Solmonath and Heathenry50 Challenge

Yesterday was the first crescent moon of Solmonath, the beginning of the month of “mud”. According to Bede, it was the time the Anglo Saxons would put cakes into their fields in honour of their gods. I spent the morning doing work on my allotment and put an oat cake into the ground in honour of the gods and earth mother. As the new and full moons are usually a time when the tides are high and seaweed is abundant, I like to eat a seaweed soup on the crescent (new) moon too.

Now for a big announcement. Starting in March I shall no longer be using this site and will instead move to a new site. This blog has served me well for over 5 years (in fact this is my 500th post), but I need something that I can do more with, make the modifications I want to it, and that will have a domain name that is more reflective of where my spiritual path is now. While I did try moving to a new site before, I had problems with the host, so this time I am being more skeptical and using a more trustworthy host (and one that is more environmentally friendly too), so that there won’t be any problems. The new site is not set up yet,  but will be in the next few weeks and I’ll link to it when I can. I will also be setting up new Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages as part of it.

I am also very excited to announce a new project that will run on the new blog site. I have called it – The #Heathenry50 challenge. The challenge is to write 50 blogs, one a week for the next year (50 weeks) beginning in March. I’m encouraging fellow heathens to take part too if you want to. Each week there will be a topic to blog about that explores the basics of heathenry, our individual approach to it, and how it affects our lives. How you interpret and approach each topic is up to you. I am hopeful that if many people take part, we can share knowledge and practices to help each other, as well as provide new seekers will a range of different approaches to heathenry. Not only that, but this is a good opportunity to do some study of these different topics and discover new things we never knew before. While it’s not a requirement, I’m encouraging everyone who takes part to write blog posts of a minimum 1000 words – then by the end of the year, you will have written 50,000 words which is the equivalent of a book – a book on your own personal practice and spiritual path – how cool would that be???

Before I mention these topics, I want to acknowledge a debt of gratitude to those who came up with the “30 days of Druidry” challenge, which has been a major inspiration in the creation of this challenge.

I would also encourage you to share your blogs on social media, and please use the hashtag #Heathenry50 so others can find the posts easily. If you are taking part, let me know and I’ll link to you from my new site so others can find your posts too. I have created a graphic (see bottom of the page) for you to include on your site as a badge to show you are taking part in the challenge.

Now, without further ado, here are the 50 topics which we will be writing our blog posts about in this challenge.

1) Why Heathenry?
2) Cosmology
3) Worldview, Animism & Divinity
4) Gods
5) Goddesses
6) Ancestors
7) Wights of the Land
8) Wights of the Home
9) The Earth Mother
10) Wyrd
11) Frith
12) Sacrifice & Reciprocity
13) Luck
14) Death & The Soul
15) The Hearth Cult
16) The Weofod/ Altar
17) Prayer
18) Ritual, Blot & Sumbel
19) Meditation
20) Runes & Divination
21) Calendar & Holy Tides
22) Tools
23) Rites of Passage
24) Magic
25) Sacred Intoxicants
26) Clothing and Symbols
27) Oaths
28) Lore and Myths
29) Ethics
30) Sacred Spaces and Sacred Places
31) Priesthood
32) Conservation and Environment
33) Hobbies and Crafts
34) Music
35) Poetry
36) Community
37) Family Life
38) Romance
39) Work
40) Health
41) Technology
42) Fun and Play
43) Spiritual Development
44) Study and Education
45) Other Paths
46) Meaning and Purpose
47) Facing Life’s Difficulties
48) Making a Difference
49) The Future of Heathenry
50) Advice to the Seeker

 

Badge:

 

Regular Spiritual Practice: A Script

One of the implications of acknowledging the importance of the hearth cult, and our responsibility as Pagans to tend our “hearths” is that we should be engaging in some kind of daily spiritual practice. While this may not necessarily be aimed towards the gods, in my opinion, the ancestors should be honoured on a daily basis if at all possible. Because of that, and my interest in monasticism, this year I have been endeavoring to include a daily practice of prayer in my life. Below is the script I use as I believe set liturgy is helpful for helping me be more disciplined with the practice. I post this in the hope it will help others who may want to take up such a practice.

