A good many people hearing of the Edda or of the Norse myths think mainly of Balder, the sun-god, who was slain by a twig of mistletoe; or they may conjure up mighty Thor, hurler of thunderbolts and lightning, whose footsteps make the earth quake. Or perhaps they remember Loki, trickster, mischief-maker without malice, who seems constantly to stir up trouble, yet as often by imaginative wit and intelligence resolves the difficulties he has caused.

The Masks of Odin is a provocative study of "the wisdom of the ancient Norse." While it portrays the various aspects and forms that Odin assumes in order to gain knowledge of the nine worlds inhabited by gods and giants, humans, elves, and dwarfs, Elsa-Brita Titchenell has a larger purpose in view. As a serious student of both Edda and Theosophy her loom is cosmic in reach, its warp representing the theosophia perennis or enduring god-wisdom and its woof the Edda, whose many-colored threads she weaves into colorful and often inspiring patterns of interpretation.

The world's oldest traditions hold that long ago all peoples, however widely separated, were the common inheritors of a body of sacred truths initially imparted to the earliest humanities by divine beings from higher regions; and, further, that myth-makers of every land were in greater or less degree transmitters of this archaic wisdom/science. Against this backdrop the author undertakes to interpret some of the more important sagas of the Norse Edda, retranslating them from the Swedish text and comparing it with the original Icelandic. Her aim is not to hammer out just another version of the Edda when already several in English are available both in prose and verse, but rather "to penetrate to the core of inspired meaning" hidden within the world's mythic lore. To attempt this would have been out of the question, she believes, but for two radical changes in the general thought life: first, the disclosure about a century ago of a significant portion of the universal theosophic philosophy by H. P. Blavatsky and its emancipating effect on the human spirit, and second, the new developments in Western science.

In Part I Elsa Titchenell outlines the broad features of the principal characters involved in the drama of cosmic and terrestrial creation as recorded in the Edda, including the gifts to early mankind of spirit, mind, and vitality by three Aesir (gods) so that we humans in time might become "godmakers." Relating theosophic teachings and current findings of astrophysics and physics to traditional mythic symbols she depicts the ancient mythographers as philosophers and scientists of stature. To the Norse bards or skalds, the interplay between gods and giants represented the continuous interaction of spirit and matter on a series of "shelves" or planes as "rivers of lives" moved, each after its own manner, through mansion after mansion of planetary and solar spheres within Allfather-Odin's domain.

In Part II, the author's Notes preceding the translated lays provide the reader with an invaluable guide through the often bewildering maze of metaphor and symbolic allusion. The opening saga is the well-known Voluspa or Sibyl's Prophecy, that tells of the formation of worlds, of Odin's search for wisdom in the spheres of matter, and of the "toppling of the world tree" when the gods withdraw and earth is no more — until the Vala (Sibyl) sees another earth rising from the sea as old ills are resolved and the Aesir return. In the High One's Song, we read of Odin's consummate experience when for nine whole nights he "hung in the windtorn tree," the Tree of Life, so that he might "raise the runes" and drink the mead of omniscience. Titchnell discusses the shattering of Odin's god-conscious into separate shards during this process, and the metaphorical implications of the wilful destruction of a godhead, and the possibility for mass personal apotheosis.

There is much to delight and instruct in the retelling of lay after lay, each with its own story and truth to impart. Admittedly only a portion of the available material is treated, and this is drawn chiefly from the Poetic or Elder Edda of Saemund the Wise. Cognizant, moreover, of the challenge posed by the mystery-language of symbolism in use by the poet-philosophers of old, the author is hopeful that others will find in this "fragment of runic wisdom" the stimulus to pursue further and more complete studies of the ancient Norse records.

Whether writing as Eddist or theosophist, amateur scientist, mythographer, or translator, Elsa-Brita Titchenell by lucid and perceptive scholarship has earned for The Masks of Odin an honored place among Edda literature.