Divine Displacement

Týr, Óðinn, and Their Early Germanic Antecedents

In: Amsterdamer Beiträge zur älteren Germanistik
William Sayers Cornell University Ithaca Vereinigte Staaten

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The reconstructed name of the early Germanic god *Wōdanaz is generally traced to a Proto-Indo-European root *u̯ā̆t- meaning ‘spiritually aroused, possessed’. The signification contrasts sharply with the attributes of the primal Germanic sky and war god *Tīwaz, whose name references the bright sky. In a cultural development not yet fully explained, the former displaces the latter as the chief god. In this article, a homophone of the above PIE root, designated *u̯ā̆t- (2), and meaning ‘to bow down, bend, stoop’, is posited as the root of a theonym meaning ‘the bent, stooped one’. He is identified as the Germanic psychopomp and lord of the dead with ties to an ancestor cult. From a largely quiescent role as the bowed or bent-knee god, he emerges from the underworld, when Germanic tribes resemanticized the reflex of the *u̯ā̆t- (2) root ‘bent, bowed’ – militarized it. The new chief god was understood as ‘the master of battle rage’, based on the prioritization of the signification inherent in the root *u̯ā̆t- (1).

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