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Odin the Wanderer

Odin is the head Germanic deity (German: Göttervater). He is known as Woden in Old English and Óðinn( Odin) in Old Norse and Icelandic. In Old High German he is called Wodan (especially Franconian), Wuotan, or Wotan and Godan in the language of the Lombards and other Germanic tribes from middle and southern Germania. To the Anglo-Saxons he was known as Woden. His name thought to have been Wōdanaz in the Proto-Germanic language. The Germanic tradition held Woden, the allfather (German: Allvater) for the originator of the runes. He is the god after whom 'Wednesday' was named.


Helmet plate found on the helmet in the Vendel I grave, 7th century AD; other sources suggest, the iconography might not represent Odin, but rather Beowulf, who slew the monster Grendel.
Odin enthroned and holding his spear Gungnir, flanked by his ravens Huginn and Muninn and wolves Geri and Freki; art work by Carl Emil Doepler, 1882.

Odin is considered to be the fundamental God of the Germanic peoples. In he past researchers believed that Odin was a minor spirit that replaced Gods such as Tiw. Now it is thought that Odin is the continuation of an archaic Indo-European father deity. Odin may originally have been named "wode" meaning fury, Wodan and its varients meaning "master of the fury". In modern German the word for fury is "wuten".

By the Romans he was identified at an early date with Mercurius, whence our name "Wednesday" (Woden's day) as a translation of dies Mercurii. Tacitus states that the ancient Germans worshipped Mercurius more than any other god, and that they offered him human sacrifices. Many scholars connect the origin of the deity with the popular German and Swedish belief in a raging host (in Germany called das wiitende Heer or Wutes Heer, but in Sweden Odens Jagt), which passes through the forests on stormy nights. This was also known as the Wild hunt (German: Wilde Jagd) of furious army. However, there is scant evidence to link Odins' original purpose as being connected with the host and Odins' mastery of the host probably developed alongside belief in the God. There is evidence, however, that deities similar to Woden were known to some of the ancient peoples of central Europe, e.g. the Gauls and Thracians.

It is largely owing to the peculiar character of this god and the prominent position which he occupies that the mythology of the north presents so striking a contrast to that of Greece.

Physical appearance

Odin is described in Old Norse literature as having a red beard (Örvar-Odds saga, 19f; Bárðar saga Snæfellsáss, 18). These sources describe Odin by the name "Raudgrani", which translates as "red beard" or "red moustache".

Odins Mythology

Originally Odin was mounted on a horse, leading the Host wearing a wide-brimmed hat and flowing cloak. He is represented as an old man with one eye. Frigg is his wife, and several of the gods, including Thor and Balder, are his sons. He is also said to have been the father of several legendary kings, and more than one princely family claimed descent from him. His exploits and adventures form the theme of a number of the Eddaic poems, and also of several stories in the prose Edda. In all these stories his character is distinguished rather by wisdom and cunning than by martial prowess, and reference is very frequently made to his skill in poetry. It is clear, however, that the god was credited with special skill in magic, both in England and Germany, while the story of the Langobardic migration represents him as the dispenser of victory.

In Ynglinga Saga he is represented as reigning in Sweden, where he established laws for his people. In notices relating to religious observances Odin appears chiefly as the giver of victory or as the god of the dead. He is frequently introduced in legendary sagas, generally in disguise, imparting secret instructions to his favourites or presenting them with weapons by which victory is assured. In return he receives the souls of the slain who in his palace, Valhalla, live a life of fighting and feasting, similar to that which has been their desire on earth.

Worship among the Germans

Human sacrifices were very frequently offered to Odin, especially prisoners taken in battle. The most common method of sacrifice was by hanging the victim on a tree; and in the poem Hdvamfil the god himself is represented as sacrificed in this way. The worship of Odin seems to have prevailed chiefly, if not solely, in military circles, i.e. among princely families and the retinues of warriors attached to them. It is probable, however, that the worship of Odin was once common to most of the Teutonic peoples.

Owing to the very small amount of information which has come down to us regarding the gods of ancient England and Germany, it cannot be determined how far the character and adventures attributed to Odin in Scandinavian mythology were known to other Teutonic peoples. From Woden also most of the anglo-Saxon royal families traced their descent.

Anglo-Saxon Woden

Wodan heals Balder's horse from Doepler, 1905

The Anglo-Saxon tribes brought their indigenous faith to what was to become England around the 5th and 6th centuries and continued in that form of worship until nearly all were converted to Christianity by the 9th century, at which point the old gods and any records of them were almost completely lost. This process of Christianisation followed an established pattern that is attested in accounts of the same from continental Europe: leaders were baptised for varied reasons, and the conversion of their respective peoples almost always inevitably followed, sometimes in the space of a few years, but more often over the course of a few generations though numerous aspects of indigenous beliefs often remained.

For the Anglo-Saxons, Woden was the psychopomp or carrier-off of the dead, but not necessarily with the exact same attributes of the Norse Odin. There has been some doubt as to whether the early English had the concepts of Valkyries and Valhalla in the Norse sense, although there is a word for the former, Waelcyrge.

In addition to the roles named here, Woden was considered to be the leader of the Wild Hunt. The familial relationships may be the same between Woden and the other Anglo-Saxon gods as they are for the Norse.

Wednesday (*Wēdnes dæg, "Woden's day", interestingly continuing the variant *Wōdinaz (with umlaut of ō to ē), unlike Wōden, continuing *Wōdanaz) is named after him, his link with the dead making him the appropriate match to the Roman Mercury.

