Huginn and Muninn fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,
yet more anxious am I for Munin.
— Grímnismál. 20 : (Translated by Benjamin Thorpe)
I have always loved and appreciated Ravens, Vikings, Norse Culture, Mythology, and Lore. I planned and thought about this illustration for several years before I finally began the physical work of it. The original concept I thought of was a single raven sitting on a Viking axe embedded in a Viking shield, with a skull on the ground next to it facing to the left. I knew I wanted it to be in a pen and ink or old etching-like style. I knew that Odin actually has two ravens, Huginn and Muninn. As I began planning out the initial composition for this illustration I realized that I wanted both Ravens in it and I really wanted to tell a deeper story with the illustration. I decided to expand my knowledge of Norse culture and did more research on Huginn and Muninn themselves. As I read my vision for this illustration expanded and grew into what would be this final piece of art.
In Norse culture, Huginn and Muninn are Odin’s two ravens, they sit on his shoulders and whisper all that they have seen and heard in his ears. Early every morning Odin sends his ravens out. They fly the whole world and all of the nine realms gathering information and reporting everything back to Odin when they return.
Huginn in Old Norse is “thought” and Munin in Old Norse is “memory” or “mind”. This Illustration shows Huginn (thought) looking forward to the future and thoughtfully looking toward Muninn (memory). This represents how we or Odin might look back on memories and think about them whether good, bad, or indifferent. You will notice that Huginn’s body is facing forward toward us the viewer and his head to the right or looking forward as if toward the future. Thought can look at the memories of the past, think about the present, and contemplate the future. Muninn has his back to us and is looking to the left past Huginn or past thought. Since memory is about things that have already taken place, we see Muninn facing back and looking to the left, or looking at the past. Muninn sees all that has already taken place and stores the knowledge of all that was.
In Norse culture and poetry from the Viking Age, Odin is known as Hrafnaguð (the raven god), and the ravens are often used to represent him in images, speech, and literature. Odin is also known as Hrafnblóts Goði (the priest of the raven sacrifice), some sources refer to the warriors slain in battle as being sacrifices to Odin and to the ravens. Odin rules Valhalla and chooses worthy warriors slain in battle to enter the great hall and live there until Ragnarök, when they will all join Odin in the final battle that is to come. The Norse poets have been known to use Huginn and occasionally Munnin as a replacement for the word raven. Blood has been seen as their sea or drink. The warriors have been said to be the ones that redden (or bloody) the ravens’ claws and/or beaks. We also see references to the battle being the ravens’ feast. So in this illustration of Huginn and Muninn, we see they are perched on a Viking axe driven into a Viking shield, the acts, and remnants of a glorious battle. This imagery represents the battle and the warriors who participated in it. It represents one warrior’s victory over another, and the honorable battle and death that took place between the two. The skull in the snow represents the fallen warriors and sacrifice to the ravens and Odin. The fallen warrior looks towards the ravens and the battle valiantly fought. This can also be interpreted as the fallen warrior looking toward his new place in Valhalla, as the skull is looking toward Huginn and Muninn, a representation of Odin who rules Valhalla. The ravens are also thought to be a possible physical manifestation of Odin’s thought and memory (or mind) which is why he fears they might not return.
Finally, we come to the setting of the scene. To honor the origins of these stories and rich culture I took inspiration from different parts of Norway. The illustration features a prominent moon in the background, the side, angle, and textures seen in the moon are based on photos taken of the moon from Norway. The lake and mountains in the background are from one part of Norway, while the inspiration for the snow and field is taken from other parts of Norway. I was more concerned with telling the story in a visually compelling way and referencing the region as a whole than I was with accurately representing one location. The snow has many meanings behind it as well. The calm cold aftermath and death after a battle. The cold, long, harsh yet beautiful winters that the Vikings survived. The winter snow that covers everything, just as winter and death will eventually cover us all. But just as winter leads to spring so death can lead to our next life. The way we live is what determines what that next life will look like.
The Norse culture and stories that inspired this illustration and my artist’s statement are far deeper and richer than I went into. I encourage you to do your own reading and research to learn more.
This illustration is hand drawn digital ink piece done in photoshop, using a Wacom Cintiq and True Grit Texture Supply Brushes.
Thanks for reading -Skål!
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED SOURCES:
(WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS FAST FLASHING IMAGES, photosensitive Viewers Beware)
HUGINN OK MUNINN: Process
Check out this quick video that shows 80 plus hours of work in 60 seconds. I started with a rough sketch to get the form down. Then a tighter line drawing with some details which you see at the start of the video. Then I started the digital inking which you can watch here. This was the very first piece I live-streamed on my new Twitch Art Stream. I live-streamed almost the entire inking process. (for my photosensitive viewers I recommend the next video which just shows the layers building up on the full image.)
You can check out my art stream here:
HUGINN OK MUNINN: LAyer Progression
Check out this quick video that shows over 110 layers build up and come together.