Woden or Wodan (Old English: Ƿōden, Old High German: Wôdan, Old Saxon: Uuôden) is a major deity of Anglo-Saxon and Continental Germanic polytheism. Together with his Norse counterpart Odin, Woden represents a development of the Proto-Germanic god *Wōdanaz.
Though less is known about the pre-Christian religion of Anglo-Saxon and continental Germanic peoples than is known about Norse paganism, Woden is attested in English, German, and Dutch toponyms as well as in various texts and pieces of archeological evidence from the Early Middle Ages.
*Wōđanaz or *Wōđinaz is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of a god of Germanic paganism. The name is connected to the Proto-Indo-European stem *wāt, "inspiration", derived ultimately from the Indo-European theme *awē, "to blow". *Wāt continues in Old Irish fáith, "poet" or "seer"; Old High German wut, "fury"; and Gothic wods, "possessed". Old English had the noun wōþ "song, sound", corresponding to Old Norse óðr, which has the meaning "fury" but also "poetry, inspiration". It is possible therefore that *Wōđanaz was seen as a manifestation of ecstasy, associated with mantic states, fury, and poetic inspiration. An explicit association of Wodan with the state of fury was made by 11th century German chronicler Adam of Bremen, who, when detailing the religious practices of Scandinavian pagans, described Wodan, id est furor, "Wodan, that is, the furious".
Woden probably rose to prominence during the Migration period, gradually displacing Tyr as the head of the pantheon in West and North Germanic cultures -- though such theories are only academic speculation based on trends of worship for other Indo-European cognate deity figures related to Tyr.
He is in all likelihood identical with the Germanic god identified as "Mercury" by Roman writers and possibly with the regnator omnium deus (god, ruler of all) mentioned by Tacitus in his 1st century work Germania.
The earliest attestation of the name is as Wodan in an Elder Futhark inscription: possibly on the Arguel pebble (of dubious authenticity, if genuine dating to the early 6th century), and on the Nordendorf fibula (early 7th century). Only slightly younger than the runic testimony of the Nordendorf fibula is the vita of Saint Columbanus by Jonas of Bobbio, which gives the Latinized Vodanus (attested in the dative, as Vodano).
Anglo-Saxon polytheism reached Great Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries with the Anglo-Saxon migration, and persisted until the completion of the Christianization of England by the 8th or 9th century.
For the Anglo-Saxons, Woden was the psychopomp or carrier-off of the dead, but not necessarily with exactly the same attributes of the Norse Odin. There has been some doubt as to whether the early English had the concepts of Valkyries and Valhalla in the Norse sense. The Sermo Lupi ad Anglos refers to the wælcyrian, "valkyries", but the term appears to have itself been a loan from Old Norse, and in the text is used to mean "(human) sorceress".
The Christian writer of the Maxims found in the Exeter Book (341, 28) records the verse Wôden worhte weos, wuldor alwealda rûme roderas ("Woden wrought the (heathen) altars / the almighty Lord the wide heavens"). The name of such Wôdenes weohas (Saxon Wôdanes with, Norse Oðins ve) or sanctuaries to Woden survives in toponymy as Odinsvi, Wodeneswegs.