The Months of the Anglo-Saxons

“De mensibus Anglorum (The Months of the English)” from De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time).  Written by Béda (Bede) in 725 CE.  Here wended into Anglish by Þórbeorht.

Bede de temporum

Bede, De temporum ratione, beginning of the prologue in a manuscript made either in Northern France or in England in the 11th or 12th century; Royal MS 13 A XI, f. 30v.

The Months of the English
The English folk of olden days (for to me it only seems fitting that, if I should speak of the yeartides of other folk, I should not be silent on that of my own) reckoned their months by the begoing of the moon.  As with the Hebrew and the Greek, [the months] took their name from the moon.  Thus, as they named the moon (OE: móna), so they named the month (OE: mónaþ).

The first of their months, which in Latin is named January, is called Géola (Yule). Then February, Solmónaþ; March, Hréþmónaþ; April, Éastremónaþ; May, Þrimilce; June, Líða; July likewise Líða; August, Weodmónaþ; September, Háligmónaþ; October, Winterfylleð; November, Blótmónaþ; and December, Géola, which is the same name that January is called.

They began the year on the 8th day before the calends of January (December 25th), the day upon which we now celebrate the birth of our Lord.  That which is now the most holy night, was then called Módraniht by the heathens, that is, “the night of the Mothers,” the wherefore of which, we forthink, being the worship (ceremonies) over which they kept watch.

Whenever it was a mean year, they gave three moon-months to each of the yeartides. However, when there was a leap year, that being a year with thirteen moon-months, they gave another month to summer so that there followed three months that were together called by the name Líða. Thusly they named that year Þrilíða (Three Líða), having four months of summer so that there are always three [months] for the yeartides.

Likewise, they sundered the year into two yeartides, namely winter and summer. The six months wherein the days are longer than the nights are called “summer” and the other six, “winter.”  Thus, the month wherein the yeartide of winter begins is called Winterfylleþ, a name born by the binding of the words “winter” and “full moon,” as it is from the full moon of that month that winter is allotted to begin.

Nor is it going backwards to undertake an understanding (a translation) of names of their other months.  The months of Géola (Yule) take their name from when the sun turns back and the day begins to lengthen, as the first [of these month] begins before [the winter sunstead] and the other [month] follows thereafter.

Solmónaþ (Sun-month) may be said to be the “month of flat cakes,” which they, in that month, gave to their gods; Hréþmónaþ, from the goddess Hréþe to whom they made offerings, was so named; Éastermónaþ, which is now name-wended “Paschal Month,” was named for the goddess Éostre to whom they once held fainings. By her name they now call the Paschaltide; the name that was wont (customary) for their old rites being given to the gladness of their new worship. Þrimilci was so called as it was said that cows could then be milked thrice daily; such was the speedsomeness in Britannia or Germania, from whence the English came into Britannia. Líða means “lithe (pleasant, agreeable)” or “fit for sailing,” for in both of these months the winds are soothing and mild and they are then wont (accustomed) to sail upon the sea. Weodmónaþ, is “the month of weeds,” for it is at that time they are most fulsome. Háligmónaþ, is “the month of holy rites.” Winterfylleþ, we can say, is a name .born from the blending of “winter” and “full moon.” Blótmónaþ is “the month of blood-offerings” for then they gave to their gods the livestock which were to be slaughtered. Thanks be unto thee, good Jesus, who hast awended us from such worthless things (vanities) that we might give unto thee our offerings of worshipful words (sacrifices of praise).

Anglish Wordhoard
Awended – Turned from
Begoing – Procession
Fainings – Celebrations
Forthink – Suspect
Mean – Common
Moon-month – Lunar month
Name-wended – “Name-turned,” translated
Speedsomeness – Fertility
Yeartides – Seasons

Béda does not wholly gainsay (completely contradict) himself when he says, in one line, that the Anglo-Saxons had yeartides of three months (so four seasons) and then, in a following line, says that they had two yeartides of six months (so two seasons). In early Germanic time-keeping, the year was first sundered into only two yeartides, those of Winter and Summer.  Yet, in time, the Anglo-Saxons made-out two other yeartides, those being Lencten (Lengthening) at the end of Winter and Hærfest (Harvest) at the end of Summer.  It seems then that Béda is merely betelling (explaining) both means of meting out the yeartides.

