In one form or another Odin or Wodan was known to many of the Teutonic peoples, for, since he is undoubtedly the god whom the interpretatio Romana identified with Mercury, the existence of a word formed from his name for the title of the fourth day of the week, corresponding to Dies Mercurius, was widespread. This was in OS Wodanes dag, in AS Wodenes daeg (English Wednesday), OF Wonsdei, ON Odensdagr (Swedish and Danish Onsdag), MHG Wodenesdach, Gudensdag.1

Among the tribes of Upper Germany (Alemanni, Bavarians, Suabians), the name of Wodan for the fourth day of the week is unknown, the word mittawecha, “mid-week,” taking its place, and suggesting that Wodan was unknown to them, or did not occupy a high place when the Roman names for the days of the week were introduced on Teutonic ground, and rendered in terms of the names of native gods. Place-, plant-, and star-names formed from Wodan are also lacking in this region.2

Tacitus says that the Germans, i.e., the Rhineland tribes, chiefly worship Mercury, to whom on certain days they think it lawful to offer human sacrifice.3 The Batavians dedicated votive tablets to Mercury, either alone (one of these is to Mercurio Regi) or with Hercules (the native Donar) and Mars (Tiu). An altar to Mercurio Channini has been found in the upper Ahr region. Mercury here stands for Wodan. Jonas of Bobbio speaks of the god Vodan as Mercury, and Paulus Diaconus says that Gwoden is called Mercury by the Romans.4 Wodan is thus probably the Mercury mentioned with Jupiter in the eighth century Indiculus Superstitionum (c. 8) as gods to


whom sacrifices were offered and whose festivals were observed by the Saxons even in Christian times.

The cult of Wodan was thus found over a wide area, but it is generally believed that it spread outward from one central region — Lower Germany, or that, if in most places indigenous, it grew in importance through influences from that central region. The Saxons, Frisians, and Franks gave Wodan a high place. When the Saxons entered England in the fifth century, Woden was their principal god, from whom chiefs and kings claimed descent.5 He was still the god whom the Saxons in their native region were forced to renounce at baptism in the eighth century, along with other gods.6

An interesting legend regarding the Lombards, who had been neighbours of the Saxons, is, preserved by Paulus Diaconus, and relates to the time of their southward migration in the fifth century. Paulus calls them Vinili, and says that when they encountered the Vandals, the latter implored victory from Godan (Wodan), who replied that he would give it to those whom he saw first at sunrise. Gambara, mother of the Lombard leaders, now approached Wodan’s consort, Frea, and begged her for victory. Frea gave the advice that the Lombard women should join the men with their hair hanging over their faces, in order to give them a bearded appearance. Wodan, looking from his windows towards the East, would see them. This advice was followed, and Wodan, seeing the Lombards, asked: “Who are these Longobardi?” (Longbeards, Lombards). Frea replied that he ought to grant victory to those on whom he had conferred a name, and this Wodan did. According to Paulus, Wodan was worshipped by all the German tribes. This legend is related by earlier writers with variations. Wodan’s seat is in the sky, just as in the Eddas he looks over the world from his seat Hlidskjalf, and is giver of victory.7

The Alemanni were influenced by the Franks in religious matters. S. Columbanus found them sacrificing to Wuotan, and the Merseburg charm, found in Alemannic territory, shows that


Wodan, as a god of healing or of magic, was known to one of their tribes, possibly the Thuringians.8

Saxo relates myths of Othinus among the Danes and represents him as their chief god. How far a cult of Wodan was indigenous in Denmark is uncertain, for Saxo’s sources are in part Norwegian and Icelandic as well as Danish.

In the Scandinavian region, as is seen from the native literature, Odin appears as chief god, head of a pantheon which, in Snorri’s Edda, seems to be imitated from classical sources. There is some evidence that this position was given to him in the Viking age, from the eighth century onwards, and mainly in royal and aristocratic circles, and that he was much less god of the folk, with whom Thor had a higher place. In Adam of Bremen’s account of the Swedish deities, Wodan, god of war, has a lower place than Thor.9 The accounts in Snorri and Saxo of Odin’s coming to Scandinavia from Saxland, where he had reigned for a long time, may contain a kernel of truth — the cult of the high god Wodan (Odin), the Saxa-god, god of the Saxons’ land, coming from there to Scandinavia.10

The interpretatio Romana of Wodan as Mercury is not clear, but Caesar had regarded the chief god of the Gauls as equivalent to Mercury. That god was described by him as “the inventor of arts, guide of travellers, and possessing great influence over bargains and commerce.”11 Tacitus and later writers may have regarded Wodan in the light of what they knew of the Gaulish god. Tacitus does in fact mention Mars in close connexion with the German Mercury, as if the latter were also a War-god. If his functions resembled those of the Gaulish Mercury, these find a certain parallel in what is said of Odin in Hyndluljod by Freyja. He gives gold to his followers, weapons and armour to heroes, triumph to some, treasure to others, to many wisdom and skill in words, fair winds to sailors, to the poet his art, to heroes valour. In other Eddic attributes of Odin there is a further resemblance — his skill in arts, his mastery in magic, his description as a traveller. Like Mercury he was a god or


leader of the dead. Both gods were depicted with hat and staff. In spite of this, the identification with Mercury still remains a problem, especially when we consider the warlike aspect of Odin. As he appears in the Eddas, Odin is on the one hand a War-god who gives victory or defeat. On the other hand, he is concerned with wisdom, magic, cunning, and poetry, of which he was creator, according to the skalds.

Snorri says that the Swedes believed that Odin appeared in dreams before great battles, giving victory to some or inviting some to himself, and either lot was thought good. We may compare with this Adam of Bremen’s account of Odin as worshipped by the Swedes at Upsala. “Wodan carries on wars, and gives courage to men against their foes.” He also says that his image resembled that of the Roman Mars. Obviously Odin’s functions as a War-god had become prominent, and he had taken the place of the god Tyr, if this deity was a god of war. Tyr’s place is quite subordinate in the Eddas.

The name Wodan (OHG Wuotan, OS Wodan, AS Woden, ON O þenn) is found in the OHG personal name Wuotunc and in the appellative wôtan, glossed tyrannus. Wode, Wude, Wute, and the like, names of the leader of the Furious Host, Wudes Heer, are probably dialect forms of Wodan. The Furious Host was the storm personified as a host of spirits rushing through the air with their leader, who had many local names. The derivations of the name Wodan vary. It has been connected with a root wMd, found in Old Teutonic wMdo, “mad,” “furious,” and ON oþ-r, “poetic frenzy” (cf. Irish fáith, Latin vates). This would refer the name to the god’s attributes in connexion with poetry and poetic inspiration. With this derivation may be noted Adam of Bremen’s explanation: “Wodan, id est furor.” Another suggested derivation is that which connects Wodan with Indo-Germanic , “to blow,” with the idea that the god in his earliest form was a spirit or god of the wind, and, as the spirits of the dead were supposed to wander in the wind, a spirit or god of the dead. The traditions of the Furious Host,


spread all over the Germanic area and traced back to medieval times, are held to prove that Wodan had once been known to all Germanic peoples in the aspect of the leader of the Furious Host. With some of the groups he attained a much higher position, ultimately becoming the chief god. Before the evidence for this is set forth, it is well to consider that medieval tradition is somewhat doubtful as an index of belief in the pagan period. The leadership of the Furious Host was apt to be given now to this, now to that personage, and often to one with a bad reputation.12 As all pagan gods were regarded in Christian times as sinister and demoniac, is it not possible that Wodan, as a discredited deity, was popularly made leader of what was known to be a demoniac host, and that he had not been so regarded in pagan times?

