A Brief History of the Saxons & Their Gods: Part 1 – Woden

I just read over at The Watkins Review that there are more practicing witches in England now than in any other time in history. That is a phenomenal statement – and one that should bring credit and recognition to those brave and learned souls who have helped to bring magic to the masses. First and foremost among them (in Ankhie’s opinion) is Raymond Buckland, whose body of work has been one of the defining factors in modern Wicca. Raymond is an author, educator, mentor, supporter, practitioner, absolute gentleman and sports-car aficionado.

So in honor of the incomparable Mr. Buckland, we offer the following scholarly excerpt from Buckland’s Book of Saxon Witchcraft.

During the fourth and fifth centuries a movement took place in Western Europe know as the “Wandering of the Nations.” Tribes of Goths, Vandals, Suevi, Alans and others passed out from their old homes in the north and northeast and moved into the territory of the Roman Empire. For the previous two centuries Germans had been crossing back and forth between Germany and the Roman Empire, but now for the first time whole tribes began to migrate at once. The Visigoths (West Goths) passed into southern Gaul and Spain; Burgundians into southeastern Gaul; Vandals into Africa; Ostrogoths (East Goths), and later Lombards (Long Beards), into Italy. One group of peoples, however, did not go southward but westward. And they traveled not by land but by water. These were the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, who sailed out into the North Sea and sought the islands of Britain.

These tribes differed in many important particulars from the others of the “Wandering Nations.” They had lived in the portion of Germany most remote from the influence of Roman customs and ideas. They lived in lands that were densely wooded, damp, and cold. Rivers were almost the only highways. Clearings in the forests were the only dwelling-places. The Jutes lived in modern Jutland north of the river Schely, the Angles in the region south of the Jutes and along the shore of the North Sea. The Saxons were a Teutonic race whose name is generally thought to be derived from the old German word sahs (a knife, or short sword). They are first mentioned in Ptolemy in the second century A.D. He speaks of them as inhabiting a district bounded by the Eide, the Elbe, and the Trave – in northern Germany, from the base of the Danish Peninsula to the mouth of the Rhine.

In the third century of the Christian era the Saxons were a numerous, warlike, yet practical people. In the fifth century considerable hordes of them crossed from the Continent and laid the foundations of the Saxon kingdoms in Britain – Essex, or East Saxons;  Middlesex, or Middle Saxons; Sussex, or South Saxons; and Wessex, or West Saxons. The West Saxons called themselves Gewissi, and included many lesser groups such as the Dorsaetas, Wiltsaetas, Sumorsaetas, Defonas, Wentsaetas, magonsaetas, and Hwiccas (saete = sitter; dweller).

For a hundred years before their migration to the British Isles the Saxons and their neighbors had been seafarers and plunderers on the coasts of the North Sea. As early as 364 A.D. they had been heard of in Britain, and the Romans there had established a special official – the Count of the Saxon Shore – to guard the coast, from the Wash to the Pevensey, against their attack.

The invasion of Britain by the Saxons (plus the Angles and the Jutes) marked the beginning of the British national history by destroying the Roman civilization in Britain and establishing the English race and nation with its own distinctive language, society, institutions, and government. They were Pagans, inferior to the Romans, yet they were most assuredly not barbarians. They understood the Roman civilization but discarded it as unsuited to essentially agricultural communities. ..

During the first two centuries of the settlement the conquerors of Britain were not single powerful tribes establishing single tribal kingdoms, but rather dozens of small tribal groups each under its own war leader. Some of them were groups of warriors, but many were doubtless groups of kin-families; that is, families connected by ties of blood, composed of women, children, and slaves. In nearly all the early groups the war-leader, or heretoga, became the king. He was awarded the largest portion of the conquered lands and the largest share of the booty. His family was, supposedly, descended from the gods.


The Saxons were practicing pagans during at least their first five generations in England. They worshipped four principal deities: Woden, Thunor, Tiw, and Frig or Freya. Since their temples, like their houses, were built of wood they have not survived, though their locations and those of their open-air meeting-places — groves, etc. — have. Throughout Britain today may be found innumerable place-names indicative of the deities worshipped and/or the locations of former shrines to these deities.


