Exteter Book Riddle 29


Amphisbene – Bestiary Harley MS 3244, ff 36r-71v courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Lay Wending (Verse Translation) by Þórbeorht
I saw a wondrous wight (being), laden with war-takings between its horns, a shining sky-vat, craftily bedecked.  The takings of the battle-march, it sought to bring home. There it would a-timber (build) a bower in the burg (stronghold) and skillfully set it so…if it might.

Then came another wondrous wight over the wall’s roof, known to all bondsmen of the earth. It freed the war-takings and drove the wretch, against its will, to its home.  Then west, to fare in its feud, it hastened forth.  Dust rose to heaven, dew fell on earth, night went away. None amongst men wist (knew) the wight’s wayfaring thereafter.

Old English Reading
Ic wiht geseah     wundorlice
horna abitweonun     huþe lædan
lyftfæt leohtlic     listrum gegierwed
huþe to þam ham     of þā heresiþe
walde hyre on þære byrig     bur atimbram
searwum asettan     gif hit swa meahte ·
ða cwom wundorlicu wiht     ofer wealles hrof
seo is eallum cuð     eorðbuendum
ahredde þa þa huþe     ⁊ to ham bedræf
wreccan ofer willan     gewat hyre west þonan
fæhþum feran     forð onetteð
dust stonc to heofonum     deaw feol on eorþan
niht forð gewat     nænig siþþan
wera gewiste     þære wihte sið

Highlight here for the riddle’s answer: The first wight is the Moon, who has stolen the Sun’s light. His “horns” are the moon’s crescents.  The second wight is the Sun, who rises in the sky’s horizon (over the wall’s roof) to reclaim the light.


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Exeter Book Riddle 44/75

saxons in bed

Wondrously it hangs by a man’s thigh, under the lord’s clothes. Before it is a hole. It is stiff and hard and hath a good stead when the man lifts his own tunic over his knees. He wants that well known hole, and with his hanging-thing’s head, to greet that which he, full length, has often filled before.”
-Riddle 44/75 of the Exeter Book, as wended from Old English by Þórbeorht

Lay Wending (Verse Translation)
Wondrously it hangs by a man’s thigh
under the lord’s clothes. Before it is a hole.
It is stiff and hard and hath a good stead
when the man, his own tunic,
lifts over his knees. He wants that well known hole,
and with his hanging-thing’s head, to greet
that which he, full length, has often filled before.

Old English Reading (Version)
Wrætlic hongað bi weres þeo
frean under sceate foran is þyrel
bið stiþ ⁊ heard stede hafað godne
þonne se esne his agen hrægl
ofer cneo hefeð wile þæt cuþe hol
mid his hangellan heafde gretan
þæt he efenlang ær oft gefylde

One of the many hall-joys oft heard in the Ealdríce’s halls is that of riddling. Indeed, hardly a gathering goes by without some giddy guildsmen or guest offering a riddle to the hall. Whilst many of these riddles are new, the work of the guildsman’s own wit, sometimes they are old, yore-old even, being some of the same riddles told by our Anglo-Saxon fore-elders so many hundredtides (centuries) ago.

Þórbeorht has wended one such yore-old riddle, that found above, from Old English to Modern English.  Mind you, the answer to the riddle is not what it first seems.  For the answer, click here.

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On Yuletide and the Span of Its days

The Three and the Twelve


Mummers dancing. Bodleian Library MS. Bodl 264, fol 21v.

As with the reckoning of Módraniht, there arises, from time to time, some great stirring amongst nowtidely Heathens as to the reckoning of Yuletide (OE: Géoltíd) and the tally of its days.   That Cristesmæssetíd, that is to say Christmastide, was set at twelve days at the Second Council of Tours in 567 CE is sure and true.  As deemed then by the bishops there gathered, “From the Nativity of the Lord [December 25th] to Epiphany [January 6th] there are festivities and feasts on every day but those three days in which, to tread down Heathen custom, our elders set aside at the calends of January for private prayer.[i] In keeping with this churchly deeming, the West Saxon king, Ælfred the Great, deemed it law in 893 CE  that “these days are given to all freemen but servants and hirelings: twelve days at Yule…[ii]

It is not said whether the “Heathen customs” (gentilium consuetudinem) which the Second Synod sought to stamp out were those of Roman Paganism, Celtic Druidry, or Germanic Heathendom. Indeed, such might well have been a holytide held by all three. At the time, Tours was in a Frankish kingdom yet, not so long before then, the land was Roman and, before then still, it was Celtic.  To step even further back in time, each of these three manygodded beliefs sprang from the same Indo-European root. Thus a thew found in one could often be found in the others, though its shape might shift from folk to folk.

Yet the synod’s deeming spoke of three days within the twelve which were so steeped in Heathen holiness that, for them, feasting was to fully give way to Christian prayer. Nearly four hundred years after the Second Council of Tours, and many miles to the north in Norway, there is found witness to a Heathen Yuletide feast which lasted for three nights. In the Saga Hákonar góða, it is said that, when king Hákon the Good became king of Norway in 934 CE, he deemed that the Norwegians should keep their Yuletide feast according to the custom of the Christians and that, before Hákon’s abanning, “Yule began on Hewing-night [slaying-night or Hogmanay], that is Midwinter night, and held for three nights was Yule (ON: Jól).[iii]   Thus it may be said then that the Norse Heathen, at least those of Hákon’s Norway, held a Yuletide of three nights and that the Franks, if not other Germanic tribes, may have have done the same.

Twelve Nights of Soothsaying

Reading the Runes

Þórbeorht Ealdorblótere casting the runes at Whitthenge Heall (2016)

Yet what of the Anglo-Saxons?   Across England sundry rites, tethered to the twelve nights of Yule, may be found. Moreover, many seem far more Heathen than Christian. One such witness is found in a work of Anglo-Saxon soothsaying, daymarked to 1120 CE wherein woe may be foretold by the blowing of wind on a given night of Yuletide.  As wended into our nowtidely tongue:

Here it says of the drighten’s (Christ’s) birth, about the twelve nights of his tide:
If the wind is on the first night, ordained men (clergy) will die.
[If] on the night after and the third night there is wind, then fruits will be undone (wither).
[If] on the forth night if there is wind, then loaves will be little.
If on the fifth night there is wind, then there is greed (danger) on the sea and ships will be undone (wreck).
If on the sixth night there is wind, then there will be sundry sicknesses on the earth that year.
If on the seventh night there is wind, fire will be swith (quickly, strongly) rife that year.
If on the eight night there is wind, then aldermen will die.
If on the ninth night there is wind, sheep will die.
If on the tenth night there is wind, trees will be late to leaf.
If on the eleventh night there is wind, all kind of livestock will be undone (die).
If on the twelfth night there is wind, then there will be mickle fighting on the earth.[iv]

That one should take heed of the winds at Yuletide may well recall the winds of the Wild Hunt, a godly and ghostly winter begoing, which was seen since time untold in the heavens above lands both Celtic and Germanic.  Though many gods, goddesses, yore-old kings, and heroes were said to take part in the procession, amongst the English it was believed to have been led at times by Wóden, the dwarven King Herla, Hereweard the Wake, Eadríc the Wild, and Herne the Hunter. Indeed, the forecasting of noble deaths and great warfare is well in keeping with what we know of Wóden as the god of the slain.

Abanning the Yoole-Grithol

Likewise, in York there is another witness to an English Yuletide of twelve days which seems steeped in Heathen thew: the abanning of the Yoole-grithol (Yule Grith) at York.  Calling upon the witness of an earlier work, Ex antique regift Ebor, itself penned sometime before the puritanical Archbishop Edmund Grindal abolished the York Yule Riding in 1572, Fr. Francis Drake recorded the rite in his Eboracum: Or the History of Antiquities of the City of York (1737).  As it is found there:

The sheriffs of the city of York have anciently used on St. Thomas’s day [December 21] … to make proclamation at the pillory of Yoole-grithol, in the form that follows by their sergeant:
“We command that the peace of our lord the king be well kept and maintained by night and by day. Also that all manner of whores, thieves, dice-players, and all other unthrifty folk be welcome to the town, whether they come late or early, at the reverence of the high feast of Yoole, till the twelve days be passed.”[v]

It is noteworthy that the men of York marked the beginning of their Yuletide by St. Thomas’ day (December 21st), that being the winter sunstead, rather than by Christmas (December 25th). Such a reckoning of Yuletide harkens back to Anglo-Saxon Heathendom. As betold by Béda in his work, De Temporum Ratione (725 CE):

On the winter solstice, the 8th day before the calends of January (December 25th), [the Lord] was born.[vi] (Chapter 30)  

They began the year on the 8th day before the calends of January (December 25th), the day upon which we now celebrate the nativity of our Lord.  That which is now the most sacred night, was then called Módraniht by the Heathens, that is, “the night of the Mothers.”[vii] (Chapter 15)

During much of the Middle Ages, the winter sunstead was believed by Churchmen to fall upon December 25th. Indeed, it did for some time. Yet the Roman year-reckoning that they used was slightly off and, over the years, that daymark (date) drifted from the true sunstead. By the 11th hundredtide, the winter sunstead had come to fall on December 21st, though the Church continued to keep the 25th as the beginning of its own Yuletide, Christmas.  Thus, whilst the abanning of the Yoole-grithol at York was thoroughly christened by the 16th hundredtide, there can be little inkling otherwise that it was indeed “anciently used.”

Wassailing the Apple Orchard

12th Night 2016

Þórbeorht Ealdorblótere wassailing the apple trees at Whitthenge Heall (2016)

Beyond this there is the English thew of wassailing the apple orchards on the twelfth night of Yule, which itself would seem to recall the Heathen thew of tree-worship (OE: tréow-weorþung) which had been forbidden by the Anglo-Saxon church. To this day, Englishmen will gather in apple orchards on the 12th night of Christmastide to sing to the trees and bid them wassail with toasts of cider and offerings of bread set into the branches.  A shortening of the Old English wes þú hál, “be thou hale,” wassail is a blessing that is bestowed upon the boughs in the hope that they might bear a fulsome apple harvest in the year to come. As written of a wassailing rite held in Devonshire:

Here’s to thee, old apple-tree,
Whence thou mayst bud, and whence thou mayst blow!
And whence thou mayst bear apples enow!
Hats full! Caps full!
Bushel-bushel-sacks full,
And my pockets full too! Huzza![viii]

It would be hard to fathom a rite more rooted in Heathen thew than that of wassailing of orchards. Though we may not say for sooth whether the goddess known to the Norse as Iðunn, goddess of the golden apples whose name means “renewer,” was worshipped as well by the Anglo-Saxons, the Théodsmen of the Ealdríce have found it fitting to fain her as *Edunne upon the twelfth night of Yule. Indeed, at Whitthenge Heall we even planted a small orchard some years ago so that we might wassail the apple trees and worship her, as the goddess of our orchards, more fully.

Of the span of the Anglo-Saxon Heathen Yuletide, we have but one lore-spring, Béda’s De Temporum Ratione (725 CE) wherein he says that the Anglo-Saxon Heathens who came before him had two months called Yule (OE: Géola) which, more or less, matched the Roman months of December and January.  Beyond this we but know that the Anglo-Saxon Heathens began their year on winter sunstead which they named Módraniht.  Whether their high housel (feast) of Yule lasted three nights, as it did amongst the Norse or whether it lasted for twelve nights, as English folklore would seem to show, is not fully known.  Yet, as Anglo-Saxon Théodsmen it is not only the writings of thentidely churchmen that we turn to in our eft-shaping (reconstruction) of the old Heathen belief. Nay, we freely and fully draw upon the living lore of our folk (folklore) and of our old homeland, thinking no less of such customs for having been kept alive by churls. Indeed, we are truly thankful for such folklore and think of it as a gift from our fore-elders.

Anglish Wordhoard
Abanning – A proclamation or formal announcement
Churchly – Ecclesiastical
Churl – A commoner, a freeman
Daymark – Calendar date
Eft-shaping – Reconstruction
For sooth – For certain
Grith – Sanctuary and safety given for a set time
Heathen holiness – Pagan religion
Holytide – Holiday season
Hundredtide – Century
Inkling – Doubt, suspicion, skepticism
Lore-spring – A primary source of information
Manygodded – Polytheistic
Nowtidely – Contemporary
Sunstead – Solstice
Thentidely – Contemporary in the past
Thew – Custom, tradition
Winter sunstead – Winter solstice

[i] Acta Conciliorum et Epistolae DecretalesEt quia inter natale Domini et epiphania omni die festivitates sunt itemque prandebunt. Excipitur triduum illud, quo ad calcandam gentilium consuetudinem, patres nostri statuerunt privatas in kalendis Ianuarii fieri litanias.  Wended from Latin by Þórbeorht.
[ii] Dómbóc of Ælfred 43 (c. 893 CE)Eallum frioum monnum ðas dagas sien forgifene, butan þeowum monnum ⁊ esnewyrtan: XII dagas on gehhol…  Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht.
[iii] Saga Hákonar góða CH 25jólahald hafit hökunótt, þat var miðsvetrar nótt, ok haldin þriggja nátta jól. Wended from Norse by Þórbeorht.
[iv] Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hatton 115, fol. 149v/8-23Her segh ymb drihtnes gebyrd, ymb þa .xii niht hs tideGyf se wind byoð on þa forma niht, gehadode weras sweltaðÞære æfteran niht ⁊ þere þriddan niht bið wind: þonne wespnas forweorðaðÞeore feorðan niht gif wind byð: lef byð lytelÐære v. niht gif wind byð: Ðere vii. niht gyf wind byoð:  byð frecne on seo ⁊ scipu forweorðaðÐere vi. niht gif wind byð: ðonne adla byoð þy geare on eorðan mislicaÐere vii. niht gyf wind byoð: fir byð swyðe ryfe þy geareÐere viii. niht gyf wind byoð: þonne ældemen sweltaðÐere ix. niht gyf wind byð: scep sweltaðÐære x. niht gyf wind byð: treow byoð fornerwedeÐære xi. niht gyf wind byoð: æale nyetenu forweorðaðÞonne xii. niht gyf winð byð: þonne byoð micel gefeoht on eorðanWended from Old English by Þórbeorht.
[v] Eboracum, Or The History and Antiquities of the City of York by Francis Drake p197,  Made nowtidely in its English by Þórbeorht.
[vi] 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. Wended from Latin by Þórbeorht.
[vii] eundem in solstitio brumali VIII Calendas Januarias natum.Wended from Latin by Þórbeorht.
[viii] John Brand’s Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britian (1853). Page 29.

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Teutonic Britannia – Before the Anglo-Saxons

Boar Helm

A boar crested helmet made in the likeness of the 7th century Northamptonshire Helm

[The following is a post made by Þórbeorht on the 28th of October, 2011 in the Fifeldor blog.]

In the year 43 CE, Batavians attached to the XIV Legion were part of the Roman force that fought in Britain against the Celts at the battle of Medway River. In the 2nd century, Marcus Aurelius employed Macromanni to fight the British. By the third century, defeated Burgundians and Vandals were transferred by Rome to Britain. By the 220s-230s, Rome had stationed Frisian auxiliaries in Britain. In 306 an Alemannic king by the name of Crocus and his troops were in York. By 372, the Alemannic king Fraomar was in Britannia leading his troops under Valentinian I’s banner – meaning that Alemanni had been in Britain for nearly a century. By the time Hengest and Horsa arrived in 446 CE and began the Anglo-Saxon invasion, Teutonic peoples had been consistently fighting, and no doubt settling, in Britain for at least four hundred years. What made the “Anglo-Saxon Invasion” so remarkable wasn’t that Teutons were crossing the channel, conquering, and settling Britain – that much they had been doing for quite some time after all. What made it remarkable was that they were finally doing so under their own boar-banners rather than under Rome’s eagle-standard.

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The Alaisiagae: Frisian Goddesses

[The following is a post made by Þórbeorht to the old ASHmail Yahoo Group on September 11th, 2011 and was reposted on December 23rd of that year to his blog, Fifeldor.]

Mars ThingusRecently I’ve been looking into evidence of Germanic Heathen worship in Britannia prior to the Anglo-Saxon invasion/migration. Thus far, my focus has been upon the Ceneus Frisiorum, a Frisian regiment of the Roman army stationed at the Housesteads fort (Hadrian’s Wall) during the 3rd century. This regiment, and possibly another in the 4th century (the Numerus Hnaudifridi), dedicated altars to a pair of goddesses known as the Alaisiagae.

The Alaisiagae, may or may not be Germanic goddesses. Indeed it seems as if plausible etymologies for their names can be drawn from both Celtic and Germanic roots. For example, the collective name of Alaisiagae has been interpreted as meaning “Dispatiching Terrors” by those who favor a Celtic etymology and as the “All Victorious” or even “Venerated Ones” by those favoring a Germanic etymology. Regarding their particular names, they are given in one inscription as Beda and Fimmilena in one inscription and Boudihillia and Friagabis, in another.

In the inscription bearing the names Beda and Fimmilena, all accounts that I have thus read agree that Fimmilena is a Germanic name, sharing its root with the Old Frisian Fimelþing, ‘court of judgment’, possibly a moving court. The name Beda, however, has been disputed. Some see it as deriving from a Proto-Celtic word for “burial.” Others see it as having its root in the same Old Frisian soil as Bodþing ‘convened Thing’.

The inscription is to DEO MARTI THINCSOET DVABVS ALAISAGIS BEDE ET FIMMILENE, “the god Mars Thingus (interpreted to refer to Tiw as god of the Þing, “the law assembly”) and the Alaisagae Beda and Fimmilena.” Given the connection to Tiw and the Þing and the Germanic etymology of Fimmilena, I am inclined to accept the proposed Germanic etymology for Beda as well.

Another inscription, this being the one from the 4th century, is dedicated to DEABVS ALAISIAGIS BAVDIHILLIE ET FRIAGABI… “To the Alaisagae goddesses Boudihillia and Friagabi.” Of these two names, Friagabi seems to be agreed upon as being Germanic, possibly meaning “Freedom Giver” (which may still connect well with having a role in the law assembly) or “Free Giver”.  Boudihillia, however is thought by some to derive from a Proto-Celtic root, having the meaning “victory’s fullness.”

It was Boudihillia  that prompted my post. As she was worshipped by Frisians, I was searching for a possible Germanic etymology . It was on this search that I came across the Frisian goddess Baduhenna, possibly derived from the Proto-Germanic *badwa- “battle.” Baduhenna is mentioned by Tacitus in book IV of his Annals. Apparently in 28 CE, some 900 Roman soldiers were “cut to pieces in a wood called Baduhenna’s” by the Frisians. This transpired in Frisia rather than Britannia. Obviously the temptation is to see in the 1st century Frisian Baduhenna the goddess Boudihillia that Frisians were worshiping in 4th century (in Britannia). Indeed, the Proto-Celtic *boud, “victory” and the Proto-Germanic *badu/badwu, “battle” both spring from the same Proto-Indo-European root: *bhau(t), “to knock or strike.”

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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.

Posted in Ealdríce Hæðengyld - A Theodish Fellowship

On Hláfmæsse or Lammas Which We Call Hláftíd or Loaftide


Godlikeness of Beowa, god of the barley harvest. Crafted by Myrkwood Artefacts and taken at Whitthenge Heall

In the Anglo-Saxon year-reckoning, the moon-meted month which fell about the month now known as August was then called Wéodmónað. Of its wordlore, Béde wrote that “Wéodmónað is known as the “month of weeds” as at that time they are most fulsome.”[i]  It was at the beginning of Wéodmónað that early Anglo-Saxon Christians took bread, baked from the first of the wheat or barley harvest, and bore it to the church to be blessed.  As betold in The Old English Martyrology (800-900 CE), the 1st of August was þonne dæg æt hláfsenunga, “the day of the bread-signing,” meaning that the loaves of bread were marked with the sign of the rood.

