TIWAZ: GOD THE FATHER
An excerpt from "Odin's Wife" by William P. Reaves
The Definitive Investigation of Frigg
More often than not, scholars have been inclined to see Odin as a usurper, who came late to the throne. It has often been argued that Odin is a late import into Scandinavia from continental Germany, owing to his adoption and promotion by an emerging political elite centered around regional kings supported by their military retinues, between the fourth and eighth centuries. Since at least the mid-twentieth century, Odin has almost universally been interpreted as a lesser local god who must have rose to the top of the ranks sometime between the seventh and tenth centuries, when his name first began to appear in literary sources. In 1964, E.O.G. Turville-Petre observed, “While there is no compelling evidence that the cult of Óðinn was practiced widely in the west before the Viking Age, there are reasons to believe that it spread and developed during that age.” Citing the few indications of cult veneration for Odin in Iceland, the lack of place-names, and the relatively few myths concerning him, Rudolf Simek (1984) wrote: “Since there can be no doubt that Odin was the god of poetry, …the skalds of heathen times, not surprisingly show a particular inclination in favour of the god of their own craft.” Richard North (1999) concurs, stating that “the uncritical acceptance of Óðinn’s pre-eminence in Gylfaginning as typical of his status in the pagan period often obscures rather than clarifies the many problems of Germanic mythology,” adding: “It is unlikely that Woden, a god of magic and warfare, was regarded as the ‘All-father’ in heathen times.” In agreement with this view, Thomas DuBois (1999) infers:
“Tellingly Óðinn’s apparent rise to power in the Scandinavian pantheon finds reflection of him as a crafty, usurping, duplicitous deity, lacking in many accounts the unambiguously admirable qualities of Þórr.”
Demonstrably, linguistic arguments concerning the name of the Indo-European Sky-Father, reconstructed as *Dyeus Pater, primarily inform this view since he is typically identified as *Tiwaz (later Týr) and not Odin in the Germanic sphere. However, when one considers the continuity of Odin, and earlier Mercury, in the historic record and recognizes Odin’s character and attributes in those of the proposed Indo-European Sky-Father, there is little reason to doubt that Odin is a direct heir to the mantle of *Dyeus Pater. Like his Greco-Roman counterparts, Odin is one of three brothers, who are the third generation from Chaos. Like them, he surveys the world from his heavenly throne, wields a casting weapon, carries on affairs, and is associated with a goddess representing the earth. Even if their names are not parallel, their attributes are.
Once linguists identified *Dyeus Pater as the proper name of the Indo-European Sky-Father at the beginning of the nineteenth century, this honor has uniformly been bestowed on Odin’s son Tyr, the one-handed god known from the Eddas, but only because his name corresponds etymologically to that of the Greek Zeus and the Indic Dyaus. Therefore the evidence for this identification is primarily linguistic, and does not account for a potential change in name. That alone should give us pause.
In the other branches, these names are commonly coupled with the title Pater, Father, except in the Germanic branch, where Tyr is not only never characterized as a father, but is cuckolded by Loki, who declares that Tyr never got “rag nor penny” in compensation for his wife bearing Loki a son (Lokasenna 40). Instead, both suffixes regularly appear in epithets of Odin. He is the “All-father” (Alföðr) and “Father of men” (Aldaföðr) as well as the biological father of prominent gods such as Thor, Baldur, Vidar and Vali. In addition, Odin is known as Farma-týr (Cargo god), Fimbul-týr (Great god), Gauta-týr (God of the Geats), Geir-týr (Spear god), Hanga-týr (Hanging god), Her-týr (God of hosts), Hropta-týr (Invoking god), Reiðar-týr (God of riders), and Rúna-týr (Rune god). In fact, the suffix týr is attached to Odin’s names more often than any other god. According to the conventions of comparative mythology, Odin should rightly be considered the Germanic analog to the old Indo-European Sky-Father. Like Zeus and Jupiter to the south, he serves as ruler and father to the primary gods, seated on his heavenly throne Hlidskjalf, looking out over the world. Only Odin’s proper name, not being a cognate of the reconstructed compound *Dyeus Pater, has prevented scholars from reaching this rather obvious conclusion.
