The Northern Way

Grimm's Teutonic Mythology

Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Wuotan, Wodan (Oðinn)

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The highest, the supreme divinity, universally honoured, as we have a right to assume, among all Teutonic races, would in the Gothic dialect have been called Vôdans; he was called in OHG. Wuotan, a word which also appears, though rarely, as the name of a man: Wuotan, Trad. Fuld. 1, 149. 2, 101-5-8. 128. 158. 161. Woatan 2, 146, 152. The Longobards spelt it Wôdan or Guôdan, the Old Saxons Wuodan, Wôdan, but in Westphalia again with the g prefixed, Guôdan, Gudan, the Anglo-Saxons Wôdan, the Frisians Wêda from the propensity of their dialect to drop a final n, and to modify ô even when not followed by an i. (1) The Norse form is Oðinn, in Saxo Othinus, in the Faröe isles Ouvin, gen Ouvans, acc. Ouvan. Up in the Grisons country---and from this we may infer the extent to which the name was diffused in Upper Germany----the Romance dialect has caught the term Vut from Alamanns or Burgundians of a very early time, and retained it to this day in the sense of idol, false god, 1 Cor. 8, 4. (2) (See Suppl.)

It can scarcely be doubted that the word is immediately derived from the verb OHG. watan wuot, ON. vaða [[to wade through, to rush]], ôð [[óðum - rapidly, vehemently]], signifying meare, transmeare, cum impetu ferri, but not identical with Lat. vadere, as the latter has the a long, and is more likly connected with OS. gavîtan, AS. gewîtan. From watan comes the subst. wuot (our wuth, fury), as menoj and animus properly mean mens, ingenium, and then also impetuosity, wildness; the ON. öðr [[óðr - frantic, mad, furious, eager or mind, song, poetry]] has kept to the one meaning of mens or sensus. (3) According to this, Wuotan, Oðinn would be the all-powerful, all-penetrating being, qui omnia permeat; as Lucan says of Jupiter: Est quodcunque vides, quocunque moveris, the spirit-god (4); conf. Virg. Georg. 4, 221: Deum ire per omnes terras, and Ecl. 3, 60: Jovis omnia plena. In the popular language of Bavaria, wueteln is to bestir oneself, to swarm, grow luxuriantly, thrive, Schm. 4, 203 (see Suppl.)

How early this original meaning may have got obscured or extinguished, it is impossible to say. Together with the meaning of wise and mighty god, that of the wild, restless, vehement, must also have prevailed, even in the heathen time. The christians were the better pleased, that they could bring the bad sense into prominence out of the name itself. In the oldest glosses, wôtan is put for tyrannus, herus malus, Diut. 1, 276. gl. Ker. 270; so wüeterich, wüterich (Gramm. 2, 516) is used later on, and down to the present day, conf. ein ungestüemer wüeterich, Ben. 431; as in Mar. 217. Herod's messengers of murder are wüeteriche, O.i. 19, 18 names the king himself gotewuoto. The form wuotunc seems not to differ in sense; an unprinted poem of the 13th century says 'Wüetunges her' apparently for the 'wütende heer', (5) the host led as it were by Wuotan; and Wuotunc is likewise a man's name in OHG., Wôdunc, Trad. patav. no. 19. The former divinity was degraded into an evil, fiendish, bloodthirsty being, and appears to live yet as a form of protestation or cursing in exclamations of the Low German people, as in Westphalia: O Woudan, Woudan! Firmenich 1, 257, 260; and in Mecklenburg: Wod, Wod! (see Suppl.).

Proofs of the general extension of Woden's worship present themselves, for the one thing, in the passages collected in the proceeding chapter on Mercurius, and again in the testimonies of Jonas of Bobbio (pp 56 and 121) and Paulus Diaconus, and in the Abrenuntiatio, which deserves to be studied more closely, and lastly in the concurrence of a number of isolated facts, which I believe have hitherto been overlooked.

If we are to sum up in brief the attributes of this god, he is the all-pervading creative and formative power, who bestows shape and beauty on men and all things, from whom proceeds the gift of song and the management of war and victory, on whom at the same time depends the fertility of the soil, nay wishing, and all highest gifts and blessings, Sæm. 113.

To the heathen fancy Wuotan is not only the world-ruling, wise, ingenious god, he is above all the arranger of wars and battles. (6) Adam of Bremen cap. 233, ed. 1595 says of the Norse god: Wôdan, id est fortior, bella gerit, hominique ministrat virtutem contra inimicos..........Wôdanem sculpunt (Sveones) armatum, sicut nostri Martem sculpere solent. To the fortior, fortis, would answer his ON. name of Svîðr, i.e. the strong, masterful, swift (OS. suîth): but fortior is, no doubt, a false reading, all the MSS. (conf. Pertz 3, 379) read 'Wôdan, id est furor,' which agrees with the conclusion arrived at above. To him, says the Edda, belong all the nobles who fall in battle (Sæm. 77), and to Thôr the common folk, but this seems added merely to depreciate the latter; in another passage (Sæm. 42), Freya shares the fallen with Oðinn; he is named valfaðir and herfaðir (val, choice; her, host). Oðinn vildi þiggja mann at hlutfalli at hânga or herinom, Fornald. sög. 3, 31. Eidem prostratorum manes muneris loco dedicaturum se pollicetur (Haraldus), Saxo p. 146. Othinus armipotens, p. 37, auctor aciei corniculatae, ordinandi agminis disciplinae traditor et repertor, pp. 138-9, 146. When old, he teaches arraying of battle, p. 17, the hamalt at fylkja, svînfylkja, Fornald. sög. 1, 380; he teaches how to bring down with pebbles those whom sword will not wound, ibid. p. 157 (see Suppl.).

