Wotan Abschied, 1926 oil painting by Hermann Hendrich.

Old English Wōden, Old High German Wôdan (runic: ᚹᛟᛞᚨᚾ; also Wuotan, Wotan)[1] is a deity of Anglo-Saxon and Continental polytheism, together with Norse Odin representing a development of a Proto-Germanic god, *Wōdanaz.

Woden was worshipped during the Migration period, until the 7th or 8th century, when Germanic paganism was gradually replaced by Christianity, after which he was euhemerized as an important historical king, with multiple Anglo-Saxon kings claiming descent from him.[2] Woden features prominently in both English and Continental folklore as the leader of the Wild Hunt.[3] In Germany, a late attestation of an invocation of Wodan dates to the late sixteenth century.[4]

Name and origins

*Wōđanaz or *Wōđinaz is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of a god of Germanic paganism. He is in all likelihood identical with the Germanic god identified as "Mercury" by Roman writers and possibly with Tacitus' regnator omnium deus.

Woden probably rose to prominence during the Migration period, gradually displacing Tyr as the head of the pantheon in West and North Germanic cultures -- though such theories are only academic speculation based on trends of worship for other Indo-European cognate deity figures related to Tyr.

Testimonies of the god are scattered over a wide range, both temporally and geographically. More than a millennium separates the earliest Roman accounts and archaeological evidence from the 1st century from the Odin of the Edda and later medieval folklore.

The name of Woden is connected to a Germanic root *wōd-, preserved in Gothic wôd- "possessed" and Old High German wuot "rage". Old English had the noun wōþ "song, sound", corresponding to Old Norse óðr, which has the meaning "mad furious" but also "song, poetry". Modern English preserves an adjective wood in "dialectal or rare archaic use" (Oxford English Dictionary), meaning "lunatic, insane, rabid". The earliest attestation of the name is as wodan (ᚹᛟᛞᚨᚾ) in an Elder Futhark inscription: possibly on the Arguel pebble (of dubious authenticity, if genuine dating to the early 6th century), and on the Nordendorf fibula (early 7th century). Only slightly younger than the runic testimony of the Nordendorf fibula is the vita of Saint Columbanus by Jonas of Bobbio, which gives the Latinized Vodanus (attested in the dative, as Vodano). A further runic inscription, on a brooch from Mülheim-Kärlich, purportedly reading wodini hailag "consecrated to Woden", has long been recognized as a falsification.[5]

Continental Wodan

Details of Migration period Germanic religion are sketchy, reconstructed from artifacts, sparse contemporary sources, and the later testimonies of medieval legends and place names.

According to Jonas of Bobbio, the 6th century Irish missionary Saint Columbanus is reputed to have disrupted a Beer sacrifice to Wuodan (Deo suo Vodano nomine) in Bregenz, Alemannia. "Wuodan" was the chief god of the Alamanni, his name appears in the runic inscription on the Nordendorf fibula.

The Lombards in 579 during their blockade of Rome, according to the Dialogues (ch. 28) of Pope Gregory I, sacrificed a goat's head to their god of war, dancing around it and singing "nefarious songs" (per circuitum currentes et carmine nefando dedicantes, c.f. ansulaikom). Gregory claims that the Lombards demanded of 400 of their Christian prisoners to bow before the goat's head in adoration, and as they refused slew them all.

The Langobard historian Paul the Deacon, who died in southern Italy in the 790s, was proud of his tribal origins and related how his people once had migrated from southern Scandinavia.[6] In his work Historia Langobardorum, Paul relates how Godan'a (Wodan's) wife Frea (Frijjo) had given victory to the Langobards in a war against the Vandals.[6] The story is an etiology of the name of the Lombards, interpreted as "longbeards". According to the story, the Langobards were formerly known as the "Winnili". In the war with the Vandals, Godan favoured the Vandals, while Frea favoured the Winnili. After a heated discussion, Godan swore that he would grant victory to the first tribe he saw the next morning upon awakening—knowing full well that the bed was arranged so that the Vandals were on his side. While he slept, Frea told the Winnili women to comb their hair over their faces to look like long beards so they would look like men and turned the bed so the Winnili women would be on Godan's side. When he woke up, Godan was surprised to see the disguised women first and asked who these long bearded men were, which was where the tribe got its new name, the "longbeards".

