Wōdnesbēd

WODEN

O, Mender of bone and sinew and blood
Furious and ever-hungry
Adder’s Bane
Wyrt-Knower
High-leech wreathed in smoke
Sharp-eyed and sharp-speared
Broadminded
Bringer of knowledge and ecstasy and things hidden

Hear my call, O Wōden
O Dēaþgod
O Sceadu-Cyning
Steer my wōd so that I might do goodly things
And my hand in its work and craft 

Through Hænep’s reek do I wander
Through worlds unseen and countless
Forthwise by your hand
As your voice calls from darkness
Imbued with your spēd and with your wisdom
And your lust for knowing

Look upon me and mine with favour
Let us know health and wellbeing
Stave off wearg and wyrm
And see their poison driven out by the edge of your gore
Let them know well your madness, your fury
And the gnashing hounds at their heels 

O Wōden
O Wanderer
O Pæþwyrhta
Unquenchable
Inextinguishable
Desolator 

Please accept this gift, though humble it may be
A gift for a gift
I dedicate and I give
May it please you
May it find you well
And May you continue to smile upon hearth, home, and Hænep 

Gehygd: A Meditative and Revelatory Technique

Meditation (noun):
[uncountable] the practice of thinking deeply in silence, especially for religious reasons or in order to make your mind calm. 

Revelation (noun) :
the divine or supernatural disclosure to humans of something relating to human existence or the world. [1]


When dealing with distinctly “Germanic” instances of meditation and revelatory technique, we are presented with the issue of the oft fragmentary and decidedly vague resources at our disposal. Because of this, it is often helpful to look at adjacent and preexisting peoples in order to extrapolate something that is both functional and possessing historical veracity.  

If we look to the Old English corpus, we see a variety of words dealing with meditation, rumination, and self-exploration, such as smēagung, gemund, smēaþ and gehygd [2], suggesting meditative techniques were known and likely practiced by the people who lived in Anglo-Saxon England. Although we have several words at our disposal, for this particular reconstruction we will utilize gehygd as our meditative term- though, as is always the case, practitioners may choose to use another of the aforementioned terms for their own praxis if they so wish. 

Bosworth-Toller defines gehygd as “thought,” “cogitation,” “meditation,” “deliberation,” or “consultation” [3]. The word also seems to possess direct connections to the verb hydan “to hide oneself/conceal” [4] and to hȳd/hygd meaning, “the hide or skin of an animal” [5]. This allusion to “hiding” is of marked interest here, as it ties into Norse accounts of “out-sitting” or “mound-sitting” wherein practitioners would sit on a grave mound, occasionally with their head covered, to receive inspiration, mantic revelation, or transmit kingship.

The Norse accounts are decidedly necromantic in nature and often involve direct communication with the dead person interred in the mound being sat upon. In most cases, this sitting is done by kings or chieftains, though there are cases involving shepherds and goatherds as well. 

Of this practice, Ellis states:

 

“The practice of sitting on the howe seems, as far as one can tell from the sketchy nature of the information and from the corroborating evidence of archaeology, to go back into the Migration Period, but continue into the Viking Age; and it has left unmistakable marks on the literature. The indications are that the significance of this custom was bound up partly with ideas about mantic inspiration from the dead, and partly with ideas about rebirth.”  [6]

 

We see similar accounts in Irish stories, where characters such as Muirchertach, Art, and Connla are depicted sitting on mounds and conversing with otherworldly women [7]. Prophetic revelations attached to mound-sitting also appear in Welsh tales, such as in the tale of Pwyll Prince of Dyved, where the king is provided with a prophetic vision wherein he sees his future wife, Rhiannon [8]

This practice of sitting at a high vantage point in order to engage in spiritual interaction appears to have been widespread throughout much of the early Medieval world and might also tie into instances where seeresses (volva) are depicted in Norse lore on a “high seat” of some sort receiving their prophetic revelations, according to Axel Orlik [9].

In some of the instances covered above – such as the instance of Hallbjorn sleeping on the poet  Þorleifr’s howe and receiving the gift of poetry via dream –  the mound-sitters in question received their otherworldly inspiration while asleep on a howe. The understanding of sleep as a liminal, even death-like state appears to have been common among ancient peoples and, in turn, necessitated the creation of techniques with which to bridge the gap between our world and those beyond it. 

 

“It is not surprising that ghosts should have been sought in dreams, since they often visited the living spontaneously in this way. This was, for example, how Patroclus appeared to Achilles in the Iliad, how Diapontius appeared to Philolaches in Plautus’s Mostellaria, and how his dead son visited Epicrates in first-century A.D. Nakrason in Asia Minor.” [10]


In no place is this practice better exemplified than in Hellenic accounts of “incubation,” where devotees would sleep at temples, shrines, and liminal places in order to receive messages from the Other. The locations utilized for incubation were in no way chosen at random, with liminal places being favoured due to their connexions to the chthonic [11].

 

“The locations for dream incubation are closely identified with their respective Gods, and some are believed to be inhabited by the God’s presence. Because a God ‘inhabits’ the area, this place is the one where a dream is most likely to be granted by the God. Accordingly, incubated dreams are referred to as God-sent (theopemti).” [12][13]

 

Prior to incubation occurring, the devotee was required to perform ritualized purification and oblation to the respective deity or deceased hero being contacted. According to Philostratus, practitioners often abstained from food for a day and from wine for 3 days prior to engaging in the incubatory practice. He also tells us that these sites often had “phrontisterion”, or “places of reflection” present at them in the form of fissures, cracks, or holes into which the would-be receiver of revelation would peer to further the mantic experience [14]. Places where necromancy was performed were also often adjacent to bodies of water, which is another crucial piece of evidence which ties into the theme of liminality and the aforementioned idea of “places of reflection”. Many of these lakes and pools were, according to Taunton, likely volcanic in nature and inherently hostile toward life, which may serve to explain their direct associations with death and incubatory states [15].

Another curious factor present in Greek incubation rites, which ties into more northerly accounts of mound-sitting, is that of goats and sheep being involved in some way. As was mentioned earlier, most of the Norse accounts of mound-sitting deal with kings, shepherds, or goatherds, which may be no more than coincidence, but could well reflect a much earlier transmission of ideas. We also see the fleece of sheep or ram being slept upon or utilized in some fashion during Greek incubation rites, recalling the use of skins or “hiding” present in some Germanic accounts. 

Virgil provides us with further details in his depiction of the oracle of Faunus: 

 

“But the king [Latinus], upset by the portents, went to the oracle of Faunus, his prophesying father, and consulted the woods beneath the lofty Albunea. This, the most vast of forests, resounds with a sacred spring and, dark as she is, breathes out a cruel mephitic gas. From here the Italian tribes and the whole of the Oenotrian land seek responses in ambiguous situations. When the priest(ess) had brought offerings here and had lain on the strewn fleeces of slaughtered sheep under the silent night, s/he would see many images/ghosts (simulacra) flitting about in wondrous ways and hear diverse voices and enjoy converse with the gods and speak to Acheron in lowest Avernus. Here, too, then, father Latinus in person, seeking responses, duly slaughtered a hundred wool-bearing sheep and lay down on their strewn fleeces, propping up his back. A voice was suddenly given out from the deep wood; “Do not seek to make a Latin marriage-alliance for your daughter, my son, and put no trust in the marriage-bed you have prepared. Sons-in-law will come from abroad, to carry our name to the stars with their blood. Descendants from their stock will see everything that the sun sees on each side of the Ocean as it repeats its runs, turned and ruled beneath their feet.” [16][17]


Performing Gehygd

Now that we have touched upon Norse and Hellenic means of meditative revelation/oneiromancy, we can better extrapolate gehygd as a distinctly Fyrnsidu technique.

