On Hláfmæsse or Lammas Which We Call Hláftíd or Loaftide

Beowa

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:
http://truefastness.blogspot.com/2017/06/midsummer.html?m=1
[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.
https://ia801406.us.archive.org/24/items/mannerslawescust00boem/mannerslawescust00boem.pdf
[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.
https://ia801406.us.archive.org/24/items/mannerslawescust00boem/mannerslawescust00boem.pdf
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

zodiac

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

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On May Day, Bældæg, and Beltane

Baeldaeg weoh

Bældæg wéoh at Whitthenge Heall. The token (symbol) is that of a fylfot firewheel.

As aforewritten in On Summer’s Icumen In, the English Christian May Day unseated the Anglo-Saxon Heathen holytide of Éastre as the day which marks the start of summer.  As such, we might well fathom to find amid its merrymakings, sundry hints of heathen thew. And indeed we do.

Among the Celtic neighbors of the Anglo-Saxons, May Day is oft called Beltane[i]. Found as Beltaine in Old Irish, Bealltainn in Scottish Gaelic, and Boaldyn in Manx, the wellspring of Beltane’s wordlore is believed to be the Proto-Celtic *belo-tanos, “bright fire.”  Though the shaping of Beltane is Celtic, the word itself should not look or sound wholly welsh to the English speaker. The Celtic *belo is kindred to our English, “bale” as in “balefire.”  “Bale,” being born of the Old English bæl, “pyre,” is itself sprung from the Proto-Germanic *bēlą. As such, it finds its root in the same Proto-Indo-European *bʰel-, “shine, gleam,” from whence also sprang the Proto-Celtic *belo.

Of this Celtic Beltane, our earliest witness comes from a medieval Irish glossary, Sanas Chormaic, written about 900.  In it, Beltane is said to be named for the “fire of Bel” and that “a fire was kindled in his name at the beginning of summer always, and cattle were driven between the two fires.” Those fires were betold as being “lucky fires, i.e two fires which Druids used to make with great incantations, and they used to bring the cattle against the diseases of each year to those fires. They used to drive the cattle between them.”[ii] Here we have then not merely a fire rite but, also, a god to whom the day was holy.  Known in sundry Celtic lands as Bel, Beli Mawr, or Belenus, this Celtic “bright one,” as his name is understood to mean, may well be an Indo-European god of great yore-oldness.  Indeed, his likeness in wordlore, if not godlore, is to be found in the Slavic *Belobog, the “bright god.”[iii]

Yet, if such a fore-old fire god was known to Celt and Slav alike, we may well wonder whether or not some hint of his holy heap might be found amongst the Germanic folk?  It would seem so.  Along the Rhine, Jacob Grimm was able to find a wordwise likeness for the Celtic Beltane in the German Pfultag and Pulletag, names for a summer faining which fell upon May 2nd. These, Grimm believed, spoke to an older Old High German Pholtag which “answers to [the Celtic] Bealteine.”[iv]

Like the Celtic Beltane, which mean’s both “bright fire” day and “fire of the god Bel,” Pholtag seems to have meant more than merely “balefire day.” Indeed the Old High German second Merseburg Spell (9th -10th hundredtide), speaks of a god named Phol who may well match the Celtic Bel and the Slavic Belobog. [v]  As the spell has come to us:

Phol and Wodan were in the holt
There the root of Balder’s foal was wrenched (its foot was sprained)
Sinthgunt wiled it, the sister of Sunne
Frijia wiled it, the sister of Fulla
Wodan wiled it, as he well could
So the bone-wrenching, so the blood-wrenching, so the limb-wrenching
Bone to bone, blood to blood
Limb to limb, so the limbs are (set)![vi]

There is no fire to be found in the second Merseburg Spell, yet there is, in its stead, a god whose lore is linked to the balefire.  Here I write of Balder, a god oft thought to be a “Norse god,” yet shown in this spell to have been known in Germania as well.  Whilst much may be said of his godlore, it is his slaying and the laying of his lich upon a balefire (a pyre) that was so widely sung of by skalds.

