This comes with a shout out to Dr. Jacob Jones.
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
I know a secret.
At this point I am forcefully reminded of my Uncle Milt. He loved and valued me, but sometimes his opinion vacillated from ‘How do you know these things?’ to ‘Why would anybody know these things?’
We all know an interesting mnemonic for the chief Anglo-Saxon gods:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
Tiu’s day, Woden’s day, Thor’s day, Freya’s day.
Who the devil was Tiu? More, why don’t we know him?
Tiu was the chief of the Germanic gods. To give the game away, two other ways of spelling his name are Jupiter and Zeus. The old proto-Indoeuropean ‘Day father’ of war and the bright sky. Proto-Germanic Tiwaz developed from PIE dyeus. The newer sources have quit claiming this, but the older sources said that ‘teutonic’ meant ‘those of Tiu.’ At any rate, Thousands of years ago his position was unimpeachable. By 100 AD Tacitus describes the three major gods of the Germanic people as Mars, Mercury, and Hercules.
I don’t suppose I need to explain the identification of a big, strong ethnic hero with a heavy hammer as Hercules.
Before Woden was the chief god he was the messenger of Tiu. Hence Sleipnir, his incredibly fast eight-legged horse. His depiction as a hatted and cloaked wanderer. The important thing is that at this time Woden was the psychopomp; Woden lead the souls of the dead to the after life.
One thing to remember is that the Danes were not that different From the Angles, Saxons, or Jutes. Depending on who occupied Funen, the Danes and the Angles and Jutes were fifty to a hundred miles apart. Almost sibling societies.
The Romans thought of Mars as more than a war god. He was also an agricultural god, As the father of Romulus he was an ethnic deity and father to them all. Much like Tiu, the Day Father, to the Teutons.
When the Romans retreated from Britain the wily Angles, Jutes, and Saxons slipped right into the power vacuum. Tiu was still the primary god and was named before Woden in the days of the week. The Ango-Saxons were by no means pacifists, but they were not ravening, blood-thirsty monsters.
There are movies about Odin and Thor. Cosplay for the Germanic Mercury and Hercules. Who mourns for Tiu?
At this time something drastic happened. To this point there is very little I’ve said that is in the slightest controversial. The followers of Dumezil may claim that the three top gods were co-equal representations of the tripartite estates, but that’s about it.
Now for my hypothesis:
The Frankish kingdom had an agreement with the Church in Rome. Under Charlemagne the Franks carried Christianity on sword and fire and francisca to their northern relatives. In the 700’s the Saxons in the continent were nearly decimated. In one session 4,500 Saxon pagans were beheaded at the Blood Court of Verden. In those days of low population that was almost a genocide. Saxony was nearly conquered by Charlemagne’s death. The Angles and Danes were next in line. Where could they find help? Their cousins in Britain were, by then, Christian. Their relatives to the north were not numerous. They were alone and knew it. Extreme stress implies rapid evolution.
I suggest that their religion was discredited in a religious war. Tiu, their war god, had failed them. If Tiu was gone, it only made sense for Woden to take his place. This left a problem: If Odin was unavailable to escort the souls of the dead to the after-life, who would take up this function? I find no references to Valkyries qua Valkyries before 900 AD. The Valkyries were how you got to the afterlife. Sure, half of the dead went to Freya, but we know what the desirable outcome was – Valhalla. And you didn’t get there by being a good person. Nor by recognizing the gods. Nor by following your duty. One reached Valhalla by dying in battle and taking as large an honor-guard of dead enemies with you as possible. Thus was a blood-thirst ignited which would not burn out for seven centuries. A pagan religion was converted into a battle religion. This is why the blood-thirst of the Danes so shocked the Anglo-Saxons; it was something new from a people they had once counted as kin.
I once thought that some of the actions of Odin were reminiscent of Christ, but now I see them an adoptions from Christianity during the process of enlarging Odin into a Chief god. One example: Odin hung himself on a tree for three times three days before returning from the dead. Jesus came back after three days – Odin after three times three. “I sacrificed myself to myself.”
- Veit ec at ec hecc vindga meiði a
- netr allar nío,
- geiri vndaþr oc gefinn Oðni,
- sialfr sialfom mer,
- a þeim meiþi, er mangi veit, hvers hann af rótom renn.
- I know that I hung on a windy tree
- nine long nights,
- wounded with a spear, dedicated to Odin,
- myself to myself,
- on that tree of which no man knows
- from where its roots run.
- Við hleifi mic seldo ne viþ hornigi,
- nysta ec niþr,
- nam ec vp rvnar,
- opandi nam,
- fell ec aptr þaðan.
- No bread did they give me nor a drink from a horn,
- downwards I peered;
- I took up the runes, screaming I took them,
- then I fell back from there.
Crucified on a tree, sacrificed by himself to himself, before an apotheosis. I think this is appropriated from Christianity. More, I think this idea is when Odin became the first of the Gods to the Germanic peoples.
If I am right it only took thirty to fifty years to convert a population to a rabid, battle religion.