Woden is mentioned in an Old Saxon baptismal vow in Vatican Codex pal. 577 along with Thunear (Thor) and Saxnōt. The 8th- or 9th-century vow, intended for Christianising pagans, is recorded as:

ec forsacho allum dioboles uuercum and uuordum, Thunaer ende Uuöden ende Saxnote ende allum them unholdum the hira genötas sint
I renounce all the words and works of the devil, Thunear, Wōden and Saxnōt, and all those fiends that are their associates.[7]

Recorded during the 9th or 10th century, though dating to an unknown earlier time, one of the two Mersebrg Incantations, from Merseburg, Germany mentions Wodan who rode into a wood together with Balder (Baldr), then Balder's horse was injured, and Wodan, together with goddesses, cured the horse with enchantments.

Anglo-Saxon Woden

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-off of the dead, but not necessarily with exactly the same attributes of the Norse Odin. There has been some doubt as to whether the early English had the concepts of Valkyries and Valhalla in the Norse sense, although there is a word for the former, waelcyrge, attested in glosses, in reference to female creatures of classical mythology, the Erinyes, a Gorgon, Bellona and once Venus.

The Christian writer of the Maxims found in the Exeter Book (341, 28) 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.


The Anglo-Saxon kings claimed descent from Woden. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Historia Britonum, Woden had the sons Wecta, Baeldaeg, Casere and Wihtlaeg.

  • Wecta's line is continued by Witta, Wihtgils, Hengest and Horsa, and the Kings of Kent.
  • Baeldaeg's line is continued by Brona, Frithugar, Freawine, Wig, Gewis, Esla, Elesa, Cerdic and the Kings of Wessex.
  • Casere's line is continued by Tytmon, Trygils, Hrothmund, Hryp, Wilhelm, Wehha, Wuffa and the Kings of East Anglia.
  • Wihtlaeg's line is continued by Wermund king of Angel, Offa Wermundson, Angeltheow, Eomer, Icel and the Kings of Mercia.

Anglo-Saxon tradition thus places Woden just four generations removed from Hengest, who, according to tradition, died ca. 488. This places Woden himself in the 4th century, the heroic age also reflected in Icelandic heroic poetry.

Nine Herbs Charm

Recorded in the 10th century,[8] the Anglo-Saxon poem the Nine Herbs Charm contains a mention of Woden:

A snake came crawling, it bit a man.
Then Woden took nine glory-twigs,
Smote the serpent so that it flew into nine parts.
There apple brought this pass against poison,
That she nevermore would enter her house.[9]

Medieval and Early Modern folklore

Woden persisted as a figure in folklore and folk religion throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern period, notably as the leader of the Wild Hunt found in English, German, Swiss, and Scandinavian traditions.[10]

Some believe he is a precursor of the English Father Christmas, or Father Winter, and the American Santa Claus.[11][12][13][14][15][16]

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.[4][17]

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. (34)

A custom in Schaumburg is reported by Jacob Grimm: the people go out to mow in parties of twelve, sixteen or twenty scythes, but it is managed in such a manner, that on the last day of harvest they are all finished at the same time, or some leave a strip standing which they can cut down at a stroke the last thing, or they merely pass their scythes over the stubble, pretending there is still some left to mow. At the last stroke of the scythe they raise their implements aloft, plant them upright, and beat the blades three times with the strop. Each spills on the field a little of the drink he has, whether beer, brandy, or milk, then drinks himself, while they wave their hats, beat their scythes three times, and cry aloud Wôld, Wôld, Wôld! and the women knock all the crumbs out of their baskets on the stubble. They march home shouting and singing. If the ceremony was omitted, the following year would bring bad crops of hay and corn. The first verse of the song is quoted by Grimm,

