What Makes a Fyrnsidere

native


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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Blōstmfrēols

More information regarding Blōstmfrēols can be found here.


 

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

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

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


Rites and observances
:

 

  • Veiling the Wīh :

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

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

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

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

 

  • Making Hunighlāf :

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

 

  • The Making of Bēagas 

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

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

 

  • Offrung:

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

 

Blōstmfrēols Bēd

 

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

 

Bīspell

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

sisters

Ēastertīd

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


Eastermonathwhite

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

-A.A. Milne

 

Associated Deities: Ēastre and Folde 

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

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

Rites and observances:

 

  • Drowning the Biliþ:

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

A short prayer can be recited upon drowning the biliþ :

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

or

“Ic frēoge ēow Ēorþwihta”

 

  •  Frēolsung:  

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

 

  • Sǣdtīma:

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

 

  • Offrung:

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

 

Ēastertīd Prayer:

 

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

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

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

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

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

She of Flaxen Hair: Reconstructing Sib

28-estate,Taccuino_Sanitatis,_Casanatense_4182.

 

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

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

 

Ceres

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

  

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

  

 

Demeter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Finding A Germanic Agricultural Goddess

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sib

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Contemporary Epithets/Bynames 

Ǣwnung – Wedlock

Wedlāc – Pledge/ Security 

Feaxede/Fexede – Long-Haired

Gyldenfeaxa- Golden-Haired

*Sǣdestre – Sower 

*Æcerwīf – Field-Woman/ Plough-Woman

*Sulhhæbbestre – She Who Holds the Plough

Sulh – Plough

Cornmōdor – Corn/Grain-Mother 

Tæppestre – Hostess/She Who Serves Wine 

Freoþowebbe – Peace-Weaver/ Frith-Weaver

*Rȳnewīf – One skilled in explaining mysteries 

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

 


Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[9] Ovid. Fasti. 4.547-551  

[10] Ovid. Fasti. 1.673-674  

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

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

[13] Cicero. The Nature of the Gods

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

[15] Virgil. Aenid. 4.56-5  

[16] Servius. On Virgil’s Aenid. 4.58

[17] Varro. De Re Rustica. 2.4.1  

[18] Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and Profane 

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

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

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

[22] Festus. De Verborum Significatione. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[33] Callimachus, Hymn 6 to Demeter 

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

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

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

[37] Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medieval-Farming-

A Prayer to Sib

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

in-rice-field-2679153_1920


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

A Mōdraniht Bēd

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

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

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 .

 

xxl (1)
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.