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For other meanings of Odin, see Odin (disambiguation).

Wotan, Wodan, Woden, Oden or Odin (ON inn) is usually considered the supreme god of Germanic and Norse mythology.

Table of contents
1 General information
2 A deity of many names
3 Odin as a shaman
4 Sacrifices to Odin
5 Odin and the Church
6 Named after Odin
7 Alternate viewpoints
8 Other spellings
9 Old Norse texts in which Odin appears in person
10 See also
11 Odin in modern literature, movies, and video games

General information

His role, like many of the Norse pantheon, is complex: he is god of both wisdom and war, roles not necessarily conceived of as being mutually sympathetic in contemporary society.

His name, for the warlike Norsemen, was synonymous with battle and warfare, for it recurs throughout the myths as the bringer of victory. inn was a shape-changer, able to change his skin and form in any way he liked. He was said to travel the world disguised as an old man with a staff, one-eyed, grey-bearded and wearing a wide-brimmed hat (called Gangleri ("the wanderer")). Odin sometimes traveled among mortals under aliases Vak and Valtam.

He was married to the goddess Frigg, who appears in the myths mainly as a dutiful wife and loving mother of Bragi, Baldr (Beldegg?), Hǫr;, Hermr and rr (sometimes, Thor's mother was Jǫr; instead). With Grr, he was the father of Varr. He was a son of Bestla and Bor and brother of V and Vili, with whom he created humanity (see Ask and Embla).

The three brothers are often mentioned together. "Wille" is the German word for "will"(English) "Weh" is the German word (Gothic wai) for "woe" (English: great sorrow, grief, misery) but is more likely related to the archaic German "Wei" meaning 'sacred'

He possessed Sleipnir, an eight-legged horse, and the severed head of Mmir, which foretold the future. He employed Valkyrjur to gather the souls of warriors fallen in battle (the Einherjar), as these would be needed to fight for him in the battle of Ragnarǫk;. They took the souls of the warriors to Valhǫll; (the hall of the fallen), Odin's residence in garr. One of the Valkyries, Brynhildr, was imprisoned in a ring of fire by Odin for daring to disobey him. She was rescued by Sigurr. He was similarly harsh on Hǫr;, a blind god who had accidentally killed his brother, Baldr. inn and Rind, a giantess, birthed a child named Vli for the specific purpose of killing Hod.

inn has a number of magical artifacts associated with him: the dwarven spear Gungnir, a magical gold ring (Draupnir), an eight-legged horse (Sleipnir), and two ravens Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory) who travel the world to acquire information at his behest. He also commands a pair of wolves named Geri and Freki. From his throne, Hlidskjalf (located in Valaskjalf), inn could see everything that occurred in the universe.

Snorri Sturluson's Edda depicts inn as welcoming into his hall, Valhǫll, the courageous battle-slain. These fallen, the einherjar, will support inn at the final battle of the end of the world, Ragnarǫk;.

The Roman historian Tacitus refers to inn as Mercury for the reason that, like Mercury, inn was regarded as Psychopompos, "the leader of souls". Viktor Rydberg, in his work on Teutonic Mythology, draws a number of other parallels between inn and Mercury, such as the fact that they were both responsible for bringing poetry to mortal man.

Some German sacred formulae, known as "Merseburger Zaubersprueche" were written down in c 800 AD and survived. One (this is the second) starts as follows:

Phol ende UUodan vuorun zi holza.
du uuart demo Balderes volon sin vuoz birenkit
thu biguel en Sinthgunt, Sunna era suister;
thu biguol en Friia, Volla era suister ....

English translation:
Phol and Wodan were riding in the forest
Balder's foal dislocated its foot
Sinthgunt and Sunna, her sister, tried to cure it by magic
Freya and Volla, her sister, tried to cure it by magic

The god is believed to be manifest in a noisy, bellowing movement across the sky, not unlike Vāta, Lord of Wind of the Hindu. It is unsurprising therefore to find Odin deeply associated with the concept of the Wild Hunt, called in Norse beliefs Asgardareid. Odin and Frigg participated in this together.

A deity of many names

His name has roots in the Old Norse word óðr, meaning "inspiration, madness, anger", and the god may have evolved from Odr. Odin (Óðinn) is also referred to as Vóden. Other variations are: Othinn; Old High German Wuotan; (German word Wut translates to anger, rage) Old Low German Wodan, Wotan; and Old English Woden, which appears to mean "furious", "wild", "mad".

He is also called the Allfather (in Icelandic: aldaf&491;r/aldafaðir) meaning "father of the ages" or "father of the families". This word is used in Snorri Sturlusons Younger Edda.The German Allvater indicates the 'father of all'. The German word All as in Weltall and 'Vater' translates to English: universe father.

The Norsemen gave inn many nicknames; this was in the Norse bardic tradition of kennings, a poetic method where a person, a place or an object was referred to indirectly, almost like a riddle.
A list of these follows:

Fimbul, Ginnregin, Grímr (or Grmnir) (Hooded), Gangleri (Wayweary), Herjan (Ruler), Hjálmberi (Helmet bearer), Þekkr (Much Loved), Þriði (Third), Þuðr (?), Uðr (?), Helblindi (Hel blinder), Hárr (High); Saðr (Truthful), Svipall (Changing), Sanngetall (Truthful), Herteitr (Host glad), Hnikarr (Overthrower), Bileygr (Shifty-eyed), Báleygr (Flaming-eyed), Bölverkr (Ill-doer), Fjölnir (Many-shaped), Grímnir (Hooded), Glapsviðr (Swift in deceit), Fjölsviðr (Wide in wisdom); Síðhöttr (Broad hat), Síðskeggr (Long beard), Sigföðr (Father of Victory), Hnikuðr (Overthrower), Alföðr (Allfather), Atríðr (Rider), Farmatýr (God of Cargoes); Óski (God of wishes), Ómi (Shouter), Jafnhárr (Even as high), Biflindi (?), Göndlir (Wand bearer), Hárbarðr (Greybeard); Sviðurr (Changing(?)), Sviðrir (Changing(?)), Jálkr (Gelding), Kjalarr (Keel), Viðurr (?), Þrór (?), Yggr (Terrible), Þundr (Thunderer), Vakr (Wakeful), Skilfingr (Shaker), Váfuðr (Wanderer), Hroptatýr (Crier of the gods), Gautr (Father), Veratýr (Lord of men); Lord of the gallows; Hanga (the hanged god).

Odin as a shaman

The goddess Freya is seen as an adept of the mysteries of seid (shamanism), a vlva, and it is said that it was she who initiated Odin into its mysteries. In Lokasenna Loki abuses Odin for practising seid, condemning it as a unmanly art. A justification for this may be found in the Ynglinga saga where Snorri opines that following the practice of seid, the practitioner was rendered weak and helpless.

Odin was a compulsive seeker of wisdom, consumed by his passion for knowledge, to the extent that he sacrificed one eye and also hung himself from the tree Yggdrasil, whilst pierced by his own spear, to acquire knowledge. He hung there for nine days and nights, a number deeply significant in Norse magical practice (there were, for example, 9 realms of existence), thereby learning nine magical songs and eighteen magical runes. The purpose of this strange ritual, a god sacrificing himself to himself because there was nothing higher to sacrifice to, was to obtain mystical insight through mortification of the flesh; however, some scholars assert that the Norse believed that insight into the runes could only be truly attained in death. Odin's love for wisdom can also be seen in his work as a farmhand for a summer, for Baugi, in order to obtain the mead of poetry. See Fjalar and Galar for more details.

Some scholars would see this as a garbled version of the story of Christ's crucifixion, but perhaps it is more likely that the poem shows the influence of shamanism, where the symbolic climbing of a "world tree" by the shaman in search of mystic knowledge is a common religious pattern. We know that sacrifices, human or otherwise, to the gods were commonly hung in or from trees, often transfixed by spears. (See also: Peijainen) Incidentally, one of Odin's alternative names is Ygg, and Yggdrasil therefore means "Ygg's (Odin's)horse". Another of Odin's names is Hangatyr, the god of the hanged.

The creation of the runes, the Norse alphabet that was also used for divination, is attributed to Odin and is described in the Havamal, part of the Poetic Edda.

Sacrifices to Odin

It was common, particularly among the Cimbri, to sacrifice a prisoner to Odin prior to or after a battle. One such prisoner, the "Tollund Man", was discovered hanged, naked along with many others, some of whom were wounded, in Central Jutland. The victim singled out for such a sacrifice was usually the first prisoner captured in battle. The rites particular to Odin were sacrifice by hanging, as in the case of Tollund Man; impalement upon a spear; and burning. The Orkneyinga saga relates another (and uncommon) form of Odinic sacrifice, wherein the captured Ella is slaughtered by the carving out of a "blood-eagle" upon his back.

More significantly, however, it has been argued that the killing of a combatant in battle was to give a sacrificial offering to Odin.

Sacrifices were probably also made to Odin at the beginning of summer, since Ynglinga saga states one of the great festivities of the calendar is at sumri, þat var sigrblt "in summer, for victory"; Odin is consistently referred to throughout the Norse mythos as the bringer of victory. The fickleness of Odin in battle was also well-documented, and in Lokasenna, Loki taunts Odin for his inconsistency.

Odin and the Church

The Catholic church turned all Germanic nature gods into anti-gods. Papal propaganda and the zeal of monks to eradicate "heathenism" turned the Germanic god Wotan into a wild warring beast, Freya or Frigg into a witch, the Prussian god Deiw into Deiwel-Teufel, or devil. The word 'devil' in English is not derived from the Prussian god 'Deiw', however.

Despite persecutions by Catholic church, the memory of Wotan persisted in legends, fairytales and customs. In 1900 the concept of Woden was still current in Mecklenburg.

For many Germans, St. Michael replaced Wotan, and many mountain chapels dedicated to St. Michael can be found.

Named after Odin

Alternate viewpoints

Other spellings

Old Norse texts in which Odin appears in person

See also

Odin in modern literature, movies, and video games