I'm sure most of you have heard of the Norse god Odin, at least from his appearance in the Marvel universe. My first exposure to this bit of mythology came from my near-obsession with the book D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths, which I checked out from my elementary school library approximately 538 times. This, in fact, is why to this day when I think of the trickster god Loki, I picture this:
Odin (or Wōden, as he was called in Saxon England; this form of his name is the origin of the word Wednesday), the "All-Father," was one of the principal figures in the Germanic pantheon. His name comes from a reconstructed Proto-Germanic root *Wōðanaz, which means "lord of frenzy." There are dozens of curious stories about him -- that he hanged himself from Yggdrasil, the "World Tree," in order to gain the knowledge of the runes and writing; that he created the first man and woman from an ash and a birch tree, respectively; that he gave one of his eyes in order to drink from the well of wisdom; and that he rode upon an eight-legged horse called Sleipnir, that was the offspring of the stallion Svaðilfari and Loki, who had taken the form of a mare.
What I didn't know, though, was that the earliest actual attestation of Odin from any written record is comparatively recent. A friend and loyal reader of Skeptophilia sent me a link about a study of a gold disk from Denmark that contains the first certain reference to Odin, and I was surprised to see that it dates to only the fifth century C.E. The disk is called the Vindelev bracteate -- it was found near the town of Vindelev, and a bracteate is a flat pendant. It states, in runic lettering, "He is Odin's man," presumably referring to some unknown chieftain or leader.
Wōden is the origin of all language
wisdom's foundation and wise man's comfort
and to every hero blessing and hope.
Perhaps the All-Father would not be upset that this is the way he's remembered, that his association with frenzy and battle was superseded by wisdom and hope, just as the people who once worshiped him settled down to become some of the most peaceful, progressive, and prosperous nations in the world.
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