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Author Topic: The (alleged) evolution of Odin  (Read 6931 times)
spearandhammer
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« Topic Start: June 12, 2011, 12:31:59 pm »

Hail, good folk.

So I have seen the theory that at the dawn of the Germanic people, Tiwaz/Tyr being the linguistic equivalent of Zeus and the descendant of the Indo-European Sky deity must have been the original head of the pantheon.   Then sometime in the Migration Age, his popularity flagged, and was replaced as the head of the pantheon by Wodan/Odin, the god of skalds and warriors.  Then supposedly in the late Viking Age, Donar/Thor was outpacing Odin in popularity and would eventually have replaced Odin as head of the pantheon in the popular imagination.

What do you all think of this?  Is this plausible?   Was there a time when Odin wasn't head of the pantheon?  And if do, what exactly was his role or place in the pecking order?

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« Reply #1: June 12, 2011, 12:47:06 pm »

Hail, good folk.

So I have seen the theory that at the dawn of the Germanic people, Tiwaz/Tyr being the linguistic equivalent of Zeus and the descendant of the Indo-European Sky deity must have been the original head of the pantheon.   Then sometime in the Migration Age, his popularity flagged, and was replaced as the head of the pantheon by Wodan/Odin, the god of skalds and warriors.  Then supposedly in the late Viking Age, Donar/Thor was outpacing Odin in popularity and would eventually have replaced Odin as head of the pantheon in the popular imagination.

What do you all think of this?  Is this plausible?   Was there a time when Odin wasn't head of the pantheon?  And if do, what exactly was his role or place in the pecking order?

My interests have been with Classical, not Germanic/Scandinavian archaeology, so I can't speak to your post directly. However, the needs and attentions of cultures change over time. Technological innovations, invasions, disease, and other elements all play a role in shaping civilizations. Religious needs shift over time to meet these changes. It certainly seems plausible to me that the Norse pantheon underwent some changes as the years went by.
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« Reply #2: June 12, 2011, 12:57:36 pm »

What do you all think of this?  Is this plausible?   Was there a time when Odin wasn't head of the pantheon?  And if do, what exactly was his role or place in the pecking order?

I've heard of the theory, too, though I can't remember the resource. I believe the resource said that Tyr used to be the head of the pantheon, and then some invaders brought Odin along, who eventually gained more popularity than Tyr (maybe because the invaders were more powerful). However, I have no idea if this information is true.

But apart from that, I don't find it strange or implausible that Gods replace each-other as heads of a pantheon. Just look at the Christian God and how Gods and Goddesses worshipped in Ireland were turned into saints, i.e. subordinates to the new God.
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« Reply #3: June 12, 2011, 03:10:41 pm »

Hail, good folk.

So I have seen the theory that at the dawn of the Germanic people, Tiwaz/Tyr being the linguistic equivalent of Zeus and the descendant of the Indo-European Sky deity must have been the original head of the pantheon.   Then sometime in the Migration Age, his popularity flagged, and was replaced as the head of the pantheon by Wodan/Odin, the god of skalds and warriors.  Then supposedly in the late Viking Age, Donar/Thor was outpacing Odin in popularity and would eventually have replaced Odin as head of the pantheon in the popular imagination.

What do you all think of this?  Is this plausible?   Was there a time when Odin wasn't head of the pantheon?  And if do, what exactly was his role or place in the pecking order?



Have you been reading over at AL, too? Wink

There's also a paper out by Shaw that proposes that Odin wasn't as pan-germanic as he's made out to be in the Eddas. I think the idea is that Odin/Woden/Godan are not the same deity necessarily and have varying roles of inportance according to the culture. I think much like Perchta/Holda/Hel. I haven't finished it yet, though.

I also believe the theory about PIE/IE Tiwaz/Tyr and the evolution of Odin is talked about in the intro of Our Troth Vol. 1. and they, of course, cite their sources. (Dumezil is one if I'm remembering).

In Simek's Dictionary he states that the Allfather Odin is a christianization and that Odin wasn't really that important in heathen cults. But then Grimm likes to say that the "Our Father" title for God actually comes from the heathen worldview of descent from deity and is a continuation of Odin. I'd like to talk more about what Simek says but my three-year-old has run off with the book and won't give it back. :/

Some tribes in the German culture had the hermaphroditic deity Tuistos (related to Tyr) and that his grandchildren from Mannus became the cheif deity of their tribes. One of these,  Herminones, has some etymological traces to Odin from Irmin-> Jormun -> Odin. (Jormun being a by name for Odin.) There's also the theory that Odin wasn't even a god at all but was a force of nature, cosmic law, whatever that later became personified or misunderstood as a god.

Anywho, I think in most cases that Tyr (or something like him) was originally the cheif deity. Something else they are talking about on AL is that once a chief god loses his hand- like Tyr- they have to step down because they aren't at full form anymore.  
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spearandhammer
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« Reply #4: June 12, 2011, 03:47:54 pm »

Quote
Have you been reading over at AL, too?
I've lurked on AL and read some of the threads .... but, no. This comes from The Troth volume 1. 

