Goddess of the Hearth: Frīg Heorþmōdor


In the following article I will attempt to reconstruct a Fyrnsidu-specific hearth Goddess by looking at similar, Indo-European deities and extrapolating accordingly.

The Greek and Roman Hearth Goddess

In ancient Hellenic religion, Hestia was the de facto goddess associated with the centre of the home – the hearth. According to Robert S. P. Beekes, her name is analogous to ‘hearth,’ ‘fireplace,’ ‘altar,’ or ‘oikos,’[1][2] positioning her as a personification of not only the hearth’s flame, but the domicile itself. The idea that her area of governance extends beyond the literal flame and encompasses the family unit is supported by the synonymical use of oikos, a word which in ancient Greek referred to the family, the family’s property and the house proper, depending on context [3]. Hestia also governed the various functions of domesticity associated with the hearth, such as the preparation the family meal and the baking of bread [4].  

As a fire deity, Hestia acted as Goddess of the sacrificial flame, receiving prefatory offerings during domestic and public rites and sacrifices of wine at both the beginning and end of feasts [5].

“Hestia, in the high dwellings of all, both deathless gods and men who walk on earth, you have gained an everlasting abode and highest honour: glorious is your portion and your right. For without you mortals hold no banquet,–where one does not duly pour sweet wine in offering to Hestia both first and last . . . Hestia, you who tend the holy house [temple] of the lord Apollon.” [6]

Like Demeter and Dionysus, Hestia’s preferred sacrificial victim was the pig. According to Daniel Ogden, piglets were significantly cheaper than adult pigs, goats and sheep and were therefore popular in preliminary and purificatory rites- especially those rites where the sacrificial animal was burnt whole and not consumed [7].

If Hestia’s hearth-flame was extinguished in the home, it was considered a dereliction of domestic and religious duty on the part of those responsible for tending it. The same applied to Hestia’s public flame, or pyrtaneum, which, if allowed to die, signified a failure of the entire city-state [8].

Hestia’s cult was very much a female-centric one, with domestic duties related to her cult typically falling under the purview of the female head of the home. Evidence of civic priesthoods related to Hestia are considerably sparse, however, a sparsity which may be the result of there having been so few public shrines and temples dedicated to the goddess. Instead, Hestia had her place in all temples and shrines, whether domestic or public [9][10].

Roman Vesta possessed many of the attributes associated with Hestia. Like Hestia, Vesta was the hearth’s flame personified, she protected the hearth, home and family unit, and neglect of her fire was considered an affront to both the goddess herself and to social order and cohesion. This is exemplified by Vesta’s temple, which was rounded to represent the cosmos and had a domed roof, or tholus, which was intended to represent the canopy of the heavens [11]. The idea that the Vestal flame, both domestic and public, represented the earth’s centre in miniature is corroborated by Ovid, who tells us, “Vesta eadem est quae Terra,” or “Vesta is the same as Earth,” and “subest vigil ignis utrique,” or “Each contains an everlasting fire.” [12][13] This view buttresses Eliade’s theory that the home, templum and shrine were all imago mundi, sacred centres from which all cosmos radiates [14].

Much like Hestia, Vesta received first and last prayer during ritual- a fact which is supported by both Ovid and Cicero.

“Hence, too, I am of opinion that the vestibule took its name; it is from there that in praying we begin by addressing Vesta, who occupies the first place”

“They held that Janus is the leader in a sacrifice … [Vesta’s] power extends over altars and hearths, and therefore all prayers and all sacrifices end with this goddess”[16]

Vesta and Janus were invoked so often during ritual, Pliny the Elder noted that their names had become synonymous with the act of prayer itself

Vesta was something of a contradiction, being both an unmolested virgin and phallic mother goddess simultaneously. Not only was the hearth’s fire symbolic of her, but the divine phallus, the fascinus, was as well. According to Schroeder, this seeming contradiction in the goddess’s character may have been the result of her being directly associated with the penetrative act of inserting a stick into a hollow log to create her ritual fire [18].

