Sunday, 15 May 2016

Wodan and the Brocken

As I have mentioned several times before on this blog the Harz mountains in northern Germany which is situated in the German states of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen) and Saxony-Anhalt (Sachsen-Anhalt) was a centre of Germanic heathenism for a very long time and in the later Middle Ages it became associated with 'witchcraft' which was simply a demonised and debased form of the ancient Germanic religion.

In particular the Brocken or Brokenberg which is situated just inside the territory of Saxony-Anhalt stands at over 3,743 feet and is the highest point of the Harz. I have never climbed the Brocken as whenever I was in Germany the weather conditions were never appropriate but it can be seen for miles around. It is not surprising that this was the centre of the Cult of Wodan in ancient times as Wodan/Woden is more associated with mountains and forests than His Scandinavian counterpart, Odin. He is of course the Wild Hunter who haunts the German forests and mountains:

"In Lower Saxony and Westphalia this Wild Hunter is identified with a particular person, a certain semi-historic master of a hunt. The accounts of him vary. Westphalian traditions call him Hackelbarend, Hackelbernd, Hackelberg, Hackelblock. This Hackelbarend was a huntsman who went a hunting even on Sundays, for which desecration he was after death (like the man in the moon) banished into the air, and there with his hound he must hunt night and day, and never rest. Some say, he only hunts in the twelve nights from Christmas to Twelth-day; others, whenever the storm-wind howls, and therefore he is called by some the jol-jaeger (from yawling, or Yule?) (page 921, Teutonic Mythology Volume 3, Jacob Grimm)

Of course after the forced conversion of the Germanic peoples the Wild Hunter became associated with various historical or legendary personalities for this ancient Germanic archetype could not be eradicated from the German folk-soul.  Interestingly in some Scandinavia folktales we also get a glimpse of this older and more terrifying Wuotan:

"Wuotan appears riding, driving, hunting, as in Norse sagas, with valkyrs and einheriar in his train; the procession resembles an army. Full assurance of this hunting Wode's identity with the heathen god is obtained from parallel phrases and folktales in Scandinavia. The phenomenon of howling wind is referred to Odin's waggon, as that ofthunder is to Thor's. On hearing a noise at night, as of horses and carts, they say in Sweden 'Oden far forbi.' "(page 919, Grimm)

However it is true to say that this ancient archetype has survived longer in the German speaking lands and it is only in folktales that we see this more ancient God, whose original name was Wode:

 "The name of Woden or Wuotan denotes the stormy or furious goer, being derived from a verb which is closely related to the Lowland Scotch word Wud, mad or furious. The verb itself survives in English, but greatly tamed down and restricted in meaning, for it now signifies nothing more violent than to walk through shallow water, to wade. Originally it meant to go like one that is 'wud', to go as the winds go when they rend the forests in their furious course. So went Woden or Odin, whose original nature was that of the storm-god; and it is that character he sustains at this day in the popular legends of Germany. They picture him as sweeping through the air in the roaring winds, either alone or with a great retinue consisting of the souls of the dead, which have become winds, and have, like the Maruts, taken the shape of men, dogs, boars &c." (Curiosities of Indo-European Folklore, Walter Keating-Kelly)

Although primarily a Germanic deity we found a parallel deity in Indo-Aryan religion:

  "O The Wind`s chariot, O its power and glory! Crashing it goes and hath a voice of thunder. It makes the regions red and touches heaven, and as it moves the dust of earth is scattered. Along the traces of the wind they hurry, they come to him as dames to an assembly. Borne on his car with these for his attendants, the God speeds forth, the universe`s Monarch. Travelling on the paths of air`s mid-region, no single day doth he take rest or slumber. Holy and earliest-born, Friend of the waters, where did he spring and from what region came he? Germ of the world, the Deities` vital spirit, this God moves ever as his will inclines him. His voice is heard, his shape is ever viewless. Let us adore this Wind with our oblation."(Rig Veda Hymn 168)

The primary deity of the Germanic peoples has His origins in an ancient storm giant who our ancestors worshipped for thousands of years:

"The primitive conception of Odin is the German storm giant Wode, leader of the 'wild army', O.H.G. Wuotis-her, i.e. the procession of the homeless dead through the air. The development Woden raises the name on to the same level as royal titles like Gothic thiudans and Scandinavia drottinn. (page 227, Our Forefathers the Gothonic Nations Volume 1, Gudmund Schuette)

 "The German Wode=O.N. Odr is a storm giant, the Wild Huntsman and Leader of the Host of the Dead who is finally exalted to the chief god under the name of Woden, Odin." (Page 216)

It should be remembered that where our mythology refers to 'giants' this is in essence a reference to an earlier race of divinities. This is equally true of other Indo-European mythologies such as the Greek mythology and its 'Titans'. It is said that in ancient times a giant 'portrait' of Wodan was situated on the Brocken. It may be that this image was a rock craving of the God. It is on this mountain that the sacred marriage between Wodan and Freya was celebrated. 

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