 
Quote
Anywho, I think in most cases that Tyr (or something like him) was originally the cheif deity. Something else they are talking about on AL is that once a chief god loses his hand- like Tyr- they have to step down because they aren't at full form anymore.

But if so, who was Wodan, then?  A god of magic and a psychopompos, much like Mercury to whom the Romans compared him? 
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hlewagastir
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« Reply #5: June 12, 2011, 08:04:01 pm »

Hail, good folk.

So I have seen the theory that at the dawn of the Germanic people, Tiwaz/Tyr being the linguistic equivalent of Zeus and the descendant of the Indo-European Sky deity must have been the original head of the pantheon.   Then sometime in the Migration Age, his popularity flagged, and was replaced as the head of the pantheon by Wodan/Odin, the god of skalds and warriors.  Then supposedly in the late Viking Age, Donar/Thor was outpacing Odin in popularity and would eventually have replaced Odin as head of the pantheon in the popular imagination.

What do you all think of this?  Is this plausible?   Was there a time when Odin wasn't head of the pantheon?  And if do, what exactly was his role or place in the pecking order?




I feel pretty sketchy about the whole "head of the pantheon" thing (at a pan-Germanic scale), the popularity of a god seems to have varried depending on time and place. Besides, I think the pantheon of the average North European was fairly small; like 1-3 gods, a few wigths and some ancesters.
The whole "5 billion deities" idea seems to be Snorri compiling stuff from an area and a timeframe much larger than what the average North European would experience.

That´s of cause just my take on it.

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« Reply #6: June 12, 2011, 09:07:20 pm »


I don't see why it wouldn't be plausible. In Mesopotamian traditions, Marduk was originally a god of Babylon who rose to head of the pantheon when Babylon became prominent politically. I think its to be expected when groups that honour a certain god end up taking centre stage in politics.

I think the Eddas tell a particular story, but it's not necessarily the whole story. While everyone's giving their theories, I recall hearing one theory that states that a few of the more prominent gods (who could be seen as "rivals" to Odin) end up losing something: Tyr loses his hand, Freyr loses his sword, etc. I don't really think this theory fits, because Odin himself loses an eye, and Thor loses his hammer, but the loss is only temporary.

Also, as spearandhammer has said, different places and times have had their "favourite" gods. I think that's just the nature of polytheism.

I find the "5 billion gods" comment amusing. It sounds like an obvious exaggeration (even Hinduism doesn't have that many, I don't think, and its had way more time to develop) but whose to say that there weren't local deities who weren't considered "important" enough for chroniclers to bother with them? Obviously, once their followers died or converted, we lost what little lore we might have had on them, one advantage of written records over oral teachings...unless someone comes along and burns all the written records, of course...
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Ellen M.
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« Reply #7: June 12, 2011, 09:10:06 pm »

I find the "5 billion gods" comment amusing. It sounds like an obvious exaggeration (even Hinduism doesn't have that many, I don't think, and its had way more time to develop)

The quote I kept hearing in Hinduism class was "330,000" or something like that. 330,000,000? Something like that. Although hey, it sounds like there'd be enough heathen gods for almost every person on the planet! Grin
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« Reply #8: June 12, 2011, 09:28:31 pm »

I find the "5 billion gods" comment amusing. It sounds like an obvious exaggeration (even Hinduism doesn't have that many, I don't think, and its had way more time to develop) but whose to say that there weren't local deities who weren't considered "important" enough for chroniclers to bother with them? Obviously, once their followers died or converted, we lost what little lore we might have had on them, one advantage of written records over oral teachings...unless someone comes along and burns all the written records, of course...


There's the Matronae and there are at least 1100 of them. Not much to go on, though, other than the votive stones.
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« Reply #9: June 12, 2011, 09:30:37 pm »


But if so, who was Wodan, then?  A god of magic and a psychopompos, much like Mercury to whom the Romans compared him? 

I'm exhausted today so I don't really understand what you're asking specifically. I gave a few theories above as to who or what Odin may have been, so could you please clarify?

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Lokabrenna
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« Reply #10: June 12, 2011, 10:22:49 pm »

The quote I kept hearing in Hinduism class was "330,000" or something like that. 330,000,000? Something like that. Although hey, it sounds like there'd be enough heathen gods for almost every person on the planet! Grin

From my Hinduism classes in university I was informed that the estimate was in the tens of thousands to the tens of millions. However, I also remember being taught that the number itself wasn't important, and that the number was basically there to illustrate that the gods are beyond human comprehension (or something like that). Well, not in the sense that it wasn't possible to develop relationships with the gods, more like the gods resisted being "put in boxes" by humans. Of course, I should point out that Hindus see their deities in a variety of ways, some are hard polytheists, others are monists, or atheists, or henotheists, etc.

