I hope this actually has an answer, I couldn't find anything but speculation on the web.

Basically, the story of Odin hanging from Yggdrasil is very similar to that of Jesus on the cross. Here are the stories broadly:

In order to learn of the runes that are used to control the worlds odin hangs himself from the great world tree Yggdrasil, and stabs himself with his spear. He forbids the other gods from helping him, and he then hangs there for 9 days, staring into the dark waters below, after which he gains the knowledge he searched for. Doing this was basically him making a sacrifice of himself to himself, a sacrifice that made him worthy to obtain the knowledge he wanted.

Jesus is put on trial by the Romans and sentenced to death. He is put on a cross, on which he claims his father (God) has forsaken him. He dies, which is confirmed by stabbing him with a spear. He descends to hell, but comes back after 3 days, after which he has sacrificed himself (basically to himself in a different person), after which the sins of the world are forgiven.

(Note these may be somewhat loose interpretations and include things added by religions based on the texts instead of being in the original texts)

So the similarities I see: Both are being sacrificed by hanging from something and being stabbed by a spear, are in darkness (hell/the dark waters below) for 3 or 3x3 days, without help from other deities, having now sacrificed themselves to themselves for the greater good.

Now supposedly the Odin story is older, but as far as I'm aware we get it from Snorri Sturluson, who we know has added some christian motives in his other works (the Prose Edda for example).

Are there any reasons to think the Odin story is not based on the Jesus story? And if so, is there any way the Odin story could have affected, or shared an origin with the Jesus story? Or is it just a coincidence?


6 Answers 6


Taking a look at a few things here.

The word Yggdrasil itself firstly. "Ygg," means Death. "Drasil" is a Nordic term that has the dual meanings of both "gallows" and "horse." So Yggdrasil itself means "Deadly Gallows". A kenning for Odin was Ygg and was listed in the anonymous Skaldic Poem Óðins Nöfn. There are those that speculate that Yggdrasil gets its name from Odin's actions among its branches. It's meaning is quite clear in the context of the myth: "Yggdrasil" is both the gallows upon which Odin hung himself, and the mount that he rode on his journey through the nine worlds.

It should also be noted that many different accounts speak of the "atrocities" of the Northmen and of their human sacrifices to Odin. Human sacrifices happened from prehistoric to well into the 13th century. These sacrifices were hung or strangled. As possible practice of Odinic sacrifice by strangling has some archeological support in the existence of bodies perfectly preserved by the acid of the Jutland peat-bogs. One of the most notable examples of this is the Bronze Age Tollund Man. However, we possess no written accounts that explicitly interpret the cause of these stranglings, which could have other explanations, such as being a form of capital punishment. Also worth mentioning in Gautreks saga(no relation to Snorri), King Vikar is hanged with the words, ‘Now I give you to Odin’.

As @andejons said below I will add this: This depends on the translation/interpretation that you read. Each has a slight variation. The word Ygg/Yggr/Ugg/Uggr are the same word just with different meanings. As a title claimed by Odin Yggr in that context would mean "Terrible One". Ugg/Uggr also meant fear or apprehension.

Here is the excerpt from the Havamal with various translations:

"I ween that I hung | on the windy tree," -Translation by H. A. Bellows

"Wounded I hung on a wind-swept gallows" -Translated by Auden and Taylor

"I trow I hung on that windy Tree" -Translated by Olive Bray

"I know that I hung, on a wind swept tree" -Translated by Chrisholm

"I wot that I hung on the wind-tossed tree" -Translated by Lee Hollander

"I know that I hung on a high windy tree" -Translated by Patricia Terry

"I know that I hung, on a wind-rocked tree," -Translated by Benjamin Thorpe

Just from the variety of these translations alone it's clear we don't have a precise answer. There is also the suggestion that wind-swept gallows/wind-swept tree was a kenning for Yggdrasil. A wind-swept gallows or tree would be dangerous to hang from as there is the risk of bodily harm is higher.

Woo, that was a rollercoaster... lol

Human sacrifice and stuff: Human sacrifices?

  • "Yggr" is a known byname of Odin and means "terrible one", "Yggdrasil" means 'Odin's horse'. The tree he hangs from is never named in the myths, but given the etymology, scholars are in agreement that it was Yggdrasil
    – andejons
    Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 12:16
  • @andejons you are definitely right. I've updated my comment to explain on this further :)
    – Amerilys
    Commented Jan 14, 2017 at 13:02

It would be hard to know definitively if this was due Christian influence on Odin's narrative b/c we don't have pre-Christian textual sources for Odin's. (i.e. This material was first recorded about 1000 years ago, long after the introduction of Christianity in Europe.) Also, there is evidence of hanging ordeals practiced by Native Americans which suggests that this type of ritual occurs independently.

Archetypes and symbols may provide some insight. The cross, or "crux" is a gateway between worlds for Jesus. Yggdrasil, the "world tree", is quite literally a connector of worlds. The concept is also known as the "axis mundi".

3 is magic number across many cultures, so while that connection suggests Christian influence, it is not a foregone conclusion.

Piercing with the spear, however, is quite specific and not so universal in my estimation, so that might very well be a Christian influence.

With all that said, I don't think there's any way to know for sure.


For consideration. Why limit the comparison to Jesus only?

In the Grimms "Märchen" (Fairy Tale) KHM #146 "The Turnip," the text also ends with a man hanging in a tree in search of knowledge.

