Óðinn (Odin): The All-father of a Nordic Pantheon of Gods: Fact or Fake News?

This lecture will question the generally accepted idea that the Nordic god Óðinn/ Odin was viewed by the people of the pre-Christian Nordic countries as the ruler of a pantheon of Nordic gods living in Ásgarðr/ Asgard. Drawing on runic material, the Eddic poems, the Icelandic family sagas, the sagas of the Norwegian kings, the Icelandic Book of Settlements (Landnámabók), archaeology and place names, it will be argued that the idea of a pantheon of gods living together under Óðinn’s rulership apars to have been predominantly limited to the new central areas in which the new Nordic kings held court (and halls of warriors) in their own form of Ásgarðr. It was later disseminated by Snorri Sturluson in the 13th century in his Prose Edda and Ynglinga saga, in spite of the fact that the evidence in Iceland suggests that Óðinn was little known there by most people. The lecture will argue that the evidence points to most people having worshipped a single all-purpose, all-class god (in Norway, Sweden and Iceland, Þórr/ Thor and Freyr), and having believed that the world of the afterlife was not governed by Óðinn (in Valhöll) but rather by a female figure such as Hel, or Freyja. It will end by discussing why the belief in a pantheon may have come about and the degree to which it may have been influenced by Christianity.


Terry Gunnell is Professor of Folkloristics at the University of Iceland; author of The Origins of Drama in Scandinavia (1995); and editor of Masks and Mumming in the Nordic Area (2007); Legends and Landscape (2008) and Grimm Ripples: The Legacy of the Grimms’ Deutsche Sagen in Northern Europe (2022).

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