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Odin Late-comer

Tuesday before Wednesday; Tyr before Odin - Many Indo-Europeanists hypothesise that Odin (pronounced /ódin/) in his Proto-Germanic form was not the chief god, but that Tyr (Tiwaz) was, Tyr, the origin of the name Tuesday, is the god of single combat, great honesty and courage, victory and heroic glory.

It is assumed that Tyr (Tiwaz) was overtaken in popularity and in authority by Thor and Odin at some point. Support for Odin as a late-comer to the Scandinavian Norse pantheon is found in the Sagas where, for example, at one time he is thrown out of Asgard by the other gods - a seemingly unlikely tale for a well-established "all father."

Adam of Bremen recounts around 1080 that in the gold-decked temple of Uppsala, the people worship the statues of three gods. The mightiest of them, Thor, occupied a throne in the middle of the chamber; Wotan [Odin] and Frikko [Frigg] had places on either side. Status was reflected that way. Adam writes, "Thor, they say, presides over the air, which governs the thunder and lightning, the winds and rains, fair weather and crops. The other, Wotan - that is, the Furious - carries on war and imparts to man strength against his enemies."

The name of Odin is related to oðr, which means "fury, excitation," besides "mind," or "poetry." He is considered a principal and ambivalent member of the Aesir (gods) of the Norse Pantheon, and is associated with wisdom, war, battle, and death, and also trickery, cunning, and deception, magic, poetry, prophecy, victory, the hunt and Wednesday (Woden's-day).

Woden, Wotan and Odin. It was in quite late Scandinavian mythology as it survived on Iceland that Odin was presented as the ruler of Asgard in Norse mythology. Odin is the same as the Anglo-Saxon Woden and the Old High German Wotan. Odin was referred to by more than 200 names that suggest his different roles.

Parallels between Odin and Celtic Lugus, Lugh, Lug (identified with Mercury) have often been pointed out: both are intellectual gods, commanding magic and poetry. Both have ravens and a spear as their attributes. However, there is no one-to-one correspondence between Germanic and Celtic gods.

Havamal, Norse poetry. The Norse poem Havamal is attributed to Odin. Significant parts of it and the whole tenor compare with the wisdom literature of Solomon. Havamal is Norse teaching poetry. The poem consists of 164 verses, and is found in the Poetic Edda (or Edda Saemundar, or the Elder Edda). Medieval Snorre Sturlason wrote a second Edda, called the Younger Edda, or the Prose Edda. Together, these Eddas are "the fullest and most detailed source for modern knowledge of Germanic mythology" [EB]


Odin's fighting bears - sort of. At times Odin used to lie down. Then he could be turned into bird, animal, fish or snake (a shape-shifter). He could even be in other countries. Odin used to carry the head of a dead man with him for wise conversation above "Silence is golden".

Berserks were warriors who were devoted to Odin, who mastered to make his devoted men strong as bears and mad as dogs and wolves. It was thought that some Norse warriors perhaps could change themselves into fighting bears for a couple of hours, bringing death and ruin to an enemy.

Norsemen believed these things, and vital parts of the old Norse religion appears in the form of "folk beliefs" and superstitions in Scandinavia. Scandinavian folklore contains fragments of tales about Odin and Thor in particular, Inger Boberg shows. [Nok 1:3-9; Daf]

A Biblical parallell to berserks Norse berserks are much like Samson when he got the Spirit over him, killed a thousand persons with the jaw-bone of a donkey, we are told by writers and editors of the Old Testament who were out to emphasise their "specialness". [Judg 15:4-15]

It is also worth noting about ancient Hebrew writings that their alphabeth did not contain vowels, and 100 and 1000 and so on were written similarly, and so was 300 and 3000. This suggests that later understanding of old passages rely on later interpretations. So maybe Samson did not manage to capture 300 foxes and later kill with a donkey's jaw-bone a thousand persons armed with far better weapons.

Summing up a bit

All tales are not blown up in time, but some are. As Dr Philip Yampolsky suggests, many old stories get more fanciful with time, as a general drift. We see it documented in religions and myths [Tun]. Some tales and constructs (for example "Messiah - Christ") are changed and grow perhaps more impressive as time goes by, and myths change in time too; they are in a slowly moving flux. Some gods get new attributes added to old ones, or old attributes disappear. The status accorded to them often changes through millenniums too, and some gods and goddesses are blended with others, others are forgotten, and "new heroes" rise in the pantheons. One may be aware of this and benefit - that is, get less rigid or "set" about myth versions.



Havamal is Norse teaching poetry. The poem consists of 164 verses, and is found in the Poetic Edda (or Edda Saemundar, or the Elder Edda). The following is extracted mainly from Inger M. Boberg's book on Danish folk tradition:

"Praise of wisdom, recurrently voiced in proverbs of Solomon, is likewise found in Havamal," says Inger M. Boberg, and "Solomon's proverbs and Havamal have many points of view in common." [Daf 135]. A telling side to this so-called wisdom is not to reveal much. "Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue." [Proverbs 17:28]

"Havamal consists largely of warning and teaching (instructive) proverbs that were to be urged on the Scandinavians of old. They are the oldest Nordic proverbs known", Boberg also informs. [Daf 133]. Not a few proverbs look better than they work, for "much goes worse than expected", says Havamal, verse 40.

Be that as it may, the fittest proverbs suggest how to accommodate in a tradition, very often linked up to hailed and exemplary personages of the past. Some proverbs deal in prejudice.

Havamal sources

Anon., tr. Hávamál (Icelandic)

Bugge, Sophus (1833-1907) , tr: Hávamál —— Norse version. The original text for Feinschmeckers - Sophus Bugge prepared what is considered to be one of the most outstanding critical editions of the Poetic Edda. A professor of comparative philology and Old Norse at the University of Christiania (now: Oslo), he published his edition of the Edda in 1867. Holm-Olsen, Ludvig: Edda-dikt. Cappelen. Oslo, 1985. —— It reads well. A very good rendition in Norwegian (bokmaal).

Kinnes, Tormod: Håvamål in Nynorsk Norwegian. —— Easily read.

Mortensen-Egnund, Ivar, tr: Håvamål online. A somewhat old-fashioned Norwegian translation. It is well "knit" aspiring to reflect the Bardic ways with words, and remains one of the translations that are closest to the original. But passages of it may be quite unreadable to Norwegians today. In book form: 8th ed. Det norske Samlaget. Oslo, 1986.

Brate, Erik (1857-1924), tr: Den höges sång —— A very skilled work. The style is partly antiquated. I have brought in on-line.

Gjellerup, Karl, tr: Den ældre eddas gudesange 1. Thaning and Appel. Copenhagen, 1973. —— Annoyingly shuffled verses.

Simrock, Karl Joseph (1802-76), übersetzer: Havamal: Des Hohen Lied (first published 1851).

Bellows, Henry A. tr: Hovamol: The Ballad of the High One —— Well explained for most part. Edition from 1938.

Bray, Olive, tr, ed: Hávamál: The Words of Odin the High One. —— Bray's translation from 1908 is a useful translation from The Elder or Poetic Edda, commonly known as Sæmund's Edda, part I: The Mythological Poems (London: The Viking Club, 1908), pp. 61-111.

Clos, Dominick, tr: Havamal: Les dits du tres haut —— "J'ai pris connaissance de la traductions de Régis Boyer, que je considère comme un expert, ainsi que de celle de Gérard Lemarquis d'après une traduction de Matthias Vidar Saemundsson, et me suis inspirée de leurs travaux pour mes hésitations." [The translator/editor]

To compare Havamal versions

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Searching for phrases or words on a page: Click [Ctrl + f] and wite the phrase or word you search for in the box that pops up.

Claims to Have Descended from Gods

- are found the world over.

Snorre Sturlason's heritage. Medieval Snorre Sturlason wrote a second Edda, called the Younger Edda, or the Prose Edda. Together, these Eddas are "the fullest and most detailed source for modern knowledge of Germanic mythology" [EB]

The hold of Snorre's various outputs stem from mythological stuff, great or savage men described in dialogues and otherwise, and the old Norse style he made use of. His writings reflect an Icelanders' interest in pagan ancestors.

In Heimskringla Snorre describes various kings of Norway who claimed to be descended from gods (in the ancestry of Harald Fairhair). And in a medieval book, The Orkneyingers' Saga, chap. 2, King Hrolf [or Bjarg] of the Hill, who ruled in Hedmark, "was the son of Svadi the giant from north of the Dovrefell." Giant is a translation of jotun. Jotnar (plural of jotun) of Norse mythology are described by Peter A. Munch in his book Norrøne gude- og heltesagn (1981:77-79). An earlier edition is on the site. Thor, the thunder-god, fought such entitities. King Olav Tryggvason and King Olav Haraldson (St. Olav) replaced Thor in this when Christianity was introduced and got a hold. The folktale hero took over that task again in folklore - fighting against big trolls.

Jotnar are around us, and the home of gods is between a giant's eyebrows, Norse mythology tells (Ibid). The thunderous giant fight calls for heroes.


Norse Odin lore, Literature  

Daf: Boberg, Inger M. Dansk folketradition i tro og digtning og deraf afhængig skik. (Danmarks Folkeminder; 72). Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1962.

EB: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Ng: Munch, Peter Andreas. Norrøne gude- og heltesagn. Rev. ed. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1981. —— On-site.

Nok: Hødnebø, Finn & Magerøy, Hallvard eds. Norges kongesagaer. bd 1-4. Oslo: Gyldendal, 1979.

Tun: Yampolsky, Philip, tr. The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. The Text of the Tun-Huang Manuscript. New York: Columbia University, 1967.

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