Search This Blog

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Wodan

   Many people are familiar with the Norse God Odhinn, but less well known is his German counterpart Wodan who is similar but not identical. Wodan (Old High German Woutan) although almost certainly derived from the same root as Odhinn has several distinct characteristics. In today's blog I would like to discuss Wodan as we see him in the German material. 
Duncan Royale German "Odin" statue

  The name Wodan or Wotan comes from Woutan which is from the older Indo-European root wodenaz, meaning "raging, mad, inspired" (American Heritage Dictionary, n.d.). It is from this deity name through the Old English that English speakers get the word "Wednesday" - Woden's day - although this has been lost in German, replaced with Mittwoch (literally "middle week"). And this root is also where the name Odhinn comes from.
   Jakob Grimm, writing at the end of the 19th century, was firmly convinced that Wodan was the primary God of the Germans, comparing him to both Mercury and Jupiter (Grimm, 1888). Although, like Odhinn, Wodan is associated with war and battle he seems to have a more generally benevolent nature being associated with the harvest and produce of the land as well as gifts and blessings. Wodan in this sense is referred to as a harvest God who would be prayed to in the fall for a good crop (Grimm, 1888). He was much more a God of the common man in this view, a deity who would be petitioned and looked to for a family's security not only from physical dangers but also from hunger. He was a deity, in this view, of prosperity and abundance, whose blessing would ensure a household's success. As Grimm explains:
  "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" (Grimm, 1888). 
  However Wodan also has a less benevolent side associated with the Wild Hunt. In the Germanic areas the Wild Hunt is often led by Wodan, Frau Hulde, or both together, and sometimes may led by Frau Perchta or Frau Gauden [literally 'Mrs. Wodan], who led groups of dead children or witches through the sky and was seen as good a omen of abundant crops in the coming year (Berk, & Spytma, 2002).The Wild Hunt travels in the air, and appears as a group of dark riders, led by a Huntsmen who may be headless, with a pack of fearsome hounds, accompanied by a horde of spirits who sometimes appear as the newly dead or battle dead (Jones, 2003). Often in folklore the Hunt was said to ride in late fall and winter, particularly during the twelve nights of Yule. Grimm tells us that in Germany it was believed the Hunt rode during the time from Christmas to Twelfth Night or whenever the storm winds blew (Grimm, 1888). Seeing the Hunt could be an ill-omen and the Hunt itself could kill or drive a person mad, but conversely in some areas it was believed meeting the Hunt bravely and politely could earn a person great reward. There are several folk tales, like the story of Wod, the Wild Huntsman, where the protagonist meets the Hunt and because he deals well and wisely with them comes away with a reward of food or gold . Showing proper respect would earn a person a reward, but rudeness would result in the person being given a human limb, freshly cut off a victim, or in extreme cases his own dead child. In some stories if a person mocked the Hunt they would turn on them tear the person to pieces (Berk, & Spytma, 2002; Grimm, 1888). The best protection from the Wild Hunt is avoiding them by not traveling at night, especially during Yule or other dangerous times. Shelter can also be sought at the first sound of hunting horn or hounds in the air. However, should those fail or not be possible and should you meet the Hunt, and do not feel like taking your chances with them, there is this charm from 14th century Germany:
Woden’s host and all his men
Who are bearing wheels and willow twigs
Broken on the wheel and hanged.
You must go away from here
. (Gundarsson, trans. Höfler; Berk, & Spytma, 2002).

   In the end then when we look at the German Wodan we see a complex deity who is both a god of the abundance of the harvest and the fearsome leader of the Wild Hunt, a god of fertility and feeding the living as well as of death and the dead. Ultimately we can say that he rewards those who show him respect and earn his favor, but punishes - even torments - those who offend or insult him. While in some ways he resembles his Norse counterpart he also has distinct features as well, which should be appreciated.

References:
American Heritage Dictionary (n.d.) https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/indoeurop.html
Grimm, J., (1888). Teutonic Mythology, volume 1
Jones, M (2003) The Wild Hunt. Retrieved from www.maryjones.us/jce/wildhunt.html
Berk, A., and Spytma, W., (2002) Penance, Power, and Pursuit, On the Trail of the Wild Hunt

1 comment: