Read: “Graphic and Ghoulish: The Wellcome’s Cadaverous Exquisite Bodies Show” and see the accompanying photo gallery featured in The Guardian. Click here to see the article, here to see the photo gallery, and here to find out more about the exhibition.
Vasari on The Triumph of Death in Carnival
From Vasari’s Lives of Artists, Piero di Cosimo (1461-1521):
Cosimo, being extremely fanciful and abounding in the most singular inventions, was perpetually called upon to give aid in those maskings which are customary during the Carnival: when he rendered himself highly acceptable to the young nobles of Florence, by the various improvements which he effected in the decorations required, and by the great increase of pomp and variety which his inventions imparted to that kind of amusement. Piero is said to have been the first who gave the character of a triumphal procession to these maskings, or who at least ameliorated them to such a degree that he may be said to have perfected them: for not only did he add appropriate words and music to the representation of the events chosen as the subject, but he also caused the procession to be accompanied by large trains, consisting of men on foot and on horseback in vast numbers; these were all clothed in magnificent habits, selected with much judgment and carefully adapted to the character supported by the wearer. The effect of this was exceedingly rich and beautiful, and had altogether something very ingenious in its varied details; nor was the show without a certain grandeur in its character which was certainly imposing. To see at night, by the light of innumerable torches, twenty-five or thirty pairs of horses richly caparisoned, with their riders splendidly arrayed, according to the subject represented, was without doubt an attractive and beautiful spectacle. Six or eight attendants, also on horseback, accompanied each cavalier, all clothed in the same livery and each bearing a torch in his hand; of these there were sometimes above four hundred: next followed the triumphal chariot, elaborately decorated with trophies and fanciful ornaments of various kinds, a thing which was not without its utility, in sharpening the wits of the contrivers, while it gave infinite pleasure and delight to the people.
Among these spectacles, which were numerous as well as ingeniously arranged, I am inclined briefly to describe one, which was, for the most part, invented by Piero, when be had already attained to mature age; this show was not of a pleasing or attractive character, but, on the contrary, was altogether strange, terrible, and unexpected: it gave no small pleasure to the people nevertheless, for as in their food they sometimes prefer the sharp and bitter savours, so in their pastimes are they attracted by things horrible; and these, provided they be presented to us with art and judgment, do indeed most wonderfully delight the human heart, a truth which is made apparent from the pleasure with which we listen to the recitation of tragedy. The spectacle here alluded to was the Triumph of Death; the car was prepared in the Hall of the Pope by Piero himself, and with so much secrecy, that no breath or suspicion of his purpose got abroad, and the completed work was made known and given to view at one and the same moment. [footnote: From what Vasari has said in other places, and from the different allusions to this Masquerade, it maybe inferred to have taken place during the Carnival of the year 1511. — Ed. Flor., 1832-8.] The triumphal Car was covered with black cloth, and was of vast size, it had skeletons and white crosses painted upon its surface, and was drawn by buffaloes, all of which were totally black: within the Car stood the colossal figure of Death, bearing the scythe in his hand, while around him were covered tombs, which opened at all the places where the procession halted, while those who formed it chanted lugubrious songs, when certain figures stole forth, clothed in black cloth, on these vestments the bones of a skeleton were depicted in white; the arms, breast, ribs, and legs, namely, all which gleamed horribly forth on the black beneath. At a certain distance appeared figures bearing torches, and wearing masks, presenting the face of a death’s head, both before and behind; these heads of death, as well as the skeleton, neck beneath them, also exhibited to view, were not only painted with the utmost fidelity to nature, but had besides a frightful expression which was horrible to behold. At the sound of a wailing summons, sent forth with a hollow moan from trumpets of muffled yet inexorable tones, the figures of the dead raised themselves half out of their tombs, and seating their skeleton forms thereon, they sang the following words, now so much extolled and admired, to music of the most plaintive and melancholy character:—
Dolor, pianto, e penetenzia, &c.
Before and after the Car rode a train of the dead on horses, carefully selected from the most wretched and meagre animals that could be found, the caparisons of these worn, half-dying creatures were black, covered with white crosses; each was conducted by four attendants, clothed in the vestments of the grave; these last-mentioned figures, bearing black torches and a large black standard, covered with crosses, bones, and death’s heads. While this train of the dead proceeded on its way, each sang, with a trembling voice, and all in dismal unison, that psalm of David called the Miserere.
The novelty and the terrible character of this singular spectacle, filled the whole city, as I have before said, with a mingled sensation of terror and admiration, and although at the first sight it did not seem well calculated for a Carnival show, yet being new, and within the reach of every man’s comprehension, it obtained the highest encomium for Piero as the author and contriver of the whole, and was the cause as well as commencement of numerous representations, so ingenious and effective, that by these things Florence, acquired a reputation for the conduct of such subjects and the arrangement of similar spectacles, such as was never equaled by any other city. The old people who still remain, of those by whom the procession above described was witnessed, retain the most lively recollection of the scene, and are never weary of extolling the extraordinary spectacle presented by it. I remember to have heard Andrea di Cosimo, who assisted Pietro in the preparation of the show, and Andrea del Sarto, who was Piero’s disciple and also took part in it, affirm that this invention was intended, as was believed at the time, to signify and prefigure the return to Florence of the Medici family, for at the time when this triumph was exhibited, the Medici were exiles, and so to speak dead, but dead that might be expected soon to arise again, in which sense were interpreted certain words of the verses sung on that occasion, and which are as follow:—
Morii siam, come vedete,
Cosi morti vedrem voi :
Fummo gia come voi stele,
Voi sarete come run, ec.
We are dead, as you see;
Just as dead we shall see you;
We were once as you are;
You shall be as we.
[Gertrude Moakley’s translation]
whereby they desired to intimate their own return, as a kind of resurrection from death to life, with the expulsion and abasement of their enemies and rivals; or it may have been that this signification was attributed to the words, from the fact of that illustrious house having returned from exile about that period, seeing that the human intellect is much given to apply words spoken previously to actions succeeding them, as if the one were the effect of the other; be this as it may, certain it is, that such was the opinion prevailing at the time, and it is spoken of even yet.
(Jonathan Foster translation, pp.416-419, 1871)
From the 7th Circle of Hell: Pier della Vigna (c. 1190 - 1240)
Pier della Vigna: Circle 7, Inferno 13
Like Dante, Pier della Vigna (c. 1190 - 1240) was an accomplished poet—part of the “Sicilian School” of poetry, he wrote sonnets—and a victim of his own faithful service to the state. With a first-rate legal education and ample rhetorical talent, Pier rose quickly through the ranks of public service in the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, from scribe and notary to judge and official spokesman for the imperial court of Frederick II. But his powers appear to have exceeded even these titles, as Pier claims to have had final say over Frederick’s decisions (Inf. 13.58-63). While evidence of corruption casts some doubt on Pier’s account of faithful service to the emperor, it is generally believed that he was indeed falsely accused of betraying Frederick’s trust by envious colleagues and political enemies (Inf. 13.64-9). In this way, Pier’s story recalls that of Boethius, author of the Consolation of Philosophy, a well known book in the Middle Ages (and a favorite of Dante’s) recounting the fall from power of another talented individual falsely accused of betraying his emperor. Medieval commentators relate that Frederick, believing the charges against Pier (perhaps for plotting with the pope against the emperor), had him imprisoned and blinded. Unable to accept this wretched fate, Pier brutally took his life by smashing his head against the wall (perhaps of a church) or possibly by leaping from a high window just as the emperor was passing below in the street.
Pier’s name—Vigna means “vineyard”—undoubtedly made him an even more attractive candidate for Dante’s suicide-trees. As an added part of the contrapasso for the suicides, the souls will not be reunited with their bodies at the Last Judgment but will instead hang their retrieved corpses on the trees (Inf. 13.103-8).
Dante’s INFERNO, Canto XIII.
Wikipedia Entry for Pier delle Vigne.
The Plague Doctor
Here we have the curious figure of THE PLAGUE DOCTOR, not a figment of imagination or an ergot-laden bread hallucination: Culled from Wikipedia:The Black Death was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, peaking in Europe between 1348 and 1350. It is widely thought to have been an outbreak of bubonic plague caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Usually thought to have started in Central Asia, it had reached the Crimea by 1346 and from there, probably on merchant ships, it spread throughout the Mediterranean and Europe. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population, reducing the world’s population from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million in 1400. This has been seen as creating a series of religious, social and economic upheavals which had profound effects on the course of European history. The plague returned at various times, resulting in a larger number of deaths, until it left Europe in the nineteenth century. ….The Black Death was, according to chronicles, characterized by buboes (swellings in lymph nodes), like the late eighteenth-century Asian bubonic plague. Scientists and historians at the beginning of the 20th century assumed that the Black Death was an outbreak of the same disease, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis and spread by fleas with the help of animals like the black rat (Rattus rattus). However, this view has recently been questioned by some scientists and historians, and some researchers believe that the illness was, in fact, a viral hemorrhagic fever based on epidemiological interpretation of historical records of the spread of disease. Once infected by the Yersinia pestis bacterium, it is estimated that victims would die off within 60-180 days..…The three forms of plague brought an array of signs and symptoms to those infected. The septicemic plague is a form of “blood poisoning,” and pneumonic plague is an airborne plague that attacks the lungs before the rest of the body. The classic sign of bubonic plague was the appearance of buboes in the groin, the neck, and armpits, which oozed pus and bled. Most victims died within four to seven days after infection. When the plague reached Europe, it first struck port cities and then followed the trade routes, both by sea and land.
The bubonic plague was the most commonly seen form during the Black Death, with a mortality rate of thirty to seventy-five percent and symptoms including fever of 38–41 °C (101–105 °F), headaches, painful aching joints, nausea and vomiting, and a general feeling of malaise. Of those who contracted the bubonic plague, 4 out of 5 died within eight days.Pneumonic plague was the second most commonly seen form during the Black Death, with a mortality rate of ninety to ninety-five percent. Symptoms included fever, cough, and blood-tinged sputum. As the disease progressed, sputum became free flowing and bright red.
Septicemic plague was the least common of the three forms, with a mortality rate close to one hundred percent. Symptoms were high fevers and purple skin patches (purpura due to DIC).
David Herlihy identifies another potential sign of the plague: freckle-like spots and rashes. Sources from Viterbo, Italy refer to “the signs which are vulgarly called lenticulae”, a word which bears resemblance to the Italian word for freckles, lentiggini. These are not the swellings of buboes, but rather “darkish points or pustules which covered large areas of the body”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death After 1350, European culture in general turned very morbid. The general mood was one of pessimism, and contemporary art turned dark with representations of death.
In retrospect, it seemed like everything the people thought to do at the time simply made the problem worse. For example, since many equated the plague with God’s wrath against sin, and that cats were often considered in league with the Devil, cats were killed en masse. Had this bias toward cats not existed, local rodent populations could have been kept down, lessening the spread of plague-infected fleas from host to host.
The practice of alchemy as medicine, previously considered to be normal for most doctors, slowly began to wane as the citizenry began to realize that it seldom affected the progress of the epidemic and that some of the potions and “cures” used by many alchemists only served to worsen the condition of the sick. Distilled spirit, originally made by alchemists, was commonly applied as a remedy for the Black Death, and, as a result, the consumption of spirits in Europe rose dramatically after the plague. The Church often tried to meet the medical need.
A plague doctor’s duties were often limited to visiting victims to verify whether they had been afflicted or not. Surviving records of contracts drawn up between cities and plague doctors often gave the plague doctor enormous latitude and heavy financial compensation, given the risk of death involved for the plague doctor himself. Most plague doctors were essentially volunteers, as qualified doctors had (usually) already fled, knowing they could do nothing for those affected. Considered an early form of hazmat suit, a plague doctor’s clothing consisted of:
A wide-brimmed black hat worn close to the head. At the time, a wide-brimmed black hat would have been identified a person as a doctor, much the same as how nowadays a hat may identify chefs, soldiers, and workers. The wide-brimmed hat may have also been used as partial shielding from infection.