There is a near consensus that Odin’s name derives from a root akin to Old Norse óðr, German wut, Anglo-Saxon wōþ, words meaning “high mental excitement, ecstasy,” which calls attention to a common link between his votaries: poets, warriors and sorcerers, whose professional success depended, at least in part, on accessing supernatural power and inducing states of inspiration or frenzy. Adam of Bremen says, Wodan, id est furor, “Odin, that is the Furious.” More generally, the name Odin (*Wodanaz) comes from a root meaning “raging, frenzied, spirited,” an appropriate designation for a sky-god. So instead of assuming Odin came late to the throne, usurping an earlier Germanic predecessor, we might just as readily conclude that somewhere along the line that one of the Sky-Father’s epithets came to stand in for his proper name —that *Dyeus Pater became *Wodanaz— perhaps due to a taboo of naming the god directly. Martin L. West explains:
“More than one factor contributed to the replacement of names. A god’s primary name might be avoided for taboo reasons. It might be displaced by familiar epithets or titles, rather as the Christian deity is no longer known as Yahweh or Jehovah, but is mostly just called God, or alternatively the Almighty, the Heavenly Father, the Lord, and so forth.
…Gods’ names are not invented arbitrarily, like those of aliens in science fiction. Originally, they have a meaning, they express some concept, and sometimes this is still apparent or discoverable.”
Since the early nineteenth century, scholars have identified *Dyeus Pater with an unattested Germanic “war-god” theoretically called *Tiw or *Tiwaz. The name is based on the Anglo-Saxon transliteration of the names of the weekdays, where Tiwesdaeg (Tuesday) corresponds to dies Martis (Mars’ day), making the god *Tiw an analogue of Mars, the Roman god of war. It should be mentioned that up until that time, the name Tuesday was generally believed to derive from the Germanic god Tuisco, described by Tacitus in Germania ch. 2 as “an earth-born” deity, whose son Mannus was the source and founder of the Germanic people. Popularized by British publisher Richard Verstegan in his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities (1605), this theory was widely repeated in popular works until the early 1900s. Verstegan, who had artistic precedents for all seven of the so-called Saxon gods, based his image of Tuysco on Peter Flötner’s design for Tusico, the eponymous father of the Teutonic race, in silver relief minted between 1537-1543. In 1763, the French scholar Paul Henri Mallet, an early translator of Snorri’s Edda, first proposed that the English Tuesday and the Allemand (OHG) Dingstag actually derived from Tyr, a son of Odin in Snorri’s Edda, and that “this proved that Tyr answered to Mars,” Dies Martis, in Latin.
… Even though Tyr is often assumed to have once been a more powerful deity and ruler of the Germanic gods, he remains a relatively obscure figure in the Germanic sources. He first appears as a distinct deity in the Eddas. Tyr sits at the table in Lokasenna, rising to defend Freyr from Loki’s abuse, and in Hymiskviða, he accompanies Thor to the giant Hymir’s home to fetch a brewing kettle. Although Snorri calls him the son of Odin, the Hymiskviða-poet calls him the son of Hymir, perhaps due to the Germanic tradition of fosterage. In Gylfaginning, Tyr is the only god brave enough to feed the young wolf-pup Fenrir, and the only one daring enough to place a hand in the monster’s mouth when it came time to bind him. For this act of valor, he lost his sword-hand. In the end, his sacrifice comes to naught, when the wolf breaks free and swallows Odin whole.
At its very core, the identification of Tyr with the ancient sky-god is based on nothing more than a comparison of the name Tyr with the names of other Indo-European Sky-Fathers. While it is true that the name Tyr is cognate with *Dyeus, the first part of *Dyeus Pater, the god Tyr is not. He is never referred to as father and is not associated with the sky in the Germanic record. He possesses none of the attributes characteristic of the Indo-European Sky-Father. If Tyr ever held such a position, no record of it remains. His name simply means “god” in Old Norse and is closely connected with other words meaning “god” and “divinity” in other Germanic and Indo-European languages. The singular form -týr frequently occurs as a suffix in epithets of Odin, as shown above, and the plural form tívar applies to the gods collectively. All else is supposition based on assumption. As Rudolf Simek illustrates:
“The Old Scandinavian name for the Germanic god of the sky, war, and council *Tiwaz (OHG Ziu) who is the only Germanic god who was already important in Indo-European times: Old Indic Dyaus, Greek Zeus, Latin Jupiter …ON tívar, (plural to Týr) are all closely related etymologically to each other. …Despite his early importance, Tyr is a relatively unimportant god in the ON mythology of the Eddas. …He must have played a more important role at some stage as is clear from the plural of his name tívar meaning ‘gods’ as well as the fact that in skaldic poetry his name could be used as the basic word in kennings for other gods, especially for Odin; this proves that his name originally, but still in Viking times, could simply mean ‘god.’”
