Woden the Wanderer, Traveller from Afar

WODEN, the All-Father, the mighty one-eyed hunter-god of the Northern European peoples, has been largely forgotten by the people who once worshipped him in both word and deed. The largely dissociated and disconnected masses, who seem considerably more interested in consumer culture than in their own spiritual and cultural heritage, are more likely to bear Arabic or Hebrew names than anything remotely indicative of their Scandinavian, Germanic or Anglo-Saxon origins. But who is Woden?

When the Roman senator and historian, Tacitus (56-117 CE), described the people he encountered during his visit to Ancient Britain in the First Century CE, he said:

Above all gods they worship Mercury, and count it no sin to win his favour on certain days by human sacrifices. [1]

But although Tacitus does not mention these deities by name, when he refers to the Roman god, Mercury, it is thought to have been a reference to the pre-Óðinn deity who is widely considered to have been a reconstructed Proto-Germanic figure known as Wōđanaz. The word means “master of excitement” (from wōþuz) and seems to relate to the shamanistic aspects of Woden and the influence he is able to exert upon on the mystical seer or spiritual adventurer. It was Wōđanaz who may have displaced the sky-god, Tîwaz, during the Roman Iron Age that lasted from the Second Century BCE until the Second Century CE. In fact it was only between the Third and Seventh centuries CE that the name Woden first appeared.

Some readers may be surprised to discover that Woden did not come from Europe at all and actually has ‘eastern’ origins. It is said that he came from the famous city of Troy in north-west Anatolia. Indeed, according to Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241 CE), Woden himself

set off from Turkey and took with him a very great following, young people and old, men and women, and they took with them many precious things. And whatever countries they passed through, great glory was spoken of them, so that they seemed more like gods than men. And they did not halt their journey until they came north to the country that is now called Saxony. Odin stayed there a long while and gained possession of large parts of that land. [2]

These Anatolian newcomers were the Æsir. Meanwhile, after ruling over East Saxony and placing his sons in charge of both that region and parts of what is now modern France, thus establishing the Volsung dynasty, Woden continued north on his travels until he arrived in Reidgotaland (Jutland) and then Denmark. Once there he established the noble line of Skioldung kings, before venturing into Sweden and persuading King Gylfi to allow him to create a dynastic and legal structure based on the system that he and his people had first implemented at Troy. Woden then went to Norway and planted the seeds of the Yngling bloodline, as well as helping to spread the language of the Æsir throughout Scandinavia.

Andrew Rugg-Gunn, on the other hand, tells us that

Odin is represented as an immigrant into the northern countries. He is the leader of a band of followers, the Æsir, and comes from the east. The wars, described in the legends, between the Æsir and the Vanir, probably reflect the disturbances consequent on the introduction of the Odin cult in opposition to the native religions. [3]

We can learn more about Woden’s eastern origins in The Gesta Danorum of Saxo Grammaticus (1150-1220 CE), whilst the religious and administrative details of life in Troy appear in Sturluson’s Heimskringla:

The land in Asia to the east of the Tanakvisl was called Asaland or Asaheim and the chief town in the land was called Asagarth (or Asagard). In the town there was a chief who was known as Odin and it was a great place for sacrificing. It was the custom for twelve chief priests to direct the sacrifices and to judge between men; they were called diar or drottnar; and them should all people serve and obey. [4]

The fact that Woden came from the east, of course, does not make him Asiatic and he was undoubtedly of Indo-European (Aryan) stock. Returning to the issue surrounding Woden’s status as first among gods, let alone first among men, his huge influence on earthly kingship is explained by Georges Dumezil:

Odin is the head of the gods; their first king, as we have seen, in the historicising narratives that let him live and die on earth. In the mythology he is the only king until the end of time, and consequently the particular god of human kings and the protector of their power, even when they glory in being descended from someone else. [5]

It is no accident that many European monarchies were, at one time, able to trace their lineage back to the great Woden himself.

Although many prefer to describe Woden as ‘Odin’, I have decided to use the Anglo-Saxon variant of his name. We are, of course, talking about one and the same person, although, as an Englishman, I was rather keen to see Woden appear under a distinctly English moniker. In England, too, Woden is more of an outsider and perhaps even an anarchic figure who identifies far less with kingship. In the words of Brian Branston:

The Woden of the Old English never became the warrior-king in a golden helmet, exclusive patron of princes and jarls, such as Snorri depicted in his Edda: he was never preoccupied with the problem of organising his battalions of slain into a doomed army to oppose the Children of Muspell at the Ragnarok. Instead, the Anglo-Saxon Woden stalked the rolling downland, one-eyed and wise beyond all knowing in cloak and hood when the weather was fine, stopping at crossroads to recognise his own dangling from the gallows; but ion black and stormy night he racketed across the sky at the head of his wild hunt of lost and noisy souls. [6]

We must never forget that both the spirit and blood of Woden flows through the veins of all Northern European peoples. Regardless whether you happen to see him as a Divine power, an archetype, a symbol or just an allegory, Woden was and remains a real person who can be found at the very roots of our Indo-European identity. It is this fact that makes Woden so quintessential when it comes to providing an alternative to the Abrahamic religions and the alien creeds they espouse. The famous psychologist, C.G. Jung, summed up the important relationship between spiritual knowledge and identity in a letter to Constance Long:

Gnosis should be an experience of your own life, a plant grown on your own tree. Foreign gods are a sweet poison, but the vegetable gods you have raised in your own garden are nourishing. [7]

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in an age of religious degeneration, globalisation and cultural uniformity, the revival and perpetuation of Wodenism has become more important than ever. A final word from Christopher Pankhurst:

When Odin sits on his throne, Hlidskjalf, he is said to be able to see everything in the world. He becomes omniscient by virtue of the fact that he is the All-Father, the fundamental generating principle in the world, and as such he is the spirit, or animating force, which expresses its particularities through each of us. He can see through our eyes because, to the extent that we are authentically alive, he is us. [8]


  1. Tacitus, Germania, 9.
  2. Snorri Sturluson, “Prologue” in Prose Edda, 10-11.
  3. Andrew Rugg-Gunn, Osiris and Odin: The Origin of Kingship, H.K. Lewis, 1940, p.104.
  4. Snorri Sturluson, Ynglinga Saga, 2.
  5. Georges Dumezil, Gods of the Ancient Northmen, University of California Press, 1973, p.26.
  6. Brian Branston, The Lost Gods of England: The Pagan Religion of Our Ancestors, Thames and Hudson, 1957, p.104.
  7. C.G. Jung, Letter to Constance Long.
  8. Christopher Pankhurst, “The Metaphysics of Death” in Troy Southgate [Ed.], Helios: Journal of Metaphysical & Occult Studies, Volume One, Black Front Press, 2011, pp.87-88.

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