View Full Version : Bedes or Prayers to the Gods

Sunday, November 6th, 2005, 08:14 PM
Prayer as a form of communication with gods is a basic component of nearly every religion, but amongst the world religions it takes myriad forms. The ancient Egyptians, for example, believed in cursing their gods and admonishing them for failing in their duties. There is little indication of this in Germanic culture. For the most part, prayers seemed to ask for some sort of aid from a particular god or gods, boasted of that god or gods' great deeds, and sometimes may have included a promise of sacrifice from the petitioner. Old Norse bija and Anglo-Saxon biddan, both meant "to ask," as well as "to pray." This may indicate that the Elder Germanic Heathens saw prayer as an "asking" for something. The native Anglo-Saxon word for prayer is bed ( bede or bead NE) which comes from the verb biddan.

Very little material survives intact that contains what may have once been bedes. Bedes such as the one to Dg "Day" in the Sigdrfuml and a fragment of a prayer to unor in the Skaldskarpaml are about the best examples and have been covered extensively elsewhere (See Paxson). Similar is Cdmon's Hymn which while Christian, must be based on Heathen patterns of prayer (it was composed when a large part of England was still Heathen and prior to the establishment of Christian literature in that area). Finally, sections of the cer-bt an Anglo-Saxon rite found in the manuscript called the Lacnunga follow a repeated pattern of wassailing or greeting, followed by mythological references, and concluding with a petition. An example of this is the following section:

Wes Hl, folde---fira mdor;
(wassail Earth---Mankind's mother)
bo growende---in godes fme,
(be thou growing---in god's embrace)
fdor gefylled---firum t nytte.
(With food filled---for men to use)
beorht blwende--- gebletsod weor.
(bright blossoming---thou blessed worth)
s hlgan name---e s heofon gescp,
(In that holy name---that the heaven shaped)
ond s eoran---e w on lfia,
(and that of the earth---that we live in)
s god---s s grundas geworhte,
(that god---that the grounds wrought)
geunne s---growende giefe
(grant us---growing yield)
t s corna gehwilc---cume t nytte.
(that every kind of corn to us---comes to use)

The opening line is clearly a wassail or greeting, a wishing the goddess health, while line 2 is the beginning of the semi-mythical references (the marriage of Fra and Gerr perhaps or the union between Wden and Eore that produced unor). Finally, with line 8 we reach a petition for good harvests. Drawing on these and other sources, then it would seem that a bede may comprise three parts. 1) A "wassailing" of the god or Gods, a prime example being the one in the Sigdrfuml which opens with "Hail to thee Dg, hail ye Dg's sons" and proceeds to "wassail" the Gods. 2) A boast of the god or Gods' great deeds. The bede to .unor in the Skaldskarpaml is just a simple list of ettins he has destroyed. Similarly, Cdmon's Hymn boasts of the creation of the world. In addition, the deities were invoked through various hight names and by names as in the cer-bt. These boasts are akin to the gielps we do for ourselves in symbel and may operate on a similar principle. 3) A petition or request. This was most likely simple, like the one rkell made to Freyr with the gift of an ox, asking that the man who expelled him from his lands be done likewise .

Heathen bedes were also apparently accompanied by certain positions of the body, most of them apparently kneeling or prostrate. According to Grimm, only the wofodegn "priest" stood before the Gods (in the elhaz position most likely). Everyone else either knelt or laid face down to the ground. Grimm also notes that the traditional "Christian" mode of prayer with the palms and fingers of the hands flat against each other is Indo-European in origin and may be Germanic. Such positioning of the hands does appear to mimic bondage of the hands and in Tacitus' Germania we are told the Semones had a sacred grove they could not enter unless tied with a rope. If one falls, they may not rise and leave, but must roll on the ground. It may be that the hands and feet were tied and that the worshipers knelt, and therefore could not rise if they fell over.

Even within the Icelandic sagas, the case for kneeling or falling prostrate is a strong one. In the Flateyjarbk Hakon falls prostrate before the ds rgerr, and in Hrd's Saga, rstein falls before an idol and speaks to it. This may have been what was referred to by the Old Norse verb lta "to lout down, to bow, kneel" which appears in various passages associated with bedes. This verb is the cognate of New English lout, and apparently has similar connotations. In Anglo-Saxon, ltan meant not only "to bend , stoop,' but also "to bow, make obeisance to." It could be that one knelt, fell prostrate, or stood depending on whether the bede included a petition or to what god one was praying to. The cer-bt begins "...ic stande," but then this may simply mean "I remain firm in place," and does not needfully carry the modern connotations of the verb stand, one could stand "remain in place," and be kneeling. Too, this galdor was probably said by the wofodegn who would be standing. In modern practice, it may be best to experiment and see which gets the best results, or just go with personal preference.

Bedes form the building blocks for the greater rites such as the blts and also serve as a way a worshipper can stay in communication with the gods. Many of the lesser yields were probably accompanied by nothing more or less than a bede, while many bedes may have been nothing more than songs of praise for the deities. Bedes if at all possible should be composed in the traditional alliterative poetry of the Elder Heathens. It is okay to be generous with glowing epitaphs for the god as well as hight names and mentions of their exploits. An example of a modern bede to Wden is outlined as follows:

Ws u Wden hl----Ws u hl wundra hlford
(Wassail Wden---Wassail wonders' lord)
Ws u celic hl---Ond speacuted simble hafa
(Be ever hale---and success ever have)

Boast or Gielp:
u heng nihta eall nigone---Hwonne rna u nm
(Thou hung nights all nine---When thou won the runes)
Wittig dryhten on windig trow---Ws u gare wundode.
(Wise drihten on windy tree---With spear were wounded)
Bealweorc u wga Gunnla---Mid wiglu hfde n willan
(As Balework you wooed Gunnlath---With wiles had your way)
u sypa meadu Suttunges---Ond stl hit weg.
(Thou supped Suttung's mead---And stole it away)
Wden sigefder---Esa mihtig wealdend
(Wden victory father---sir's mighty ruler)
Sdht ond Wegtamere---Grat wittig dryhten
(Broadhat and way tamer---Great wise drihten)

Ic bidd u nu---Bld ond bliss wox
(I ask of you now---Make wealth and bliss wax)
Ond adu gratlce acode---Mid hwilcu lf ae macie
(And make wealth greatly increase---To make life easier)

This outline can be adapted to anything from a simple prayer, to a song of praise, to the fulls drunk to the Gods in symbel and housel. They can be sung, chanted, performed (if they incorporate myths), or just spoken. Every worshiper of the Gods should be able to give a simple bede. Whether it be in English or one of the Elder Tongues really doesn't matter as long as it is said. Bedes after all are the building blocks of the blessings and blts.

Source (http://www.ealdriht.org/prayers.html)