Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

The One-Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Mannerbunde

Academic journal article Mankind Quarterly

The One-Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Mannerbunde

Article excerpt

The One-Eyed God: Odin and the (Indo-)Germanic Mannerbunde by Kris Kershaw Institute for the Study of Man, Washington DC., 2000. 306 pages, $48.00 ISBN:0-941694-74-7.

This is a remarkably comprehensive study of the god Odin and related Indo-European, or what the author frequently calls Indo-- Germanic, mythological figures. The author covers many aspects of the legendary character of the god, including his association with the "Wild Hunt" and, by intensive scholarship, with the Germanic warband, as reflected in other European, Anatolian, Iranian and Indian cultures.

The first chapter, entitled The Eye in the Well, discusses Odin as grandaevus altero orbus oculo, and the legend that he gave one eye in return for knowledge at the sacred well of Mimir. Indo-German religiosity is generally distinguished from that of monotheists, or even the polytheists of the ancient Middle East, in allocating only limited power to the gods, and in placing value on man's search for knowledge, rather than on subservience to the wishes of all-powerful divinities. To the Indo-Germans, the gods may or may not represent the forces of nature, but even though Man may be subject to the forces of the universe, he is at all times admired if he searches to extend his knowledge and works for his own survival against whatever threats may face him.

Odin is thus a master of knowledge, and is portrayed in myth as an older man, with a white beard and a broad rimmed hat, who appears in many disguises and has many nick-names. He rides an eight legged grey stallion, and is accompanied by two ravens who keep him informed as to what is happening in the world. He is the chief god, and alonng with Thor is the ancestor of all the royal houses of the Germanic world. As Woden, he similarly stands at the head of the genealogy of the Anglo-Saxon kings of England, and thus of the royal family of modern England. Odin's wisdom is augmented by drinking water from the well of Mimir, using his famed drinking vessel, the Giallarhorn.

But Odin is also a war god, and important in mythology as the leader of a herr, a host of troop - the renowned Einheriar. Because wolves are a symbol of war, he has also been described as a wolf-god, the leader or Berserkr or courageous wolf-warriors. Part One, or Herjann of Kershaw's study deals primarily with Odin as a military leader. Snorri Sturlason's description of the Einheriar is cited, and the meaning of the words Einheriar, Herr and Herjann is discussed, linking the German warrior terms to other Indo-European terms as found in Homeric Greek, for example, with a possible origin in the Proto-- Indo-European reconstructed term, *koryonos.

But Odin is also Der Schimmelreiter, the leader of the Wilde Jagd, the Wild Host or Wild Hunt, which even in medieval times was seen in Germany riding through the skies at night. This is shown to be linked to the historic Germanic Mannerbund, or warband of young volunteers selected to accompany military leaders on their forays. Again surviving into Christian times, the Wild Hunt had roots in ancestor veneration, and the link between the dead and the living. The connection here between the young warriors of the warband and the continuity of the Folk through the generations is discussed, as well as the role of masks in ancestor cults, under such headings as The Dead and the living; Age sets and Ancestor Cults; Masks and Ancestor Cult; Demon Horses; The Rider-God; The Ancestors bring Blessings; and Feasts of the Changing Year. A link is even established with the medieval Harlequin still known to us in modern times.

The author then goes on to discuss the Bersekr of Scandinavian war history, and the ancestors as warriors under a section entitled Feralis exercitus. Here he finds links to the Harii, the Chatti, the Suevi, the Weihekrieger and historic figures such as the Viking Haraldr Harfagr. The remarks of Procopius and Ammianus are cited on youthful Germanic warriors; and analogs are provided from Doric Greece, links to Mercury and Hermes are traced, and references made to the Volsungasaga. …

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