Tuesday, 26 January 2010
The Etymology of Woden
This article is solely concerned with discussing the etymology of Woden`s name and its various cognates; it is not concerned with an exploration of his many and diverse roles.
Volume 1 of Grimm`s Teutonic Mythology gives quite a detailed analysis of the etymology and the various cognate forms of the name.
Among the Anglo-Saxons He was called Woden, the Langobards knew Him as Wodan or Guodan, the Old Saxons as Wuodan or Wodan, the Frisians called Him Weda, the Goths referred to Him as Vodans and the Scandinavians as Odinn. In the Faroe Isles He was called Ouvin and Saxo Grammaticus refers to Him as Othinus. In Old High German He was known as Wuotan. Another variant is Woatan.
The word is immediately derived from the Old High German watan from which comes the substantive wuot[modern German Wut] meaning wrath, fury, wildness and impetuosity. Grimm deduces from this that by extension Wuotan, Odinn "would be the all-powerful, all-penetrating being".
He goes on to say "How early this original meaning may have got obscured or extinguished , it is impossible to say. Together with the meaning of wise and mighty god, that of the wild, restless, vehement, must also have prevailed, even in the heathen time. The christians were the better pleased, that they could bring the bad sense into prominence out of the name itself. In the oldest glosses, wotan is put for tyrannus, herus malus.......so wueterich......."
He goes on to give examples of how the adjective was used to describe evil kings and evil deeds and thus the christians succeeded in further demonising Woden through their choice and use of language.
"The former divinity was degraded into an evil, fiendish, bloodthirsty being, and appears to live yet as a form of protestation or cursing in exclamations of the Low German people, as in Westphalia: O Woudan, Woudan! .....and in Mecklenburg: Wod, Wod!"
This primary aspect of Woden`s furious nature has in the past manifested itself in the battle rage of the ancient Teutons and the Berserker rage. Furor Teutonicus[Teutonic Fury] was a Latin phrase that referred to the aforesaid fierceness. In the Viking Age the christianised victims of the Viking raids would pray "From the wrath of the Northmen, O Lord, deliver us."