Yet the blessed bread was more than an offering given to the god at harvest.  In a psalter written at Winchester in the middle of the 11th hundredtide, there is found a spell which speaks to a belief in the holy loaf’s might to ward the harvest from mice.  As lain down in the leechdom:

[Take two] long four-edged sticks and write on either stick onto each edge, to the end, a Pater Noster and lay them in the barn on the floor, the one over the other, so that the rood’s token (the sign of the cross) be there upon it; and take thee from the hallowed loaf that was hallowed on Lammas Day four bits and crumble them on the four horns (corners) of the barn.[ii]

This holytide, known then as Hláfmæss, “Loaf Mass” and later named Lammas, marked the beginning of the Harvest yeartide.  As recalled in Byrhtferþ’s Enchiridion (1010-1012 CE), “August fares to men mid fulsome harvest, and Autumn – that is harvest time.”[iii] And, as found in The Old English Menologium (1044-1066 CE);

          And the ever it glides,
around seven nights,     summer-brightened
Weedmonth to town.    Everywhere bringeth
August     to the great théod,
Lammas Day.     So the harvest cometh.[iv]

To wend such words from laycraft to layman’s words: “And around seven nights the summer-brightened Weedmonth glides into town. Everywhere Lammas Day brings August to mankind.  In such a way, the harvest comes.” As such, Lammas marked the first of the harvest fainings, and it was upon this day that folk were also “bound to bring in wheat of that year to their lord.”[v]  Such may well have been the bere-gafol, “barley tribute,” spoken of in the laws of Ine, King of Wessex (694 CE), where it was deemed that “a man shall always as barley-tribute, give for any worker six pounds [of barley].”[vi]

So great was this bond between bread and athelingdom amid the Anglo-Saxons that their nobles were known as “lords,” from the Old English hláford, meaning “loaf warder” and their brides, “ladies,” from the Old English hlǽfdige meaning “loaf kneader.” Indeed, in 616 CE, Bishop Mellitus was driven from the Kingdom of Essex by its heathen kings Sexræd and Sæward when he would not give them the white holy loaf (hálgan hláf) of the Christian housel lest they be baptized.[vii]  That a blótere of any belief would withhold blessed bread from the highest loaf-warders in the land was unfathomable to the early Anglo-Saxons. Godsprung kingship lay at the heart of Anglo-Saxon heathen holiness and it was the king’s hál, “luck,” that brought the fullsome harvest.  Thus, in forbidding the holy bread to the kings Sexræd and Sæward, Bishop Mellitus had gainsaid their holy lordship over the land. That Mellitus was driven from the kingdom and not then and there martyred may well have been a kindness afforded to him by the brothers for the friendship that he had shown their late father Sæberht.

As to the ground from whence Lammas first sprung up, it has long been thought that the holytide is a holdover from heathen times, one which may well have been bound up in the runes of holy kingship.  Though such is but guesswork, the holding of a housel to fain the first of the harvest fits well with what we know of the old belief. In truth, there is nothing in the offering of the Lammas-loaf that is not in keeping with the worship of the elder troth. As such, in the Ealdríce we hold this harvest tide, having first called it Hláftíd, “Loaftide,” some years ago as it would be wrongful to call a Théodish faining a “mass.”  Thus, on the full moon of Wéodmónað, we bake bread and brew beer and then bear each to our holysteads as gafol (tribute) to Ing-Fréa (ON: Yngvi-Freyr), god of fullsome fields, Scéafa, god of the wheat sheaves, or Béowa (ON: Byggvir), the god of barley. In truth it has been the thew at Whitthenge Heall since our guild’s founding to give great worship with much beer and bread to Béowe at this time, believing him to be the John Barleycorn recalled in British folksong.

Anglish Wordhoard
Athelingdom – Nobility
Betold – Described
Blótere – A sacrificer, a priest
Fain – Celebrate
Faining – A celebration
Fullsome – Abundant
Godsprung – Descended from the gods.
Guesswork – Theory
Housel – Eucharist
Hundredtide – Century
Laycraft – Poetry
Leechdom – Medicine, in this case, a medical text or “prescription.”  The word “leech” originally meant “physician.”
Moon-meted Month – Lunar month
Rood – Cross
Runes – Mysteries
Théod – A tribe, a people, a nation
Thew – Tradition
Troth – Truth, religion
Wend – Turn, translate
Wordlore – Etymology
Year-Reckoning – Calendar
Yeartide – Season

[i] De mensibus Anglorum of De Temporum Ratione (725 CE)
Vueod-monath mensis zizaniorum, quod ea tempestate maxime abundent. Wended from Latin by Þórbeorht
[ii] Cotton Vitellius E xviii, A 12th hundredtide psalter.
[…] lange sticcan feðerecgede  ⁊  writ on ægðerne sticcan[…] ælcere ecge an pater noster óð ende  ⁊  lege þone […]an þam berene on þá flore 7 þone oðerne on […] ofer þam oðrum sticcan.
 þær si róde tacn on ⁊ nim of ðám ȝehalȝedan hláfe þe man háliȝe on hláfmassedæg snǽda ⁊ ȝecryme on þá féower hyrnan þæs berenes.
Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht. The second half of this spell was first found in Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England: Being a Collection of Documents, for the Most Part Never Before Printed, Illustrating the History of Science in this Country Before the Norman Conquest, Volume 3,  by Oswald Cockayne and published by Longman, 1866. Page 290. I later happened upon the first half in The Place of the Cross in Anglo-Saxon England by Catherine E. Karkov, Sarah Larratt Keefer, Karen Louise Jolly Boydell Press, 2006 Page 79 after coming across that text on the blog, A Clerk of Oxford https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2017/08/a-little-history-of-lammas.html?m=1
MS Cott. Vitell., E xviii.,fol.16 a. as found in Lch. iii. 290, 28. Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England: Being a Collection of Documents, for the Most Part Never Before Printed, Illustrating the History of Science in this Country Before the Norman Conquest, Volume 3,  by Oswald Cockayne and published by Longman, 1866. Page 290
[iii] Augustus sihð tó mannum mid genihtsumun hærfeste, and Autumnus – þæt ys hærfesttíma.p76 Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht
[iv] The Old English Menologium 136b-140:
And þæs symle scriþ
ymb seofon niht þæs     sumere gebrihted
Wéodmónað on tún,     welhwær bringeð
Augustus     yrmenþéodum
Hláfmæssan dæg.     Swá þæs hærfest cymeð
Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht
[v] John Brand’s Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (1777) p 348
[vi] Mon sceal simle tó bere-gafole agifan æt ánum wyrhtan six púnd-wǽga, Law 59. Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht
[vii] Béda, Ecclesiastical History of the English Peoples, Book II, Chapter V

