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Thread: The Anglo-Saxon Pantheon

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    The Anglo-Saxon Pantheon

    When one thinks of the Anglo-Saxons and religion, images are usually conjured of intricately illustrated Christian manuscripts and pious leaders such as King Alfred and Edward the Confessor. Yet before the advent of Christianity, through the missionary work of St. Augustus beginning in 597AD, Anglo-Saxon England adhered to a rich polytheistic faith.

    The religion of the Anglo-Saxons was the anglicised version of the Germanic variant of the organic Indo-European nature-based religion, comprising numerous Gods and having as its principle the standard indigenous European religious polarities: Sky Father and Earth Mother.

    Although the Scandinavian version of these Gods are more well know thanks to the Eddas, the Icelandic myths and historians such as Tacitus and Saxo Grammaticus, there remains enough evidence to give an overview of the English versions of the main Gods and Goddesses and how their influence remains in modern England. The English pantheon, like its Norse equivalent, had two sets of Gods: The Ese and the Wena (Norse equivalent: Æsir and Vanir.) The Ese were the sky based Gods ruling over human affairs whilst the Wena were fertility Gods.



    --The Ese--
    Woden (Norse: Odin)


    The chief God of the English pantheon. His name comes from the Old English wód meaning “madness, fury, inspiration.” Woden was a complex deity, being the God of battle and death on one hand yet in his Anglo-Saxon incarnation, the God of healing as well. He was also the God of the mystical runes, poetry, wisdom, shamanism and was the leader of the legendary Wild Hunt.

    Woden was similar in nature to his Norse counterpart Odin. But whereas the latter was a warrior king, Woden, whilst still maintaining his darker, more violent side, was more a mysterious traveller, an observer of mankind who would often interact with humanity in disguise, wearing a hood or a wide brimmed hat to cover his face.

    Woden gave his name to the fourth day of the week, Wednesday, coming from the Old English Wodensdæg (Woden’s Day.) His name can be found in English place names such as Wednesbury, Wansdyke, Woodnesborough, Wednesly, Wornshill and Wednesfield. Places in England beginning with “Grim…” are often based on this particular nickname of Woden.

    Frige (Norse: Frigg)

    Frige was the wife of Woden and thus the queen of the Gods. Her main domain was the household and she is the patron of housewives and childbirth. She was portrayed as being the equal of Woden in wisdom, often giving him advice.

    As the chief Goddess, Frige was Anglo-Saxon’s Earth Mother to Woden’s Sky Father, these dual divinities being an integral party of Indo-European religions. She was associated with spinning and weaving and the constellation known as Frigga’s Distaff is named after her.

    Friday comes from the Old English Frigesdæg and places in England thought to be associated with her are Frobury, Fryup, Froyle, Freefolk and Frydaythorpe.



    Thunor (Norse: Thor)
    The red-bearded Thor (or Thunor as he was known to the Anglo-Saxons) is perhaps the best known of the Germanic deities as the God of thunder and lightening. But his responsibilities, such as offering protection to mankind, being responsible for agriculture, farmers, giving brides fertility on their wedding day and representing the common man made him perhaps the most popular God with the Germanic people.

    Thunor’s symbol was the hammer, which was used to smash the skulls of the evil Giants. The Giants represented the forces of chaos and Thunor was the protector of mankind against discord, so Anglo-Saxons, like their Norse cousins, used to wear talismans in the shape of a hammer to ensure Thunor’s protection.

    Thursday is named in his honour (Old English: Thunresdæg) and the many places names in England named after him are testimony to his popularity: Thunderfield, Thundersley, Thunorslege, Thunderley, Thunrefeld, Thunreslau, Thunreshlaew, Thurstable and Thunrelea.

    Tiw (Norse: Tyr)
    Although Woden was the principal English God, there is evidence that the original “Sky Father” figure in Germanic religion was a God of war called Tiwas. In time, Woden took over his role as the chief of the Gods and Tiwas morphed into Tyr for the Norse and Tiw for the Anglo-Saxons.

    As God of war, Tiw not only represented martial war but also fighting a just cause. He is also associated with bravery and sacrifice, thanks to the myth of him sacrificing an arm to foil the giant evil wolf Fenris, or Fenrir as he was know to the English.

