Wotan. Woden. Odin.
He’s got twelve names. Except it’s more like a hundred. Or several hundred.
The most enigmatic god in Norse and Germanic mythology became the primary protagonist of my Gods of the Ragnarok Era series for good reason.
First off, he’s fucking awesome.
He’s got wolves. He’s got ravens. He hangs himself for wisdom. He trades his eye for wisdom. He wields magic and manipulation like scalpels in his ceaseless quest. Where his son Thor solves his problems with brute strength, Odin has cunning, foresight, and sheer audacity.
And he’s still doomed to lose.
More importantly, he’s the one who knows Ragnarok is coming and is willing to do anything to avert it or, failing that, to win it. There is no line he won’t cross because if he fails, nothing else matters. He is the magnificent bastard you kind of hate, but still love to see him work. He’s the trickster, the warrior, and the poet. He follows ways Norse warriors would have called unmanly and yet is venerated above all others.
As with so much of Norse mythology, our first stops have to be the Prose and Poetic Eddas. They offer diverse–sometimes even contradictory–pictures of the king of the gods. What we have to remember about the Prose Edda is that it was written long after Iceland converted to Christianity. The author (Snorri Sturluson) made some changes to the original myth to avoid getting in trouble with the Church. Other changes may have resulted from him simply not knowing exactly what people had believed two hundred years earlier. Not everything got recorded.
In the original myth, Odin creates the heavens and the earth from the corpse of his forebear Ymir (obviously not exactly how The Apples of Idunn plays out).
In the Prose Edda he also happens to be a descendant of Troy (the city in Turkey) who comes west and establishes order over the Scandinavian countries (we see some shades of this in my series). In fact, he may be an ancestors of many royal lines (Odin gets around).
In other myths, he leads the Wild Hunt. Who doesn’t love the Wild Hunt?
What’s very likely, though, is that Wotan may not have been the original king of the gods. Tiwaz (Tyr) has linguistic cognates with other Indo-European sky gods (e.g. Zeus) and thus very likely may have been the original ruler of the gods in ancient Germanic myth. If Tyr represented rule by law, Odin represents rule by guile. At what point did Odin take over the kingship role and fully supplant Tyr?
Originally, he was probably a god of the dead, gathering up his einherjar while inciting conflict, as well as practicing necromancy. One of his names, Valfodr (Valfather), means father of the slain and is possibly connected to the title Allfather (though some also connect this one to Snorri’s attempts to make Odin the father of all gods and of many lines of mortal kings).
He is also probably the same as Freyja’s husband Odr (or Od), further complicating his role. Freyja calls him Od in my series.
He was a god of kings, but also of outlaws. A god of poetry. A patron of the strong.
Who doesn’t like a complex hero?
For bonus points: Did you know Wednesday is Woden’s Day? (Actually, Tuesday-Friday are Norse god days.)