The Most Important GodsWODEN, or Odin, is the terrible god of storm, breath and thus soul, the god of the dead, but also of rage and ecstasy. He is a wizard, warrior, poet, lover and explorer; he's courageous, dastardly, intelligent, eerie.
In contrast to other gods he is of fairly high age and wears a grey beard. He's armed with a spear and dressed in a blue cloak. This god of the dead is accompanied by the animals of the battlefield - two wolves and two ravens. The ravens, called Thought and Memory, tell him everything that is happening in the world. He only nourishes on the inebriating mead beverage; the meat is for feeding his wolves on.
In order to acquire the secret of rune magic he has sacrificed an eye and hung himself on a tree: Like the primeval shamanic witchdoctors he reaches a state of enlightenment by forcing his soul to leave the body through suffering and pain. You would bring Wotan sacrifice by hanging animals and even humans.
This shamanic and demonic god is unique to the Germanic people; other Indoeuropean peoples didn't have an equivalent. Since Germanic merchants swore by this god, the Romans came to equate him with their god of trade, Mercury. Because the Germanic people had adopted the Roman notation of weekdays, even until today the day of Mercury (French: 'mercredi') is called 'Wednesday' in English, i.e. 'Woden's day'.
THOR or Thunar, is the powerful god of tillage. As the god of thunder, he has a waggon drawn by he-goats with which he's riding in the sky, dropping lightning from his hammer.
He is simple, open-minded and honest; he feeds the good ones and drives away the evil ones. His hammer fertilizes, dedicates contracts (like the auctioneer's hammer does still today), and it sanctifies matrimony. Thor is young, tall, very strong; he is blunt and has a blazing-red beard. Like his peasant worshippers he mostly eats porridge.
Someone who resembles him is the Roman Hercules. But because it is Thor who drops lightning, the Romans associate him with Jupiter, whose day (French: 'jeudi') thus means 'Thor's day' in English, or 'Donners Tag' in German (after 'Thunar'/'Donar').
TIU, also called Tyr, Tiew or Tiwaz, was the highest god of the Germanic people until he was superseded by Woden. Originally he was a god of Heaven (his name is related to the Indoeuropean word 'dies' = day, heaven). It is thought that he was especially worshipped by the sun cults of the Bronze Age.
He carries a sword and is the god of war and lord of dueling, apart from being patron for the council meeting (the 'Thing').
With regard to the name and many traits, he resembles the Greek Zeus. As a god of war the Romans saw Mars in him, thus the day of Mars (French: mardi) means 'Tiu's day' in English and 'Dings-Tag' in German (after the term for 'council meeting').
FREY and FREYA (or Full and Fulla), and NERTHUS and Njörd are gods and goddesses of fertility; they're earthly gods supposed to keep away frost; they're gods of love, mating, birth.
These Vanic gods are industrious, joyous, sensuous and peaceful tillers who often live together as pairs of siblings. They don't attribute much value to war-related glory, the swank of power and heroic deeds, all of which are so important to the cruel and illustrious Asa gods. After initially waging war, these two families of gods have reconciled with each other and now live together in peace, though not always free of conflicts.
In the beginning the patriarchal, warlike Indoeuropeans couldn't imagine female gods at all. Only after settling in various other countries they adopted the goddesses of the subdued, tilling native population. For this reason most male main gods of the Indoeuropean peoples resemble each other, while in terms of features and traits, goddesses and the auxiliary gods only have little in common with each other.
FRIJA, or Frigg, was the goddess of the women, love, matrimony, birth and fertility, but also goddess of domestic work (her attribute was the spindle). Later she was perceived as the not-always-true wife of Woden.
While the myths of male gods passed down numerous features, traits and anecdotes, the outline of Frija - like other goddesses - remains vague. Not even her outward appearance is described in detail: She is just 'beautiful', like any goddess.
You would invoke her for a happy love life. Thus the day of Venus is called 'Friday', which means 'Frija's day' ('Freitag' in German).
PRESUMABLY, OTHER GODS like the fair Baldur or the dastardly Loki were only worshipped after the Roman era was over.
CHRISTIANITY was the Roman Empire's state religion since 380 A.D. After the pagan tribes of Germania had conquered Roman provinces during the 5th century and converted them into Germanic kingdoms, they also gradually adopted the religion of the defeated, who were superior numerically and culturally.
About 500 A.D. the Franks under king Clovis (i.e. Louis) converted to Christianity, after they had won a crucial battle against the Alemanni.
The Saxons held on to their old religion until in 800 A.D. they were subdued by the Catholic Franks under emperor Charlemagne, or Charles the Great, as a result of a bloody war that had lasted 25 years. (Among other things, Charles had 4,500 Saxons executed on a single day.)
The Northern Germanic peoples such as Norwegians, Swedes, Icelanders - later known as Vikings - remained pagan until around 1000 A.D., when their kings converted to the new creed, with their people gradually adopting it as well after initial resistance.