While Janus presided over the doorway, Vesta governed the threshold, or limen. It is for this reason that new brides refrained from stepping on, or kicking the threshold of the home – a tradition confirmed by Plautus, Servius and Catullus [19][20][21]. This liminal aspect would offer explanation as to why she played such a pivotal role at the beginning and end of all Roman rites – she governed the threshold between the world of men and the world of the Gods.  

Vesta, the Di Penates and domestic life were celebrated during the festival of Vestalia [22]. At the beginning of the festivities, the penus Vestae, or Vestal sanctum was opened to the public and barefoot women would walk in procession to the temple where they would make offering to the goddess on behalf of themselves and their families [23][24]. Donkeys were decorated with floral garlands and pieces of bread – acts which were done to honour the animal whose bray had interrupted Priapus’s attempt to rape the goddess[25].

“Something of ancient custom has passed to us:
A clean dish contains the food offered to Vesta.
See, loaves are hung from garlanded mules,
And flowery wreaths veil the rough millstones.
Once farmers only used to parch wheat in their ovens,
(And the goddess of ovens has her sacred rites):
The hearth baked the bread, set under the embers,
On a broken tile placed there on the heated floor.
So the baker honours the hearth, and the lady of hearths,
And the she-ass that turns the pumice millstones.
Red-faced Priapus shall I tell of your shame or pass by?
It’s a brief tale but it’s a merry one.”[26]

Once the festival was concluded, the curtain to the penus Vestae was closed for the year and the temple was subsequently swept in an attempt to remove any unholy pollutants [27].

Brigantiâ, Brigid and St.Brigid

Given the sheer range of Celtic-speaking peoples, we are provided with several viable options for a “Celtic” hearth goddess. For the sake of conciseness, we will limit the focus of this section to a singular deity and her offshoots – Brigantiâ.

Brigantiâ, whose name translates to ‘the high one,’ [28] was typically equated with Roman Victoria and Minerva through interpretatio Romana. In a stone-relief found at the Roman fort at Blatobulgium (Birrens, Dumfriesshire), Brigantiâ is depicted holding globe of victory, a spear and wears the headdress typical of a tutelary deity [29]. The inscription at Blatobulgium is one of seven dedicated to the Goddess, all of which are found in Britain. An eighth, possible inscription, found on a Celtiberian coin, reading: ‘BRIGANT_N’, may be suggestive of parallel cult outside Britain [30].

Brigantia relief from Birrens. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Scotland

Gregory of Tours provides us with a depiction of the Goddess, “Berecyntia,” whose image was carried by wagon throughout the commune of Autun to bless the “fields and vines”. According to Edward Anwyl, the Berecyntia recounted here may be Brigantiâ in her guise of corn-goddess.

“The natural conservatism of agricultural life, too, perpetuated many practices even into comparatively late times, and of these we catch a glimpse in Gregory of Tours, when he tells us that at Autun the goddess Berecyntia was worshipped, her image being carried on a wagon for the protection of the fields and the vines. It is not impossible that by Berecyntia Gregory means the goddess Brigindu, whose name occurs on an inscription at Volnay in the same district of Gaul. The belief in corn-spirits, and other ideas connected with the central thought of the farmer’s life, show, by their persistence in Celtic as well as other folklore, how deeply they had entered into the inner tissue of the agricultural mind, so as to be linked to its keenest emotions. Here the rites of religion, whether persuasive as in prayer, or compulsory as in sympathetic magic, whether associated with communal or propitiatory sacrifice, whether directed to the earth or to the heaven, all had an intensely practical and terribly real character, due to man’s constant preoccupation with the growth and storage of food for man and beast.“ [31]

While information regarding Brigantiâ’s personality is decidedly sparse, we can  look to the Gaelic Goddess Brigid and her Christianized counterpart, St.Brigid of Kildare, to better support our understanding of her as a hearth goddess.  

J.A. Macculloch suggests that Brigid, like Belisama and Sul, was a goddess associated with feminine craft, domesticity and the cult of fire, which calls to mind the earlier, Greco-Roman roles attributed to Hestia and Vesta.

“The Celtic Minerva, or the goddesses equated with her, “taught the elements of industry and the arts,” and is thus the equivalent of the Irish Brigit. Her functions are in keeping with the position of woman as the first civiliser—discovering agriculture, spinning, the art of pottery, etc. During this period goddesses were chiefly worshipped, and though the Celts had long outgrown this primitive stage, such culture-goddesses still retained their importance. A goddess equated with Minerva in Southern France and Britain is Belisama, perhaps from qval, “to burn” or “shine.” Hence she may have been associated with a cult of fire, like Brigit and like another goddess Sul, equated with Minerva at Bath and in Hesse, and in whose temple perpetual fires burned. She was also a goddess of hot springs. Belisama gave her name to the Mersey, and many goddesses in Celtic myth are associated with rivers.” [32]

The cult of St.Brigid shared similar characteristics with that of Vesta and Hestia, in that we are presented with a cult centred around a perpetual, undying flame tended by virgins.

“At Kildare, in Leinster, celebrated for the glorious Brigit, many miracles have been wrought worthy of memory. Among these, the first that occurs is the fire of St. Brigit, which is reported never to go out. Not that it cannot be extinguished, but the nuns and holy women tend and feed it, adding fuel, with such watchful and diligent care, that from the time of the Virgin, it has continued burning through a long course of years ; and although such heaps of wood have been consumed during this long period, there has been no accumulation of ashes.” [33]

While Gerald of Wales’ account is clearly hagiographical, it is difficult to ignore the obvious, pre-Christian flavour of this particular cult. In his writings, he also provides us with a brief, physical description of the fire and area immediately surrounding it. Once again, we are presented with a sacred space that utilizes circular boundaries and is tended by women –  a motif which might draw its inspiration from the same ancient paradigm as the Aedes Vestae.

“This fire is surrounded by a hedge, made of stakes and brushwood, and forming a circle, within which no male can enter ; and if any one should presume to enter, which has been sometimes attempted by rash men, he will not escape the divine vengeance. Moreover, it is only lawful for women to blow the fire, fanning it or using bellows only, and not with their breath. Moreover, by virtue of a curse pronounced by the virgin, goats here never have any young. In this neighbourhood there are some very beautiful meadows called St.Brigit’s pastures, in which no plough is ever suffered to turn a furrow.” [34]

The hearth and fire appear prominently in folk customs associated with St.Brigid and her feast day, a celebration which coincides with the Gaelic festival of  Imbolc. Máire MacNeill tells us that these folk traditions were largely practiced near the dwelling-place, where “The social unit taking part is the household or, at most, the youth of a townland.” [35] On the eve of the feast, the household was prepared for the Saint’s arrival, with most goings ons centred around the locality of the hearth.  In some cases, a spot was left vacant at the dinner table for the visiting saint, in others, a bed of straw was left beside the hearth so that she might stay the night [36].

In Scotland, a form of divination using the hearth’s coals was performed during the early morning of St. Brigid’s Feast.

“The Women then level the ashes on the hearth, smoothing and dusting them over carefully. Occasionally, the ashes surrounded by a roll of cloth, are placed on a board to safeguard them against disturbance from draughts or other contingencies. In the early morning the family closely scan the ashes. If they find the marks of the wand of Bride they rejoice, but if they find ‘lorg Bride,’ the footprint of Bride their joy very great, for this is a sign that Bride was present with them during the night, and is favourable to them, and that there is increase in family, in flock, and in field during the coming year. Should there be no marks in the ashes, and no trace of Bride’s presence, the family are dejected. It is to them a sign that she is offended, and will not hear their call. To propitiate her and gain her the family offer oblations and burn incense. The oblation generally is a cockerel, some say a pullet, buried alive near the junction of  three streams, and the incense is burnt on the hearth when the family retire for the night.” [37]

In this propitiatory sacrifice we see a very clear pagan act, one which is very much centred on the hearth and its dealings with divinity.

In Ireland, the tradition of ‘raking the fire’ was practiced, wherein the fire was raked so that the coals would remain hot until morning, while avoiding nocturnal conflagration. The hot coals would then be used to reignite the mháthair tine, or ‘mother fire,’ the next day and a special prayer would be recited during the act of re-ignition.

