Wodan/Odin is generally given the meaning “furious one”, hence we have the saying “Woden id est Furor” or sometimes traced etymologically as “prophet or seer”, as I have said I believe every word has many stories, so what else can this word teach us? In a manner befitting the great Woden, when he said “From a word to a word, I was lead to a word” I to will follow the words to try and find alternatives. As always, there are of course many ways we can look at a word. In this piece I will focus on the origin I believe possesses the strongest case, that of its connection to Water
Wodr is a Proto Indo-European word for water, it is the main stem for water in many of the Indo-European languages around the world today. It is one of the more active roots for water too, hence it appears in many language either linked to, or to directly mean “wave”. With this word alone you could make a case for Woden as as a water God, as Wodr in its locative case becomes Wodn and in its genitive case becomes Wedns. We only have to look at the word for the middle of the week in English WEDNESday to see a connection with the latter. This of course is a very old word for water and in the proto Germanic the D often switches value to a T, which interestingly is how modern Germans pronounce Woden as Wotan. This for me only adds to the case and just means that Woden is a very old Deity.
You may now be thinking well how about the word Odin, how would that fit into all this? Well Odin is given the Etymology fury from the proto Germanic Wodanaz, but the norse version of this word is óðr, which is a bit of a stretch. The word Wodanaz itself is only a word for Woden, and as such has no other meaning. It stems from Wodaz meaning Excited, obsessed, agitated furious. No declension of Wodaz gives any hint of an O/U sound at the start of the word. This is not the case for Wodr, many of its collective forms begin with U, such as Uden. From Uden we get words like the Sanskrit udán, meaning Water or wave, similarly we have the Latin Unda meaning wave. Again we could make a case simply from Wodrs collective forms for Odin far easier than twisting and bending Wodaz to make it fit.
What though if we split the word into syllables and use Wod/wed as the first syllable, can we gain any further insight?
Dhen again is a proto Indo European word meaning to flow. From this word we get the names of rivers the most famous being the Danube, but also the welsh river Donwy. It also appears directly in the names of Deities like that of the Goddess Danu of the Tuatha Dé Danaan. The name Danu comes to us from a proto Indo-European word Dhenu (stem of dhen), literally meaning “river goddess”. It is also in my opinion a contender for the origin of the Den in Denmark, a country made up of islands and surrounded by water.
So if we add these two words together we have Wod-Den or water-flow. Given the word Wodr already has a sense of movement especially in its collective forms, I think this is only fitting. Both these words Dhen directly and Wodr in at least sound connect to Proto Indo European and Proto Germanic words for deities, in themselves.
It is also worth mentioning that “nes” from Wednesday, as Wednes is cited as a direct descendant of Wodanaz. We have a few options here related to water the first being Ness as in a state of being, i.e Calmness, greatness ect. So in this case Wednes becomes “being water”. The next word is Ness as in the Loch Ness, here it derives from a word in proto Celtic meaning “great currents” so we end up with “Water Currents” much like the above “Water flow”. The last word is Nesse The Old High German word Naz(i)/Nasse meaning Wetness, obviously here we just have a case of doubling “wet water” but still worth mentioning.
As interesting as the words are, I always like to look to other sources to see if my ideas hold any water (sorry). So can we find Wodens connection to water anywhere else? First place we can look and which for me is exceptionally important, the Runes.
The Óss Rune poem in the Icelandic version Relates Óss to Odin, by saying “Óss is aged Gautr” . I have not yet done my own translation of this poem, but at a glance this Translation appears correct. So who is Gautr? Gautr is none other than the God of the Geats and also the origin of the word “God” via the word Gott in the Gothic bibles. So what does Gautr mean? Gautr comes to us Via the proto Germanic word Geutaną, meaning to pour, it has similar forms in Old English in the word Geotan meaning to pour, gush, shed (tear) a”. This meaning stems right back to its Proto Indo European form “Gewd”. The Norwegian poem links the Óss Rune, to “mouth of a body of water”, which is where the River, the Göta älv get its name, which only adds to this understanding. Although I believe there is much more hidden in the Óss Rune poems, there is enough evidence within it as it stands now to link Woden with water, especially in its active form, flowing, gushing ect.
course Wodan famously sacrificed an eye in Mimir’s Well, so that he may drink from its waters. Woden did this so he may gain the wisdom of the past, this although only a small detail at least adds to the importance of water. Also the Norns arguably the most powerful of all entities in Norse myth, live by, or in the well of Wyrd, the well of fate. Again giving us connection to the power that resides within water.
There is far more hidden in the name Woden than what is in this work alone and I will be sure to add links below as and when I write up on these. But I believe Wodens connection to water to be an ancient one, far older than written words and as such I see no reason to discount this connection. In Northern European cultures water has been venerated since their dawn. Still today we throw a coin in the well and make a wish, this votive offering although now trivial to most, can trace its origin back ten thousand years. With Water being such an ancient object of worship, it seems only fitting that the Alfather himself would share a connection.