Odins Rite, 2. Degree

I was travelling with a Freemason group to Scotland. The night before, we had attended a meeting in Edinburgh, in the oldest lodge building on the British Isles, from 1735. A great surprise for us Norwegian Freemasons was that the Worshipful Master was a Muslim!

Today we were going to visit Rosslyn Chapel, famous from the book and film The da Vinci Code. Down in the crypt, in a secret room, the American hero finally broke the codes with the beautiful female hero who was a distant descendant of Jesus! It was William Sinclair, Earl of the Orkney and Shetland under the King of Norway, who had built this chapel in the 1400’s. He had apparently also been a Freemason. The Freemasonry traditions are long in this country, as we have seen. On the website of the Scottish Freemasonry there is a link to an article claiming that Freemasonry has roots from West Scotland, where some Italian construction workers had built a lodge room adjacent to a 12th-century church[1].

My scepticism was great as I walked down the steps to the crypt, could there really be anything of interest here? The church nave was without any masonic symbols or other symbolism as far as I could see.

In the crypt I got a big surprise! Here was an apparent Odin’s stone, a stone that the candidate who was to be initiated to the god, was laid down upon during the ceremony. I immediately recognized the symbols on the stone, symbols I had previously seen on picture stones on Gotland in Sweden. Odin travelled to the underworld with a fish, a snake, a bird and a four-footed animal, Snorre Sturlason says. The signs of these four animals were all on the stone. At the top of the stone slab there was a rectangular hollow, probably for a leather skin so that the candidate could lie comfortably and keep warm during the ceremony. The stone was placed in the crypt «to be taken care of»; it was «very old» and came from a nearby disused cemetery.

Odin Stone from Crypt in Rosslyn Chapel. Same symbols as on stone from Gotland. The Excavated field for the candidate to lie on an isolating skin. To the right is the fish tail with four flips, in front of the stone we see the snake, just to the left is a small bird, and to the far left, the hooves from Odin’s eight footed horse, Slepnir.

The inscription on the stone slab underneath has the following strange text: Knight Templar 13 Century. The institution responsible for the chapel clearly wants to connect with the Templars.

A similar stone was found at the shrine in Eggja in Sogndal in 1917, but with another message. The reverse side of this flat stone, which is now on display in the Cultural History Museum of Bergen, is carved with Scandinavia’s longest rune inscription. The inscription relates how Odin had come to Eggja to fetch the young man, and that they travelled together to the underworld with the help of the four animals. Here the message is written in runes, not in pictures as in Rosslyn Chapel and on the Gotland stones. A comparable flat and wide stone, but without inscription, was found in the shrine Todneset on Tysnes in 1915.

Both shrines were situated in places with unusual sun conditions, as we have seen, and discoveries of knives, small stone coffins, and flat initiation stones, may indicate that they were hørgr with initiations to Freya and to Odin.

At the end of the Migration Period (370-550 AD), the ceremonies (which were performed in wetland areas and in the woods of Scandinavia), were moved indoors. Archaeologists find a gradual transition from outdoor rites to ceremonies performed inside high buildings. At Tysnes, there may have been a superstructure over the shrine before Christianisation. We see it clearly in the sanctuary at Ranheim, with the tall timber building resembling our stave churches.

In Scandinavia, the great hall now became the king’s new symbol. Building the hall by use of the sacred tools had become an important part of the religious symbolism. Odin is always associated with the hall, called sal in Scandinavia; the name is found in a number of places in Norway, alone as Sal, Zahl or in composite names as Skiringssal. This change in religion during the Migration Period may have started in Gudme on Funen in Denmark, where the Odin rite was strong. The old town Odense, Odins vé, Odin’s sanctuary, is not far away from Gudme. Gotland in Sweden also had hall sanctuaries in the Migration Period, as we shall see.

Håvamål says that Odin hung in the tree Yggdrasil for nine days in order to become wise. Here we find Odin’s Sal that stands by the holy tree, and beneath it was the Well where Odin had laid his one eye with a pledge to get Wisdom. In exchange, he got Mime’s head, which could talk and «told many events from other worlds», Snorre said. Snorre tells us that there were nine heavenly realms and nine realms of the dead. The initiation candidate at that time was probably hung up in the tree to the nine realms (for nine days?) and was then laid on the flat stone slab, on his Journey to the nine underworlds. The young man probably got stimulants such as psilocybin, from “magic mushrooms”, an aid shamans have used for millennia. The Thul, who stood for the rites, made sure everything went right, he was probably the shaman. Descriptions from those who have tried such drugs are very similar to the journey to the nine sub-worlds described in the Odin literature. These initiation scenes are also depicted on several image stones on Gotland. The Odin rite was the shaman’s rite.

In time, with the alterations of the ancient Norse religion in York, Odin’s Sal became Solomon’s temple. The sacred building tools are still the most important symbols of Freemasonry today. The plump, the square and the level are all related to the second degree in Freemasonry, but are hanging around the neck of the three most important officiants in all three degrees. Mime’s head lies on the altar, to the right of the Worshipful Master. Today, however, this is moved to the third degree, the rite of death. In front of the altar, often far down, we see Odin’s eye in the well in the first and second degree. To my mind, Mime’s head and Odin’s eye only belong in the second degree.

The hanging and lying scenes are gone in today’s shortened meetings in Freemasonry. Previously the meetings probably went on for many days. But there are still traces of them. After entering the lodge room in Oslo, the candidates are placed right under Odin’s symbol, which hangs high up on the wall. While standing here, sacred music with beautiful song is heard, this must symbolize the sacred hangings of the candidates in the tree. In a transformed Scottish lodge in Scandinavia, that is now one of the higher degrees; the candidates are tied with ropes around their chest (not around their necks) and, in part two, symbolically hanged in the tree with four «twitches» by the Worshipful Master. In part two of the York rite, the candidate ascends with three, five and seven steps to the middle chamber in King Solomon’s temple.

We can probably still see a remnant of the outdoor rites since a “regular” Freemasonry meeting is to be held “on, or preceding the full of the moon in each month”[3]. The Thul, the mythical figure who arranged the Odin rite, is now called The Tyler in Scottish and English Freemasonry.

Today Freemasons no longer understand what this degree or the other degrees in Freemasonry signify or have signified. Our religious symbols are changed. The symbolism of Freemasonry refers to the sacred events of the Asatrua, the Old Norse religion. Their meaning is no longer here for the brothers to understand. The rituals in Freemasonry, however, are so strong that the brothers continue to meet and perform the rituals of the meetings in the smallest detail. Now it is «self-development» that is the purpose of the meetings.

[1] To the lodge Mother Kilwinning.

[3] Duncans Ritual of Freemasonry, p 7