„Wôld, Wôld, Wôld!
Hävens wei wat schüt,
jümm hei dal van Häven süt.
Vulle Kruken un Sangen hät hei,
upen Holte wässt manigerlei:
hei is nig barn un wert nig old.
Wôld, Wôld, Wôld! “

“Wôld, Wôld, Wôld”!
Heaven’s giant knows what happens,
Looking down from heaven,
Providing full jugs and sheaves.
Many a plant grows in the woods.
He is not born and grows not old.
“Wôld, Wôld, Wôld”!

Grimm notes that the custom had died out in the fifty years preceding his time of writing (1835).

In England there are also folkloric references to Woden, including the "giants' dance" of Woden and Frigg in Dent as recorded by Grimm,[18] and the Lincolnshire charm that contained the line "One for God, one for Wod and one for Lok".[19] Other references include the Northumbrian Auld Carl Hood from the ballad Earl Brand,[20] Herla,[21][22][23][24] Woden's role as the leader of the Wild Hunt in Northern England[25][26][27][28] and in all likelihood Herne, the Wild Huntsman of Berkshire.[29][30][31][32]



Grimm (Teutonic Mythology, chapter 7)[33] discusses traces of Woden's name in toponymy. Certain mountains were sacred to the service of the god. Othensberg, now Onsberg, on the Danish island of Samsø; Odensberg in Schonen. Godesberg near Bonn, from earlier Wôdenesberg (annis 947, 974). Near the holy oak in Hesse, which Boniface brought down, there stood a Wuodenesberg, still so named in a document of 1154, later Vdenesberg, Gudensberg; this hill is not to be confounded with Gudensberg by Erkshausen, nor with a Gudenberg by Oberelsungen and Zierenberg so that three mountains of this name occur in Lower Hesse alone; conf. montem Vodinberg, cum silva eidem monti attinente, (doc. of 1265). In a different neighbourhood, a Henricus comes de Wôdenesberg is named in a doc. of 1130. A Wôdnes beorg in the Saxon Chronicle, later Wodnesborough, Wanborough in Wiltshire. A Wôdnesbeorg in Lappenberg's map near the Bearucwudu, conf. Wodnesbury, Wodnesdyke, Wôdanesfeld. To this we must add, that about the Hessian Gudensberg the story goes that King Charles lies prisoned in it, that he there won a victory over the Saxons, and opened a well in the wood for his thirsting army, but he will yet come forth of the mountain, he and his host, at the appointed time. The mythus of a victorious army pining for water is already applied to King Carl by the Frankish annalists, at the very moment when they bring out the destruction of the Irminsul; but beyond a doubt it is older : Saxo Grammaticus has it of the victorious Baldr.

The breviarium Lulli, in names a place in Thuringia: in Wudaneshusum, and again Woteneshusun; in Oldenburg there is a Wodensholt, now Godensholt, cited in a land-book of 1428; Wothenower, seat of a Brandenburg family anno 1334; not far from Bergen op Zoom, towards Antwerp, stands to this day a Woensdrecht, as if Wodani trajectum. Woensel = Wodenssele, Wodani aula, lies near Eindhoven on the Dommel in Northern Brabant. This Woensel is like the Oðinssalr, Othänsäle, Onsala; Wunstorp, Wunsdorf, a convent and small town in Lower Saxony, stands unmutilated as Wodenstorp in a document of 1179. Near Windbergen in the Ditmar country, an open space in a wood bears the name of Wodenslag, Wonslag. Near Hadersleben in Schleswig are the villages of Wonsbeke, Wonslei, Woyens formerly Wodensyen. An Anglo-Saxon document of 862 contains in a boundary-settlement the name Wônstoc = Wôdenesstoc, Wodani stipes, and at the same time betrays the influence of the god on ancient delimitation (Wuotan, Hermes, Mercury, all seem to be divinities of measurement and demarcation)

Wensley,[34][35][36] Wednesbury,[37][38] Wansdyke[39][40] and Wednesfield[38] are named after Woden. Also, the Woden Valley in Canberra, Australia is named after Woden.


