
know’st how to supplicate, know’st how to sacrifice?
‘Tis better unasked than offered overmuch;
for ay doth a gift look for gain;
’tis better unasked than offered overmuch:
thus did Óthin write ere the earth began,
when up he rose in after time.
Those spells I know which the spouses of kings
wot not, nor earthly wight:
“Help” one is hight, with which holpen thou’lt be
in sorrow and care and sickness.
That other I know which all will need
who leeches list to be:
(on the bark scratch them of bole in the woods
whose boughs bend to the east).
That third I know, if my need be great
to fetter a foeman fell:
I can dull the swords of deadly foes,
that nor wiles nor weapons avail.
that fourth I know, if foemen have
fettered me hand and foot:
I chant a charm the chains to break,
so the fetters fly off my feet,
and off my hands the halter.
That fifth I know, if from foemans’s hand
I see a spear sped into throng,
never so fast it flies but its flight I can stay,
once my eye lights on it.
That sixth I know, if me someone wounds
with runes on gnarled root written,
or rouses my wrath by reckless speech:
him blights shall blast, not me.
That seventh I know, if o’er sleepers’ heads
I behold a hall on fire:
however bright the blaze I can beat it down–
that mighty spell I can speak.
That eighth I know which to all men is
needful, and good to know:
when hatred runs high, heroes among,
their strife I can settle full soon.
That ninth I know: if need there be
to guard a ship in a gale,
the wind I can calm, and the waves also,
and wholly soothe the sea.
That tenth I know, if night-hags sporting
I scan aloft in the sky:
I scare them with spells so they scatter abroad,
heedless of their hides,
heedless of their haunts.
That eleventh I know, if I am to lead
old friends to the fray:
under buckler I chant that briskly they fare
hale and whole to battle,
hale and whole from battle:
hale where ever they are.
That twelfth I know, if on tree I see
a hanged one hoisted on high:
thus I write and the runes I stain
that down he drops
and tells me his tale.
That thirteenth I know if a thane’s son I shall
wet with holy water:
never will he fall, though the fray be hot,
nor sink down, wounded by sword.
That fourteenth I know, if to folk I shall
sing and say of the Gods:
Æsir and alfs know I altogether–
of unlearned few have that lore.
That know I fifteenth which Thjóthrærir sang,
the dwarf, before Delling’s door:
gave to Æsir strength, to alfs victory
by his song, and insight to Othin.
That sixteenth I know, if I seek me some maid,
to work my will with her:
the white-armed woman’s heart I bewitch,
and toward me I turn her thoughts.
That seventeenth I know, (if the slender maid’s love
I have, and hold her to me:
this I sing to her) that she hardly will
leave me for other man’s love.
In this lore wilt thou, Loddfáfnir, be
unversed forever and ay:
thy weal were it, if this wisdom thine–
’tis helpful, if heeded,
’tis needful, if known.
That eighteenth I know which to none I will tell,
neither maid nor man’s wife–
’tis best warded if but one know it:
this speak I last of my spells–
but only to her in whose arms I lie,
or else to my sister also.
Now are Hár’s sayings spoken in Hár’s hall,
of help to the sons of men,
of harm to the sons of etins;
hail to whoever spoke them, hail to whoever knows them!
Gain they who grasp them,
happy they who heed them!