Morning

1 – Write down dreams in Journal

2 – Prayer to Sunne
Wes Thu Hal Sunne,
Glory of Elves, heaven’s gem,
Giver of light, life and warmth,
Shine down brightly upon me.
You race through the heavens,
Day after day, year after year,
Guiding the seasons on their course.
Oh radiant golden goddess,
Fair sister of Mona,
And glorious mother of the stars,
I honour you this day,
And pray your blessings be always upon me!

3 – Prayer to Gods (from Sigdrifa’s Prayer)
Hail to the Gods! Hail to the Goddesses!
Hail to the all-giving earth!
Bless me with wisdom, with an honourable tongue,
And healing hands, for the rest of my days.
Wes Thu Hal!

Evening

1 – Kindle the Hearth Flame
(Breathe deeply a few times)
As the ancients lit the hearth fire,
So I kindle this sacred flame now,
In honour of Frige, the hearthmodor.
May she ever watch over this household.
And may I pray with a good fire.
(Light Candle)

2 – Prayer to Ancestors
Wes Thu Hal Ancestors,
Grandmothers and Grandfathers of ages past,
Beloved dead of blood, spirit and place,
Draw near my hearth I pray.
I remember and honour you this evening,
And give thanks for your wisdom,
Guidance, protection and blessings upon my life.
You whom I have loved and lost,
You whose blood runs in my veins,
You who sacrificed so much that I might be here,
I thanks you.
You who inspired and influenced my life,
You whose feet trod this sacred land before me,
You who gave your lives that I might eat and live,
I thank you.
Thank you for giving me the gift of existence,
Thank you for the example of your lives,
Thank you for the love shown,
By those of you who shared your lives with mine.
I pray that you watch over my family, my friends and I,
And grant us health, wealth and wisdom in the days to come.
Let me live a life that brings honour to you.
And may my memory of you live ever on.
Mighty ones, I light this incense for you now,
May you accept my offering this night.
Wes Thu Hal!
(Light Incense offering)

3 – Household Protection Prayer (inspired by Carmina Gadelica)
Great gods, give your blessings to this house.
Spirits, give your blessings to this house.
Crest and frame, stone and beam,
Man and woman, young and old,
Plenty of food, plenty of drink,
Much of riches, much of mirth,
Strength of body, length of life, be ever here.
Wes Thu Hal! So mote it be!

4 – Rune Casting (based on method in Germania)
(Lay out white cloth and take runes out from bag. Hold runes in hands up to forehead)
Great Norns, Wyrdae, please let me see into the Web of Wyrd, to see the threads.
Wyrd, Werdande, Skuld!
(Cast down runes on white cloth but keep eyes closed)
Woden, what do the Gods want me to know or focus on tomorrow?
(With eyes closed, choose rune and interpret it).
(Finish by bowing before altar and blowing out candle)

An update

Just a quick update about what I’ve been doing.

I decided this month to get back into the OBOD and BDO Bardic Courses again. I had not been impressed with the OBOD one and had done little since May, but this time I decided to approach it from a less rational critical point of view and it seems to be working – I am getting more out of both the OBOD and BDO courses which compliment each other nicely. It has had the effect of making me want to explore my bardic/ creative side more. I don’t see myself as very creative so I resisted this, but after buying a Stephen Fry book on writing poetry, I sat down yesterday and actually wrote a Poem for the first time in years. It was very basic but I felt quite proud of it, and feel like maybe I have a creative side after all. I would love it if this exploration of the bardic path really did make me into someone who can regularly write poetry and be a bard.

I have also been doing a lot of reading and writing the ADF courses. I have submitted and passed two of the courses for the Generalist Study Path, and I have written a third but that will need editing once I get through Stephen Pollington’s The Elder Gods. I’ve decided to focus on the Bardic Studies course next so hopefully around the end of October I’ll have four of the ADF GSP courses done.

