‘Norse Gods’ and ‘Germanic Gods’ often seems to be used interchangeable – I have to admit even I did it before I started to research the difference. I have found that there are very few sources when it comes to continental germanic religion, and even less so written in English.
We all know the Edda(s) and stories of Richard Wagner, who after all was doing what he did in Germany and who used the same Gods as Snorri. Maybe that’s where the interchangeability started? I wouldn’t know but one has to note that Wagner wrote his plays and music around 1840, pretty late, an probably used the same sources we did today. (E.g. Snorri, 12th century, and Gesta Danorum, 11th century.)
But before Odin even entered this pantheon there was an entire different set of Gods ruling the skies and earth in Germany. Those were written in details about by:
The first main God was Tiwaz-Ingwaz, also called Tiwaz-Istwaz or Tiwaz-Irmin (variation of different tribes). He was a God of sky, peace and the sun. As his name indicated his symbol was the Irminsul. Alas, due to the attribute ‘Tiwaz’, meaning ‘the high one’, somebody identified him with the norse ‘Tyr’ and said he was a god of war. He wasn’t, not in general – although he did what he had to to protect his people. Other people identified Ingwaz with the norse Frey, and I guess he was a good mix between those two.
Ingwaz was called the allfather and had been given human sacrificies. He was worshipped in woods and grooves, around 100 AD. Often, an eagle figure was set on his pillar, facing east where the sun would rise. Another one of his symbols was a wheel, also hinting at the sun.
Irminsul, pillar of Irmin, in front of a sun wheel and yet another wheel engraved at it’s down end.
He had a wife, the allmother. The name used the most was Frija – meaning woman, loved one. She, also, had connections to the sun, but to it’s softer side of ‘giving life’ and ‘abundance’, thus also referring to the earth and therefor underworld. Widespread names of her were ‘Erce’ (Earth), ‘Nerd’ (lat. Nerthus), ‘Tanfana’ (abundance, giver of food) and Austro (‘of the morning’).
Both gods had a wagon cult, fire cult and were connected to the yearly seasons and were, even if it sounds cliché for todays times, the Divine Pair that married each year to fructify the soil. Most likely the were called Divine Twins, which doesn’t signal relatedness but rather hints to their origin as two sides of a dema/hybrid entity. (Though I guess by 100 AD this was already forgotten and the gods had become more individual each.)
Also interesting at this point is the third main god, proto-germanic Donraz, later Donar, Thor and, for the celtic folks, Dor. He represents divine forces as well as human behaviour and was, because of the latter, the god closest to the ‘common people’. He also makes the earth fruitful, protects the family and had a fire cult, mostly in the private homes. The hearth was his stone that he threw down from heaven to the earth, and he was called for at weddings.
Once again I want to call out the similarities between these gods and the Baltic Gods Dievas, Saule and Perkunas. They practically are the same (especially ‘Dievas’ and ‘Tiwaz’ are identical in etymology), and assuming that the Proto-Germanics came from the East (as a tribe of the Indo-Europeans) I think we can learn much about their religion by comparing those pantheons. I for one was stunned when I discovered it. Not only that but the reconstructed religion of the Proto-Indo-European shows the same similarities.
From that I conclude (for me privatly, because who can ever know for real?) that the more war-like gods and religion added to it later, before or with the arrival of the Mongols and Huns. But my research isn’t done, so who knows what else I’ll discover. 🙂