Huginn and Muninn – Odins Ravens Thought and Memory

In Norse religion, Huginn (from Old Norse “thought”) and Muninn (Old Norse “memory” or “mind”) are a pair of ravens that fly all over the world, Midgard, and bring information to the god Odin. Huginn and Muninn are attested in the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier traditional sources: the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson; in the Third Grammatical Treatise, compiled in the 13th century by Óláfr Þórðarson; and in the poetry of skalds. The names of the ravens are sometimes modernly anglicized as Hugin and Munin.

Huginn and Muninn
Huginn and Muninn sit on Odin’s shoulders in an illustration from an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript

In the Poetic Edda, a disguised Odin expresses that he fears that they may not return from their daily flights. The Prose Edda explains that Odin is referred to as “raven-god” due to his association with Huginn and Muninn. In the Prose Edda and the Third Grammatical Treatise, the two ravens are described as perching on Odin’s shoulders. Heimskringla details that Odin gave Huginn and Muninn the ability to speak.

In the Poetic Edda poem Grímnismál, the god Odin (disguised as Grímnir) provides the young Agnarr with information about Odin’s companions. He tells the prince about Odin’s wolves Geri and Freki, and, in the next stanza of the poem, states that Huginn and Muninn fly daily across the entire world, Midgard. Grímnir says that he worries Huginn may not come back, yet more does he fear for Muninn:

Benjamin Thorpe translation:
Hugin and Munin fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,
yet more anxious am I for Munin.
Henry Adams Bellows translation:
O’er Mithgarth Hugin and Munin both
Each day set forth to fly;
For Hugin I fear lest he come not home,
But for Munin my care is more.

In the Prose Edda book Gylfaginning (chapter 38), the enthroned figure of High tells Gangleri (king Gylfi in disguise) that two ravens named Huginn and Muninn sit on Odin’s shoulders. The ravens tell Odin everything they see and hear. Odin sends Huginn and Muninn out at dawn, and the birds fly all over the world before returning at dinner-time. As a result, Odin is kept informed of many events. High adds that it is from this association that Odin is referred to as “raven-god“. The above-mentioned stanza from Grímnismál is then quoted.

In the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál (chapter 60), Huginn and Muninn appear in a list of poetic names for ravens. In the same chapter, excerpts from a work by the skald Einarr Skúlason are provided. In these excerpts Muninn is referenced in a common noun for ‘raven’ and Huginn is referenced in a kenning for ‘carrion’.

In the Heimskringla book Ynglinga saga, an euhemerized account of the life of Odin is provided. Chapter 7 describes that Odin had two ravens, and upon these ravens he bestowed the gift of speech. These ravens flew all over the land and brought him information, causing Odin to become “very wise in his lore.”

In the Third Grammatical Treatise an anonymous verse is recorded that mentions the ravens flying from Odin’s shoulders; Huginn seeking hanged men, and Muninn slain bodies. The verse reads:

Two ravens flew from Hnikar’s [Óðinn’s]
shoulders; Huginn to the hanged and
Muninn to the slain [lit. corpses].