Prior to performing said technique, the Fyrnsidere might eschew certain foods, drink, or other impure acts, such as sexual intercourse for a duration of time of their choosing. Multiples of 3 are often found within the literary corpus and seem to have had some significance to Germanic-speaking people, with 9 being the most prevalent. One might then choose, for instance, to purify for 3 days prior to engaging in gehygd. 

The choice of location is also of importance, with graves, hillocks, and other places of a distinctly liminal nature being preferable. If one has an outdoor shrine, one might choose to sit, or even sleep there, calling to mind Greek references to incubation at temples. One might also attempt sleeping, or sitting at their home wīgbed if they are not keen, or unable, to perform this rite outdoors. Performing gehygd at, or near bodies of water also seems preferable, especially when we consider the Anglo-Saxon belief in water-as-gateway.

Once a suitable location has been decided upon, the practitioner must then perform some sort of oblation to the wights being entreated. Suitable offerings might include some sort of votive sheep or goat, though grain might also be burned as an offering to the dead, as was apparently customary among the Anglo-Saxons according to Theodore’s penitentials. 

 

“…Corn bærne in þære stowe þær man dead wære”
(…burns grain in a place where a man died) [18]


A pre-meditation might then occur, especially if one is sat near a body of water. It is implied in some of the Greek instances of incubation that vapours might have inhaled through fissures or cracks within the earth. Bearing this in mind, one might choose to ingest an entheogen of some sort in order to help with the revelatory process [*]

Once all of the preliminary actions have been performed, one might cover themselves with an animal hide, fleece, or – if neither is available-  a blanket, sitting in contemplation. Prayers might be recited and ritual actions performed in order to maintain a “receptive” mindset conducive to meditation. One may or may not choose to sleep at the site and if one chooses to do so, they should exercise caution and do so as safely as possible. 

Once the gehygd is completed, the practitioner might offer another oblation, or perform divination in order to better assess the success of the endeavour.


Sources

[1] https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/meditation
[2] http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/finder/3/meditation
[3] http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/014822
[4] http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/020239
[5] http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/020237
[6] Ellis, Hilda Roderick. The Road to Hel. (p.119)
[7] Ellis, Hilda Roderick. The Road to Hel (p.109)
[8] Ellis, Hilda Roderick. The Road to Hel (p.109)
[9] Orlik, Axel. At sidde paa Hoj.
[10] Ogden, Daniel. Greek and Roman Necromancy. (p.76)
[11] Taunton, Gwendolyn. Path of Shadows (p.121)
[12] Taunton, Gwendolyn. Path of Shadows (p.121)
[13] Pattern, K.C. A Great and Strange Correction: Intentionality, Locality, and Epiphany in the Category of Dream Incubation
[14] Ogden, Daniel. Greek and Roman Necromancy.
[15] Taunton, Gwendolyn. Path of Shadows. (p.146)
[16] Ogden, Daniel. Greek and Roman Necromancy. (p.91)
[17] Virgil. Aenid. 7.81-101
[18] Paenitentiale Theodori. 

[*] Obviously this is not for everyone and, depending on where you live, might be rather illegal and/or dangerous. Mugwort might also be a decent legal option for those living in places where plants like cannabis are still illegal and, in my opinion, unjustly vilified. Mugwort can be used to produce vivid dreams and better dream recall, just be aware that it might cause an allergic reaction in people allergic to ragweed.


dc34734990c1c66765be0916b43fb6eb

The Problematic Use of Pantheon

Ayia2

Polytheists love to use the word “pantheon” when referencing deities specific to a particular group of people. “What Gods are in the Anglo-Saxon pantheon?,” “How can I mix deities not of the same pantheon?” These questions are asked time and again and totally miss the mark when it comes to the multitudinous divine. 

Pantheon – at least as it’s typically used in polytheist discourse – suggests a finite, limited number of deities that are tidily numbered, categorized and contained. Yet when we look at the historical sources and archaeological evidence available to us, we see a completely different picture; one that shows cults and deities to be fluid things that transcend linguistic and cultural affinity. We see rampant cross-pollination throughout Polytheism’s long history and a willingness to adopt and adapt cults from disparate peoples. 

Rome shows some of the best evidence of this acceptance of so-called “foreign” cults, where we see cults from Gaul, the ancient Near East and Greece commingling with indigenous Italic cults. We also see inscriptions made by people with Germanic names, offering to Celtic Gods in the Roman fashion, such as can be found on inscription RIB 1102, found at Ebchester. 

 

Deo Vernostono Cocidio 

Viri[l]is Ger(manus) v(otum) s(olvit) l(ibens) 

[To the god Vernostonus Cocidius, Virilis, a German, willingly fulfilled his vow.]

 

We see similar inscriptions dedicated to the Goddess Isis, an Egyptian Goddess who gained popularity throughout the Roman Empire; to the Matres and Matronae; to Epona; to Mithras; Dionysos; Dolichenus; et al. 

Some might assert that this religious fluidity and cohesion was as a result of Rome simply asserting their dominance over tribal peoples, and pilfering cults as they did so. While there may be some truth to that in some cases, in others, this religious exchange was a mutual one that showed respect for all of the deities involved. Ralph Häussler’s, Interpretatio Indigena: Re-Inventing Local Cults In a Global World, says this of interpretatio in the Roman provinces:

“The result of these interpretatio-indigena processes is not just a mere one-to-one identification between (say) a native ‘Taranis’ and a Roman Jupiter, perhaps for obvious (e.g., both Taranis and Jupiter are weather/thunder gods) or superficial reasons (e.g., the same attribute, like the hammer in the case of Sucellos and Volcanus). Instead of a ‘mindless’ adoption of Graeco-Roman theonyms and deities, we are dealing with careful adaptations by local people to suit the local context. For example, the use of new media, like sculpture, required people to re-think their local cults. Obviously the local people had to reason first about the nature and function of their own cult in order to make appropriate decisions, like choosing a Latin theonym or a Graeco-Roman deity (we need to distinguish here: people might just choose the theonym because it resembled the indigenous name of the god).” 

 

And

“These cultural differences between ‘Romans’ and ‘natives’, between ‘conquerors’ and ‘conquered’, between the people of various cultural and ehtnic origin that come together in provincial hubs – towns and sanctuaries -, stimulated the creation of new interpretations for local deities, attributing to them new functions, myths, symbols and new names by creating new theonyms/ epithets and by trying to create a figurative representation for the local deity. Cultural differences can catalyse innovation, notably in a world with growing transcultural interaction.“

 

We see similar ideas throughout the ancient world, where cults are exchanged, or melded together to create something entirely new and yet ancient at the same time. Hermanubis, for instance, was the coming together of the Greek cult of Hermes and the Egyptian cult of Anubis and likewise, Serapis’ cult mixed attributes of Apis, Osiris, Dionysos, Demeter and Hades. These deities were more than just the sum of their parts in that they became standalone deities in their own right –  in dealing with divinity, mathematical rigidity goes out the window and one and one can indeed equal three. Bearing this in mind, the notion of a “finite number of Gods fixed to a specific locale or ethno-cultural group” no longer makes sense. We might be able to link a specific deity to a particular language or cultural group, but this does not preclude adopting and worshipping deities from outside those very arbitrarily drawn boundaries – our ancestors certainly did so. 

So, why do people like the term “pantheon”? The Christian overculture and Protestant secularism have certainly shaped the West’s view on what religion should look like and how it should be ordered. It is for this reason that academics and polytheist writers often fall into this reductionist trap where they believe having fewer Gods is somehow preferable to having more, or that recognizing a finite number of Gods attached to a particular people is somehow more easily digested by those still mired in Monotheistic thought. This is why so many authors have tried to explain away lesser-known Goddesses found within the Eddas as being Frigg or Freyja, rather than distinct beings unto themselves. It’s why book after book has tried to attach Seaxnēat to more well-known deities found within the Anglo-Saxon corpus. Why can’t Seaxnēat be Seaxneat? Why can’t Gefjon be Gefjon? 