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. ¨


  1. see Nordendorf fibula, Arguel pebble.
  2. Richard Marsden (1995). The Cambridge Old English Reader. Cambridge University Press. p. 204. ISBN 978-0521456128. 
  3. Prudence Jones; Nigel Pennick (1995). A History of Pagan Europe. Routledge. p. 160. ISBN 978-0415091367. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde vol. 1 (1973), p. 99, s.v. "Agrarisches Brauchtum"
  5. The brooch is genuine, but the inscription is modern; this is evident already on philological grounds as the dative of Wodin is wrong (should be Wodinæ), and the use of hailag is anachronistic, as the meaning of "consecrated" developed out of an earlier meaning "whole, healthy" only after Christianization. See e.g. Journal of English and Germanic philology 56 (1957), p. 315; Walter Baetke, Das Heilige im Germanischen, Tübingen: Mohr, 1942, 155-165 (German)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Harrison, D. & Svensson, K. (2007). Vikingaliv Fälth & Hässler, Värnamo. ISBN 978-91-27-35725-9 p. 74
  7. Thorpe, Benjamin. Northern mythology : comprising the principal popular traditions and superstitions of Scandinavia, North Germany, and The Netherlands (1851).
  8. Gordon, R.K. (1962) Anglo-Saxon Poetry, page 92. Everyman's Library #794. M. Dent & Sons, LTD.
  9. Gordon, R.K. (1962) Anglo-Saxon Poetry, page 93. Everyman's Library #794. M. Dent & Sons, LTD.
  10. see e.g. Kelly (1863). see also Branston, Brian.'The Lost Gods of England'. Thames and Hudson Ltd. ISBN 0-09-473340-6
  11. McKnight, George Harley. St. Nicholas - His Legend and His Role in the Christmas Celebration (1917) Available on-line: [1]
  12. The Encyclopedia Americana (1920) (page 307) Available online: [2]
  13. Whistler, Laurence. 'The English Festivals'. W. Heinemann, 1947. 241 pages
  14. Muir, Frank'Christmas Customs & Traditions'.Taplinger Pub. Co., 1977. ISBN 0800815521, 9780800815523.111 pages.
  15. Hole, Christina.'English Custom & Usage'. Batsford 1950. 151 pages.
  16. Mercatante, Anthony S. 'Good and Evil: Mythology and Folklore'. Harper & Row, University of Virginia 1978. 242 pages
  17. quote in Grimm: Gryse: Ja, im heidendom hebben tor tid der arne (at harvest-tide) de meiers (mowers) dem afgade Woden umme god korn angeropen (invoked for good corn), denn wenn de roggenarne geendet, heft men up den lesten platz eins idern (each) veldes einen kleinen ord unde humpel korns unafgemeiet stan laten, datsülve baven (b' oben, a-b' ove) an den aren drevoldigen to samende geschörtet, unde besprenget (ears festooned together three times, and sprinkled). Alle meiers sin darumme her getreden, ere höde (their hats) vam koppe genamen (v. supra, p. 32), unde ere seisen (scythes) na der sülven wode [mode?] unde geschrenke (encircling) dem kornbusche upgerichet, und hebben den Wodendüvel dremal semplik lud averall also angeropen unde gebeden:
    Wode, hale (fetch) dinem rosse nu voder,
    nu distil unde dorn,
    tom andern jar beter korn!
    welker afgödischer gebruk im Pawestom gebleven. Daher denn ok noch an dissen orden dar heiden gewanet, bi etliken ackerlüden (-leuten, men) soker avergelövischer gebruk in anropinge des Woden tor tid der arne gespöret werd, und ok oft desülve helsche jeger (the same hellish hunter), sonderliken im winter, des nachtes up dem velde mit sinen jagethunden sik hören let. David Franck (Meklenb. 1, 56-7), who has heard the same from old people, quotes the rhyme thus: Wode, Wode, hal dinen rosse nu voder, nu distel un dorn, ächter jar beter korn!