Finally, I had planned to launch a course on Building a Local Paganism, by Lughnasadh but it hasn’t happened as I have had little time to get it written. I am also probably going to change it into a book and publish it sometime in 2018 but I’ll keep everyone updated on that.

Now, its September so it’s time to go gather some sloe berries to make sloe gin, elderberries to make an elderberry tonic for keeping the flu away in winter, and for preparing for “nutting day” so collect hazelnuts.

Celebrating Imbolc 2017

Happy Imbolc everyone. Known as Imbolc or Candlemas, the 1st of February is one of the four great festivals of the Celtic year. It marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring. At this time the first signs of spring are appearing in nature – buds are beginning to appear on trees, animals are waking up from hibernation and early spring flowers like snowdrops and daffodils are beginning to bloom. The day is also known as Oimelc which is Gaelic for “ewe’s milk.” The ewe’s are lactating and the lambs are beginning to be born. Milking can begin again, which in ancient times, when food was hard to come by in winter, offered people a lifeline. The sun is getting stronger and the days are noticeably longer. It is time to celebrate the awakening and rebirth of the earth, as well as new beginnings in our own lives.

In the tale of Tochmarc Emire, in which Emer is wooed by the hero Cu Chulainn, Emer talks of “Imbolc, when the ewes are milked at spring’s beginning.” Historian Ronald Hutton says that “The festival must be pre-Christian in origin, but there is absolutely no direct testimony as to its early nature, or concerning any rites which might have been employed then. He does point out that is has something to do with milking as ewes began to lactate and that “it is reasonably certain that behind this alleged holy woman [St Bride]…stands a pagan goddess of the same name.” He further says that there is uncertainty whether she is one goddess or a triple one, but in legend she is “associated with learning, poetry, prophesying, healing and metal-working, and was in general the most pleasant Irish female deity.” A fire was kept burning at her Kildare shrine during medieval times, but Hutton points out that in legend, the goddess “was not especially associated with fire.” By the 1700’s it was believed that she visited households on the eve of her feast to bless people if they were virtuous and many customs of this time are recorded. For example, feasts to mark the last night of winter, bread and butter left outside on a windowsill as an offering, Crosses made of rushes hung up over the door as a sign of welcome or put in stables so the animals would be blessed, and a bed of twigs made so she could rest. There was also a custom of putting up cloth or ribbon the windowsill overnight for her to bless.

However there are other festivals associated with this time that have helped shape how we celebrate it today as modern pagans. Hutton’s book on the Stations of the Sun looks at Candlemas, a Christian feast of purification with a ceremony of kindling candles. He says this was a “celebration of returning light” and that later medieval services use images of “rebirth of light in the dark time of the year” and the “promise of better times not far away.” Meanwhile Bede said that the pagan Anglo-Saxons called February “Sol Monath” ie cake-month as it was a time to offer special cake to the gods.

Historian Peter Berresford Ellis points out that according to Rennes Dinnsenchus, St Brigit was a “ban drui” and was said to have been nourished on the magical milk of Otherworldly cows. She later became a Christian and created a religious settlement at Dumcree. He says that in a biography of her in 650AD, her “cult was mixed with the Irish goddess of fertility, Brigit, after whom she had obviously been named” and that her feast day was “grafted onto the festival of Imbolc….sacred to the goddess Brigit on January 31st and February 1st. He explains that this feast was connected with ewes coming into milk and so “was a pastoral or fertility festival.” The goddess Brigit was a daughter of The Dagda and was a “divinity of healing, poetry and arts and crafts” as well as divination.

There are many customs recorded throughout history in Gaelic countries which honour her and may date back to the time of the ancient Celts. In Scotland, a cold day on Imbolc meant warmer weather was soon to come. Offerings of milk were made to the earth and porridge to the sea to ensure a good yield of fish and seaweed in the coming year. A St Brigit doll was made of corn and dressed elaborately e.g. with snowdrops and primroses. A bed was made for her and she was invited into the house, while a white birch want was placed alongside the bed to represent the wand she used to make vegetation start growing again. Ashes in the hearth were smoothed and left overnight. In the morning, these were checked for evidence she had visited and if not incense was burned to her. In Ireland, celebrations were similar. Imbolc represented not only the beginning of spring but also the fishing season as the storms of the sea were supposed to have been over by then. While some farmers would turn over a sod of earth in a symbolic act to hurry up warmth, the feast was known as a “holiday from turning” and so any type of turning such as weaving, ploughing and spinning was forbidden out of respect for Brigit who it was said had taught women how to spin wool. The house was cleaned thoroughly beforehand and sained or warded, while water was brought from a sacred well to sprinkle around the house. A feast on the evening included sowans, apple cake, dumplings, colcannon and most importantly, butter. Later mashed potato with butter and onions was added. A place was laid at the table for St Brigit and a portion of food left out for her. Items such as ribbons or cloth were left on trees and bushes outside for her to bless and the fire was kept burning with the door open so she could come in and warm herself. St Brigit’s crosses were made of rushes or straw and hung up for protection. It was also a time of charity and hospitality.

Meanwhile Bede said that the pagan Anglo-Saxons called February “Sol Monath” ie cake-month or mud-month, as it was a time to offer special cakes or loaves to the gods. This is the time when Heathens will celebrate the Charming of the Plough or Disting. Taking inspiration from the Anglo Saxon Aecerbot Charm, many will bake special cakes and then plough the soil for the first time that year, putting the cakes into the soil as offerings to the earth mother for fertility of the land in the coming season. The plough itself is also blessed for the coming season. Some Heathens also honour Weyland the Smith God and the dwarves. The dwarves in particular are seen as dwelling under the earth (which seems apt at this time), but also as the crafters of many important objects for the gods with the metal they find there. As with the Celtic Pagans who honour Brighid, a goddess of crafts and the forge at this time, and see it as a time to bless the tools of their trades, so Anglo Saxon heathens will honour the first breaking of the Earth with a metal plough by honouring Weyland and the dwarves. Consequently, this is a great time of the year for prayers and offerings about our jobs and careers, as well as blessing our altar and work tools. For Norse Pagans, this is also Disting – when the female ancestors known as the disir are honoured and a Thing is held to decide important matters.

This time can be seen as a feast of the hearth, a time to celebrate the rekindling of the world’s hearth fire and the return of light, a time to purify the home, a time to prepare for spring planting by blessing tools and fields, and a time to give offerings to the Earth Mother. Alaric Albertsson in Travels through Middle Earth suggests that this is a good time to honour Earde, the Anglo-Saxon earth goddess. Meanwhile, Neo-pagans celebrate by doing a spring clean, eating spicy or dairy foods, honouring Brigit and placing candles in all the windows of the home to represent the growing strength of the sun. I like to go for a walk on this day to search for the first signs of spring – especially snowdrops. Imbolc is also a time to create poetry and songs or to make candles for the coming year. It is traditionally the time to begin buying seed potatoes and chitting them ready for planting.

Hutton, Ronald. Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Ellis, Peter Berresford. A Brief History of the Druids. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2002.

Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

Tairis – http://www.tairis.co.uk

Gaol Naofa – http://www.gaolnaofa.com/festivals/

Gaelic Folkway – http://gaelicfolkway.webs.com/feiseannaomh.htm

Celebrating the New Moon – for Heathens and Druids

In ancient times, the New Moon was celebrated as the beginning of the month. Nowadays we have adopted the Roman calendar of set days, but in many cultures from ancient Greece to Anglo Saxon England, the new moon would most likely have been used to mark the new month. The ancient Greeks had a particularly interesting set of festivities to mark this time and I think there is a lot we can learn from them in creating new traditions for our modern Anglo-Saxon Paganism.