We are polytheists and as such, we recognize and worship the many, the multitudinous.  Reducing, whittling away and limiting the number of Gods one can recognize and commune with is both detrimental to us and what we are, and just doesn’t make sense given what we know of Polytheism’s changing and very fluid history.

A Fyrnsidere Lexicon


scriptorium

Fyrnsidu, like many reconstructed religions, is lacking in terminology to denote very basic aspects of its religious structure, and it is for this reason that we often employ Greek or Latin terminology, such as do ut des or psychopomp, to express its fundamental concepts. While this is a perfectly acceptable approach, it really does not lend itself to the cultivation of a distinct or shared identity. If we are keen to delve deeper into Old English as a useful liturgical language, it behooves us to look to the Anglo-Saxon corpus and fill in the blanks wherever they might present themselves.

The following is a list of practical words drawn from the pages of Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary for use by modern practitioners.  



Ǣfæstnes: firmness in the law/religion, akin to Roman religio or pietas. Ǣfæstnes might then be understood as the Fyrnsidere’s obligation to maintain cosmic order by engaging in ritualized offerings to the Gods. Ǣfæst is the adjectival form. 

Bēd: A prayer that typically accompanies the offrung

Betweox: between, betwixt, or liminal. This would be a fitting descriptor for deities associated with transition, thresholds, the dead, doorways, crossroads, etc. (ie: liminal deities). 

Timothy Carson provides us with his succinct definition of ‘liminality’ as follows:

“The term liminal derives from the Latin, limins, and refers to the threshold passageway between two separate places. The liminal state is therefore a transitional one, the result of crossing a threshold between location, status, position, mental state, social condition, war, and peace, or illness and death.” [1]

Cnēowgebed: prayer on bended knee in supplication to and reverence of the Gods. The compound appears in Old Saxon as knio-beda. The posture one assumes when engaging with the divine. 

Cōfgodas: “Cove-Gods” or Household Gods. Bosworth-Toller provides cōfgodas as a gloss for Latin penates. One might employ this term to describe all of the deities worshipped at the home wīgbed. The singular form would be Cōfgod

Dēaþgodas: Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary provides us with the translation, ‘Death Gods, spirits or ghosts. For the Fyrnsidere, Dēaþgodas might be a term employed to describe psychopomps – deities who conduct or accompany the dead to the afterlife/underworld. The singular form would be Dēaþgod

Frēols: Freedom, Immunity, a festival. Related to the verb, frēolsian, meaning “to deliver from bondage”. A word one could use to describe any religious celebration or holy day celebrated by modern practitioners. Frēolsas is the plural form. 

Fullfylde mē āþ frēolīce: [I] fulfilled my oath freely/ without hindrance. A calque of Latin, Votum solvit libens merito or “fulfilled [his] vow willingly as it should”. This phrase was often written as the initialism VSLM in votive inscriptions to express the completion or fulfillment of one’s vows to a deity/deities. Fullfylde mē āþ frēolīce might then be expressed as FMAF in Latin characters or written as ᚠᛗᚪᚠ in futhorc to express much the same idea. 

Gehāt: promise, dedication, or vow given to a deity or deities, akin to Roman votum/ex voto

Gehygd/ Gehȳd: Meditation, thought, or cogitation. -hygd/hȳd appears to have direct connections to the Old English words, hȳd ‘the hide or skin of an animal’ and hȳdan ‘to hide [oneself]’. This “hiding” ties into accounts of Germanic-speaking peoples “covering themselves”  while meditating on grave mounds and at barrows in order to commune with the dead or other chthonic beings. This act appears to be rather similar to Hellenistic accounts of people sleeping in liminal places, at temples (particularly those dedicated to Asklepios) or shrines to receive portents and cures for ailments [2].

Giefe swāþæt giefst: Old English equivalent of Latin, do ut des or “I give so that you [might] give”, denoting the reciprocal relationship between man and deity. When addressing deities in the plural, one might use giefe swāþæt giefaþ. Note: Pronouns have been dropped for the sake of expediency [3]

Hālgung: Consecration, hallowing, sanctification, used as a gloss for Latin consecratio. The word one might use to describe the act of sanctifying space or a thing (ie: making it suitable for divine interaction). 

Hālig: That which has been “set apart,” hallowed or sanctified for religious usage.  

Hellegod (neuter.): an infernal or chthonic deity (ie: a deity associated with the realm of the dead or Underworld). The plural form would be Hellegodas

Heorþ: One’s hearth or home. The smallest unit of religious practice. 

Heorþsidu: Household/hearth religious practice – one’s hearth cult. Heorþbegang might also be employed here. 

Mundbora (masc.)/Mundbyrþestre (fem.) : A patron or protector. A good term to identify deities specifically associated with one’s employment, family, city, artistic endeavours, etc. (ie: Wēland as Mundbora of blacksmiths or Wōden as Mundbora of leeches). Mundboran is the masculine plural form and Mundbyrþestran would be the feminine. 

Offrung: An offering or sacrifice.

Offrunghūs: an offering house or indoor space where sacrifices would be made, such as a temple or enclosed shrine. 

Stēran/Stȳran: (verb) to cense or burn incense as an offering. The incense itself would be referred to as either stēring or rēcels

Þingere (masc.)/Þingestre (fem.): An intercessor or priest. A term one could use to describe an individual who presides over and understands the intricacies of ritual, whether at the family/hearth level or on behalf of a larger group.  

Upgodu: Literally, Up-Gods or Heavenly Gods ie: those deities who are involved in the shaping or workings of the heavens. The sun-Goddess, Sōl, would be considered an Upgod (singular form). This identification is, of course, not a hard and fast rule and deities can alternate between Upgod and Hellegod depending on the particular aspect, epithet, or cult one might engage with. The adjective, heofoncund, ‘Heavenly’, also appears within the Anglo-Saxon corpus in reference to things ‘celestial’ in nature. 

Wīg/Wīh/Wēoh: An idol or image relating to Proto-Germanic,*wīhąz, meaning “holy” or “sacred”. An appropriate term for images of Gods, Ancestors, local wihta one might place on their wīgbed. 

Wīgbed/Wēofod: A shrine or altar, from wīg/wīh/wēoh “idol” or “image” and beod “table”. 

Wyrtcunning: experience or knowledge pertaining to plants (worts), from the verb, cunnan, meaning ‘to know’, ‘to be able’. A good term for Fyrnsideras who engage in gardening (indoor or out); who engage in herbal healing and leechcraft; enjoy foraging; bushcraft; etc. 

Wyrtgeard: Wort-yard, a kitchen-garden, ie: the herb or vegetable garden at or near one’s home maintained for culinary and/or curative domestic use. 

Yldran: Ancestors or forebears. A single Ancestor would be called Yldra


 

Sources

[1] https://theliminalityproject.org/the-liminality-primer/
[2] von Ehrenheim, Hedvig. Greek Incubation Rituals in Classical and Hellenistic Times
[3] If one were keen to incorporate pronouns, the sentences would read: Ic geife swāþæt þū giefst (addressing singular) and Ic giefe swāþæt gē giefaþ (addressing multiple). 

What Makes a Fyrnsidere

native


A Fyrnsidere offers regular prayer and worship to the “Anglo-Saxon” Gods to bring favour to his hearth, home and family. They understand obligation to their kin, whether they be blood or chosen. 

 

A Fynsidere knows that the Gods are many, real and immanent, with a vested interest in the doings of our world.

 

A Fyrnsidere knows that action adds strata to the Well of Wyrd and that they are defined by those actions.

 

A Fyrnsidere strives to do right action and maintain a good reputation and judge others according to theirs. They do not discriminate against others based on their race, sexual orientation, gender, or any immutable characteristic. 

 

A Fyrnsidere understands that reconstruction is a methodology and that informed innovation has its place in a real, living religion. They are not averse to syncretism or comparative study and realize that culture and polytheism are fluid and changing things. 