A primitive gas mask in the shape of a bird’s beak. A common belief at the time was that the plague was spread by birds. There may have been a belief that by dressing in a bird-like mask, the wearer could draw the plague away from the patient and onto the garment the plague doctor wore. The mask also included red glass eyepieces, which were thought to make the wearer impervious to evil. The beak of the mask was often filled with strongly aromatic herbs and spices to overpower the miasmas or “bad air” which was also thought to carry the plague. At the very least, it may have served a dual purpose of dulling the smell of unburied corpses, sputum, and ruptured bouboules in plague victims.
A long, black overcoat. The overcoat worn by the plague doctor was tucked in behind the beak mask at the neckline to minimize skin exposure. It extended to the feet, and was often coated head to toe in suet or wax. A coating of suet may have been used with the thought that the plague could be drawn away from the flesh of the infected victim and either trapped by the suet, or repelled by the wax. The coating of wax likely served as protection against respiratory droplet contamination, but it was not known at the time if coughing carried the plague. It was likely that the overcoat was waxed to simply prevent sputum or other bodily fluids from clinging to it.
A wooden cane. The cane was used to both direct family members to move the patient, other individuals nearby, and possibly to examine the patient with directly.
Leather breeches. Similar to waders worn by fishermen, leather breeches were worn beneath the cloak to protect the legs and groin from infection. Since the plague often tended to manifest itself first in the lymph nodes, particular attention was paid to protecting the armpits, neck, and groin. It is not known how often or widespread plague doctors were, or how effective they were in treatment of the disease. It’s likely that while offering some protection to the wearer, they may have actually contributed more to the spreading of the disease than its treatment, in that the plague doctor unknowingly served as a vector for infected fleas to move from host to host. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequences_of_the_Black_Death
Catacombes of the Capuchin Monks of Palermo
Books Bound in Human Skin
Anthropodermic bibliopegy or the practice of binding books in human skin has a curious history begining in the middle ages when parchments made of human skin began showing up. The first known books bound in human skin come from the French revolution when a number of copies of the French Constitution were bound in the skin of those who opposed the new republic. (These can be seen in the in the Museum Carnavalet in Paris.)
By the 19th century the practice become almost commonplace. Criminals such as James Allen, James Johnson, William Burke and William Corder, were hung, flayed and then bound onto books that cataloged their misdeeds. The other use of anthropodermic bibliopegy was by physicians. Dr. John Stockton Hough bound three medical volumes in the skin of a patient with the first diagnosed case of trichinosis. The doctors found the material to be “relatively cheap, durable and waterproof.” Books such as the “The Dance of Death” were being bound in human skin as late as the 1890’s. Many library’s, including Brown University’s, Harvard’s, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and even the Cleveland Public Library contain examples of books bound with human skin.
Something that makes Allen’s memoirs in the Boston Athenaeum particularly curious is that Allen actually requested to have the memoirs bound in his hide. He requested the book be made after his execution and given to John Fenno, Jr. the man who was accusing him of attempted murder. According to Allen it was meant as a token of his respect to the man who stood up to him. Eventually a descendant of Fenno’s donated the book (previously it had apparently been used by the family to spank naughty children!) to the Athenaeum where it sits today, describing the life of the man it is also made from.
“On the Chewing Dead” – DE MASTICATIONE MORTUORUMDe Masticatione Mortuorum, translated from Latin as “On the Chewing Dead,” is an aged manuscript written in 1679 by Philip Rohr. The 330-year-old text discusses a common fear of the time: that some human corpses were capable of rising from the dead and feasting on the flesh of the living.
De Masticatione Mortuorum
The creatures described in Rohr’s book consume the bodies of live humans, not only the blood, differing slightly from the modern conception of the vampire. Nevertheless, De Masticatione Mortuorum has played a vital role in the evolution of the vast vampire mythology canon.
Below, a manuscript excerpt is translated from its original Latin to English.