The ancient Greeks had a three-day festival around the new moon that involved preparations and then offerings to different household deities on particular days. They would celebrate the new moon itself two days after what we now call the new moon, because that is when the first crescent of the moon would be seen again. This timing of the celebration of the new moon is similar across a range of ancient cultures and therefore I think it makes sense to celebrate the new moon (and therefore the new month) on this date – the day when the first crescent of the moon appears in the sky.

But how should we celebrate? Well I think it would be a good idea to take a few ideas from the ancient Greeks. First – on the day before the new moon, as the old month is passing, it is a great times to do preparations, purifications and to put one’s affairs in order. It is a time to clean our altar, our fridge or even our whole house. It is a time to settle outstanding debts and bills. It is a time to evaluate the last month and make plans for the new one. And it is a good opportunity to give something to the less fortunate.

On the following day, the new moon, we should do a special ritual to honour those gods and spirits important to our household – Frige as goddess of the family and household, the Housewight/ Cofgoda, and our Ancestors. It would also make sense to honour Mona, god of the moon on this day too. It is a time to ask for their blessings upon our homes and families for the coming month, and to seek a divination regarding the coming month. It is also good to celebrate with a special meal – perhaps of moon shaped foods, or seaweed (as it’s a time when the seaweed will be plentiful.)

So as we prepare our calendars for the coming year, here are the dates of the New Moon (first crescent) for you to add in and celebrate. (thanks to ealdrice.org for the information)

Æftera Géol beginneth December 31st
Solmónaþ beginneth January 30th
Hréþmónaþ beginneth February 28th
Éastermónaþ beginneth March 30th
Þrimilci beginneth April 28th
Ærre Líða beginneth May 27th
Æftera Líða beginneth June 26th
Þrilíða beginneth July 25th
Weodmónaþ beginneth August 23rd
Háligmónaþ beginneth September 21st
Winterfylleð beginneth October 21st
Blótmónaþ beginneth November 20th
Ærre Géol beginneth December 20th

Celebrating Yule 2016

Happy Yule everyone. Also known as Midwinter or the Winter Solstice, Yule has its roots in many cultures, including Roman Saturnalia, Christian Christmas and most importantly Scandinavian and Anglo Saxon Yule. It is the longest night and the day when the Sun is “reborn.” Since the summer, the days have been getting shorter and colder, but after Yule they begin to lengthen again as we approach spring. It is a time of light and hope in the depths of cold winter.

The first mention of a midwinter celebration is in the writings of a 4th century Christian who said that at this time pagans celebrated the birthday of the sun by kindling lights, giving presents, feasting and the closure of schools and shops. However this festival of Saturnalia only began in 274ad. By the 8th century there were 12 days of celebration at Christmas. There is little evidence of celebration in Ireland before the 12th century. However, Bede, writing in 730ad said that most important festival of the Anglo Saxons in England had been “Modranicht” or “Mothers Night” on 24th December. This was the night which opened the new year and “they kept watch during it with religious rites.” The word Yule came through Danish rule over England, however there is no mention of it in early Scandinavian literature. Icelandic writer Snorri Sturluson says that there was a three day celebration at this time, including a sacrifice for a good crop. Historian Ronald Hutton says “the consensus between Bede and Snorri, that the winter solstice was a major feast of the ancient Scandinavian and Norse people’s, and opened their year, is still an impressive one.” There are many records from the 4th to 11th centuries of church leaders denouncing revelries, sorcery, divination, dressing in animal skins and feasting to excess at this time of the year. Across European society, it seems to have been a time for role reversal and the relaxation of norms. Hutton says that Welsh literature also shows good evidence for a midwinter “new year’s feast.” He further states that “it was the general custom in pagan Europe to decorate spaces with greenery and flowers at festivals, attested wherever records have survived.” These were often evergreens such as holly and ivy. Despite this, many of the traditional festivities we associate with Christmas now e.g. stockings, Christmas cards, paper decorations and crackers either were invented in the 19th century or came over from Germany at that time. Other traditional Christmas festivities such as the Christmas Tree (in the Rhineland), Yule Log and Wassailing the orchards can be traced back to Tudor times but no further.

