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It seems to me quite possible that Tacitus has misunderstood the exact meaning of the rite he heard something about and which he himself never saw practised. He identifies this goddess with Terra Mater and indeed the cult with the cart drawn by cows and the bathing of the divine image in a river or a lake is the same for both the Roman and the German goddess. The conformity may indeed have been strong; still it is possible that Tacitus has lent some details from the Roman cult to the German one. Then Nerthus may have been a male deity whose cult was celebrated by solemnities of which a female divinity had her share too; if this goddess was the Earth, then a name as f. i. *Erþö could very easily have been confused with the name *Neru- of her male counterpart, who in consequence was considered as a female divinity by the informants of Tacitus 84).

But I will not insist upon this side of the problem. For my purpose it is enough to point out the existence of a god Nerthus or Njörðr whose name is formed in quite the same way as Óðr and Ullr. If there had existed a longer name of this god, just as Óðinn corresponds to Óðr and Ullinn to Ulir, then we might expect a word *Nerþanaz which would have been in Old Norse * Nirðinn. This name, however, is unknown; but there is the name of a female deity which seems to belong to this same group of words. The skalds use in the kennings for “woman” sometimes the name Njörun which presupposes an older form *Neranö, a form related to the root * ner- (or even neru-) in the same way as the masculine word Ullinn to [38] *wulþu-. Then Njorun is derived from the originally shorter form *neru- and it is quite probable that it is a name for the earthgoddess; we may even add: here we possibly have the Scandinavian form of the goddess that Tacitus compared with the Terra Mater 85).

I wish to leave this dangerous province of mythological etymology and return to a more solid basis. The importance of the names Óðr, Ullr and Njorðr with regard to their form seems to me not fully appreciated by scholars of Teutonic mythology. The correspondence between them in having the same suffix -tu can not be fortuitous; on the contrary it is a strong proof in favour of the opinion that these three divine names belong together and that the divinities, who bear these names, were of the same kind in their relation to man. It is here not the place to discuss, the startling fact, that these divinities have names of such an abstract character; it will now be sufficient to consider the formation with the suffix –þu and the interrelation between the names Oðr, Ullr and Njörðr as a proof of the high antiquity of the figure of Oðr and as the formation of Oðinn belongs to a period which lies before the historical times as well, I see no reason why this god should have been a later development in the Old Norse religious system.

9. The myth of the temporal disappearance of Othin

After this rather long but indispensable digression I wish to return to the subject of this paper: the relation between the Wodan-like deity of popular lore and the heathen god. We have found the belief in a demoniac leader of the Wild Hunt who in the Western part of Denmark is usually called by the name of Othin and on the other hand we have met with a demon of fertility, to whom offerings were made at harvest-time and who is named [39] after Othin in the Eastern part of Denmark and in the Southern districts of Sweden. So we have to distinguish between two different conceptions of the god Othin in popular tradition: between a god of the dead and a god of fertility. Of course we might solve this question in a very easy way by referring to the well established fact that a god of the underworld in many religions is at the same time connected with the fertilizing powers of the soil; we might even consider the horse, to whom the Swedish peasant sacrifices the last sheaf, as a typical form of the infernal spirits 86), but it seems to me that this is not the right way to arrive at a clear understanding of the original belief. We want to know why in one part of Scandinavia Othin has been especially a god of the restless dead and in another part a god of fertility. So we are obliged to enter again upon a discussion of the original character of the old Teutonic god Wodan.

The discussion of the names Óðr and Óðinn has led us to the conclusion that both words are used for the same divine power although at different stages of its religious development, Óðr being certainly the older form. The identity of these divinities was furthermore proved by their relation to a curious myth according to which they had disappeared for a certain period. Gustav Neckel has said in his interesting book on Balder that the prototype of the weeping Frigg is the moaning Ishtar; although I can not accept Neckels view of the character of the resemblance between the Scandinavian and the Babylonian goddesses, I fully agree with him as to the fact that we have in both cases before us the same religious phenomenon. According to the Völuspá, Frigg weeps about the death of her son Balder and this is a myth which may be compared with those of Ishtar and Tamuz, Isis and Osiris, Aphrodite and Adonis, Cybele and Attis; it belongs to the wide-spread rites of vegetation-divinities. To these same notions we may [40] reckon the myth of the weeping Frigg in search of her beloved Óðr; consequently Óðr is at all events according to the meaning of this myth a god of fertility who represents the vegetation which during winter disappears from earth 87).

A similar story is told about Othin. He too disappeared for some time; the reason of his going away is however not sufficiently clear. The Ynglingasaga c. 3 says that he was in the habitude of travelling about and once having been from home during a very long period, his brothers appropriated his goods and at the same time his wife Frigg. When Othin returned he entered again into the possession of both. This tale is extremely vague: Snorri himself seems not to have understood the meaning of it.