As read by Grimm and a great many others, Phol is believed to be another name for Balder.  Yet is there more than a reading of the Merseburg Spell to bind these two together? It would seem so.  In the beginning of his Prose Edda, the Icelandic godloreman Snorri Sturluson wrote of a godling and holy king hight Baldeg whose name, “balefire day,” answers the German Photag. As told by Snorri:

Another son of Óðinn was hight Baldeg, him we call Baldr. He owned that land that is now hight Westphalia. His son was Brand, his son Frjóðigar, whom we call Fróða (Frodi). His son was Freóvin, his son Uvigg, his son Gevis, whom we call Gave.[vii]

Here we find in Snorri’s tallying of Óðinn, Baldeg, Brand, Frjóðigar, Freóvin, Uvigg, and Gevis a Norse wending which matches that of Wóden, Bældæg, Brand, Fridhogar, Fréawine, Wig, and Gewis as found in the kingly lines of Wessex and Bernicia.  That his bairn, in both the Norse and Anglo-Saxon reckonings, is hight Brand, “firebrand, torch,” speaks all the more to Bældæg’s fellowship with fire.

It would seem then that the Celts, Germans, Anglo-Saxons, Norse, and Slavs each held to some thread of thew which reached back in time to the heap of an old Indo-European fire god who was fained at summer.[viii]  Amid the Rhineland Germans and amongst the Celts, his fire-faining marked the beginning of summer at Pholtag or Beltane.    Yet his worship by the Norse as Baldr may have been held at Midsummer. It is, at such time, that great fires called Baldersbål, “Balder’s balefire,” are lit. [ix] Indeed, it may be that the same holytide held by the Germanic and Celtic folk to mark the start of summer is held, some months later in Scandinavia, to mark summer’s middle.  It is at Midsummer, after all, that the Swedes raise their own “Maypole” which they call a Midsommarstång, “Midsummer stang/pole.”

As to his worship amongst the Anglo-Saxons, we know less than we would like to know.  Such is so with all Anglo-Saxon godlore. Whilst Bældæg’s wordlore belongs to a Wóden-sprung king named in the old kingly lines of both Wessex and Bernicia, we find no Anglo-Saxon holytide by that name. Yet Bealdor, being kindred to the Norse Baldr, is indeed witnessed in Anglo-Saxon godlore as his name was borrowed for Christ in the lay of Andreas just as some of his story may be found in Dream of the Rood and in Beowulf. Could it be that Bealdor/Bældæg was worshiped at the start of summer, alongside the goddess Éastre? It could. Yet one must remember that whilst we now speak of the Anglo-Saxons as one folk, they were not truly so in Heathentimes.   Indeed, what came to be known as the Anglo-Saxons were a blend of Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, among others, who came from their own Germanic homelands to settle Britannia. And, in their settling, they gave shape to sundry kingdoms across the land. It may be then that the Saxons, be they Saxons of Wessex or Westphalia, began summer with the worship of Bealdor/Bældæg whereas the Angles of Northumbria, the land in which Béda was born and wrote, marked summer’s start by faining Éastre, for the goddess of dawn.[x]

Anglish Wordhoard
Aforewritten – Said before, akin to aforesaid
Agast – Surprise
Bairn – A son or offspring
Betell – Describe
Eft-shaped – Reconstructed
Faining – Celebration
Fathom – Imagine
Fore-old – Before old, of great antiquity
Godloreman – Mythologist
Heap – Cultus, the cult of a god
Heathentimes – The time before conversion to Christianity
Hight – To name, named
Holy king – Sacral King
Hundredtide – Century
Kindred – Cognate
Lay – Poem
Lich – Corpse
Lorespring – A spring of lore, a primary source of lore
Mainland – Continent
Namelore – Etymology
Reading – Interpretation
Skaldic craft – the craft of the skald, the Norse poet. Poetry.
Spell – Charm
Therewithness – Presence
Thew – Custom, tradition
Unriddle – Explain
Welsh – Foreign. From the OE wealh, “foreigner.”
Wile – Charm, enchant, from the OE wígle, “soothsaying”
Wordlore – Etymology
Word-wend – Translate
Wordwise likeness – Etymological cognate
Year-Reckoning – Calendar
Yore-old – Of antiquity, ancient-old
Yoretidely – Ancient