The name “daz wuetunde Her” or “wûtendes Heer,” “Furious Host,” is found in the thirteenth century, and is connected etymologically with “Wuotes Heer,” “Wuotunges Heer,” “Wodan’s Host,” mentioned in fourteenth century writings.13 German tradition still preserves the memory of Wodan’s Host. When the Host is heard by the Mecklenburg peasant, he cries “de Wode tût,” “Wode passes,” or, as in Pomerania and Holstein, “Wode jaget,” “Wode hunts.” A furious tempest is called “Wudes Heer” in the Eifel.14 “Wutes” or “Mutes Heer” is known in Suabia as is “Wuetes Heer” in Bavaria. Wotn hunts in Austria, and the belief in “das wütende Heer” is widespread, the Host being led by different personages.15 In Swedish folk-tradition (Smäland) “Oden’s jagt” is known, and in storms the folk say, “Oden far förbi “or”Odin jäger.” Here Odin rides, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, with two or more hounds. Elsewhere in Scandinavia howling wind is thought to be caused by the rolling of Odin’s wagon.16

The main aspects of the Furious Host are found in the leader, often wearing a cloak and a broad hat, and riding a white or black horse, with a number of hounds, and in his train of followers, among whom are sometimes souls — those not good


enough for Heaven nor bad enough for Hell, or the unbaptized, suicides, and the like, these probably taking the place of an earlier more general throng of the dead. The Host rushes along with noise and shouting, hunting animals or the Moss-wives, the Wood-wife, the Mer-woman, or other female elfins. It appears in autumn or spring, but generally in the Twelve Nights, from Christmas to Epiphany. Generally the Host presages evil or works harm, but sometimes when it is heard as soft music, it betokens a good harvest. In order to escape injury from it, one should fall on one’s face, or keep the middle of the road, or run to a wayside cross, or to the cross-roads. Many stories are told of adventures of wayfarers with the Host, and it has often a hellish aspect.17 The leader often bears some form of the name Hackelberg, the equivalent of Hakel-berend, “the Mantle-wearer.” Another name for him is Breit-hut or “Broad Hat.”

In some degree corresponding to this in Norse mythology, and perhaps pointing to Odin as god of the wind, are the names given to him. He is called Vafud, Vegtam (“Wanderer”), Gangler (“Traveller”), Ómi (“Noisy one”), Vidforull (“Fartraveller”), or, as in Saxo, viator indefessus, “unwearied traveller,” or in Snorri’s Heimskringla, “the far travelled.” He says in Vafthrudnismal “much have I travelled,” or “long have I travelled.”18 We hear in Harbardsljod of his journeys, and in a story of his appearing to king Olaf, he tells him of his travels. Whether all this denotes that Odin was an earlier god of the wind may be doubted, but it suggests that, as traveller, he is akin to the Gaulish Mercury, god of travellers, as well as to the classic god Mercury.

One of the magic runes which Odin knows points to his power over the wind. If there is need to shelter his ship, he calms the wind and makes the waves sleep by its means. He gives fair winds to sailors, as Freyja says in Hyndluljod. The storm subsides when Odin, the man from the mountain, goes on board Sigurd’s ship.19 Odin, as god of cargoes, Farma-tyr, may have


been so called because he gave fair winds, and was thus a god worshipped by sailors.20

To the appearance of the leader of the Host corresponds that of Odin with his cloak, under which he conveys his protégés through the air,21 his broad-brimmed hat, and his long grey beard, giving rise to his names Sidhottr (“with broad hat”), Harbard (“grey beard”), and Skidskegg (“long beard”). He also rides through sea and air the famous grey, eight-legged steed, Sleipnir, “best of all horses,” born of Loki in the form of a mare to the giant’s stallion Svadilfari.22 Baldrs Draumar gives a picture of Odin saddling Sleipnir and riding down to Niflhel to consult the Volva about Balder’s baleful dreams, On Sleipnir he rides daily to Urd’s well to the divine tribunal, and, after Balder’s death, Odin’s son, Hermod, rode Sleipnir to Hel to offer a ransom for Balder.23 Snorri depicts Odin riding forth with gold helmet, birnie, and his spear Gungnir, to fight at the end of all things.24 The name of the world-tree, Yggdrasil, means “Ygg’s horse,” Ygg (“the Terrible”) being a name of Odin’s.25 The true name of the tree is Askr Yggdrasils (“the ash of Yggdrasil” or “of Odin’s steed”).26 The gallows is also called Odin’s steed, and he is galga valdyr (“lord of the gallows”) and hanga-tyr (“god of the hanged”). The gallows was a steed ridden by the hanged, and Odin himself had hung on a tree (whether Yggdrasil or another) for nine nights, as is told in Havamal. Later legend knew of a smith in Nesjar in 1208 A.D. to whom came a rider asking him to shoe his horse. The smith had never seen such large horseshoes nor heard of such journeys as the stranger told him he had undertaken in a brief space of time. Then the stranger revealed himself as Odin and bade the smith watch how he would leap his horse over a hedge seven ells high. Having done this, horse and rider vanished. Four nights later a great battle was fought.27 In the same way the Furious Host was sometimes a precursor of battle, but it must be confessed that, apart from the rather forced suggestions of Odin as a rider and the like, the Eddas do not support


the theory of the god’s origin in a leader of the Furious Host.

