The proto-Germanic arm of the Indo-European
migration was part of the Yamnaya horizon. This was the first more
or less unified ritual, economic, and material culture to spread
across the entire Pontic-Caspian steppe region. Its economy was one
that was based on mobility, using two and four-wheeled wagons. That
mobility became a massive outwards migration at the end of the fourth
millennium BC (see A History of Indo-Europeans, Migrations and
Language via the sidebar links, right).
One major arm of the Yamnaya migrations, the
proto-Germanic people took what would have been a wandering
course which covered many hundreds of kilometres. Unfortunately,
this was a good two thousand years before the Greeks were around
to record anything of it (in fact their ancestors were part
of it). They ended up populating the southern coast of the Baltic
Sea to an extent when they integrated into and dominated the preceding
local culture. For the most part, however, the migration seems to
have continued so that it placed most of them in the southernmost
parts of Scandinavia (also see What's in a Name -
By examining their later culture and language, it
can be asserted that the Germanic peoples, as these migratory groups
became, appear to have lost many of their deities somewhere along
the way from the steppe to the north of Europe. Only a few of the
old ones remained, these including Aryaman (otherwise known as Irmin
or Hermin), Thor (possibly borrowed from the Celts), and Tiu or Tyr
(known in proto-Indo-European as Deiwaz).
Alongside them were a handful of others who became
known as giants such as Ymir (Yama or Gemini - see Tribal Warfare
of the Gods in Scandinavia).
Frey, Freya, and others
Most of the remainder had deified life-roles. Frey
or Freyr and Freyja (masculine and feminine) were brother and sister,
the free (non-slave) householders, the equivalent to 'Mr and Mrs
Norse God'. In reality they should be regarded as the same deity in
When looking up a possible meaning for the god
Heimdallr, blessed with foreknowledge, 'world brightener' is
offered - something of an hilarious gaff when considering that,
when translated into English from Norse, it means 'home valley'
(cognates: 'home' and 'dale').
The same online source conflates the Norse Freyr
and Ingvi, which is somewhat ridiculous. The first part of Ingvi,
'ing-', is cousin to the Avestan 'Anghu', and means 'life, spirit,
The second element, '-vi', is a reduced form of
'weg/vegr', cognate to the English 'way'. The two together are a
pointer to old Rte/Arte (Asha) practices, with a meaning of 'the
way of spirit'. (The practical philosophy known as Rte in Sanskrit
is also included in various other name breakdowns such as for Asia
- see the What's in a Name feature link, right - or Timurid
Khorasan's Herat in Afghanistan - see rulers list in the sidebar.)
Odin/Wotan translates to 'magician' (see Origin
of Odin), understanding that in ancient times magicians were a
people's priests. Going to the goddesses next, Eostre is an old
Indo-European deity, called Ushas in Vedic and Io in Greek. The
other gods appear to have been Germanic inventions, probably as
they expanded their pantheon over time.
As for Frey and Freyja - who seem to have been
rather incidental so far - the name is a member of the Vanir tribe
of deities. The Vanir appear to have been an ancient tribe of
Germanics who were at war with the Ăsir (Aesir) - and lost. The war
was later elevated to mythological status and Freya, probably a
living individual in his or her own time, later became an honorary
member of the Ăsir gods.
In the female form her father is Njord (another
dual gender god with the female form of Nerthus. Her mother is
unknown, but Nerthus could be ascribed this role. Frey is her brother
(or dual identity).
Freya's husband, named Odr in late Old Norse
literature, has been equated with Odin. Accordingly, Freya
could ultimately be identical with Odin's wife, Frigg.
However, this would require some linguistic
trickery to produce such a connection - possibly in the form of a
non-Germanic version of the same deity being adopted - so is best
left alone for now.
In fact, even equating Odr with Odin is
problematical as the '-r' in Odr is a nominative suffix, leaving us
with the name 'Od'. This name is known in the form of Oda, Otha, and
Otto... and even Ed. The '-a' and '-o' in Oda and Otto are reduced
nominative suffixes, and were replaced with '-r' by the Norse. 'Od'
means wealthy, so at least Freya married well!
Early Germanic peoples in Scandinavia were clustered for the
most part along the coasts of southern Scandinavia, and only
began to expand inland from the third century AD or so (click
or tap on map to view full sized)