While the Celtic people’s didn’t celebrate at midwinter as far as we know, the pre-celtic people’s who built monuments such as stonehenge and newgrange to align with the Winter Solstice, probably did have some kind of festival at this time. Celtic Pagans do sometimes get involved with Wren Day on Dec 26th, guising, lighting candles for this the longest night, honouring the winter hag Cailleach,  and the usual Christmas festivities.

Norse and Anglo Saxon re-constructionists celebrate Mothers Night (Modrinacht) as a time to honour the “Mothers”. In modern reconstructions, these “Mothers” are interpreted as goddesses and one’s female ancestors, however I think it is more likely the “Modra/ Matres” were the triple goddesses depicted on altars and votive offerings across northern and central Europe. They were linked with fate, prosperity, fertility and therefore probably similar to the Norse concept of the Norns.” Twelve days of feasting follow with the burning of a yule log, meditating on the nine noble virtues, lighting candles, doing divinations and making oaths on New Years Eve. Yule signified the height of the Wild Hunt, when a ghostly procession led by the god Woden/ Odin, and sometimes Frau Holla, marched across the night sky. It was a time when the dead were permitted to leave their mounds and return to the land of the living. In southwest England where I am from, this myth has evolved into a belief that it is hell hounds (known as Yeth or Wisht hounds) chasing sinners or the unbaptised. Similarly, myths surrounding Woden/ Odin and Thunor/ Thor may have contributed to our modern Santa Claus. Yule can be a time for honouring many of the gods – Woden who leads the wild hunt, Frige as the goddess of the home and hearth, Thunor for stopping the ice giants, Frey/ Ing for prosperity, Sunne and Baldur for the Suns rebirth and the winter deities Ullr and Skadhi.

Modern Neopagans like Wiccans celebrate this day with the myth of the mother goddess who gives birth to the sun god, while Druids tell of a battle between the Oak King and the Holly King, in which the Oak King overcomes the Holly King on this day and rules until Midsummer.

In the deepest depths of winter, it is traditional to celebrate Yule with gift giving, spending time with loved ones, decorating with evergreens and lights, having a yule tree and yule log, drinking and feasting. Wassailing is another tradition and in medieval times, villagers in southwest England would go to orchards and wassail the apple trees to scare away evil spirits and ensure a good harvest in the Autumn. To celebrate the cycles of nature and connect with the world around us, we can go out and watch the Solstice sunrise, ringing it in with the sound of bells. We can also go for a walk in nature, toasting the trees, and putting out food for the birds and animals struggling to find something to eat in the cold winter. Boxing day (26th December) was traditionally a time when the rich would give their servants the day off and provide food/ drink for them. I think dedicating this day to helping others would also be a great practice for Pagans.

My Yule feast usually includes a nut roast, sage & onion stuffing, mapled brussel sprouts with apple and walnuts, sweet & sour red cabbage, spiced swede mash, cranberry sauce and garlic & herb roast potatoes. I also often have a party with friends, burn a yule log, do a ritual, stay up all night in a candlelight vigil to greet the morning sunrise, go for a walk in nature and eat a traditional yule breakfast of porridge. I honour , the housewight and the Mothers on the Solstice eve, while honouring Sunne as she rises the next morning. Twelfth night (New Years Eve) is a good time for reflection, making plans for the next year, doing a cleaning of the house and eating a traditional New Year’s cake. It is also the time to have a big party with friends, to burn the yule log of the season and to wassail the apple trees.

Hutton, Ronald. The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Albertsson, Alaric. Travels through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan. USA: Llewellyn Publications, 2009.

An Autumn Equinox Update

Happy Autumn Equinox/ Mabon/ Harvest Home/ Alban Elfed everyone. I am just writing a quick update about my plans. I know I haven’t been blogging regularly for the past year, but that is going to change soon. I have been traveling across Asia, Australia and now New Zealand, but my travels come to an end at Samhain and I will be back in England and ready to focus on this blog once again. I should end up blogging a lot more regularly from November, especially on the previously mentioned Through The Books series, and hopefully a few more articles on Pagan Monasticism too (and one on Daoism). I am also planning to join the OBOD Bardic course in November, as well as begin the ADF Generalist Studies Path (I will document my progress on my ADF blog linked above).

The Autumn Equinox is a traditional time for a Pagan thanksgiving, a time to remember what we are grateful for. So here are some things I’m thankful for this year.

  1. I am thankful for you, the readers of this blog, who inspire me to keep writing.
  2. I am thankful for the chance to travel to new countries and experience different cultures. And to learn lots about different religious traditions in those countries that can help me in my practice of paganism.
  3. I am thankful for the many other Pagans who regularly blog on the internet and help me to think more deeply about my religious path and practices.

Have a great day everyone.

harvest

TTB Series: Travels Through Middle Earth – Chapter 1

saxonThe first book I am reading in this series is “Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan” by Alaric Alberttson. Alaric is an Anglo Saxon Pagan practitioner as well as a member of ADF. In this first book he sets out what is involved in following the Anglo Saxon path. The books starts with a chapter called “Who were the Anglo-Saxons?” Alaric packs a lot into this chapter so I think this will be a long post today.

He begins with a little history about the Anglo Saxons. He points out that there was never a group of people called the Anglo-Saxons, but rather there were many tribes including the Angles and the Saxons, who emigrated from Germany in the 5th century. Evidence suggests that it was not a full on invasion but a gradual process of migration, with pottery of the time suggesting a British attraction for Germanic culture. He explains that while they were Pagan when they came over, the last of the Pagan kings, Penda of Mercia, died in battle in November 655ad and brought Anglo-Saxon Paganism to an end. He also rightly explains that the Anglo-Saxons never would have referred to their religion as “Paganism” or “Heathenry” but rather would have probably called it “Fyrn Sidu”, the elder customs. The words Pagan and Heathen, were originally used to mean a rural person, someone who tended to be traditional and conservative in keeping the old ways long after their city counterparts had converted to the Christian Faith.

The author rightly points out that being a modern Saxon Pagan is nothing to do with race or ancestry, but rather culture and language. If you speak English, then you think in Anglo Saxon. Their worldview is “coded into the way we think and speak.” Whether it’s seeing the year in four seasons, calling the days of the week after the names of Saxon gods or growing up with stories of elves and dwarves, we are culturally Anglo Saxon. He raises an interesting point about the fact that the Anglo Saxons (and many polytheist cultures) do not see the soul as one thing, but as made up of multiple parts including something called the “mod”, which roughly corresponds to what we would call our “mood.” He also points out that contrary to our views of the Anglo Saxons as barbaric warriors, they were a quite cultured people who valued poetry and story, and for whom agriculture was an extremely important part of their daily lives (as evidenced by Bede’s calendar). I like his suggestion that rather than viewing the Anglo Saxons through Roman tinted glasses as barbarians, we should rather look to Tolkien, who’s books were inspired by the Anglo Saxon worldview, to get a more accurate picture of our ancestors. Theirs was a land of runes and rings, dragons, elves and dwarves. Even the name “Middle Earth” comes from the Anglo Saxon name “Middangeard” and the wizard Gandalf, is based on Woden himself.

