Mermaid Wortcunning & March Nettle Beer


Mermaids from Harley MS 4972 f. 20r, 1275-1325

For some years now, it has been a tradition in the Ealdríce to drink a “green” beer at our Hréþmónaþ fainings.  We fully acknowledge that this is no thew of elder heathendom. Moreover, this odd custom has little to do with our worship of the goddess Hréþe.  Rather, this green beer is partaken of at Hréþmónaþ because that is the Anglo-Saxon month which, more or less, matches the month of March. And it is in March that we must drink this green beer.

One might mistakenly think that our custom of drinking a green beer in March springs from the Feast of Saint Patrick which also falls in the month of March.  After all, since the early 1900’s, publicans aplenty have dyed their brews with green food-coloring on that day.  Yet, the Ealdríce’s “green” beer has another origin altogether…an origin that is Scottish instead of Irish and one which speaks to the “ministry” of a mermaid rather than that of a saint. The Théodsmen of the Ealdríce are, after all, mickle worshippers of mermaids (Well, more so than we are of saints.)

Robert Chambers, in his book Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1826), recalled a story from Renfrewshire of a young maiden who died of consumption.  As her body was being born over a road near the sea, a mermaid raised her head above the water and offered this bit of herb-lore:

If they wad drink nettles in March,
and eat muggons in May,
sae mony braw maidens,
wadna gang to the clay.

Or as we might now say,

If they would drink nettles in March,
and eat mugwort in May,
so many brave maidens
would not go the clay (their graves).

Thus, as our Ealdorblótere (chief priest) is a great believer in the leechcraft and wortcunning of mermaids, he brews for us a nettle ale each year. After all, mermaids are indeed a part of our Anglo-Saxon heathen lore.

Known to the Anglo-Saxons as meremenen or merewíf, and to our Norse cousins as margygur and marmennill, mermaids, as we now know them, are among the many wights that make the waters their home. Gifted in soothsaying, witchcraft, and healing arts, mermaids can sometimes be helpful, as was the mermaid at Renfrewshire.  Yet they can also be quite deadly. In Old English writings, meremenen match the Sirens of Greek myth and in Beowulf, Grendel’s own monstrous mother is called a merewíf.  Thus, as with any wight of the utangeard (wilderness), one should be wise about how often, if ever, one has dealings with them.

Ah, but you didn’t begin reading this for a lesson in Théodish wight-lore.  It is the beer that you are keen to know more of, the green nettle beer. The truth be told, the beer is only “green” when it begins to brew as that is the color that the nettle leaves first give it.  Yet by the time that it is done it is a dark brown in color, though one may still discern in it an earthy, deep green hue. As for how it tastes, its “grassy” flavor is akin to the smell of freshly mowed hay. After all, we do not hop our housel ales like Protestants and so there is nothing to “bitter” the natural flavor of the nettle. Does it work you might ask? Well, thus far we have kept consumption away.

We’ll drink to that.

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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