Episode 24: Germanic Mythology

The role of Germanic mythology on modern English is explored. Germanic gods and religious traditions are examined with an emphasis on words and phrases which are still found in modern English.


28 thoughts on “Episode 24: Germanic Mythology

  1. It might be useful to note that Eostre is not nearly as well attributed as the other Germanic gods. In fact, the only reference we have is one quotation from Bede, late into the Christian era in England and centuries after the period under consideration here. Of course it’s possible he’s completely correct, but caution about any etymological connections and certainly about her role as a goddess should be the rule.

  2. Still enjoying this!

    Are “venom” and “wine” etymologically related? And what about “aspect” and “auspice?”


    • Hi Avery. “Aspect” and “auspice’ are cognate in that the second syllable of each word is derived from the Indo-European root word *spek meaning ‘to observe.’ However, the first syllable of each word is derived from unrelated roots.

      Despite the similarities between “venom” and “vino,” they are unrelated. So “wine” does not share a common root with “venom.”

  3. I enjoyed discovering your podcast immensely tonight, Kevin – very rich, educational, and well researched. I do have a question: my understanding is that the concept of Hel as a place for the “evil dead“ is something that arose as a Christian overlay, not from Germanic sources. If you have a reference for that piece of information, would you mind sharing? Thank you.

    • Hi Richard. I think you are correct. My source for the discussion about Hel was the book, “Barbarian Rites: The Spiritual World of the Vikings and the Germanic Tribes,” by Hans-Peter Hasenfratz, Ph.D. I went back and looked at the passage from the book that discusses Hel, and it describes Hel as the goddess of an underworld of the dead, but it doesn’t specifically say that it was a realm of the ‘evil’ dead.

      • Is that also the book where you got the theory about the underworld being underwater and the special veneration of the Sea and its connection to the soul?

          • Kevin, I’m really enjoying your podcasts. Here and there, I’m interested in looking for deeper information and resources. It would be a great service to provide a list of some of the main resources used in a specific podcast on the page for that podcast.

            Again, thank you so much for making this fascinating and extremely well-presented podcast.

            • Thanks for the suggestion. I do sometimes list specific resources in the written transcripts. The only problem with listing all the resources is that I use so many, it is difficult to list them all. I may use 40 or 50 books (or more) for any given episode. Be sure to check out the ‘Resources’ page of the website for more information (though that page is a little outdated and focuses on resources used in the earlier episodes).

    • I understood Hel as the place that people went who didn’t live honorable lives or die in an honorable way but they could still make their way to Valhalla eventually. It wasn’t an eternal place.

  4. Interesting! I’m not up to this episode yet… I started just a few weeks ago, but I’m enjoying it immensely.

    Christian images for the after-life, and preceding Jewish ideas about ultimately reaping what you sew, whether for good or bad, are so powerful today as to seem obvious (or as if they were the only alternative to saying ‘when you’re gone, you’re gone’). But if we look at the Odyssey, Book 11, for example, we find people thinking about realms of the dead which do not differentiate between the righteous and the evil. (I’m tempted to mention references to She’ol in the Hebrew Bible, but it’s very hard to know what’s going on there, and how this jives with later Hebrew sources.) Isn’t it the case that human mythologies typically associate death and chaos? And doesn’t that make a lot of sense on a physical level (when one dies, the processes which maintained structure stop, and entropy disintegrates the body)? If death goes together with chaos, perhaps it’s daring to assert that there could be order in/after death.

  5. as all of people here I am enjoying the podcast and the interpretation of the words and history .
    As an Hebrew speaker , that is used to have a meaning for each word , it is great to learn the way words emerge .
    in the podcast you have mentioned Eostre the Germanic Goddess of Spring. and in the 21st Episode you have mentioned Astar in relay to the stars , and in Sumeria there was other Goddess named Ishtar goddess of love, beauty, sex, desire, fertility, war, combat, justice, and political power.
    in . and in the middle east there was Astarte or Astoreth , all have the same characteristic .
    and even the Jewish bible there is Ester Esther born Hadassah is the eponymous heroine of the Book of Esther , that is being red in the Purim Holiday about February March time of year.

    It is very interesting that so many cultures and tribes used same goddess and almost without not changing her name during the centuries and the tribes from East to west .

  6. Also note, in those proto-germanic-y dialects, ‘g’ between vowels was came to be pronounced as a ‘y’ in some places, which makes Frigga and Freya almost certainly the same figure. We see this today in modern German ‘augen’ which in Middle English eventually morphed into ‘eye.’ We also see this in the continental ‘-burg’ and the English ‘-bury.’

    • self correction – GG in Old Norse was a voiced velar fricative between vowels and at ends of words. when some words with medial GG crossed the north sea, they then morphed into a ‘y’ when incorporated into (at least some of) the AS dialects.

  7. Horatio:
    If your mind dislike any thing, obey it. I will forestall their
    repair hither, and say you are not fit.
    Not a whit, we defy augury. There is special providence in
    the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to
    come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the
    readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t
    to leave betimes, let be.

  8. i’m thoroughly enjoying the podcast, Kevin; thanks! I’m curious about your primary sources for details about the Germanic mythology covered in this episode. It’s not clear whether you’re relying on texts from your Resources page (if so, which ones?) or on others that aren’t listed there. Thanks.

  9. Hats off. You have made so many things clear to me through the first 20 something episodes… but I’m wondering when/if the similarities between Punic and Runic will come clear… my understanding (meagre as it is) leads me to believe that the ‘Phoenician’ language of the Puns was insinuated into the ‘proto’ Germanic through trade and social interaction. Can you comment, or should I simply hold my horses?

  10. Hi Kevin,

    Great podcast. I’ve listened to all the episodes once and now listening to them again for better memory retention.

    In this episode, you mention that the words Thor and Thunder have the same root in Sanskrit as well. I tried to find a related word in Sanskrit but could not find it. Would you plz help tell me the Sanskrit original word?

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