De Masticatione Mortuorum
[Last line of second page:] Our Common People attempt to avert the danger of chewing by placing under the chins of the dead a portion of recently excavated earth, lest they perhaps open their mouths and chew on the attached bands…
[Continued – full first page:] Others, who do not consider this a sufficiently safe measure, before the mouth of the dead is closed, also place a stone and a coin in the mouth, so that in the event that it begins to chew within the grave, it would find the stone and coin and would abstain from chewing. Which fact was witnessed in its time in a multitude of places in Saxonia by Gabriel Rollenhagen: Book IV Mirab. Peregrinat chapter 20, n. 5 in Kornmann. Among the first to bring to light the latter custom of the people is the Excell. Garm. (de Mirac. Mort. manuscript page 28.). Saying How well these follow Ethnic customs, for the Greeks (δανακήν) used to put a coin in the mouth of the dead, thereby paying Charon on behalf of those who were to cross the Stygian swamp. At this point you might say that these are prophylactic remedies of the common people, by which they think to prevent the evil before it falls upon them. For if they truly chew by the action itself of the dead, someone among us might try to drive a pin into them, but it would be a most unfortunate attempt. For they want the exhumed chewing cadavers to be punished by severing the heads, and for them to be transfixed through the middle of the body with stakes driven into the earth. Such was the fate that befell the above cadavers in the year 1345 and 1603, and lastly in the place mentioned. For such a remedy is indeed least approved by the intelligent, for it is morally, physically and politically evil. Morally inasmuch as one sins against God, who forbids [us] to act prejudicially against the dead; for it is indeed a kind of harm wrought to the dead, when they are exhumed, [avoiding which] the pestilential fluid might be prevented from spreading; one sins against the neighbor, whose reputation begins to decline when, having been dug up out of the grave, he is decapitated and transfixed with a stake. One falls into error, for none can benefit by this exhumation of the cadaver; inasmuch as (which are physical disadvantages) the nearby places may be filled with noxious vapors, and there takes place an increase of pestilence fomented by the Devil itself, who without doubt intends to achieve this end by means of the mastication. For which reason also the Theologians consulted by other experts regarding this evil gave their answers, lest anyone should presume to violate graves, and wanted them preserved intact and the cadavers to be unmolested. See Dunt. Cas.
Read more: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/explorer/4816/Overview#tab-chewing-dead-manuscript#ixzz0gG5HU7Uy
Buddhist Mummies of Japan
This subject brings us to the fringes of ascetic Buddhist practises and is only for the advanced reader. Some of them in the tradition of Kuukai, Kooboo Daishi 空海received the name of xxKAI, as you can see in the list below. Differing from Egyptian mummies who are prepared after death, these Holy Man prepare their body while alive in a long ascetic practise for keeping in eternity.QUOTE
Estimates of the number of self-mummified priests in Japan range between sixteen and twenty-four priests. Impressive though this number is, many more have tried to self-mummify themselves; In fact, the practice of self-mummification — which is a form of suicide, after all — had to be outlawed towards the end of the 19th century to prevent Buddhist priests from offing themselves this way… and yet the grand majority of priests who have tried to do this have failed. The reasons will take some explaining — but first, some background on the whole practice and the reasons for it.
So truely devoted Buddhist priests are not afraid of death; but they don’t normally seek it either, as this too would be an abnormal obsession with the physical world. The priests that chose to practice self-mummification were usually all older men, who knew they had limited time left to their lives anyway… and since the practice takes years to lead to a sucessful death and mummification, it cannot be characterized as an attempt to reach enlightenment quickly as a normal suicide might be. Rather, the intended purpose of this practice for these priests is to both push their ability to disregard their physical selves to the limit of their ability, and to try and leave an artifact of this struggle that will stand as a symbol of their beliefs to those that are priests after them.
How to be a self-made mummify
Scientific study of the mummies and the process that created them only began in the early 1960’s. It was generally expected that the mummies studied would show signs of having been mummified after death by other priests, in much the way Egyptian mummies — and almost all other mummies on Earth — have been created. The first step in that process is the removal of the internal organs, because the bacteria in these begin the process of decomposition within hours of death; with these removed, it is relatively easy to prepare, dry, and preserve the remainder of the body. But x-rays discounted this expectation… the internal organs were intact, which meant that mummification had been accomplished in some new way that scientists had not yet encountered. So the process itself was next investigated.
