Odin from Levide © Dan Varlsson/Gotlands Fornsal

Odin from Levide

A sensational small amulet of Odin has been found in Levide in Southern Gotland, Sweden. The pendant belongs to a group of figurines commonly called the “weapon-dancers”

Weapondancer from Torslunda, Öland Source: Wikipedia
Weapondancer from Torslunda, Öland Source: Wikipedia

Odin – or Woden, Wotan or Woutan – is an ambiguous and enigmatic god, who plays both priestly and martial roles. First of all, he is the great sorcerer, a competent magician. Thus, Odin is a shape-shifter (shaman) who can appear as both man, woman and animal. He commands the weather and high seas and rules over the fire. Through self-sacrifice, Odin has acquired the knowledge of Runic wisdom, and by manipulating Runes he can communicate with the dead and throw spells. Added to this should be the acts through which he was able to lay hands on the heavenly drink of mead – sometimes it is told he accomplished this through deceit; a different story tells how he paid for the recipe with his eye. Another feature is his companions, the Ravens “Hugin” and “Mugin” plus his two wolves,” Gere” and “Freke”, and his eight-footed steed, “Sleipner”. To his possessions are counted “Gungnir”, his spear, and “Draupnir”, a fabulous golden ring, from which smaller rings drip every ninth night, making it possible for him to play his most important role as lord of the gang of dead warriors, for whom he throws a party every night in his great Hall in Valhalla.

Odin from Levide in full figure
Odin from Levide in full figure

These stories (and others) are prominent parts of the Nordic mythologies written down in the 12th century and onwards. Scholars naturally disagree as to the extent these texts were formed at a later stage and under the impression of Christianity.

However, independent archaeological finds and images on rune-stones and figurines tend to corroborate some of the myths, one of which is that at the first war between the Vanir and the Aesir, where Odin throws his spear over the heads of an assembly of Vanir Gods in order to start the fight. It is perhaps this story, which has inspired the images and figurines, where Odin is presented as a one-eyed “weapon-dancer” hurling his spear and instigating the first war.

As such, Odin has been identified on a series of different artefacts from the 5th to 7th century. One key element in this identification is the four cast-bronze-dies found in Torslunda in 1870. According to a recent scan of the dies, the naked dancing warrior carrying a helmet with horns, which ends in two birds of prey, is one-eyed. Originally the dancer on the die had two eyes. One, however, was removed with a sharp instrument during the manufacture.

The identical motive may be found on the Sutton-Hoo helmet. There, however, the dancing warriors are clothed as opposed to the men on the plates on the helmets from Valsgärde 7 and 8 found in Sweden.

A third rendition of the motive may be found on the Finglesham Buckle (6th century) from an early Anglo-Saxon burial ground. However, here the dancer is naked as he is on the Golden Horns from Gallehus.

Odin from Staraya Ladoga
Odin from Staraya Ladoga

A fourth example may be seen on the Ekhammer pendant from Kungsängen in Uppland (now in the Swedish National History Museum). Finally, a fifth discovered in Staraya Ladoga in Russia (from the 8th century) offers a slightly different version from those excavated at Birka and Uppåkra.

The Starya Ladoga pendant is virtually identical to the newly found amulet from Gotland. It measures app. 4 cm. and is made of an alloy of silver and bronze. It is preliminarily dated to the period between 6th – 7th AD. Holes have been drilled into the sides, signifying its use as an amulet, says archaeologist Dan Carlsson from Gotland.

SOURCE:

Press release: Gotlands Fornsal and Gotlands Allahanda 02.06.2014

OTHER POSTS

Read about other Viking figurines (Freya)

Warrior-Women in Viking Ages Scandinavia

Odin at Sutton Hoo

Going Berserk

READ MORE:

iron age myth and materiality by lotte hedgerIron Age Myth and Materiality. An Archaeology of Scandinavia AD 400-1000
By Lotte Hedeager
Routledge 2011
ISBN: 978-0-415-60604-2
ISBN: 978-0-415-60602-8

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