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Hand-drawn illustration of Asgard with Odin's tower

Hlidskjalf: A Place To View The Cosmos

What’s in a name?

Odin’s Tower is named after “Hlidskjalf”, the high-seat of from which Odin watches out over the entire universe. It is an Old Norse word and something of a tongue-twister for English speakers, but put simply “Hlid” means opening and “skjálf” means turret or pinnacle. So essentially it’s a high place with an expansive view.

As with many aspects of Norse Mythology, the exact form and meaning Hlidskjalf is the subject of ongoing debate. It is referred to in the Eddas on multiple occasions, confusingly as both a building and the name of the seat itself. In the 13th century Prose Edda, the solar Snorri writes:

“There is one abode called Hlidskjalf, and when Odin sat in the high seat there, he looked out over the whole world and saw every man’s acts, and knew all things which he saw”.

Other scholars such as Anne Holtsmark have argued that Hlidskjalf should be described as a “watch-tower” and that Snorri transformed the meaning to “high-seat” under the influence of the medieval royal throne.

"There is one abode called Hlidskjalf, and when Odin sat in the high seat there, he looked out over the whole world and saw every man's acts, and knew all things which he saw”

- Prose Edda

Prophesies and Visions

Regardless of its exact form, the notion of a high-place from which to view the world is a reoccurring theme in Norse culture. For example, the ancient Norse practised a type of sorcery called Seidr, where a shaman would prophesise on the fortunes of individuals or the community as a whole. They would do this whilst in a trance and sitting in a high place, such as a natural platform or elevated seat. The idea was that physical elevation would assist the “seer” in their visions and travels throughout space and time.

3D fantasy art of the Viking temple Hlidskjalf.

This artistic impression of Hlidskjalf is inspired by the intricate wooden ritual buildings and churches of medieval Scandinavia.

Odin The Master Seer

Seidr was not just practised by humans, but by gods as well. Odin was one of the great masters of this magical art and he performed it whilst in a trance high up on Hlidskjalf. It allowed him to gain incredible insight, knowledge, and wisdom and contributed to his reputation as being wise and all-knowing. In Section VII of the Ynglinga Saga, Snorri writes:

“Odin had the skill which gives great power and which he practised himself. It is called seith, and by means of it he could know the fate of men and predict events that had not yet come to pass; and by it he could also inflict bane on men, or soul loss or waning health, or also take wit or power from some men, and give them to others.

Odin could change himself. His body then lay as if sleeping or dead, but he became a bird or a wild beast, a fish or a dragon, and journeyed in the twinkling of an eye to far-off lands, on his own errands or those of other men. Also, with mere words he was able to extinguish fires, to calm the seas, and to turn the winds any way he pleased.”

Such was the power that Odin summoned he was known as the god of wisdom, war, death, divination, and magic. He was everywhere and could see everything, and he did so high upon his mystical seat.

This etching from 1880 is a classic depiction of Odin, with him sitting on his High Seat surrounded by his ravens and wolves.

An old illustration print showing Odin seated on his high seat, surrounded by his wolves and ravens.

Inspiration for today

If you’re looking for ancient symbols from which to draw modern-day inspiration, there’s no better place to start than with Hlidskjalf. At first glance, it is a symbol of power: a towering structure with a grand High-Seat, occupied by the most powerful god in Norse Cosmology. But on further examination, we realise it should really be considered a symbol of self-enlightenment. For Odin’s immense power comes about as a result of his ability to acquire vast amounts of knowledge.

Likewise, in order to steer our own lives towards happier and more prosperous futures, we must firstly be able to make wise decisions. And to make wise decisions we need to be able to see the world clearly; to understand the social dynamics surrounding us and the motivations of the people in our lives. We must have a good sense of foresight and be able to anticipate the events that are on the horizon. The quest for knowledge, worldliness and the ability to make good decisions are all represented in our name, “Odin’s Tower”.