Johannes Bolte notes in his Anmerkungen to this text notes that the pretense of the captured one, that he learns hanging on the tree wisdom (Raparius V. 341), [reminds] on the way, upon which Odin becomes aware of secret knowledge. After the Edda (Hovaonl line.138. [In] Gerings translation p. 105 he offers himself, in that he hangs himself on the “weltesche” (world-ash) Yggdrasil and wounds himself with the spear:

I know, that I hung on the wind-moved tree
Nine nights through  - - - 
I thrive I began and thoughts I received.

Bolte also states that one could also consider Aristophanes “Clouds,” where Socrates speculates hanging in a basket.

enter image description here

Strepsiades and Pheidippides are discussing, Socrates is hanging in the air in a basket. Scene from Aristophanes's comedy Clouds. Date: 1564 or earlier. Source From Emblemata et aliquot nummis antiqui operis, cum emendatione et auctario copioso ipsius autoris by Joannes Sambucus, 1564.


The simplest explanation would be that the Jesus story was based on the older Odin story, or that they were both based on an even older original story.

  • 2
    Yes, that would be an explanation. Can you provide any sources that may back it up?
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 15:10
  • 8
    Despite Christian mythology containing much extra-Jewish influence, the Odin story is not one of them. It would have been highly unlikely for Odin to reach Palestine in the first century CE without it leaving a trace along the way, Moreover, every single text of this story post-dates the birth of Christianity by hundreds of years. If there's a relationship at all, it's certainly the other way around.
    – cmw
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 16:35

The story of dyeing and rising on the third day is much older than both religions it came from sun worship when people tracked the sun. When the path of the sun would settle it the constellation of the southern cross then return three days later.

  • The Southern Cross would not have been well known to the early Norse or Christians.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented May 18, 2017 at 7:21

The hung Odin and the crucified Jesus

The god who dies but resurrects, is an often-re-appearing legend in many religions. Amongst the deities that die and then come back to life are: Horus, Mithra, Dionysius and Odin. Horus and Dionysius are also, for sure, crucified. Apart from the sacrificial death itself, there also is a thorough description that Horus, Mithra and Dionysius have been born the 25th of December. All of them also have twelve disciples and they create miracles. On a shrine dedicated to Mithra it is written “You have saved us through your shed blood”. This shrine is nowadays situated beneath the Sancta Prisca church in Rome.

Parts of these mythological stories also fit quite well to the Germanic god Odin, or Wotan.

Midwinter Blót was held to honor Odin around the time of Winter Solstice, which in the old days occurred on December 25th. Odin has twelve lower ranked gods under him, and one of them (Loki) is a traitor. Odin is hung upon the tree of Yggdrasil for three days, according to Havamal. After his death, Odin gets more power than before it. In the Christian tradition, Jesus has increased his powers after he died and resurrected after three days. Crucifixion, which was a common way to execute slaves, thieves and traitors in the ancient Mediterranean world, has not been practiced in the Germanic territories, and hanging has instead been seen as a dishonoring way to die. Executions with guillotine or sword have been seen as a more honoring way to die rather than hanging, all the way into our modern times. Both Odin and Jesus get stabbed with spears during their sacrificial deaths. Odin was hung upon a tree, and Jesus was hung upon a cross made out of wood. According to some Christian beliefs, that cross was made out of a tree that Adam, the first man, had planted. Horus, but also several other Egyptian gods, are depicted holding a hieroglyph known as “the Ankh”. That symbol is very similar to the cross that the Christians are using, and both symbols mean life and resurrection.

Odin was not born of a virgin, since the Eddas are mentioning that he had both a father and a mother, Búri and Bestla. It can though be said that Bore, the father of Búri was born when he got licked out of a block of ice by the cow Audhumbla.

Experts in religion have mentioned that Odin is similar to the god Mithra, the main savior deity of the late ancient world, who also has twelve disciples, all of whom are represented by the twelve signs of the Zodiac. But it looks like the idea of the god that dies and resurrects is around 5000 years old, if you go all the way back to the myth of Horus. Odin’s most ecstatic aspect is pretty similar to the description of the Greek god Dionysius. Both Mithra and Odin were celebrated at the Spring Equinox, and the Christians celebrate Easter at spring as well.

In other words, it is more than likely that the Christians took over an elder myth and blended it into their own belief system. The Jews were strongly influenced by the Egyptians, and monotheism was grounded in Egypt. The first Christians were most likely Jews who were inspired by the pagan world’s ideas about salvation, and thus added those ideas into their own belief system. The pagan teachings about salvation did not claim to be the only way to salvation, and thus accepted other religions. The idea that everyone must think in the same way and fight for the same belief system, did not exist amongst the polytheistic religions.

Both Mithra and Dionysius were celebrated with mystery plays, and also in partially secret societies. It is thus believable that the first Christians believed in a mythological savior that was born, lived, created miracles and then got executed, just to resurrect and come back to

Earth. Later on, when Christianity increased in popularity, some of the Christians started to believe that their savior was a real, physical being, that lived and acted in a recent past. The Christians started to think that the “physical” savior lived and died in the 30-s of our time. Since the Christians converted as many as possible to Christianity, their converts literally believed everything that was taught to them. The monotheistic religions are struggling even nowadays with their so called literalism.

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