  18. Teutonic mythology, Volume 1 by Jacob Grimm, translated by James Steven Stallybrass, Courier Dover Publications, 2004, ISBN 0486435466, 9780486435466
  19. "Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Nail the Devil to the post, Thrice I strike with holy crook, One for God, one for Wod, And one for Lok!" Encyclopedia of Superstitions 1949, Edwin Radford, Kessinger Publishing, 2004 ISBN 1417976551, 9781417976553
  20. Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 98, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  21. [3]
  22. Storytelling for young adults: a ... - Google Books. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  23. "harlequin - alphaDictionary * Free English On-line Dictionary". Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  24. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  25. Hole, Christina. Haunted England: A Survey of English Ghost Lore. p.5. Kessinger Publishing, 1941.
  26. English Folklore
  27. Woden, Odin and the Runes
  28. Looking for the Lost Gods of England
  29. The Quest for the Green Man By John Matthews, Published by Quest Books, 2001 ISBN 0835608255, 9780835608251, page 116
  30. Hero Tales and Legends of the Rhine by Lewis Spence, BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2007, ISBN 1434627551, 9781434627551, page. 68
  31. The tree of mythology, its growth and fruitage: genesis of the nursery tale, saws of folk-lore, etc by Charles De Berard Mills, C. W. Bardeen, 1889
  32. Hedge-Rider: Witches and the Underworld by Eric De Vries, Pendraig Publishing, 2008, ISBN 0979616875, 9780979616877
  33. Teutonioc Mythology, chapter 7
  34. "Wensley, Villages In The Peaks, Derbyshire". Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  35. "Wensley (Tom Bates Derbyshire Peak District Author, Writer, Poet)". 2007-05-13. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  36. "Wensleydale Yorkshire History". Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  37. "Wednesbury Heritage Trail". 1908-10-28.;jsessionid=b4GHBhCtUKkc. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  38. 38.0 38.1 Gelling, Margaret. 'The West Midlands in The Early Middle Ages: Studies in The Early History of Britain'. Leicester University Press, 1992. pp. 92, 94. ISBN ISBN 0718511700, 9780718511708. 
  39. Westwood, Jennifer (1985), Albion. A Guide to Legendary Britain. Pub. Grafton Books, London. ISBN 0-246-11789-3. P. 69.
  40. "Woden". Retrieved 2010-06-29. 

Further reading

  • Brian Branston, The Lost Gods of England, Thames and Hudson, 2nd ed. (1974), ISBN 0-500-11013-1
  • Kathleen Herbert, Looking for the Lost Gods of England, Anglo-Saxon Books (1995), ISBN 1-898281-04-1
  • Pettit, E. Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585: The ‘Lacnunga’, 2 vols., Edwin Mellen Press, 2001. [Includes an edition and translation of the Nine Herbs Charm, with commentary]
  • E.G. Stanley, Imagining the Anglo-Saxon Past : The Search for Anglo-Saxon Paganism and Anglo-Saxon Trial by Jury, D.S.Brewer (2000), ISBN 0-85991-588-3
  • Michael Wood, In search of the Dark Ages, Checkmark Books (2001), ISBN 0-8160-4702
  • Walter Keating Kelly, Curiosities of Indo-European Tradition and Folk-lore , London, Chapman & Hall (1863), 266-291.
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Wōden. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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