October 26, 2020
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Wotan in the Anglo-Saxon, Germanic and Scandinavian Mythology


Woden or Wodan (Old English: Ƿōden, [2] Old High German: Wôdan, [3] Old Saxon: Uuôden [4]) is a major deity of Anglo-Saxon and Continental Germanic polytheism. With his Norse counterpart,[4] Odin, Woden represents a development of the Proto-Germanic god *Wōdanaz. He is the namesake for the English-language day of the week Wednesday.  Though less is known about the pre-Christian religion of Anglo-Saxon and continental Germanic peoples than is known about Norse paganism, Woden is attested in English, German, and Dutch toponyms as well as in various texts and in archeological evidence from the Early Middle Ages. *Wōđanaz, or *Wōđinaz, is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of a god of Germanic paganism. The name is connected to the Proto-Indo-European stem, *wāt [5] which means “inspiration”,[6] which is ultimately derived from the Indo-European theme, *awē  which means “to blow.” *Wāt continues in Old Irish fáith, “poet” or “seer”; Old High German wut, “fury”; and Gothic wods, “possessed”.[7] Old English had the noun wōþ “song, sound”, corresponding to Old Norse óðr, which means both “fury” and “poetry, inspiration”.[8] It is possible, therefore, that *Wōđanaz was seen as a manifestation of ecstasy, associated with mantic states (an attempt to gain insight into a question or situation by way of an occultic, standardized process or ritual.) , with fury, and with poetic inspiration.[9] An explicit association of Wodan with the state of fury was made by 11th century German chronicler Adam of Bremen, [10] who, when detailing the religious practices of Scandinavian pagans, described Wodan, id est furor, “Wodan, that is, the furious”. [11]  He is likely identical to the Germanic god who was known as “Mercury” by Roman writers [12] and possibly with the regnator omnium deus (god, ruler of all) mentioned by Tacitus in his 1st century work, Germania. [13] Throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern period, Woden persisted as a figure in folklore and folk religion, notably as the leader of the Wild Hunt found in English, German, Swiss, and Scandinavian traditions. [14] According to Tacitus:

Of all the Suevians, [15] the Semnones recount themselves to be the most ancient and most noble. The belief of their antiquity is confirmed by religious mysteries. At a stated time of the year, all the several people descended from the same stock, assemble by their deputies in a wood; consecrated by the idolatries of their forefathers, and by superstitious awe in times of old. There by publicly sacrificing a man, they begin the horrible solemnity of their barbarous worship. To this grove another sort of reverence is also paid. No one enters it otherwise than bound with ligatures, thence professing his subordination and meanness, and the power of the Deity there. If he falls down, he is not permitted to rise or be raised, but grovels along upon the ground. And of all their superstition, this is the drift and tendency; that from this place the nation drew their original, that here God, the supreme Governor of the world, resides, and that all things else whatsoever are subject to him and bound to obey him.[16]

The description is often compared with a prose paragraph in the Eddic poem Helgakviða Hundingsbana II where a place called Fjöturlundr (grove of fetters) is mentioned:

Helgi obtained Sigrún, [17] and they had sons. Helgi lived not to be old. Dag, the son of Högni, sacrificed to Odin, for vengeance for his father. Odin lent Dag his spear. Dag met with his relation Helgi in a place called Fiöturlund, and pierced him through with his spear. Helgi fell there, but Dag rode to the mountains and told Sigrún what had taken place. [18]

Due to the resemblance between the two texts some scholars have identified the deity of the Semnones with an early form of Odin. Others suggest an early form of Týr may have been involved as he is the one to put fetters on Fenrir in Norse mythology; yet Odin is considered the god of binding and fettering of the will. There is insufficient evidence for a certain identification.  Woden is thought to be the precursor of the English Father Christmas, or Father Winter, and the American Santa Claus. [19] A celebrated late attestation of invocation of Wodan in Germany dates to 1593, in Mecklenburg, where the formula Wode, Hale dynem Rosse nun Voder “Wodan, fetch now food for your horse” was spoken over the last sheaf of the harvest. David Franck adds, that at the squires’ mansions, when the rye is all cut, there is Wodel-beer served out to the mowers; no one weeds flax on a Wodenstag, lest Woden’s horse should trample the seeds; from Christmas to Twelfth-day they will not spin, nor leave any flax on the distaff, and to the question why? they answer, Wode is galloping across. We are expressly told, this wild hunter Wode rides a white horse. Wednesday (Wēdnes dæg, “Woden’s day”, interestingly continuing the variant *Wōdinaz (with umlaut of ō to ē), unlike Wōden, continuing *Wōdanaz) is named after him, his link with the dead making him the appropriate match to the Roman Mercury.

Woden in Anglo-Saxon England

Anglo-Saxon polytheism reached Great Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries with the Anglo-Saxon migration, and persisted until the completion of the Christianization of England by the 8th or 9th century.  For the Anglo-Saxons, Woden was the psychopomp or carrier of the dead, [21]  but not necessarily with the same attributes as the Norse Odin. There has been some doubt as to whether the early English shared the Norse concepts of Valkyries and Valhalla. The Sermo Lupi ad Anglos [22] refers to the wælcyrian “valkyries”, but the term appears to have been a loan from Old Norse; in the text, it is used to mean “(human) sorceress”. [20]  The Christian writer of the Maxims found in the Exeter Book (341, 28)  [23] records the verse Wôden worhte weos, wuldor alwealda rûme roderas (“Woden wrought the (heathen) altars / the almighty Lord the wide heavens”). The name of such Wôdenes weohas (Saxon Wôdanes with, Norse Oðins ve) or sanctuaries to Woden survives in toponymy as Odinsvi, Wodeneswegs. As the Christianisation of England took place, Woden was euhemerised as an important historical king [24] and was believed to be the progenitor of numerous Anglo-Saxon royal houses.  [25]

Tree of Life Attributions

The scandinavian deity attribution for Kether according to Aleister Crowley’s classification is Wotan [1] Unfortunately his book 777 doesn’t provide any further informations about this attribution and neither does Israel Regardie’s A Garden of Pomegrenates or even Gareth Knight’s A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism which are in our view the three most authoritative books on the subject. Crowley seems to be the only one talking about this and he didn’t left us much clues.  We can venture as to infer by analogy with the Jupiter and Zeus attribution that the peculiar aspect of Wotan that interest Crowley here is Wotan considered as a deity close or even identical to  the Germanic god who was known as “Mercury” by Roman writers and to the regnator omnium deus (god, ruler of all) mentioned by Tacitus in his 1st century work, Germania. In Tacitus’ work Germania from the year 98, regnator omnium deus (god, ruler of all) was a deity worshipped by the Semnones tribe in a sacred grove.   We will give more detail about this identification in the subsections below.

According to Aleister Crowley qabalistic writtings, the Scandinavian Deity correspondence for Chesed is Wotan.  (Aleister Crowley, 777, p. 8)   But Israel regardie, in his book A Garden of Pomegrenates, insist that we add Thor to the list.  The reason for this, he tell us, is “because of to the Tempest and Lightning attributes previously mentioned, the scandinavian deity correspondence of Ched is Thor.”  (Israel Regardie, A Garden of Pomegrenates, p. 47) The aspect of him that must be kept in mind is the mythical image of him standing with the thunderbolt in his hand.  Israel Regardie would also like  that we add Aeger to this bunch: “Aeger, the god of the sea, in the Norse Sagas, might also be placed in this category; and the legend imply that he was skilled also in magick.”   (Israel Regardie, A Garden of Pomegrenates, p. 47)


[1] Aleister Crowley, 777 and Other Qabalistic Writtings of Aleister Crowley, p. 8.
[2] David Wilson (1992). Anglo-Saxon Paganism. Routledge. p. 11.
[3] Brian Murdoch (editor) (2004). German Literature of the Early Middle Ages. Camden House Publishing. p. 62
[4] Edward Turville-Petre (1975). Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. Greenwood Press. p. 10
[5] Edgar C. Polomé (1989). Essays on Germanic Religion. Institute for the Study of Man. p. 31.
[6] Shan Winn (1995). Heaven, Heroes and Happiness: The Indo-European Roots of Western Ideology. University Press of America. p. 86.
[7] Cornelius Tacitus (author), J.B. Rives (translator) (1999). Germania. Oxford University Press. p. 158.
[8] H.R. Ellis Davidson (1965). Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Oxford University Press.
[9] Kris Kershaw (2000). The One-eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Männerbünde. Institute for the Study of Man. p. 74.
[10] Adam of Bremen (also: Adamus Bremensis) was a German medieval chronicler. He lived and worked in the second half of the eleventh century. He is most famous for his chronicle Gesta Hammaburgensis Ecclesiae Pontificum (Deeds of Bishops of the Hamburg Church).
[11] Adam of Bremen (2002). History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. Francis Joseph Tschan, Timothy Reuter (translators). Columbia University Press. p. 202.
[12] David Leeming (2003). From Olympus to Camelot: The World of European Mythology. Oxford University Press. p. 107.
[13] Hilda Ellis Davidson (1993). The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe. Routledge. p. 134.
[14] see e.g. Kelly (1863). see also Branston, Brian.‘The Lost Gods of England’. Thames and Hudson Ltd.
[15] The Suebi or Suevi were a large group of Germanic peoples who were first mentioned by Julius Caesar in connection with Ariovistus’ campaign in Gaul, c. 58 BC.
[16] Germania 39, Gordon’s translation
[17] Sigrún (Old Norse “victory rune” is a valkyrie in Norse mythology. Her story is related in Helgakviða Hundingsbana I and Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, in the Poetic Edda. The original editor annotated that she was Sváfa reborn.
[18] Helgakviða Hundingsbana II, Thorpe’s translation
[19] Whistler, Laurence. ‘The English Festivals’. W. Heinemann, 1947. 241 ; Muir, Frank ‘Christmas Customs & Traditions’. Taplinger Pub. Co., 1977. ; Hole, Christina. ‘English Custom & Usage’. Batsford 1950. p.151. Mercatante, Anthony S. ‘Good and Evil: Mythology and Folklore’. Harper & Row, University of Virginia 1978. 242 pages.
[20] Richard North (1998). Heathen Gods in Old English Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 106.
[21] Psychopomps (from the Greek word ψυχοπομπόςpsuchopompos, literally meaning the “guide of souls”) are creatures, spirits, angels, or deities in many religions whose responsibility is to escort newly deceased souls to the afterlife. Their role is not to judge the deceased, but simply provide safe passage.
[22] The Sermo Lupi ad Anglos (‘The Sermon of the Wolf to the English’) is the title given to a homily composed in England between 1010-1016 by Wulfstan II, Archbishop of York (died 1023), who commonly styled himself Lupus, or ‘wolf’ after the first element in his name [wulf-stan = ‘wolf-stone’].
[23] The Exeter Book, Exeter Cathedral Library MS 3501, also known as the Codex Exoniensis, is a tenth-centurybook or codex which is an anthology of Anglo-Saxon poetry. It is one of the four major Anglo-Saxon literature codices, along with the Vercelli Book, Nowell Codex and the Cædmon manuscript or MS Junius 11.
[24] Richard Marsden (1995). The Cambridge Old English Reader. Cambridge University Press. p. 204.
[25] John Hines (2003). The Anglo-Saxons from the Migration Period to the Eighth Century: An Ethnographic Perspective. Boydell Press. p. 49.


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