In the Danish history of Saxo Grammaticus the myth of Othin's disappearance is told twice; in the first book of the Gesta Danorum, Othinus goes away because his wife Frigga has been unfaithful and another divinity, called Mithotyn, takes his place. The other story is much more interesting, because it is connected with the death of Balder and Othin's wooing of Rinda to beget an avenger for him. Then Saxo continues in his third book the story of Othinus with his expulsion by the gods, on account of his infamous conduct. The god Ollerus was put in his place and reigned during a period of ten years, bearing however also the name of Othinus; but then he was in his turn driven away by the right Othinus and forced to take refuge in Sweden where be was soon afterwards killed by the Danes.

Without being aware of it, Saxo has inserted in his history two variants of the same myth, the meaning of which obviously is the disappearing of the vegetation in winter and its reappearing in spring.

The figure of Othin is divided into two different divinities: an aestival god who freely reigns in heaven and a [41] winter-Othin who comes in stead of the former one. Saxo says in his second story that the substitute god, although being in fact Ollerus, was also called Othinus. So in reality he was Ollerus, the same as the Old Norse Ullr; perhaps this is a fortuitous combination of Saxo himself; if this is not the case, however, it seems hard to account for the conception that a god, whose name means “brilliancy, glory” should be the representative of the barrenness of winter. He is called Mithotyn in the first variant, a name which may be explained as a bungled rendering of the Old Norse in jötuðr, a word meaning “lord, ruler” but also “fate, death”; this name also does not carry us any farther.

These curious tales, the mythological value of which is rather doubtful, as Saxo Grammaticus is inaccurate in his renderings of the traditions he has collected, bring us to the very core of the difficulties. For if it may be supposed that they reveal the character of Othin as a god of vegetation, there seems to be a contradiction in his name, as it means "the furious one" or "the god who gives mental excitement". There are in this case at least three different spheres of activity to which Othin is bound, one of agricultural rites, another as god of the dead and a third as the bestower of intellectual qualities. As the name Wodan was already used in the tracts of the Lower Rhine during the first centuries of our era, as is proved by the name of Wednesday, we are forced to the rather startling conclusion, that in those very early times his character as the furious one was clearly predominating.

10. Othin as a God of the Dead

The only way to know something about the real nature of the god Wodan in the Roman period is by his identification with Mercury. As a rule scholars are prone to regard it with some distrust and to explain it by assu-[42]ming that there has been some resemblance between these gods as to their attributes, Othin with his broad-brimmed hat resembling the classic god with his petasos. Now it was the Romans who made the comparison and they had certainly no opportunity to compare Germanic idols with the sumptuous statues of their gods, as according to Tacitus no images were to be seen in the Germanic fanes. So it is altogether improbable that the identification of Othin and Mercury has come about in this way. The Romans were excellent observers and in this case too they hit the mark, which is proved sufficiently by the fact that the conception of Mercury 88) in many respects has a very close affinity with that of Othin.

Both are gods of the dead, leading the crowds of spirits, both wander restlessly through the world, Mercury as the protector of merchants and travellers, Othin as the visitor of his elected heroes; both are gods of magic craft, both are the inventors of the arts of writing and of poetry. There seems then to be reason enough for an identification of these deities and I think we may venture to conclude that these similarities, at any rate most of them, existed in the period when the Romans made acquaintance with the Germanic tribes. And so I quite agree with H. M. Chadwick who says 89), that the identification of Wodan and Mercury would be inexplicable unless the higher idea of the god's character was already to some extent developed.

So the earliest attainable form of Wödan is that of a god of the dead having his abode in the realms of the underworld. By his relations with the secret powers of the earth he is in possession of the great mysteries of the fructifying and vivifying powers; he knows the secret of life which is entrusted to the Lord of Death; he is the inventor of magic arts 90) including those of poetry and of writing, both intimately connected with these religious [43] conceptions. Here at the very dawn of history we find a god whose character is already very complicated, who in fact may have shown the three different religious conceptions, which we have enumerated above 91).

Are we justified in applying these conclusions to the Scandinavian Othin? This god known to us from sources that are nearly a thousand years later may show a quite different character. In fact he does, for if the connection with rites of fertility is hardly visible, he has become the supreme lord of battle, which the German Wödan certainly was not, as the god of war whose name the Romans rendered by Mars has been identical with the Scandinavian Týr. This must be the result of a later development during the long ages of warfare which are commonly called by the name of the Migration of Peoples 92). The paramount importance of the chieftains and their warriors raised the god of the dead to the divine protector of the heroes and made him the glorious king of the heavenly Walhalla, in stead of the gloomy ruler of a subterranean cave of death 93).

II. The place of Othin in the Scandinavian religion

There is a strong tendency among modern scholars to consider the Old-Norse Othin as a divinity of a rather late date and even of a foreign origin. His worship is supposed to have started among the tribes of the Lower Rhine and in the first centuries of our era to have been adopted by other Teutonic peoples as well, till at last he had culminated into the supreme god of the Icelandic mythology 94). This view was first developed by the Danish scholar Henry Petersen, who adduced a mass of evidence which did not fail to make a profound impression upon the learned world, scholars being particularly inclined to [44] any hypothesis which attacked the originality of heathen deities. New facts were adduced in course of time and so gradually a common opinion began to prevail of the foreign and even rather late origin of Othin in the Scandinavian mythology.

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