Endnotes
[i] This shape of its name was found in King James I’s of Scotland’s “The lawes and actes of parliament maid be King James the first and his successours kinges of Scotland” (1424) and has since become the English spelling of the name.
[ii] Sans Chormaic. John O’Donovan and ed. Whitley Stokes (Calcutta, 1868) 19, 23 though I myself found this citation in Ronald Hutton’s Stations of the Sun, chapter 22 Beltane p 218,219.
[iii] The name *Belobog is not attested but, rather, eft-shaped (reconstructed) from a reckoning given by the Germanic priest, Helmold in his Chronica Slavorum (12th hundredtide)
[iv] Teutonic Mythology: Volume II, p 614
[v] In fairness, it should be said that the wordlore for Phol is not fully agreed upon. Other meanings will be fathomed a forthcoming article.
[vi] Phol ende Uuodan uuorun zi holza.
du uuart demo Balderes uolon sin uuoz birenkit.
thu biguol en Sinthgunt, Sunna era suister;
thu biguol en Friia, Uolla era suister;
thu biguol en Uuodan, so he uuola conda:
sose benrenki, sose bluotrenki, sose lidirenki:
ben zi bena, bluot si bluoda,
lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin
Wended from the Old High German by Þórbeorht
[vii] Snort Sturluson’s Prose Edda, Prologue, Chapter 5
Annarr sonr Óðins hét Baldeg, er vér köllum Baldr. Hann átti þat land, er nú heitir Vestfál. Hans sonr var Brandr, hans sonr Frjóðigar, er vér köllum Fróða. Hans sonr var Freóvin, hans sonr Uvigg, hans sonr Gevis, er vér köllum Gave. – Wended by Þórbeorht
[viii] Either at its start or middle, as will be betold further in the next blog.
[ix] James Frazer’s The Golden Bough  page 769
[x] That Bældæg is found in the kingly line of Bernicia would so too seem to speak to a Saxon settlement in that Anglian kingdom or, if not a settlement of Saxon folk, the therewithness of a Saxon kingly line. Yet whilst Bernicia became half of Northumbria, the other half came from the Anglian kingdom of Deira.  And in the Deiran kingly line, Bældæg is nowhere found.

 

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On Éarendel

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken. Bok 1 – Kapitel 17 – Om solens afspeglingar. Utgivningår 1555.

Wordlorewise, Éastre may well find kindship with another Anglo-Saxon god, Éarendel (ON: Aurvandil from the PGmc: *auzi- “dawn” and *wandilaz “wandering”). In the Prose Edda’s Skáldskaparmál, it is said that thunder god Þórr (OE: Þunor) sought leechcraft from the witch (ON: vǫlva) Gróa, “Growing,” following his fig ht with the ettin Hrungnir. Whilst she sang her healing spells over his head-wound, Þórr shared with her news of her wayward husband, Aurvandil – that Þórr had found him in Jotunheimr, the land of the giants, and that he had borne him upon his back homeward over the icy waters yet. In the wading Aurvandil’s toe had become frostbitten and so Þórr broke it off and hurled it into the heavens where it shined as a star.

Though Aurvandil’s godlore is given almost in passing in the Prose Edda, it may well be that his worship was more widespread than might be otherwise thought. Indeed, in the Old English lay, Crist I (9th hundredtide), Aurvandil’s Anglo-Saxon name, Éarendel, is given to the new god, Christ himself.

O’ Dawn Wanderer,     brightest angel,
over Middle Earth   to men sent,
and sooth-fast     leam of the sun,
brightness over stars,     each tide(season) thou,
of thyself,     ever lights (illuminates).[i]

Christ I is, itself, an Old English amending of the Latin O Oriens, a song sung by Christians at evensong on the fifth day of Advent, that being the winter sunstead. Here Éarendel is believed to betoken, the bright “morning star,” that heavenly body which is now known to us as Venus.

Elsewhere, however, Éarendel’s name was not given to Christ but, rather, to his forerunner, John the Baptist. As may be read in Seo Gebyrd S. Johannes Þæs Fulwihteres of the Blickling Homilies (10th hundredtide), “the new Éarendel (Venus) is Saint John, and now the leam that is the sooth sun, God himself (Christ), will come.” [ii] And so it would seem that Christ was, in some sense, worshipped as a sun god with Éarendel, a heathen god wended into a holy man, going before him to make way for his dawning.

As the Anglo-Saxon Éastre is the “dawning” and the Norse Gróa the “growing,” we may well be foreled to think them kindred, if not the same. Furthermore, we might foreled to think that Éarendel, the Day-Wanderer, is the godly groom who goes before his Dawn goddess bride. Yet such is only guess-spelling and is not proven by booklore. Yet upon the wordlore of their names alone, one might well think it wise to worship them together.

