What is in a name

The Norse connection:

Brian and Dagmar O’Brien commissionedWraith of Odin. Dagmar’s father was a Danish sea captain and her mother English. The O’Brien family heritage was Irish. The choice of Wraith of Odin reflects a strong sense of connection to things Norse. The literal interpretation of the name is; the ghost like image of the Norse God Odin. (Father of all Norse Gods).  Brian and Dagmar’s son is often refferd to as  Raul a Norse name meaning wise wolf.  Raul as a name is also linked historically to Raud the strong  who was a Norse “Senier” (priest). He is famous because he resisted conversion to Christianity in the late 10th century. Olaf Tryggvason who was King of Norway from 995 to 1000 attempted to convert all of Scandinavia. The Wraith of Odin was reputed in Norse legend to have visited King Olaf. Olaf’s interpretation of this was that Odin must be dead and that he, Olaf was justified in forcibly converting his subjects to Christianity. (Olaf’s methods of conversion of his fellow Scandinavians to Christianity were quite brutal. He reportedly killed the defiant Raud by inducing a snake to enter Raud’s forcebily opened mouth). The Heimskringla chronicals the possibly less than historically accurate sagas of the Norweigian kings.



Odin is a God of magic, wisdom, wit, and learning.  He also is strongly associated with war. He is able to start a war by simply throwing his  magical spear “Gungnir”. The spear always hits its target.   Odin’s spear is highly emblematic throughout Nordic mythology. Odin is often portrayed as having only one eye because he sacrifices an eye at the well of Mimir to gain inner wisdom.
This Bronze of Odin with his helmet and spear
forms part of the East Entrance Doors Library of Congress.
It was fashioned by the acclaimed English architectural sculptor
Lee Lawrie.

The Literary connection:

Dr O’Brien was a man of broad literary taste and would certainly have been familiar with both the works and personal history of American poet Henry Longfellow. (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882)  Longfellow himself was a great enthusiast for things Norse. Many of his works had Norse themes and he travelled to the Scandinavian countries extensively. One his best known works is The Song of Hiawatha(1855). Longfellow based his epic American poem on the distinctive meter of Finland’s national folk epic The Kalevala.

One  of Longfellow’s famous Norse pieces  is “Wraith of Odin”

“Wraith of Odin” is a 13 stanza part of  the poem “The Saga of King Olaf” written by Henry Longfellow. Longfellow commenced the poem in 1856.  The poem was published as part of Longfellow’s famous collected work “Tales of a wayside inn” published in 1863.

In the poem the legendry King Olaf stays at the Wayside inn. A one eyed traveller joins him and tells Norse tales. When the morning comes the one eyed traveller is gone despite the doors having been bolted all night.


“King Olaf crossed himself and said:
“I know that Odin the Great is dead;
Sure is the triumph of our Faith,
The one-eyed stranger was his wraith.”


This is in keeping with the legend. “Crosses himself”  is consistent with the King’s new Christianity and the apparent death of the Norse God supported his efforts in seeking the “triumph of our Faith.”


Wraith of Odin the choral musical:

Sir Edward William Elgar, 1st Baronet, OM, GCVO (2 June 1857 – 23 February 1934) was an English composer, many of whose works have entered the British and international classical concert repertoire. Among his best-known compositions are orchestral works including the Enigma Variations, the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, concertos for violin and cello, and two symphonies. Elgar was 25 years of age when Longfellow died. Elgar’s mother was a great fan of Longfellow’s work and imparted her passion to her son. Elgar  composed two choral works using Longfellow’s poetry. Including Scenes from the Saga of King Olaf in “As Torrents in Summer”


Edward Elgar

“As Torrents in Summer” is the unaccompanied and soulful final chorus of Edward Elgar’s saga telling the story of King Olaf, first performed in 1896.

Elgar c.1900

The entire cantata is based on an epic poem by HW Longfellow, telling the story of the life, battles and death of Norse crusader King Olaf. It was written at a time when Elgar was becoming popular as a composer of music for choral festivals in the Midlands.

King Olaf I arrives in Norway

You tube video of the choral music. The words of the poem (sung) are presented as subtitles.Total time approx 5 mins

Additional resources  for those interested:

Longfellow’s life

An historical guide  to King Olaf

The history of Raud the strong

list of Norse ballads by Longfellow

An outline of the Tales of the wayside inn

Full text of The Tales at a wayside inn.



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