The moon-reckoned month known to the Anglo-Saxons as Solmónaþ, that is “Sun-month,” fell more or less about the month now known as February. As betokened by its name, Solmónaþ marked the again-fairing of the sun, her waxing, and the lengthening of the days. Of Solmónaþ, the Old English Menologium offers this: “Then about the fifth night, Winter is a-fared from the village…Lent hath sailed to town.[i]” It must here be said that the word “Lent” springs from the Old English Lencten, that is “lengthening,” the Anglo-Saxon name given to the yeartide now known as Spring. As such, the Anglo-Saxon “Spring” of Lencten did not begin with Spring even-night but rather with the lengthening of the day at Solmónaþ. Unlike the yeartides now known to us, the Anglo-Saxon Heathen did not mark their beginnings by the sunsteads or even-nights. Instead, such days marked the middle of each yeartide. This can readily be seen in the names given to the Winter and Summer sunsteads: that of Midwinter and Midsummer. Such may also be said for the yeartide of Lencten which began with the lengthening of the days at Solmónaþ with the even-night falling midway between the yeartide’s beginning and ending.
Long before Christianity came to our homelands and abanned a formal fast, Lencten was a lean time. By Lencten the food-hoard gathered for winter had begun to wane and it would be some time still before anything newly sown could be harvested. Whilst our fore-elders never “gave up” a food for Lencten as the Christians did for Lent, they did indeed eat less at this time as they sought to stretch their stores until the summer when they would be filled anew.
Though there is no call for Théodsmen to ape their Christian neighbors by foregoing food during the Lenctentíd, there may be those who, in seeking to follow the yeartides as their fore-elders once did, choose to know some small meting of hunger. It is not unheard of, after all, for some Théodsmen to take it upon themselves to eat yeartidely food grown on their own land or upon that of some nearby farm. This said, no Théodsman bereaves himself of meat or meal to be shriven of his sins as a Christian might. Sin, true wrongdoing, is a thing for Thing that is set right not by shriving shame behind closed doors but, instead, by yielding shild as deemed by one’s lord and before the folk at moot. And so, as we keep the yeartide of Lencten, let us recall what it first meant to our heathen fore-elders: the lengthening of the day and the leanness of meat which lent itself to a longing for summer.
Abann – announce, formally proclaim
Bereave – deny
Even-night – equinox
Meat – From the Old English mete, which meant any kind of food and not merely flesh.
Meting – measurement, that which is meted out.
Moot – the law assembly
Moon-reckoned – determined by the moon, lunar months
Shild – a debt incurred by wrongdoing, a legal fine
Shrive – to confess and perform penance
Sin – a word wrought from an ancient Germanic legal formula meaning “to be” as in “to be guilty of a crime.”
Sunstead – solstice
Thing – the law assembly
Yeartide – season
Yeartidely – seasonal
[i] Ðænne þæs emb fíf niht þæt afered byð
Winter of wícum Lines 23,24a
Þæs þe lenctun on tún geliden hæfde Line 28
Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht.