View Full Version : Woden / Frige / Eostre

Sunday, January 8th, 2006, 09:23 PM

Woden is usually regarded as the head god of the Heathen Anglo-Saxons, one reason being that there are far more references to Woden in Old English literature than any other god or goddess. We find the name Woden in the word Wednesday, which comes from the Old English Wodnesdaeg, or the day of Woden. The Anglo-Saxon kings looked to Woden as their ancestor god and creator of their lineages. As contradictory as it sounds, some authorities have suggested that the claiming of descent from the Heathen god Woden was actually a Christian introduction used for political and and social gains, and that his inclusion in royal genealogies replaced the original ancestor gods of the Anglo-Saxons, those being Seaxneat of the Saxons and Ingui of the Angles. But whether Woden is or is not the 'true' ancestor god of the Anglo-Saxon kings, it cannot be doubted that Woden was regarded as a great and powerful god amongst the Heathens. God of death, battle, wisdom, discoverer of the runes and leader the Wild Hunt, his cult was widespread. Certain place names are proof of this, as we find names such as Wodnes-beorh (Wodens barrow), Wodnes-denu (Wodens valley), Wednesfileld (Wodens plain), Wednesbury (Wodens fortress). Other names that incorporate
the name of Woden are Woodnesbourgh, Wornshill, Wednesley and Wansdyke. The last name, Wansdyke, means dyke or ditch of Woden, and it's attached to the words dyke or ditch that we have more evidence of the belief in Woden. This comes in the form of the word Grim, which was a 'nickname' for Woden, and means masked or hooded, and was a reference to the image of Woden as being attired in a hooded cloak. We find several of these place names in Southern England in the form of Grimsdyke or dyke of Grim. And this is evidence that the belief in Woden was so great that he came to be known by more than just one name. It's written also that the Heathen Anglo-Saxons sacrificed to Woden or UUoden before battle, which was a common practice amongst all Germanic peoples, and considering the amount of battles fought by the Anglo-Saxons during this era, the custom of pre and post-battle sacrifice to Woden must have been a regular occurrance. The reason for this type of sacrifice was to win the help and blessing of the god in question during battle, and no doubt if victorious there would have been much post-battle sacrifice. Woden was also seen as a sort of shamanistic wizard, the font of knowledge and discoverer on the runes. The Old English rune poem, that could possibly be a reference for Woden, says:

'Mouth is the chieften of speech,
the mainstain of wisdom
and comfort to wise ones,
for every noble warrior
hope and happiness.'

(Translation taken from Runelore by Edred Thorsson)

Although the poem says mouth and not Woden, this could actually be a 'punning' reference to Woden, who, as mentioned was regarded as all wise, and the mouth reference could then be seen as a reference to the speaking forth of the runic 'alphabet' or futhark. Evidence for Wodens character as a kind of shaman is contained in the charm known as the Nine Herbs Charm, where part of it says:

'These nine have power against nine poisons,
A worm came crawling, it bit a man,
Then Woden took nine glory twigs,
Smote the adder so that it split into nine,
There ended apple and poison.'

People tend to agree that the glory twigs are bits of wood or twigs inscribed with the runic character corresponding to the initial letter of each of the nine herbs mentioned earlier in the charm. With the use of rune magic, the healing properties of each of the nine herbs is transferred to each of the nine twigs, which then become glory twigs, and are then cast by Woden to attack the illness, which is visualised as a crawling serpent or worm, to cure the afflicted person of whatever he or she is suffering from.
One of the most enduring aspects of Woden is his leading of the Wild Hunt, a ride through the sky with his army of noisy lost souls. The Wild Hunt takes different forms depending on which country and which period in time it was recorded. The best example of the Wild Hunt in Anglo-Saxon tradition is the much quoted passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for the year 1127 c.e, it reads:

'Let no one be surprised at what we are going to relate, for it was common gossip up and down the countryside that after February 6th many people both saw and heard a whole pack of huntsmen in full cry. They straddled black horses and black bucks, while their hounds were pitch black with staring hideous eyes. This was seen in the very deer park of Peterborough town, and in all the woods stretching from that same spot as far as Stamford. All through the night monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been twenty or even thirty of them in this tantivy as near as they could tell.'

