Woden / Wodan / Wotan (Anglo-Saxon)
Odin was the chief god of Norse mythology, head of the Æsir gods. He was also called Alfodr (All Father), Yggr (terror), Sigfodr (father of victory) or Valfodr (father of the slain). Odin is thought to be the same as Woden, Wodan or Wotan in Anglo-Saxon and Germanic mythology.
Odin lived with the rest of the Æsir in Asgard, one of the Nine Worlds of Norse mythology.
Odin was the son of Bor and Bestla, and with Frigg fathered Balder, Hod and Hermod. By the goddess Jord, Odin is also father to the god of thunder, Thor.
Odin is associated with war, battle, victory, death, but also poetry, wisdom, prophecy, Shamanism and magic. He was also known as ‘father of the slain’, as it is thought that brave warriors would be chosen to go to Valhalla after death.
From his throne Hlidskialf, Odin would gain knowledge from his two ravens, Hugin (‘thought’) and Munin (‘memory’), who would fly throughout the world every day and bring news back to Odin in Valhalla.
Odin is also associated with the spear Gungnir, which never misses its target, the ring Draupnir, which reappears every ninth night, and his eight-footed horse Sleipnir. He also has two wolves, Freki and Geri.
Odin was also a shapeshifting god, using the aliases Vak or Valtam amongst humans.
On the day of Ragnarök, the end of the world, Odin is killed by the wolf Fenrir, the offspring of the god Loki and the frost giantess Angrboda.
Odin is tied to the story of the Runes, as the Poetic Edda states he hung upside down from the world tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and pierced himself with his spear in order to obtain their magical knowledge.
I know that I hung on a windy tree
nine long nights,
wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
myself to myself,
on that tree of which no man knows from where its roots run.
No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,
downwards I peered;
I took up the runes,
screaming I took them,
then I fell back from there.
This story of sacrifice and physical tribulation in order to receive mystical wisdom is similar to a shamanic initiation, and tells how Odin became associated with shamanism.
The name Yggdrasil is thought to mean ‘Odin’s Horse’, since drasil means horse and Yggr is another name for Odin. ‘Odin’s Horse’ is a reference to ‘gallows’, as Odin sacrificed himself by hanging from the world tree.
Odin still desired more knowledge, and later traded one of his eyes for a drink from the Well of Wisdom, gaining immense knowledge. Also, the Vanir goddess Freya taught Odin the magic of Seidr in exchange for his knowledge of the Runes.
Sources say that every ninth year, during blóts, people made human sacrifices to Odin at the Temple at Uppsala. It is thought that male slaves and males of each species were sacrificed and hung from the branches of the trees.
Romans equated Odin with the messenger god Mercury. Some parallels can also be drawn between Odin and the Gaulish god Lugus, such as their association with the raven and the spear. Some also say that Odin replaced the Proto-Germanic god Týr/Tîwaz during the Germanic migration period.
Wednesday is named after Odin, in the form of ‘Woden’s Day’. This is thought to come from the Latin dies Mercurii (‘Mercury’s day’), given the Romans compared Odin to their god Mercury.
Odin is often pictured as an elderly man with a long white beard, wide brim hat, and wooden staff or spear. Tolkien based his character Gandalf from Lord of the Rings on an “Odinic wanderer”. Odin is also thought to be an early version of Father Christmas in Scandinavian and Germanic countries.
© A Year And A Day (2013)