Gods and goddesses.—The gods spring, according to Saxo’s belief, from a race of sorcerers, some of whom rose to pre-eminence and expelled and crushed the rest, ending the “wizard-age”, as the wizards had ended the monster or “giant-age”. That they were identic with the classic gods he is inclined to believe, but his difficulty is that in the week-days we have Jove : Thor; Mercury : Woden; whereas it is perfectly well known that Mercury is Jove’s son, and also that Woden is the father of Thor—a comic “embarras”. That the persians the heathens worshipped as gods existed, and that they were men and women false and powerful, Saxo plainly believes. He has not Snorre’s appreciation of the humorous side of the mythology. He is ironic and scornful, but without the kindly, naive fun of the Icelander.
The most active god, the Dane’s chief god (as Frey is the Swede’s god, and patriarch), is “Woden”. He appears in heroic life as patron of great heroes and kings. Cf. “Hyndla-Lay”, where it is said of Woden:—
“Let us pray the
Father of Hosts to be gracious to us!
He granteth and giveth gold to his servants,
He gave Heremod a helm and mail-coat,
And Sigmund a sword to take.
He giveth victory to his sons, to his followers wealth,
Ready speech to his children and wisdom to men.
Fair wind to captains, and song to poets;
He giveth luck in love to many a hero.”
He appears under various disguises and names, but usually as a one-eyed old man, cowled and hooded; sometimes with another, bald and ragged, as before the battle Hadding won; once as “Hroptr”, a huge man skilled in leechcraft, to Ragnar’s son Sigfrid.
Often he is a helper in battle or doomer of feymen. As “Lysir”, a rover of the sea, he helps Hadding. As veteran slinger and archer he helps his favourite Hadding; as charioteer, “Brune”, he drives Harald to his death in battle. He teaches Hadding how to array his troops. As “Yggr” the prophet he advises the hero and the gods. As “Wecha” (Waer) the leech he woos Wrinda. He invented the wedge array. He can grant charmed lives to his favourites against steel. He prophesies their victories and death. He snatches up one of his disciples, sets him on his magic horse that rides over seas in the air, as in Skida-runa the god takes the beggar over the North Sea. His image (like that of Frey in the Swedish story of Ogmund dytt and Gunnar helming, “Flatey book”, i, 335) could speak by magic power.
Of his life and career Saxo gives several episodes.
Woden himself dwelt at Upsala and Byzantium (Asgard); and the northern kings sent him a golden image ring-bedecked, which he made to speak oracles. His wife Frigga stole the bracelets and played him false with a servant, who advised her to destroy and rob the image.
When Woden was away (hiding the disgrace brought on him by Frigga his wife), an imposter, Mid Odin, possibly Loke in disguise, usurped his place at Upsala, instituted special drink-offerings, fled to Finland on Woden’s return, and was slain by the Fins and laid in barrow. But the barrow smote all that approached it with death, till the body was unearthed, beheaded, and impaled, a well-known process for stopping the haunting of an obnoxious or dangerous ghost.