A TALE OF TWO PANTHEONS
Are Norse and Saxon Gods Really Different?
If you study the patterns in Norse mythic art over the last 3 centuries you will find two sources of inspiration, and within the primary one, two prominent trends. The two sources of inspiration are the Eddas (mostly Snorri's) and a book by Richard Verstegan from 1605 called "Restitution of Decayed Intelligence in Antiquities". The later work first codified the "Seven Saxon Gods" around the names of the days of the week, using historic sources such as Adam of Bremen, before the Poetic Edda had been discovered (in 1643) and before Snorri's Edda had been published in popular form (the Laufas Edda around 1610).
The second source of inspiration, of course, was the Eddas, which was much slower to develop. Snorri's Edda was first published in an edited form, presenting the myths as a series of fables and removing much of the Christian and classical material from the book, giving modern readers the false sense that it was intended as a book of mythology, when in fact it was considered a poetry manual up until that time. Due to the popularity of this edition in the early 1600s, scholars found and recognized the Codex Regius manuscript as a collection of old heathen poems, found in 1643. The first (incomplete) scholarly edition of the Poetic Edda was not available until the late 1700s, and the scholarship really did not become widely popular until the mid-1800s.
Verstagan's work was widely influential and remained relevant up until the 1920s, as evidence by the numerous books which repeat the information and imitates the art it contains. In my opinion, Verstigan's account of the "Seven Saxon Gods" is the true origin of an Anglo-Saxon pantheon, which is similar but distinct from the Eddic pantheon. The images of Thor with a crown of stars and a sceptre and Frigg with a sword come from this book. Since modern knowledge of this work effectively died around 1920, I suspect few modern practitioners of Anglo-Saxon heathenism are even aware of it and the impact it had. It was literally a widely popular parallel version of the Germanic pantheon, running concurrent to the development of Eddic scholarship, promoted via its connection to the weekday names for over 3 centuries. the last images I could discover inspired from it were illustrated in the early 1900s the last literary references I could find were from the 1920. After that it pretty much vanished from the popular imagination.
Within the line of art inspired by the Eddas beginning in the late 1700s when the scholarly edition became available, there have been two prominent trends. The first was Wagner's Ring-Cycle of operas, beginning in 1876, which gave us the winged helmets and robust female figures like Frekka, based on the operatic characters and costumes. The second prominent trend starting in the 1960s was the Thor series of comics by Marvel, and the accompanying visual images created by Jack Kirby melding Wagnerian motifs with modern technology. These images now dominates the visual field, since the popular trilogy of Thor movies appeared in the last decade. To see that, just google Thor or Loki in Google Images. Movie images dominate. You also find elements of the super-hero Thor and Loki's costumes, particularly the color schemes (Loki in green and Thor in red and blue) used in modern children's books and popular Norse mythology books.
I wonder why more Anglo-Saxon heathens do not know of Vertegan's work, and recognize its importance in establishing a separate Anglo-Saxon pantheon in the modern era? This is the book, and the images which I feel separated the Saxon gods into a distinct pantheon in the popular imagination. The Anglo-Saxon source documents alone could not do that as they do not contain enough mythic information to draw clear distinctions between the Nordic and the Continental gods.
For my part, I believe that the Eddic poems are a common Germanic inheritance. Tacitus tells us that such songs formed the only record of the Germanic people's past, in other words, they were considered to be the history of the Germanic people in common, not just stories of gods. The Eddic poems are the last remnants of that poetic history of the Germanic people. The language is not as important as the content of those poems, as we find ample Indo-European parallels to confirm the age of the core of the material. When studied, this poetic legacy reveal a close connection between the divine and heroic figures, demonstrating that the gods interacted with and closely associated with the Germanic patriarchs and the earliest generations of men. We also see that the poems speak of a history of the world from creation to Ragnarok, and refer to significant events in the mythological and the human world, proving they were indeed a history of our people. That is most obvious in Voluspa.
-William P Reaves