A Winterfylleþ Rite

As is often the case with De Temporum Ratione, the information provided by Bede regarding Winterfylleth is decidedly scant and provides us little to work with in terms of reconstruction.

Bede’s brief description of this month is recorded  thusly:

“Antiqui Anglorum populi […] annum totum in duo tempora, hiemis et aestatis dispertiebant, sex menses […] aestati tribuendo, sex reliquos hiemi; unde et mensem, quo hiemalia tempora incipiebant, Ƿintirfylliþ appellabant, composito nomine ab hieme et plenilunio, quia videlicet a plenilunio ejusdem mensis hiems sortiretur initium […] Ƿintirfylliþ potest dici compositio novo nomine hiemi plenium.” [1]

“The old English people split the year into two seasons, summer and winter, placing six months — during which the days are longer than the nights — in summer, and the other six in winter. They called the month when the winter season began Ƿintirfylliþ, a word composed of “winter” and “full moon”, because winter began on the first full moon of that month.”

The ancient Germanic-speaking peoples who populated England directly after Rome’s demise reckoned time via a lunisolar calendar (ie: by lunar phases) and thus, the exact dating of the beginning of Winter would have shifted annually to coincide with this phenomenon. This year, for instance, Winterfylleth fell on the 13th (approximately), whereas in years gone by, we’ve seen this holy tide fall closer to our modern Hallowe’en, or as late as early November.

While we’re able to at least somewhat accurately calculate the timing of Winterfylleth, the precise modes of celebration have been lost to time and require we look to comparative study and to folklore if we’re keen to (re)create something even remotely viable for the contemporary practitioner. Bearing this in mind, we have a plethora of potential avenues to explore and to utilize, though for simplicity and brevity’s sake, we’ll be looking to elements of my own hearth’s praxis to flesh out this ritual template [*].

 

 

The Corn Dolly, Harvest Home and The Last Sheaf

A widespread practice found throughout European folk customs involves the setting aside and sacralizing of the final sheaf of grain to be threshed during harvest. James Frazer deals heavily with this practice in his seminal work, The Golden Bough, where he claims:

“In the neighbourhood of Danzig the person who cuts the last ears of corn makes them into a doll, which is called the Corn-mother or the Old Woman and is brought home on the last waggon. In some parts of Holstein the last sheaf is dressed in women’s clothes and called the Corn-mother. It is carried home on the last waggon, and then thoroughly drenched with water. The drenching with water is doubtless a rain-charm. In the district of Bruck in Styria the last sheaf, called the Corn-mother, is made up into the shape of a woman by the oldest married woman in the village, of an age from 50 to 55 years. The finest ears are plucked out of it and made into a wreath, which, twined with flowers, is carried on her head by the prettiest girl of the village to the farmer or squire, while the Corn-mother is laid down in the barn to keep off the mice. In other villages of the same district the Corn-mother, at the close of harvest, is carried by two lads at the top of a pole. They march behind the girl who wears the wreath to the squire’s house, and while he receives the wreath and hangs it up in the hall, the Corn-mother is placed on the top of a pile of wood, where she is the centre of the harvest supper and dance.” [2]

 

William Brenchley Rye makes reference to a similar custom practiced by the peasantry of Berkshire, in his book, England as Seen by Foreigners in the Days of Elizabeth & James the First.

“As we were returning to our inn [at Harvest-Home, Windsor], we happened to meet some country people celebrating their Harvest-home (spicilegia sua celebrantes); their last load of corn they crown with flowers, having besides an image richly dressed, by which perhaps they would signify Ceres; this they keep moving about, while men and women, men and maidservants, riding through the streets in the cart, shout as loud as they can till they arrive at the barn. The farmers here do not bind up their corn in sheaves, as they do with us, but directly they have reaped or mowed it, put it into carts and convey it into their barns.” [3]

 

Rye’s description of events is similar to accounts of Harvest customs found throughout much of England and Scotland prior to the industrial age. Echoing Frazer, Christina Hole claims the “Corn Spirit” was believed to have lived within the final sheaf, with the ritualized “rough handling” or “sacrifice” of its reaper being symbolic of the death and rebirth of said spirit. 

 

“From the corn of the Last Sheaf was made the figure variously known as the Corn Dolly, or the Kern Baby, or in Scotland, as the Maiden if the harvest is early, or the Cailleach, or Carlin, meaning an Old Woman, if it is late. The figure was usually, though not always, made in human form. It could be a spiral pyramid, a miniature sheaf, or an intricate design of plaits and hanging ears; but often it was a female doll, dressed in white or coloured paper and tied with ribbons, with hair (and sometimes hands also) made of wheat-ears. It was carried home in triumph to the farmhouse, where it presided over the Harvest Supperin the kitchen or the barn, and was then kept all the year until it was replaced by the Corn Dolly from the next harvest.” [4]


Hole also describes the procession of the Last Sheaf and the ritualized behaviour which accompanied the rather cacophonous ordeal: 


“When the reaping was finished, in the pre-mechanization harvest, the Last Load and the Corn Dolly were brought home in triumph, in a great harvest-wain decorated with flowers and boughs of oak and ash, and drawn by four or six garlanded horses. The men rode on top of the load, shouting, singing, and blowing horns. Sometimes the man driving the wagon, or men riding the horses, wore female dress.”  [5]


The use of a processional wagon in this account is of particular interest here and recalls Tacitus’
Germania, wherein the fertility Goddess, Nerthus, is driven about the countryside in religious procession.  Tacitus’ account culminates in the ritualized washing of the wagon and Nerthus’ idol, followed by the subsequent drowning of the slaves employed for the task.

Then follow days of rejoicing and merry-making in every place that she designs to visit and be entertained. No one goes to war, no one takes up arms; every object of iron is locked away; then, and only then, are peace and quiet known and loved, until the priest again restores the goddess to her temple, when she has had her fill of human company. After that the cart, the cloth and, if you care to believe it, the goddess herself are washed in clean in a secluded lake. This service is performed by slaves who are immediately afterwards drowned in the lake. Thus mystery begets terror and pious reluctance to ask what the sight can be that only those doomed to die may see.”[6]


The aquatic aspect of the rite is also of interest here, as the bearer of the Last Sheaf was ritualistically soaked or “drowned” symbolically during later, Harvest Home celebrations in Britain. According to Hole:


“In some districts, girls following the load threw water over the singers…”
[7] 


This act is also seen in the old West Country custom of Crying the Neck – a custom wherein the reaper engaged in ritualized shouting when he had cut the final sheaf.


“Shouts and cheers greeted the final Crying, and sometimes one of the younger men would seize the Neck and make off with it, as fast as he could run, towards the farmhouse. There one of the maids stood on guard with a bucket of water which she threw over him as he arrived, breathless, at the door; but if he managed to elude her and get into the house still dry, then he could claim the right to kiss her.” [8]


The reference to men in Harvest Home processions wearing female garb is also interesting and calls to mind some earlier accounts of Germanic priests doing much the same. 

Once again we are reminded of Germania, where the priests of the Nahanarvali were said to dress in women’s clothing during rites to their twin deities, the Alcis. 


“Nahanarvali are the proud possessors of a grove of immemorial sanctity. The presiding priest wears feminine attire, but the gods they speak of in connection with it are, to give them their Roman names, Castor and Pollux ; their attributes are similar, the name by which they are known is the Alci. Images of them there are none, nor is there any trace of their worship having had a foreign origin ; nevertheless, the people adore them as youthful heroes, and as brothers.”
[9]


We also see so-called
“effeminate priests” in Saxo’s Gesta Danorum, where the priesthood associated with Freyr is mocked for its mannerisms and actions.

“Now when Bemon was dead, Starkad was summoned because of his valour by the champions of Permland. And when he had done many noteworthy deeds among them, he went into the land of the Swedes, where he lived at leisure for seven years’ space with the sons of Frey. At last he left them and betook himself to Hakon, the tyrant of Denmark, because when stationed at Upsala, at the time of the sacrifices, he was disgusted by the effeminate gestures and the clapping of the mimes on the stage, and by the unmanly clatter of the bells. Hence it is clear how far he kept his soul from lasciviousness, not even enduring to look upon it. Thus does virtue withstand wantonness.” [10]


The fertility aspects of the Harvest Home and Corn Dolly ritual are readily apparent and seem to possess animistic elements which may have survived conversion and into the modern period.

 


Deipnon and Placating the Dead

At Sundorwic, Winterfylleth is seen as somewhat bipartite in nature, encompassing Harvest, as well as the thinning of the veil between the realm of the living and that of the dead. The second portion of this Winterfylleth rite will deal with what might be termed the “unquiet dead,” and the placation of said wights. 

As Clement A. Miles notes, leaving food out for the returned dead was a widespread practice which was observed by a diverse array of European cultures. Many of these practices, though associated with Christian feasts such as All Souls’ Day, bear similar thematic elements likely borrowed from earlier, Pagan festivities. 


In
Christmas in Ritual and Tradition, Miles writes:

“The first clear testimony to All Souls’ Day is found at the end of the tenth century, and in France. All Saints’ Day, however, was certainly observed in England, France, and Germany in the eighth century, and probably represents an attempt on the part of the Church to turn the minds of the faithful away from the pagan belief in and tendance of “ghosts” to the contemplation of the saints in the glory of Paradise. It would seem that this attempt failed, that the people needed a way of actually doing something for their own dead, and that All Souls’ Day with its solemn Mass and prayers for the departed was intended to supply this need and replace the traditional practices. Here again the attempt was only partly successful, for side by side with the Church’s rites there survived a number of usages related not to any Christian doctrine of the after-life, but to the pagan idea, widespread among many peoples, that on one day or night of the year the souls of the dead return to their old homes and must be entertained.

All Souls’ Day then appeals to instincts older than Christianity. How strong is the hold of ancient custom even upon the sceptical and irreligious is shown very strikingly in Roman Catholic countries: even those who never go to church visit the graves of their relations on All Souls’ Eve to deck them with flowers.” [11]


Miles goes on to provide us with an informative survey of practices associated with All Souls’ Day, wherein the dead are given a ritual meal, cakes (soul-cakes), or a lighted candle. The most detailed and arguably most interesting account comes by way of Lithuania, where the author writes:

“In Lithuania, the last country in Europe to be converted to Christianity, heathen traditions lingered long, and sixteenth- and seventeenth-century travellers give accounts of a pagan New Year’s feast which has great interest. In October, according to one account, on November 2, according to another, the whole family met together, strewed the tables with straw and put sacks on the straw. Bread and two jugs of beer were then placed on the table, and one of every kind of domestic animal was roasted before the fire after a prayer to the god Zimiennik (possibly an ancestral spirit), asking for protection through the year and offering the animals. Portions were thrown to the corners of the room with the words “Accept our burnt sacrifice, O Zimiennik, and kindly partake thereof.” Then followed a great feast. Further, the spirits of the dead were invited to leave their graves and visit the bath-house, where platters of food were spread out and left for three days. At the end of this time the remains of the repast were set out over the graves and libations poured.” [12]


We also see a tendency toward bonfires during this period – especially in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and on the Isle of Man – suggesting some continuum of observance between so-called Celtic-speaking peoples. This is further corroborated when we look at the Gaelic festival of
Samhain, wherein bonfires are commonplace and are thought to cleanse and chase away beings of malefic intent.

Samhain, too, was a time to placate the aos sí, and food and drink would customarily be left outside for them to ensure a prosperous Winter to come. In The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, Evans-Wentz says of this practice:

“Food, after it has been put out at night for the fairies, is not allowed to be eaten afterwards by man or beast, not even by pigs. Such food is said to have no real substance left in it, and to let anything eat it wouldn’t be thought of. The underlying idea seems to be that the fairies extract the spiritual essence from food offered to them, leaving behind the grosser elements.”
[13]


Heading further back into time, we can distinguish similar rituals practised in the Hellenic world, with Hekate’s Deipnon being of primary interest here. 

Hekate’s Deipnon was observed on the final day of the lunar month and consisted of an evening meal being presented to the Goddess and her revengeful, ghostly entourage at a crossroads, or at the threshold shrine of the home. The customary offerings left for the Deipnon generally consisted of cakes, raw eggs and alliums (onions, garlic, leeks). 

The end of a month represented a chance for renewal and Greek households would offer up live victims, often in the form of dogs, in expiation to Hekate. The dog acted as a form of scapegoat that drew within itself the collected negativity and improprieties of the family, allowing for a cleansing of the spiritual palate. 

Purification rites to cleanse the house and adjoining property were also performed at this auspicious time. Incense was carried throughout the homestead in a clay censer and when the rite had been completed, the censer and ashes were deposited permanently at the family shrine or crossroads, never to be handled again for mundane purpose. 

In Anglo-Saxon England, we are not provided with evidence of expiatory offerings being given in the home, but we do have evidence for feasts occurring in or around burial sites. Evidence of food residue, burnt animal bones and cooking and drinking vessels all point to a lasting relationship with the deceased which involved ritualized eating and/or drinking. Christina Lee tells us:


“Ample evidence for food deposits, cooking gear and even possible hearths is found in early Anglo-Saxon cemeteries. Vessels and bones may represent symbolic aspects of the deceased person’s status, which was part of the mortuary display, but in some cases these are not found on the body, but in the backfill of the grave. These may be the remains of feasting, which took place either prior to the funeral, or even in the graveyard itself. Feasting may have been part of a transition ritual, in which the dead provided for the living (by bequeathing them succession and status) and the living took leave of the dead by assuming their new role in the group or family. How often such feasting took place is unclear, since only sporadic indications are found from cemeteries. It is possible that this was a regular part of Anglo-Saxon funeral rites, and it is even conceivable that some form of posthumous commemorative rite was practised as well.”
[14]


Lee also suggests that post-holes, such as those found at Spong Hill Anglo-Saxon cemetery, may indicate the presence of feasting structures, or
cellae memoriae, which may have derived from earlier, Roman structures used for the same purpose.  


“Anglo-Saxon cemeteries contain a number of structures. So far structures and post holes have not been examined as to whether they could be some form of cellae memoriae, but there are indications that such buildings may have been present in England as well. Buildings from the early medieval period were made of wood and are often indicated through the presence of post holes, as in the example of a lozenge-style structure at Melbourn (Cambridgeshire). The 
cemetery of Spong Hill apparently seemed to contain a structure in the middle of the grave field.” [15]

 

The Ritual

Now that we’ve explored the bipartite nature of Winterfylleth and some of the traditions associated with that time of year, we can better construct a rite suited toward the modern practitioner. 

The first element, the corn dolly, can be fashioned from any number of dried cereal stocks or rushes, though wheat, oats, rye and barley were most often used historically. During the making of the dolly, or at the completion of the dolly, a prayer might be recited to encourage the local wights, or agricultural God(s) of your choosing, to store their growing potential within said dolly for the coming Winter. For this template I’ve chosen Folde, though deities such as Bēow, Scēafa, or Ingui would also be appropriate here. 

 

O Folde! O Earthen-Mother!  

O Crop-Bringer! O She-of-Abundance! 

From whose fertile bosom are we provided sustenance,

Imbue this figure, this final sheaf, with your fruitfulness and with your mægen

Let your potency rest here during the dark months ahead

Let us be warmed and our bellies full

So that you might rise again with the coming of Spring 

And the death of Winter

Hāl wes þu, Folde, fira Mōdor

 

Once this portion of the rite is completed, the dolly can be placed on your wīgbed, or in a place of prominence outside the reach of pets, small children, or pollutants [**]. Placing it up on a high shelf, or affixing it to a wall may also serve to keep the effigy safe.

During the evening meal, a portion might be set aside, or cakes might be baked for the restless deceased. The meal/foodstuffs/cakes can then be put on a dish, or in a vessel (as was customary in Anglo-Saxon burials) and placed on the home altar, the threshold of the home, or at the first crossroad one comes to upon leaving one’s property (usually where the drive(way)/laneway meets the adjoining road). A prayer can then be recited while placing the offering to ward against the dead and their incursion onto your property/into your home. 

During this prayer one might also call upon a psychopomp (escort to the dead) deity to provide apotropaic assistance. Wōden, or Ingui in his guise as Elf-Lord, might be well-suited to this task, though for this template we will address the dead without the accompaniment of a psychopompic deity. 

 

O Dead- restless and unquiet

You who have clawed your way into this middle realm to exact your vengeance 

The veil between worlds is thin this night and grows ever thinner with the waning sun

Please accept this offering and spare this household of your wrath 

May you one day find the comfort and contentment you seek


Once this has been done, the final step, the cleansing, can be fulfilled. For this part of the rite, a stick or cone of incense might be carried about the house (in an appropriate heat proof vessel) in order to cleanse each and every room. A short prayer may or may not be recited during this time. A sample prayer might look something like:


Frīg, Hearth-Mother, Goddess of Domesticity, purify this space, remove lingering pollutants and those wights and things that would do us harm


As is the case with the rest of this template, another deity besides Frīg might be employed in this capacity at the discretion of the practitioner.

Once the ritual is finished in its entirety, the offering can be left outside for several days and then disposed of. The corn dolly will remain in your home until Ēastre, when it will be “released” via burning, drowning, or sowing into a furrow, thus allowing fertility and plenty back into the world .

 

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Artwork by Zdzisław Beksiński

 

 

Sources


[1] Bosworth, Joseph, et al. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” Edited by Thomas Northcote Toller and Others, Winter-Fylleþ, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010, bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/035945. Accessed 21 Oct. 2019.
[2]Frazer, James. The Golden Bough. Chapter 45
[3]Rye, W.B. England as Seen by Foreigners in the Days of Elizabeth & James the First. 1865
[4]Hole, Christina. A Dictionary of British Folk Customs. (pp. 137)
[5]Hole, Christina. A Dictionary of British Folk Customs. (pp. 138)
[6]Rives, J. B. (Trans.). Agricola and Germania. 2010
[7]Hole, Christina. A Dictionary of British Folk Customs. (pp. 138)
[8]Hole, Christina. A Dictionary of British Folk Customs. (pp. 136)
[9]Townshend, K.B. (Trans.). Agricola and Germania. 1894
[10]Saxo Grammaticus. The Danish History, Books I-IX
[11]Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition. (Chapter VII)
[12]Miles, Clement A. Christmas in Ritual and Tradition. (Chapter VII)
[13]Evans-Wentz, W.Y. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. (Chapter II)
[14]Lee, Christina. Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals
[15]Lee, Christina. Feasting the Dead: Food and Drink in Anglo-Saxon Burial Rituals

Notes



[*]
This is merely a reflection of what we do here and the template can and should be tailored to fit the diverse needs of specific Fyrnsidu practitioners and their respective hearths
[**]By pollutants I mean that you shouldn’t put your corn dolly on your coffee table, or in the bathroom next to where you keep your toothbrushes. 

A Retrospective in Anglo-Saxon Heathendom

If you asked me six or seven years ago how Anglo-Saxon and Norse Heathendom differed, I would have struggled to answer. I think there was an innate understanding that we were in some way different, but we seemed to lack the vocabulary necessary to truly articulate it. Marc (of Axe and Plough fame) and I spent many an hour deliberating over this very question and, like an ouroboros, we always ended up back at square one.

Historically, on paper, there wasn’t a lot separating the two religious expressions and one could easily write off the gallantry and “high cultural” aspects of the Eddas as nothing more than post-pagan flourishes brought about by authors, such as Snorri, trying to add a touch of prestige to Icelandic identity. 

Likewise, the more folksy aspects, such as leechcraft and metrical charms, typically associated with Anglo-Saxon religion, may well be the result of the English taking to writing at an earlier period and thus, recording more of their folk practices for posterity. This is made more apparent when one reads the Norse sagas, wherein characters such as Egil engage in what might be termed “folk magic”. 

So, how can one truly delineate ancient, Anglo-Saxon Heathendom as something distinct and separate from its more well-known, Norse cousin? The answer Marc and I came to after having run in circles for what seemed an eternity was that, unfortunately, you cannot. Looking at both religions with the historical sources we have available to us, the differences are superficial at best and come down to differences in language, locale, time period and, at least in my humble opinion [*], a difference in “pantheon.” 

For most, this is not going to be some special revelation. Anglo-Saxon Heathens have long looked to Scandinavia to fill gaps and Norse Heathens have done much the same with Anglo-Saxon source material, whether they’re keen to admit it or not (Wyrd, anyone?). I mean, for the longest while, we would joke that Anglo-Saxon Heathendom was just reworded and repackaged Norse religion – Norse religion with an Anglo-Saxon DLC pack. While authors such as Swain Wodening were able to breach the Norse-centred market and entice newcomers to an Anglicized paganism, they were ultimately just repackaging Eddic Heathendom with an often clumsy and ill-fitting Old English overlay. 

Those who know me may well be saying, “but Wodgar, you’ve long been one of the loudest voices in trying to distinguish Anglo-Saxon religion from other iterations of so-called Germanic paganism” and you’d be entirely correct. And while I may not be able to substantiate many of my romantic notions about how Anglo-Saxon religion differed from other, like-religions, I can articulate how it is diverging now

You see, I’ve made peace with the fact that this is a new religion made from ancient parts – something I had difficulty with when I first discovered Heathenry. It’s something I think a lot of folks who rely heavily on reconstructionist methodology have difficulty with. 

We all want to claim we’re practicing some ancient thing that our pagan predecessors would immediately recognize,  but the unfortunate reality is, we’re dealing with a substantial break in practice and information and for all our reconstructions and comparative analysis, there’s absolutely no way to claim with even a modicum of certainty that this thing we do is 100% authentic and accurate. Sorry (not really), but regardless of what a bunch of English Nationalists will tell you, the culture of the Ur-Saxons no longer exists and the distinction between Norse paganism and Anglo-Saxon paganism as it was during that period is of less importance to me than taking this new thing and trying to make it distinct and viable in the 21st century. 

Whether we can say with certainty that they were intrinsic to Anglo-Saxon religion, modern practitioners of Fyrnsidu seem to have gravitated toward certain things that our Norse counterparts are usually less enthusiastic about. The aforementioned interest in herbalism, leechcraft and plantlore has certainly found a prominent place among 21st century Anglo-Saxon Heathens and it’s something that I think should be included in any curriculum designed for the budding Fyrnsidere. If we’re going to continue to distinguish ourselves as a standalone entity, then we need to celebrate and expand on those small things that modern practitioners have gravitated towards. 

Offerings at bodies of water, well and spring worship, celebrating Blostmfreols, offerings of recels (incense) and the making of corn dollies may or may not have played an integral part in the so-called Anglo-Saxon religious experience, but they have taken on an important role today

Modern practitioners also demonstrate a greater acceptance of non-Germanic source material and comparative study, due to post-Roman Britain being something of a cultural melting pot of Germanic, Romano-British and Roman ideas. Perhaps our lack of written mythology has been something of a boon, rather than detrimental to our development and diversification in that regard. 

So, where do we go from here? 

I think we should and likely will continue to develop away from other forms of Germanic paganism, utilizing a combination of historically attested practices, comparative analysis and informed innovation. As more people join our small community, more ideas will ultimately come to the fore, meeting the needs of an ever diversifying, 21st century body of practitioners.


[*] I am a big believer in the plurality of the divine and as such, I do not think that, say, Woden is the same deity as Odinn. I may make a habit of using comparative study to flesh out my reconstructions and better understand the divinities I’m communing with, but that doesn’t mean I assume the deities being compared are one and the same.

tree-stump-2267010_1920

Wyrtlār: Mint

 

mint-521401_1920

 

Mint is a genus of flowering perennial plants from the family Lamiaceae which possess fragrant, jagged leaves and a rich, aromatic flavour. There is some disagreement as to the number of different mint varieties, with anywhere between 13-24 species being recognized in the field of plant taxonomy [1][2]. This discrepancy is the result of both natural hybridization and hybridization by man for culinary and medicinal purposes. The stems of the mint plant are square in shape and rhizomatous – meaning they are able to send creeping rootstocks horizontally in order to proliferate and spread.

Mint derives its name from Old English, minte, which, in turn, comes from Proto-Germanic *minta. It is highly likely that the Germanic term was borrowed from Latin menta by way of ancient Greek μίνθη (mínthē), or another, unknown Mediterranean language[3]. Mint also appears as mi-ta on the Mycenaean Linear B tablets [4].

In terms of Anglo-Saxon medicinal usage, mint appears three times in the Lacnunga Manuscript and twice in the Herbarium. In Lacnunga 15, brookmint and unnamed “other mints” [5] are used alongside a plethora of other herbs, flowers and grains to create what the author refers to as grene sealf (green salve) – a salve for which we are never provided with an intended application.

In Lacnunga 34, mint, fern-mint and “the third kind of mint which blossoms white,”[6] are boiled in water with pennyroyal (also in the mint family) and leek and applied to the scalp to alleviate headaches. This usage is reasonable when we consider the analgesic qualities of mint and the fact that peppermint oil is still used today to treat migraines and headaches [7]. Leeks (Allium ampeloprasum) also possess practical applications as an anti-inflammatory agent, where they are often used topically or ingested as a treatment for hemorrhoids [8][9]

In Lacnunga 154, “mint which grows by the river” [10] is employed to ease inflammation and is mixed with malt-ale, iris, feverfew, garlic, radish, the inner part of elder bark, cress, nettle and pepper and drunk after 9 nights and a period of fasting. The duration of “9 nights” is of particular interest here and is suggestive of a remedy which may predate Christianity, with multiples of 3 being of marked religious significance to pre-Christian, Germanic peoples. 

In Herbarium 92, horsemint (mentastrus) is mixed with strong wine and poured into the ear to alleviate earache and pain caused by wyrmas (worms) [11]. It’s uncertain whether the wyrmas referenced in this particular remedy refers to a type of inner-ear parasite or something more otherworldly in nature – though Pollington’s translation suggests the former. In the second usage attached to Herbarium 92, the author suggests horsemint can be ingested to remedy dry skin, which makes sense considering the anti-inflammatory properties of mint and its use in modern restorative creams and lotions [12][13]

In Herbarium 122, mint is mixed with sulphur and vinegar and smeared upon the body with a feather to ease the pain associated with ringworm and “a pimply body” [14]. Once again, this remedy makes sense from a modern perspective, as mint essential oil is both antifungal and antimicrobial and is often incorporated into antifungal soaps for the treatment of ringworm, jock itch, yeast infections, athlete’s foot and nail fungus [15]. In the second part of 122, mint is used to heal wounds and scars of the head – a usage which also finds some modern, corroborative evidence in scar treatments which utilize mint as a main ingredient [16][17].

Mint was well-known in Greek medicine and the Greek physician, Dioscorides, writes about several varietals in his De Materia Medica.

His first entry deals with a plant he calls Susumbrion, which is likely a reference to mentha aquatica, better known as water mint. Dioscorides tells us this plant grows in untilled soil and can be used to help pass urinary stones, stop hiccups and when laid on the temples, can be used to treat headaches [18].  He also claims mint can be used to treat the stings of bees and wasps – a treatment which recalls its modern usage as a topical itch reliever. 

Dioscorides’ second reference to mint comes in the form of something he calls Eduosmos Emeros. This entry could be referring to white mint, peppermint, spearmint, common mint, or whorled mint, according to Obaldeston and is suggested for use in a variety of applications. Dioscorides says Eduosmos Emeros has warming and astringent qualities and as such, can be consumed with vinegar to kill roundworms, staunch blood flow and increase sexual desire. He also lists a variety of other uses, many of which are associated with pain relief and inflammation.

 

“Two or three little sprigs (taken in a drink with the juice of a sour pomegranate) soothe
Applied with polenta it dissolves suppurations. Applied
to the forehead it eases headaches. It soothes the swelling
and extension of the breasts, and with salt it is a poultice
for dog bites. The juice with honey and water helps
earache. Applied to women before sexual intercourse, it
causes inconception. Rubbed on, it makes a rough tongue
smooth. It keeps milk from curdling if the leaves are
steeped in it. Finally, it is good for the stomach and fit for
sauce. It is also called mentha; the Romans call it menta,
some, nepeta, the Egyptians, tis, others call it pherthumer-
thrumonthu, perxo, or macetho.
hiccups, vomiting, and bile.” [19]

 

Dioscorides’ third entry is called Eduosmos Agrios and is likely a reference to wild mint or horsemint, though we are provided little in terms of applications outside of it being “more poisonous to smell, and less suitable for use in health” than other members of the mint family[20].

The final entry found in De Materia Medica refers to something called Kalaminthe, which is almost certainly calamint or catmint.  Taken as a drink, Dioscorides claims kalaminthe can help those bitten by snakes, help the passage of urine and treat hernias, convulsions, asthma, griping, bile and chills. We also see more typical utilization to treat roundworm, lessen the appearance of scars and bruises, kill parasites of the ear and remove dry, “morbid” skin [21]. Dioscorides also suggests kalaminthe can be scattered underfoot to chase away snakes, an employment which finds little support in modern gardening forums and publications, with cinnamon, clove, lemongrass and garlic being much more popular repellents [22].

Mint was used in ancient Egypt as well, appearing as a remedy in several medical papyri. 

In the Ebers Papyrus, dated to approximately 1500 BCE, peppermint is suggested for flatulence and as a digestive aid – a usage which seems to be supported by modern, medical science [23]

 

“A number of studies show that supplements containing a combination of enteric-coated peppermint oil and caraway oil may help reduce indigestion symptoms. This formula is thought to relax the stomach muscles, as well as help food pass through the stomach more quickly.

In a study published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics in 2000, 96 people prone to indigestion were assigned to 28 days of treatment with either a placebo or a supplement containing a combination of enteric-coated peppermint oil and caraway oil.

At the end of the treatment period, those given enteric-coated peppermint oil and caraway oil showed a significantly greater improvement in several symptoms of indigestion (such as feelings of heaviness and fullness after eating).” [24]

 

The Ebers Papyrus also advises peppermint be mixed with flour, incense, wood of wa, waneb plant, a stag’s horn, sycamore seeds, mason’s plaster, seeds of zart and water to create a curative paste for headaches [25], buttressing later Anglo-Saxon and Greek prescriptions for headache and migraine pain relief. 

In the Hearst Papyrus, dated to approximately 2000BCE, peppermint is recommended as a treatment for an ailment -possibly rhinitis- where it’s applied directly to the nose. In prescription 171, peppermint is mixed with wine and is used to treat what might be edema of the legs. After the mint and wine mixture is consumed, some sort of bloodletting is required, though the physician doesn’t provide much in terms of specificity [26]. Mint is still used to treat edema today, though most modern references deal with topical creams for livestock – particularly cattle [27]

Jumping ahead a few millennia, we see much of what was written by Egyptian, Greek and early English physicians survived in Nicholas Culpeper’s famous work, the Complete Herbal, written in 1652CE. Unlike the Egyptian papyri, or Anglo-Saxon Leechdoms, Culpeper’s work provides us with fairly in-depth information pertaining to the appearance and growth habits of particular plants. 

Regarding calamint or mountain-mint, Culpeper claims it is a “herb of Mercury” and good for afflictions of the brain [28]. He also echoes earlier physicians, claiming the plant can be used to stimulate urination in patients – a usage which finds modern, scientific backing when we consider the diuretic properties of mint [29]. Culpeper’s remedy for parasitic worms – particularly worms of the ear- recalls the passage from Herbarium 92, where wine and mint are mixed together and poured into the affected ear. Here too we see mint being used to ward against snakes, which harkens back to Dioscorides’ entry on kalaminthe

In his next entry, Culpeper deals with spearmint, which he refers to alternatively as “heartmint”. Here, the plant is labelled a “herb of Venus,” which is followed by a direct reference to Dioscorides’ assertion that mint possesses healing, binding and drying qualities. In fact, much of this entry borrows directly from Dioscorides’ work, though there are some additions that seem to have been gleaned elsewhere. Treatments for a sore and itchy scalp, pain of the ears, venomous bites, headache, indigestion and wind are all covered, as well as prescriptions for bad breath and soreness of the gums and palate. Horse or wild mint are then touched upon, the benefits of which are listed thusly:

 

“The virtues of the Wild or Horse Mint, such as grow in ditches (whose description I purposely omitted, in regard they are well known) are serviceable to dissolve wind in the stomach, to help the cholic, and those that are short-winded, and are an especial remedy for those that have veneral dreams and pollutions in the night, being outwardly applied. The juice dropped into the ears eases the pains of them, and destroys the worms that breed therein. They are good against the venomous biting of serpents. The juice laid on warm, helps the king’s evil, or kernels in the throat. The decoction or distilled water helps a stinking breath, proceeding from corruption of the teeth, and snuffed up the nose, purges the head. Pliny saith, that eating of the leaves hath been found by experience to cure the leprosy, applying some of them to the face, and to help the scurf or dandriff of the head used with vinegar. They are extremely bad for wounded people; and they say a wounded man that eats Mint, his wound will never be cured, and that is a long day.” [30]

 

The final mint entry, outside of a fairly lengthy excerpt on pennyroyal, deals with “nep,” or catmint. This plant too is a “herb of Venus,” and seems to have been used primarily to treat barrenness, issues concerning menstruation and the pains associated with childbirth and pregnancy. Oddly, Culpeper claims “nep” can be burned and the smoke sat upon to alleviate the previously mentioned afflictions, though he also presents topical application and ingestion as alternatives. 

 

“Nep is generally used for women to procure their courses, being taken inwardly or outwardly, either alone, or with other convenient herbs in a decoction to bathe them, or sit over the hot fumes thereof; and by the frequent use thereof, it takes away barrenness, and the wind, and pains of the mother.” [31]

 

Much of this particular description matches earlier ones, where mint is employed for scabs of the scalp, dryness of the skin, trapped wind, cramps of the belly, as well as for use against piles and general bodily pain. 

Now that we’ve explored mint’s medicinal uses in the Anglo-Saxon corpus, Dioscorides’ De Materia Medica, Egyptian medical papyri and in Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, we can clearly observe a continuum and commonality in application. Due to menthol’s innate analgesic qualities, mint can be employed for use against headaches, migraines and general pain and swelling. This also extends to use as a digestive aid, as mint has been shown to relax the muscles in the stomach, which allows food and wind to pass more easily. We have also seen mint being employed topically to treat dry, itchy skin, insect and animal bites and lessen the appearance of scars, bruises and scabs – particularly on the scalp and face. Due to its antimicrobial and antifungal properties, mint has been employed for millennia to treat fungal infections, such as ringworm and to treat parasites, such as roundworm. Mint is also a diuretic and as such, can be used to stimulate urination and possibly even treat against hypertension.

In conclusion, mints are incredibly versatile, delicious, exceedingly easy-to-grow plants that have been used for aeons both culinarily and medicinally. Just be aware that once you’ve planted them in your garden, they are prolific and have the potential to be invasive and muscle-out other, less-hardy plants.

 

“Se lǣca þe sceal sāre wunda wel, gehǣlan hē mōt habban gōde sealfe þǣrtō”
(the Leech who has to make a good cure of painful wounds, must have good salve for the purpose)

Sources


[1] http://www.plantsoftheworldonline.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:30016176-2
[2]Jiranan Bunsawat, Natalina E. Elliott, Kate L. Hertweck, Elizabeth Sproles and Lawrence A. Alice. Phylogenetics of Mentha (Lamiaceae): Evidence from Chloroplast DNA Sequences
[3] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/mint#English
[4] http://www.palaeolexicon.com/
[5] Stephen Pollington. Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing. Pp. 184-185
[6] Stephen Pollington. Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing. Pp. 190-191
[7] https://www.healthline.com/health/migraine/peppermint-oil-for-migraines
[8]https://hemhealing.com/2013/02/adding-leeks-to-your-diet-can-prevent-hemorrhoidscid20130215heg1/
[9] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1876382015300305
[10] Stephen Pollington. Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing. Pp. 228- 229
[11] Stephen Pollington. Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing. Pp. 326- 327
[12] https://www.rewardme.in/beauty/skin-and-body/mint-face-packs-that-help-your-skin-in-summer
[13] https://theidleman.com/blogs/grooming/how-peppermint-oil-is-beneficial-to-your-skin
[14] Stephen Pollington. Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore and Healing. Pp. 338- 339
[15] https://www.verywellhealth.com/best-toenail-fungus-treatments-4174023
[16] https://www.naturesaid.ca/how-to-naturally-treat-and-minimize-scars/
[17]https://www.lifealth.com/lifestyle/beauty/mint-acne-reduce-acne-scars-mint-av/82632/
[18] Dioscorides, Pedanius. De Materia Medica. Translated and edited by Tess Anne Osbaldeston
[19] Dioscorides, Pedanius. De Materia Medica. Translated and edited by Tess Anne Osbaldeston. 3-41
[20] Dioscorides, Pedanius. De Materia Medica. Translated and edited by Tess Anne Osbaldeston. 3-42
[21] Dioscorides, Pedanius. De Materia Medica. Translated and edited by Tess Anne Osbaldeston. 3-43
[22] https://www.pests.org/best-plants-that-naturally-repel-snakes/
[23] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/peppermint-tea
[24] https://www.verywellhealth.com/benefits-of-enteric-coated-peppermint-oil-88630
[25] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323633.php
[26]https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.63883/2015.63883.The-Old-Egyption-Medical-Papyri_djvu.txt
[27]http://www.thebullvine.com/news/genex-offers-udder-edema-lotion-and-spray-to-soothe-cows-udders/
[28] The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Complete Herbal, by Nicholas Culpeper
[29] https://www.livestrong.com/article/548146-is-peppermint-a-diuretic/
[30] http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html
[31] The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Complete Herbal, by Nicholas Culpeper

Indifference of Convenience? Pagan Community Silence on Mauna Kea

I mean, he makes a pretty good point here…

Of Axe and Plough

When it comes to protesting development over sacred sites, the wider Pagan community (online as it is) tends to be relatively vociferous. With the Dakota Access Pipeline and the conflict which erupted at Standing Rock over that situation, writers of Paganism unleashed a flurry of information, coordination, and protests. A search of the “Dakota Access Pipeline” in the archives of the Wild Hunt reveals (as of 7.21.19) eighteen distinct post hits, from link roundups, to editorials and columns of Pagan involvement, or otherwise community notes. On Patheos Pagan, numerous known bloggers wrote about the fight over the sacred space which the oil robber barons would bulldoze through, pollute, and tarnish with their unmitigated and unnecessary (scientifically and morally) project. Witches & Pagans has a clear seven hits, if one were to utilize Google’s algorithm to do a cursory search, writers invoking the Cailleach to protest, advocating solidarity with Standing Rock…

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A Votive Bull

20190601_160055
A couple months back, I petitioned both Wada and Sōl in their capacities as healing deities. I had been experiencing some health issues and required their luck and protection to see me through a slew of medical appointments that were coming my way.  Instead of engaging in my typical hearth ritual, I opted to provide the aforementioned deities with an ex-voto.

So, what are vota?

Ex-voto is a term of Latin origin which translates roughly to “In accordance with a vow”[1]. In this particular ritual, the practitioner makes a solemn, promissory vow to give a public or private gift to a particular deity if certain parameters are met. If said parameters are met, the practitioner then proceeds to uphold their end of the vow and subsequently provides the deity with a return gift in the form of a dedicatory inscription, votive animal, painting, cult image, etc. Gianni Pizzagoni describes Catholic ex-vota thusly:

“The premise of the Catholic ex voto is the vow, the solemn promise supplicants make, in a moment of great hardship, to give public thanks to a particular Saint if he/she intervenes to avert disaster; the ex voto, in turn, is the concrete testimonial of that vow’s fulfillment, an object that stands as the material representation of the miracle itself. “[2][3]

As the Roman Empire and the use of Latin spread, a near standardization of dedicatory inscriptions began to occur, with the phrase Votum Solvit Libens Merito, or V.S.L.M. “He has fulfilled his vow, willingly, as it should,” showing up on throughout the Empire by the later Imperial era [4].

Vota were subdivided into three different types: Vota privata (those done for the benefit of the individual or household), vota publica (those done for the benefit of the Republic/Empire) and Military vota (done for the benefit of a particular campaign or battle) [5]. The most extreme form of military votum was called devotio and was when a general vowed to sacrifice his own life in exchange for victory.

A Votive Bull
20190601_160003For my particular votive, I opted to offer a black bull I had made out of clay. I chose a black bull because of the connections between black animals and chthonic deities (which I believe fits my conception of Wada) and the obvious importance of bulls as sacrificial animals throughout the ancient world.

I then had to come up with a satisfactory name for this ritual that would fit well into my current praxis.  In the Old English corpus we’re provided with a few words which are synonymous with votum, with behāt [6]or gehāt [7] ‘promise, vow,’ appearing to be the most similar in terms of their usage. I then wrote a short, modern English inscription, which I recited when I presented the Gods with their gift.

 “To Wada and Sōl, Wōdgār Inguing willingly and deservedly fulfilled his vow.”

Finally, after leaving the votive statuette on my wīgbed (altar) for a number of days, I took it outside and deposited it in the ground, offering it fully and permanently to the Gods.


[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/ex-voto
[2] Pizzigoni, Gianni. Commentary. Ex-Voto: Dipinti di Fede: Mostra di Tavolette Votive Dal XV al XIX Secolo. Milano: Tipografia Davide Mazza.
[3] http://www.mariolinasalvatori.com/understanding-ex-votos/
[4] Fowler, Religious Experience
[5]Frances Hickson-Hahn, The Politics of Thanksgiving
[6] http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/003477
[7] http://bosworth.ff.cuni.cz/014609

A Prayer to Niht

O Niht , Swarthy one, Day’s rival, Primordial Goddess
Your cloak is cast over heaven and Earth
Embracing all things equally
Whether baying wolf or men at rest
All know your caress
All know your protection

Hear this prayer, O Niht
O, Nourisher
O, Obscurer
Goddess-of-Crossroads
Sleep’s joy
Grant that I might find shelter and safety in your bosom
That I might find respite from the day’s toils
And be provided with dream and fore-token

O Goddess, accept this offering
Humble though it may be
May it reach you
May it please you
May you continue to smile upon us


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A Leech’s Prayer

Oh, look upon these herbs collected.
Children plucked from Folde’s fertile womb
May they share your benefits
Oh Goddess rich in vegetation

And to Mōna and to Niht I do call
Dressed in nightfall’s mantle
You who kiss all things with your dew
Dripping to Earth from the horse’s bit
Nourishing all until Sōl reclaims the heavens

Share with me your power
Share it with seed and with sprout
And with all green things
May they prove potent
And drive out sickness and wound
Whether consumed
Or applied upon the body
May we be whole and may we be well


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