Some gods are more famous than others, though, so they get lots of attention. Actually, now that I'm going on about Hinduism (which is practically an umbrella term for a variety of traditions) I'm reminded of Juniperberry's comment that perhaps Odin "wasn't as pan-germanic as he's made out to be in the Eddas". In earlier forms of Hinduism, sun and fire worship was very important, and horse sacrifice was a major part of religion (this was later dropped since it quickly became impractical/very expensive). A more "recent" example is the concept of a "Hindu trinity" which was popularized by British colonists. In reality, Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman and brahmin, which are completely different) has one temple (and, I believe, one feast day). Unfortunately, the idea stuck, and now many believe that he's more popular than he actually is in India.

Now, that's a more modern example (and an example of one culture imposing its views on a foreign culture) but I think it goes to show that sometimes deities are thought to have more influence than they might actually have.

I'm just going to be quiet now. I ended up taking a lot of courses on Asian religions in university so I can't resist sharing what I've learned.
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« Reply #11: June 13, 2011, 02:36:15 am »

I find the "5 billion gods" comment amusing. It sounds like an obvious exaggeration


It is...  Wink
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« Reply #12: June 13, 2011, 09:13:32 am »

What do you all think of this? Is this plausible? Was there a time when Odin wasn't head of the pantheon?  And if do, what exactly was his role or place in the pecking order?

It’s a great question this and I’d say there are two ways of looking at it: Historically or Mythological.

Historically was there a time when Odin was not the “top god”? Sure. There was a time when Odin did not exist at all and times where he was perceived as being quite different to how he is presented in the Eddas. There is evidence to suggest that Tyr was the “original sky father” and even some to suggest that Thor also held that post in certain places and at certain times.

The mythology changes as it moves from place to place and throughout time. It’s not just limited to Odin either. There is no trace of Ullr, Frey, Freyer, etc in the “Germanic” area of Europe. Different gods and goddesses have different roles in different times and in different locations.

This is only a problem if we try to take the historical changes and marry them with the mythology. If we do that, then we need a myth for how Tyr was usurped by Odin, and to explain how Tyr ever became “sky father” when Odin was the one who ordered the universe through the dismemberment of Ymir. And as we know those stories are not there.

The mythology does not match what we know historically; but that’s not a problem unless we expect it to match. While some religions do take their mythology to be historic and scientific fact, I don’t take that view of heathenry myself. The myths are poetically and spiritually true, but they are not true historically or scientifically.

The mythology we see in the Eddas has Odin as “All Father” and Tyr as either Odin’s of Hymir’s son (depending on which source you go by). And as far as that mythology is concerned, that is the way it has always been. And in the past there was a different mythology where Tyr was “Sky Father” and always was.

The trick, as I see it, is not to get stuck on the metaphor and to see either mythology as being a fully functioning, culturally appropriate metaphor for “divine” as they perceived it.

Different cultures and different peoples used different metaphors through which to connect with or appreciate the divine and, in my view, it is a mistake to take those metaphors literally, insist that must be literally true to have value, or to take the view that only one can be correct.

Odin as a character was created by our ancestors to represent the organising force in the universe that nevertheless gives no guarantees, that understands that struggling and hardship (sought or enforced) lead to both strength and the accumulation of knowledge, and that encourages growth by all means “fair and foul”. Tyr is a character who represents the application of law, effectiveness in war, strict order, self-sacrifice for the greater good, the binder of chaos, etc. For one group Tyr will have been the “high god” because the need for order and survival was paramount for them. For another group, later on, Odin will have been the “high god” because growth through discomfort and strength through hardship was paramount for them.

I see both gods as real. Not as the characters used to represent them, but as the forces within and without that gave rise to their mythological representation. Both therefore can be the “sky father” for differing groups of people.

Anyhow, I think in most cases that Tyr (or something like him) was originally the cheif deity. Something else they are talking about on AL is that once a chief god loses his hand- like Tyr- they have to step down because they aren't at full form anymore.

There’s an interesting parallel with that in Celtic myths were Nuadu had to step down as “king” having lost his hand, only to be eventually superseded by Lugh, who does have some parallels with Odin. However, I’m not sure the Celtic idea of the king needing all body parts to rule fits with the Germanic side of things seeing as Odin was missing an eye?

Mark
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« Reply #13: June 13, 2011, 02:16:25 pm »

However, I’m not sure the Celtic idea of the king needing all body parts to rule fits with the Germanic side of things seeing as Odin was missing an eye?

Mark

The only thing that makes up for this is the fact that Odin didn't lose an eye in the same sense that Tyr lost a hand. Odin's eye is more powerful and see's further now in Mimir's well. Tyr's hand is just gone, it's not an all-moving hand or anything. Smiley
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« Reply #14: June 14, 2011, 01:25:03 am »

Tyr's hand is just gone, it's not an all-moving hand or anything. Smiley

Now that's just a creepy image. Sad  Am I the only one who remembers this B movie where this hand creeps along killing people? I can't remember the name, just remember watching it as a child.  Creepy. Sad

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