Watch the previous video here: [The Cult of Odin]
Watch the video about this post here: [The Cult of Odin in the North]
When we talk about Norse mythology the first name that comes to mind is Odin. It’s inevitable.
Since the 13th century Odin was transformed into a figure closely related to the Christian god, because that was the religious reality in Europe at that time, and people are prone to create patterns that are related to the social reality they live in. Also, in an Era very much influenced by Christianity in every field, if you wanted to talk about pagan stuff you had better include Christian values and morals, or having a very Christian speech in the pagan tales so people would better understand the religious sense behind the mythological accounts, so they could compare it with their religious reality.
Since then, Odin was completely transformed into a Christian figure with some old pagan traits. People became familiarized with Odin because the main religion of medieval Europe was Christianity and Odin resembled the Christian god. This went on until nowadays and even now most pagans, who follow the northern European pagan traditions, can’t detach themselves from this Christian comprehension of the god Odin. People are not to be blamed because in a society so deeply rooted in Christianity, unconsciously people end up absorbing Christian values and become Christians, and when jumping into a pagan spirituality, they hold on to something spiritual that it’s still familiar to them.
I want to show you that Odin wasn’t always the Alfather, the wisest of all gods, not even the king of the gods and the cosmos itself did not turn around the pure will of Odin. He was not the central figure.
The cult of Odin was not indigenous in the North. The time when this deity was introduced in Scandinavia is difficult to say. It was obviously before the Viking Age, probably the closest date is somewhere around the late 5th century and the beginning of the 6th, arriving in Britain with the Saxons and reaching what is now Norway and Sweden by way of Denmark.
However, when the cult of Odin arrived in Scandinavia, this god wasn’t the central point of Norse mythology before the Viking Age. Only during the Viking Age Odin became one of the most, if not the most, important deity of Norse mythology, and from that moment on the Norse tradition started to change greatly and focusing and turning around Odin.
If we take a look at the oldest poems referring Odin, like Beowulf for instance, dating between the 8th and the 11th centuries, and also the Volsunga Saga, which is a late 13th century Icelandic prose work but there are representations of the story in stone dating to the 11th century… well, in these stories we see Odin is indeed the major deity and the heroes in such stories are closely connected with Odin. So based on such accounts, Odin only became an important deity during the 8th century. Which makes Odin’s importance in Scandinavian society quite new in Scandinavian history. The god that everyone speaks about, everyone thinks about when talking about Scandinavian mythology, is actually not that old. But obviously we have to be aware that all these sagas and poems before being put to parchment or even carved in stone, belonged to the oral tradition, and therefore are much older. This deity is much older.
So if we turn to archaeology and historical records to support the findings, we may come to the conclusion that perhaps Odin in the North and in the religious context, is much older that the 8th century.
The customs associated with Odin might give us some answers.
Sacrificial hanging was practiced in Sweden about the end of the 5th century, and even though Scandinavia was never romanised, people were aware of each other. There are historical references that the practice of hanging as a distinctly sacrificial act, was attributed to Scandinavians. Human victims were sacrificed in this way to the god of war. The roman historical references do not speak about the name of the deity, it is compared to the Greek god of war Ares, and so it could mean Tyr, the Norse god of war. But there are little evidences about that. Tyr in archaeological terms is an unimportant figure in the Norse mythology. There are no archaeological evidences of sacrifices to Tyr. Human sacrifices at least. Human sacrifices by hanging and offered to the god of war, can only be to Odin.
This shows us that the Cult of Odin was already practiced in the north at the beginning of the 6th century, and that is perhaps the date when he was introduced in the north. But mind that I’m talking about the Cult of Odin and not the deity itself.
What I’m saying here is not that Odin is a young deity, younger than the Christian god even. No. Odin, or Wodanaz, was a Germanic deity, a god of war and death, but he did not exist in a Scandinavian religious concept before the invading Germanic tribes.
Obviously throughout history people came and went from place t place and there is a possibility that Odin was known in Scandinavia during the Nordic Bronze Age, between 1500 – 500 BCE. Which was an age when the Nordics imported lots of gold and bronze from central Europe, and the Scandinavians adopted many central European and Mediterranean religious symbol, and also objects, technology and artistic styles.
The Bronze Age was also an age of war and all over Europe the cultures and traditions were around war. So the concept of Odin as a god of war ONLY, might have been introduced in Scandinavia since the Bronze Age, but the Scandinavians, especially the Swedes, maintained Freyr as their most important and highly worshiped deity.
So in conclusion, Odin was a god of war in Germanic societies, especially in central Europe, during the Bronze Age. The cult of Odin in Scandinavia, seems to only have been introduced during the 6th century of our era, but this doesn’t mean that his cult was something new at this time, but started to be introduced in the major religious events during the end of the 5th century and the beginning of the 6th. Odin only became a major deity during the Viking Age, and during the 13th century and with the influence of Christianity, Odin became the Alfather, associated with creation. So there seems to have been an increasing in the importance this deity had in the old Scandinavian societies.