“I rake this fire like everyone else,
Brigid below it with Mary on top;
Twelve angels of the angels of graces,
Protecting my house till dawn.” [38][39]

Catháin notes the connection between ashes and embers relating to fertility rituals in Celtic cultures, claiming that the ashes taken from Midsummer bonfires were ritually deposited in fields to encourage crop fertility and growth. The belief that fire was able to encourage fertility and ward against impurity is exemplified by the following excerpt from Rawson’s Early History of Sexual Art.  

“Evil spirits could be repelled by both men and women exposing their genitals to them; and at the famous Celtic solstice bonfire festivals women used to stride over the fire, exposing their vulvas to the beneficial influence of the flame, and blessing it with their own power…” [40]

The sexual aspect of Brigid’s cult is reminiscent of Vesta’s role as phallic, fertility goddess and may speak to a shared conception of fire as the seat of both passion and of creation. According to Nagy, ancient peoples considered the friction caused when lighting fire to resemble the friction created during sexual intercourse. This procreative property was extended to lightning bolts, which were believed to impregnate trees and rocks with fire when struck [41].

Gabija/Matka Gabia

In Baltic nations, we are presented with a similar hearth goddess to those listed above. In Lithuania, she is called Gabija, in Latvia she is known as Uguns Māte, or “mother of the fire,” and in Poland she is recognized as Matka Gabia. In all cases she is recognized as the keeper of the home and the provider of prosperity and fertility. Each day a small portion of each meal was sprinkled into the flames as offering to the Goddess – with her favoured offerings being salt or bread. Until recently, it was customary for the woman of the household to prepare a small prefatory loaf of bread for Gabija when baking [42]. In this act we see a common motif concerning the obvious associations between the hearth and baking. We also witness the same act of “first offerings” being afforded the hearth goddess, much in the same vein as both Vesta and Hestia.

Though Gabija was largely represented anthropomorphically as a woman clothed in red, she could also manifest as a stork, cockerel or cat. If a stork nested on the roof of a house, it was believed to be a manifestation of the Goddess who had come to ward against fire and lightning strike, and protect the hearth, family unit and village community. This connection is unsurprising given the stork’s propensity for building their nests precariously on rooftops and on chimneys [43].

If angered, Gabija would “go for a walk,” and burn down the dwelling. It was for this reason that people were wary of stomping, spitting, or urinating on a fire to extinguish it [44] and why Baltic peoples practiced a similar ritual to that of Gaelic peoples in gently covering the coals at night [45][46]. A prayer was then recited, which calls to mind the earlier account associated with Brigid.

“sleep fire, Gabija come close to the fire.”

Like Brigid, Gabija’s cult was subsumed into that of a saint, albeit less obviously and less fully. St. Agnes is a particularly popular saint among Lithuanians and is the protectress and guardian of fires. It is common practice in recent times to ask both Gabija and St.Agnes for their protective services in the same prayer, showing a clear syncretism of the two characters. Agnes is often depicted holding a roll of bread and during her feast day, salt, bread and water are consecrated in all Lithuanian churches. Pieces of this consecrated bread were shared amongst family with the remainder being placed in “honourable spots” in the home. In Southern Lithuania, salt is used in the place of bread and is sprinkled as offering into the hearth’s fire. Consecrated breads and salts were thought to provide luck to those who possessed it and it is for this reason that pieces were given to sons and husbands as they left home for war [47].

The Fyrnsidu Hearth-Mother

Now that we have explored Greek, Roman, Celtic and Baltic hearth goddesses, we are better equipped to extrapolate a corresponding Old English deity.

If we are to choose an Anglo-Saxon deity best suited to a hearth-centric role, Frīg springs readily to mind. Her Norse counterpart, Frigg, is commonly associated with the distaff, weaving and other crafts related to domesticity [48] and she possesses an obvious fertility aspect, which the etymology of her name alone implies [49]. If we are to follow that the split between Frigg and Freyja was a later development, one that the Anglo-Saxons did not recognize, then Frīg may well have seen the same virginal-mother contradiction in her character as Roman Vesta.

If we are to provide an epithet for Frīg which might distinguish her as being directly related to the hearth, we might use an Old English compound such as, Heorþmōdor (Hearth-Mother), Heorþweard (Hearth-Ward), or Hlǣfdige (Mistress of the Household).