We need not be surprised then to find him confounded with Ziu or Tyr, the special god of war, or Mercurius coupled with Mars (pp. 107, 111), or a gloss on Jonas of Bobbio, who had rightly identified him with Mercury (p. 121), correcting him thus: Qui apud eos (Alamannos) Vuotant (part. pres. of wuotan) vocatur, Latini autem Martem illum appellant. Are Adam's words also, 'sicut nostri Martem sculpere solent,' to be so taken that nostri should mean Saxones? He, it is true, may have meant those acquainted with Roman mythology.

Especially does the remarkable legend preserved by Paulus Diaconus 1, 8 show that it is Wodan who dispenses victory, to whom therefore, above all other gods, that antique name sihora (p. 27) rightfully belongs, as well as in the Eddas the epithets Sigtýr (god of victory), Sæm. 248, Sn. 94, Sigföðr (father of victory), Sæm. 68; AS. vîgsigor (victor in battle), Beow. 3107, sigmetod (creator of victory), Beow. 3554 (see Suppl.):---Refert hoc loco antiquitas ridiculam fabulam, quod accedentes Wandali ad Wodan, victoriam de Winilis postulaverint, illeque responderit, se illis victoriam daturum, quos primum oriente sole conspexisset. Tunc accessisse Gambaram ad Fream, uxorem Wodan, et Winilis victoriam postulasse, Freamque consilium dedisse, Winilorum mulieres solutos crines erga faciem ad barbae similitudineum componerent maneque primo cum viris adessent, seseque a Wodan videndas pariter e regione, qua ille per fenestram orientem versus erat solitus adspicere, collocarent; atque ita factum fuisse. Quas cum Wodan conspiceret oriente sole, dixisse: qui sunt isti Langobardi ? tunc Fream subjunxisse, ut quibus nomen tribuerat, victoriam condonaret, sicque Winilis Wodan victoriam concessisse. Here deacon Paul, as a good christian, drops the remark: Haec risu digna sunt, et pro nihilo habenda: victoria enim non potestati est adtributa hominum, sed e coelo potius ministratur; and then adds a more exact interpretation of the name Longobard: Certum tamen est Longobardos ab intactae ferro barbae longitudine, cum primitus Winili dicti fuerint, ita postmodum apellatos. Nam juxta illorum linguam lang longam, bart barbam significat. Wodan sane, quem adjecta litera Gwodan dixerunt, et ab universis Germaniae gentibus ut deus adoratur, qui non circa haec tempora, sed longe anterius, nec in Germania, sed in Graecia fuisse perhibetur. (7)


1. A Frisian god Warns has simply been invented from the gen. in the compound Warnsdei, Wernsdei (Richth. p. 1142), where Werns plainly stands for Wedens, Wodens, an r being put for d to avoid collision with the succeeding sd; it will be hard to find anywhere a nom. Wern. And the present West Frisians say Wansdey, the North Frisians Winsdei, without such r. (back)

2. Conradis Wörterb. 263. Christmann, pp. 30-32.  (back)

3. A word that has never been fully explained, Goth. vôþis dulcis, 2 Cor. 2, 15, OHG wuodi, Diut. 2, 304, OS. wuothi, Hel. 36, 3. 140, 7, AS. wêðe, must either be regarded as wholly unconnected, or its meaning be harmonized.  (back)

4. Finn Magnusen comes to the same conclusion, Lex. myth. 621. 636.  (back)

5. The belief, so common in the Mid. Ages, in a 'furious host' or 'wild hunt,' is described in ch. XXXI. ----Trans.  (back)

6. Got waldes an der sige kür! Wh. 425, 24. sigehafte hende füege in got! Dietr. 84. Oðinn, when he sent the people forth to war, laid his hands on their heads and blessed, acc. to Yngl. cap. 2, gaf þeim bianac; Ir. beannact, beannugad, beandacht, Gael. beannachd, Wel. bianoch (Villemarqué, essai LIX) = benedictio, prob. all from the lat. word? conf. Fr. bênir, Ir. beannaigim.  (back)

7. Godfrey of Viterbo (in Pistorius, ed. Struve 2, 305) has the legend out of Paul Diac. with the names corrupted, Godam for Wodan, Feria for Frea. Godam or Votam sets him thinking of the Germ. word got (deus). The unheard-of 'Toclacus historiographus' has evidently sprung out of 'hoc loco' in Paul.  (back)

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