The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 2: God

(Page 1)

In all Teutonic tongues the Supreme Being has always with one consent been called by the general name God. The dialectic varieties are: Goth. guð, A.S., O.S., O. Fris. god, O.H.G. cot, O. Norse goð; Swed. Dan. gud, M.H.G. god; and here there is a grammatical remark to make. Though all the dialects, even the Norse, use the word as masculine (hence in O.H.G. the acc. sing. cotan; I do not know of a M.H.G. goten), yet in Gothic and O. Norse it lacks the nom. sing. termination (-s, -r) of a masc. noun, and the Gothic gen. sing. is formed guðs without the connecting vowel i, agreeing therein with the three irreg. genitives mans, fadrs, brôðrs. Now, as O.H.G. has the same three genitives irreg., man, fatar, pruodar, we should have expected the gen. cot to bear them company, and I do not doubt its having existed, though I have nowhere met with it, only with the reg. cotes, as indeed mannes and fateres also occur. It is more likely that the sanctity of the name had preserved the oldest form inviolate, than that frequent use had worn it down. (1) The same reason preserved the O.H.G. spelling cot (Gramm. 1, 180), the M. Dut. god (1, 486), and perhaps the Lat. vocative deus (1, 1071). (2) Moreover, God and other names of divine beings reject every article (4, 383. 394, 404. 424. 432); they are too firmly established as proper nouns to need any such distinction. The der got [[the god]] in MS. 2, 260a. is said of a heathen deity.

On the radical meaning of the word God we have not yet arrived at certainty; (3) it is not immediately connected with the adj. good, Goth. gôds, O.N., gôðr, A.S. gôd, O.H.G. cuot, M.H.G., guot, as the difference of vowel shows; we should first have to show an intermediacy of the graduations gida gad, and gada gôd, which does take place in some other cases; and certainly God is called the Good. (4) It is still farther removed from the national name of the Goths, who called themselves Gutans (O.H.G. Kuzan, O.N. Gotar), and who must be distinguished from O.N. Gautar (A.S. Geátas, O.H.G. Kôzâ; Goth. Gautôs?).

The word God has long been compared with the Pers. Khodâ (Bopp, comp. gram., p. 35). If the latter be, as has been supposed, a violent contraction of the Zend qvadâta (a se datus, increatus, Sanskr. svadâta, conf. Dêvadatta Qeodotoj, Mitradatta Hlisdotoj, Sridatta), then our Teutonic word must have been originally a compound, and one with a very apt meaning, as the Servians also address God as samozazdâni bôzhe ! self-created God; Vuk 741.

The O.H.G. cot forms the first half of many proper names, as Cotadio, Cotascalh, Cotafrit, Cotahram, Cotakisal, Cotaperaht, Cotalint, but not so that we can infer anything as to its meaning; they are formed like Irmandio, Hiltiscalh, Sikufrit, and may just as well carry the general notion of the Divine Being as a more definite one. When cot forms the last syllable, the compound can only stand for a god, not a man, as in Irmincot, Hellicot.

In derivatives Ulphilas exchanges the TH for a D, which explains the tenuis in O.H.G. ; thus guda-faurhts (god-fearing) Luke 2, 25, gagudei (godliness) Tit. 1, 1; though the dat. sing. is invariably guða. (5) Likewise in speaking of many gods, which to Christians would mean idols, he spells guda, using it as a neuter, John 10, 34-5. The A.S. god has a neut. pl. godu, when idols are meant (cod. exon. 250, 2. 254, 9. 278, 16.). In like manner the O.H.G. and M.H.G. compound apcot, aptcot (false god) is commonly neuter, and forms its pl. apcotir; whether the M.H.G. 'der aptgot' in Geo. 3254. 3302 can be correct, is questionable; we have taken to using abgott as a masc. throughout, yet our pl. götter itself can only be explained as originally neuter, since the true God is one, and can have no plural; and the O.H.G. cotâ, M.H.G. gote contain so far a contradiction. In Ulph. afguds is only an adj., and denotes impius Sk. 44, 22; afgudei impietas, Rom. 11, 26; eidwla he translates by galiuga (figmenta), 1 Cor. 5, 10. 10, 20. 28, or by galiugaguda, 1 Cor 10, 20; and eidwleiou by galiugê staðs, 1 Cor. 8, 10. Another N.H.G. expression götze I have discussed, Gramm. 3, 694; Luther has in Deut. 12, 3 'die götzen ihrer götter', [[the idols of their gods]] making götze = idolum. In Er. Alberus fab. 23, the götz is a demigod (6) (see Supple.). The O.N. language distinguished the neut. goð idolum from the masc. guð deus. Snorri 119 says of Sif 'it hârfagra goð,' the fairhaired god; I do not know if a heathen would have said it.

In curses and exclamations, our people, from fear of desecrating the name of God, resort to some alteration of it: (7) potz wetter! potz tausend! or, kotz tausend! kotz wunder! instead of Gottes; but I cannot trace the custom back to our ancient speech. The similar change of the Fr. dieu into bieu, bleu, guieu (8) seems to be older (see Suppl.).

Some remarkable uses of the word God in our older speech and that of the common people may also have a connexion with heathen notions.

