Following on from yesterday’s article about using the names of Gods and Goddesses, I thought I’d look at one such name which is starting to see some use, especially in the US — although it did make the top 1000 for the first time in 1884…
Odin is the chief God of the Nordic Pantheon, and as such is revered by modern practitioners of Heathenism (also called Odinism and Asatrú) — a branch of ‘Neo’-Paganism which has revived the beliefs and practices of the Nordic people of Scandinavia, Iceland and the British Isles.
His name in Old Norse was Óðinn, cognate with the Anglo-Saxon Woden (who gives his name to Wednesday) and Old High German Wotan. The reconstructed proto-Germanic form is *Wōđanaz or *Wōđinaz from the Proto-Germanic *wōþuz ‘poetic fury’ – very appropriate for a God identified with poets and seers.
Interestingly enough, the word is also cognate with the Proto-Celtic *wƒtu- ‘poetic inspiration’ and *wƒti- ‘sooth-sayer’ and ‘prophet’.
Although not stated explicitly, it is believed that Odin was identified by the Romans not with Jupiter but Mercury. Tacitus stated that Mercury was the chief God of the Germanic people.
This is generally ascribed to the fact that both Gods are regarded as deities who led the souls of the dead to the afterlife. But there are other reasons.
Like Mercury, Odin is a God of magic.
And, like Mercury, Odin was identified with the Celtic Lugus, with whom Lugus also shares many attributes.
Not least — as I discussed in Lughnasadh! in August — the fact that it is a distinct possibility that Lugus and the Norse Loki are linked at a deep level — and the same goes for Loki and Odin. There are many who believe that Loki is an aspect of Odin.
Odin has two other very fascinating attributes.
The first is as Lord of the Wild Hunt. The Wild Hunt is the usual name given in English to the legendary spectral hunt, usually riding in the late autumn and winter. Witnessing it is said to be a terrible omen of impending doom, but more often than not, mortals who happen to see it pass by are caught up and spirited away, rarely to be seen again.
Unsurprisingly, in the Christian period, the Wild Hunt was associated with the Devil, and those who chanced upon it were believed to be whisked straight off to hell.
But as well as these later diabolic associations, Odin and his Wild Hunt also lie behind much of the legend and beliefs surrounding ‘Father Christmas’. Riding on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir, he leaves gifts for those who put out food for Sleipnir.
One of his bynames is even Jólnir ‘Yule-man’.
And he (or rather, his Saxon counterpart Woden) is also probably the figure behind the Anglo-Saxon ‘King Winter’ or ‘King Frost’, a fur-hat wearing Winter spirit who, if welcomed at the hearth, would ensure that family made it safely through the dark winter months.
Echoes of the Wild Hunt survive across Europe, and various names are attributed to the leader — but all hark back to Odin or his Celtic counterparts.
The second very intriguing thing about Odin is the fact he is a God of sacrifice and resurrection. He sacrificed himself, in the quest for wisdom, upon the World Tree, pierced by his own spear — rising again nine days later.
As a result, Odin is also a God of Wisdom.
Another thing that sets Odin apart is his interest in human affairs. He is ‘the Wanderer’, envisaged as an old man with a grey beard who wanders the land. His ravens of wisdom — Huginn (‘thought’) and Muninn (‘memory’) — keep their beady eyes on all goings-on.
He was also the inspiration for the character of Gandalf in Tolkien’s Hobbit, Lord of the Rings and other works — and when you see 19th Century depictions of Odin, it is easy to see why.
There is no doubt that Odin is about as powerful and rich a name as they get.
It is up to you to decide, based on your beliefs, whether it is right or not to give his name to your child!