He then goes on to talk about the seven worlds (plus 2 elemental realms) of Anglo Saxon thought. There are many extra-dimensional worlds laying above, below and around us, which are dangerous and we are protected from by the god Thunor. First, there is the world of the gods, Osgeard (pronounced Os-yaird). Anglo Saxon Paganism is a polytheist faith, which acknowledges many different types of spirits. Alaric says that what sets some out as our gods is they have “sovereignty”, in other words, the title “god” is a “job description.” They protect and guide us, while we give them gifts and devotion. Saxon Paganism is not a faith that sees the gods as archetypes, but as real, existing, independent individuals with their own goals, plans and personalities. This Polytheism also allows the Saxon Pagan to be a tolerant person because they can acknowledge the reality of the gods of other religions, without having to worship those other gods themselves. That said, he recommends that if we do follow gods from other pantheons too, they should have separate altars and rituals in order to avoid being rude.

While Osgeard is seen as being above us, there is another world to the east where the sun rises, and another to the west where the sun sets.  In the East is Ettinham – the land of the Ettins (giants), who are dangerous primal spirits, but they are not evil. Wanham is the world in the west. This is where the Wanic powers live, and they don’t really take much interest in us except for the few who have halls in Osgeard. To the North and South, lie the elemental realms (not worlds) of fire and ice. In the Anglo-Saxon worldview (based on Norse sources), the universe came about because of a collision between the ice and fire coming from these realms. They are inhabited by the “Thyrses” who are purely destructive spirits and who are never honoured. Directly above us and below us are two further worlds – Elfham and Dwarfham inhabited by the nature spirits. These spirits can be friendly or hostile to us, but if we treat them with respect they can become useful allies. The land of light, Elfham, contains the spirits who nurture the land, such as woodlands around us. While the land of the dark elves, the dwarves, is like a womb where new things are brought into existence. Interestingly, the Sun in Anglo-Saxon thought is a female deity and she is called the “glory of elves.”
Finally there is Hel. This is not the horrible fiery place of Christian invention, but rather the realm of the dead and the goddess Hel. The god Bealdor also went there when he died (yes in Saxon Paganism, the gods can die – and will – at Ragnarok). Hel is the hall of our ancestors, and what awaits us there will depend on how we have acted towards others in this life – will we have a hall of friends awaiting us, or one of enemies?

Alaric finishes by pointing out that there are many ways to be a Saxon Pagan, but he points out that what unites us all is “love and reverence for the Saxon gods.”

In this chapter, the author explains the history and worldview of the Anglo Saxons. He shows that they were a polytheist people who worshipped many gods, as well as acknowledging a range of other spirits including the dead, nature spirits, and the more dangerous Ettins and Thyrses. They saw the universe as made up of multiple dimensions and the soul as made up of multiple parts. Agriculture was important to them, but so was poetry, story and music. They brought their religion and culture to the British Isles when the Roman Empire collapsed, but unfortunately many left their ancestral ways and converted to a foreign god – Yahweh, with the last Pagan king dying in 665AD. While the practice of their religion died off, their culture and language continue to influence us today and even their gods are remembered in the days of our week and the Christianised festival of Easter. Now, thanks to modern archaeology, history and comparative religious studies, we are able to re-build an approximation of their faith once more, renew the worship of the old gods, and return to the elder customs again.

Through the Books Series

booksIt is said that Heathenry is the “religion with homework” and it is true that there is a lot of reading to do to follow learn the lore, worldview and practices of the Anglo-Saxon Pagan path. Evidence needs to be gathered from sources across the Norse, Icelandic, Anglo Saxon and Germanic world to help one create a practice that is inspired by our ancestors. In pursuit of this aim, I have decided to start a new series of blogs called “Through the Books” in which I will read and then write about each chapter in a variety of books on Anglo Saxon and Norse Paganism. I don’t want to regurgitate what the authors say, but simply to set out their key arguments or facts, my views on these things and how we can apply it to our worldview and practice. I am hoping this will help encourage me to read the books more and for the information to stick in my mind. And hopefully you, as readers of this blog, will also find it interesting and intellectually stimulating. I am going to begin with two  books by Alaric Albertsson – “Travels Through Middle Earth” and “Wyrdworking: Path of a Saxon Sorcerer.” I hope to do this process with around 20 books so it’s probably going to be a good year or more of blog posts. The first one should be out over the next few days….hopefully.