Odin and the Wild Hunt


Odin (also known as Woden or Wotan), the one-eyed, furious wanderer, and wild man, is the archetypical German god of gods. As the original “wild man,” he is ancestor of the old Silesian wood- and hill-spirit Rubezahl. Rübezahl is a folkloric mountain spirit and the subject of many legends and fairy tales. South Tirolean legends describe a so-called "wild man" as a huge and awesome woodsman with a great white beard, a wide hat, and a voice as deep as thunder. This legendary character of the Silesian mountain region is often pictured smoking a pipe, just like Father Christmas. (This is significant in tracing the ancestry Santa Claus as originally a “wild man.”) Anyone familiar with Germanic mythology can easily see that Odin-Wotan lives on in Rubezahl. Both are described as wild men who rip up trees, determine the weather, and help the meek but hard the proud. With good people he is friendly, fulfils wishes and gives them presents. He sometimes plays the role of a trickster in folk tales. From his name comes the Old High German words for impetuousness, wildness, and anger but also “wishfulness” and "to wish." If we consolidate all the attributes of this god, we see he is an omnipresent force creation and building who gives beauty to human beings as well as inanimate objects. He is the source of the art of poetry, as well as the drive for war and victory. Yet he is also a force that works for the fertility of the fields and helps people strive for the highest good and material fortune. In his role as a mythical fulfiller of wishes, stemming from Rubezahl, one might very well see Odin-Wotan as ancestor of that famous bringer of presents, Santa Claus himself.


Odin, the main god of Norse mythology, is the god who is driven to amass knowledge. Odin is the god who wants to know everything and understand the deepest mysteries. According to the exploits of Odin told in Norse mythology, he drinks from the well of wisdom to suck up all it contains. In another episode of his life, Odin steals the “Mead of Poetry,” a magical beverage that whoever "drinks becomes a skald or scholar” able to recite any information and solve any question. The drink is a vivid metaphor for poetic inspiration, often associated with Odin, the god of possession via berserker rage or poetic inspiration. In one of the most famous stories, in order to learn the wisdom of the runes that are used to control the worlds, Odin hangs himself upside down from the great world tree Yggdrasil and stabs himself with his spear. He then hangs there, fasting from food and drink, for nine days, staring into the dark waters below. In order to gain the wisdom he searched for, Odin sacrifices one of his eyes in return for the secret of the runes and in order to look into both the inner and outer worlds. Then he breaks branches off of the world tree and throws them onto the Earth, where they arrange themselves into runes of beech slivers, forming letters that carry secret knowledge. Because of Odin’s self-sacrificial shedding of blood, the runes become magic. Odin made a sacrifice of himself to himself, a sacrifice that made him worthy to obtain the wisdom he wanted. The fact that Odin specifically sacrificed an eye is surely significant. In all ages, the eye has been “seen” as a poetic symbol for perception in general. Given that Odin’s eye was sacrificed in order to obtain an enhanced perception, it seems highly likely that his pledge of an eye symbolizes trading one mode of perception for another.


As the legend goes, every year in the northern countries of Europe, in the middle of the darkest time of the year and during the time of the smudging nights, Odin and his wild army is on the lookout for the reborn sun. In these dark times, ruled by elemental powers, the spectral army of Odin's wild hunt rode thunderously through the clouds, frightful spirit beings fighting the battle between light and darkness.