    Tiwesdæg became the modern day of the week Tuesday and there are thought to be 10 place names in England named after Tiw, which suggests that he was a much-venerated God in Anglo-Saxon England. These places include Tislea, Tuesley, Tysoe, Tyesmere, Tirley, Tisbury and Tifield

    --The Wena--
    Ingui-Frea (Norse: Freyr)


    In Norse mythology, Freyr is one of the main deities of the group of fertility Gods known as the Vanir. He was god of fertility, abundance, peace, the harvest and was king of the Elves. Although an Anglo-Saxon version of Freyr is not specifically mentioned, there is evidence to suggest that a corresponding figure was part of the Anglo-Saxon pantheon.

    Another Norse term for Freyr was Yngvi-Freyr and in their genealogies, the Swedes claimed descent from this God. In Old English literature, there are various references to a God or heroic figure called Ingui or Ing, which is phonetically cognate with the Norse Yngvi. “Ing” is also mentioned in the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf. The historian Tacitus labelled the Angles, the largest Anglo-Saxon tribe to settle in England, “Ingaevones” which suggests that the Angles may have originally traced their descent from Freyr, or Ing, as well.

    As Yngvi-Freyr was the God of fertility, he was often portrayed in Sweden as having a large exposed phallus and a long beard. A recent archaeological dig in England uncovered a heathen Anglo-Saxon’s grave and in the grave was an amulet of a bearded man with an exposed phallus. If this was, as seems likely, an amulet in honour of the English Yngvi-Freyr, it would have been probable that the English knew the God in their own tongue as Ingui-Frea.



    Freo (Norse: Freyja)
    The Norse Goddess Freyja is the sister of Freyr and is another fertility Goddess of the Vanir. She is portrayed as being extremely beautiful and is the Goddess of love and she was closely associated with cats.

    She was also the patron of women who practised Seid, the Northern form of female magic. It is from Freyja that we have the traditional figure of the Witch. When the Christians were seeking to blacken the name of the old Gods in the eyes of the people, they turned Freyja’s Seid into devil worship and the symbolism of her cats became the traditional witch’s familiar.

    As the English seem to have known of the God Ingui-Frea, it is unlikely that the English were not aware of his sister, as the siblings feature so strongly in Norse myth. There is evidence for Freo, as she would have been known to the Anglo-Saxons, in Beowulf. The poem makes mention of taking treasure to a citadel called Brosingamen. This is very similar to the best know myth in which Freyja appears, where she takes possession of the Brisingamen necklace or treasure.

    --Unique Anglo-Saxon Gods--

    As we have seen, most of the English Gods have their counterparts in Norse mythology. But there were some Gods in the Anglo-Saxon pantheon that were unique to the English.

    Seaxneat

    A Seax was a large knife used by the Anglo-Saxons as a tool as well as weapon. The word Seax is also the Old English for one of the English tribes, the Saxons, so Seaxneat could mean either “Sword God” or “Friend of the Saxons.”

    He is known to have been worshiped by the continental Saxons as well as in the English Saxon kingdom of Essex, but for some reason he is not recorded by the other two English Saxon kingdoms, Sussex and Wessex, although it is probable that he was the original God of the Saxon people

    It is thought that Seaxneat was the God of the sword, because in heathen Germany ritual dances with swords were recorded and in England images have been found which portray dance-like religious rites involving swords



    Eostre

    According to the Venerable Bede, Esotre was a Goddess worshiped by the Anglo-Saxons in April during Eostremonath, a celebration of the rebirth of life and nature after the harsh winter months. The Anglo-Saxon calendar was split into two halves: Winter beginning in October and summer which started in April, so Eostremonath would have been the commencement of the coming six Summer months.

    All of the symbolism surrounding the Goddess Eostre points to renewal and fertility, with the egg being associated with her as a sign of this rebirth. The hare, a representation of fertility, was another of her symbols and offerings were made to her in the shape of the ancient Germanic symbol, the Sun Wheel, a circle divided into four quarters that represented the passing of the year.

    The festival of Eostre was extremely popular with the common people and as the Christians couldn’t eradicate it totally, Pope Gregory co-opted the symbolism and customs of the celebration under the Christian holiday of Easter. The egg was an integral part of the celebration, the hare morphed into the Easter Bunny and the hot-cross buns associated with Easter have their origin in the Sun Wheel gifts offered to Eostre.
    Source: http://www.BritishPride.org/?p=480

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    Seaxneat must be lord of the sword dance. This seems to be the shallowest of personifications. I'm not sure how serious this observation was and even modern Heathens make little comment, if at all on that god.

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