 

A Fyrnsidere is wort-cunning and has an understanding and appreciation of plants and their many applications. A Fyrnsidere recognizes the divinity in the natural world and offers propitiatory gifts and gestures to the wihta dwelling there. 

 

A Fyrnsidere understands the liminal and offers gifts at natural sites like lakes, streams, wells and bogs. 

 

A Fyrnsidere understands the dichotomy of the sacred/profane and thus tries to observe ritual purity when communing with divinities.  

 

A Fyrnsidere understands do ut des and how that plays into their relationship with human beings and the numinous.  

 

A Fyrnsidere recognizes the religious importance of the home and engages in domestic cultus, supplicating house gods and other household or familial spirits.

Blōstmfrēols

More information regarding Blōstmfrēols can be found here.


 

Associated Deities: Ēastre (Bēomōder, Hunigflōwende and Blōstmbǣrende), potentially Folde

Date:  April 28 – May 3 to coincide with Roman Floralia, though this might change depending on geographic location.  

Mythic Paradigm: Three Goddesses (either daughters or epithets of Ēastre) – each representing a certain aspect of Blōstmfrēols – go to Middangeard and bring with them the first flowers and they organize bees and teach them the craft of making honey. They then teach mankind how to harvest and use honey to make food and mead and how to offer said food as a sacrifice.  


Rites and observances
:

 

  • Veiling the Wīh :

This particular observance is based on the English folk custom of the “May Doll,” wherein children place dolls within wreaths, drape a white cloth over them and take them on a procession from house to house. With each visit, the veil is lifted and good fortune is said to come from gazing upon the doll’s countenance. This immediately calls to mind Nerthuz and her wagon processions among the Suebi. 

For home practice, this might take the form of veiling one’s wīh (idol(s)) at the beginning of Blōstmfrēols and removing the covering at the end of the festival to receive their blessings. This might also involve taking the veiled wīh to different parts of the house to bless it for the coming season. 

In her work, A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, Christian Hole says this of the May Doll custom: 

“The May Doll still appears on May morning in some districts, seated in the centre of the garland or, though less frequently nowadays than formerly, carried about separately in a little flower-filled box or cradle. It is usually a quite ordinary girl-doll, dressed according to individual fancy, and with nothing particular in its appearance to suggest its festival importance. It has been variously explained as a representation of the Blessed Virgin, to whom the month of May is dedicated, or of Flora, or the May Queen. A few years ago an enquirer at Bampton in Oxfordshire was told by one group of young people that the doll in their garland was ‘a goddess’, and by another, more precisely but rather surprisingly, that it was Minerva. There can be little doubt that it was originally an image of the visible Summer, newly come back to the world, and a magical means of bestowing upon those who saw it all the blessings of fertility and plenty that belong to that season.” 

 

The unveiling bēd: 

Remove your veil O blōstmmōdru
And may all behold you
Corner to corner
Room to room
Countenances shining
benevolent
Sweet and nectarous
Flowing with abundance
And shadows recede
And malignant things sent flying
Scattered
Broken before you
O Sisters Three
O glorious daughters of Ēastre

 

  • Making Hunighlāf :

As bees play such a large part in our Blōstmfrēols celebrations, making foods out of honey seems an appropriate choice. Honey cakes, honey loaf (hunighlāf), biscuits or mead might be made during this auspicious time – a portion of which should be given in offering to the Gods associated with this tide.

 

  • The Making of Bēagas 

During Blōstmfrēols, garlands (bēagas), wreaths and bouquets might be fashioned and affixed to the home or wīgbed (shrine). These wreaths and garlands can then be given to the Gods as a sacrifice at the end of Blōstmfrēols. 

“May Garlands have always been made in several different ways. Some are no more than simple posies tied to the tops of long wands, or flower-chains twisted round light staves. At Horncastle in Lincolnshire, until about the end of the eighteenth century, peeled willow wands were wreathed with cowslips. They were known as May Gads, and were carried by young boys in procession on May-morning from a place called the May Bank to a hill on the west side of the town where the Maypole stood on the site of a Roman temple. They were struck together and their flowers scattered in honour of the First Day of Summer; and that night, as Dr.Stuckley records, there was a bonfire ‘and other merriment’.” 

 

  • Offrung:

Offrung and bēd are made to Ēastre and her epithets/daughters during this tide in the form of honey,  honey-cakes, garlands, honey-loaves, biscuits, floral incense or mead. Wildflowers and foods made with them would also make a suitable offering during this time. 

 

Blōstmfrēols Bēd

 

O Daughters of Ēastre
Bringers of Blossom
And honey and bees and mead
Seed spreading Summer’s wealth
And Folde’s bounty
So beloved and long-awaited
Learned Leechwives
Raiments bright and bold
Blōstm-mōdru arrive resplendently
Oh honey-sweet maidens
Dripping with life
Rich and abundant
Deliver to us spēd and health and things fragrant
See our cups filled and our kinsmen well
Oh veiled and unseen
Save for those who have sung your praises
And have bestowed goodly gifts unto you
Look well upon us
Renew us
And for six nights
We shall herry 

 

Bīspell

 

I. In Neorxnawang fair, three sisters clad in vibrant raiment dwelt. One was named Blōstmbǣrende (Blossom-Bearing), another Bēomōder (Bee-Mother) and the third was Hunigflōwende (Flowing with Honey). Born were they of Dawn’s body and at her breast they did milk-suckle for six nights unceasing. And on the sixth night the sisters were grown, their skins milk-white and bodies lithesome. 

 

II. Favoured by all wights were they, the daughters of Ēastre. And the bright Goddess taught them all that she knew and so they became learned. With steady hand they mended bone and smeared salve and all wights heard tell of their craft and called them leechwives. 

 

III. With wort and root they worked until weariness overtook them. And they slept neath Niht’s silent shroud, linen-robed and elf-like. Wary should they have been, for the Eastern Wind beheld them and thought them fair. So upon his back he stole them, from Folde’s fertile womb wailing. 

 

IV. Blōstmbǣrende startled did wake and wept upon the Earth and blossoms grew upon her mantle. So her sisters stirred and sent curses upon him and he dropped them thither. 

 

V. Upon Middangeard they fell and roamed and came upon bees, busy. Bēomōder was hailed as Queen and was gifted gold and garnet. So glad was she at this, she ordered their kin in the manner of men. 

 

VI. Hunigflōwende, so learned, bestowed her knowledge unto them. So honey-craft was given and beasts and men made meals of it. She instructed men in the making of mead and sweet cakes with her cunning. Grateful were they and to Ēastre’s daughters, they gave garlands, cakes and godly drink. 

sisters

Ēastertīd

In an attempt to codify my rites, rituals and observances, I’ve taken to compiling all of my disparate ideas to present them in a cohesive, accessible whole.  I am hoping to do this for all of the tides we observe, constructing a mythic paradigm for each. I am also hoping that each mythic narrative works in tandem with the prayers and rites attached to each holy tide, creating a cohesive and workable religious calendar. So, without further adieu, here is Ēastertīd, as observed at Sundorwīc.


Eastermonathwhite

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour
‘Winter is dead’.”

-A.A. Milne

 

Associated Deities: Ēastre and Folde 

Date: The full moon at Ēastermōnaþ (or a suitable weekend in April of your choosing based on geographic location, work schedule etc). This tide will bleed into Blōstmfrēols, which is observed at the end of April or early May to correspond with Roman, Floralia. 

Mythic Paradigm: Ēastre’s abduction into the underworld by Wada and her eventual return, marking the return of growth and Summer and Folde’s lamentations as the reason for Winter coming into existence. See: Sē Lang Winter 

Rites and observances:

 

  • Drowning the Biliþ:

The Biliþ (effigy) or ‘Corn Dolly’ represents the growing potential stored from the previous Summer/ Harvest period. It is burnt, buried or drowned to release that potential back into the world/local environment. This takes place at and marks the beginning of Ēastertīd. See: Lætest Scēaf.

A short prayer can be recited upon drowning the biliþ :

“Oh fair and fertile wights of this land, I release thee”

or

“Ic frēoge ēow Ēorþwihta”

 

  •  Frēolsung:  

During Ēastertīd, it is customary to gather with friends and/or family for a communal feast of sorts, sharing in food, drink and merriment. The specific ingredients of said feast might include what’s left of your stock of Winter vegetables (leeks, kale, chard etc.), preserves, or early spring vegetables, such as fiddleheads or fava beans, though this will differ depending on location. Rabbit might also be suitable meat for consumption during this time. 

 

  • Sǣdtīma:

As Ēaster is a time of renewal and growth, it also marks a time when one can plant seeds. Depending on location and hardiness zone, this might involve starting seedlings indoors and bringing them outdoors when the weather improves. This might also mark a perfect time to do a seed exchange or trade cuttings with other gardeners, possibly in the guise of ritualized gifting.  

 

  • Offrung:

Offrung and bēd are made to Ēastre and Folde during this tide. Foodstuffs incorporating Winter vegetables, preserves and/or early Spring vegetables might be considered. 

 

Ēastertīd Prayer:

 

O, see now how your mother laments.
Scouring the land to behold your countenance
Where is she, oh beloved of men
Does she still dine deep in Wada’s Hall?

Your mother’s lamentations ring out and pierce our very hearts
And we share in her sorrows
O Ēastre, O glorious Dawnbringer
You who have dwelt and slept where the sun’s light cannot reach
Return to us, glorious
Superb
Resplendent
So deserved are you – so beauteous and full of life-giving nectar.
Dripping like honey, sweet and nourishing 

By your hand, may Winter’s hold be loosened and may life spring forth once more.
Oh, how shall I praise thee, Ēastre, Goddess lush and green?
Mere words of men do you an injustice and fall flat in the face of your beauty.
The hare and the deer and all manner of beast know your gentle touch
and they long for it as hoary rime blankets all things. 

Spring forth and press your lips upon the soil.
Reconcile with your mother and liberate her from sadness.
We have toiled long and endured much hardship.
Let us now know mirth and plenty again. 

Long not for your den deep within the earth, O Ēastre.
Be not hasty to return to your lover’s side, O golden-mantled one.
Let us bask in your light a while longer. 

She of Flaxen Hair: Reconstructing Sib

28-estate,Taccuino_Sanitatis,_Casanatense_4182.

 

Agricultural cultivation played an integral role in the shaping of human society and civilization. It is for this reason that deities related to agrarianism and, more specifically, to cereal grains, took on roles of importance in pre-Christian, Indo-European consciousness.

In the following article, we will attempt to reconstruct an Anglo-Saxon Goddess related to agriculture and food crops by exploring similar female divinities found in Rome and in Ancient Greece.

 

Ceres

Ceres is a complex and rather multifaceted goddess who, alongside her daughter, Proserpina, played a prominent role in the agrarian rites of the Roman people. The worship of Ceres first appears among the Faliscans, where her name is recorded on an impasto urn dating from roughly 600 B.C.E [1]. The inscription, which is written in the Faliscan tongue, reads: “Let Ceres give grain (far),” and refers specifically to the corn crop, spelt.

The etymology of Ceres’ name further elucidates her role as a provider of agrarian abundance via its Proto-Indo-European root, ḱer- , meaning “to grow,” “to make,” or “to nourish” [2]. This root can also be seen in the shifted Proto-Germanic word, hirsijô, meaning “millet” [3], though the word only survived through Old High German, hirso and its modern descendants, German, hirse and Yiddish, hirzh [4]

Ceres was also given cult among the Umbrians, where she appeared under a variety of names, such as: Keni, Keri Arentikai, Regina Pia, Cerria Iovia, and Anaceta Ceria [5]. Among the Oscans she was called Kerri and she bore a number of agriculturally-focused epithets, as evidenced by inscriptions on the Tablet of Agnone, dated to 250 B.C.E. While some of these Oscan names are difficult to render into modern English, others show clear ties to both human fertility and fertility of the land and crops.

“The names of these Oscan divinities suggest links to the same concepts that we will see tied to the Roman Ceres. Certain of these divinities are connected to motherhood and children, and hence human fertility: the Daughter of Ceres (Filia Cerealis), Nurse of Ceres (Nutrix Cerealis), and the Divine Progenitress (Diva Genitrix). Others are associated with agricultural fertility, in that they are associated with the water that crops require to grow or with qualities of vegetation: the Nymphs of Ceres (Lymphi Cereales); the Rain Showers of Ceres (Imbres Cereales); the Dispensers of Morning Dew (?) of Ceres (Mati Cereales); Jupiter the Irrigator (Jupiter Rigator); She Who Opens Up (the grain hull?) (Panda Pinsitrix); and She Who Flowers of Ceres (Flora Cerealis). Other divinities may be associated with the liminal/normative aspect of Ceres: She Who Stands Between (?) (Interstita) and She Who Bears the Laws Between (?) (Legifera Intera)[6]

 

While Ceres’ association with crop fertility is, perhaps, her most well-known and most ancient attribute, it is only one of many facets connected to her cultus. As time progressed and new peoples came into contact with an ever-expanding Rome, further attributes were also added to the mix. Her role in human fertility and motherhood was also important and we can see obvious parallels between the proliferation of crops to that of human beings, with the womb acting as something of an analogue to the fertile earth [7]. Ceres is often addressed as mater or “mother,” alma “nourishing” and genetrix “she who has borne children” and Lucretius describes her as being “swollen and big-breasted” [8]. Ceres’ role as mater is further illuminated by her regular artistic depictions alongside her daughter, Proserpina and by her appearance in Ovid’s Fasti where she treats Triptolemus as if he were her own child.

“Nurturing Ceres abstains and gives to you, boy, poppies with warm milk to drink, the causes of sleep. It was in the midst of the night and the silences of placid sleep: she took Triptolemus in her lap and stroked him three times with her hand…”  [9]

Ceres was also associated with wedlock – a role which makes sense given marriage’s obvious connexion to proliferation and, as Stanley-Spaeth so eloquently puts it, to the “encouragement of fertility.”

In her guise as Goddess of wedlock, Ceres was often petitioned alongside Tellus-Mater, Goddess of the fecund earth. This pairing hearkens back to the previously mentioned relationship between the womb and the earth and their analogous function in the Roman consciousness. Ovid provides us with a fairly concise picture of Tellus’ and Ceres’ roles and how the two work in tandem.

“Ceres and Terra serve a common function: the one provides the cause for crops, the other their place.” [10]  

In the Feriae Sementivae- a festival related to the sowing of seeds [11]– Tellus and Ceres are celebrated together, with the first half being dedicated to Tellus and the second being dedicated to Ceres[12]. The Fordicidia, which was a festival dedicated to Tellus and the Cerealia, which was dedicated to Ceres, were only separated by four days and in some cases, the two Goddess were even conflated as being the same deity.  

 

“Indeed if she is Ceres from bearing [gerendo]—for so you said—the earth itself is a goddess (and so she is considered; for what is she but another Tellus?).” [13] 

 

Servius provides us with some information regarding the specific marriage customs attributed to Tellus and how they were enacted by newlyweds.

“Some . . . hold that Tellus is present at weddings; for she is also invoked in the auspices of weddings: for maidens, either when they first go to the house of their husband, or when they are already established there, make sacrifice to her under diverse names or rite.” [14]

 

Virgil makes reference to a similar custom involving Ceres and the sacrifice of sheep in his Aeneid. 

 

“In the beginning they approach the shrines and they seek peace through the altars; they sacrifice sheep chosen according to custom to Ceres who bears the laws and to Phoebus and to Father Lyaeus, and before all to Juno in whose care are the chains of Marriage.” [15]

 

Servius deals with the abovementioned passage in his commentary on the Aeneid, where he relates Ceres as a Goddess who favours weddings: 

 

“…because she was the first to wed Jove, and she is in charge of the founding of cities, as Calvus teaches: ‘She taught the sacred laws and she joined the loving bodies in weddings and established the great cities.’” [16] 


The pig was particularly important to the cult of Ceres and her rites pertaining to marriage. Varro provides us with the best literary evidence for this association as well as the supposed reasoning behind it.

“For also our women, and especially nurses, call that part which in maidens is the mark of their womanhood porcus, as Greek women call it choeron signifying that it (that is, the sacrifice of the pig) is a worthy mark of weddings.” [17]

 

Based on this passage, the pig was clearly a potent symbol of both fertility and of womanhood as per Roman beliefs and, as such, it makes sense that they would be incorporated into the rites of wedlock – the first step in procreation and perpetuation of the family.

This last point ties into Ceres’ role as a Goddess presiding over liminality and transition. In his work, The Rites of Passage, Van Gennep suggests that religious rituals can be broken down into three stages: separation, transition and reincorporation. The first part, the separation, deals with participants being removed  or “separated” from the mundane. The second part, the transition, deals with the participation in or enactment of said ritual which takes place in illo tempore or outside of profane time as per Eliadian thought [18]. The third and final part deals with the reinsertion of participants into society, renewed or changed by their transitory experience. Ceres is intrinsically linked to this transitional experience and called upon during rites related to death, child-rearing, marriage and its dissolution [19]

Ceres was petitioned during two important funerary sacrifices – both of which dealt with the ritualized slaughter of Ceres’ preferred victim, the pig. The first was a cleansing sacrifice enacted to remove pollutants called, the porca praesentane and the second was called, porca praecidanea and was performed when a person was improperly buried. 

 

“In case [one] is not buried the porca praecidanea must be offered by the heir to Tellus and Ceres; otherwise the family is not pure”  [20]

  

According to Stanley-Spaeth, these funerary sacrifices were absolutely essential in the formation of the tomb as a sacred site. When the deceased’s heir sacrifices the pig,  the area is consecrated and in so doing, removes the site from profane existence and into the realm of the sacred.

“Sacrificing the pig sanctifies the tomb and sets it off as a place held ‘in religious awe’ (religione). This sacrifice enables the religious laws (religiosa iura) whereby the place of internment officially becomes a tomb. This is proved, Cicero states, by the fact that a place of cremation has no special religious significance until the funerary rites, including the sacrifice of a pig, are performed. These rites consecrate the place of burial, making it a sacred place set off from the profane world. They create a boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead, a threshold associated with Ceres through the dedication to her of the funerary sacrifice of the pig.” [21]

 

Ceres was linked to the mundus cerialis, a pit or vault that was ritualistically opened three times a year on August 24th, October 5th and November 8th. When the vault was opened it was believed that the dead left the underworld and ventured into our realm, potentially bringing with them calamity and misfortune. If the dead were appropriately propitiated and Romans refrained from conducting public business or going into battle during this inauspicious time, the dead were more apt to leave the living be when the mundus was again closed. 

 

“The name has been given to the mundus from that mundus which is above us, for its form is similar to it, as may be known from those who have entered into [the matter]. The elders decided that its lower part must be kept closed at all times, just as if it was consecrated to the Manes, except on those days which are written above [i.e., the three specified days for the opening], which days they judged ill-omened for the reason that at the time when those things that were secret and hidden belonging to the cult of the Manes are brought, so to speak, into the light and exposed, they did not want anything to be done at that time in the Republic. And so for those days they did not engage in battle with the enemy, nor was an army enrolled, nor was assembly held: nor was anything else taken care of in the republic except what extreme necessity urged.” [22] 

 

Ceres played a chief role in the Aventine or Plebeian Triad, where she was worshipped alongside the God, Liber and his sister-consort, Libera, who would later be conflated with Proserpina. The Triad’s temple was either on or near the Aventine Hill and it played a pivotal role in Plebeian life and identity. The plebeians were a class of freemen that made up the general citizenry of Rome and who existed in opposition to the elite patrician class. The temple at Aventine was the lifeblood of the plebeian community and it doubled as a grain store where bread and grain was given to plebeian visitors in an act called frumentatio, meaning the “collection” or “distribution” of corn crops [23][24]. Ceres presided over the office of the plebeian tribune – an office which gave plebeians a voice in the senate and a means to address the needs of the common citizen. According to Stanley-Spaeth, the body of a plebeian tribune was sacrosanct and an abuse of his person was considered a breach of the law and the penalty for performing such an act was death. Once the perpetrator(s) had been killed, their possessions would be taken to the temple of Ceres and sold [25].

Ceres’ Temple was also the headquarters of the aediles, a plebeian-only office dedicated to the maintenance and well-being of the Republic. The aediles were responsible for cura urbis, or “care of the city,” which entailed caring for and preserving the public buildings and roadways in Rome. They were also responsible for cura annonae, or “care of the grain stores” and for cura ludorum solemnium, or “care of sacred games,” including overseeing the festival of Ceres, the Cerealia [26]. The aediles and the cult of Ceres were so intertwined that even the name of the office itself is thought to be related to the Goddess through aedes Cereris, or “the Temple of Ceres.” [27][28] 

  

 

Demeter

In Ancient Greece, the Goddess which closest resembled Ceres, was Demeter. Much like her Roman counterpart, Demeter was a Goddess associated with agriculture (particularly grains), the fecund earth, common/religious law and the transition from life to death. 

The full etymology of Demeter’s name is uncertain and there are several competing theories as to the origin of the de- affixed to the beginning of her theonym. Philologist Martin Litchfield West proposed that Demeter’s name may be of Illyrian origin, suggesting parallels between her name and that of the Messapian Goddess, Damatura, or ‘Earth-Mother’ [29]. The de- element may also be a shortened form of Deo, which, according to Orphic Hymn 40, was a byname of Demeter and may have some connexion to the Cretan word, δηά (Dea), which has been identified as a word denoting a variety of cereal grains.

“O universal mother Deo famed, august, the source of wealth and various names”. [30]

The -meter component is much more straightforward and is widely accepted as meaning “mother.” 

As was the case with most Greek divinities, Demeter was provided a large number of epithets which speak to her various functions. Among these epithets, we see descriptive titles such as Chthonia (of the earth), Chloe (Green, first sprouts), Anesidora (She who Sends Forth Gifts), Thesmophorus/ Thesmia (Bringer of Law/ of the Law), Carpophorus (Bringer of Fruits), Xanthe (Golden-Haired), Eucomus (Lovely Haired), Polyphorbus (Bountiful) and Epogmia (of the Furrows) [31]

The aforementioned epithets paint a fairly detailed picture of the Goddess and recall many of the functions attributed to Ceres. The epithet of Thesmophorus is one of particular interest here, as it provides connective tissue between Demeter and Ceres in her role as Goddess of the Plebeians and their socioeconomic conventions.

“Tell how she [Demeter] gave cities pleasing ordinances; better to tell how she was the first to cut straw and holy sheaves of corn-ears.” [32][33]

 

It should be noted that, while Demeter was the Goddess associated with plentiful harvests and the earth’s bounty, she was also the deity who could bring famine, starvation and hunger. This dichotomous nature is rather common in Ancient Greek religion and is certainly a point of divergence from her Roman analogue, who seems to be lacking in that particular aspect. 

As was the case with Ceres, Demeter’s cultus was deeply connected to the pig and they were regularly offered to her as sacrifice alongside bulls, cows, honey-cakes and fruits [34]. The snake also played a prominent role in her iconography, which was quite common for both chthonic (underworld) deities and for deities associated with the storeroom of the home, such as Zeus Ktesios [35][*]. Demeter is often depicted on red and black figure pottery holding sheaves of grain or a cornucopia and is typically stood next to her daughter, Persephone and/or Triptolemus, the man who is said to have taught agriculture to the Greeks at Demeter’s behest.

This last point leads us to the Eleusinian Mysteries – the single most important mystery cult in all of Ancient Greece and one that was intrinsically linked to Demeter and her role as a Chthonic Goddess associated with both death and the afterlife. It is far too overwhelming an undertaking to try and present this complex and often misunderstood cult in its entirety – especially in a format such as this – so we will try and stick to the rudimentary facets for the sake of brevity and our sanity. 

Before we begin, however, it might be worthwhile to explain in simple terms what a mystery cult actually is and how it differs from the more “mainstream” cults observed at the civic, familial or personal level. Cults associated with the civitas or home are typically exoteric in nature, meaning they do not require a special initiationiatory procedure/ ritual in order to be understood by the general populous. Mystery cults differ in that they are intended for initiates (mystai), wherein only they are privy to the particulars associated with the rituals performed and revelations gleaned in said cult.  

The Mysteries attributed to Demeter were intrinsically linked to the idea of life, death and resurrection, attributable to the mythic narrative of Persephone’s descent into Hades and her eventual return or resurrection on earth. The cult centre of the Eleusinian Mysteries was at the West Attic town of Eleusis and it was from here that it spread throughout the Greek world. Nilsson states that the cult at Eleusis had its roots in an older, agrarian cult dedicated to Demeter that may have been closed to outsiders. This theory has been supported by the discovery of a private building, dated to the Mycenaean period, which was found underneath the Telesterion or ‘initiation hall’ at the cult site [36][37]. The hall itself was called the Anaktoron or “royal house”, suggesting that observances related to the Mycenaean period cult likely took place in the king’s house. This idea is bolstered by the involvement of the Eumolpidae family, who were direct descendants of the king and from whom the high priest of the Mysteries was selected. This cult remained the property of the Eumolpidae until the advent of Christianity, when the cult site was abandoned [38]

As stated above, participants in the Mysteries were sworn to secrecy and only initiates and the priesthood were permitted to know revelatory secrets gleaned from participation in the cult. Those had internalized and understood the Mysteries attained what they called, epopteia, or “revelation” [39][40].   

The Eleusinian cult possessed a complex body of religious clergy drawn from the initiated and the prestigious families connected to the site. According to Pomeroy, there were six different  categories of priests who presided over the rituals, all of whom had differing duties to perform. Pomeroy’s list is provided as follows:

The Hierophantes, or ‘high priest’; the High Priestess of Demeter; the Daduchus, or ‘torch bearers’; the Dadouchousa Priestess, who assisted the torchbearers; the two Hierophantides, who served Demeter and Persepone respectively; and the Melissae/Panageis, who were an order of priestesses who lived apart from men [41]

The Mysteries themselves were divided into two parts – the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater. The lesser Mysteries took place during the month of Anthesteria and involved the sacrificing of a piglet to Demeter and Persephone. Once this ritual had been completed and supplicants had subsequently  washed themselves in the river Illisos, they were considered initiated and ready to partake in the Greater Mysteries. 

The Greater Mysteries were more involved and lasted for ten days during the month of Boedromion (approx. September). The rites began with the transportation of sacred objects from Eleusis, to the Eleusinion temple in Athens. Once the ritual items arrived, the Hierophantes would make a sacrifice, which marked the commencement of the rites. The following days consisted of a festival to Asklepios, which involved a procession to the Eleusinion. This observance was followed by a sacrifice and a night-long feast, called the pannykhis [42]

On the 18th of Boedromion, dedicants started on a procession to Eleusis. During this procession, sticks called bacchoi were swung about and they reenacted aspects of the mythology attached to the Mysteries. Once the pilgrims arrived in Eleusis, an overnight rite was observed, which likely mirrored Demeter’s search for her daughter, Persephone [43]. During this portion of the Mysteries, participants drank something called, kykeon, made up of water, barley and pennyroyal. Some scholars have suggested the barley used in the kykeon may have been contaminated with ergot fungi, which may have acted as an intoxicant and, in turn, induced the ecstatic and revelatory experiences noted during these rituals [44]

Once inside the “initiation hall,” participants would recite that they had “drunk of the kykeonand were prepared for the tripartite ritual to follow. The intricacies of this tripartite ritual has been the subject of much speculation, though the basic elements can be broken down as “things done,” “things shown” and “things said.” The first portion likely consisted of the reenactment of Demeter’s and Persephone’s mythology – her descent and eventual return from the underworld. The “things shown” portion of the rite consisted of sacred objects being shown to the mass of initiates and this was followed by the “things said” portion, which consisted of a commentary on the previous two parts of the ritual. This threefold ritual was known collectively as the aporrheta or ‘things forbidden’ [45] and the divulgence of said aporrheta, was death [46].  

After this portion of the ritual, dedicants engaged in another night-long feast, replete with dancing and general joviality. This merrymaking took place at the Rharian Field, which was rumoured to be the first place which grain sprouted and grew and it was here that the presiding priests sacrificed a bull and pilgrims poured libation to their dead. 

 

Finding A Germanic Agricultural Goddess

In terms of Germanic sources, we are provided with a number of legendary characters and deities which might be employed in this role – though few have very much in-depth information attached to them.

 

The Anglo-Saxon corpus provides us with the personages of Bēow(a) ‘barley’ and Scēaf(a) ‘sheaf’, both of whom seem perfectly reasonable choices as Gods attached to agrarianism and grain – especially given their names. For this reconstruction, however, we will look to the Norse Goddess, Sif, who seems to embody some of the aspects present in both Demeter and her Roman counterpart, Ceres. 

Jacob Grimm was the first to propose a widespread Germanic Goddess akin to Sif, in his Teutonic Mythologies.

“The Goth. sibja, OHG. sippia, sippa, AS. sib gen. sibbe, denote peace, friendship, kindred; from these I infer a divinity Sibja, Sippia, Sib, corresponding to ON. Sif gen. Sifjar, the wife of Thôrr, for the ON. too has a pl. sifjar meaning cognatio, sifi amicus (OHG. sippio, sippo), sift genus, cognatio. By this sense of the word, Sif would appear to be, like Frigg and Freyja, a goddess of loveliness and love; as attributes of Oðinn and Thôrr agree, their wives Frigg and Sif have also a common signification.” [47]   

 

While Grimm’s conclusions regarding Sif as a Goddess of “love and loveliness” are rather dated and lack the nuanced complexity of what we now know of Frigg and Freyja, they are still valuable in their influence on later scholarly theories.

Many scholars since Grimm’s time have recognized the similarities present between the character of Wealhþēow (Hroþgār’s wife in Beowulf) and Sif in Lokasenna– as both provided a similar, mead-serving and peace-keeping function at their respective banquets. In fact, Wealhþēow personifies the Old English word, sib(b), which is the etymological equivalent of Old Norse, sif and means ‘peace,’ ‘kinship’ or ‘relationship’ [48][49]. In Heathen Gods in Old English Literature, North makes reference to this connexion and suggests that the poet who recorded Beowulf, may well have been making a conscious effort to draw comparisons between the character of Sif and the personification of Old English, sib [50].  

Numerous scholars have also posited that Sif’s hair is representative of sheaves of grain or the fertile earth, suggesting she may have been an agrarian Goddess associated with the earth. Grimm made mention of this association in his work and even went as far as connecting Sif’s name to the Polabian Goddess, Siva – though he makes it clear he is unable to reconcile the etymology [51]. More recently, scholars such as H.R. Ellis Davidson, have supported the idea of Sif as a fertility/grain Goddess.

