The god of madness is back with a vengeance

Geoff Ward
7 min readMar 30

Wotan, the god of frenzy and possession in Germanic paganism, was seen by the eminent Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung as the mythological figure, representing a psychic force, behind the rise of Hitler and the Nazis — and Jung, shortly before he died in 1961, predicted a future worldwide ‘Wotanistic experiment’. Today, it seems Wotan’s time has come again

‘The world’s gone mad!’ How often do we hear this exclamation today?

In his ‘Essay on Wotan’, first published in 1936, Jung wrote that, because the behaviour of a race takes its specific character from its underlying images, one can speak of ‘Wotan’ as an archetype in the collective unconscious: ‘As an autonomous psychic factor, Wotan produces effects in the collective life of a people and thereby reveals his own nature.’

In Jungian depth psychology, archetypes are inherited, innate a priori modes of perception, linked to instincts, which regulate perception itself. They are primordial ideas, or tendencies, common to the human race, and convey themselves through archetypal images. They function autonomously from the unconscious, and are charged with emotion. Mythological figures, gods and demons, are archetypal.

Wotan, or Odin in Old Norse, was a supremely venerated god in Germanic mythology and paganism, and known in Old English as Woden, deriving from the proto-Germanic theonym, or deity name, Wōðanaz, which means ‘lord of frenzy’ or ‘leader of the possessed’.

‘Wotan’ by Konstantin Vasilyev (1969).

According to Jung, in The Symbolic Life (Collected Works, Vol. 18), the greatest threat to civilisation lies not in the forces of nature, nor with any physical disease, but with our inability to deal with the forces of our own psyche: ‘Indeed, it is becoming ever more obvious that it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer, but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes.’ (My italics).

Geoff Ward

Writer, poet, tutor and mentor in literature and creative writing (MA and BA Hons degrees in English literature), book editor, journalist and musician.