Here in Scandinavia (as well as in many other countries) it’s a tradition to hang up an empty sock in the evening before Christmas. When Santa Claus arrives, he fills it with small gifts, candy or fruit.
But where does all this come from? And a stocking… why not a bag?
My inquisitive mind urged me to search for answers and I found that the Christmas stocking custom originated from the Scandinavian figure Odin. Children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat.
Odin would reward the children for their kindness by replacing the food with gifts or candy. This practice survived in Europe after the adoption of Christianity, but Odin was replaced by Saint Nicholas and later Santa Claus.
The focus also shifted from giving and receiving to just getting things.
Odin is one of the mayor gods in Norse mythology. His name means fury, excitation and mind or poetry. His role is complex, since he is associated with war, battle, victory and death, as well as wisdom, magic and prophecy.
He sacrificed one of his eyes in order to gain the Wisdom of Ages. From his throne, Odin could see everything that occurred in the universe.
Odin is regarded as a psychopomp, a guide of souls.
Psychopomps have, in different times and cultures, been associated with horses, ravens, crows, owls, sparrows, cuckoos and harts. It was their role to provide safe passage for the deceased. In the shaman's journeys to the heavens or the underworld, he usually rides on some bird or animal.
In Jungian psychology, the psychopomp is a mediator between the unconscious and conscious realms and was personified in dreams as a wise man or woman.
Odin is closely connected with the eight-legged horse Sleipnir, a spear and shape shifting into animal shapes.
Sleipnir is an instinctive part of our collective unconscious, with the ability to travel between the world of mortal men and the underworld. His eight legs may be the remnants of horse-associated divine twins found in Indo-European cultures. The dictionary cites parallels between the birth of Sleipnir and myths originally pointing to a Celtic goddess who gave birth to the Divine horse twins.
In several of the Nordic myths, Odin places a saddle on Sleipnir and the two ride to Hel, a location where evil men go upon death. This location shares its name with a female figure, who was cast down into this dark place by Odin. He also made her ruler over the Nine Worlds, unified by the world tree Yggdrasil.
So, here we meet her again, the Queen of the Underworld, or the Ruler of Hell, whichever way we chose to see her.
Who is Hel, then? According to Gunnel and Göran Liljenroth, who have weeded out all patriarchal bias’ from the Nordic myths in the book HEL, the hidden Goddess in Nordic Mythology, she is the Mother Goddess. The one and only. Still hidden and demonized by patriarchal culture that is presently crumbling around us.
The tradition to hang out a sock is a reminder that we can still travel between these worlds. And that, if our we keep our focus on giving, we are rewarded. So tonight I will hang out a stocking full of carrots. I hope my own, as well as yours, will be filled to the brim in the morning…
Merry Christmas to all of you!
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