Odin in Italy

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Paulus Diaconus in his Historia Langobardorum discusses how in the course of their migration from Scandinavia to Northern Italy a Germanic tribe changed their name from Wandals to Lombards, due to a contest of wits between the Gods Godan and Frea. 

8. At this point, the men of old tell a silly story that the Wandals coming to Godan  besought him for victory over the Winnili and that he answered that he would give the victory to those whom he saw first at sunrise; that then Gambara went to Frea  wife of Godan and asked for victory for the Winnili, and that Frea gave her counsel that the women of the Winnili should take down their hair and arrange it upon the face like a beard, and that in the early morning they should be present with their husbands and in like manner station themselves to be seen by Godan from the quarter in which he had been wont to look through his window toward the east. And so it was done. And when Godan saw them at sunrise he said: “Who are these long-beards?” And then Frea induced him to give the victory to those to whom he had given the name. And thus Godan gave the victory to the Winnili. These things are worthy of laughter and are to be held of no account. For victory is due, not to the power of men, but it is rather furnished from heaven.

9. It is certain, however, that the Langobards were afterwards so called on account of the length of their beards untouched by the knife, whereas at first they had been called Winnili; for according to their language lang means “long” and bart “beard.” Wotan indeed, whom by adding a letter they called Godan is he who among the Romans is called Mercury, and he is worshiped by all the peoples of Germany as a god, though he is deemed to have existed, not about these times, but long before, and not in Germany, but in Greece.

That much I was familiar with already; I’ve even written a couple poems on the subject. However, reading a little further in the deacon Paul’s work I discovered this fascinating bit:

11. Departing from this place, while they were arranging to pass over into Mauringa, the Assipitti block their way, denying to them by every means a passage through their territories. The Langobards moreover, when they beheld the great forces of their enemies, did not dare engage them on account of the smallness of their army, and while they were deciding what they ought to do, necessity at length hit upon a plan. They pretend that they have in their camps Cynocephali, that is, men with dogs’ heads. They spread the rumor among the enemy that these men wage war obstinately, drink human blood and quaff their own gore if they cannot reach the foe. And to give faith to this assertion, the Langobards spread their tents wide and kindle a great many fires in their camps. The enemy being made credulous when these things are heard and seen, dare not now attempt the war they threatened.

Starting to notice a theme?

Oh, and the Lombards are quite interesting; long after conversion they maintained devotion to their God Óðinn; they simply started calling him “Saint Michael the Archangel” to keep it licit. Oaths were sworn on his sword and they built an immense church to him in what had previously been a sacred cave or grotto, as Jeff Matthews writes:

After 650 AD, the Lombards from Benevento spread into the Gargano, where the cult of the Archangel Michael had established itself in the 400s. The sanctuary of the Lombards in Monte Sant’Angelo was the first church of Saint Michael in the west and a model for many such later places of worship in western Europe. If, indeed, there really was a place of devotion to Michael in the Gargano as early as the beginning of the 400s, that is likely due to Byzantine influence. Earlier, in the 300s, Constantine the Great (272-337) built the Michaelion, one of the earliest and best-known of such churches. It was just north of Constantinople at a site physically similar to the Gargano and built over an ancient temple previously associated with medicine and therapeutic waters. […] That has given Christian art another common depiction of Michael —slaying a serpent or dragon or a fallen angel, one of the hosts of Satan. Devotion to Michael was congenial to the Lombards, for he was like their earlier Germanic deity, Woden, a healer yet the god of war and protector of heroes and warriors. This, no doubt, hastened the Christianization of the Lombards. The Gargano, itself, had a long history of myth and ritual from before the Christian era. The area is rugged and covered by forests and ravines. Many of the myths and rites had to do with curative waters and the practice called incubatio, a rite whereby one slept by a sacred place in order to have divine revelations the next morning. These earlier rites then left their traces in the cult of St. Michael. The man-made structures within the later sanctuary reshaped what had originally been simply a natural cave. The inscriptions within the site let us follow the evolution of the grotto into a full-fledged place of religious expression that welcomed pilgrims from distant places and offered them hospitality.

And then there’s the whole matter of the Langobard Funerary Perticae, but we don’t need to get into that, do we? Why don’t you check out these images of Horned Figures and Weapon Dancers instead. 

3 thoughts on “Odin in Italy

  1. Every time Odin goes up against Frigga (it’s Frigga in the story not Freyja…the spelling is a dialect), He loses. LOL.

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  2. Reblogged this on Gangleri's Grove and commented:
    I knew that in some areas, St. Michael was syncretized with Apollo but had no idea Michael was also syncretized with Odin. wow. (and it always amuses me that when Odin and Frigga — it’s Frigga here, not Freyja– go up against each other, He loses. ^___^).

    On a slightly related note, I was having a conversation with someone about the Hebrew meaning of St. Michael’s name: “Who is like God?” It occurred to me that, in the Archangel responsible for leading the armies of heaven against evil angels, that it’s not a simple question. Rather, it’s a challenge: Who dares to think he is like God? Who dares to raise himself up to that level? It ‘s an exhortation to piety, humility, reverence, and respect.

    so here is my final question, partly tongue in cheek, but partly serious. There’s a grotto in a cave in Italy that is sacred to St. Michael. was that originally a shrine to Apollo, to Odin, or licitly to Michael? *G* Inquiring minds and all that shit.

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