One of the most famous stories of Odin waking the dead takes place in the Edda, Balder's Dreams". After Balder tells the Gods of his dreams of death, Odin rides to the lands of death, and here he finds a Sibyl' s grave. Here is where I will pick up the story :
" Odin rode on to the eastern door
where a sibyl slept in her grave.
The master of magic chanted charms,
forced the dead witch to rise."
The witch said :
" Let me know the name of the stranger
who willed me to come this weary way.
Deep under snow and drenched with rain,
the dew drifting over me, I was long dead."
Odin said :
" I am called the wanderer, son of War - Wise,
I will tell you of the world for tidings of Hel.
Why are the benches bright with gold ,
The great hall gleaming, who will be the guest ?"
The witch said :
"The mead was brewed to welcome Balder,
a shield lies over the shining drink.
And mighty Gods await their grief.
You made me speak but you shall hear no more ! "
Odin said :
"Witch I will ask and you will answer,
until there is nothing more to be known.
Who is to be the doom of Balder ?
How is Odin's son to be slain ?"
The witch said :
" In blind Hod's hand is the fatal branch,
high he is bearing Balder's doom.
So will the son of Odin be slain.
You made me speak but you shall hear no more !"
This goes on with the witch answering each of Odin' s questions, but then ending each sentence by telling him she will not say any more. Odin, we may assume through a chant, or charm, then forces her to continue answering, until he has all the information that he has requested.
In Havamal it actually tells us a little bit of how Odin does this " magic" to awaken the dead to make them speak.
The Lay of Loddfafnir:
"I know a twelfth : If up in a tree I see a corpse hanging high
The mighty runes I write and color,
make the man come down to talk to me."
So to wake the dead Odin writes runes either on wood, or in stone, and then colors them ( with blood), and then, though not stated chants a spell or charm, possibly similar to the Merseburg charm. That charm was chanted to heal a bone in a foals leg and the chant goes: " bone to bone, blood to blood, limb to limb, so that they are linked again." Possibly an awakening charm would be similar : "breath to breathe, death to life, and words to the dead mans lips. I, All - Father, command you to speak and tell me thy tale. "
Another case of Odin making the dead speak is when he receives the head of Mimir from the Vanir. Mimir, was killed because they were unhappy with Hoenir, who they had received in the exchange of hostages at the end of the Aesir - Vanir war. Whenever Odin needs to have a particularly difficult question answered he awakens Mimir's head and makes it speak words of wisdom to him. To show Mimir's importance even in death Odin consults Mimir's head at the onset of Ragnarok.
Odin is not the only one who can release the dead from their eternal sleep. There are at least two instances where men and women raise the dead and make them speak. From the Fornaldar Sogur Northrlanda, we have a wonderful instance of waking the dead from the saga known as, Hervarar Saga ok Heidreks. Hervor walks through many flaming burial mounds, and without fear of the dead who were standing in her path, arrives at her father's grave and cries out :
" Awake, Angantyr !
Hervor awakes you,
of you and Savafa;
from your crypt give me,
that keenest blade,
the sword the dwarves struck
for King Sigrlami."
What Hervor is asking for......., no she is demanding, is the Dvalin's sword, Tyrfing. Though huge flames eminate from the grave mound as it opens up, Hervor is not frightened. Angantyr tries to talk his daughter out of her demands for the magical sword, claiming at one point that it will destroy all those who wield it, but he is so impressed by her fearlessness, and her threats, that he relents giving her the sword.
Another case of mere mortals waking the dead comes to us from the Spell of Groa. Svipdag goes to his mother's grave mound and commands : " Awake Groa, good woman awake, at the door of the dead I awake you ! Dost bear in mind how thou badest thy son to thy grave hill to go." Groa then answers : " What aileth now my only son. What maketh heavy thy heart that thy mother thou callest under mould who lieth and hath left the world of the living. " Svipdag then goes on to explain that he needs his mother to speak spells that will speed and shield her son. Groa gives her son Svipdag nine spells to help him on his journey.
Now just because the Eddas and the Sagas show instances of mankind awakening the dead doesn't mean that we should run out and try to raise the dead ourselves. Even if we somehow got the runes just right, and the chant perfect, this does not mean that we have the ability, or the power, to control the dead once they are raised. Remember in most of the examples given above the dead were not very happy about being made to speak, and only the Gods know what they are capable of doing once brought back to our world. It is probably better to leave the dead to their eternal sleep. If they want to contact us, they will !
An Independent Asatru is now on Facebook !
Go with Odin's wisdom, Freyja's love, and Thor's protection !