Wednesday 25 February 2015

Odin the wandering deity

Odin is a prominently mentioned god throughout the recorded history of the Germanic peoples, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania, through the tribal expansions of the Migration Period and the Viking Age. Odin continued into the modern period to be acknowledged in rural folklore in all Germanic regions. References to Odin appear in place names throughout regions historically inhabited by the ancient Germanic peoples, and the day of the week Wednesday bears his name in many Germanic languages.

The official etymology of the name of the old Norse theonym Óðinn (popularly anglicized as Odin) and its cognates, including Old English Wóden, Old Saxon Wōden, and Old High German Wuotan, says that it derives from the reconstructed Proto-Germanic theonym *wōđanaz. The masculine noun *wōđanaz developed from the Proto-Germanic adjective *wōđaz, related to Latin vātēs and Old Irish fáith, both meaning 'seer, prophet'. Adjectives stemming from *wōđaz include Gothic woþs 'possessed', Old Norse óðr, 'mad, frantic, furious', and Old English wód 'mad'.

The adjective *wōđaz (or *wōđō) was further substantivized, leading to Old Norse óðr 'mind, wit, soul, sense', Old English ellen-wód 'zeal', Middle Dutch woet 'madness', and Old High German wuot 'thrill, violent agitation'. Additionally the Old Norse noun æði 'rage, fury' and Old High German wuotī 'madness' derive from the feminine noun *wōđīn, from *wōđaz. The weak verb *wōđjanan, also derived from *wōđaz, gave rise to Old Norse æða 'to rage', Old English wédan 'to be mad, furious', Old Saxon wōdian 'to rage', and Old High German wuoten 'to be insane, to rage'.

But this etymology does not correspond to the role that Odin or Vodan seem to have originally had.

The earliest records of the Germanic peoples were recorded by the Romans, and in these works Odin is frequently referred to as the Roman god Mercury. The first clear example of this occurs in the Roman historian Tacitus's late 1st-century work Germania, where, writing about the religion of the Suebi (a confederation of Germanic peoples), he comments that "among the gods Mercury is the one they principally worship. In this instance, Tacitus refers to the god Odin as "Mercury"...

Mercury is a major Roman god, being one of the Dii Consentes within the ancient Roman pantheon. He is the patron god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence (and thus poetry), messages/communication (including divination), travellers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves; he is also the guide of souls to the underworld.

You could see how Mercury would be perfect deity for Vikings, the traders, the travellers and the thieves...

While I was discussing Radegast (Welcome guest) with one of my friends, he reminded me that one of Odins names was "far travelled guest"...

This is very interesting. 

In some dialects of South Slavic languages word "od" or "hod" means walk. "odi" or "hodi" means walks and "oditi" or "hoditi" means you walk, walking. "odi on" or "hodi on" means he walks, he who walks. Is odin = odi on = the one that walks, travels? It is Interesting that in Greek we have word ὁδός (hodós) which means threshold, road, path, way, journey, trip, expedition...The official etymology is that the Greek word comes form Proto-Indo-European *sodos. Cognates include Old Church Slavonic ходъ (xodŭ) and Sanskrit आसद् (āsad). I wander if the Greek word actually comes from South Slavic word "od, hod" meaning to walk...The word "odos" (path) would then be something you "od" walk on..."odaš, odiš" means you are walking, "oda si, odi si" means he is walking and "odao si" means you walked, both meaning travel, trip, expedition, journey...

Vodan is another name for Odin. In South Slavic languages word "vodi, voda" means leads, "vodi nas, voda nas" means he leads us and "vodi on, voda on" means he leads, leader...The word "vodja" means leader, "vodja naš" means our leader....Is Vodan = vodi + on = leads he = leader? 

This fits perfectly with the the Roman description of Odin, Vodan as the equivalent of Mercury, the traveller, messenger, guide...

But if this is true, why does Norse god have name whose etymology comes from Slavic languages? Is this just a coincidence? 

Serbian Historian from the 19th century, Miloš Milojević, claimed that Serbs and Danes were one and the same people. This is very interesting because the latest genetic evidence is showing us that Serbs and Croats have majority I2a1 and the Danes have majority I2a2 Y haplogroup. Basically they are the closest genetic cousins. You can see this clearly from these maps published on Eupedia:



We know that there was a lot of mixing between the western Slavs and Danes and that the most prominent Danish Viking dynasties descending from Harlad the blue tooth were of mixed Danish Slavic descent. Both Danes and western Slavs were renowned traders and pirates. The Book of Veles talks about western Slavs having the same customs as Germans. So it is entirely possible that Odin's name did come from the Slavic language. 

Another possibility is that Tacitus relied on a Slavic speaking informants who completely misinterpreted the word Vodan and Odin and understood them as the one who leads and the one who wanders. This could have lead to the erroneous linking of Odin, Vodan with Mercury...But this would put Slavic speaking people in Germania in the the first century AD...

A can of worm has been opened. Or more precisely reopened.

“Origin of the Anglo – Saxon race” is a book published in 1906 by Thomas William Shore, author of 'a history of Hampshire,' etc, Honorary secretary London and Middlesex archaeological society; honorary Organizing secretary of the Hampshire field club and Archaeological society. In it the author gives detailed analysis of the “Anglo Saxons”, and shows us that both Angles and Saxons were just terms used for complex federations of south Baltic Germanic, Norse and West Slavic tribes. He describes the late Iron Age and early medieval northern central Europe as a melting pot where future great nations of Franks, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Norse, Slavs, were being created from tribal federations of mixed Germanic and Slavic ethnic, linguistic and cultural origin.