Posted in Ealdríce Hæðengyld - A Theodish Fellowship

Beholdings on the Heathenness of Midsummer: Wyrms and Wells

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken

Woodcut from Olaus Magnus’ History of the Nordic Peoples (1555 CE)

Amid the leafs of Robert Plot’s The Natural History of Oxford-Shire (1686 CE), there is found an odd betelling of a yeartidely rite held at Midsummer.  In his delving into the lore of that land, Plot learned that the town of Burford had “within memory” kept “the custom…of making a dragon yearly and carrying it up and down the town in great jollity on Midsummer Eve.”  As to the wellspring of such a rite, Plot offered his own guess.  Near the town was a battlefield upon which Cuþræd of Wessex had fought Æðelbald of Mercia in 750 CE. Plot put forward the thought that the dragon-likeness borne about Burford on Midsummer’s eve was a remembrance of Cuþræd’s mighty win over Æðelbald and of his taking of the Mercian king’s gold wyrmbanner. Yet Plot himself acknowledged as much to be guesswork, adding that he did not know why the likeness of a giant was also borne about the town at this time.[I]

Yet Plot’s writing is not the only reckoning of an English Midsummer rite wherein wyrms are to be found.  As betold by John Mirk of Lilleshall, Shropshire in his work Festial, also known as A Book of Festivals (14-15th hundredtide):

But yet, in the worship of Saint John, men waken at evening, and make three manner of fires: one is clean bones and no wood, and is called a bonfire [bone fire]; another is of clean wood and no bones and is called a wake-fire, fore men sit and wake by it, the third is made of bones and wood and is called Saint John’s Fire…The first fire was made of bones, as Jon Bellet [Jean Belleth 1162 CE] says, for in that country is great heat. It is the heat which excites dragons that they gather together, and fly in the air, and then falls down into water the froth of their kind, and so venometh (poison) the waters, that much people take their death thereby and many others [are with] great sickness…. The wise clerics knew well that dragons hate nothing so much as burnt bones.  Wherefore they taught the people how to gather all the bones that they might find, and set them on fire; and so with the stench of them they drive away the dragon…[ii]

Mirk, when he wrote that wyrms frothed into wells, was kind to his gentle English readership.  Belleth, who Mirk drew upon, was less seemly in his betelling.  As wended from Latin:

This, I say, that these wights fly in the wind, swim in the water, and walk on the land. However, in the sky they are lusty, as oft happens, spilling their seed (sperm) into wells or into river waters which, in the next year grows deadly. To this, such a remedy may be found, that is to say a balefire of bones was set up, the smoke of which drives these wights away.[iii]

Writing of a thew then found in Germany, Johann Boemus in his Omnium Gentium Mores, Leges et Ritus (1520 CE) offered another insight into the bond between flying wyrms and the Midsummer fire.  As betold by Boemus,

They cause a great fire to be made before the tower, which standeth upon a hill above the city, of Herbipolis (Würzburg), and throw into the fire many wooden hoops bored full of holes which, when they be all them on a red fire [once the all hoops are on the red fire], they put crooked sticks into the holes of the hoops, and cunningly and forcibly heave them up into the air [to] a great height, so as they, flying from the top of the hill over the river Moganus, which runneth under the hill,  seem to be fire dragons to those which never saw the like before.[iv]

Here, it would seem, that Boemus has taken two Midsummer thews and twined them into one: the belief that dragons flew about on Midsummer’s eve and the lighting of a fire or the rolling of fire-wheels, which was believed to be a remedy against such wyrms.  Yet that the heavens were at Midsummer haunted by ill-wights was a belief known to the Irish as well.  As late as the 18th hundredtide, Irishmen were beheld to bear burning brands about the land on Midsummer’s Eve to drive away unseen sickness-bearers.  As bewritten by a thentidely witness,

On the vigil of St.John the Baptist’s Nativity, they make bonfires, and run along the streets and fields with wisps of straw blazing on long poles to purify the air, which they think infectious, by believing all the devils, spirits, ghosts, and hobgoblins fly abroad this night to hurt mankind.[v]

Here we see the dragons betold by Belleth and Mirk made smaller, being but hobgoblins some hundredtide later. Yet this belief that the heavens might become haunted by sickening-wights is one well witnessed in Anglo-Saxon times.  Though fire is nowhere spoken of in the “Nine Worts Gealdor” of the Old English Lacnunga (10th hundredtide), the spell does speak of the “venom” (OE: áttre), “that which flies” (OE: onflyge), and the “loathsome that yond the land fareth” spreading sickness. These “flying venoms” are found in other Anglo-Saxon writings, such as in Bald’s Leechbook (9th hundredtide), wherein a white stone is said to have “might against stitch (pain) and against flying venom (OE: fleogendum attre) and against all uncouth (unknown) illnesses.”[vi] Whilst it may well be thought that these flying-venoms were but diseases, it is worth noting that the “Nine Worts Gealdor” also speaks of a wyrm which is battled by the healing worts (herbs) before it is slain by the god Wóden. Whilst it is not spelled-out in the spell, that the wyrm is the wellspring of the “flying venoms” which fare about the land, such is heavily hinted.  Moreover, the gealdor ends with the leech recalling nine adders who are seemingly driven from a river and from the sea, with the waters parting as their venom is blown away.  As found in the Lacnunga,

I alone wot (know) of a river running
There the nine adders near it beholdeth; (keep watch)
May all weeds now from worts (herbs) spring,
Seas to slip away (part), all salt water,
When I, this venom from thee blow.[vii]

That wyrms should befoul water is a yore-old belief, witnessed throughout Indo-European godlore. The frothing or seeding (sperming) of the waters by wyrms betold by Mirk and Belleth may well be recalled in the English folklore of the Lambton Worm (Roud #2337, 1867 CE). In said story, a wyrm fetched from a stream, when young, was tossed into a well. In time the ill-wight waxed long and broad in its shape so as to harrow the whole land and feed upon both cow and child alike before it was felled by a bold knight.   Such is not so far removed from the Old Norse tale of Þórr who, in the Hymiskviða, sought to slay the great wyrm Jormungandr who haunted the fishing grounds of his host. Likewise Indra, the thunder-god’s Vedic likeness found in the Rigveda (1500 and 1200 BCE), slew the wyrm Vritra, who begirded the sky and held back the rains of heaven.  In eft-shaped Slavic godlore, the thunder god Perun is believed to fight the god-wyrm Veles. Like the Lambtom worm, Veles slithers out from the underworldly waters to swallow Perun’s wife, child, and cows. And, as with the Vedic Vritra, Perun’s slaying of Veles frees the rains that were withheld by the wyrm.   In each story, a god – most often though not always the thunder god – or a mickle man is said to slay a wyrm that has fouled wells, harmed fishing grounds, or brought about drought by withholding the rains of heaven. As such, it may well be that the Midsummer fire betokened the fiery weapon wielded by the Indo-European thunder god who, in his slaying of the sickening-wyrm, both warded the waters and cleansed the wind (air).