Placing Frīg in a liminal, threshold capacity similar to that of Vesta and Hestia would require offerings be made to her at the beginning and/or the end of all rites and prayers and require she be afforded a proprietary role over the sacred space in the home. Considering most modern homes do not contain a literal hearth, worship of Frīg-Heorþmōdor may be conducted at the family wīgbed (altar), in conjunction with one’s household Gods. Candles or an oil lamp might serve as a suitable substitute to a large, open flame.

In terms of iconography, we are provided with a variety of options. We know that the cults of Hestia and Vesta were largely aniconic and that anthropomorphic representations of the Goddess were added later. The Fyrnsidu practitioner may opt for an aniconic cult,or one that simply utilizes fire imagery. They might also depict Her zoomorphically in the guise of a stork, boar, or pig. If represented anthropomorphically, Frīg might be depicted holding a loaf of bread, a distaff, or other accoutrements associated with domesticity and abundance. Frīg might also be clothed in red, much like her parallel, Matka Gabia.

Imbolc/ The Feast of Saint Brigid and the Feast of Saint Agnes fall at the beginning of February and coincide with the beginning of Spring, while Vestalia took place in June, so an offering exclusive to the Hearth-Mother might be well-suited to one, or both or these dates.  Appropriate sacrifices to the Goddess might include bread, water, salt, pork, votive pigs/boars, various grains and incense.



[1]R. S. P. Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, Brill, 2009, p. 471
[3]Davies, J.K. Society and Economy. In Lewis, D.M.; Boardman, John; Davies, J.K.; et al. The Cambridge Ancient History Volume V: The Fifth Century B.C. p. 290.
[5] Evelyn-White, Hugh G. Homeric Hymn 29 
[6]Homeric Hymn 24
[7]Bremmer, Jan. N., in Ogden, D.  A Companion to Greek Religion. 2010
[8]Burkert, Walter . Greek Religion. 1985
[10]Cicero, De Natura Deorum II. (trans. Rackham)
[11]Archaeologia, Or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, Volume 49, Issue 2
[12]Valpay, A.J. The Classical Journal, Volume 15 .1817
[13]Ovid, Fasti VI
[14]Eliade, Mircea. The Sacred and the Profane pp.43
[15]Ovid. Fasti
[16]Cicero. De Natura Deorum II
[17]Pliny the Elder, Natural History
[18]Schroeder, Jeanne Lorraine. The Vestal and the Fasces: Hegel, Lacan, Property, and the Feminine.1998
[19]Plautus. Casina
[20]Servius. Eclogues
[21]Catullus. Carmina
[22]Theodor Mommsen. History of Rome, Vol.1
[23]E.M. Berens. A Hand-book of Mythology
[24]Brulé, Pierre. La Fille d’Athènes : la religion des filles à l’époque classique : mythes, cultes et société
[24]Ovid. Fasti VI
[25]Ovid. Fasti VI
[26]Ovid. Fasti VI
[27]Marouzeau, Jules. Revue des études latines. 2006
[29]Green, Miranda. Celtic Goddesses: Warriors, Virgins, and Mothers New York, pp 195–202. 1996
[30]Olmstead, Garret. The Gods of the Celts and Indo-Europeans. 1994
[31]Anwyl, Edward. Celtic Religion in Pre-Christian Times
[32]Macculloch, J.A., Religion of the Ancient Celts. 
[33]Gerald of Wales. The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis XXXIV. Revised and edited with additional notes, by Thomas Wright M.A., F.S.A. & c.
[34]Gerald of Wales. The Historical Works of Giraldus Cambrensis XXXVI. Revised and edited with additional notes, by Thomas Wright M.A., F.S.A. & c.
[35]MacNeill, Máire. The Festival of Lughnasa: A Study of the Survival of the Celtic Festival of the Beginning of Harvest. 1962
[36]Catháin, Séamas Ó. Hearth-Prayers and Other Traditions of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 122
[37]Carmichael, Alexander. vol. I, Carmina Gadelica. Hymns and Incantations. 1928
[38]Carmichael, Alexander. vol. I, Carmina Gadelica. Hymns and Incantations. 1928
[39]Catháin, Séamas Ó. Hearth-Prayers and Other Traditions of Brigit: Celtic Goddess and Holy Woman. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 122
[40]Rawson, Phillip. Early History of Sexual Art, in Rawson, P. (ed.) Primitive Erotic Art, 1-76.London. 1973
[41]Nagy, Gregory. Perkunas and Permit. In Antiquitates Indogermanicae. Studien zur Indogermanischen Altertumskunde und zur Sprach- und Kulturgeschichte der indogermanischen Volker 
[42]Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddess pp.203
[44]Trikūnas,Jonas. Of Gods & Holidays: The Baltic Heritage. Tvermė. pp. 85–87. 1999
[45]Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddess pp.203
[46]Johnson, Cait. Earth, Water, Fire, and Air: Essential Ways of Connecting to Spirit
[47]The Feast of St.Agnes. Ðv. Agota  III,5
[48]Enright, M.J. The Goddess Who Weaves: Some Iconographic Aspects of Bracteates of the Fürstenberg Type
[49]Bosworth, Joseph. An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary OnlineFrig. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2017.