Latin Writ: De mensibus Anglorum
Antiqui autem Anglorum populi (neque enim mihi congruum videtur, aliarum gentium annalem observantiam dicere, et meae reticere) iuxta cursum lunae suos menses computavere; unde et a luna Hebraeorum et Graecorum more nomen accipiunt. Si quidem apud eos luna mona, mensis monath appellatur. Primusque eorum mensis, quidem Latini Januarium vocant, dicitur Giuli. Deinde Februarius Sol-monath, Martius Rhed-monath, Aprilis Eostur-monath, Maius Thrimylchi, Junius Lida, Julius similiter Lida, Augustus Vueod-monath, September Haleg-monath, Oktober Vuinter-fylleth, November Blod-monath, December Giuli, eodem Januarius nomine, vocatur. Incipiebant autem annum ab octavo Calendarum Januariarum die, ubi nunc natale Domini celebramus. Et ipsam noctem nunc nobis sacrosanctum, tunc gentili vocabulo Modranicht, id est, matrum noctem, appellabant, ob causam, ut suspicamur. ceremoniarum quas in ea pervigiles agebant. Et quotiescunque communis esset annus, ternos menses lunares singulis anni temporibus dabant. Cum vero embolismus, hoc est, XIII mensium lunarium annus occurreret, superfluum mensem aestati apponebant, ita ut tunc tres menses simul Lida nomine vocarentur, et ob id annus ille Thri-lidi cognominabatur, habens IV menses aestatis, ternos ut semper temporum caeterorum. Item principaliter annum totum in duo tempora, hyemis, videlicet, et aestatis dispartiebant, sex illos menses quibus longiores noctibus dies sunt aestati tribuendo, sex reliquos hyemi. Unde et mensem quo hyemalia tempora incipiebant Vuinter-fylleth appellabant, composito nomine ab hyeme et plenilunio, quia videlicet a plenilunio eiusdem mensis hyems sortiretur initium. Nec ab re est si et caetera mensium eorum quid significent nomina interpretari curemus. Menses Giuli a conversione solis in auctum diei, quia unus eorum praecedit, alius subsequitur, nomina accipiunt. Sol-monath dici potest mensis placentarum, quas in eo diis suis offerebant; Rhed-monath a dea illorum Rheda, cui in illo sacrificabant, nominatur; Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretetur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cuius nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant; consueto antiquae observationis vocabulo gaudia novae solemnitatis vocantes. Tri-milchi dicebatur, quod tribus vicibus in eo per diem pecora mulgebantur. Talis enim erat quondam ubertas Britanniae, vel Germaniae, de qua in Britanniam natio intravit Anglorum. Lida dicitur blandus, sive navigabilis, quod in utroque mense et blanda sit serenitas aurarum, et navigari soleant aequora. Vueod-monath mensis zizaniorum, quod ea tempestate maxime abundent. Halegh-monath mensis sacrorum. Vuinter-fylleth potest dici composito novo nomine hyemeplenilunium. Blot-monath mensis immolationum, quia in ea pecora quae occisuri erant diis suis voverent. Gratias tibi, bone Jesu, qui nos, ab his vanis avertens, tibi sacrificia laudis offere donasti.

About Þórbeorht Línléah

Ealdorblótere (chief priest) at Whitthenge Heall of the Ealdríce, an Anglo-Saxon Théodish fellowship. Author of Of Ghosts and Godpoles: Theodish Essays Pertaining to the Reconstruction of Saxon Heathen Belief, Both Old and Anglo (2014). Author of Þæt Ealdríce’s Hálgungbóc: The Théodish Liturgy of Þæt Ealdríce (2015, 2016). Þórbeorht resides in Richmond, Virginia with his wife Eþelwynn and two daughters.
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