As the wind was believed to rest in a hill in calm weather and to come forth in a storm, so the Furious Host sometimes comes from a hill and goes to a hill. If we regard the dead as following in the train of the Host or of Wodan, then we may conceive of them as dwelling in a hollow hill ruled over by the god. To this corresponds the numerous mountain names such as Wodenesberg, Wodnesbeorh (mons Wodeni), Othensberg, Odensberg, Gudenesberg.28 When Regin and Sigurd were in a storm at sea, a man was seen standing on a mountain. As the ship passed he asked who they were, and when Regin told him and demanded his name, he replied that he was called Hnikar, “Thruster,” but now they must call him Karl af berge, “the man of the mountain.” He was Odin. Gudrun speaks of Sigtyr’s (“the Victory-god’s) mountain in Atlakvitha.29 In this conception of Odin or Wodan as god of a mountain and of the mountain as a place of the dead, may be seen the germ of the Valhall myth as developed in the Viking age (see p. 315). To die was “to journey to Odin” (til Odins fara), or “to be a guest with Odin,” or “to visit Odin,” and similar phrases with the same meaning were used of Valhall. Saxo tells how Odin, as a man of amazing height called Rostarus, cured Siward’s wounds on condition of his consecrating to him the souls of all slain by him in battle. So the Landnama-bok tells how Helgi said, when Thorgrim was slain: “I gave Asmod’s heir to Odin.”30

Epithets of Odin’s show his connexion with the dead. He is drauga drottinn, “lord of the ghosts”; hanga drottinn, “lord of the hanged”; hanga tyr and hanga-god, “god of the hanged”; galga valdr, “lord of the gallows”; valgautr, “god of the slain.”31 Souls of those slain by violence go in the Furious Host, and souls of heroes go to Odin in Valhall. Hence, too, he was called val-fadir, “father of the slain,” because, as Snorri says, “all that fall in battle are sons of his adoption” (oski synir).32


Valkjosandi, “chooser of the slain,” is one of Odin’s titles in Kormaks-saga.

According to Grimnismal Odin in Gladsheim, “the world of joy,” where the wide, gold-shining Valhall lies, chooses daily those who are to fall in strife. For them, says Snorri, he appoints Valhall, “Hall of the slain,” and Vingolf, “friendly Floor.” Hence “the way of the slain” is the way to Valhall.33 The Valkyries, “Choosers of the slain,” were sent by Odin to every battle; they determined men’s feyness and awarded victory and took the slain.”34 They were called Wish-maidens, because they fulfilled Odin’s wishes about the. slain.35 On one occasion Odin, as god of the dead, acted as ferryman of the dead to the Other World. Sinfjotli’s body was carried by Sigmund to a fjord, where was a boat with a man in it, who offered to take Sigmund across. But when he had carried the body into the boat there was no place for Sigmund, and the man disappeared with the body. He was Odin,36 and the incident illustrates the belief in the dead being ferried over to the region of the dead. In Harbardsljod Odin, as Harbard, appears as a ferryman.

Although Odin’s lofty character is emphasized by Snorri and in the court poetry of the skalds, both in his Edda and still more in the Eddic poems Odin appears in lower aspects. Indeed, in these poems Odin is hardly at all the lofty War-god and the creator who appears in skaldic verse, much less the supreme god of a pantheon. Especially is his connexion with magic emphasized. He is aldenn gautr, “the enchanter old”; galdrs fadir, “father of magic,” and he spoke magic and mighty charms to the dead Volva whom he had raised, yet required to seek knowledge of Balder’s fate from her.37 Loki accused Odin of having once worked charms like witches in Samsey, disguising himself as a witch and going thus among men.38 Saxo tells how Odin disguised himself as a soldier and struck Rinda with a piece of bark on which were written charms (runes), thus driving her to frenzy. This was already referred to by the skald Kormak in


the line “Odin wrought charms on Rind.”39 From Hlebard the giant Odin got a magic wand (gambantein) and then stole away his understanding; and Odin admits that he learned scornful language from the dead in their hills. Both incidents occur in Harbardsljod.40 As in the Merseburg charm where Odin is found curing a lame horse by a charm or magic rune, so in Havamal he describes the power of the magic songs known to him. They bring help in sickness and sorrow, and in witchcraft; they produce fetters and blunt an enemy’s weapons; they break fetters; they stop the swiftest arrows; they neutralize the danger of a root on which magic runes are written and turn the danger against the sender; they quench fire, remove hatred, calm the wind, work on House-riders or witches, aid friends in fight, make a hanged man talk to him, give knowledge of the gods and elves, and win love. One of these had been sung by the dwarf Thjodrörir, who sang “strength to the Æsir, success to the Alfar, and wisdom to Hroptatyr” (Odin).41 When Mimir’s head was sent by the Vanir to the Æsir, Odin embalmed it and spoke magic runes over it, so that it might impart wisdom to him at any time. It told him tidings from other worlds. Voluspa refers to this when, before the Doom of the gods, Odin is said to give heed to the head of Mimir, and in Sigrdrifumal he is depicted with sword and helmet, standing on a mountain and consulting Mimir’s head.42 Elsewhere it is Mimir himself whom Odin consults. This recalls Celtic myth and custom about heads. Those of enemies were offered to divinities. Bodies or heads of warriors had a powerful influence, and the head of the Brythonic god Bran, when cut off, preserved the land from invasion, and, in its presence, time passed as a dream.43 Odin, called Hropt, is said to have arranged thought-runes out of the draught which dropped from the head of Heithdraupnir and the horn of Hoddrofnir, both probably names of Mimir. To Odin Loddfafnir owes his magic knowledge.44

As a result of his magic powers Odin takes different forms, that of a ferryman, a servant or peasant, a snake, an eagle, as



Odin riding, with helmet, spear, and shield. The birds are his ravens. See p. 65. Part of a helmet found in the royal graves at Vendel, Sweden, and dating from c. 900 A.D. From Stolpe and Arne, Vendel-fyndet. See pp. 58, 217.


in myths presently to be given. Hence he is called Fjolnir, “the many-shaped.”45

To this corresponds Snorri’s euhemerized account of Odin in his Ynglinga-saga. He was far-seeing and wise in wizardry. He waked the dead and would sit under hanged men, to obtain knowledge from them. By words alone he slaked fire or stilled the sea, and would turn the wind in whatever way he desired. He knew the fate of men and things in the future, or how to work ill or to take strength and wit from men and give these to others. Of all buried treasure did he know, as well as runes to open the earth, mountains, rocks, and mounds, and how to bind their inmates with words. Then he would go in and take what he wished. He would change his shape, and while his body lay as if asleep or dead, he himself was in a bird or wild beast, a fish or worm, and he would go in the twinkling of an eye on his own errands or those of others.46 All this is merely the current belief in magical practices and assumed possible actions reflected back on Odin, who in this aspect resembles a shaman.

In this aspect, also, so prominent in the Eddic poems as compared with those of the court poets, we see a somewhat different Odin from Odin the supreme god of a pantheon and god of war. He is altogether on a lower level, and perhaps we may suppose that this was the popular view of him, as contrasted with that of the aristocracy, the warriors and skalds.

This lower aspect of Odin is seen in what is said of his amours, of which he boasts, and we hear how he sometimes made women or giantesses his victims by means of magic runes. He wrought charms on Rind the giantess, who bore him a son Vali or Ali, the avenger of Balder.47 This is much elaborated in Saxo. Rind, called by Saxo Rinda, is in this account daughter of the king of the Ruthenians. After Balder’s death Odin, though chief of the gods, enquired of prophets and diviners how to avenge his son, and one of these, a Finn, said that a son must be born to him by Rinda. Odin, as a soldier, gained her father’s favour, but Rinda would have nothing to say to


him. Next year as one skilled in smith-craft, he made many wonderful things for the king and for Rinda, who still refused him. Again as a soldier he sought to win her and tried to kiss her, but she repelled him. He now touched her with a piece of bark on which runes were written, and she became like one in frenzy. Then as a maiden with skill in leechcraft, he said that he would cure Rinda. So he gained access to her, and now accomplished his desires. The child born was called Bous, not Vali, as in the Eddas.48

In Harbardsljod Odin boasts of overcoming seven sisters, and of working much love-craft with the Night-riders or witches, alluring them by stealth from their husbands. He had also an amour with a “linen-white” maid, and with Grid, mother of Vidarr.49

Two stories, both put in Odin’s mouth, show little reverence for him and are told from a humorous point of view. Both are found in Havamal, and a verse stating that lacking the desired joy is worse than sickness, precedes the first story, that of Billing’s daughter. Odin lay in the reeds awaiting her who was dear to him as his life. He entered the house; she was asleep on her bed, bright as the sun for beauty. She bade him come at evening in secret, but when he did so, a band of warriors with torches prevented his entering. He returned at early morning when all were asleep, only to find a dog tied to her bed. So he draws the moral: “many fair maids are found fickle.”50

The same poem gives briefly the story of Odin’s acquiring the poetic mead and his love affair with Gunnlod, daughter of the giant Suttung. This is prefaced by the saying that good memory and eloquence are needful to the sage, as Odin found in the hall of the old giant Suttung, over-reaching Gunnlod “with many words.” With the snout of Rati he penetrated the rocks and so entered the place. Gunnlod gave him a draught of the mead from her golden seat: poor was his recompense to her. He got the mead Odrörir as well as Gunnlod’s favours. Had he not won her, hardly would he have returned from the giants’


halls. Next day the Frost-giants came to ask about Hor (Odin) in his hall. They asked whether Bolverk had returned to the gods, or had Suttung slain him — Bolverk being the name under which Odin had passed. The episode ends by saying that Odin had forsworn himself: how can he be trusted? He defrauded Suttung of the mead and left Gunnlod in grief. This myth is also mentioned in earlier stanzas of Havamal, where Odin speaks of being overcome with beer, “fettered with the feathers of the bird of forgetfulness (the heron) in Gunnlod’s abode, very drunk in the house of wise Fjallar” (Suttung).51

Miss Martin Clarke has compared these two stories with each other and with that of Odin and Rinda, and has suggested that all three may be versions of the poetic mead myth, mutilated in the Billing’s daughter and Rinda stories. In all three there are a hero, a reluctant lady, a wooing, a crafty disguise or stealth, a definite purpose, and a final success in the Gunnlod and Rinda stories, a rebuff in the third tale. But, interesting as the suggestion is, the Rinda story has a purpose quite distinct from that of the mead story, viz., to obtain a son who will avenge Balder’s death.

Odin was not always victorious. With Loki and Hœnir he was overcome by Hreidmar after killing Otter, and forced to pay wergild or be slain.52 In Lokasenna Odin shows himself frightened for Loki, and it is Thor, not Odin, who silences him.

In spite of his wide knowledge, if not omniscience, Odin requires to seek knowledge, especially of the future. This he obtains from the Volva, who recites the drama of the last things, or from a dead seeress who tells of Balder’s fate. Again he obtains knowledge from the giant Suttung’s mead, from the giant Vafthrudnir, from the dead or spirits or dwarfs, and from Mimir.53 Odin is called “friend of Mimir,” who is perhaps a water-spirit, with his well beneath one of the roots of Yggdrasil; in this well wisdom and understanding are stored. Hence Mimir himself is full of wisdom and drinks of the well from


the Gjallar-horn. To him came Odin and desired a drink of the well, but Mimir withheld it until he had given his eye in pledge. Now the eye is hidden in the well, and Mimir is said to drink every morning from this pledge, perhaps regarded as some kind of vessel, or out of it is poured water for the tree. The picture of Mimir drinking from Odin’s eye is perhaps the mistake of a later redactor of the poem, as Boer has shown.54 Odin consults Mimir, as when he rides to his well to take counsel with him before the Doom of the gods, but elsewhere, as has been seen, he consults Mimir’s head.55

Another picture is given of Odin with the goddess Saga, daily drinking in gladness from golden cups out of the cool waves of her abode, Sokkvabekk (“sinking stream,” “torrent”). Saga has been regarded by Gering as a form of Frigg, Odin’s consort, or by Grimm as Odin’s daughter or wife, but Snorri mentions her separately from Frigg as second of the goddesses, and he describes Sokkvabekk as “a great abode.” Golther considers Saga to be a female water-elfin, dwelling in the stream, and visited by Odin to obtain knowledge, which is thus again connected with the water, or to carry on a love affair.56

Odin is the possessor of magic runes, or even their creator, according to Havamal. He, “the chief of singers,” coloured them — an allusion to the practice of reddening the engraved runes, e.g., with blood; and he as “ruler” or “speaker” of the gods wrote or carved them. Another section of Havamal tells in an obscure manner how Odin came to possess magic runes: —

“I know that I hung
On the wind-stirred tree
Nine nights long,
Wounded by spear,
Consecrated to Odin,
Myself to myself;
On the mighty tree
Of which no man knows
Out of what root it springs.


No one refreshed me
With horn or bread;
I looked downward.
I took up the runes,
Shrieking I took them,
Then I fell to the ground.

Bestla’s brother,
Son of Bolthorn,
Taught me nine mighty songs;
And a drink I obtained
Of the choice mead
Out of Odrörir.

Then I began to thrive
And gained wisdom.
I grew and felt well;
One word led to another,
One deed to another.”

These lines and their meaning have been much discussed, and it is not certain that all the stanzas belong together. They may be fragments from different poems. The third stanza suggests an interpolation from a poetic form of the myth of the mead stolen from Suttung, “of which,” says Snorri, “he who drinks becomes a skald.” Three myths of the gaining of runes or wisdom seem to be conjoined as a narrative in three acts, as shown by Boer. These are (1) a myth of Odin’s acquiring runes by hanging on a tree and wounded by a spear, an offering to himself. He bows his head and looks down, perhaps into the deep, and takes up the runes, falling now from the tree to the ground. How he took up runes while hanging is not clear: perhaps a magical act is intended. The tree is taken to be Yggdrasil by most commentators, but is it? The whole passage is puzzling, and no other evidence exists to support this view of the tree.

(2) The second rune myth refers to Odin’s learning magic songs from the son of Bolthorn who is father of Bestla, Odin’s mother. If the son of Bolthorn dwells at the foot of the tree,


he might be Mimir, who also has such an abode, and who is thus Odin’s uncle.

(3) The third rune myth tells how Odin obtained a draught of the mead out of Odrörir, possibly through use of these magic songs.58

Whether Odin’s hanging on the tree is to be connected with the idea that Yggdrasil is Odin’s gallows is uncertain. Bugge supposed that the lines are a reflexion from Christian belief regarding the Crucifixion, yet even so, some older Odin myth may underlie them. There is perhaps some link with human sacrifice to Odin by hanging the victim on a tree and stabbing him. Odin himself, regarded as a king in Snorri’s euhemerized account, died in bed but was yet marked with a spear-point, and claimed as his own all who died by weapons.59 A mythic story of such a sacrifice is told in the Gautreks-saga. The ships of king Vikar had encountered a great storm and the sacrificial chips had indicated that it was necessary to propitiate Odin by a human victim. The lot fell on the king himself, and all were now in such fear that it was resolved to defer the sacrifice till next day. Meanwhile Odin desired his foster-son, the hero Starkad, to bring about Vikar’s death, in return for his favours to him. He told him what he must do. Next day, when the counsellors suggested that a mere mock sacrifice of Vikar should be made, Starkad gave directions how this should be done. Vikar was made to stand on the stump of a tree and a noose made of the entrails of a newly slaughtered calf was placed round his neck and attached to a branch, which Starkad held down. Then he thrust at Vikar with a reed which Odin had given him and which now became a spear, at the same time letting go the branch. The noose became a strong rope: the stump was overturned; and thus Vikar was both hung and stabbed. As these changes occurred, Starkad said: “Now I give you to Odin.”60

A fuller version of the Odrörir myth is given by Snorri in the Bragarœdur as an explanation of the origin of the art of poetry.


Here it is connected with the war between Æsir and Vanir. To establish a pledge of peace between the two parties, both of them spat into a vessel. This is doubtless derived from some folk-custom, of which there are examples from other regions, showing that the saliva-rite is analogous to the blood-covenant.61 This saliva now becomes the subject of a further myth, for, as is obvious, if the saliva of men is important in folk-belief, that of gods must have greater virtues. The Æsir took the contents of the vessel and out of the saliva formed the being Kvasir, who was so wise that to every question about anything he could give the right answer. He went everywhere instructing men, until the dwarfs Fjalar and Galarr slew him, and collected his blood in the kettle Odrörir and in the vats Son and Bodn. They blended honey with the blood, and so formed the mead of which whoso drinks becomes a skald. These dwarfs, having drowned the giant Gilling and slain his wife, were set on a reef by Suttung, the son of the giant pair. Over this reef the waters poured at high tide, and to save themselves they offered him the precious mead as a satisfaction. Suttung hid it in the rock Hnitbjorg, and set his daughter Gunnlod to watch it.

The story then goes on to tell how the Æsir came into possession of the mead. Odin set out and came to a place where nine thralls were mowing. He took out a hone from his belt and sharpened their scythes so that they cut better than ever before. As they wished to possess the hone, he threw it up in the air, and when they rushed to catch it, each struck his scythe against the other’s neck. Odin now went to the giant Baugi, Suttung’s brother, to seek a night’s lodging. Baugi was bewailing the loss of his thralls, and Odin, calling himself Bolverk, offered to do their work, asking as wage a draught of Suttung’s mead. Baugi said that he had no control over it, but nevertheless went with Odin to Suttung when harvest was over. When Suttung heard of the bargain, he refused to grant a drop of the mead. Odin, as Bolverk, now suggested certain wiles to Baugi, who agreed to them. He drew out the auger Rati,


“Gnawer,” and bade Baugi pierce the rock with it. When the hole was made, Bolverk changed himself into a serpent and crawled through it. Baugi, who had tried to deceive him in boring the hole, thrust at him with the auger but missed him. Bolverk now went to the place where Gunnlod was and slept with her for three nights. Then she gave him three draughts of the mead. With the first draught he emptied Odrörir; with the second Bodn, with the third Son, and thus gained all the mead. Turning himself into an eagle, he flew off swiftly. Suttung saw the eagle in flight, and himself as an eagle pursued it. When the Æsir saw Odin approach, they set out vats, and Odin, entering Asgard, spat out the mead into these. But he was so nearly caught by Suttung that he sent some mead back wards. No heed was taken of it; whosoever would might have it: it is called the poetaster’s part. Odin gave the mead to the Æsir and to those men who have the ability of composition.

In this tale and in one of the Havamal passages the vessel containing the mead is called Odrörir; in the other Havamal passage it is the mead itself that is so called. The myth has some likeness to the Indian Soma myth. Soma is medicinal and immortal; it has to do with poetry and stimulates speech. It was acquired through a Soma plant having been brought from the mountains by an eagle, and Indra on one occasion is called an eagle in connexion with Soma.62 The story has some relation to the numerous folk-tales in which the wife or daughter of a giant or monster aids a hero who escapes with the giant’s treasure.

The poetic mead is now in possession of Odin, but it was first, like all wisdom, as Vafthrudnismal suggests, in the possession of giants. Hence Odin gives wisdom to many, and to the poets their art. Egil, though resenting his being deprived of his sons by Odin, says that Mimir’s friend has given him a recompense in the gift of the poetic art. The hero Starkad obtained from Odin the art of poetry or the composing of spells. A poet called himself “Ygg’s (Odin’s) ale-bearer,” and poetry is styled


“gift,” “find,” “drink,” “booty” of Odin, or “Odin’s mead,” “Odin’s kettle-liquor,” as well as “liquid of the dwarfs,” “Gunnlod’s liquor,” “Kvasir’s blood,” “Suttung’s mead,” and the like, with reference to this story.63 Odin was thus god of the skalds, to whom he gave their gift of verse.

The Havamal or “words of the High One” (Odin) sets forth a long array of wise sayings applicable to the incidents and conduct of daily life. Then follows the Odrörir story; a series of counsels addressed to Loddfafnir; the story of Odin and the runes; and a list of runes or rather of the effects of such runes. The whole seems to be intended as a kind of summary of Odin’s wisdom due, as we may suppose, to the actions recorded in the myths. That Odin should be god of poetry at a time when poetry had been so highly developed in the North, may be a development of his being lord of magic runes, which were in verse form. “All his craft he taught by runes,” says Snorri in the Ynglinga-saga, and again: “In measures did he speak all things, even such as skald-craft now uses.”64 Save for the Odrörir myth, it is Odin’s invention or possession of magic runes which is emphasized in the Eddic poems, thus laying stress on his character as a master of magic, winner and user of runes. According to Havamal Odin made runes for the Æsir, as Dainn did for the Alfar, Dvalinn for the dwarfs, and Asvid for the giants.65

Odin’s position as god of war is not prominent in the Eddic poems. Even in Harbardsljod, where he boasts of his exploits, he does not speak much of warlike deeds. That he became god of war is undoubted. Though Tacitus equates Wodan with Mercury, the human sacrifices offered to him can hardly be explained otherwise than as sacrifices to a War-god. Odin caused the first war, that between Æsir (of whom Odin alone is named) and Vanir. As Voluspa says: “He hurled his spear on the host, and war then came first into the world.” According to Harbardsljod and Helgi Hundingsbana, he causes war, makes princes angry, brings peace never, and raises strife even between kindred


by means of spiteful runes, and is guilty of all ill.66 This is corroborated by the old pagan proverb: “Odin sets kings warring”; and by Saxo, who tells how the god, disguised as Brun, Harald’s counsellor, shook the union of the kings by his treachery, and sowed strife so guilefully that he caused hatred among men bound by friendship and kin, which seemed unappeasable save by war.67 In Harbardsljod Odin speaks of his presence with the host; in Lokasenna he is charged by Loki with partiality, giving victory to those who do not deserve it. He is angry when victory is given against his will, as by the Valkyrie Brynhild to Agnar, and for this he casts her into a magic sleep by means of a sleep-thorn.68 He takes part in the battles of men and helps his favourites to victory. Hence men entreat his favour and he promises victory.69 To his favourites he gives weapons. Dag, son of Hogni, sacrificed to Odin in order to be avenged of his father’s death. Odin gave him his spear, which made victory sure. Freyja in Hyndluljod says that to his followers he gives gold, to Hermod helm and coat of mail, to Sigmund a sword, and triumph to some.70 A curious statement in Helgi Hundingsbana says that Odin gave to Helgi co-rule with himself when he came to Valhall.71

Saxo shows how Odin is patron of heroes and kings. When Hadding was passing Norway with his fleet, an old man on the shore signed to him with his mantle to put ashore. In spite of opposition, Hadding did this, took him on board, and was taught how to order his army in the wedge formation attributed to Odin. When the army was thus disposed, the old man stood behind it and shot ten arrows at the enemy, and also overcame the rain-storm caused by their spells, driving it back and causing a mist. Before leaving, he told Hadding that he would die by his own hand, and bade him prefer glorious to obscure wars, and those with remote rather than with neighbouring people. The old man was Odin. A later passage tells how he was the discoverer and imparter of the wedge-shaped formation. In the likeness of Brun, he set Harald’s army in this array, but the


army of Ring, Harald’s opponent, was also found to be in the same formation, doubtless also taught them by Odin. Already Odin, as a one-eyed old man, of great height, in a hairy mantle, had appeared to Harald, revealing to him that he was Odin, versed in the practice of war, and instructing him regarding this wedge formation.72

Odin went forth with the host to battle, and, in Saxo, we see him not only provoking war between Harald and Ring, but in the form of Brun taking part in the battle. Harald besought him to give victory to the Danes, promising to dedicate to him the spirits of all who fell. Odin remained unmoved, thrust the king out of his chariot, and slew him with his own weapon.73 This personal share of the god in battle in order to secure victims, occurs elsewhere. His desire was to fill Valhall with chosen warriors, einherjar, who would aid the gods in time of need. Hence he caused death to his favourites, even in the hour of victory, or they were foredoomed to slay themselves, like Hadding, or their death was brought about by Odin at the hands of another, as Vikar’s by Starkad.74 The clearest statement of this is found in Eiriksmal. Sigmund asked Odin why he robbed Eirik of life, seeing that Odin regarded him as a mighty warrior. Odin answered that it was because none knew when the grey wolf would come to the seat of the gods.75

The Valkyries were sent to battle-fields to choose those who were to die. As these helmeted maids rode forth, their corselets were besprinkled with blood, and from their spears sparks flew forth.76

Sacrifices, even of human victims, were offered to Odin for victory, and also after a victory, when prisoners were sacrificed, though such sacrifices may have been less common in Norway than in Denmark and Sweden. Hence we hear of a leader devoting the enemy to Odin, or shouting to the opposing army: “Odin has you all.” Reflexions of this are found in some of Saxo’s references to Odin, as when he cured Siward’s wounds, on condition of his devoting the slain to him, or when Harald


offered him the souls of the slain. Earlier in his life Harald had vowed to Odin all souls cast forth from their bodies by his sword, because of Odin’s boon to him. He received such favours from Odin, whose oracle was supposed to be the cause of his birth, that steel could not injure him, and shafts which wounded others could do him no harm.77

Snorri’s euhemerized account of Odin speaks of him as a great warrior, who made many realms his own and always gained the victory. His men held that of his own nature he would always be victorious. Before sending them to war, he laid his hands on them and blessed them, and they believed they would fare well thereby. In sore straits by sea or land they called on him, and deemed that they gained help. In battle their foes were made blind, deaf, or terror-stricken, and their weapons rendered useless. His men went without birnies, and were mad as dogs or wolves, bit on their shields, and were strong as bears or bulls — a reminiscence of the berserkr-gangr, or “berserker-rage.” In Snorri’s Prologue to the Edda, Odin, as a king, goes from land to land, occupying them and making them his own. So Saxo calls Odin “the mighty in battle,” and Mars “the war-waging god,” and he is said to have a white shield and a great horse.78 On a helmet found in a grave at Vendel, in Sweden, of the Iron Age period, a warrior on horseback, armed, with helmet, shield, and spear, is believed to represent Odin, as two birds in flight, one on each side of the head, are most probably his ravens.79

Odin’s names or titles bear witness to his functions as god of war. He is Sigfadir, “Father of victory”; Sigtyr, “god of victory.” Oaths were sworn by “Sigtyr’s mountain.” His city was Sigtun. Other names are Hertyr, “god of hosts”; Heryan, “Leader of hosts”; Herfadir, “Father of hosts”; Valfadir, “Father of the slain.” He is Hnikarr, “Spear-lord”; Biflindi, “Spear-brandisher”; he is “the weapon-decked” god. Hence many kennings for battle connect it with Odin. It is his “grimness” or “fury,” “the storm of Odin,” “the storm-wind of the


Valkyries”; the sword is “Odin’s fire.” “Weapons and arms should be periphrased in figures of battle and with reference to Odin and the Valkyries,” says Snorri in Skaldskaparmal. We may also recall what Adam of Bremen said of Odin as god of war.80

While generally, though not invariably, Odin is more prominent than Thor in the myths, this prominence is much less obvious in historical documents. There must have been a time when Odin was unknown in Scandinavia, or on a much lower level than that which he ultimately attained. Odin as Wodan was certainly prominent at an earlier time in Germany, especially in its southern region. The presumption, therefore, is that the cult of Odin as a higher god, possibly with that of others, passed first to Denmark and then to Sweden, where he gained popularity. Perhaps he was first worshipped, or his cult first came to prominence, in Gautland or Götland, in South Sweden, for he was called Gaut, Gautatyr, “god of the Gauts,” and also “friend of the Gauts.”81 From Sweden his cult passed to Norway, where, however, it never overthrew that of the indigenous Thor. In the Sagas relating to the families of Iceland, the cult of Odin is never mentioned. It is only in those which concern the legendary period that he is prominent.

This migration of cult may be indicated in the migration legend, as told by Snorri, that Odin and others came from the South-east to Denmark and Sweden, as well as in the fact that Adam of Bremen still knows Odin at Upsala as Wodenus, a Saxon form of the name, while Danish documents know him as Wodhen. Significant, too, is his name Saxagod, “god of the Saxons.”82

The growing supremacy of Odin was one aspect of the growth of a new culture in the Viking age and the rise of a splendid courtly life through the power of the great kings. The art of war was cultivated for itself: the art of poetry was fostered by kings, and skalds became a definite class in this new and vigorous stage of history. Odin was associated with both war and


poetry. He became important and necessary to kings, nobles, and court poets, and those aspects of his personality connected with war and poetry were ever the more emphasized. Odin’s seat was a royal court: he himself a supreme divine ruler.

Yet even in the Eddic poems there are hints of the earlier stages when Odin was not so prominent, just as they emphasize lower aspects of his personality, as we have seen. We see Frey seated on Odin’s Hlidskjalf, looking over the world, possessed of a magic horse, sword, and the ring Draupnir, and called folkvaldi goda, “chief of the gods,” in Skirnismal. Frigg and Gefjun share foreknowledge with Odin in Lokasenna, and Freyja shares the slain with him, according to Grimnismal. Thor, who had been chief god in Norway, remained chief god of the people, in contradistinction to the aristocracy, and he was especially prominent in Iceland, where kingship did not exist and few of the emigrants were of royal blood. This seems to be hinted at in Harbardsljod where the nobles who fall in battle are said to be Odin’s, but the peasants belong to Thor, the rough, homely, peasant-like god.83 Odin, as a god of knowledge, is contrasted with Thor, the embodiment of physical force. Even Odin’s spear, the warrior’s weapon, suggests a higher stage of culture than Thor’s hammer. Odin drinks wine, which is meat and drink to him: Thor drinks ale and is a mighty eater. Snorri, it is true, speaks of the first toast drunk at festivals as one consecrated to Odin, “for victory and power to the king,” but this cannot override the more general evidence regarding Thor, nor the fact that the Islendinga Sögur never speak of temples, images, or priests of Odin in Iceland.

Odin’s growing cult, on the whole, however, affected the more popular cults of Thor and Frey, and in the later Scandinavian literature he has achieved the highest position as head of a pantheon. To him were assimilated many lesser and local gods, whose individual functions corresponded to some of Odin’s. Many of the names given to him must be the last



Grave-stone from Tjangvide, Götland, Sweden, c. 1000 A.D. The figure on the eight-legged horse may be Odin on Sleipnir. See p. 65.


traces of such local deities, just as the Ollerus and Mit-othin stories, presently to be given, suggest that he had absorbed the personality and cult of other gods.

“Of all the gods Odin is the greatest,” and, according to Snorri, he is foremost and oldest of the gods, or, as in Voluspa, ruler of the gods. “He lives through all ages and rules all realms, and directs all things, small and great.” He is Aldafadir, “father of men,” “because he is father of all the gods and men,” and, as in the Lombard story, he is depicted as sitting in the high seat, Hlidskjalf, looking out over the world and seeing every man’s deeds.84 Grimnismal shows Odin and Frigg sitting on this seat and viewing the whole world, and from it Odin looked forth and saw where Loki had hidden himself. Hlidskjalf is in Valaskjalf, one of the heavenly abodes, made by the gods and thatched with silver, and possibly the same as Valhall.85

The other gods or Æsir are Odin’s people. He is highest and eldest of these; he rules all things, and, mighty as are the others, all serve him as children obey a father. With Vili and Ve, or Hœnir and Loki, Odin is creator or fashioner of the world, of the first man and woman, to whom he gave soul. But Snorri, apart from the myths which tell of this, says that Odin “fashioned Heaven and earth and air, and all things in them: he made man and gave him the immortal spirit.”86 As chief god Odin grants to men their wishes, and he has knowledge of all things, though this is not necessarily innate to him, but gained indifferent ways. We see him displaying his cosmogonic knowledge to Agnar in Grimnismal. Frigg had said that his fosterling, king Geirrod, was miserly and tortured his guests if too many of these came to him. Odin denied this and set off to prove it. Meanwhile Frigg sent Fulla to Geirrod to tell him that he must beware of a magician who is coming to him, and whom he will know by the sign that the fiercest dog will not leap at him. Odin, calling himself Grimnir, “the hooded one,” arrived, clad in a dark blue mantle, and would not speak when questioned.


Geirrod tortured him by setting him between two fires for eight nights. Geirrod’s young son, Agnar, had pity on him and brought him a horn of ale. Odin praised him and then went on to tell of the different divine abodes, of Yggdrasil, of creation, lastly reciting his various names and disclosing himself as Odin. When Geirrod heard this he ran to take him from the fire, but stumbled and fell on his sword. Odin now vanished. Agnar ruled long as king.

In Vafthrudnismal Odin desires to match his knowledge with that of the giant Vafthrudnir. Frigg would fain keep him at home, because Vafthrudnir is such a mighty giant. Odin proclaims his intention of going to seek him, and now Frigg bids him a safe journey and trusts that his wit will avail him. He sets out and reaches the giant’s hall. Vafthrudnir says that he will never go forth again unless he proves himself wiser than the giant. Each questions the other, and the answers form a stock of mythological knowledge. In the end Odin, who has all through called himself Gagnrath and is unknown to the giant, asks him what words Odin spoke in the ear of Balder on his pyre. Now Vafthrudnir knows the god, and admits that he is the wiser. As the two had wagered their heads on the result of the contest, it is to be presumed that the giant, who speaks in the last verse of his “fated mouth,” now loses his head, though the poem does not say so.

In the Nornagests-thattr, having taken the form of Gestumblindi, “Gest the blind,” Odin enters King Heidrik’s hall at Yule, and propounds to him riddles, because the king is famous at guessing these. One of the riddles is: “Who are the two that have ten feet, three eyes, and one tail?” The answer is: “The one-eyed Odin, riding Sleipnir, his eight-legged steed.” Heidrik answered all the riddles, save that one which baffled Vafthrudnir: “What did Odin speak into Balder’s ear before he was burned on the pyre?” By this Heidrik recognized Odin, and threw his magic sword Tyrfing at him, but he escaped as a falcon. Odin, however, was angry at Heidrik, and that night


he was slain by his slaves, or, according to a Faroese ballad version of this story, Odin burned him in his hall.87

This high position ascribed to Odin, chiefly by the skalds and in Snorri’s Edda, is a later development of the personality and functions of the god, though traces of it are found elsewhere, as in the Lombard saga. Possibly some Christian influences may have affected the description of Odin’s might, as when he is called “All-father.”

