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Uses of Wodan: The development of his cult and of medieval literary responses to it
By Philip Andrew Shaw
PhD Dissertation: University of Leeds, 2002
Abstract: Scholars working on Germanic pre-Christian religion have generally considered Wodan to have been a deity of considerable importance to most if not all Germanic tribes. This understanding is, however, based on a failure to approach the available evidence for Wodan within appropriate contemporary contexts. This thesis recontextualises the evidence, therefore, building a model of the general nature of Germanic heathenisms in the Migration Age, within which the cult of Wodan can be located. Set against this model, and with due consideration given to its social, political and religious contexts, the earliest evidence for Wodan can be seen as the beginning of a Christian reimagination of this deity. A plausible model of Wodan’s cult is established, which sees this cult as being geographically limited, and originating probably within the first half millenium of the Common Era; the cult of Odinn would appear, moreover, to be substantially separate in development from that of Wodan.
Furthermore, a complex set of eighth-century scholarly re-uses of Wodan are shown to have shaped subsequent understandings of the deity, both in the medieval period and up to the present day. Having considered how the traditions of eighth-century scholarship have misled modern scholarship, the thesis then examines the further development of these traditions in Anglo-Saxon England.
In this context, Wodan assumes still more various guises, and is conflated with Odinn, thus helping to cement modern scholarship’s belief in the original unity of these two figures. This process is strengthened, moreover, by the strong influence which Anglo-Saxon England exerted on Scandinavia both around the time of the conversion of Scandinavia and at the period when much of the extant Scandinavian mythography was written down. This Scandinavian mythography is examined briefly in the final chapter, which points out some important areas of misreading of pre-christian mythology in thirteenth-century Scandinavian mythography, as well as arguing for substantial extra-Scandinavian influences on such mythography. This leads, finally, to a consideration of how Odinn appears in what little certainly pre-christian evidence exists for him.