Thus it is thrown in, as it were, to intensify a personal pronoun (see Suppl.). Poems in M.H.G. have, by way of giving a hearty welcome: gote unde mir willekomen; [[welcome to god and me]] Trist. 504. Frib. Trist. 497. gote sult ir willekomen sin, iurem lande unde mir (ye shall be welcome to God, your country, and me); Trist. 5186. got alrêst, dar nâch mir, west willekomen; [[to god first of all (?), and then to me, be welcome]] Parz. 305, 27. wis willekomen mir und got; Frauend. 128, 13. sit mir gote wilkomen [[be to me (and) god welcome]] (9) ; Eilh. Trist. 248. rehte got wilkomen mir; [[welcome to righteous (?) god (and) me]] Dietr. 5200. Nu sit ouch mir got wilkomen; Dietr. 5803. sit willekomen got und ouch mir; [[be welcome to god and also me']] Dietr. 4619. nu wis mir got wolkomen; [[now be to me (and) god welcome]] Oswalt 208, 406. 1163. 1268. 1393. 2189. du solt grôz willekomen sin dem richen got unde mir; [[thou shouldst be greatly welcome to the mighty god and me]] Lanz. 1082. wis mir unde ouch got wilkomen; [[be to me and also god welcome]] Ls. 1, 514. Occasionally gote stands alone: diu naht si gote willekomen; [[be tonight welcome to god]] Iw. 7400, explained in the note, p. 413, as 'devoted to God,' though it only means 'to-night be (thou) welcome'. Upper Germany has to this day retained the greeting 'gottwilche, gottwillkem, gottikum, skolkuom' (Stald. 1, 467. Schm. 2, 84). I do not find it in Romance poems; but the Saxon-Latin song of the 10th century on Otto I. and his brother Heinrich has: sid wilicomo bêhiu goda ende mi. [[be welcome both (?) to god and me]] The Supreme Being is conceived as omnipresent, and is expected, as much as the host himself, to take the new-comer under his protection; so the Sloveny say to the arriving guest 'bôgh té vsprimî, God receive you!' (10) and we to the parting guest 'God guide, keep, bless you!' We call it commending or committing one to God, M.H.G. gote ergeben, Er. 3598. I compare with these the Hail! called out to one who arrives or departs (heill ver þu! Sæm. 67, 86), with which are also associated the names of helpful gods: heill þu farir, heill þu âsyniom sêr! fare thou well, be thou well by (the aid of) the Asynior; Sæm. 31. heill scaltu Agnarr, allz þic heilan biðr vera týr vera! Sæm. 40.


1. The drift of these remarks seems to be this: The word, though used as a masc., has a neut. form, is this an archaism, pointing to a time when the word was really neuter; or a mere irregularity due to abrition, the word having always been masc.? --TRANS.  (back)

2. Saxo does not inflect Thor; Uhland p. 108.  (back)

3. The Slav. bôgh is connected with the Sanskr. bhâga felicitas, bhakta devotus, and bhaj colere; perhaps also with the obscure bahts in the Goth. and bahts minister, cultor; conf. p. 20, note on boghât, dives. Of qeoj , deus we shall have to speak in ch. IX.  (back)

4. oudeij agaqos ei mh eis o qeoj, Mark 10, 18, Luke 18, 19, which in Gothic is rendered 'ni hvashun þiuðeigs alja ains Guð,' but in A.S. 'nis nân man gôd buton God âna'. God is the giver of all good, and himself the highest good, summum bonum. Thus Plate names him to agaqon.  (back)

5. In Gothic the rule is to change TH into D before a vowel in inflection, as, faðs. fadis, fada, fað; haubið, -dis, -da, -ð. The peculiarity of guð is that it retains TH throughout the sing. guð, guðs, guða, guð; though in pl. and in derivatives it falls under rule again.----TRANS.  (back)

6. Writers of the 16-17th centuries use ölgötze for statue (Stieler says, from an allegorical representation of the apostles asleep on the Mount of Olives, öl = oil). Hans Sachs frequently has 'den ölgötzen tragen' [[to carry the statues]] for doing house drudgery, I. 5, 418 528. III. 3, 24 49. IV. 3, 37 99. The OHG. coz, simpuvium Numae (Juvenal 6, 343) which Graff 4, 154 would identify with götze, was a vessel, and belongs to giozan = fundere.  (back)

7. Such a fear may arise from two causes: a holy name must not be abused, or an unholy dreaded name, e.g., that of the devil, has to be softened down by modifying its form; see Chap. XXXIII, how the people call formidable animals by another name, and for Donner prefer to say donnerwetter (Dan. tordenveir for Thursday), donnerwettstein (wetterstein or wetzstein?), donnerkeil, donnerwäsche, dummer. In Fornm. sög. 10, 283 we have Oddiner for Oðinn; perhaps Wuotansheer (Woden's host) was purposely changed into Mutesheer; whether Phol into Fâlant, is worth considering.  (back)

8. Sangbieu (sang de Dieu), corbieu (corps de D.) vertubleu (vertu de D.), morbleu (mort de D.), parbleu (par. D), vertuguien, vertugoi (vertu de D.), morguoi (mort de D.) &c. As early as Renart 18177, por la char bien. So the Engl. cock's bones, od's wounds, 'zounds, &c. Conf. Weber metr. rom. 3, 284.  (back)

9. The omission of and between the two datives is archaic, conf. Zeitschr. f. d. a. 2, 190.  (back)

10. Buge was primi, gralva Venus! Frauend. 192, 20; conf. 177, 14.  (back)

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