Endnotes
[i] Eala Earendel,         engla beorhtast,
ofer middangeard         monnum sended,
ond soðfæsta         sunnan leoma,
torht ofer tunglas,         þu tida gehwane
of sylfum þe         symle inlihtes
Crist I 104-108 –
Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht
[ii] se niwa eorendel Sanctus Iohannes; & nu nu se leoma þære soþan sunnan God selfa cuman wille. –
Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht

Anglish Wordhoard
Betoken – Represent, symbolize
Éastre – Easter, An Anglo-Saxon Goddess whose name was borrowed for the Christian Pascha
Ettin – A giant, an “eater,” or “devourer”
Forelead – Tempted
Hundredtide – Century
Guess-spell – Hypothesis, hypothetical
Kindred – Cognate
Leam – Sunbeam
Leechcraft – The craft of a leech (a doctor or healer)
Winter Sunstead – Winter Solstice
Wordlore – Etymology
Wordlorewise – Etymologically

Posted in Ealdríce Hæðengyld - A Theodish Fellowship

On Summer’s Icumen In

Olaus Magnus Historia om de nordiska folken

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

It may well astound some to learn that the yoretidely Anglo-Saxons did not reckon summer’s starting by the summer sunstead (solstice) as nowtidely men do today. Rather, the summer sunstead was known to them as Midsummer as it marked summer’s middle.  Though not written outright, if one reads between the lines, one may find that the heathen Anglo-Saxons welcomed summer’s icumen in[i] upon the full moon of Éastremónaþ. In De mensibus Anglorum of De Temporum Ratione (725 CE), Béda wrote of the Anglo-Saxon yeartides, betelling them thus:

Likewise they sundered the year into two tides, 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 tide of winter begins is called Winterfylleþ, a name born by binding of the words “winter” and “full moon,” as it is from the full moon of that month that winter is allotted to begin.[ii]

If the year was sundered into two same halves, it would follow that, if winter began upon the full moon of Winterfylleþ (more or less October) then so too would summer be marked by the full moon of Éastremónaþ (more or less April).  Whilst its daymark moves to and fro from year to year, with the Anglo-Saxon month being meted by the moon, the Anglo-Saxon heathen Éastre  falls between the 1st and 29th days of April (see the table below).

Like the Anglo-Saxon géarmæl, the Old Icelandic calendar halved the year into the yeartides of winter and summer, with winter beginning on the first day of Gormánuður[iii] (mid October to mid November) and summer beginning on the first day of Harpa[iv] (mid April to mid May).  It should be noted that the months of the Old Icelandic calendar were not reckoned by the moon but, rather, began on a given day of the week.[v]  As such, the month of Harpa and, with it, the first day of summer, would fall on the second Thursday after the 11th day of April. This put summer‘s beginning somewhere between the 19th and 25th days of April. As such, both the Anglo-Saxon and the Norseman alike reckoned summer to begin sometime in what is now known to us as April.

To the nowtidely Englishman, it may seem odd that summer should begin in April as it has long been held in the land that summer begins on May Day. Yet May, being first a fixed Roman month, was mostly unknown to our Anglo-Saxon heathen forebears who reckoned their own months and yeartides by the moon. That summer began on the holiday of Éastre, and that Éastre’s faining was marked by the full moon of Éastremónaþ, was a truth untethered to any mess that the Romans might have made when they unmoored their months from the moon.[vi]

With Christendom’s coming, however, the reckoning of summer was less straightforward.  As the Heathen Éastre and the Christian Pascha fell so near to one another, the name of the former was borrowed for the latter. In such way Pascha came to be called Easter amongst the English.

And yet, whilst in most years the Christian reckoning of Easter, the Sunday following the full moon after the lenten even-night, falls within a week of the Heathen Éastre, the full moon of Éastremónaþ, it is not always so.  Indeed, in seven of the Getælcircul’s nineteen years, the Heathen Éastre falls near the end of April, within a week or so of May, whilst the Christian Easter is held about a month early (see the table below).  In such years, being more than a third yet not half, summer has not yet “come to town.”[vii] As one might well guess, the Heathen bond between Easter and summer was soon broken.

The Church, however, had its own way of reckoning both winter and summer – one not meted by the moon but, rather, by the seven starry sisters who shape the Pleiades.  As betold in The Old English Martyrology:

7 November – On the seventh day of the month beeth winter’s beginning.  The winter haveth two and ninety days, and then goeth up (rise) the Seven Stars [Pleiades] in the evening and settle (set) at dawn.

9 May – On the ninth day of the month beeth summer’s beginning. The summer haveth ninety days; then goeth up (rise) the Seven Stars [Pleiades] before daybreak and settle (set) in the evening. [viii]

Whilst this summer reckoning fell some days after the old Éastre, it held truer as a mark for summer’s “coming to town” than the Church’s oft-too-early Easter.  Thus May Day came to be.

As with so many things, the root of such yeartide-reckoning did not begin with the Church. It was, instead, inherited from the pagan Greeks and Romans who came before Christ.[ix] Yet, for as wise as they were, the calendar of the Roman pagans was ten hours too long.  Over time the days began to drift backwards until the sunsteads and even-nights no longer truly fell upon the daymarks given to them.

