View Full Version : Wodan

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005, 09:33 PM
The highest and most supreme deity, universally worshipped among all Germanic tribes, was called Wuotan in Old High German, Odin in Norse. According to pagan conception, Wodan is the ruler of the world, wise and skilled in arts, the all-powerful and all-pervading god, ordainer of wars and battles, on whom at the same time depends the fertility of the soil. He carries a spear or staff and is the all-seeing eye of the sun. He stands at the head of all dynasties of kings. His name is indelibly imprinted on many places. In language the "Wodan span" describes a portion of the hand. Ravens and wolves, which before all other animals were associated by our people with his name, scent his victorious approach. Because he simultaneously appears as the god of poetry, of measure, of apportioning, of boundary, of dice, so can talents, treasures, arts, be regarded as emanating from him.

Wodan looks down to earth through a window from his dwelling in the sky, which is completely in accord with the old Norse idea. Wodan has a throne named Hlidskjalf, sitting upon which he can look over the entire world and can hear everything which takes place among men. When Loki wished to conceal himself, Wodan spied out his hiding-place from this seat. Sometimes Frigga, Wodan's wife, is also conceived as sitting near him, then she too enjoys the same prospect. Pagan perception makes the divine quality of seeing through everything dependent on the placing or adjustment of the chair and just as this quality leaves the god when he does not sit upon it, so can others, as soon as they take the chair, participate in the power. This was the case when Freyr spied the beautiful Gerd away down in Jotunheim. The word hlidscialf seems to mean literally door-bench, from hlid and skialf. This idea of a seat in heaven, from which god looks down to earth, is still not extinguished among our people.

In the eyes of our forefathers, victory was the foremost and highest of all gifts. However, they regarded Wodan not only as awarder of victory; he was also conceived by them generally as the god by whose favor man has to expect every other distinction, in whose hands all higher goods are held.

Just as the souls of slain warriors arrive in Indra's heaven, so the victory-granting god of our forefathers takes up heroes fallen in battle into his company, into his army, into his heavenly dwelling. Probably it was the belief of all gods and noble men that they would be allowed after their death into closer fellowship with the deity. Valhall (Valhalla) and Valkyrja (Valkyries) are closely related with the idea of wish and of choice. Therefore dying means, and even according to Christian view, to go to God, to return to God. In the North, to journey to Odin, to be a guest of Odin, or to visit Odin meant nothing other but dying and was synonymous with journeying to Valhalla, being a guest in Valhalla. But among Christians curses developed from this: Go to Odin! Here is shown the reversal of the good-natured being with whom one wishes to abide, into an evil one whose abode inculcates fear and terror.

Concerning the peculiarities of the shape and outward appearance of the god, as these are imprinted on the Norse myths, I have discovered few remaining traces with us in Germany. Odin is one-eyed, wears a wide-brimmed-hat and broad cloak. When he desired to drink from Mimir's well, he had to leave one eye as a pledge. Norse myth provides Odin with a wonderful spear named Gungnir, which would compare with the lance or sword of Mars, not the staff of Mercury. This spear he lends the hero for victory. The god of victory is given two wolves and two ravens which as warlike, courageous animals follow the battle and throw themselves on the corpses of the fallen. The wolves were called Geri and Freki and Hans Sachs drolly relates in a verse that God the Lord has chosen wolves for hunting dogs, that they are his animals. The two ravens are called Hugin and Munin, from Hugr and Munr ("thought" and "memory"). They are wise and clever, sit on the shoulders of Odin and speak into his ear everything which they see and hear. Wolf and raven were also sacred to the Greek Apollo. The Gospels represent the Holy Ghost as a dove which during baptism flies down to Christ and hovers in the air above him. Is this a pagan memory? [Image: Odin carving runes on his spear; illustration by F. Von Stassen (1914). To learn the secret of the runes Odin hung himself on the World-Tree, Yggdrasil.]

In the shape of a bearded old man Wodan appears like a water spirit or water god and to do justice to the Latin name Neptune, which some older writers use of him. Wodan's rule over the water as over the wind explains how he walks on the waves and approaches through the air in a storm. Odin provides ships with a favorable sailing wind (oskabir).

Our antique stories tell of Odin's wanderings, of his wagon, trackway and companions. We know that even in remotest antiquity the seven stars which form the Bear in the northern sky were conceived as a four-wheeled wagon whose shaft consists of three stars inclined downwards. This constellation may in pagan times have borne the complete name of Wodan's wagon, after the supreme god of heaven.

In some districts, the great open highway of heaven -- to which people long attached a peculiar sense of sacredness, and perhaps allowed this to eclipse the older fancy of a "milky way" -- was possibly also called Wodan's Way or Wodan's Street.

Of greater significance appear the names of certain mountains which were sacred to the worship of the god in pagan days. Not far from the holy oak in Hesse which Boniface cut down, lay a Wodansberg. Other names are Gudensberg, Gotanesberg. Of the Hessian Gudensberg the story goes that King Charles lies imprisoned in it, that he there won a victory over the Saxons, and opened a well in the wood for his thirsting army, but he will yet come forth of the mountain, he and his host, at the appointed time.

These names, which describe the wagon and mountain of the old god, are found principally in Lower Germany where paganism long asserted itself, and a remarkable practice of Lower Saxon folk during corn harvest alludes to this. It is the custom to leave a bushel of grain standing on the field for Wodan to give his horse. According to the Edda, Odin rides the best of all horses, Sleipnir, to whom eight legs are attributed; Sleipnis verdr (food) is a poetic name for hay. Other legends speak of a tall white horse by which the god of victory was to be recognized in battles. Besides the gift of drink for Odin, a gift of grain was often left for Odin's horse.

The generosity of antiquity shines from such customs. Man does not wish to take possession of everything for himself, of all that has grown for him. He gratefully leaves a part back for the gods, who will in future also protect his crops. Greed increased, when the offerings ceased. Ears of corn are set apart and offered here to Wodan, as elsewhere to kind
spirits and elves, e.g., to the brownies of Scotland.

Wodan is, as far as it is possible to piece together an idea of his nature from fragments of the old beliefs, the most spirited god of our antiquity. Among all other gods he shines forth. All heroes and royal families trace back their ancestry to him. Among his sons are several divinely celebrated -- especially Baldur and Saxnot appear as his sons.

But the high place which the Germans allot to their Wodan leads to yet another observation. Monotheism is something so necessary and essential that almost all pagans, consciously or unconsciously, proceed accordingly from recognizing among the bright throng of their gods, a highest deity who bears within himself the qualities of all the others so that the latter are only to be regarded as emanations from him, his rejuvenation and renewal. This explains how separate qualities come to be attributed now to this, now to that particular god, and why one or another of them, according to different peoples, comes to be invested with the highest power. Thus Wodan resembles Hermes and Mercury; on his own he stands higher than both. Conversely the German Donar (Thunor, Thorr) is a weaker Zeus or Jupiter. What was added to the one, must be taken away from the other. Ziu (Tiw, Tyr), however, hardly does more than administer one of Wotan's offices, yet he is identical in name with the first and highest god of the Greeks and Romans. The Greek Hermes is youthful, the German Wodan fatherly, in their conception. Ziu and Fro (Freyr) are mere offshoots of Wodan and thus all manifestations of the gods meet and intermingle.

Throughout paganism trilogies appear of the principal gods which I have arranged below according to the third, fourth and fifth day of the week: Tuesday (Ziu's day), Wednesday (Wodan's day) and Thursday (Thor's day).

Jakob Grimm: "The Principal Germanic Gods" (http://library.flawlesslogic.com/grimm_2.htm)