Chief among the gods of the Saxons was Woden, and there are far more mentions of him in English place-names than any of the other deities; Wansdyke (Wodnes dic) , an earthwork, runs all the way from Hampshire to Somerset; Wodnes beorh (Woden’s barrow) is close by, as is Wodnes denu (Woden’s valley). In other areas are found “Woden’s plain”, “Woden’s fortress”, Woodnesborough, and Wornshill.

Freya was chief amongst the female deities. She too is found in Freefolk, Froyle, Fryup, Frydaythorpe, and Frobury.



The primitive west Europeans had called the god Wodenaz. This later developed into Wuotan (Old High German) and Wodan (Old Saxon). It is generally believed that he was first thought of as a sky deity – perhaps a wind or storm god – with great wisdom, and with some sort of powers over life and death. This may be evidenced by the derivation of Wodenanz from an Indo-European word, parent also of the Sanskrit vata and the Latin ventus, both meaning “wind.” He could be compared to the Hindu Lord of the Wind, Vata, and the German storm giant Wode.

Woden had great skill as a magician or sorcerer (Galdorcraeftig = “a person proficient in magick”), and also a shape-shifter. His skill is seen in one of the oldest existing pieces of Anglo-Saxon verse containing the Nine Herbs Charm:

“The snake came crawling and struck at none. But Woden took nine glory-twigs and struck the adder so that it flew into nine parts…”

Woden appears in Norse mythology as Odin, the supreme deity, son of Borr and Bestla. He presided over the assemblage of the gods and over their feasts, consuming nothing but wine. As the wisest of the gods he obtained his wisdom from two ravens named Hugin (“thought”) and Munin (“memory”), who perched on his shoulders. The ravens could fly through all the reaches of the universe and would tell Odin (Woden) what they had seen. Two wolves were also his constant companions.

Woden was bearded, wore a long cloak and either a hood or a floppy-brimmed hat. He leaned upon a huge spear as he walked. He it was who introduced the runic form of writing…

The Woden of the Saxons was not quite the same personage as the Odin of the Viking Age (also, incidentally, the Old English waelcyrge were vastly different from the Norse Valkyrie). Woden was not concerned with organizing battalions of slain warriors, but more with walking the rolling downs and watching over his (living) people.

By the sixth century magicians and sorcerers had a good working knowledge of writing, useful in their secret arts. The writing generally used was the Runic discovered by Woden. One of the earliest examples of these runes is found on the Saxon cross now preserved in the apse of Ruthwell Church, Dumfreisshire.

It is sometimes referred to as the “Futhorc”, after the first six letters that appear there. It is also referred thus, today, to distinguish it from some of the later variations of the runes. These main ones were Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Germanic. The Celtic peoples of England adopted, and adapted, the Saxon variety and a form of runic writing is used in many traditions of witchcraft today.

2 thoughts on “A Brief History of the Saxons & Their Gods: Part 1 – Woden

  1. I agree with Freeman. Woden, Odin, Wódanaz, Wódinaz, Wóðenaz, Ódinn, are NOT different names, but the very same word as pronounced by certain tribes over several thousand years. They all stem from the Proto-Germanic *Wódenaz or *Wóðanaz. I believe that Wóden was a relative latecomer to the Germanic pantheon, that he was likely a real historical person whom the ancient Germanic peoples deified, I’d guess he lived right around the time of Christ. I also believe that Woden’s cult started either in Denmark or Sweden, and there’s a possibility that Woden was an outsider, i.e. a non-Germanic Aryan from elsewhere, possibly as far as Asia Minor or Central Asia. Don’t forget, at that time, from Scandinavia in the West and to the East as far as China (Tarim Basin) was mostly inhabited by Indo-European-speaking peoples of the Nordic race, like the Scythians, Samartians, Getae, Tokharians, etc.
    One thing is for sure, the word “Æsir” has absolutely ZERO etymological connection to Asia. Æsir, Áss, in ON, Ós, És, in OE and phonologically closer forms to PGmc, OGH Áns, Énsi, all stem from PGmc *ansuz (singular-nom) and *ansiwiz (plural-nom), also distantly related to other IE relexes, like the Zoraostrian Gathas, in ancient Iranic-IE, “Ahura”, god. I also have come to believe that since all Germanic tribes originated in Denmark & southern Sweden, that it is logical that the tribes who left before the advent of the Woden-cult would not have Odin in their pantheons unless borrowed, hence, Woden was more revered in Scandinavia, especially DK and Sweden.

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