The actual practice was first pioneered by a priest named Kuukai over 1000 years ago at the temple complex of Mount Kooya, in Wakayama prefecture. Kuukai was founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, which is the sect that came up with the idea of enlightenment through physical punishment. There were three steps in the process of self-mummification that Kuukai proposed, and the full process took upwards of ten years to lead to a successful mummification.
The first step is a change of diet. The priest was only allowed to eat nuts and seeds that could be found in the forests surrounding his temple; this diet had to be stuck to for a 1000 day period, a little under three years. During this time, the priest was to continue to subject himself to all sorts of physical hardship in his daily training. The results were that the body fat of the priest was reduced to nearly nothing, thus removing a section of the body that easily decomposes after death.
In the second stage, the diet became more restrictive. The priest was now only allowed to eat a small amount of bark and roots from pine trees (mokujiki). This had to be endured for another 1000 day period, by the end of which the priest looked like a living skeleton. This also decreased the overall moisture contained in the body; and the less fluid left in the body, the easier to preserve it.
Towards the end of this 1000 day period, the priest also had to start to drink a special tea made from the sap of the urushi tree. This sap is used to make laquer for bowls and furniture; but it is also very poisonous for most people. Drinking this tea induced vomenting, sweating, and urination, further reducing the fluid content of the priest’s body. But even more importantly, the build up of the poison in the priest’s body would kill any maggots or insects that tried to eat the priest’s remains after death, thus protecting it from yet another source of decay.
The third and last step of the process was to be entombed alive in a stone room just big enough for a man to sit lotus style in for a final 1000 day period. As long as the priest could ring a bell each day a tube remained in place to supply air; but when the bell finally stopped, the tube was removed and the tomb was sealed.
When the tomb was finally opened, the results would be known. Some few would be fully mummified, and immediately be raised to the rank of Buddha; but most just rotted and, while respected for their incredible endurance, were not considered to be Buddhas. These were simply sealed back into their tombs. But why did some mummify and some not? This is the tricky part of the whole process.
It is not clear if this is part of the process as set down by Kuukai, but in Yamagata is a sacred spring. This spring is on a mountain called Yudono, which is in fact the third sacred mountain of the three I visited in 1998. Many of the priests in the area considered both the water and the mineral deposits from this spring to have medicinal value, and may have injested one or both previous to their entombment. An analysis of the spring water and deposits revealed that they contain enough arsenic to kill a human being! Arsenic does not get eliminated from the body, so it remains after death… and it is toxic to bacteria and other micro-organisms, so it eliminated the bacteria that started the decompostion of the body.
As you can see, the process of self-mummification was a long and extremely painful process that required a mastery of self-control and denial of physical sensation. The self-made mummies of Japan are people who have earned the respect now shown to them, as they exemplify the teachings of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism.
The Niding Pole (Nithstong or Scorn-Post)
“In the Viking age the most spectacular way of cursing an enemy was by the Niding Pole (the Nithstong or Scorn-Post). They were poles about nine feet (2.75 meters) long upon which insults and curses were carved in runes. Ceremonies were performed to activate the destructive magic of the pole. A horse’s skull was fixed to the top of the pole, and it was stuck into the ground with the skull facing towards the house of the accursed person. The pole channeled the destructive forces of Hela, goddess of death. These forces were carried up the pole and projected through the horse skull. The runes carved on the pole defined the character and target of the destructive forces. Among others, triple Thorn [Thurisaz] runes and triple Is [Isa] runes, were used to smite the enemy. When used maliciously, these had the effect of disempowering the accursed’s will and delivering him or her to the forces of destruction. Here, the Thorn rune invokes the power of Thurs, the demonic earth-giant sometimes called Moldthurs. An example of this comes from Skírnismál, where the spell used by Skirnir against Freyr’s reluctant lover, Gerdhr invokes harm using the Thorn rune. This provides the power for three other runestaves: ‘I shall inscribe Thurs for you, and three runestaves: lewdness, and rage and impotence.
Magically, the Niding Pole was intended to disrupt and anger the earth sprites (Landvaettir, Land-Wights or earth spirits) inhabiting the ground where the accursed’s house was. These sprites would then vent their anger upon the person, whose livelihood and life would be destroyed. Niding Poles were also used to desecrate areas of ground. This technique is called álfreka, literally the ‘driving away of the elves’, by which the earth sprites of a place were banished, leaving the ground spiritually dead…
On the Niding Pole, the horse skull invokes the horse rune Ehwaz, using the linking and transmissive power of the rune for the magical working. The horse is sacred to Odin, god of runes and magic…”
From Rune Magic: The History and Practice of Ancient Runic Traditions, by Nigel Pennick.
Origins of the Germanic Warband
In Norse mythology as it has come down to us in the works of Snorri Sturluson and the verse on which he based his accounts, the high god of the pre-Christian Scandinavian religion was Óðinn-chief of the gods, father of the Æsir clan. He is god of magic, of knowledge, of death, the special favorite of kings and warriors whose ideal characteristics he embodies; resourcefulness, cunning and guile. He travels among men wearing his broad-brimmed hat and copious cloak to hide his missing eye, pledged at the Well of Mimir in exchange for more secrets.
This Icelandic image dates from the 13th century. To what extent does this version of the High God match the evidence for him from earlier and elsewhere? What, indeed is the origin Óðinn?
The earliest references of Germanic folk belief-found in P. Cornelius Tacitus’s quasi-ethnographic work Germania -do not name the gods and other beings forming the object of worship among the Germanic folk to this day, the 1st century AD. Instead, the Roman writer interprets native Germanic deities in terms of Roman gods. It is generally assumed that when he says of the Germans that they worshiped Mercury, that this refers to the pre-Óðinn figure whose name is reconstructed as *Wðinenaz.What they believed about this figure, what his myths said of him and how he interacted with men are the subject of many studies.
It seems fairly safe to assume that this pre-Óðinn took part in the early version of the creation myth, The assumption is based on the evidence from the Norse. In the Norse cycle of stories, Óðinn is everywhere, he is the prime mover in many tales and leader of the gods. He is seldom shown in a passive role of a monarch aloof from his court. due to his involvement in most of the tales handed down to us, it could be argued he originally took no part in the creation and was slotted in by convention, or has even replaced one of the more shadowy figures from the mythic cycle. Yet one factor weighs heavily in his favour:in the myth he is said to act with his brothers Vili and Ve. The three brother names are medieval Icelandic, of course, but projecting these names back from the times of Tacitus, undoing all the phonetic changes that have intervened, we find that in the original myth the were called Wðinenaz, Wiliz and Weihaz- all alliterating on “w-“. This kind of detail that a later story-teller would be likely to edit out-to harmonize all three by changing of the lesser brothers’ names into more transparent ones also beginning with a vowel. The fact that tradition stuck (and the Viking Age storytellers would probably not invented such an incongruous detail) argues for some antiquety to this factor. So Óðinn’s place in the creation myth seems to go back at least to the time when his name still began with “W-“; This can be roughly datedto about the 8th century for Danish but it is much harder to be precise for the West Norse (Norwegian) rgions which the original Icelandic dialects came from
It is nonetheless safe to say that in broad terms the association of the three divine names go back beyond the 8th century.
In German dialects the name appears as Votan Uotan and in English as Wodan. While there is no vast body of tales attached to him in either the surviving continental German or English tradition, there is enough scraps to demonstrate that his name was more than an obscure curio from a forgotten age. Early (Old High) German, for example, when adopting the seven-day-week from the Roman calendar, refused ti designate the fourth day by this god’s name, and rather took the innocuous term “mid-week” (modern Mittwoch) than continue the association with Uotan. In England, where process of religious conversion was more accommodating to native sensibilities, the day retained the name