Under the Shroud: Reconstructing Niht

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On the surface, the concept of personified deities seems simple and straightforward – the sun, the moon, a lake or a mountain can all represent the divine or manifest divinity within, or at them. Despite this surface simplicity, contemporary practitioners appear to have difficulty comprehending and/or articulating animistic deities. Perhaps this disinclination is due to difficulties in reconciling animistic religiosity with modern scientific thought – an impediment that many Heathens, especially those who were raised in irreligious households, have difficulty overcoming. Whatever the reason, if we are attempting to reconstruct ancient, Germanic religion(s) with even a modicum of authenticity, it behooves us to appreciate divinity in all of its complex and multifarious forms.

In the following article we will attempt to extrapolate a Fyrnsidu specific deity associated with the Night by comparing like-deities from the Indo-European sphere. In order to provide our deity with a more multifaceted character, we will not only look at other “night deities”, but also feminine divinities with overlapping associations.



Nyx/ Nox

In ancient Hellenic religion, Nyx, whose name translates to “Night,”[1] was one of the primordial deities, or Protogenoi [2].  According to Hesiod’s Theogony, Nyx was born of Chaos “emptiness, chasm, void, or abyss” alongside her brother and consort, Erebus “Darkness.” [3]

From Khaos came forth Erebos and black Nyx ; but of Nyx were born (Aether, Bright Upper Air) and Hemera (Day), whom she conceived and bore from union in love with Erebos.” [4]

While she bore two children with Erebus, Nyx was also capable of begetting Gods asexually.

“And Night bore hateful Doom and black Fate and Death, and she bore Sleep and the tribe of Dreams. And again the goddess murky Night, though she lay with none, bare Blame and painful Woe, and the Hesperides who guard the rich, golden apples and the trees bearing fruit beyond glorious Ocean. Also she bore the Destinies and ruthless avenging Fates, Clotho and Lachesis and Atropos, who give men at their birth both evil and good to have, and they pursue the transgressions of men and of gods: and these goddesses never cease from their dread anger until they punish the sinner with a sore penalty. Also deadly Night bore Nemesis to afflict mortal men, and after her, Deceit and Friendship and hateful Age and hard-hearted Strife.” [5]

Although Hesiod’s account of Nyx paints a particularly frightening picture of her as the mother of calamitous Titans, the Orphic account is slightly different. In Aristophanes’ account, Nyx is similarly portrayed as the daughter of Chaos and lover of Erebus, though here she is said to have mothered Eros, God of love and sexual attraction.

“At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus, and deep Tartarus. Earth, the air and heaven had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Night laid a germless egg in the bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution of long ages, sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark Chaos, winged like himself, and thus hatched forth our race, which was the first to see the light.” [6]

In the Iliad, Nyx is depicted as a powerful and protective Goddess. In this narrative, Nyx’s son, Hypnos, recounts the story of when he was asked by Hera to put Zeus to sleep, so that she might cause Herakles difficulties on his voyage home from Troy. Once Zeus awakens from his involuntary slumber, he flies into a rage and beat the gods up and down his house, looking beyond all others for [Hypnos]” [7]. Zeus’s vengeance, however, goes unfulfilled, as Hypnos takes refuge with his mother – a Goddess that even mighty Zeus was hesitant to anger.

The passages above portray Nyx as a powerful, protective entity with a potentially vengeful nature. This protective aspect is further demonstrated by her apparent role as protectress of seafarers – an association which was likely the result of her connection to the night sky and celestial navigation.

“All the stars wheeled aloft by Nyx (Night).”

“The [constellation] Altar even beyond aught else hath ancient Nyx (Night), weeping the woe of men, set to be a mighty sign of storm at sea. For ships in trouble pain her heart, and other signs in other quarters she kindles in sorrow for mariners, storm-buffeted at sea. Wherefore I bid thee pray, when in the open sea, that that constellation wrapt in clouds appear not amidst the others in the heavens, herself unclouded and resplendent but banked above with billowing clouds, as often it is beset when the autumn wind drives them back For often Nyx herself reveals this sign, also, for the South Wind in her kindness to toiling sailors. If they heed her favouring signs . . . Nyx kindles like signs of storm upon the gleaming Altar.” [8]

Nyx’s Roman counterpart, Nox, was of a seemingly more peaceful character and calls to mind pastoral scenes of dusk, as evidenced by Statius’ depiction of her as a Goddess who “laid to rest the cares of men and the prowlings of wild beasts, and wrapped the heavens in her dusky shroud, coming to all with kindly influence.” and as a  “gracious refresher of the mind”[9]. In the same prayer excerpt, King Adratus provides us with some insight into an acceptable sacrifice to the Goddess when he promises to sacrifice specially selected black bulls to Nox throughout the yearly cycle.

Nox is also closely associated with witchcraft. In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the witch, Medea, invokes Nox alongside Trivia (Hekate), Luna (Selene), Tellus (Gaia) and Di Nocti (Gods of Night) to aid her in creating a potent poison. Likewise, the Witch Circe is depicted calling on Nox, Trivia and the Di Nocti to aid in a similar activity later in the poem.

“She [the witch Kirke (Circe)] sprinkled round about her evil drugs and poisonous essences, and out of Erebos and Chaos called Nox (Night) and the Gods of Night (Di Nocti) and poured a prayer with long-drawn wailing cries to Hecate. The woods (wonder of wonders!) leapt away, a groan came from the ground, the bushes blanched, the spattered sward was soaked with gouts of blood, stones brayed and bellowed, dogs began to bark, black snakes swarmed on the soil and ghostly shapes of silent spirits floated through the air.” [10]

 


Hekate/Trivia

If Ovid’s works are suggestive of a contemporaneous and ubiquitous belief in Nox’s associations with witchcraft, it might then be wise to touch upon some of the deities listed alongside her in the aforementioned invocation.

Hekate is a multifaceted deity who is particularly difficult to place in a restrictive framework. While few temples were dedicated to Hekate, she had a prominent place in home worship, where she was regularly petitioned in the guise of Apotropaia, or “She that protects,”  to ward against malevolent spirits and sorcery [11]. Hekataion, which in Attic Greek referred to shrines or idols dedicated to Hekate, were placed at the doorway of each household or hall to protect those who dwelt within. Shrines dedicated to Hekate were also found at city gates, undeniably distinguishing her as a Goddess associated with liminality and the in-between.

“You see, the oracles are coming true; I have heard it foretold, that one day the Athenians would dispense justice in their own houses, that each citizen. would have himself a little tribunal constructed in his porch similar to the altars of Hecate, and that there would be such before every door.” [12]

This liminal quality is further illustrated by Hekate’s role as Goddess of the crossroads and borders. In this role, she is referred to as Trioditis, or “She who frequents crossroads”[13], where she acts as intermediary between the world of the living and the realm of the dead. Hekate’s connection to the dead is further corroborated via her involvement in the Deipnon, or “evening meal,” where she is “fed” once each month alongside the restless dead to satiate their hunger. Accordingly to Aeschylus, this tradition was the result of a widespread belief that Hekate led an entourage of ghosts and otherworldly hounds up from Hades each month, calling to mind later depictions of Wōden and the Wild Hunt.

Dogs played a prominent role in Hekate’s cultus due to their widespread use as property guardians – an association which hearkens back to our earlier description of the Goddess as sentinel of the threshold. Dogs regularly featured alongside the Goddess in classical iconographic representations and according to Franklin, were her preferred sacrificial animal. Dogs were also occasionally consumed by adherents of Hekate’s cult [14]. Sarah Iles Johnston suggests the dogs found in Hekate’s iconography also possessed a fertility attribute, as the dog is regularly depicted alongside Greek deities attached to midwifery, such as Eileithyia and Genetyllis [15].   

In Greek religion, Hekate was often linked to plantlife, herbalism and the creation of both medicinal and poisonous elixirs and is credited with teaching the art of medicine and poison to Medea in the Argonautica [16]. While Hekate was depicted by Sophocles as being clothed in oaken garments, it is the yew that was of particular import to the Goddess and her cultus. Black sacrificial bulls dedicated to Hekate were often draped in yew boughs to win her favour. This connection between the yew and Hekate seems rather odd on the surface, but Suffness, in his work, Taxol: Science and Applications, has suggested a etymological link between toxos, the Greek word for “yew” and toxicon “poison.” [17] Other plants associated with Hekate include: garlic [18], cypress (common among chthonic deities) [19], belladonna, mandrake, dittany and wolf’s bane [20]; all of which were used for their medicinal, poisonous or entheogenic properties.

 

Selene/Luna

Another Goddess referenced alongside Nyx in Ovid’s Metamorphoses is Selene/Luna, Goddess of the moon.

Selene was of Titan stock, the daughter of Hyperion and Theia, Sister of Eos and Helios and wife of the shepherd, Endymion [21]. Selene was the mother of several Goddesses. Via Zeus, She was the mother of Pandia (All-Brightness) [22] and Ersa (Dew), via Helios, Her brother, She was the mother of the Horai (Seasons) [23] and by Endymion, the Menai (Months) [24].

As was the case with many “celestial” deities, Selene was often depicted on horseback or driving a chariot pulled by winged horses. Though an equine link is obviously present, Selene was commonly associated with the bull iconographically, where her crescent moon crown was often related to the horns of a bull [25]. Nonnus makes mention of this association several times in his Dionysiaca.

“Selene (the Moon) herself, bullshaped and horned driver of cattle, may be angry to see my horned bullshaped form.”

First towards the western clime he allotted the Onkaian (Oncaean) Gate to Mene (the Moon) [Selene] brighteyes, taking the name from the honk of cattle, because Selene herself, bullshaped, horned, driver of cattle, being triform is Tritonis Athene.” [26]

Nonnus also suggests Selene’s chariot was not pulled by equine means, but instead, by bulls.

“I spy a silverfooted maiden stretched under the streams of my river! I believe Selene bathes in the Aonian [Theban] waves on her way to Endymion’s bed on Latmos (Latmus), the bed of a sleepless shepherd; but if she has prinked herself out for her sweet shepherd, what’s the use of Asopos (Asopus) after the Okeanos (Oceanus) stream? And if she has a body white as the snows of heaven, what mark of the Moon has she? A team of mules unbridled and a mule-cart with silver wheels are there on the beach, but Selene knows not how to put mules to her yokestrap–she drives a team of bulls!” [27]

“He shouted boldly to the fullfaced Moon (Mene) [Selene]–‘Give me best, Selene, horned driver of cattle! Now I am both–I have horns and I ride a bull!’ So he called out boasting to the round Moon. Selene looked with a jealous eye through the air, to see how Ampleos rode on the murderous marauding bull. She sent him a cattlechasing gadfly; and the bull, pricked continually all over by the sharp sting, galloped away like a horse through pathless tracts . . . [it then threw him then gorged him to death].” [28]

Selene was also closely associated with proliferation of both flora and fauna. As Eileithyia (Aid-In- Childbirth), she provided both women and animals quick and easy childbirth [29], a relationship which seems to have entered the Roman consciousness, as evidenced by Cicero’s depiction of Luna, Selene’s Roman counterpart.

“She [Luna-Diana, Selene-Artemis] is invoked to assist at the birth of children, because the period of gestation is either occasionally seven, or more usually nine, lunar revolutions, and these are called menses (months), because they cover measured (mensa) spaces.” [30]

Selene was also goddess of dew and was considered a “nourisher of plants” [31] because of this association. This aspect calls to mind the earlier depiction of Hekate as Goddess of herbalism, suggesting a possible link between the two roles. The similarities between Hekate and Selene is further demonstrated via their shared importance to the practice of witchcraft. Ancient Hellenes believed the lunar eclipse was the result of Thessalian witches drawing down the moon and working their terrible magics. It was common for people to make noise with cymbals during the eclipse in order to nullify this witchcraft and return Selene to Her rightful place in the heavens [32].

“She [the witch Medea] is one to strive to draw down from its course the unwilling moon (luna), and to hide in darkness the horses of the sun (sol).” [33]

 

Ratri

Now that we’ve explored Hellenic deities associated with night and darkness, we can move onto our next deity, Ratri.

Ratri is personified night, often depicted as an ever youthful maiden, reborn and renewed with each passing cycle [34]. In keeping with the cyclical theme, Ratri is quite frequently represented alongside Her sister, Ushas, Goddess of the dawn. Interestingly, Ratri is not necessarily portrayed as a Goddess of darkness, per se, as one might expect from a deity of the night. Instead, Ratri is often thought of as the bright, moonlit night which chases away the darkness, assigning a protective Role to Her character [35].

“The Goddess Night has drawn near, looking about on many sides with her eyes. She has put on all her glories.”

“The immortal goddess has filled the wide space, the depths and the heights. She stems the tide of darkness with her light.”  [36]

According to Kinsley, Ratri is also associated with dew and the vitality it provides [37] – a quality which is reminiscent of Selene and Her role as nourisher of flora.

While Ratri is often listed as beneficent or benign, She is occasionally referenced in a negative manner. Where Ushas is seen as embodying radiance and motherly affection, Ratri is, in some depictions anyway, said to be barren and gloomy, illustrating the obvious contrast between the two Goddesses. She is also assigned a level of guardianship or responsibility for dangerous beings associated with the night, which may suggest many offerings made to Her were propitiatory in nature [38].  

Ratri, along with her sister, Ushas, is directly associated with the passage of time and are even called “the Weavers of Time” and “Mothers of Eternal Law” [39].

“Without Rātrī or Usas no concept of time would have emerged.” [40]

In his book, Hindu Goddesses: Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition, Kingsley says of Ushas and Ratri:

“In their alternating, cyclical, and endless appearances, they represent the stable, rhythmic patterns of the cosmos in which light and dark inevitably follow each other in an orderly, predictable manner. Together they illustrate the coherence of the created order: the ordered alternations of vigor and rest, light and dark, and the regular flow of time.”

While Ratri is considered a “minor” Goddess in terms of Her portrayal in Rig Veda, she is one of the few Goddesses who is given an entire hymn to herself.

“1.The Goddess Night has drawn near, looking about on many sides with her eyes. She has put on all her glories.
2.The immortal Goddess  has filled the wide space, the depths and the heights. She stems the ride of darkness with her light.

3.The goddess has drawn near, pushing aside her sister the twilight. Darkness, too, will give way. 

4. As you came near to us today, we turned homeward to rest, as birds go to their home in a tree.

5. People who live in villages have gone home to rest, and animals with feet, and animals with wings, even the ever-searching hawks.

6. Ward off the she-wolf and the wolf; ward off the thief. O night full of waves, be easy for us to cross over.

7.Darkness – palpable, black, and painted – has come upon me. O Dawn, banish it like a debt.

8.I have driven this hymn to you as the herdsman drives cows. Choose and accept it, O Night, daughter of the sky, like a song of praise to a conqueror.” [41]

 

Nótt

As is often the case, in terms of a Germanic Goddess associated with the night, we are provided with little outside of Norse sources. In these sources, Nótt is personified night and is listed as a Goddess in both the Prose Edda and the Poetic Edda. Her name literally translates as “Night” and as such, there is little ambiguity in terms of her area of association and governance.

In the Eddas, Nótt is counted as the daughter of Narfi, a fairly enigmatic figure whose name may have some connection to the Old English word nearu, meaning ‘confined’, or ‘narrow’ [42][43]. According to Gylfaginning, Nótt was said to have taken three husbands, and with each, she had a single child. Her first husband was named Naglfari and with Him, Nótt bore Auðr, whose name, according to Simek, translates to ‘prosperity’. Her second marriage was said to be to a character named Annar, to whom she bore Jörð, the personified earth. Her third and final marriage was to Dellinger and it was to Him that she bore Her counterpart, the God of personified day, Dagr. Simek has indicated some scepticism as to the correctness of Gylfaginning’s list of Nótt’s kin, suggesting Snorri may well have incorporated them into his narrative as an attempt to mirror the classical mythology he was familiar with, with Narfi possibly being placed as Nótt’s sire in an attempt to emulate an Erebus-like figure[44].

Nótt is mentioned several times in the Poetic Edda and in each mention, we are provided with a tiny glimpse into Her attributes. In the 14th stanza of Vafþrúðnismál, we are presented with the name of Nótt’s horse, Hrímfaxi, or ‘Rime-Mane’, whose foam is said to produce the dew so often associated with the night.

 

“He is Hrímfaxi hight

which the hallowed night

Brings to the blessed gods.

As he fares, foam doth

Fall from his bit;

Thence cometh the dew in the dales.” [45]

This particular depiction of Nótt as a bringer of nourishing dew suggests a fairly consistent Indo-European motif; one shared by Greeks in antiquity and by ancient Indo-Aryan peoples.  

In stanza 25 of Vafþrúðnismál, we are provided with the name of Nótt’s father, Nǫrr (Narfi, Norvi) and are given a brief association between night, the moon and the reckoning of time.

“Is one Delling hight,

He is Day’s father;

But Night was born to Nor;

Waxing and waning moon

The wise gods made

To tell the time for men” [46]

In Alvíssmál, stanza 30, Nótt is given a list of potential epithets by the titular character, Alvíss.

“‘Tis hight ‘Night’ among men,

but ‘Murk’ among gods;

Call the might powers it ‘Mask,’

The etins, ‘Lightless,’

The alfs, ‘Sleep’s Ease,’

The dwarfs, ‘Weaver-of-Dreams.’”[47]

The stanza above would suggest that Nótt is not the chaser of darkness that Ratri appears to be, and instead, exists as the enveloping darkness that masks the skies. This description mirrors Her appearance in Gylfaginning, where She is described as being ‘black and swarthy.’ Here we are also provided with the title ‘Weaver-of-Dreams,’ or ‘Draumnjörun,’ [48] illustrating Her potential role as Goddess who creates dreams.  

The fourth time Nótt appears in the Poetic Edda, is in Sigrdrífumál/ Brynhildarljóð, where Sigrdrifa recites a prayer to Dagr and Nótt.

Heill dagr,

heilir dags synir,

heil nótt ok nipt;

óreiðum augum

lítið okkr þinig

ok gefið sitjöndum sigr.”[49]


Hail, day!

Hail, sons of day!

And night and her daughter now!

Look on us here

with loving eyes,

That waiting we victory win.”[50]

 

Extrapolating a Fyrnsidu-Specific Goddess of night

Now that we have explored Hellenic, Vedic and Norse Goddesses associated with the night and darkness, we can extrapolate our Fyrnsidu-specific Goddess more efficiently.

While many of the aforementioned attributes could be ascribed to either Niht (Night) or to Mōna (Moon), for simplicity’s sake, we will focus on Niht for our reconstruction [*].

 

Like her Indo-European counterparts, Niht could potentially be viewed as a primordial Goddess, born from the chasm at the beginning of the cosmos. She may also be seen as being both a protective force and one that is somewhat temperamental – presiding over all things that are associated with the night, both good and ill.

Niht watches over beings during their nightly rest and, as is the case with Nótt, provides us with dreams and potential portents.

As is the case with Nox, Hekate and Selene, Niht is strongly associated with witchcraft and herbalism and may be invoked to aid practitioners in both pursuits. She is also the Goddess of “nourishing dew,” which also ties into Her herbalistic leanings.  

In terms of iconography, Niht could be represented on horseback, driving a chariot pulled by horses or bulls, or as a bull-like figure adorned with crescent moon horns. She also might appear as a woman clothed in a black shroud, similar to depictions of Nyx and Nox.


Niht is a decidedly liminal deity and, like Hekate, may be petitioned at crossroads and apotropaically at the threshold of homes. She may also be called upon in a protective capacity in times of duress, especially if one is being bombarded by witchcraft or by entities of ill intent.

Appropriate offerings might include black bulls (statuettes, carvings etc.), votive dogs, yew boughs, garlic, cypress, mandrake and belladonna, as well as black seeds and foodstuffs – a colour typically associated with liminal and chthonic deities.

If we’re to look for a holy tide directly linked to Niht, we have a variety of options at our disposal. First, we might reconstruct something akin to the Deipnon, where Niht and the restless dead are given a portion of the evening meal on a monthly basis to stave off their advance. We also might celebrate Niht during a specific time in the lunar cycle, such as the new or full moon. We may also give Niht a position of importance during the shortest day of the year, or on dates specifically associated with liminality, such as Winterfylleþ.

 

Potential Epithets

Mirce – Murky

Nifol – Dark/ Gloomy

Grīma – Mask

Swefngamen – Sleep-Joy

Swefenwebbe – Dream-Weaver

Dēawig – Dewy

Lybbestre – Witch / Sorceress

Lēodrūne – Witch / Cunning-woman

Wyrtgælestre – Herbalist / One who uses plants for charms

Egesgrime – A Witch. Lit. “Horrible Mask”

Deorcness – Darkness / Obscurity

* Þrīweg – Three-Way. OE etymological equivalent of ‘Trivia’.

——————————————

Sources

[1]Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert. A Greek–English Lexicon
[2]http://www.theoi.com/Protogenos/Nyx.html
[3] Hesiod. Theogony. Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.
[4] Hesiod. Theogony. Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.
[5]Hesiod. Theogony. Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White.
[6]Aristophanes. The Birds
[7]Homer. Iliad 14.
[8]Aratus. Phaenomena.
[9]Statius. Thebaid Book 3. TRANSLATED BY J. H. MOZLEY
[10]Ovid. Metamorphoses
[11]http://www.theoi.com/Cult/HekateCult.html
[12]Aristophanes. The Wasps
[13]Liddell-Scott. A Greek-English Lexicon.
[14]Franklin, Alberta Mildred. The Lupercalia
[15]Iles Jonhston, Sarah. Restless Dead
[16]Apollonius of Rhodes. Argonautica
[17]Suffness, Matthew. Taxol: Science and Applications, CRC Press, 1995
[18]Simoons, Frederick J. Plants of Life, Plants of Death, University of Wisconsin Press, 1998
[19]Freize, Henry; Dennison, Walter. Virgil’s Aeneid
[20]Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths, Penguin Books, 1977
[21]http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Selene.html
[22]Fairbanks, Arthur. Mythology of Greece and Rome (Special Reference to Its Influence on Literature)
[23]Quintus Smyrnaeus. Fall of Troy 10
[24]Pausanias. Description of Greece 5. 1. 4
[25]http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Selene.html
[26]Nonnus, Dionysiaca (via Theoi.com)
[27]Nonnus, Dionysiaca (via Theoi.com)
[28]Nonnus, Dionysiaca (via Theoi.com)
[29]Chrysippus.  Old Physics
[30]Cicero. De Natura Deorum
[31]http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Selene.html
[32]http://www.theoi.com/Titan/Selene.html
[33]Ovid. Heroides
[34]http://www.mahavidya.ca/2012/06/18/prthivi-usas-and-ratri-vedic-goddesses/
[35]https://archive.org/stream/hymnsfromrigveda00macdiala/hymnsfromrigveda00macdiala_djvu.txt
[36]Penguin Classics. Rig Veda
[37]Kinsley, David R. Hindu Goddesses : Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition
[38]Kinsley, David R. Hindu Goddesses : Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition
[39]Kinsley, David R. Hindu Goddesses : Visions of the Divine Feminine in the Hindu Religious Tradition
[40]Chattopadhyaya S. The female deities of Rksamhita.
[41] Penguin Books Ltd. The Rig Veda. Translated by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty
[42]https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/nearu#Old_English
[43]Bugge, Sophus. The Home of the Eddic poems: With Especial Reference to the Helgi-Lays, tr. William Henry Schofield
[44]Simek, Rudolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology
[45]Hollander, Lee M. The Poetic Edda.
[46]Hollander, Lee M. The Poetic Edda.
[47]Hollander, Lee M. The Poetic Edda.
[48]http://www.voluspa.org/alvissmal26-30.htm
[49]Jonsson, Finnur. The Poetic Edda
[50]Bellows, Henry Adams. The Poetic Edda
[*] As always, this is largely the choice of the respective practitioner/hearth/group and they may choose to petition a different deity in this role.

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Bones and Bogs: An Update

Well, it has been well over a month since my last post and I feel it’s about time I write something on here. Y’know, to keep my devoted fans informed (lulz).

This Summer has been something of an interesting, albeit arduous journey for me with regard to my somewhat poor physical health. I have been dealing with autoimmune issues in the form of Celiac disease for the better part of a decade and had finally gotten comfortable(ish) with my gluten-free lifestyle, when some fun, new things started to rear their ugly heads. What began as mild hand stiffness and pain soon became fairly severe and spread to my lower back and ankles. At first I assumed the pain was the byproduct of physical exertion at my job, but as the pain progressed and new bits and pieces of me got involved in the pain-party, I knew something was up.

Several doctor’s appointments, blood tests, x-rays and specialist visits later and I’m inching closer to a diagnosis. The rheumatologist thinks I have a form of spondylitic arthritis – likely psoriatic or one related to an irritable bowel disease. I won’t know until my MRIs are completed and he’s had a chance to look over the imaging. So much fun!

In the meantime, I’m trying to make the best of a decidedly shit situation, stay somewhat positive and eat as healthily as I can. I made a massive change to my diet after doing some serious Google spelunking, and have adopted the paleo/primal diet for the time being, leaving behind an array of gluten-free foods I had grown accustomed to in the past 10-ish years.

It hasn’t been all negative, mind you. We Sundorwīcians went on a camping trip earlier this month to Algonquin Park – a place I hadn’t been to in nearly 15 years. The weather was perfect, we camped with family, I felt really well and I could feel the numinous in every nook and cranny of the place.

On our last day at the park, we went on a hike – one I had been on numerous times as a kid and loved. It’s called the Spruce Bog Trail and is basically a boardwalk built through two bogs-the Sunday Creek Bog and the Small Kettle Bog – both of which are home to some really fascinating flora and a plethora of blood-hungry insects. As is fairly standard with bogs, the water’s acid content is high, slowing the decomposition of organic matter, creating this sort of spooky, “fallen tree graveyard” vibe with the Sunday Creek Bog. The Small Kettle Bog, in contrast, had a thick carpeting of moss and other nondescript boggy plants growing over it and obscuring the water. According to the handy dandy trail brochure, these bogs were formed at the tail end of the Pleistocene (approx.11,000 years ago) when a massive glacier melted – an ancientness you could really feel while walking through the trail.

This ancient, numinous presence was so pronounced and tangible, I felt this overwhelming need to leave an impromptu propitiatory offering – something I often do when I am out in nature and floored by the inherent power of a place. I said some quick words of humble praise to the Wight/Wights of the waters and then I did something that multitudes of Germanic polytheists have done before me – I dropped my offering (two coins to be exact) into the dark, sunless waters of a bog.

The feeling of doing something like that, something that connects you in action to your ancestors and to the Gods, is profound. It left me feeling euphoric for the remainder of the day – something I feel whenever an offering goes well and feels well-received.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling for today. I am currently working on another comparative piece, so I expect that should be completed sometime in the next couple weeks, if I’m not too busy with work and doctor’s appointments, that is. Stay tuned, kids.

 

 

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A Prayer to Wada

 

wada1

Lo! Witness how the Earth shakes and trembles before you
Oh lord of the in-between places
You who treads unseen in shadow
Bringer of dreams and deluge
You who heals wound and ailment
You who lifts the veils

Now at my supplication, O Wada,
Apportioner of wealth and of mægen, grant that the fortunes of our hearth and household be firmly established,
so that those who desire peace and plenty may behold it

Please accept this gift, O Hellegod,
A gift for a gift
I dedicate and I give
May it please you
May you receive it well

Some Divinatory terms and Magical Vocations in Old English

Despite its questionable origin, “rune magic” has become the de facto form of divination associated with modern heathendom. While any writing or symbological system could, in theory,  be employed for the purpose of augury, for the purposes of Fyrnsidu, it may be beneficial to look at the Old English corpus for clues as to the divinatory practices and magical vocations of the Ur-Saxon Heathen.

Wīglere (m.) : A diviner / augur, derived from wīg/wēoh (m.), meaning ‘idol/image’, descending from Proto-Germanic *wīhą, meaning ‘sacred place or thing’

Steorwīglere (m.): An astrologer, derived from steorra (m.), meaning ‘star’

Wīgbedwīglere (m.): One who divines from sacrifices. Possibly one who interprets whether an offering was well-received by reading the organs (haruspicy) or bones of a sacrificed animal.

Fugelweohlere/Fugelhǣlsere/Fugelhwata (m.): A diviner by birds. Bosworth and Toller provide the Latin gloss of auspex, derived from the Latin/Proto-Italic word *avispex (m.), made up of avis, meaning ‘bird’ and speciō, meaning ‘to watch or observe’.

Dægmǣlscēawere (m.): An observer of the times and seasons, an astrologer. Dægmǣl essentially means ‘day-mark’ and relates to an instrument for telling time – perhaps a sundial.

Gebyrdwīglere (m.): A birth-diviner. Presumably one who divines a unborn or newborn child’s future.

Galdere (m.): An enchanter. Galdere is an agent noun derived from galdor/gealdor (n.), meaning a ‘charm,’ ‘incantation,’ or ‘enchantment,’ which suggests a verbal, spell-casting component.

Swefenreccere (m.): An interpreter of dreams/oneiromancer. The craft of dream divining is recorded as swefenracu (f.)

Tānhlyta/Tanhlytere (m.): One who divines by casting lots/ cleromancy. The casting of lots appears as gehlot (n.) in Old English. Tacitus records a similar form of divination in his Germania, where it is listed alongside divination by way of birds.

“Augury and divination by lot no people practise more diligently. The use of the lots is simple. A little bough is lopped off a fruit-bearing tree, and cut into small pieces; these are distinguished by certain marks, and thrown carelessly and at random over a white garment. In public questions the priest of the particular state, in private the father of the family, invokes the gods, and, with his eyes towards heaven, takes up each piece three times, and finds in them a meaning according to the mark previously impressed on them. If they prove unfavourable, there is no further consultation that day about the matter; if they sanction it, the confirmation of augury is still required. For they are also familiar with the practice of consulting the notes and the flight of birds.”

Hellrūn/Hellerūne (f.), Hellrūna (m.): One who is versed in the mysteries of Hell / Underworld. A necromancer. Possible allusions to conjuring and communing with the dead. The Latin gloss, pythonissa (f.), is used for comparison.

Burgrūne (f.): A sorceress. Bosworth and Toller provide the glosses parcæ, furiæ, oreades, suggesting some association with Wyrd, or Wælcyrian (ON: valkyrjur). The plural form is listed as burh/burgrūnan (f.). 

Heagorūn (f.):  A mystery where magic is involved/ necromancy.

 Lēodrūne (f.): Witch or wise-woman/cunning-woman. Derived from lēod, meaning ‘man,’ ‘country,’ ‘people.’ Possibly synonymous with burh/burgrūne.

Wyrtgælestre (f.): A woman who uses herbs or plants for charms.

 Wammfreht (n.): Divination using stains or impurities, with wamm meaning ‘stain,’ or ‘spot.’ Bosworth and Toller doesn’t give a precise definition, so it’s uncertain whether the stains mentioned might be related to sacrifice (blood), or some other form of stain/impurity.

Hǣlsung/Hālsung (f.): Divination/augury.

Wīgle (n.): Divination / Heathen praxis

Wītgegung (f.): Prophecy. The word also appears in the compound wītegungbōc, or ‘book of prophecies.’

Wītegestre (f.): Prophetess. The Latin gloss prophetissa is provided for comparative purposes.

Unlybwyrhta (m.): A poison-maker, one who prepares poisons for witchcraft. Comes from unlybba (m.), meaning ‘poison’.

Wiccecræft/Wiccedōm (m.): Witchcraft/sorcery.

Wicce (f.), Wicca (m.): A witch, sorcerer/sorceress

Wiccian (verb.): To practice witchcraft.

Wiccung (f.): Literally ‘witching’/ witchcraft.

Hægtesse (f.): A witch, hag, or Fury. The Latin gloss Furia is provided for comparison and may suggest some affinity with both hellerūne and burgrūne. An Old High German equivalent is recorded as hagzissa, from which modern German hexe is derived. Seolfor Cwylla Heorþ recently published a short article on burgrūnan and Hægtessan, which might be of interest in relation to this topic.

Drȳ/ Drȳman/ Drȳmann (m.): A magician or sorcerer, which is etymologically linked to Proto-Celtic *druwits (druid). The word might represent a shared concept with analogous words having been lost in other Germanic languages, or may represent a Brythonic influence on Anglo-Saxon culture. The plural form of the word is recorded as drȳmen (f.). 

Drȳcræft (m.): Sorcery or magic related to the term drȳ, related above.

Scīnlāc (n.): Magic, necromancy, sorcery, stemming from scīn, referring to ‘a deceptive appearance,’ ‘a phantasm,’ or a ‘spectre.’ This is suggestive of some form of illusory magic.

Līcwiglung (f.): Necromancy. Likely associated with the use of corpses or bodies, via the word, līc.

The_Oracle_of_Delphi_Entranced

 

A Short Analysis of Neorxnawang

 

Barley_field-2007-02-22(large)

Neorxnawang is an interesting subject, considering the absolute confusion the word has elicited among scholars. While the second element of the compound, –wang (field, plain country, place) [1] is fairly straightforward in its meaning, the first element, Neorxna- , presents a serious problem. In his translation of Genesis, Ælfric uses Neorxnawang as a gloss for Latin Paradisum, the biblical Heaven, which has lead academics, such as McKinnell, to suggest the translation “Field of Contentment” [2]. This translation doesn’t seem a considerable leap if one looks at the context which it is used in other works, such as the Blickling Homilies and the Anglo-Saxon translation of Gregory’s Dialogues – the latter of which uses the adjective, Neorxnawanglic (of paradise) [3].

Jacob Grimm was the first to really tackle the etymology of the word. In his own musings, he mentioned a contemporary belief that the word was related in some way to the Norns, but that it posed too many issues to be suitably substantiated.

“The A. gen. pl. neorxana, which only occurs in ‘neorxena wong’ = paradisus, has been proposed, but the abbreviation would be something unheard of, and even the nom. sing. neorxe or neorxu at variance with norn; besides, the Parcae are nowhere found connected with paradise.” [4]

More recently, Rudolf Simek suggested Neorxnawang may have acted as a pre-Migration Period analogue for “Asgard”- an idea which he asserted might be proven by the existence of an earlier etymological equivalent in Gothic waggs (meadow, paradise) [5] and by how obscure and confusing the term had become even by Ælfric’s time.

Simek is not the only scholar to attempt to connect Neorxnawang to more well-known Norse cosmology. In The Ship in the Field, Haukur Þorgeirsson and Joseph S. Hopkins suggested a possible connection between Folkvangr and Neorxnawang, going as far as suggesting (via de Vries) that, while Folkvangr is Freyja’s field, Neorxnawang might similarly belong to Njord, or a Njord-like deity known to Anglo-Saxons.

“Neorxnawang and Folkvangr may have a relation besides cognate second elements. While the root of Njörðr and the apparent first root of Neorxnawang are both elusive subjects, it has been theorized that the two may be one and the same, perhaps rendering Neorxnawang as an Old English ‘Njörðr’s field’ or as the field of a deity sharing this root (de Vries 1957: 410-411). This approach has difficulties, but if the roots are connected, a father-daughter relationship may be demonstrated between the afterlife fields of Njörðr and Freyja.” [6]

While the Njörðr connection is fanciful and something of a leap in my opinion, I do believe they are correct in assuming Neorxnawang may have been a sort of pre-Christian, godly paradise not unlike Folkvangr. Earlier scholars were quick to dismiss the idea of Neorxnawang being in any way a pagan concept – a dismissal which was likely due to ingrained notions of heavenly paradise being limited to Abrahamic religions. This dismissal would also seemingly discount similar paradise realms, such as Greek Elysium, the Asphodel Meadows (a particular part of Hades where average people go upon death) and Egyptian Sekhet-Aaru (The Reed Fields) – all of which predate Christianity.

to the Elysian plain…where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men.” [7]

In the end, it’s impossible to know for certain what Neorxnawang truly is – at least with our current information. It’s up to the contemporary practitioner to decide if and how Neorxnawang might be approached and how it might incorporated into belief system of their respective hearths.


Sources

[1]Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” Wang. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2018.
[2]McKinnell, John. Meeting the Other in Norse Myth and Legend
[3]Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” Neorxnawang-lic. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 14 Apr. 2018.
[4]Grimm, Jacob (James Steven Stallybrass Trans.)  Teutonic Mythology: Translated from the Fourth Edition with Notes and Appendix Vol. I.
[5]Lehmann, Winfred Philipp. A Gothic Etymological Dictionary. W1-W4
[6]Hopkins, Joseph S. Þorgeirsson, Hauker. The Ship in the Field. pp 17 (in notes)[7]Homer, Odyssey (4.560–565)

Wada: Uncovering an Anglo-Saxon Water God

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Being an island nation, water has long had an intrinsic connection to Britain and her peoples. In the following article I will attempt to extrapolate an Anglo-Saxon deity associated with the sea and inland bodies of water by comparing and contrasting like-deities found in other Indo-European sister religions.

Poseidon and Neptune

In ancient Greek religion, we are provided a nearly inexhaustible list of aquatic deities- a fact which is unsurprising given the Greek proximity to and reliance on the Mediterranean Sea. Plato makes mention of this association in his Phaedo, where he compares the Greek people to “frogs around a pond” [1]. For simplicity’s sake, we will limit our examination to the Olympian God, Poseidon, who is the most well-known and venerated of the classical and Hellenic water deities.

Poseidon has a long history in the Greek islands, with the earliest attestations being found in the Linear B tablets, where His name is recorded as po-se-da-wo-ne. A feminine version of this name is also recorded as po-se-de-ia, indicating a Mycenaean consort akin to Amphitrite [2]. This Mycenaean Poseidon is frequently provided the epithet of Wanax (wa-na-ka), which posits Him as a Chthonic King of the Underworld [3]. This Chthonic aspect is further corroborated via His associations with earthquakes, where He is named Enosichthon/ Ennosigaios/ Ennosidas ‘Earth-Shaker’, Gaieokhos ‘Earth-Holder’ and Asphaleios ‘Protector From Earthquakes’ [4][5].

Although we are provided po-se-de-ia as a potential consort for Poseidon, there is also some suggestion that Demeter and or Persephone may have filled that role during the late Bronze Age. In Linear B inscriptions uncovered at Pylos, E-ne-si-da-o-ne ‘Earth-Shaker’ is found alongside Si-to Po-tini-ja ‘Lady-of-the-Grain’, which, according to Mylas, may be indicative of a proto-Demeter/Persephone [6]. The tablets found at Pylos also speak of sacrificial goods destined for wa-na-soi, wa-na-ka-te, or ‘Two Queens and The King (Poseidon),’ lending further credence to this theory [7]. In an early Arcadian myth, Poseidon, here depicted as a Chthonic river deity, takes the form of a stallion and pursues an equine Demeter, who bears a daughter, Despoina, a Goddess closely associated with springs and animals.  According to Kerenyi, as consort of Poseidon, Demeter ” was Earth, who bears plants and beasts, and could therefore assume the shape of an ear of grain or a mare.” [8]

Poseidon was also closely associated with the horse, a role which can be distinguished by His epithet, Hippios – Tamer and Father of Horses [9]. This odd equine association, coupled with a seeming scarcity of sea-related epithets during the Mycenaean period has lead some scholars to surmise that Poseidon, or at least His Indo-European ancestor, was a horse deity or a God of fresh water who gradually became a sea deity as Indo-Europeans moved into the Mediterranean Basin [10]. Both Hesiod and Homer buttress this theory, claiming that Poseidon only became Lord of the Sea following His father, Kronos’ defeat [11].

In His more typical role as Lord-of-the-Sea, Poseidon was a tempermental deity, prone to bouts of destruction as well as acts of extrication.  When angered, Poseidon could use His trident to cause all manner of calamity, including; shipwrecks, drownings,earthquakes, floods and storms [12] – Poseidon’s wrathfulness is particularly apparent in His actions toward Odysseus and in His hatred of the Trojans [13].

“But just as great Odysseus thrashed things out, Poseidon god of the earthquake launched a colossal wave, terrible, murderous, arching over him, pounding down on him, hard as a windstorm blasting piles of dry parched chaff, scattering flying husks — so the long planks of his boat were scattered far and wide. But Odysseus leapt aboard one timber and riding it like a plunging racehorse stripped away his clothes, divine Calypso’s gifts,and quickly tying the scarf around his waist he dove headfirst in the sea, stretched his arms and stroked for life itself.” [14]

On the flipside of the coin, Poseidon was petitioned as Soter, or ‘Saviour,’ by sailors who wished for protection while at sea. It was this particular aspect of Poseidon to which the Greeks made an celebratory offering when a sea-storm swept away a large portion of the Persian fleet off the coast of Thessaly in 480 BCE [15].

Poseidon’s sacred animals were the bull, the horse (as was previously mentioned), the dolphin and the mythic hippokampoi, or ‘fish-tailed horses,’ which pulled His chariot [16]. In The Odyssey, bulls, particularly black and white bulls, are employed a total of 8 times as offering to the Sea-God – an association which calls to mind His epithet, Taureos, relating to the bull [17]. The cult of the Bull-God was of particular import in Thessaly where a festival called the Tavreia was observed.

“As Poseidon Ταύρειος (Preller, Gr. Myth. i. 446) games were held in his honour in which the youth of Thessaly exhibited their skill in seizing wild bulls by the horns… These peculiarly national religious festivals were called Ταύρεια (Preller, l.c. note 1) and Tαύροκαθάψια and their prevalence throughout the land is amply proved by the coins, on which we see a Thessalian youth pulling down a raging bull, while on the reverse is usually the horse of Poseidon.” [18]

Neptune (Latin: Neptūnus) was the Roman God of both salt and freshwater [19] and shared many attributes with His Greek counterpart, Poseidon. While Poseidon’s direct associations with freshwater are largely speculative, Neptune’s appear more definite. Neptune was God of springs, lakes and rivers prior to his transformation into a full-blown sea deity as evidenced by multiple inscriptions found adjacent to those locations and by Servius in his commentary of Virgil’s Ad Georgicas, who identifies Neptune as responsible for all waters [20][21].

Neptune also possessed a fertility aspect illustrated by way of His consorts, Salacia and Venilia, and His role as divine progenitor of the Faliscan people. In earlier Roman religion, consorts were typically the manifestation of specific powers attributed to a deity, but in the later, more hellenized period, consorts became distinct deities in their own right [22]. According to Dumézil, Wissowa and von Domaszewski, Salacia represented the gushing, overwhelming nature of water in its unbridled form and Venilia represented more calm and tranquil waters. Preller, Fowler, Petersmann and Takács , instead, interpret Neptune’s consorts as representing His fertility aspect, with particular emphasis on human reproduction and agrarianism. Ludwig Preller makes reference to Venilia being listed among the Indigitamenta as a Goddess associated with lust and desire – a feature which supports Her name being derived from Latin venia, which is, in turn, derived from the Proto-Indo-European root, wenh₁-, ‘to love’ or ‘to wish’ [23]. Salacia’s name stems from salax, which means ‘lustful,’ ‘lecherous,’ ‘provocative,’ or ‘ lascivious[24]. According to Petersmann, Neptune’s name comes from Indo-European nebh-, meaning ‘cloud,’ ‘mist,’ or ‘moisture’ [25] and based on this assumption, suggests Neptune was initially associated with cloudy, overcast sky and rainfall.

“What, why have so many clouds enringed the sky? What are you preparing, father Neptune?” [26]

Expanding on this theory, Salacia becomes Neptune’s fertilizing aspect, manifest through rainfall which impregnates the earth in hieros gamos and Venilia, in turn, becomes clear sky and fair weather. This interpretation receives support from a Hittite parallel in the form of the theonym, nepišaš (D)Tarhunnaš, or ‘The Lord of Sky Wet’, which suggests a possible widespread cult linked to the “heavenly damp”, as Petersmann sees it [27].


Nodens

In terms of water deities native to the British Isles, we are presented with several deities for comparative study. In this section we will limit our examination to one deity – Nodens.

Nodens was a British deity, about whom only fragmentary information is known. There are several competing theories as to the etymology of His name. Tolkien suggests Nodens’ name stems from Celtic noudent- or noudont-, related to Proto-Germanic neutaną, ‘to acquire, have use of, to catch’ and nautą, ‘benefit, possession, foredeal, profit, cattle, livestock’ [28][29]. Conversely, the Celticist Ranko Matasović has suggested Nodens derives from Proto-Celtic snoudo, meaning ‘clouds,’ or ‘mist’ – a theory which relies on the shift from ‘sn-’ to ‘*n-’ common in P-Celtic (Gaulish, Brythonic) languages [30].

Nodens’ most impressive site of worship was found on the banks of the Severn at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire. The temple itself housed several healing sites, as well as a dormitory [31], while the North-West of the building was split into three 7-foot-deep rooms, which may suggest a tripartite cult [32]. According to Lewis, the material goods found at the site are indicative of the tripartite structure of Nodens’ cult.

“The small finds are numerous indeed. Over 8,000 coins … prove a very rich occupation extending certainly into the fifth century. Nine representations of dogs in stone or bronze, a bronze plaque of a woman, a bronze arm, an oculist’s stamp, 320-odd pins and nearly 300 bracelets quite definitely indicate a healing cult. There is some indication, from the inscriptions and philology, of a hunting aspect. Sea-monsters and fish on the cella mosaic, and bronze reliefs depicting a sea deity, fishermen and tritons suggest some connexion of Nodens with the sea. A bronze object (headdress or vessel?) also shows a sea-god driving a chariot between torch-bearing putti and tritons. Thus a picture emerges of a complex deity, combining the diverse aspects of healing, hunting and the sea. …” [33]

The image of the dog was commonly associated with healing via the belief that their saliva could heal wounds and it is possible dogs may have been kept on-site for this very purpose [34]. This belief finds parallels throughout the classical world. In Gaul, reliefs/statues of deities and pilgrims found near healing springs were often shown holding dogs, and sacred dogs were also kept at the temple of Asclepius, the Greek God of medicine, at Epidaurus in the Peloponnese [35]. At Llys Awel, Abergele, Conwy, Wales, a fourth-century hoard of some 500 coins, a copper statuette of Mercury, two copper figurines of seated dogs, a third copper figurine of a running dog, a twisted wire bracelet and three votive plaques, two of which depicted dogs, were found. The Mercury depicted at this site was likely petitioned as a healer. This cult of “Healing-Mercury” appears to have been popular in Britain, given a similar, subsidiary role was also ascribed to the Mercury worshipped at the Uley Park complex in Gloucestershire [36].

Nodens’ second aspect, at least as Lewis sees it, is that of the Hunter. While the canid statuettes can be closely associated with healing, as mentioned above, they may also be suggestive of a cult involved with the hunt. Britannia was famous for its dogs, which were exported and used throughout the empire for both hunting and for warfare. Many Roman writers make mention of the superior quality of the British dog, which Tacitus lists among the province’s primary exports and which Claudian claims can “break the backs of mighty bulls.” [37].

“There is a strong breed of hunting dog, small in size but no less worthy of great praise. These the wild tribes of Britons with their tattooed backs rear and call by the name of Agassian. Their size is like that of worthless and greedy domestic table dogs; squat, emaciated, shaggy, dull of eye, but endowed with feet armed with powerful claws and a mouth sharp with close-set venomous tearing teeth. It is by virtue of its nose, however, that the Agassian is most exalted, and for tracking it is the best there is; for it is very adept at discovering the tracks of things that walk upon the ground, and skilled too at marking the airborne scent.” [38]

Nodens’ hunting aspect is also alluded to via His conflation with Silvanus. While Silvanus’ primary attribute may not have been as that of a hunter, he did possess a hunting aspect, especially prominent among the later Roman aristocracy. Both Hadrian and Trajan were devoted hunters and as such, were really the first Roman emperors to elevate Silvanus to a position of aristocratic importance. This cult saw Silvanus in the guise of “the hunting emperor,” which directly contrasted the popular, humble image of the God [39].

Nodens’ third function and arguably the one most relevant to this research, is that of a water deity.

The water-healing combination is very common in Celtic religions, as evidenced by the nearby cult of Sulis-Minerva. With that in mind, it makes sense that Nodens could have acted as a healing divinity and a water divinity simultaneously.

Our strongest evidence for a water cult comes by way of the temple’s location on the banks of the river Severn and by the imagery found at the site. A mosaic was discovered on the floor of the temple – the only of its kind found at a Romano-British temple. The mosaic has worn away significantly with age, but fish, sea-creatures with intertwined necks and wave-like spirals can still be identified alongside an inscription which reads, ‘To the God Mars Nodens, Titus Flavius Senilis, superintendent of the cult, had (this mosaic) laid from the offerings with assistance from Victorinus the interpreter’ [40].  The Senilis mentioned in the inscription is believed to have been the resident temple priest, while Victorinus is likely in reference to a dream diviner, who, according to la Bédoyère, likely acted in tandem with Sinilis.

Njord and Ægir

Norse mythology provides us with two sea deities for comparative study – Njord and Ægir.

In Eddic lore, Njord is of the Vanir – a somewhat nebulous grouping of deities distinct from the Æsir. Here he is a portrayed as father to Freyja and Freyr, via his incestous relationship with an unnamed sister-wife, alluded to in Lokasenna

“Give heed now, Njorth, | nor boast too high,

No longer I hold it hid;

With thy sister hadst thou | so fair a son,

Thus hadst thou no worse a hope.” [41]

While the identity of this sister-wife cannot be definitively confirmed, there has been some speculation, based on the etymological similarities in their names, that Nerthuz may be the Goddess referenced here, suggesting a divine coupling similar to that of Freyja and Freyr [42].

Njord’s hall was known as Noatun, or ‘Shiptown,’ which speaks to his role as deity of both the sea and of seafaring [43]. This particular aspect of his personality survived in Norwegian folklore up into the modern era, where a character called Njor is praised for helping a fisherman with her catch.

“The old folk [folk in the olden days?] were always rather lucky when they went fishing. One night old Gunnhild Reinsnos (born in 1746) and Johannes Reinsnos were fishing in the Sjosavatn. They had taken a torch and were fishing with live bait. The fish bit well, and it wasn’t long before Gunnhild had a week’s supply of fish for her pot. So she wound her line around her rod with the words: “Thanks be to him, to Njor, for this time.” [44]

In the Prose Edda, Njord is mentioned in both Gylfaginning and Skáldskaparmál, where his godly role is afforded slightly more detail and nuance.

In Gylfaginning, Njord is referred to not only as the God of the sea and of seafaring, but also of the winds, calling to mind earlier references to Neptune as a deity associated with both sea and of sky. In His guise of Wind-God, Njord is not only able to control the fate of ocean voyages, but is also able to put out fires and quell turbulent seas [45].

While Njord’s unnamed sister may have functioned as his pre-Viking Age consort, by the time the Eddas were being recorded, She was nearly entirely eclipsed by Skadi, the Goddess/Giantess associated with skiing, the mountains, hunting, archery and Winter. Here we are treated to another interesting, albeit tenuous parallel to the Greco-Roman world. If we assume, as was suggested earlier in this article, that consorts typically began as the personification of aspects specific to their preexisting counterparts, we may be able to assume the same of Skadi. The hunting aspect is of particular interest here, given the obvious parallels it would draw between Njord and Nodens in that regard.  

In Skáldskaparmál, Njord is painted as a God associated with material wealth.

“How should one periphrase Njördr? By calling him God of the Vanir, or Kinsman of the Vanir, or Wane, Father of Freyr and Freyja, God of Wealth-Bestowal.”[46]

This particular aspect of Njord’s persona is strange in that it sees no parallel outside Norse sources and may perhaps speak to a distinctly Germanic perception of the sea as a provider of wealth. This would certainly make sense, given the Germanic belief in water as a liminal gateway between our world and the world of the unseen.

Ægir, whose name comes from a poetic term for ‘the sea,’  is a slightly more enigmatic figure than Njord. He appears in both the Poetic and Prose Edda, where he depicted as a Jotunn, friend to the Æsir and host of grand feasts. His consort is named Ran, or, ‘the Robber’,[47] and is named as such due to Her role as a psychopomp to the drowned – another obvious allusion to water’s liminal nature as a gateway. Together, Ran and Ægir are said to have 9 daughters, all of which represent the different aspects of ocean waves.

“How should one periphrase the sea? Thus: by calling it Ymir’s Blood; Visitor of the Gods; Husband of Rán; Father of Ægir’s Daughters, of them who are called Himinglæva, Dúfa, Blódughadda, Hefring, Udr, Hrönn, Bylgja, Bára, Kolga; Land of Rán and of Ægir’s Daughters, of Ships and of ships’ names, of the Keel, of Beaks, of Planks and Seams, of Fishes, of Ice; Way and Road of Sea-Kings; likewise Encircler of Islands; House of Sands and of Kelp and of Reefs; Land of Fishing-gear, of Sea-Fowls, and of Fair Wind.” [48]

 

Possible English sea deities

Considering the the Anglo-Saxons were an island-dwelling people adept at seafaring, it is odd we have no record of a deity directly associated with water. In fact, for those who practice the Anglo-Saxon religion in modern times, this glaringly obvious blank spot has become something of an issue, especially for those who live close to bodies of water. Searching through the fragmentary sources we do have, the Anglo-Saxon polytheist is met with a couple options. The first and possibly safest route would be to accept the incompleteness and move on – an approach I’m certain many might favour. The other option, the one I favour, is to use the little information we do have and buttress that with comparative information gleaned from other Indo-European sources.  This, of course, poses the problem of what foundation to build on.

Some Anglo-Saxon polytheists have opted to go with the Old English equivalent of ægir and use Ēgor /Ēagor for their purposes. While this is a perfectly viable approach, it certainly doesn’t provide us with any additional useful information.

We run into a similar issue with Gārsecg. Gārsecg is typically assumed to be a compound of gār, meaning ‘spear,’ ‘dart,’ or ‘javelin’ and secg, meaning ‘man’ – an image which has lead some scholars to assume a spear wielding deity akin to Neptune and his trident [49]. While this kenning may indeed be referencing a lost Anglo-Saxon figure, there’s little information to be gleaned outside of a theonymic connection to the spear.

In the character of Wada, we are presented with a little more in terms of workable information. One thing that certainly puts Wada in a better position to assume the role of the Anglo-Saxon sea God, is the fact that there is little doubt that He was a well-known and attested folkloric figure in England.

The earliest mention of Wada is found in the eighth-century Anglo-Saxon poem, Widsith, where he is listed as ruler of the Hælsings, associated with Hälsingland in Sweden.

“Cæsar ruled Greeks and Cælic Finns,

Hagena Holmrygas, Heoden the Glommas.

Witta ruled Sueves, and Wada the Hælsings,

Meaca the Myrgings, Mearchealf the Hundings.”[50]

While this is earliest attestation of Wada, most of what we know about Him comes from Þiðreks saga af Bern, where He is depicted as being a sea-dwelling giant who settles on land to sire Weland the Smith [51]. Once His son is of age, Wada, who is unable to find passage from Sjoland to Grønsund, decides to wade across the strait “nine ells deep” with Weland on his shoulders. Here, Weland works as an apprentice first to Mimir and then, later, to two dwarfs. Wada’s involvement in the tale ends when he is caught in a landslide and ultimately succumbs to his wounds [52].

Wada’s importance as an English folkloric figure is highlighted by the fact that common knowledge of His personage appears to survive as late as the 17th century. Chaucer refers to a now lost Tale of Wade in his Troilus and Criseyde and makes mention of Wade’s boat in The Merchant’s Tale – a reference which was later expanded upon by Thomas Speght, a late 16th – early 17th century schoolmaster and editor of Chaucer’s work, who recorded the name for the boat as Guingelot. There has been considerable debate as to the etymological origins of Guingelot, with Skeat suggesting a derivation of “Winglock” [53] and Michel suggesting a compound consisting of Old English Gang, ‘going,’ ‘journey,’ ‘step,’ and læt, ‘slow,’ or ‘sluggish,’ essentially ‘Slow-goer’ [54][55][56][*].

The character of Wada seems to have slipped out of common consciousness in most of England by the early Renaissance period, though He endured into more recent times in North Yorkshire folklore. In Whitby, there are standing stones called Waddes Grave, which, according to popular legend, are the final resting place of a deceased sea-giant. Several different accounts also tell of Wada hurling a hammer, earth and stone back and forth with His wife, Bell, with several local landmarks being attributed to this raucous exchange [57].

Given that Wada is the only one of the three English characters explored in this article attested in folklore, it might be sagacious to employ Him as de facto sea God [**]. While He is never described as a “God” per se, there is some suggestion, considering the mythic stories attributed to Him, that he may have found Himself demoted into a folkloric hero after conversion.

 

A water deity specific to Fyrnsidu

Now that we’ve explored water divinities from ancient Greece, Rome, Roman Britain, Viking Age Scandinavia and England, we can better piece together what a water deity might look like for the contemporary Anglo-Saxon polytheist.

We may assume, much like His Greek and Roman counterparts, Wada holds sway over both the sea and inland bodies of water, which He traverses in his ship, Ganglæt. Because water is a gateway, an entrance to the other, Wada straddles both our world and the world of the Other – a liminal deity with strong psychopompic connotations. He, like Ran, swallows unfortunate sailors as they cross over from the present and become part of the sacred, ever evolving past. It is for this reason that offerings to Wada might be best placed in water, or in liminal spaces so that He might receive them.

Wada may be viewed as a deity associated with the sky – particularly with the fertilizing skies which produce rain and abundance, hearkening back to the Indo-European ‘Lord of Sky Wet,’ suggested by Petersmann. He also might share Njord’s associations with the wind, which would surely fit in well with a God of cloud and rain .In this particular role, Wada might be provided propitiatory offering during times of drought or violent, uproarious storms.

Like Poseidon and Neptune, Wada could certainly be a deity linked to earthquakes, as evidenced in Yorkshire folklore, where He is depicted manipulating the landscape with ease and moving the very earth itself. His consort, Bell, whose name in Old English possesses the double meaning of ‘bell,’ (the same as the modern object) and ‘a bellow,’ ‘a roar,’ ‘a cry,’ [58][59]may play some role in the earth-moving aspect of Wada’s personality, though, admittedly, there is little to go on.

As stated above, offerings given to Wada might be left in bodies of water, or in liminal spaces, such as in grottoes, or at a river’s edge. In terms of what is offered, we have a variety of options at our disposal. We may opt to offer coins, or pins, as both still are very common offerings left at holy wells and springs in Britain and Ireland [60]. We may also choose to leave votive representations of bulls or horses and, if we are in need of His healing aspect, representations of the afflicted body part, or perhaps, votive dog figures à la Nodens.

Creating a particular tide to celebrate Wada is somewhat trickier, with Roman sources being the only somewhat viable resource in that regard. The Neptunalia took place roughly around July 23rd, when the weather was at its hottest and at its driest in Italy[61]. Virtually nothing is known about the activities that took place during this tide, apart from the fact that celebrants constructed simple huts and likely feasted and drank within them. It may be beneficial, then, to place a holy tide specific to Wada at a time of year when drought is expected/typical, which may differ depending on where you reside.

 

Potential epithets

Þerscold – Literally ‘Threshold,’ relating to His liminal status and role as gatekeeper

Regnwyrhta – ‘Rainmaker,’ associated with His role of crop fertilizer

Brymflōd – ‘Deluge’

Ēgorhere – A poetic term for a deluge, essentially ‘Sea-Army.’ This is the kenning used as a gloss for the great flood recounted in the Bible, which provides some perspective as to the scale suggested here

Drǣfend– ‘Hunter’

Sǣhund – ‘Sea-hound’

Forswelgend – ‘Devourer,’ ‘Swallower’

Hēahlǣce – ‘High-Leech,’ ‘physician’

Hellegod – ‘God of the infernal realms’

Swefenbora – ‘Dream-bringer,’ based on the Victorinus inscription

Gārsecg – ‘Spear-man,’ as mentioned above

Fiscwylle – ‘Abounding in fish’

Sǣcyning – ‘Sea-king’

Sǣgenga – ‘Sea-goer,’ ‘mariner’

Mereweard – ‘One who keeps guard in the sea’

Eorþtilia – ‘Earth-tiller’

This is obviously not an exhaustive list and more can and may be added as they present themselves.

 


 

Sources

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[3]Adams, Professor John Paul. Mycenaean Divinities
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[42]Simek, Rudolf translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology
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[46]Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur. The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlson
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Notes

[*]Michel suggested the name meant Slow-goer, but as far as I am aware, I’m the only one who has attempted to translate that into Old English. This compound is as close as I could come to a decent reconstruction based on his suggestion alone.
[**]The reader / practitioner may disagree with me here. The choice is entirely left to their discretion.