(Translation taken from-'The Lost Gods of England' by Brian Branston)

This description of the hunt was written down well into the Christian period, and could have a couple of explanations. Either, as the passage was written down by a Christian monk, the enduring legacy of the Wild Hunt was eventually demonised and made a thing of evil, like much of heathen lore was, or the description is an accurate one and what the witnesses heard and saw were common folk carrying on a tradition based on the Wild Hunt or some other Heathen tradition. Whatever the monk recorded in the woods and deer park between Peterborough and Stamford it has an uncanny resemblance to Woden's Wild Hunt. Another mention of Woden in Old English literature can be seen in the Anglo-Saxon Maxims, where the line Woden worhte weos can be read, translated into modern English it means Woden made idols. It is difficult to know exactly what is meant by Woden made idols, but it could be a slight insight into how Woden and other Heathen gods were worshipped. In that the gods and goddesses may have been represented in physical and visual appearance by idols that were probably carved out of wood. And as the idols came to represent the 'evils' of Heathenism to the Christians, who at every opportunity destroyed them, they may have blamed Woden for their creation if he was seen as the head Anglo-Saxon god. There fore Woden worhte weos or Woden made idols. The image that the Heathen Anglo-Saxons may have had of Woden was probably best summed up by Richard Branston in his book The Lost Gods of England:

'The Woden of the Old English never became the warrior king in golden helmet, exclusive patron of princes and jarls, such as Snorri depicted in his Edda, he was never pre-occupied with the problem of organising his battalions of slain into a doomed army to oppose the Children of Muspell at Ragnorok. Instead the Anglo-Saxon Woden stalked the rolling down land, one-eyed and wise beyond all knowing in cloak and hood when the weather was fine, stopping at crossroads to recognise his own dangling from the gallows, but on black and stormy nights he racketed across the sky at the head of his wild hunt of lost and noisy souls.'
Source (http://www.englishheathenism.homestead.com/textwoden.html)

Sunday, January 8th, 2006, 09:28 PM

Our first information of the Anglo-Saxon Frige comes from the name of the fifth day of the week, Friday, which comes from the Old English
Frige-daeg or the day of Frige.It also shows that the Germanic peoples saw her as being equivalent to the Roman Venus, whom the Romans called their fifth day after, i.e 'dies Veneris' or 'day of Venus'. There are several place names in England that may contain the name of Frige, these are Frobury, Fryup, Froyle, Freefolk and maybe also Frydaythorpe. Freefolk seems to mean the people of Frige, which seems to suggest an area of strong Frige devotion. In the Germanic world Frige was seen as the wife of Woden, and was only pushed for status of most powerful goddess by Freo/Freya. It seems that amongst the Germanic peoples Frige came to represent the earth as an Earth Mother. In the first century Tacitus mentions an Earth Mother goddess called Nerthus, and as there is no mention of Frige as the Earth Mother at this early period, it's possible that Frige eventually replaced Nerthus in this role. In the Heathen Anglo-Saxon calendar, September, was known as Haligmonath, which means Holy Month. Bede says the reason it was called Holy Month was:

"Because our ancestors when they were Heathen paid the devil tribute in that month."

September or Halig-monath was the month when the harvest was collected, and the so called devil that Bede's ancestors were paying tribute to was probably the 'Earth Mother' Frige, thanking her for a successfull harvest. A good symbol to represent the goddess Frige is a Sheaf of corn or the Gera rune symbol, which means year, and symbolizes the earth and harvest associated with Frige. The accompanying rune poem tells us:

'Harvest is the hope of men,
when god lets, holy king of Heaven,
the earth gives her bright fruits
to the noble ones and needy'

(Translation from-Runelore by Edred Thorsson)

The worship of Frige and the earth was very important to the Heathens. In a world that virtually revolved around the farming year, the earth was seen as not just a provider of food but also a sustainer of life, and for that they thanked her.

