Odin’s Ravens and Intelligence

Driving back from a meeting today, I was listening to the radio and the fascinating subject under discussion was ravens, including one actually talking. No kidding. But there was also a link to the world of intelligence.

One aspect of the story was intriguing in particular and that is the role of two ravens in Norse history relating to the game of “intelligence”. Now, within the defence and security world there’s a bit of a weird obsession with giving projects names relating to Greek mythology. I’ve even sat in meetings with defence companies where an agenda item is “Think of a Greek name for this project.” Even funnier, is I have been involved with two projects in the intelligence game where the IT companies leading them insisted on calling their project “Prometheus” because its sounds grand and important – but being ignorant of the fact that Prometheus ended up being chained to a rock and tortured for eternity for giving away the secrets of the Gods. Not the best title, then, for sensitive projects. Ah, the benefits of a classical education.

It turns out we maybe should have turned to Norse mythology and Odin’s two ravens. In Norse mythology Odin is often pictured with the two large black corvids on his shoulders – named Huginn and Muginn.

Odin with his two ravens (Public Domain)

Every day Odin sent out these two ravens to fly over the world and see what was happening. Every night they returned, landed on his shoulder and whispered their findings in his ears. Persistent aerial surveillance anyone? More interestingly still, Huginn in Old Norse means “thought” and Muginn means “memory”. Do these two birds translate into the modern intelligence world as “Analysis” and “Data”? Was Odin conducting surveillance operations gathering data and conducting analysis to aid his decision making? It would appear he was. Mind you, I have met a few one-eyed intelligence bosses in my time…

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