The Anglo-Saxon kings claimed descent from Woden. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Historia Britonum, Woden had the sons Wecta, Baeldaeg, Casere and Wihtlaeg.

Anglo-Saxon tradition thus places Woden just four generations removed from Hengest, who, according to tradition, died ca. 488. This places Woden himself in the 4th century, the heroic age also reflected in Icelandic heroic poetry.

The Christian writer of the Maxims found in the Exeter Book (341, 28) records the verse Wôden worhte weos, wuldor alwealda rûme roderas ("Woden wrought the (heathen) altars / the almighty Lord the wide heavens"). The name of such Wôdenes weohas (Saxon Wôdanes with, Norse Oðins ve) or sanctuaries to Woden survives in toponymy as Odinsvi, Wodeneswegs.

In folklore

Woden persisted as a figure in folklore and folk religion throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern period, notably as the leader of the Wild Hunt found in English, German, Swiss, and Scandinavian traditions.[1]

A celebrated late attestation of invocation of Wodan in Germany dates to 1593, in Mecklenburg, where the formula Wode, Hale dynem Rosse nun Voder "Wodan, fetch now food for your horse" was spoken over the last sheaf of the harvest.[2] David Franck adds, that at the squires' mansions, when the rye is all cut, there is Wodel-beer served out to the mowers; no one weeds flax on a Wodenstag, lest Woden's horse should trample the seeds; from Christmas to Twelfth-day they will not spin, nor leave any flax on the distaff, and to the question why? they answer, Wode is galloping across. We are expressly told, this wild hunter Wode rides a white horse. (34)

A custom in Schaumburg is reported by Jacob Grimm: the people go out to mow in parties of twelve, sixteen or twenty scythes, but it is managed in such a manner, that on the last day of harvest they are all finished at the same time, or some leave a strip standing which they can cut down at a stroke the last thing, or they merely pass their scythes over the stubble, pretending there is still some left to mow. At the last stroke of the scythe they raise their implements aloft, plant them upright, and beat the blades three times with the strop. Each spills on the field a little of the drink he has, whether beer, brandy, or milk, then drinks himself, while they wave their hats, beat their scythes three times, and cry aloud Wôld, Wôld, Wôld! and the women knock all the crumbs out of their baskets on the stubble. They march home shouting and singing. If the ceremony was omitted, the following year would bring bad crops of hay and corn. The first verse of the song is quoted by Grimm,

„Wôld, Wôld, Wôld! Hävens wei wat schüt, jümm hei dal van Häven süt. Vulle Kruken un Sangen hät hei, upen Holte wässt manigerlei: hei is nig barn un wert nig old. Wôld, Wôld, Wôld! “

“Wôld, Wôld, Wôld”! Heaven’s giant knows what happens, Looking down from heaven, Providing full jugs and sheaves. Many a plant grows in the woods. He is not born and grows not old. “Wôld, Wôld, Wôld”!

Grimm notes that the custom had died out in the fifty years preceding his time of writing (1835). In England there are also folkloric references to Woden, including the "giants' dance" of Woden and Frigg in Dent as recorded by Grimm,[3] and the Lincolnshire charm that contained the line "One for God, one for Wod and one for Lok" [4]. Other references include the Northumbrian Auld Carl Hood from the ballad Earl Brand[5], Herla[6][7][8][9] , Woden's role as the leader of the Wild Hunt in Northern England[10][11][12][13] and in all likelihood Herne, the Wild Huntsman of Berkshire[14][15][16][17].

See Also

External links



  1. see e.g. Kelly (1863). see also Branston, Brian.'The Lost Gods of England'. Thames and Hudson Ltd. ISBN 0-09-473340-6
  2. Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde vol. 1 (1973), p. 99, s.v. "Agrarisches Brauchtum"
  3. Teutonic mythology, Volume 1 by Jacob Grimm, translated by James Steven Stallybrass, Courier Dover Publications, 2004, ISBN 0486435466, 9780486435466
  4. "Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Nail the Devil to the post, Thrice I strike with holy crook, One for God, one for Wod, And one for Lok!" Encyclopedia of Superstitions 1949, Edwin Radford, Kessinger Publishing, 2004 ISBN 1417976551, 9781417976553
  5. Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 98, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  6. http://greenworldofthegods.wordpress.com/2009/04/29/odin-versus-woden/
  7. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=KdFlWZfpXRwC&pg=PA126&lpg=PA126&dq=Herla+King+Woden&source=bl&ots=X98Mp_oT6J&sig=DACwDe9yqSfic27bwbKH_GhoXpg&hl=en&ei=HJWvSvCRJZuQjAfrteHABA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7#v=onepage&q=Herla%20King%20Woden&f=false
  8. http://www.alphadictionary.com/goodword/word/harlequin
  9. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=harlequin
  10. Hole, Christina. Haunted England: A Survey of English Ghost Lore. p.5. Kessinger Publishing, 1941.
  11. English Folklore
  12. Woden, Odin and the Runes
  13. Looking for the Lost Gods of England
  14. The Quest for the Green Man By John Matthews, Published by Quest Books, 2001 ISBN 0835608255, 9780835608251, page 116
  15. Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine by Lewis Spence, BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2007, ISBN 1434627551, 9781434627551, page. 68
  16. The tree of mythology, its growth and fruitage: genesis of the nursery tale, saws of folk-lore, etc by Charles De Berard Mills, C. W. Bardeen, 1889
  17. Hedge-Rider: Witches and the Underworld by Eric De Vries, Pendraig Publishing, 2008, ISBN 0979616875, 9780979616877
Part of this article consists of modified text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition of 1911, which is no longer restricted by copyright.