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Woden and his Roles in Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogy

Thomas Rowsell

Published Online (2012)

Woden is a complex and elusive figure in Anglo-Saxon history. Like his Norse counterpart Oðinn, he has been thought to be the chief god of his pantheon, dominating most aspects of heathen worship within that culture. Scholars have debated the significance of these gods and their relationship to one another. Anthony Faulkes has addressed the genealogical role of Oðinn in twelfth and thirteenth century texts; Richard North has argued that the genealogical role of Oðinn in pre-Christian Scandinavia was the result of influence from Woden’s role in Anglo-Saxon England. North has also argued that early Anglo-Saxon bishops played a significant role in establishing Woden as an ancestor while Charlotte Behr argues that the popularity of the cult of Woden means that his role as a progenitor could have been employed before the conversion.[1] The popularity of his cult is supported by the distribution of English place names derived from the name Woden as well as analysis of archaeological sources but neither prove he was a progenitor of kings at an early stage.

The essay will attempt to determine the origin of the cult of Woden and also to explore the functions, history and patterns of Woden’s inclusion in royal genealogies. The earliest written documentation of Woden as an ancestral figure for royalty is in Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (HE) and later in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

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