By the late Middle Ages, however, it was widely acknowledged that, due to the aforesaid drift, the Pleiades’ dawn-rising was more rightly reckoned to begin on the first of May.   Thus summer’s icumen in was moved from the ninth of May to its first, where it has been held by Englishmen ever since. Yet amongst the Anglo-Saxon Théodsmen of the Ealdríce, the Christian calendar means little. It is not the Roman March, April, or May that we mind but, rather, the Anglo-Saxon Éastremónaþ. And so, within our holy groves and at our frithyards, summer’s beginning is fained not on the summer sunstead, the Christian Easter, or even the first of May but upon old Heathen Éastre, when our fore-elders first held it. As they did then, so do we the same.

Anglish Wordhoard
Betell – Describe, explain
Bewrite – Describe, explain
Daymark – Date
Éastre – Easter
Faining – A celebration
Fore-elders – Ancient ancestors
Frithyard – A roped-off outdoor enclosure used for worship, a “sanctuary yard.”
Géarmæl – An Old English work for “calendar,” literally a “year measure.”
Getælcircul – Old English for “the tally circle,” the Metonic Cycle of 19 years when the lunar and solar years re-align.
Lenten Even-Night – Spring Equinox
Mete – Measure
Nowtidely – Contemporary, modern
Same – Equal
Suchwise – In such manner
Summer Sunstead – The summer solstice
Yeartide – Season
Yoretidely – Ancient

The Reckoning of Éastre and Easter

Dates for the Heathen Éastre as reckoned by the full moon of Éastremónaþ. Dates for the Christian Easter as marked by the first Sunday to follow the first full moon which falls on or after the Lenten Even-Night (Spring Equinox).
28th April 2010
17th April 2011
6th April 2012
25th April 2013
15th April 2014
4th April 2015
22nd April 2016
11th April 2017
29th April 2018
19th April 2019
7th April 2020
26th April 2021
16th April 2022
6th April 2023
23rd April 2024
12th April 2025
1st April 2026
20th April 2027
9th April 2028
   4th April 2010
24th April 2011
8th April 2012
31st March 2013
20th April 2014
5th April 2015
27th March 2016
16th April 2017
1st April 2018
21st April 2019
12th April 2020
4th April 2021
17th April 2022
9th April 2023
31st March 2024
20th April 2025
5th April 2026
28th March 2027
16th April 2028

[i] From the Middle English song, Sumer Is Icumen In (Sumer Is A-coming In).
[ii] Item principaliter annum totum in duo tempora, hiemis videlicet et æstatis, dispertiebant—sex illos menses quibus longiores sunt noctibus dies æstati tribuendo, sex reliquos hiemi. Unde et mensem quo hyemalia tempora incipiebant Vuinterfylleth appellabant, composito nomine ab hyeme et plenilunio, quia videlicet a plenilunio eiusdem mensis hyems sortiretur initium. Wended from Latin by Þórbeorht.
[iii] According to Cleasby/Vigfusson, “Gore-month, the first winter month, about the middle of October to the middle of November, so called from the slaughtering of beasts for winter.”
[iv] Akin to the OE hearp, “harp,” though it is also thought that Harpa may be the name of a forgotten goddess.  We may well be forgiven is we fathom the Anglo-Saxon goddess Éastre playing her harp at dawn.
[v] This is a needful streamlining.  To do right by the Old Icelandic calendar and to fully betell its workings would call for the writing of another article.
[vi] Which they did early on in their history.
[vii] “Come to town” is a wordstring often used to mark the beginning of the yeartides in The Old English Menologium and in later Middle English works such as the song Lenten Ys Come.
[viii] IX Þrimilce
On ðone nygeþan dæg ðæs monðes bið sumeres fruma. Se sumor hafað hundnygontig daga; þonne gangað þa seofen steorran on úhtan up, ond on æfen on setl.
VII Blódmónað
On ðone seofoþan dæg ðæs monðes bið wintres fruma. Se winter hafað tu ond hundnygontig daga, ond ðonne gongað þa seofen steorran on úhtan up on æfen ond on dægered on setl.
The Old English Martyrology. Wended from Old English by Þóbeorht
[ix] Bede, De temporum ratione, Chapter 25: Graeci autem et Romani, quorum in huiusmodi disciplina potius quam Hispanorum auctoritas sequi consuevit
[x] I have streamlined things here a bit as the English did not adopt the Gregorian Calendar until 1752 due to King Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Church.

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On Éastremónaþ, Éaster, and Éastre

EostreUpon the Sunday following the first full moon after the Lencten even-night,[i] a housel is held throughout Christendom to recall their godling’s grave-rising.  Whilst known by most of Christendom as Pascha, the Latin name for the Jewish Passover, throughout English speaking world the holiday is, instead, known as Easter.  Taken from the Anglo-Saxon moon-month of Éastermónaþ, “Easter Month,” which fell nigh about the Roman month of April, Easter was a name well known in England long before Augustine brought the Christian gospel to its shores in 597 CE.  As betold by Béda in his reckoning of the Anglo-Saxon months, De mensibus Anglorum (725 CE):

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 thewful (customary) for their old rites being given to the gladness of their new worship.”[ii]

As aforesaid in On the Right Reckoning of Módraniht, the Anglo-Saxon church borrowed freely from a thew which once belonged to the old belief so as to ease troth-wending.  To this end, Christ was bestowed with the names of Bealdor, Éarendel, Fréa, and Wuldor (ON: Baldr, Aurvandil, Freyr, and Ullr), gods whose reach touched upon the worship of the sun or sky.  Moreover, Éaster is not alone in being a Heathen holytide rebranded as a Christian holiday.  The Cristesmæsse (Christ Mass, Christmas) offered by Anglo-Saxon Christians at the winter sunstead to mark their godling’s birth was, for many hundretide, known by the heathen name of Géol (ON: Jól).  Indeed in sundry carols it is still sometimes sung of as Yule.

As to the goddess Éastre, her name springs from the Proto-Germanic *Austrǭ, itself from the Proto-Indo-European *h₂éws¸ meaning both “dawn” and “east.” Her namelore is shared by other Indo-European dawn goddesses such as the Hindu Ushas, the Greek Eos, the Roman Aurora, and the Lithuanian Aušrinė. As such, we may well believe that the Anglo-Saxon Éastre is, as well, a goddess of the dawn.  That the church would borrow the name of her holytide for that of their Passover speaks to the Anglican troth-melding begotten by Bishop Mellitus (see On the Right Reckoning of Módraniht).  Where the risen Sun goddess was once fained, a housel was held for the grave-risen “Son of God.”

Yet as the holytide of Éaster is held but one month a year and the dawn arises every day, we might well wonder what holy rune her yeartidely faining betokened (what sacred mystery her seasonal celebration symbolized). Though it is but a learned guess, we might well think it to be the dawning of the summer-sun.  On this, more will follow in a forthcoming blog entry.

Anglish Wordhoard
Betoken – Symbolize
Betold – Described
Éaster – The holytide upon which the goddess Éastre was worshipped and which marked the beginning of summer.
Éastre – The Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn
Éastremónaþ – “Easter Month,” a lunar month in the Anglo-Saxon calendar roughly corresponding with April.
Fain – Celebrate
Faining – A Théodish-wrought word meaning “to celebrate” or “to worship.”
Housel – An old word for the Eucharist, itself sprung from the Old English húsel, “sacrificial feast
Hundedtide – Century
Godling – The offspring of a god, the “son of (a) god”
Grave-rising – Resurrection
Lencten even-night – Lenten even-night, Spring Equinox
Moon-month – Lunar month, from new moon to new moon
Name-lore – Etymology
Name-wended – Name translated
Rune – Mystery
Sunstead – Solstice
Thew – Custom, tradition
Thewful – Customary, traditional
Troth-melding – Religious syncretism
Troth-wending – Trust-turning, religious conversion
Yeartidely – Annual, seasonal

[i] This is the Christian way of reckoning their Easter Mass.  The Heathen reckoning is far more straightforward, being the full moon of Éastremónaþ.
[ii] 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. Taken from De Temporum Ratione (725 CE), De mensibus Anglorum.  Wended from Latin by Þórbeorht.

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On Hréþmónaþ Also Called Hlýda

800px-Lathgertha_by_Morris_Meredith_Williams

Lagertha by Morris Meredith Williams,  from   The Northmen in Britain (1913)

Amid the twenty and seven Anglo-Saxon year-reckonings that are known to us still, two Old English names are found for the moon-marked month which fell nigh the Roman March: Hréþmónaþ and Hlýda, which is sometimes called Hlýdmónaþ. Wordlorewise, Hréþmónaþ may be said to mean “fierce month” even as Hlýda may be said to mean “loud one” and Hlýdmónaþ “loud month.” Such names hold well with what we know of the late English Lencten as the weather at that time is marked by winds both fierce (OE: hréðe) and loud (OE: hlúd).  Indeed, in an English saying recalled by Thomas Fuller in his Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings (1773 CE), the month’s weather is betold thus: “March balkham (Aries ram) comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb.”[i]  Moreover, the month is likewise marked by hailstorms.  As bewritten in the Old English Menologium:

Then it cometh forth,
after one night,   among us to town
rime-bedecked.  Hail showers fareth
yond Middle Earth.   Fierce March,
highly Hylda[ii]

With wordlore and weatherlore being so much the same, we would think no more on the meaning of month, finding it full well settled, were it not for Béda’s reckoning of the Anglo-Saxon holy year.   Of Hréþmónaþ, Béda offered further insight in his De mensibus Anglorum (725 CE) wherein he wrote that “Hréþmónaþ, from the goddess Hréþe to whom they gave blót, was so named.”[iii]  The namelore of Hréþe may well be that of the month, meaning fierce (OE: hréðe) in the she is the “fierce one,” a name befitting a goddess whose reach is the late Lencten wind and hailstorm.

As hap may have it, the name Hlýda, “loud one,” may also be that of a goddess – even the same goddess as Hréþe. Throughout the second and third hundredtides, along the Rhine and in Frisia, engravings were made to a goddess known as Hludana (Latin: Dea Hludana).  Whilst her namelore is unsettled amongst learned men, it is not at all unlikely that it stems from the Proto-Germanic *hlúdaz, meaning both “loud” and “famous.”  And so it is that, nigh the full moon of Hréþmónaþ, the Anglo-Saxon Théodsmen of the Ealdríce gather to worship and, it may be sometimes to blót, the Lencten storm goddess, whose fierce and loud begoing betokens the end of the bitter winter and foreshadows the blithe summer to come.

Anglish Wordhoard
Begoing – Procession
Betold – Described
Bewritten – Described
Blót – Sacrifice
Engravings- Inscriptions
Fore-elders – Ancestors
Hundredtide – Century
Lencten – The Anglo-Saxon season between Winter and Summer which means “lengthening” and is akin to the word Lenten.
Moon-marked  – Marked by the moon, lunar
Namelore – The lore or names, etymology
Thew – Custom
Weatherlore – The lore of weather, meteorology
Wordlorewise – The lore of words, etymology
Year-reckoning – A reckoning of the year, a calendar
Yoretidely – Ancient

[i] Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, Wise Sentences and Witty Sayings, 1732. Line 6473
[ii] Þænne he furðor cymeð
ufor anre niht    us to tune
Hrime gehyrsted     hagolscurum færð
Geond middangeard     Martius reðe
Hlyda healic.
Lines 33b-37a
Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht.
[iii] Rhed-monath a dea illorum Rheda, cui in illo sacrificabant, nominator.
Taken from De Temporum Ratione (725 CE), De mensibus Anglorum.  Wended from Latin by Þórbeorht.

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On Solmónaþ, Pancakes, and Ploughs

Daniel Stolz von Stolzenberg Viridarium Chymicum

Woodcut from Daniel Stolz von Stolzenberg’s Viridarium Chymicum (1624 CE)

Amid the Lenten traditions of the English[i], there may be found threads of yore-old heathen thew Christened long ago by the early Anglo-Saxon church. Indeed, such heathenish customs abide to this very day, though few who hold to them know from whence the roots of such rites spring.  Foremost amongst these folkways may be reckoned of those of the sun and plough which once belonged to the Anglo-Saxon month of Solmónaþ (more or less February). Of Solmónaþ and the heathen worship which followed, Béda wrote that:  “Sun-month may be said to be the “month of flat cakes,” which they, in that month, gave to their gods.”[ii] Such “flat cakes” betokened the sun itself whose again-faring drew out the day and so betokened the beginning of Lencten, “Lengthening, Lent.”

As a holy housel shared between gods and men, such flat sun-shaped cakes, or as we might now call them, pancakes, were partaken of in great fulsomeness at this time.  As sundry Shrovetide traditions show, well into the early Modern Era did Englishmen fattened themselves with such pancakes so as to make ready for the leanness of Lencten. As betold by John Brand amid the leafs of his great gathering of English oldenways, Observations on The popular Antiquities of Great Britain (1777 CE):

“At Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire, the old curfew bell […] has from time immemorial been regularly rung on the morning of Shrove Tuesday, at four o’clock, after which hour the inhabitants are at liberty to make and eat pancakes, until the bell rings at eight o’clock at night. This custom is observed so closely, that after that hour not a pancake remains in the town.”

Here, alongside the heathenish partaking of pancakes, we find another oldenway held until nowtidely time by the English which has seemingly sprung from the Anglo-Saxon Solmónaþ.  As betold by Brand, Plough Monday, now held on the Monday following Epiphany, once fell nearer to Lent.

In the North of England there is a custom used at or about this time, which, as will be seen, was anciently observed also in the beginning of Lent. The Fool Plough goes about, a pageant that consists of a number of sword-dancers dragging a plough with music, and one, sometimes two, in very strange attire; the Bessy, in the grotesque habit of an old woman, and the Fool, almost covered with skins, a hairy cap on, and the tail of some animal hanging from his back.

In so unseemly a rite as this, we may find some small remembrance of the heathenish Æcer Bót, the “Acre Remedy” of the 10th hundredtide. Within the Æcer Bót itself, the holy-bedding[iii] of a heavenly drighten and an earth goddess is recalled so that she might, by his plough and her plowing, be filled with his seed and bring forth the harvest from her bosom. As forespelled by that fore-old spell:

Then have a man drive the plough forth and the first furrow open, quoth then:
“Hale be thou fold (earth),     mother of men!
Be thou growing     in god’s fathom (embrace),
filled [with] fodder     for the use of men.”[iv]

Indeed, it is in this very spell that the Lenten traditions of the pancake housel and the plough’s begoing are seen together, having first arisen from the same rite. As forthwith follows in the Æcer Bót:

Take then each kind of meal and have a man bake a loaf as broad as the inside of the hand and kneed it mid (with) milk and mid holy-water and lay it under the first furrow. Quoth then:
“Fodder’s full acre     for mankind
bright-blooming,     thou blessed and worthy;
[May] the god, that wrought the grounds     grant us growing gift,
that for us every corn-grain may     come to use.”[v]

As may be reckoned by the lore-wise, the sun-cake sown by the heavenly drighten into the womb of the rime-cold earth goddess may well fit the Nordic godlore of Fréa’s (ON: Freyr) wedding of the white-armed goddess Geard (ON: Gerdr).  In such a way the plough betokens Fréa’s mickle manliness even as the furrowed mound betokens Geard’s waiting womanliness.   And so, when Englishmen play about the plough after Epiphany or partake of pancakes at the beginning of Lencten, they do so, knowingly or not, in keeping with a yore-old heathen thew sown long ago. Yet, among those who follow the Anglo-Saxon Théodish Belief of the Ealdríce, such oldenways they remember with advantages[vi], knowing full well as they do that, in such merriment, they fain the wedding of a sun god and an earth goddess,[vii] in the hope that such a holy bedding will bring forth a fulsome harvest – even as their fore-elders once did.

Anglish Wordhoard
Again-faring – Return
Begoing – Procession
Betell – Describe
Drighten – Lord
Fain – celebrate
Folkway –Custom
Fore-elders – Ancestors
Fore-spell – Prescribe
Fulsome – abundant
Godlore – Mythology
Housel – To feast, from the OE “Húsel,” and a word which until lately was used for the Eucharist amongst High Church Anglicans
Hundredtide – Century
Leaf – Page
Oldenway – Tradition
Thew – Tradition, custom
Yore-old – Ancient

[i] The English here betokens the nowtidely offspring of the Anglo-Saxons as they may found throughout the “Anglosphere” so as to include Anglo-Americans, Australians, Anglo-Canadians, Rhodesians, and such.
[ii] Sol-monath dici potest mensis placentarum, quas in eo diis suis offerebant. Taken from De Temporum Ratione (725 CE), De mensibus Anglorum. Wended from Latin by Þórbeorht.
[iii] Known in Greco-Roman religion as a hieros gamos, “sacred marriage.”
[iv] þonne man þá sulh forð drífe and þá forman furh onscéote, cweð þonne:
Hál wes þú, folde,     fíra módor!
Béo þú growende     on godes fæþme,
fódre gefylled     fírum tó nytte.
Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht.
[v] Nim þonne ælces cynnes melo and ábacæ man innewerdre handa brádnæ hláf and gecned hine mid meolce and mid háligwætere and lecge under þá forman furh. Cweþe þonne:
Ful æcer fódres     fíra cinne,
beorhtblówende,     þú geblétsod weorþ
sé god, sé þas grundas geworhte,     geunne ús grówende gife,
þæt ús corna gehwylc     cume tó nytte.
Wended from Old English by Þórbeorht.
[vi] A play upon Shakespeare’s play, Henry V, made for the sake of being playful.
[vii] This is not to say that Ing-Fréa is “the” sun god nor is it to say that Geard is “the” earth goddess” of Germanic godlore. Indeed, there are sundry gods who might be called “sky gods” and sundry goddesses who might be called “earth goddesses” in our lore. Yet, in the rite betold in the Æcer Bót, Fréa and his wife seem most fitting.

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