“The mother of Thor was said to be the Earth herself, and in the earliest skaldic verse he is described in phrases meaning ‘son of Earth’. Of his wife, Sif, we know little, except that she had wonderful golden hair; it has been suggested that this was the sign of an ancient fertility goddess, her abundant, sining hair typifying the golden corn. There was an undoubted link between Thor as the thunder god and the fertility of the earth, on which lightning strikes and the rain falls, causing increase.” [52]

 

“Thor’s marriage with Sif of the golden hair, about which we hear little in the myths, seems to be a memory of the ancient symbol of divine marriage between sky god and earth goddess, when he comes to earth in the thunderstorm and the storm brings the rain which makes the fields fertile. In this way Thor, as well as Odin, may be seen to continue the cult of the sky god which was known in the Bronze Age.” [53]

 

If we are to assume an Old English Goddess akin to Sif did, indeed, exist, her name would be rendered as either Sib or Sibb, as both forms are attested within the Anglo-Saxon corpus. For the remainder of this article, however, we will use Sib, as the other spelling is more often employed as a suffix in compounds, rather than as a standalone word [54]

 

Sib

Like Demeter Xanthe and Demeter Eucomus, Sib is a Goddess of agriculture and grain, exemplified by her long, golden hair. Like Ceres, Sib is a Goddess of the common man and those who toil in the fields. This idea is buttressed by her connexion to Sif, who, in Norse Mythology, was the consort of Thor, friend to mankind. 

Like Ceres, Demeter and Sif, Sib is a Goddess associated with the common law, hospitality and social cohesion. Sib might also be viewed as a Goddess presiding over rites of passage – particularly those involving womanhood – and periods of transition. 

For marriage rites, Sib might receive prayer and offering alongside Folde (or Eorþe), Goddess of the fecund Earth, much in the same way Tellus-Mater was frequently petitioned alongside Ceres.

Sib also possesses a Chthonic/Underworld aspect, which might be inferred from a study of the Eleusinian Mysteries and Ceres’ relationship with funerary rites and sanctification. She may also possess some ties to ecstatic revelation and entheogenic experience for much the same reason. 

Just as Folde might be petitioned alongside Sib, so, too, might Þunor. This arrangement is based on the obvious parallels found in the Sif-Thor pairing found within Norse mythology and more broadly, in the Sky-Earth pairing found throughout the Indo-European sphere.

In terms of appropriate sacrifices, one might offer pigs (pork products or votive images of said animal), cows/bulls (the same as above), cakes, fruits, honey and grain. 

Sib’s iconography might include sheafs of grain; snakes; pigs/boars; long, grain-like hair; cornucopias and other items associated with agriculture or fertility. One might also opt to depict her as the quintessential hostess, with serving implements or a cup of wine. 

If we were to give Sib a particular feast day or festival, we might place it sometime in or around the local harvest. These festivities might include rites of purification, harvesting crops, feasting and/or entheogen induced revelry of some sort.  

 

Contemporary Epithets/Bynames 

Ǣwnung – Wedlock

Wedlāc – Pledge/ Security 

Feaxede/Fexede – Long-Haired

Gyldenfeaxa- Golden-Haired

*Sǣdestre – Sower 

*Æcerwīf – Field-Woman/ Plough-Woman

*Sulhhæbbestre – She Who Holds the Plough

Sulh – Plough

Cornmōdor – Corn/Grain-Mother 

Tæppestre – Hostess/She Who Serves Wine 

Freoþowebbe – Peace-Weaver/ Frith-Weaver

*Rȳnewīf – One skilled in explaining mysteries 

Hwǣtegod – Literally Wheat-God. Used as a gloss for Ceres in Bosworth and Toller 

 


Sources

[1] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 1) 

[2] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/%E1%B8%B1er-

[3]https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Hirse#German

[4]https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/hirso#Old_High_German

[5] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 2)

[6] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 2)

[7] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 42)

[8] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 42)

[9] Ovid. Fasti. 4.547-551  

[10] Ovid. Fasti. 1.673-674  

[11]https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sementis

[12] Varro. On the Latin Language in 25 Books

[13] Cicero. The Nature of the Gods

[14] Servius. On Virgil’s Aenid. 4.16  

[15] Virgil. Aenid. 4.56-5  

[16] Servius. On Virgil’s Aenid. 4.58

[17] Varro. De Re Rustica. 2.4.1  

[18] Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and Profane 

[19] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 52)

[20] Varro. On the Life of theRomanPeople, book 3  

[21] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 55)

[22] Festus. De Verborum Significatione. 

[23] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/frumentatio

[24] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 84)

[25] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 86)

[26] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 88)

[27] Stanley Spaeth, Barbette. The Roman Goddess Ceres. (pp. 86)

[28] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/aedis#Latin

[29] West, Martin L.  Indo-European Poetry and Myth. 

[30] Orphic Hymn 40. Translated by Thomas Taylor. 

[31] https://www.theoi.com/Cult/DemeterTitles.html#Cult

[32] https://www.theoi.com/Olympios/DemeterGoddess.html

[33] Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 

[34] https://www.theoi.com/Olympios/Demeter.html

[35] http://www.owen-artresearch.uk/custom/rwpainting/ch6/ch.6.6.html

[36] Nilsson, Martin P.  Greek Popular Religion “The Religion of Eleusis”

[37] Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. 

[38] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Folk Religion. Pp.45-46

[39] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/epopteia#English

[40] http://san.beck.org/Eleusis-4.html

[41] Pomeroy, Sarah B. Goddesses, whores, wives, and slaves: women in classical antiquity

[42] Clinton, Kevin. The Epidauria and the Arrival of Asclepius in Athens, in Ancient Greek Cult Practice from the Epigraphical Evidence

[43] Kerenyi, C. Eleusis: Archetypal Image of Mother and Daughter

[44]  Mixing the Kykeon.  ELEUSIS: Journal of Psychoactive Plants and Compounds

[45] http://www.hellenicaworld.com/Greece/Ancient/en/Aporrheta.html

[46] Filonik, Jakub. Athenian impiety trials: a reappraisal

[47] Grimm, Jacob (James Steven Stallybrass Trans.) Teutonic Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition 

[48] http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/027571

[49] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sibb#Old_English

[50] North, Richard. Heathen Gods in Old English Literature

[51] Grimm, Jacob (James Steven Stallybrass Trans.) Teutonic Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition 

[52] Ellis Davidson, H.R. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe

[53] Ellis Davidson, H.R. Scandinavian Mythology

[54] http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/027571

[*] See my previous article: https://sundorwic.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/warden-of-the-property-thunor-eodorweard/

Medieval-Farming-

A Prayer to Sib

To the Goddess of plenty I do call
Upon whose flaxen hair we sup and find sustenance
O fair Sib, Goddess of the fields and of those who toil and work them
Gracious Hostess, She who fills our cup brimming
Sates our thirst and fills our bellies
Frith-Mother, Frith-Weaver, Goddess of hospitality and of kinship and of wedlock
Let us know your blessings
And prosperity born from your bosom
Grant that we should have fertile soil from which to grow and to thrive
May we know abundance and bounty
And your favour in our endeavours
O Corn-Bearer, smile upon me and mine this day
And to Folde as well I do address
O goddess of earth
Out of whose womb all things proliferate
Splendid are You, fecund and bounteous
Let us know your generosity and kindnesses
Wholeheartedly I petition thee,
Erce! Erce! Erce!

in-rice-field-2679153_1920


*An article extrapolating Sundorwīc’s Sib is currently in the planning stages, so expect to see that some time in the coming months, frēondas.

A Mōdraniht Bēd

O venerable Goddesses who protect and guide us
You who know the machinations of Wyrd
Hear this prayer on this most auspicious of nights
Lend to me your favour as you would your own child
I piously invoke thee, O Modru
At the ending of the year
As the cycle begins anew
Grant that we should be renewed
Of body and of mind
Let us know prosperity and plenty
Let us be hale
O exalted Mothers ,Nurturers, Freoþuwebban

772px-Matronengruppe_aus_der_Kölner_Werkstatt_des_Fabricius_(2._Jahrh._n._Chr.)