A sensational small amulet of Odin has been found in Levide in Southern Gotland, Sweden. The pendant belongs to a group of figurines commonly called the “weapon-dancers”.
Odin – or Woden, Wotan or Woutan – is an ambiguous and enigmatic God, who plays both priestly and martial roles. First of all he is the great sorcerer, a competent magician. Thus he is a shape-shifter (shaman) who can appear as both man, woman and animal. He commands the weather and high seas and rules over fire. Through self-sacrifice he has acquired the knowledge of Runic wisdom and by manipulating Runes he can communicate with the dead and throw spells. Added to this should be the acts through which he was able to lay hands on the heavenly drink of mead – sometimes it is told he accomplished this through deceit; a different story tells how he paid for the recipe with his eye. Another feature is his companions, the Ravens “Hugin” and “Mugin” plus his two wolves,”Gere” and “Freke”, and his eight-feeted steed, “Sleipner”. To his possessions are counted “Gungnir”, his spear, and “Draupnir”, a fabulous golden ring, from which smaller rings drip every ninth night, making it possible for him to play his most important role as lord of the gang of dead warriors, for whom he throws a party every night in his great Hal in Valhalla.
These stories (and others) are prominent parts of the Nordic mythologies written down in the 12th century and onwards. Scholars naturally disagree with the extent to which they were formed at a later stage and under the impression of Christianity. However, independent archaeological finds and images on rune-stones and figurines do tend to corroborate some of the myths, one of which is that at the first war between the Vanir and the Aesir Odin throws his spear over the heads of an assembly of Vanir Gods in order to start the fight. It is perhaps this story, which has inspired the images and figurines, where Odin is presented as a one-eyed “weapon-dancer” hurling his spear and instigating the first war.
As such, Odin has been identified on a series of different artefacts from the 6th to 7th century. One key element in this identification are the four cast-bronze-dies found in Torslunda in 1870. According to a very recent scan of the dies, the dancing naked warrior carrying a helmet with horns ending in two birds of prey, is in fact one-eyed. It has been proved that originally the dancer on the die had two eyes. One, however, was removed with a sharp instrument during the manufacture.
The identical motive may be found on the Sutton-Hoo helmet. There, however, the dancing warriors are clothed as opposed to the men on the plates on the helmets from Valsgärde 7 and 8 found in Sweden.
A third rendering of the motive may be found on the Finglesham Buckle (6th century) from an early Anglo-Saxon burial ground. But here the dancer is naked.
A fourth may be seen at the Ekhammer pendant from Kungsängen in Uppland (now in the Swedish National History Museum) as well as a fifth found in Staraya Ladoga in Russia (8th century) slightly different versions from Birka and Uppåkra.
This last one is virtually identical with the newly found amulet from Gotland. It measures app. 4 cm. and is made of an alloy of silver and bronze. It is preliminarily dated to the period between 6th – 7th AD. Holes have been drilled into the sides, signifying its use as an amulet, says archaeologist Dan Carlsson from Gotland.
Iron Age Myth and Materiality. An Archaeology of Scandinavia AD 400-1000
By Lotte Hedeager