The apparent etymological identity between Týr and *Dyeus and the speculations that followed led early scholars like H.M. Chadwick, who attributed the theory to Henry Petersen (1876), to hypothesize that a local war-god named Odin had usurped Tyr’s functions sometime before the sixth century when the name Odin first appeared, and that his cult became pan-Germanic by the Viking Age. Not only is such a rapid spread of a cult extremely unlikely, there is no clear basis for such a major shift in the Germanic religion in the prehistoric past in either the available literary or archaeological records. For this reason, some scholars have begun to back away from this theory. When discussing the one-handed god, Andy Orchard (1997) merely states:
“Týr’s very name, of course, is apt to sow confusion being derived from Germanic *Tiwaz as a simple noun for ‘god’ and related to both Greek Zeus and Latin deus. The singular form of his name often occurs in poetic periphrases or kennings for the other Æsir, while the plural form, tívar, simply means ‘gods.’”
Avoiding the reconstructed form *Tiwaz altogether, John Lindow (2001) agrees, stating “Etymologically, Týr’s name is related to an Indo-European root meaning ‘deity’ (e.g. compare the Latin deus).” More recently, scholars such as Martin L. West have taken a more circumspect approach, suggesting instead that Odin may have “stepped into an older scheme in which the Sky became father of the gods and men in marriage to the Earth.” Ursula Dronke concurs, noting that Odin or his Indo-European ancestor is best interpreted as a solar deity, who, like the sun, had only one eye that sees everything. He travels and visits the homes of men like the sun, and as the originator of life, “like the sun, he is Alföðr.” His fate, like that of the sun, is to be swallowed by a wolf. Dronke concludes that “this vast background of archaic fragments” helps to explain Odin’s place as the foremost god in Germanic mythology, a role he retained beyond the end of the heathen age and into the modern era. Martin L. West writes:
“A Germanic reflex of the god *Dyeus is not readily identified, since (as already noted) the Nordic Tyr and his continental cognates seem to derive their names from the generic title *deiwós and do not resemble *Dyeus in character. It is possible, however, that Wodan-Odin (proto-Germanic *Woðanaz) while not being a direct continuation of *Dyeus took over certain of his features. In Lombardic myth as retailed by Paulus Diaconus (1.8), Wodan was imagined habitually surveying the earth from his window, beginning at sunrise. This corresponds to the position of Odin in the Eddas. He has the highest seat among the gods, and from it surveys all the worlds, rather as Zeus, sitting on the peak of Mt. Ida, can survey not only the Troad, but Thrace and Scythia too. Odin also has the distinctive title of father. In the poems he is called Alföðr, ‘All-father.”
Why Odin cannot be “a direct continuation of *Dyeus is left unsaid. The weight of evidence certainly converges on that conclusion. As the first god called by a Germanic name recognizable in later eddic and skaldic poetry, Odin’s first appearance in literary sources need not correspond to his actual rise to the head of the pantheon. Because he has clear analogs in related Indo-European mythologies, it is likely Odin was venerated among the Germanic people under other titles before being recorded in historical sources. Odin alone, and not Tyr, exhibits the essential character of the Indo-European Sky-Father in all but name. This is not to suggest that his character remained static from the Indo-European era to the rise of Christianity. Ethnic idols, unlike their revealed counterparts bound by written scriptures, tend to change as the culture of their adherents changes. Therefore, it seems certain that Odin’s character evolved over time adapting to the changing cultural realities of his votaries. As Scandinavians developed from a decentralized tribal society into smaller and larger kingdoms, and eventually into nation states, this would naturally be reflected in their mythology. Once the Germanic tongue differentiated from its Proto-Indo-European stem and began to develop independently, the Germanic gods also began to evolve independently, distinguishing themselves from their forebears.
In Northern Europe, *Dyeus Pater, a god of the bright sky with solar associations, appears to have retained his primary characteristics while becoming the one-eyed Odin. His single eye accentuated his role as a sky-god, serving double duty symbolically. Odin’s good eye can be interpreted as the sun, the “one eye in the sky”, while his missing eye, hidden in Mimir’s well, can be seen as the sun’s reflection in water. When the sun and moon appear in the sky together, the moon takes on the appearance of a dead or clouded eye, compared to the glowing orb of the sun. The position of Odin’s throne in Asgard at the apex of heaven, peering down on Creation, marks high noon, just as the geographical sites of the two other two divine tribes, Alfheim in the east and Vanaheim in the west, mark sunrise and sunset. His role as progenitor was emphasized, reflected in such names as Alföðr, “All-Father”; Aldaföðr, “Father of men”; Galdraföðr, "Father of galdur (Old English gealdor, spell-songs)"; Herföðr and Herjaföðr, “Father of Hosts”; Jölfuðr or Jölföðr, “Yule Father”; and Sigföðr, “Father of Victory.”
from Chapter 5: "Odin, the All-Father" of the book
"Odin's Wife: Mother Earth in Germanic Mythology" (2018)
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” - Haldir
“We’re not in decent places.” Gollum