As to the withholding of rain or the haunting of fishing grounds, to delve so deep as to fully fathom those waters would be well beyond the breadth of this writing.  I may wend once more to such Indo-European godlore in another Midsummer work, but for now I must fetter my fathoming to Anglo-Saxon thew and the role that wells played in English Heathen belief.[viii]

The worship of wells and springs, known in Old English as willweorþung, is mentioned in sundry Anglo-Saxon writ, such as The Penitential of Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury (late 7th hundredtide), the De Auguriis of Abbot Ælfric of Eynsham (10th hundredtide), the Canons of Archbishop Wulfstan of York (early 11th hundredtide), and the Laws of King Cnut the Great (11th hundredtide).  Yet well-worship was known in Britain well before the Anglo-Saxon Heathen came to that land and made it their own.  The Celts, who dwelt there before our coming, were known to worship wells and springs as well.  Yet, though forbidden by church and Christian king, willweorþung did not die out. Indeed, in time, willweorþung was welcomed by the Church. Wells which were once held holy to the Heathen belief were christened to sundry saints.  Indeed, to this day still, “well dressing” rites are found in England wherein Saints’ Wells are bedecked with blossoms during the months of May and June.[ix]

As to why the Celts and Anglo-Saxons worshipped wells, first as Heathens and then as Christians, we know from yore-old offerings which have been unearthed and from Church tradition alike that the waters of such holy wells were held to heal the sick. For some wells, it was believed that such healing was brought about by sipping from the sacred spring. At other, healing was gained by washing oneself with water drawn from the well. Yet always an offering was (and still is) given to thank the god or saint to whom the well is holy -– be it but a penny tossed into the waters, as with wishing-wells, or a ribbon tied to a nearby tree as a bidding (prayer).[x]

That the Anglo-Saxons worshipped holy wells that they believed to bestow healing, yet so too warded wells against wyrms which would sicken the waters, may well speak to a shared Heathen thew from whence they both spring.  This thew, as eft-shapen and understood in the Ealdríce may be betold thus:

Our Anglo-Saxon Heathen forebears worshipped wells and springs, holy to the gods, into which they made offerings that they might be healed of sickness.  Yet at Midsummer, the winds of heaven were haunted by wyrms, fiends often fought by the gods, which sought to befoul the wells and wend them into sickening-springs.  To ward against this, great fires were lit to drive the dragons away from the healing wells and to cleanse the wind of their unhale sway.  In a manygodded belief such as ours, it is likely that the help of more than one god would have been sought through worship at this time.  That wort-blossoms are woven at Midsummer into wreaths to be hung about a well, set into a river, or heaped upon the Midsummer fire itself, may well hint at Wóden’s worship.[xi] Yet, it may also be that Midsummer fires hurled into the heavens and rolled down hills betokened Þunor’s  (ON: Þórr) fiery axe-hammer with which he is known to fell such fiends. Indeed, we find it fitting to worship both gods at this holytide even as we find it fitting then to worship Sunne, goddess of the sun, and sundry other gods and goddesses. Yet, in our fellowship, the greatest worship that is given at Midsummer is given to Þunor, as there is no god we trust more to make war with wyrms and ward our waters.

Afterwrit (Postscript)
For those nowtidely Heathen who have wondered whether the Housel of Saint John was set upon the Heathen Midsummer for (due to) a great likeness (similarity) between John the Baptist and a given Heathen god, I do not believe this to be so. The church held that tide to be holy some time before the Anglo-Saxon trothwending. This is not to say that some likeness between John and an Anglo-Saxon god was not found. As I have already written in The Heathen Godhood of Saint John, the Baptizer was named the new Éarendel and Wuldor’s thane in Anglo-Saxon Christian laycraft.  Yet the strongest links between the old Heathen holytide and the Christian housel seem to have been the betokenship of the sun and the role that water played in the worship of both beliefs.

As a tide of sun-worship, Midsummer marks the waning of the sun even as Yule marks the sun’s waxing.  As John told Jesus that he (John) must wain so that Jesus (the Son) might wax, the setting of John’s housel upon the Summer sunstead fit well with Christian godlore. The fame of the feast, however, might well have been sped in Germanic, Celtic, and Slavic lands by a link between Heathen water-worship and Christian Baptism.  Indeed, many of the first Christian baptisms among the Germanic folk were performed in what had been Heathen holy springs, as when Bishop Willibrord baptized his followers in waters hallowed to the god Fosite. 

Anglish Wordhoard
Betelling – Description
Betold – Described
Betoken – Symbolize
Betokenship – Symbolism
Bewritten – Described
Bidding – Prayers
Eft-Shape – Reconstruct
Eft-shapen – Reconstructed
Gealdor – Old English for “charm, magical spell”
Godlore – Mythology
Housel – A holy feast. An old word for the Eucharist, itself sprung from the Old English húsel, “sacrificial feast”
Hundredtide – Century
Laycraft – Poetry
Leafs – Pages
Leech – A healer
Manygodded – Polytheistic
Mickle – Great
Nowtidely – Contemporary
Sunstead – Solstice
Thentidely – Contemporary to that time
Thew – Tradition
Trothwending – Conversion
Unhale – Unholy or unwholesome
Wellspring – Point of origin
Wend – Turn, translate
Wight – A spirit or being
Wort – Herb
Wyrm/Worm – A dragon or serpent. Early Germanic dragons were believed to be large snakes.
Yeartidely – Seasonal
Yore-old – Ancient

[i] “The Town of Burford, in Saxon Beorford, seems also to have been a place of good antiquity, but most remarkable for a battle fought near if, about the Year 750, perhaps on the place still called Battle-edge, west of the town betwixt it and Upton; between Cuthred or Cuthbert, a tributary king of the West Saxons, and Ethelbald the Mercian, whose unsupportable exactions the former king not being able to endure, he came into the field against him, met and over threw him here about Burford, winning his banner wherein there was depicted a golden dragon; in memory of which victory, perhaps the custom – yet within memory – of making a dragon yearly, and carrying it up and down the town in great jollity on Midsummer Eve, to which  – I know not for what reason – they added a giant, might likely enough be first instituted.” Page 356
[ii] But ȝet, yn þe worschip of Saynt Ion, men waken at evyn, and maken þre maner of fyrys: on ys clen bonys and no wod, and ys callyd a bonnefyre; anoþer ys of clene wod and no bonys, and ys callyd a wakefyre, for men syttyth and wakyth by hyt; the thryd ys made of bonys and of wode, and ys callyd Saynt Ionys fyre.
The fyrst fyre was made of bonys, as Ion Bellet sayth, for yn þat contray ys gret hete þe whech hete encawsut dragons þat þay gedryn ynfere, and fleyn yn þe ayre, and fallyn downe ynto watyrs þe froþe of hur kynde, and soo venemyth þe watyrs, þat moch pepyll takyn her deth þerby and oþer mony gret sekenes…Thes wyse clerkys kneuyn wele þat dragons hatyth nothyng so meche as brent bonys. Wherfor þay tacht þe pepyll forto gedyr al þe bonys þat þay myght fynde, and sett hom on fyre; and soo wyth þe stench of hom þay dryven away the dragon…Wended to Nowtidely English by Þórbeorht
[iii] Haec, inquam, animalia in aere volant. in aquis natant, in terra ambulant. Sed quando in aere ad libidinem concitantur (quod fere fit), saepe ipsum sperma vel in puteos, vel in aquas fluviales eiiciunt ex quo lethalis sequitur annus. Adversus haec ergo huiusmodi inventum est remedium, ut videlicet rogus ex ossibus construeretur, et ita fumus huiusmodi animalia fugaret.
Wended from Latin to English by Þórbeorht. Though, for having read Mirk, the Ealdríce has been faining Þunor at Midsummer for the warding of water from wyrms for some years before this writing, due must be given to the Truefastness blog for first finding the original Latin text for Belleth’s work. The Truefastness blog from which the Latin text was taken may be found here:
[iv] Early Modern English wending taken from a London printing by George Eld in 1611. Spelling arighted to a more nowtidely Modern English by Þórbeorht.
[v] From Comical Pilgrim’s Pilgrimage into Ireland (1732) as quoted by John Brand in his Observations on the Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (1777) p305
[vi] Se hwita san mæg wiþ stice ⁊ wiþ fleogendum attre ⁊ wiþ eallum uncuþum brocum. Wended from Old English by by Þórbeorht.
[vii] Ic ána wat éa rinnende
þær þá nygon nædran néan behealdað;
motan ealle wéoda nú wyrtum áspringan,
sæs tóslúpan, eal sealt wæter,
ðonne ic þis áttor of ðé geblawe.
Wended from Old English by by Þórbeorht.
[viii] Holy wells are found not only throughout England but in Norse godlore as well.  There the Urðarbrunnr of the Nornir, known to the Anglo-Saxons as the Well of the Wyrdæ (the Well of Wyrd). And there is, as well, that Well of Memory haunted by the head of Mímir and into which Wóden gave an eye to gaze by drinking its water.
[ix] If well-worship or well-dressing is of an older Indo-European thew, we may well find a kinship in the Slavic rites of Kupala, the Slavic name for Midsummer, wherein women still lay blossomed wreathes into waters (rivers).
[x] Here I only touch upon a Heathen thew discussed more deeply by Thomas Rowsell in his Survive the Jive Video on Sacred Water Places for Pagans, which is well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85qlcrVZMwU&t=4s
[xi] Johann Boemus in his Omnium Gentium Mores, Leges et Ritus (1520 CE)
Early Modern English wending taken from a London printing by George Eld in 1611. Spelling arighted to a more nowtidely Modern English by Þórbeorht.
Upon Saint John Baptist’s day at night, in every village and street in Germany be common fires, (or as we call them here in England bone-fires) about which all the people gather together, both men, women and children, dancing and singing and having many other superstitions, as wearing upon their heads garlands made of Mugwort and Vervain, and flowers in their hands wreathed and pleated in the fashion of a spur, (which wreaths they call military spurs) and they dare not look upon the fire, unless they look through those spurs, firmly believing that by that means their eyes be preserved all the year after from all pain and disease, and everyone as he goeth away, throweth the garland he wore about his head into the fire, saying this conjuration, “Go the thy way and burn, and all my ill luck perish and burn with thee.”

Posted in Ealdríce Hæðengyld - A Theodish Fellowship

Beholdings on the Heathenness of Midsummer: The Heathen Godhood of Saint John the Baptist

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken

Woodcut from Olaus Magnus’ History of the Nordic Peoples (1555 CE)

The 24th or 25th of June was the daymark upon which the Summer sunstead was fained in early Anglo-Saxon England (6th-8h hundredtide). Known then as Midsumor amongst the Anglo-Saxon Heathen and as the Housel of John the Baptist by Christians, the summer sunstead was a holytide held by both beliefs.  Yet as the Roman year-reckoning used by the Church was a little too long, in time the daymark drifted ahead of the sunstead. As such, by the 11th hundredtide, the sunstead fell upon the 20th or 21st of June, some days before John the Baptist’s housel.   As such, we may well find in Anglo-Saxon Christian writings some hint of the bright and merry heathen Midsummer which was, in time, darkened (eclipsed) by John the Baptist’s housel.

As Christ was bedecked in the guise of a sun god, at sundry times hight Fréa, Bealdor, Wuldor, and Tir, [i] so too was John the Baptist hooded in the likeness of a heathen sky god.  As bespoken in Seo Gebyrd S. Johannes Þæs Fulwihteres of the Blickling Homilies (10th hundredtide), “the new Éarendel is Saint John, and now the leam that is the sooth sun, God himself (Christ), will come.”[ii] That is to say, Saint John is the new Éarendel, the god known to the Norse as Aurvandil, whose name means “dawn wanderer” and who is beheld by men as that bright morning star which is known to some as Venus. Beyond this, the Baptist is further begodded in The Old English Menologium (1044-1066 CE) wherein he is said to be wuldres þegn, the thane of Wuldor (ON: Ullr).

Then, heaven’s thane [lit. Wuldor’s thane]
around thirteen [nights],    the king’s darling,
John in yore-days     was born,
ten nights also;     We, that tide, holdeth
on Midsummer    mickle in nobility[iii]

That John the Baptist is said in one place to be “the new Éarendel” and, in another, “Wuldor’s thane,” speaks to a stow first held by a heathen god which was, in time, filled by a Christian saint. One may well fathom that Éarendel’s name and his thaneship to Wuldor were “royal regalia” won through war and thereafter bestowed as spoils upon a new regalia-bearer.  Such was the trothwending of the Anglo-Saxons, that the new gods were for a time given the garb of the old gods that they might be made more familiar to the folk.

Anglish Wordhoard
Bespoken – Described
Daymark – Date
Fained – Celebrated
Hight – Named, called
Housel – An old word for the Eucharist, itself sprung from the Old English húsel, “sacrificial feast”
Hundredtide – Century
Leam – Sunbeam
Sooth – Truth
Stow – Place
Sunstead – Solstice
Thane – A knight, a sworn retainer
Thaneship – Knighthood
Trothwending – To wend (turn) one’s troth, conversion
Year-reckoning – Calendar

End Notes
[i] As aforewritten of in On the Right Reckoning of Módraniht, On Éastremónaþ, Éaster, and Éastre, and On Éarendel
[ii] se niwa eorendel Sanctus Iohannes; & nu nu se leoma þære soþan sunnan God selfa cuman wille. – Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht
[iii] þænne wuldres þegn
ymb þreotyne,         þeodnes dyrling,
Iohannes in geardagan         wearð acenned,
tyn nihtum eac;         we þa tiid healdað
on midne sumor         mycles on æþelum.
115b-119 – Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht

Posted in Ealdríce Hæðengyld - A Theodish Fellowship

On Midsummer, The Summer Sunstead, and the Housel of John the Baptist


Woodcut from Olaus Magnus’ History of the Nordic Peoples (1555 CE)

As to the reckoning of the Anglo-Saxon Midsummer, we find that it first shared its daymark with the housel held by Christians to mark the birth of John the Baptist. As witnessed in The Old English Martyrology (800-900 CE), “on the four and twentieth day of the month (the 24th of June) beeth Saint John [the Baptist]’s birth…on the same day is the solstice.”[i] Likewise, The Old English Menologium (1044-1066 CE) binds Midsummer’s reckoning to both the Baptist’s housel and the Summer sunstead when it says that, “About twenty-three nights later (the 24th of June), heaven’s thane, the king’s dear one, John the Baptist was born in days of yore.  We hold that holiday on Midsummer with great honor.” [ii]

Here one might well ask how it was that the Summer sunstead could be said to fall upon the 24th day of June when today it is reckoned to fall on the 20th or 21st of that month. As aforewritten in On the Right Reckoning of Módraniht, Christendom took for itself the old Roman pagan year-reckoning which, in its day-tallying, was in truth 10-11 minutes too long.    When Pliny the Elder, in his Naturalis Historia (79 CE), reckoned the sunsteads to fall on “the 8th day before the calends of July (the 25th of June) and the 8th day before the calends of January (the 25th of December)”, he wrote true.  Yet as the Roman year-reckoning was slightly off, over time the calendar’s daymarks drifted ahead of the true sunsteads.

So great had this gap grown by the 11th hundredtide that the true sunstead no longer fell upon the 7th or 8th day before the calends of July (the 24th or 25th of June) but rather upon a daymark now reckoned rightly by us to be June 20th or 21st. As betold by Byrhtferþ in his Old English Enchiridion (1010-1012 CE): “On the 7th day before the calends of July (the 20thof June) beeth the sunstead, that is, in Latin, solstitium (solstice), and in [Old] English, midsumor (midsummer).”[iii]  Thus Byrhtferþ, in the 11th hundredtide does not gainsay Béda who, writing in the 8th hundredtide, held that the sunstead fell upon the 25th. Both men wrote rightly for the time in which they lived.

Before faring forth beyond the reckoning of Midsummer itself, it should be said that, whilst the daymark of the Summer sunstead and thus Midsummer was set aright in late Anglo-Saxon Christendom, the Housel of John the Baptist was and is still held upon the 24th of June.  We may well ask why this was.  Though it is ground already gone over in On the Right Reckoning of Módraniht, such may be worth treading again for Midsummer.

The early Anglo-Saxon Church was sped greatly in its trothwending by the nearness of its own holidays to those heathen holytides long held through the land.  In the 6th, 7th, and 8th hundredtides, Módraniht, the heathen housel held to the Mother Goddesses, and Cristmæsse (Christmas), the Mass of Christ, both fell upon the winter sunstead even as the heathen Midsumer and the Housel of John the Baptist were both marked by the summer sunstead.  To worship at the same yeartides held holy by one’s forefathers, to give blót upon those days, and to bid the new god by the old gods’ names would have been a great frover (comfort) to those who, by command of the king, were made to wend their troth.

Yet, after three hundred years of Christian belief, the Anglo-Saxon folk were no longer wed to sun worship as they once were.  That Cristmæsse and John’s Housel no longer fell upon the true sunsteads did not matter to the laymen whose fathers, grandfathers, and great grandfathers had known no other troth than that of Christ and the Saints. As such, the Housel of John the Baptist and the Mass of Christ were still held upon the 24th of June and 25th of December.

As to the marking of Midsummer, we Théodsmen are not bewildered by the Church’s changes to the Roman year-reckoning.  We do not keep that calendar but, rather, that which was once held by our Anglo-Saxon heathen fore-elders.  Our year-reckonings have always been set by the same two stars, the sun and the moon, and are meted now as they have always been – with the months marked by the moon and the year itself set and reset by the sunsteads.

Anglish Wordhoard
Aforewritten – Witten before
Betold – Described
Blót – The offering of livestock
Daymark – A date
Frover – Comfort, help
Housel – An old word for the Eucharist, itself sprung from the Old English húsel, “sacrificial feast
Hundredtide – Century
Mickle – Great, large, much
Trothwending – To wend (turn) one’s troth, conversion
Wend – Turn, translate, change
Year-Reckoning – Calendar
Yore-days – Days of yore, in ancient times

End Notes
[i] On þone feower and twentigoðan dæg þæs monðes bið Sancte Iohannes acennes. […]
On þonne ylcan dæg byð solstitia… – Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht
[ii] þænne wuldres þegn
ymb þreotyne,         þeodnes dyrling,
Iohannes in geardagan         wearð acenned,
tyn nihtum eac;         we þa tiid healdað
on midne sumor         mycles on æþelum.
115b-119 – Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht
[iii] II.I 321 p74
On .xii kalendas Iulius byð sunstede, þæt ys on Lyden solstitium and on Englisc midsumor. – Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht

Posted in Ealdríce Hæðengyld - A Theodish Fellowship