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As soon as there existed also the belief in a supernatural being which was thought active during winter and was connected with a horse, this last sheaf could be considered as a sacrifice to it 115). There is no certainty that the popular custom of leaving the last blades of grass, as found now-a-days in Denmark and Sweden, belongs originally to the cult of Othin ; and we have no right whatever to make use of this piece of modern lore for the reconstruction of the old pagan belief. From time immemorial Othin was known to the people as the god of the dead; as a leader of the Wild Hunt in winter he belongs as well to a very high antiquity, if not to the heathen period proper, at any rate to the first centuries after Christianisation; at any time harvest rites of this kind might have been brought into connection with him. I should even venture to say that this was more probable after Othin had been debased to a demon rather than in the heathen period when Othin was gradually rising to a divinity of high importance.

But if we reject the opinion that Othin originally belonged to the harvest-customs of Southern Scandinavia then might it not be possible that this divinity in an older and more primitive form had been connected with these agri-[52]cultural customs? If not Wodan, could it not have been Wöd(e)? In this case it would be necessary to know exactly what is the meaning of Wöd(e). There are three opinions possible: 1. according to the evidence of modern folklore, Wöd(e) is a demon who is at the same time the leader of the Wild Hunt and an object of veneration in harvest-cults, 2. according to the literary traditions about heathen mythology, he is a god who seems to be closely connected with Othin and possibly has had some importance in rites of fertility, 3. according to etymology as it is commonly accepted, Wöd(e) means “the raging, furious one” and is a name for the Wild Hunt itself or for its leader, properly speaking, as Much puts it, the air in movement, “die bewegte Luft”.

14. The etymology of the words Othin and Wode

We may begin with a discussion of the last point. Formerly it was deemed possible to arrive at the original meaning of a religious phenomenon by trying to solve the problem of the etymology of the word by which it was called; now-a-days we are more cautious in our conclusions and prefer to consider the etymology as a way of enforcing a view which is the result of considerations based on a study of the phenomenon itself. It is especially dangerous to extract from a group of cognate words a root, the meaning of which is often only a colourless abstraction from them all 116).

When scholars consider the word Wöde, Wödan to belong to a root *ue- “to blow” (cf. Lat. ventus, Sky. vata) and consequently consider him to be an original wind-god 117), this etymology has some probability only in the case that his character as wind-god is incontestible. The only argument, however, which can be adduced in [53] favour of this hypothesis — the popular belief of the raging, ghostly army (das wütende Heer) —- is too weak, as I shall show presently.

The Germanic words belonging to this group, are German Wut, Dutch woede (furor), Goth. wöþs, Old Norse óðr, Old English wöd. They lead us to an original stem

*wöþ- with the meaning “furious'' especially “in a high mental excitement”. Of course it is possible that the mental condition is a later more specialised form of a more general meaning “in violent movement, excited”; but this can not be settled only by an abstract argument. If we seek for related words in the Indo-European languages we find: Lat. vates “prophet”, Gall ouáteis, Old-Irish faith “prophet, poet” 118). I see no reason whatever why the Latin word should be a borrowing from the Gallic, nor why the Gem-manic word should be considered as derived from a Celtic language. The fact that it is found in these three languages which also in many other respects show a close affinity, is satisfactorily explained by assuming that it belongs to the original fund of the Indo-European dialect from which Latin, Germanic and Celtic are the historical developments. As in these languages the meaning of the word-group is “prophet, poet” or “in a state of mental excitement”, we must content ourselves with this original sense.

When K. Helm 119) pretends that the sense of a mental state is based on a rather late development of this god, when he became more spiritualized, he underrates the value of the cognate words in Latin and Celtic. When he futhermore continues in this way: “any probability of a certain understanding can only be arrived at when we try to go back to the original concrete meaning of the word, which may he “a violent, stormy movement”, he makes in my opinion two mistakes: 1. there is no reason to assert why this should be the only possible way to arrive at a [54] clear understanding of the word-group and 2. he strangely undervalues the mind of so-called “primitive” peoples as if they were unable to express abstract ideas in their language 120). Moreover the idea of mental excitement must be very familiar to primitive man, as an ecstatic state of mind is the typical expression of his religious feelings. The shamanistic sorcerer, the medicine-man, on a somewhat higher level the prophet and the poet, are examples of this mental excitement which it is often difficult to distinguish from mental derangement. So etymology does not bring us further than this conception.

Now, of course, the figure of Wöde in popular lore is the reason of the hypothesis about the connection between Wödan and the wind. But the name “Wütendes Heer” as it is found in the Southern parts of Germany 121) only means “the raging host”. The verb “wüten” has the significance of “to rage” which in course of time was applied not only to mental fury, but to any possible fury. The concrete meaning, “die sinnliche Bedeutung", is not original, but on the contrary secondary. The spirit Waul, Waudl, the leader of the ghostly army and to whom the last sheaf is sometimes sacrificed, does not necessarily belong to this same word-group. In the Swabian dialect we find the words Waude “terrifying spirit” and Waudel “spectre, phantom', and even Wau-wau or Wauzel, both meaning “terrifying ghost'' 22); they seem to be derivations from a word wau and in my opinion are not connected at all with the root *woþ but are more likely to be anonomatopoetic formation.

