Why Odin/Christ and Not Baldr/Christ?
Someone commented in a facebook discussion that a friend of mine was inaccurate for stating in his recent piece that Christ was associated with Odin historically, assuming that Baldr would make a more logical syncretism and so my friend must be wrong. He’s not wrong, however and the comparison of Odin to Christ was one of the tools used to further the spread of Christianity in Northern Europe. We had a brief discussion on it and I thought, this is really interesting.
When finals are over, I’ll come back and flesh this out with sources, but for now, the key one that we should be looking at is the Saxon translation of the Gospels, “The Heliand.” (which is a hilarious text, omg, it really is). If you want to find a more muscular Christianity go no further than Christ sitting with his warrior thegns in the mead hall. Yes, you read that rightly. You see, apparently Jesus as he was presented in the Mediterranean world wasn’t all that appealing in the far north. (Our ancestors should have stuck with that idea, folks. Seriously). In order to attract people, following the dictum of Gregory the Great to Augustine (not Augustine of Hippo, the other one, from Cantubury, I believe), missionaries adapted things, just a little, to better fit the climate and culture. In other words, they took some liberties.
One of those liberties was syncretizing Odin with Christ. I agree that on the surface one has to look at that and go ‘huh?’ I mean it’s not the most logical choice, except it was. On the surface the comparison hinges on Odin hanging on Yggdrasil and Christ hanging on the Cross. In reality though, I think it goes deeper. Odin was (and is) a God of kings. It was a common part of the Christian missionary program to first convert the monarch or ruler of a particular community and then have him demand and execute conversion of his people. I think the focus on Odin is directly related to His associations with rulers. If He was the patron of the king then of course that is Who you’d want to mis-appropriate when trying to ease your own god in. It was part and parcel of the Christian agenda.
Now it may be that Baldr didn’t have the cultus during the conversation of northern Europe that Odin had, but I think the connection that was drawn between Odin and Christ had far, far more to do with kings and rulers and the desire of Christians to destroy the indigenous polytheism as quickly as possible.
One interesting book, before I sign off to get back to work on my papers for finals, is “The Germanization of Early Christianity” by J. Russell and when you read the “Heliand,” be sure to picture everyone in gold lame with too much hair like some strange made for tv movie 1970s style. It makes it so much more interesting and really emphasizes how ridiculous the usurping faith was.
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