Ēastertīd 2021 Reflections


Well, Ēastertīd has arrived and, as is customary at Sundorwīc, the corn dolly has been ritualistically drowned bringing about the end of Winter and the beginning of the growing season.

This marks my fourth year engaging in this ritual and I have to say, it’s really neat to see the progression of a rite as it goes from being a fledgling idea to something deeply ingrained in the yearly cycle.

There’s definitely a level of uncertainty involved in bringing a new ritual into the mix, especially when attempting to adhere to some degree of historical accuracy and authenticity. Will the deities in question approve? Is the accompanying prayer sufficient? Is the location suitable? These were the sort of questions rattling around in my brain at the time which made engaging with the numinous much more difficult.

Are you truly open to the presence of the divine if your focus is disjointed or elsewhere? I don’t really think so. In my experience, it’s much better to be present and open and at least marginally calm to reap the real benefits of this sort of interaction.

The nice thing about doing something repetitively as a tradition is, once you’ve done it enough times, it becomes instinctive. The kinks largely work themselves out and you’re left with something you just…do.

This instinctive “doing” calls to mind Zhuangzi’s tale of the ‘Dexterous Butcher’ wherein the titular character explains this phenomenon to prince Wen Hui.

“Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. As every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee — zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

‘Ah, this is marvelous!’ said Lord Wen-hui. ‘Imagine skill reaching such heights!’

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, ‘What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now — now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and following things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.'”

The narrative above perfectly encapsulates my feelings regarding religious action and ritual engagement. In order to get the most out of our practice, we need to repeat the process until it becomes second nature and we can see with our spirits and not our eyes. We need to be able to work through and remove those preconceptions and thought processes that impede our ability to engage with the divine. In cutting out the noise, we’ll be better equipped to feel and understand the ebb and flow of Wyrd and navigate accordingly with minimal effort. This is the lesson Zhaungzi teaches and one that has certainly changed my approach and my perspective on things.

I’ll finish this post with some advice for new Polytheists who are struggling to solidify a working practice. This is, of course, based off my own experience, so take it as you will.

We all experience hiccups on our spiritual journey. We are all, at times, plagued by doubt and a niggling feeling we’re “doing it wrong,” or that the Gods just aren’t responding to our approach. Maybe you are doing it “wrong” and maybe they aren’t responding. The best thing you can do is try and come to the moment, quiet the chatter in your mind and just do the thing until the kinks seem to work themselves out and actions and words flow organically and without forcing. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome and the direction your religious expression takes.

Hȳþgild: Wada and the Sturgeon

Among the many pages of Bosworth-Toller, we’re provided numerous glosses for Roman deities and holidays. One of the holidays that piqued my interest was that of Hȳþgild, which is a compound consisting of hȳþ, “a landing place for boats, a harbour,” and gild, which means “payment, compensation, tribute.” Hȳþgild is presented as a gloss for the Roman festival of Portunalia, dedicated to Portunus, the God of ports, gates, keys and doors. The information at our disposal regarding the specific rites attached to Portunalia is decidedly sparse. We know it was celebrated on August 17th and that it involved the ritual throwing of keys into fire, though, apart from that, we have little to work with in order to construct a working holiday for the modern practitioner. We have bits and pieces available to us, but we require a something with which we can bind those pieces together to create something cohesive and structurally sound.  

Typically, when (re)constructing a religious observation/holiday for my practice, I like to start by composing an accompanying mythic narrative. This mythic narrative then acts as something of a foundation upon which I’m able to construct the constituent rites and rituals associated with said holiday. My approach draws heavily from Catherine Bell’s work, Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, wherein she describes religion as being dichotomous in nature, consisting of conceptual structures, such as mythology and thought/belief, and actionable responses in the form of ritual. Ritual is therefore the means by which we bring together thought and action into a fully realized and functional religious apparatus. 

In my mythic narrative, I opted to emphasize Hȳþgild as an aquatic festival, celebrating the harbour and the bounty it brings. As I stated in my previous post, freshwater lakes play a pivotal in basically everything here, so this is an ideal holiday for me and my practice. Also, because I view Wada as the protector and guardian of the Great Lakes (and all lakes, really), I decided to make this occasion something of celebration of Wada and his cult in general, too. 

I. Wada was hungry and so he said to his wife, “I am going to the lake to catch fish,” and his wife bade him farewell and he set off upon his travels.  


II. From driftwood and shells did he fashion a boat and to it he gave the name, Ganglæt. He then called to Frīg and bade her make him a net of hemp fibres and he named it, Swelgend. 


III. Upon the waves Wada travelled, for 9 days and 9 nights. He caught many fish and ate his fill of them until he became fat and tired, his belly bursting. He then fell fast asleep neath Niht’s dotted shroud. 


IV. A mighty sturgeon then sprang forth from the deep and with a thrashing of its tail, it churned the water and sent the boat spinning. Wada awoke and tried to right Ganglæt, but the beast was powerful in its anger.


V. “This lake has been good to you, oh mighty Ent, and your hunger has been well sated.  Yet you have not given goodly gifts or bede for this bounty,” said the sturgeon. And Wada, who had tied himself to his steed said, “I did not consider thee, oh protector of the deep. How might I correct these wrongs and see safe haven once more?”


VI. The fish then spake, “give unto me a portion of your wealth and say a prayer of safe passage. I shall then cease my thrashing and speed you on your way. And Wada threw his spear mightily and from whence it landed he chose his sacrifice. He drew forth coins and a portion of his provisions from this place. He then recited prayers and dropped these gifts into the swelling waters below. The sturgeon was thus pleased with these gifts and was true to his word and so the thrashing stopped and Wada was able to return home uninjured. 

**For this post, I focused solely on the mythic portion of the celebration. I’m hoping to expand on the ritual components in a future post, so expect to see that in the near(ish) future** 

For Purification of the Home


In my previous post, I spoke about my desire to make my religious expression more applicable to both the region where I live and to my day-to-day life. One of the places I feel current Heathendom falls short of meeting these goals, is in its lack of diverse rite and ritual.

I’m sure for most practitioners (myself included), the majority of your priestly role is centered around the making of regular offerings to the divine – maintaining the unending cycle of do ut des. While this is, in my opinion, the cornerstone of Heathendom, we still require other prayers and rites to meet our various needs in a modern, ever-changing world.

We have various accounts of so-called “land-taking,” and the creation of hallowed space (see: this article for more details), but very few resources for adapting said practice to, say, one’s own house or apartment. I highly doubt most apartment-dwellers will be in a position to utilize an ox-drawn plough to make a sacralizing furrow around their home, for instance.

For my purposes, I tend to do a periodic cleanse of the home to rid it of ill-intentioned wights and general badness – typically at the changing of the seasons. In my past practice, this ritual has been, admittedly, haphazard and lacking in consistent structure: something that I, in my attempts to reinforce a spirituality that is both holistic and pertinent to my needs, would very much like to rectify.

In constructing my rite, I looked to a variety of disparate festivals and rituals dealing with purificatory practices relating to the expulsion of malevolent entities from the home. I read through a significant portion of the Suvarṇaprabhāsa Sūtra (Sutra of Golden Light), read up on Roman Lemuralia, Japanese Setsubun, and various other Polytheistic/Animistic practices dealing with purification and appeasement of the unquiet dead. In doing so, I saw a lot more similarities than I did dissimilarities, which was ultimately helpful in establishing a working outline for a house purificatory ritual à la Sundorwīc.

The basic components of these rituals can be broken down (very) roughly into 3 parts; recitation of a prayer/ mantra, making propitiatory offerings to the malefic entities in question and/or a protective deity, and the utilization and implementation of a hallowing medium to ward against further encroachment.


Propitiatory Offering

In terms of propitiatory sacrifice, I opted to give pulses (in the vein of Lemuralia and Setsubun’s mamemaki, “bean scattering”) and grain. The offering of grain to the dead can be found in Theodore’s penitential, which suggests it was widespread enough a practice in England to warrant a penitential being written to do away with it.  I left the offerings in a bowl at the threshold of my home in an effort to appease their hunger, while simultaneously luring them out of the home prior to the cleansing ritual beginning in earnest. 


The Prayer

For my prayer, I looked to Anglo-Saxon metrical charms – particularly Wiþ Færstice – for inspiration. There’s a certain intensity found in that charm that, when recited, really makes you feel as if you’re channeling a power outside yourself. 

My charm/spell/prayer appears as follows: 

Out. Out.
Let ill-meaning wights scatter before me
For I am steadfast and stood
Neath Frīg’s shield
And bear not down upon me
For I wear the boar’s bristles upon my helm

Out. Out.
Oh, my spear is held aloft 
Sharp and gore-ready
As wōd fills my words
And sends them like shot at my enemies  

I spoke these lines aloud 3 times, as multiples of 3 appear regularly in “Germanic” sources as numbers of sacral importance, while walking from room to room. I also lit incense during this portion of the ritual. I’d also quite like to utilize a bell or some sort of noise-making device (I’m undecided what I’d like to use as yet) at the commencement of all three recitations, as the clanging of pots, the ringing of bells and the clapping of hands make regular appearances in puritive rituals throughout Asia and pre-Christian Europe. 


Cleansing the Threshold

This final ritual component was the one I spent the most time ruminating upon, as there are many modes and methods available. Fire, smoke and hallowed oils were all considered, before I was struck with the idea to utilize water drawn from significant bodies of water in my area. My area (Southern Ontario) is essentially a land abundant in freshwater lakes, and most towns and cities are adjacent to a lake, or within a short drive from one. These lakes – particularly the “Great” ones – influence our weather, provide us with our drinking water and are harnessed to provide hydroelectricity to large swathes of homes and businesses. They are the lifeblood of Ontario in many ways. Couple this with my obvious devotion toward the God, Wada, and my belief in water as a liminal gateway to the “Other” and you’ve got a recipe for something special and specific to Sundorwīc’s praxis. 

Now, there were some issues that presented themselves, since Lake Ontario is quite polluted and a case could be made against utilizing its water for something dealing with cleanliness, religious or otherwise. Bearing that in mind, I opted to use water drawn from another personally significant lake within the Kawartha Lakes chain. I have quite a few lakes in my general (within a 4 hour drive) area that are significant to me and my history in one way or another, so it shouldn’t be difficult to source less-polluted water for my purposes in future.  Upon drawing the water, I said a small prayer to the God of the lake in question and put it aside for ritualistic usage, but I digress. 

Once my cleansing prayer/charm had been recited, I took my hallowed water and sprinkled it on the doorway to my house while reciting a small prayer to Wada for protection, thus completing the rite and (hopefully) keeping hungry ghosts and ghouls at bay for a while at least. 

An Update and Looking Toward the Future


Well, it has been quite a long time since my last post on here and I have to say, the break was definitely needed and thoroughly enjoyed by yours truly. Not only did I temporarily step away from this blog, but I also left my long-held position as moderator of r/heathenry – a decision that was difficult to make, but ultimately the correct one for me and for my sanity. Spending an inordinate amount of time answering the same questions ad nauseam and getting into regular internet fights was definitely taking its toll and is the reason I decided to retire from the “online community” and focus on my practice – the real and the tangible things.

In my “retirement,” I’ve done a lot ruminating and soul-searching trying to decide what’s important to me as a practitioner and as an individual. With this rumination came a fresh perspective and something of a roadmap for what direction Sundorwic might take in the coming days, months and years.

In September of 2019, I wrote a post entitled, “A Retrospective in Anglo-Saxon Heathendom, which proved to be popular and widely read throughout the Heathen blogosphere (at least according to my stats). While I still agree with a lot of what was written in that piece, I feel I’ve grown since then. I still feel the way forward requires us to diversify and to celebrate those things which set us apart, but I don’t know that leaning too heavily on ideas like “Fyrnsidu” or “Anglo-Saxon Heathenry” is necessarily the answer here.

In my time away, I haven’t felt the need to justify anything to anyone at all. If my practice was lacking in something and there wasn’t anything attested in “the lore,” I’d innovate something and include it as organically as possible. I know I’ve banged on at length about “informed innovation” in the past, but it’s one thing to say it and another entirely to take that leap and put it into practice without worrying about the perception of others. It’s certainly much easier to do when you don’t have to deal with folks online having a meltdown because the thing you did or said was “too Roman” or “not Saxon enough” for their discerning tastes.

We (myself and other polytheist bloggers) talk a lot about how ancient peoples didn’t exist in a vacuum and how polytheism was (and still is) a fluid and changing thing, but we still get too mired in whether something is historically accurate or whether it’s pertinent or transferrable to the cultural group we’ve decided to model our religious expression after, rather than to the practitioner. How many Heathens have had their growth impeded because they’re completely married to the idea of being an “Anglo-Saxon Heathen” or a “Frankish Heathen” of a very specific time period, rather than a modern person with modern needs living in a completely different geographical location? I imagine quite a few of them. While I think having a foundation in an ancient people (or peoples) is cool and ultimately helpful in developing a practice with a working liturgical language and tried and tested theonyms, it is precisely that – a foundation.

Basically, what I am trying to say is, you can’t pull something like Fyrnsidu out of the bog of time without first realizing that Fyrnsidu as an entity is nothing more than the first stop on the road and not an end unto itself. If we want something all encompassing and fully integrated into our lives, then we need to see past our aversion to innovation and modernity and we definitely need to stop worrying if something would be relevant to, say, a 6th century dude from Wessex over being relevant to us, the living, breathing practitioner. Innovation and regionalization is the way forward. Making something pertinent to you, your life, your region, your whatever is the way forward.

Is this me advocating for anything goes? Yes and no. On the one hand, you’re entirely free to do whatever it is you like, regardless of what others might think. If you want to include Darth Vader in your “pantheon,” go for it – it does not affect me, nor should it adversely affect anyone else. On the other hand, it’s important when joining, or claiming to be part of something, that you respect that something and, if that something is not working for you, go and do your own thing and stop worrying about receiving acceptance from people online. I have to say, doing things for yourself and your religious praxis without feeling the need to provide justification for every little thing is quite liberating.

So, what does this all mean for Sundorwic? Although I no longer engage in the greater Pagan/Heathen community, I will still be maintaining this blog as much as possible. I’ll likely start to shift my focus from educational articles, to more creative ones (prayers and the like), though I’m sure I’ll still write informative articles in there as well from time to time (just can’t be bothered lately). I am still a polytheist whose foundation lies in Old English Heathendom, but I want to really explore what that means for me in 2021. I want to work on localizing and individualizing my practice, still respecting my roots, but trudging ever-forward.  Not as an “Anglo-Saxon Heathen” or a “Fyrnsidere,” but as me – as someone who lives in this particular place in this particular time.

As my homeboy, Marc, likes to say: “history gets a vote, not a veto.”

Ercol and the Establishment of Athletic Cultus


It’s no secret that many modern practitioners of Polytheism find difficulty in integrating religiosity into the already established, so-called “secular” aspects of their day-to-day lives. This secularization and commodification of our daily activities has had a compartmentalizing effect, creating artificial divides where none previously existed. 

In order to construct a holistic and seamless religious expression, it’s important for us to bridge these gaps whenever possible and reconstruct appropriate cults and practices when and where they are needed. 

One such place where we can enact cult and inject a level of religiousness is in the pursuit of physical wellness and athleticism. Exercise adjacent to one’s toils (rather than as a result of them) has become commonplace with the advent of a more sedentary lifestyle and, as such, it provides fertile soil from which to establish and integrate an adjoining cultus into our daily lives. 

To create said cultus, it might first be sagacious to establish to which deity/deities this cult will be dedicated. In Old English sources, we’re provided with quite a few figures who exhibit physical prowess and strength, though, for this piece, we will be focusing on Ercol, a character who appears in Old English texts as a native gloss for Hercules.  

In order to better flesh out this “Saxon Hercules,” we will look at the cult of Hercules-Magusanus, a God who saw worship among the Germanic tribes settled near the southernmost regions of the Rhine and, subsequently, in Britannia. 



When it comes to Herculean deities worshipped by Germanic-speaking peoples, none stand out more than Hercules-Magusanus. Hercules-Magusanus played a pivotal role in the ethnogenesis of the Batavi, as well as seeing worship among the Ubii, Cugerni, Baetasii, Marsaci and, possibly, the Tungri.

There are several competing theories as to the meaning of the name, Magusanus, with both Germanic and Celtic derivations being proposed. In his work, Language and History in Early Britain, Kenneth Jackson proposed the meaning, “Old Lad,” and his assertion is echoed by other scholars, such as Lauran Toorians. In his paper, Magusanus and the “Old Lad”, Toorians argues the name Magusanus is the result of Celtic influence – likely by way of the Eburones – on Germanic speakers living along the Lower-Rhine. He proposes the Celtic etymology * magos, ‘boy, servant, valet,’ and * senos, meaning ‘old, ancient,’ by way of Proto-Indo-European * sen-. The aforementioned Gaulish components are nearly identical in reconstructed Proto-Germanic, where they appear as * maguz and * senaz respectively. The idea that Batavian foederati may have borrowed this theonym from Celtic speakers, or were of mixed heritage themselves, is further buttressed by inscriptions bearing names in Celtic and Germanic. 


“If, however, we consider the idea that Magusenos was a native deity of the Eburones, ‘borrowed’ by Batavians before it was Romanised to Hercules Magusanus, we might think of an extra step in this process of acculturation. Both the tribal name Eburones and the names of tribal chiefs Ambiorix and Catuvolcus suggest strongly that this group was linguistically Celtic. Amongst the Batavians we find both Celtic and Germanic (personal) names side by side and it is tempting to think that at least the Batavian elite was linguistically Germanic.” 

Patrizia de Bernardo Stempel provides an alternative etymology in her work,
Théonymie celtique, cultes, interpretatio, where she breaks down Magusanus as meaning, “Mighty Old,” suggesting the Celtic adjective * magyo-, ‘mighty’, or ‘great’ was intended. According to Stempel, analysis of Continental Celtic compounds and word formations have, until recently, tended toward taking constituent parts at face value, without considering phonetic changes which may have occurred along the way. It is entirely possible, given sound shifts that were occurring in Gallia Belgica and Germania Inferior, that Magusanus constitutes the superlative form of * magyo/* mago, suggesting the name may be better represented as ‘the greatest’, or ‘mightiest’, akin to Latin, maximus.    

According to Roymans and Derks, Hercules’ popularity among Germans – particularly those fighting as mercenaries under Rome – likely came by way of his masculine, martial, and sporting associations – associations which were likely shared by Magusanus prior to their syncretism. This idea is supported by Magusanus’ popularity among young warrior bands and by the ritual deposition of weapons at his temple at Empel. Magusanus’ connexion to youthfulness and vitality is also suggested by his being paired with the Goddess, Haeva, who was likely associated with youth and family. This also ties into a probable fertility function as evidenced by Magusanus’ phallic cudgel and his role as progenitor of non-Roman, “barbarian” peoples. 


“They say that Hercules, too, once visited them; and when going into battle, they sang of him first of all heroes. They have also those songs of theirs, by the recital of this barditus as they call it, they rouse their courage, while from the note they augur the result of the approaching conflict. For, as their line shouts, they inspire or feel alarm.”


It is also possible Hercules’ pastoral, cattle herding associations, as well as his ties to wealth, merchants and trade, may have played a contributing role in the popularity of his cult among Germanic peoples. These potential associations are further corroborated by Magusanus’ appearance alongside Nehalennia and Neptune – deities possessing maritime travel connections – at Domburg. 

In terms of iconography, Magusanus differs little from his Roman counterpart. Like Hercules, Magusanus is often depicted wearing a lion skin, while holding a cudgel in one hand and drinking vessel in the other. Magusanus is also depicted with Cerberus at his feet, as evidenced by a dedicatory altar stone found at Bonn, located in the German state of North-Rhine Westphalia. 


Ercol and His Cultus

Now that we’ve given a brief overview of Magusanus’ functions, we can better extrapolate an Anglo-Saxon iteration in the guise of Ercol. 

Ercol, like his earlier, continental counterpart, might be viewed as a God attached to virility, athleticism, youth, and strength – an ideal candidate to invoke during pursuits related to physical wellness and betterment. Ercol might also be a decent patron for those involved with the military, as evidenced by Hercules’ widespread popularity among young, Germanic warriors and by the deposition of weapons at his temple at Empel. 

Ercol may be seen as a pastoral deity attached to the raising of livestock – particularly cattle – as well as a protector of merchants and travellers. He might, then, be called upon prior to a journey, or at the establishment of a new business venture. 

Given his cudgel and Heracles’ rather promiscuous nature in myth, it would not be a leap to attach a fertility aspect to Ercol’s character. He might, then, be invoked when one is attempting to start a family, or when a couple is experiencing fertility issues. He may also be called upon to aid in the proliferation of livestock and during times of food shortage, or poor crop yield. 

In everyday pursuits, one might call to Ercol to ensure a fortuitous (victorious) outcome, and offerings of votive cattle, weapons, and things associated with one’s exercise and wellness regimen would likely be appropriate. One might also offer to Ercol during coming-of-age rituals – especially those involving males. 

In terms of potential festivals or holy days attached to Ercol, we are met with a variety of options at our disposal. The Heracleia were Greek festivals dedicated to the celebration of Heracles’ death and subsequent rebirth as an Olympian. These festivities involved youths and often took place at gymnasiums during the month of Metageitnion (sometime at the end of July – early August). In Rome, Hercules was honoured during several annual festivals, such as on the anniversary of the restoration of the temple of Hercules Custos (June 4th), the anniversary of the temple of Hercules Musarum (June 29th), the heifer sacrifice dedicated to Hercules Invictus (August 12th), at Nemoralia (August 13th) and alongside Ceres at Angerona’s Divalia (December 21). 


Potential Bynames

Plegmann (Player, Athlete, Wrestler)

Wearg-Slaga (Warg Slayer)

Sigor (Victory)

Cȳcgel Berend (Cudgel Bearer) 

Earmstrang (Armstrong, muscular) 

Fara (Traveller, Farer)

Geong (Youthful)

Stedefæst (Steadfast, Unyielding) 

Swīþmihtig (Exceedingly Mighty)

Eorlīc (Manly)


A Bēd to Ercol 

Sigor, Hrēþig

Hear me,
O Wyrm-Render
Lion-Mantled and Far-traveled
Strength unbridled and renowned
Plegmann and Progenitor

Grant that I should know success and well-being
That I might hone my body and my mind
May my health and spēd increase
As I draw inspiration from your deeds and your prowess,
O breaker of obstacles
O Vanquisher
O Averter
Champion of Men
Mover of mountains

O Mighty Ercol, friend to mankind
Strike down obstacles with your mighty cudgel
Clear my path to victory
And my path to betterment
Share a portion of your mægen and your spēd
If you think me worthy 



Jackson, Kenneth. Language and history in early Britain; a chronological survey of the Brittonic languages, first to twelfth century A.D

Toorians, Lauran. Magusanus and the ‘Old Lad’: A case of Germanicised Celtic


Stempel, Patrizia de Bernardo . Théonymie celtique, cultes, interpretatio.

Matasović, Ranko. Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Celtic

Roymans, Nico. Ethnic Identity and Imperial Power. The Batavians in the Early Roman Empire.

Derks, Ton. The perception of the Roman pantheon by a native elite : The example of the votive inscriptions from Lower Germany.

“Farwater”, Discord message to author, [August 5, 2020]

Tacitus. Germania. 




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

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

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

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

O Wōden
O Wanderer
O Pæþwyrhta

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

Gehygd: A Meditative and Revelatory Technique

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of this practice, Ellis states:


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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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

Performing Gehygd

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


The Problematic Use of Pantheon


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

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

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


Deo Vernostono Cocidio 

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

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


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

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

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



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


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

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

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

A Fyrnsidere Lexicon


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

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

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

Bēd: A prayer that typically accompanies the offrung

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offrung: An offering or sacrifice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

She of Flaxen Hair: Reconstructing Sib



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

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



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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Finding A Germanic Agricultural Goddess

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Contemporary Epithets/Bynames 

Ǣwnung – Wedlock

Wedlāc – Pledge/ Security 

Feaxede/Fexede – Long-Haired

Gyldenfeaxa- Golden-Haired

*Sǣdestre – Sower 

*Æcerwīf – Field-Woman/ Plough-Woman

*Sulhhæbbestre – She Who Holds the Plough

Sulh – Plough

Cornmōdor – Corn/Grain-Mother 

Tæppestre – Hostess/She Who Serves Wine 

Freoþowebbe – Peace-Weaver/ Frith-Weaver

*Rȳnewīf – One skilled in explaining mysteries 

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

[9] Ovid. Fasti. 4.547-551  

[10] Ovid. Fasti. 1.673-674  


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

[13] Cicero. The Nature of the Gods

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

[15] Virgil. Aenid. 4.56-5  

[16] Servius. On Virgil’s Aenid. 4.58

[17] Varro. De Re Rustica. 2.4.1  

[18] Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and Profane 

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

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

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

[22] Festus. De Verborum Significatione. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 

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

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

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

[37] Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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