Source (http://www.englishheathenism.homestead.com/textfrige.html)

Sunday, January 8th, 2006, 09:28 PM

Eostre is only mentioned once in Old English literature, and that was by the Christian scholar the Venerable Bede (679-735). In his work De
Temporum Ratione, Bede says that April was called Eostremonath, due to the fact that the Heathen Anglo-Saxons worshipped and held ceremonies during that month in honour of Eostre. The name Eostre is said to be related to the word
east, which many believe makes her a dawn goddess, maybe due to the fact
that the sun rises in the east. But a more convincing argument is that Eostre is a spring/summer goddess, who's veneration during April, Eostremonath, may have included processions similar to that of the
Nerthus cult, but whether there is any connection between Eostre and
Nerthus isn't known. Eostre represents the re-birth of life and nature after the harsh weather of the winter months. The egg, which may be a symbol of Eostre, is believed to represent that very re-birth. The Anglo-Saxon Heathen calendar seems to give evidence to support this. The Heathen year was split into two seasons, summer and winter, spring and autumn were basically just aspects of the other two. Winter started in October and lasted for six months, the first month after the six 'winter months' was April or Eostremonath, which is the start of the coming six summer months. So as the first month of summer is the
month of Eostre, it seems reasonable to believe that she represents that re-birth of summer. Another symbol that may have been sacred to
Eostre is the hare, which eventually became the
Easter bunny of today. In the cult of Eostre, the hare may have been a symbol of fertility. Eaten at Easter are Hot-Cross-Buns, which also have their origins in Heathen lore, originally these buns were pagan offerings. The cross upon the buns is said to either represent the four quarters of the moon or the horns of a bull, if the latter is right this may suggest that bull/oxen sacrifice was practiced in honour of Eostre, something, which we know was common amongst Anglo-Saxon Heathens. Another explanation for the cross could be that it represents the sun wheel, which was a sacred symbol to all Germanic peoples. One tradition concerning Hot-Cross-Buns is that they were hung from rafters to scare away any evil that lurked within the house, probably due to the fact that the buns came to represent good luck. Some scholars have commented upon the fact that no goddess called Eostre, or something similar, was ever known in Norse mythology. And this lack of an Eostre figure amongst the Norse at times sways people into believing that Eostre never existed, and that the Venerable Bede created the goddess as an explanation for the month name. But it would seem very odd for an extremely devout Christian, who at very best vaguely relates Heathen Anglo-Saxon practices, and a man who condemned Heathenism thoroughly, to have created the name of a pre-Christian goddess for his own use. And also the fact that Eostre didn't exist in Norse mythology does not mean that she never existed amongst other Germanic peoples. Amongst the Anglo-Saxons and the continental Saxons we have written historical proof of the god Seaxneat. Seaxneat was the ancestor god of the Saxons in England and a god who was to be renounced by the continental Saxons during their conversion to Christianity. There is no known evidence to show that a god called Seaxneat ever existed in Scandinavia, but we know from the evidence that he existed amongst the Saxons. And this is just one example showing the existence of a god or goddess amongst certain Germanic peoples that may not have been known by others. So there is very strong reason to believe that to our ancestors Eostre was very real and well loved in celebration.
The Christian church eventually took over the festival of Eostre, the incorporating of Heathen customs into early Christianity in England was carried out on the orders of Pope Gregory. As the festival of Eostre was about celebrating life and it's re-birth, the Christians found it easy and convenient to swap Eostre for their own symbol of re-birth, the resurrected Christ, whilst retaining the name Eostre or 'Easter'.

