The marvelous odyssey of Votan, a bronze age seafarer

There is a mysterious figure in the mythology of the Maya civilization, known by the name of Votan. If you decide to do little Wikipedia research on him you will first encounter the following notice: “Not to be confused with Woden (Wotan), the name in Anglo-Saxon/West Germanic tradition of the Norse deity Odin, sometimes erroneously transcribed as Votan.” But funny enough, as you continue reading you will see that the whole article pretty much revolves around the theory that this was indeed the same person. Apparently, such was a popular belief in the previous centuries. So, is there any truth in it?

First, let’s get to the basics. According to Wikipedia, the story of Votan in Mexico was first published in 1702. In 1786, Antonio del Río speculates at length on Votan’s identity and travels to the Old World. Assertion of a relationship between Votan and Odin is found in the work of the distinguished geographer Alexander von Humboldt, who wrote in 1810.:

“We have fixed the special attention of our readers upon this Votan, or Wodan, an American who appears in the same family with the Wods or Odins of the Goths and of the people of Celtic origins. Since, according to the learned researches of Sir William Jones, Odin and Buddha are probably the same person, it is curious to see the names of Bondvar, Wodansdag, and Votan designating in India, Scandinavia, and in Mexico the day of a brief period.”

In 1857, Charles Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg claimed that Votan was an ancient Phoenician legislateur who had migrated from the Middle East to the Maya area, defeated a race called the Quiname, built the city of Palenque, and established an empire called Xibalba, that was postulated by Brasseur de Bourbourg to have once covered all of Mexico and part of the United States.

In 1882, in the chapter titled “The God Odin, Woden, or Wotan”, Ignatius L. Donnelly connects Votan to Atlantis and also suggests that Votan built Palenque. Donnelly quotes Clavigero, saying that Votan “conducted seven families from Valum-Votan to this continent, and assigned lands to them”, and implies that “Valum-Votan” may have been a reference to Atlantis.

The story of Votan was further associated with the Atlantis legend by Lewis Spence in Atlantis in America (1925), who identifies Votan as “a local name for Quetzalcoatl” and provides a synopsis of the account by Núñez de la Vega.

Votan has also been cited in the literature of Neo-Nazism and white supremacy that associates him with Quetzalcoatl and Kukulcan and asserts that he was a bearded, white European who came to Mexico in Pre-Columbian times.

Wikipedia article concludes: These interpretations are considered to be problematic by recent Mayanist scholarship.

Problematic? Of course they are. Accepting them as true would mean that the version of history we learned in school is completely wrong. But “problematic” is really a mild word if you think about it. The word “problematic” does not carry the same weight as say, “nonsense”.

Why is it like that? Well, there could be few good reasons. First of all, according to the other books I managed to find on the subject, the name of Votan is really well documented in Mayan sources. Moreover, in the 17th century there were still indigenous people in the area claiming to be his direct descendants. This means that the existence of a figure named Votan in Mayan mythology is not questionable at all. Secondly, those same locals also claimed that Votan arrived from a far away place in the East, on a ship, but modern scholars are explaining this story as an allegorical one, relating it to the worship of Venus, for which Mayas are known.

But what we have here is not only a question of similar sounding names. False friends are nothing new in etymology. Things become really interesting only when you realize that the third day of the Mayan calendar was also known as Votan. I mean, just like Wednesday is named after Wodan in the Old world. Now, that is some coincidence!

maya votan.png

Mayan glyph for Wednesday – Votan

In ancient Roman calendar Wednesday was the day of Mercury, a planet known as Buddha in the East. Mercury was among many other things a protector of travelers, not unlike Wodan was for the Norse. And while Mayan etymology of “Votan” is classified as “unknown” it is assumed that Wodan’s name comes from Proto-Indo-European root “wed”, meaning “seer, prophet, the one who knows” (compare with Sanskrit and Slavic word “veda” – knowledge). Both Mercury and Wodan are associated with magic in the ancient world.

This is not the first article on this blog that deals with sea peoples reaching Mesoamerica in the Bronze age, so for the sake of my regular readers I will not go into detail of all  other possible connections already mentioned in previous articles. Let’s just say that if there is really a link between these two personages, it probably comes from Sea peoples.

Namely, I have proposed a theory that besides pillaging the whole of the Mediterranean region, sea peoples may have also decided to explore the western coast of Africa, something that we know that ancients were capable of, as this route became a regular trade route of the Phoenicians just a bit later. But if somewhere along this coast one daredevil decided to explore the open seas with a well-supplied ship, he would have been taken by South or North Equatorial current directly to Olmecs and Mayans of Mesoamerica, provided that he makes the voyage of course. Note also that on the way back his ship would sail to the land of the Norse.


I am now repeating this part only to add one more interesting thing. In this African region, pretty much in the area marked between the two currents, exists a unique and ancient religion known as Voodoo. This westernized word actually comes from the word Vodun (spirit) as it is called by the natives. And funny enough, it became so popular in Mesoamerica during the Spanish empire that it survives to this date.

Can this Vodun also be related to Votan of the Mayas and Wodan of the Norse? Could it be possible that some three and a half millennia ago, the same person (with his crew) made a pit-stop in this part of Africa to refill the supplies, spreading some cultural influence in the process? He then set sails to Americas and from there back to Norway. As a result, the name is still remembered on literary each end of these ocean currents? There is indeed too little evidence to make such claims, and perhaps this is really just a neat fantasy story, but perhaps, perhaps it can also be true?