This does not mean that at the bottom of these names for the Wild Hunt there may not lie the word Wöde which we find elsewhere medieval sources cited above show the contrary — and the modern forms Waudl, Waude may consequently be later modifications. But then the difficulty remains that we have no certainty whatever as to the date [55] when the host of spirits was first called “wütendes Heer" and consequently as to the exact meaning of the word “wüten” in that period. I consider the name to be certainly of a date later than the introduction of Christianity, but in this case it seems wellnigh a hopeless task to determine what could have been the meaning of this Wode in heathen times.

15. The relation of Othin to the harvest customs

So for our knowledge of the original meaning of Othin modern popular traditions are without any value whatever. If now-a-days a peasant sacrifices a sheaf of corn to the horse of Othin, this does not imply that his heathen ancestor did the same, for he may have intended the sacrifice to a corn-spirit in an animal form or he may even have intended no sacrifice at all. The word Wode, Othin and its corresponding forms 123:) are more probably one of the many instances of the phenomenon that elements of a higher civilisation have sunk down to a lower level of the population, the reason being in this case that the heathen gods had been degraded into demoniac beings. The problem then is not what kind of god the Wode of modern popular tradition represents, but if at the time when the debased Othin was assimilated to the harvest-customs of the peasantry, he was accepted as a leader of the ghostly army or as a vegetation-god.

And that question can only be answered by a study of the old literary sources treating of the heathen religion. These, however, make it fairly sure that he was originally a god of the dead, not exclusively of the restless spirits, but in the general sense of the Lord of Death. His name characterizes him as intimately connected with the magical to procure secret wisdom, which very often is supposed [56] to be in the possession of the dead. The identity of Wodan and Mercury proves this conception to have existed as early as the beginning of our era. Perhaps a bit of popular lore gives an analogous evidence; Wednesday is supposed to be highly favourable for magical practices 124); might this not be explained as a remembrance of the magical virtues which the god of this day, Wodan, possessed in pagan times?

The god of the dead has developed in times of war, such as in the Migration and the Viking Period into a protector of the brave warriors, who collects them in his splendid heavenly abode. I consider it to be quite improbable that this important god has at the same time been a leader of restless, wandering spirits; but as soon as after the introduction of Christianity the terror for the spirits in midwinter had become greater, the old god of the dead, now debased into a dangerous demon, was naturally combined with the Wild Hunt. If the Norwegian word Oskorei originally means “the ride of the Áss-god” 125), it is indeed a remarkable proof for the conception of the Æsir as spirits of the dead, but the idea that this Áss-god was the chief of the Wild Hunt is not necessarily heathen: it may have arisen in the period after Christianisation. The famous description of the Wild Hunt in the Njálssaga mentions at the head of it a man on a grey horse, bearing in his hand a burning torch and being himself as black as pitch. I fully agree with F. Jónsson that we may not see in this infernal being the god Othin 126). It is a “gandreið”, says the saga itself, which belongs to quite a different order of religious phenomena 127).

In course of time the idea of sin, which had to be expiated in this fearful way, became predominating and fettered the ghostly army and its demoniac leader still more closely together. But that this connection is not at all original, is proved by the Norwegian belief of the Oskorei; [57] for this host of furious spirits is led by Guro Rysserova, the famous Gudrun of the Nibelungen-story. In Norway it was a woman and a person belonging to heroic legend, who having fallen to the state of a diabolocal being led the Wild Hunt. Even elsewhere in the Teutonic world we find a woman as the leader of the Wild Hunt; Burckhard of Worms already speaks about a female, whom people call Holda, being at the head of the army of ghosts. In modern times this same belief has been noted down in different parts of Germany 128).

Of course there has been for the religious mind of the heathen Germans the idea of a strong connection between the storm of winter and the spirits of the dead. The double sense of the Latin word anima is an eloquent testimony for this world-wide belief. The winged Harpies who, according to old Greek belief, hurried along like the storm-wind were demons of death. The soul leaving the dead body as a wind is a very common conception. The Permian peoples for example believed that on the death of a shaman a storm was sure to arise 129) and likewise it is believed that there always blows a violent wind on All Souls Day 130). Sacrifices to the wind were in Ancient Greece black animals immolated in the night; the cult of the winds has an unmistakebly chthonic character on account of their relation to the spirits of the dead 131). Now the wind was often conceived in the form of a horse; I agree with Karl Helm 1 32) that this is a very old belief reaching back to prehistoiric ages; that it is the swiftness of the horse which lies at the bottom of the comparison between it and the wind, is although by no means sure, at all events not improbable.

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