Source (http://www.englishheathenism.homestead.com/eostre.html)

Sunday, January 8th, 2006, 09:30 PM
The most obvious reference to the thunder god Thunor is contained in the fourth day of the week, Thursday, which in Old English was Thunresdaeg or the day of Thunor. Thunor's name is also found in a good few English place names. His name can be found in Thunderfield, Thundersley, Thunorslege, Thunderley, Thunrefeld, Thunreslau, Thunreshlaew, Thurstable, and there are two examples of Thunrelea. Obvious cult sites are those placenames ending in the ley element, which mean grove of Thunor. Interesting is Thurstable which, is said to mean pillar of Thunor and tends to suggest strong devotion to Thunor. While Woden may be considered the god of kings and royalty, Thunor was most certainly the god of the common man and farmer. Some of the place names containing the name of Thunor are situated in what could be called no man's land, in other words out in the remote countryside away from the towns where Christian influence was strongest. This could be the reason why the above place names retained their Thunor element, as the farmers were free to worship Thunor for much longer, even after their so called conversion. So the place names containing Thunor's name became permanent.
An interesting word found in Old English that could have come from a belief in Thunor is Thunorrad, which means thunder riding or Thunor riding. In Old Norse belief Thunor's Scandinavian counterpart, Thor, is said to ride across the sky in a goat drawn chariot, so it's possible that when the Heathen Anglo-Saxons heard the sound of thunder in the sky, they may well have believed it was Thunor riding across the sky like Thor, and called such a belief Thunorrad or thunder riding.
Archaeology has shown that a veneration of Thunor was popular amongst the Anglo-Saxons in England, in graves small amulets have been found resembling hammers, which probably shows the Heathen Anglo-Saxons believed Thunor possessed a hammer like the Norse Thor. Also discovered many times is the symbol which is known today as the swastika, this symbol was holy to the thunder god throughout the Germanic world, it has been found on brooches, weapons, cremation urns, manuscripts and even in churches. The swastikas found on cremation urns are interesting as they may connect Thunor to burial rites or the after life, or if not Thunor, then the swastika itself. Also sacred to Thunor is the oak tree, the connection between Thunor and the oak may have come from the frequency of which the oak tree was struck by lightning. The custom of the Yule-log, which comes from Heathen belief, may also have been associated with the thunder god due to the fact that it was commonly made of oak. In his book 'The Golden Bough', James Frazer has this to say about the custom of the Yule-log in England:

'That the Yule-log was only the winter counterpart of the midsummer bonfire, kindled within doors instead of in the open air on account of the cold and inclement weather of the season, was pointed out long ago by our English antiquary John Brand, and the new is supported by the many quaint superstitions attaching to the Yule-log, superstitions which have no apparent connection with Christianity but carry their heathen origin stamped upon them.'

'The old custom was to light the Yule-log with a
fragment of it's predecessor, which had been kept
throughout the year for the purpose....the remains
of the log were also supposed to guard the house
against fire and lightning.'

'As the Yule-log was frequently of oak, it seems
possible that this belief was a relic of the old Aryan
creed which associated the oak tree with the
thunder god'.
(Taken from 'The Golden Bough by J.G. Frazer)
Very strong evidence suggesting that there was a cult devoted to the god Thunor is found in the story of Saint Mildthryth. The start of this story relates the tale that Saint Domneva, who was the mother of Mildthryth, founded an abbey as result of the death of two Kentish princes whom are said to have been murdered by a certain Thunor. Part of the story reads:

"Until they came to that place which is now called 'Thunors barrow'. And he then, this Thunor, bowed down to the king and said to him: "Sire, how long will you listen to this dumb beast that will run around all this land? Do you want to give it all to the queen?" As soon as he spoke these words the earth split asunder...
This story of a certain Thunor seems to be a tale that may have arisen as a result of the success in destroying the cult of Thunor amongst the Heathens of Kent. Like much in Anglo-Saxon Heathenism, Thunor here is belittled and demonised as being evil. And the founding of an abbey in compensation for the murders of the two princess by Thunor could be seen as a show of strength from the Christian religion in it's victory over the cult of Thunor in Kent. At the end of the quoted story we read:
'As soon as he spoke these words the earth split asunder...'
The mention of the earth splitting at his very words seems to be very much in custom with the character of the thunder god, a god of strength and power capable of splitting oak tree's, and here it seems, the very ground itself.
The thunder god was one of the most venerated gods amongst all of Europe's Heathens, and this was no different amongst the Anglo-Saxons in England.

Source (http://www.englishheathenism.homestead.com/thunor.html)