This is what he thought about conflict of the Æsir and Vanir. This is just the excerpt, you can find the rest on my blog post "The origin of the Anglo Saxon race".

...The conflict of the Æsir and Vanir is a Northern myth, which, considered ethnologically, may be regarded as founded on the wars carried on between the Teutonic and Slavonic races. That between the Goths and Vandals was a war of this kind, and it resulted in peace and a lasting alliance. The myth of the conflict of the Æsir and Vanir also terminated in a lasting peace and the exchange of hostages between the contending races....

And this is where we need to look for the origin of Odin and his name....

And this is why I believe that Odin's name reopens a can of worms which was shut after the first world war, when the Slavs became the bad guys of Europe...

So what do you think? 


  1. I emailed your article to a friend of mine in Belgrade who is interested in the subject specially from the language point of view. I'd be grateful if you would be so kind to provide an email or similar of the authors of the text so that she could reference them and /or get in touch.

    Her message (in Serbian) is below:

    mnogo si nas obradovala ovim linkom. Sve što je napisano je izuzetno blisko onome što mi pišemo, posebno deo o jeziku s tim što smo mi nadam se otišli neki korak dalje ali je baza ista. Velika molba, pošto su tekstovi važni i za naše citate , možeš li da nam pronađeš ko su pisci odnosno kreatori sajta (bloga) i kako možemo doći do njih.
    Upravo tvrdnje iznete u tim tekstovima potvrđuju da nezavisna istraživanja , vođena u adekvatnom pravcu i bez predrasuda (zapadnih) mogu dovesti do istih ili sličnih rezultata.

    1. You can contact me on

  2. Very interesting piece as always Serbian Irish. In regards to etymological issues, according to my various sources, Odin and its etymological origins means "frenzy," which, as you state, would relate to ideas like rage, not unlike the rage the berserkers are said to have entered before battle, "possessed" as they were, by Odin. This notion of frenzy, however, was also applied to poetry and the drinking of mead, which were also associated with wisdom, thus Odin. In regards to one of Odin's epithets, as "far traveled guest," the Old Norse words for such would not be derived from the same etymology. For instance, Gangleri and Gangradr, two of Odin's names, mean "wanderer" and "journey-adviser" respectively. The root for such notions of travel would thus be "gang". In addition "Gest," as in Gestumblindi, another one of Odin's names meaning "the blind guest," is also not derived from the same root as Odin, Wotanaz, Votan. That all being said, I find it interesting to think that if indeed the two languages are related as you have described that perhaps what was in the Slavic languages a root word meaning "to walk," if it did indeed "transfer" to Old Norse seems to have then changed to mean "frenzy." Maybe Odin walked around a lot because he was pissed off all the time--he had to work of some stress. ;) As always, Serbian Irish, a very pleasant, thought provoking read. And if I may be so bold, here is a link to a little piece I wrote on Loki some time back you might find interesting:

    1. Thank you Josh for you reply. I will read you work on Loki over the weekend. The thing about Odin's name is that this is just one of many "strange" links between the Germanic and Slavic cultures. I will soon publish few more articles about this link and you will see how deep the rabbit hole goes :)

    2. >Maybe Odin walked around a lot because he was pissed off all the time

      Well, The only trace left of wodan in central european folklore up until the 19/early 20th century is the belief in the Odensjakt/Wutendes Her which is conistently agreed by most academics on to be wodan/odin changed after christianisation into the devil/death himself as the leader of an angry mob of spirits at arms and other souls rushing through the world-sometimes to hunt down regionally wildly differing female figures.

      So you are right that frenzy and walking is not mutually exclusive in the behaviour associated to him.

  3. I believe the Æsir/Vanir War took place much much further back in time and actually details the conflict of Homo Sapiens and Neanderthal. Odin, the wanderer, was the Homo Sapiens hunter/gatherers who brought Indo/European languages with them. This would put the Neanderthal as the Vanir with the language line which led to modern Finnish. Finnish and its related languages are their own language tree and independent of the Indo/European line. It is called Uralic.

  4. My mother spoke a Southern Italian dialect in which the word for "father" is "attàne," a variant of that word in Bari (Puglia) being "uattàne," pronounced "wattàn." It has been speculated that these words derive from the name "Odin" which may have been brought to the region by the Normans. I've been told that one of the names of Odin is "All Father." Any further discussion is most welcome, thank you!

    1. Albanian atë from Proto-Albanian *ata
      Serbo-Croatian òtac
      Ancient Greek ἄττα ‎(átta)
      Alemannic German Ätti

      from Proto-Indo-European *átta

      Lots of Albanians and Slavs settle in the South of Italy in medieval times...So possibly this is where the link is...

    2. Serbian Irish: thanks for your reply. It is quite informative as to the possible origin especially of the word for "grandfather" in the dialect of Frosolone, (home of my paternal ancestors) in the Molise region (definitely a lot of Albanians in Molise) where instead of "nonno" they use "tatone" which would roughly mean "big father." Of course, big, grand and great are synonyms in many languages. Regarding my original post, since then, the author of an Italian-Barese dictionary (on-line) favors the Norman origin of "u attàne" pronounced "wattàn" for "father" deriving from Odin. Perhaps a DNA test might be helpful in determining the origins of some of my remote ancestors. Best wishes!

    3. ata is Turkish a word. Ata yurdu = Father country. Atalar = Ancestors.

  5. pity..nothing bout the tribe of dan,that left the holy land as one of the 12 tribes..tribe of dan,the pirates,danmark,soudan,etc etc

  6. Funny, I found "atan" (father) on Pohorje/Slovenija, a place with a petrified language because of many immigrants.