We turn now to Odin’s descent and relationships. Snorri says that the mythic cow Audhumla gave origin out of an ice-block to Buri, fair of feature, mighty and great. His son was Borr, who married Bestla, daughter of the giant Bolthorn. To them were born Odin, Vili, and Ve. How Buri procreated Borr is not told. Giants are thus already in existence. Some of these personages are referred to in the poems: Borr’s sons in Voluspa; “Borr’s heir” (Odin) in Hyndluljod; Bestla’s brother, son of Bolthorn, who taught Odin songs, in Havamal.88

Odin’s wife is Frigg, and in Lokasenna Loki reminds her of her amours with Vili and Ve — the only passage in the Poetic Edda where these two are mentioned. This incident is spoken of in the Ynglinga-saga. Odin’s brothers ruled the realm in his absence. Once, when he was away, the Æsir thought that he would never return. So Vili and Ve shared his goods and his consort Frigg. Soon after Odin returned and took his wife once more.89 Whether Vili and Ve are shadowy reflections of Odin or actual deities alternating in cult with him — a view favoured by recent research — is not clear.

Two stories, relics of older myths, are given by Saxo. Frigg had offended Odin, and he went into exile. Now Mit-othin, famous for jugglery, seized the opportunity of feigning to be a god and led the people to worship him. He said that the wrath of the gods could never be expiated by mixed sacrifices, and he appointed to each of the gods his special drink-offering. After a time Odin returned, and Mit-othin fled to Finland, where the inhabitants slew him. All who approached his barrow died


and pestilence spread from his body, until it was taken out, beheaded and impaled in vampire fashion. Meanwhile the death of Odin’s wife revived the splendours of his name, and he forced all those who had misused his absence by usurping divine honours to renounce them, and scattered the sorcerers.90

The other story is that after Odin’s amour with Rinda, the gods banished him and stripped him of honour, lest the worshippers should forsake them. Ollerus was put in his place and was called Odin. For ten years he was president of the divine court, until the gods pitied Odin’s exile and recalled him. Some judged that he was still unworthy: others said that he had bribed the gods. “If you ask how much he paid, enquire of those who have found out what is the price of a godhead,” is Saxo’s comment. Ollerus was driven out, and retired to Sweden where the Danes slew him. He was said to be a wizard, who used a bone marked with spells to cross the sea. By it he passed over the waters as quickly as by rowing.91

Ollerus is the Ull of the Eddas. Mit-othin, or Mjotudr-inn, is connected with ON mjötudr, AS meotod, “fate” or “the power which metes out,” and may mean “judge.” Others explain the name as “co-Odin” or “contra-Odin,” and as the latter he is regarded as Loki, for, like Loki, he is celiber praestigiis. The two stories may be variants of one myth, referring to the introduction of the new cult of Odin in certain regions of the North where another god had been supreme. There are reminiscences of a cult war. The rule of the earlier god, in the eyes of the upholders of the new cult, could only have been possible by cunning and fraud. The theory of a prehistoric cult of alternating twin gods, who share a consort, succeeding each other in her possession, has also been suggested here. Such twin gods are held to be found in the two brother-gods called Alcis, mentioned by Tacitus as worshipped in a grove of the Nahanarvali, an East German tribe, and served by a priest in woman’s clothing.92 Possibly the myths point to Odin as a


god whose power waned in winter, when another god took his place, and also his consort.

By Frigg Odin had a son, Balder. Thor is said to be his son by Jord, “Earth”; Vali was his son by the giantess Rind. Hod, Bragi, Vidarr, and Heimdall are also called sons of Odin.93 Kings and chiefs traced descent from Odin, e.g., the Skjoldings from his son Skjold.94

Certain possessions are ascribed to Odin. His ravens Huginn, “Thought,” and Muninn, “Memory,” sit on his shoulders and whisper to him all they see or hear. He sends them forth at day-break to fly about the world, and they return at evening with their budget of news. Hence Odin is Hrafna-god, “Raven-god.” These birds are also called his hawks. “For Huginn I fear lest he return not home, but I am more anxious for Muninn,” says Odin in Grimnismal, as if he feared they might not return from their flight.95 The ravens which haunt battle-fields were naturally connected with Odin as War-god, but there is also a suggestion in this raven myth of his superior knowledge, inasmuch as he understands the language of birds. The presence of two ravens flying past when Earl Hakon offered a great sacrifice was a sign to him that Odin had taken his offering and that he would have a happy day of fighting. Ravens are mentioned as Odin’s birds in the Havardar-saga: “There is a flight of ravens, Odin’s messengers, on the left hand.” Thus all ravens are the birds of Odin.96

Odin has two wolves, Geri, “the Ravener,” and Freki, “the Glutton,” to whom he gives his food, for wine is to him meat and drink. They are called his hounds.97 Wolves, like ravens, visiting battle-fields and eating the slain, were appropriate to a War-god and a god of the dead.

Sleipnir is Odin’s horse, born of Loki, grey, eight-legged, perhaps a symbol of speed. It is the “best of all horses” among gods and men. On it Odin rides over land and sea, into Jötunheim and down to Hel, as did Hermod when he went to seek Balder’s deliverance. On one occasion, Odin rode Sleipnir into


Jötunheim and visited the giant Hrungnir, “Blusterer.” Hrungnir asked who this might be, riding through air and water on such a good steed. Odin wagered his head that there was no such steed in Jötunheim. Hrungnir said that his horse, Gullfaxi, “Golden-mane,” was better, and, growing angry, leaped on it and rode after Odin, who went so furiously that he was on the top of the next hill first. Hrungnir, overcome with giants’ frenzy, rode after him into Asgard where, in the sequel, he was dealt with by Thor.98

The spear Gungnir was made by dwarfs and given to Odin by Loki. He lent it to heroes. Against it all other weapons were useless, e.g., Sigmund’s sword. On Gungnir’s point and Sleipnir’s teeth, the head of Mimir bade runes to be written.99

Odin’s ring, Draupnir, “Dropper,” made by the dwarf Sindri and given by his brother to Odin, was so called because eight rings of the same weight dropped from it every ninth night. Odin laid it on Balder’s pyre, and Balder sent it back to him from Hel as a token of remembrance. In Skirnismal the ring is Frey’s and is offered by Skirnir to Gerd as a means of inducing her to accept Frey’s love. Balder is also called “possessor of Draupnir.”100 If, as is thought, this ring is a symbol of fruitfulness, it would naturally belong to Frey, the god of fruitfulness, afterwards passing into Odin’s possession.

Odin was still remembered in Christian times, and appears in different stories, as well as in folk-belief. Out of several tales in which he appears before Christian kings may be cited that of his coming to king Olaf Tryggvason, as he was keeping Easter. He appeared as an old man, one-eyed, of sombre aspect, wearing a broad-brimmed hat, and wise of speech. Olaf was entranced with his conversation, for he told him of all lands and all times. Hardly would the king go to bed, even when his bishop reminded him of the lateness of the hour. When he was in bed, the stranger came and held further converse with him, until the bishop told Olaf that he must sleep. When he awoke, the


guest was gone, but not before telling the cook that the meat which he was preparing was bad, and giving him two sides of an ox in its stead. Hearing this, the king ordered the meat to be burned and thrown into the sea, for the stranger could have been no other than Odin in whom the heathen had believed.101