A Special thanks to Marc Beneduci and Selgowiros Caranticnos for helping me scrounge up information on Vesta and Brigantiâ, respectively.


Warden of the Property: Þunor Eodorweard

This article is a continuation of my previous article entitled, Threshold Guardians: Dūrupālas, where I established an Anglo-Saxon door-guardian cult based on Greek, Roman, Frankish and Southeast Asian examples.

In this article, I will attempt to extrapolate an Anglo-Saxon cult associated with the protection of the domicile, utilizing examples from Greek and Roman cults.

Zeus Herkeios, Ktesios and Kataibates

In ancient Greek religion, Zeus was a multifaceted deity possessing a number of attributes and epithets. Of specific interest here are three cults of Zeus directly associated with the household and its corresponding boundaries.

The first of the three cults- that of Zeus Herkeios– is associated with the household boundary and with guardianship over the property found therein. The name Herkeios itself comes from the ancient Greek word, hérkos, meaning ‘fence’ or ‘wall’ [1], which is indicative of the specific realm of influence associated with this particular guise of the God.

According to Homer, each home had an altar dedicated to Herkeios in the courtyard directly preceding the home, or megaron. It was in this location that libations were poured and sacrifices were made to the God to elicit his protection [2]. Because this cult was an Athenian universal, it was customary for those who lived within the polis to say “where is your Zeus Herkeios?” when asking for a particular address [3].

“The house and its fence protected man against enemies and other dangers, but it needed divine protection itself. Its protector was Zeus, whom we here meet in various roles quite different from that of the weather god.” [4]

Zeus Herkeios also plays a role in Virgil’s Aeneid, as it is upon his altar that Priam and Polites are killed by Achilles’ son, Neoptolemus (Pyrrhus). It is in this act that Virgil attempts to illustrate Neoptolemus’ savage nature, due to the connection between the altar and domestic sanctuary [5][6]. This connection between sanctuary and Herkeios is further elucidated in the Odyssey, where Phemius claims asylum at an altar of Herkeios to escape Odysseus killing him.

“To go out of the megaron and sit at the altar of great Zeus Herkeios, a properly made altar where many were the thighs of oxen that Laertes and Odysseus had burnt.” [7][8]

The cult of Zeus Ktesios differs from that of Herkeios in that it deals specifically with the inside of the Greek megaron as opposed to the outer perimeter. According to Harpocration, Ktesios lived in the storeroom and his divinity was housed in a amphora-like vessel called a kadiskos, which had dual handles crowned in white wool [9].

In his Orations, Isaeus poetically describes the cultic practices associated with Ktesios.

“When Ciron sacrificed to Zeus Ktesios, a sacrifice about which he was especially serious, he did not admit slaves or non-family members. He did everything himself, but we shared in this sacrifice and joined with him in handling and placing the sacrificial victims and in doing the other things. He prayed that the god give us health and good ‘property,’ and this was only natural because he was our grandfather.” [10][11]

The connections between Ktesios and the protection of property can be seen in the root of the God’s name, which comes from ancient Greek verb, ktéomai, meaning ‘to have,’ ‘to gain,’ ‘to possess’ [12]. The cult of Ktesios was widespread throughout the Hellenic world- a fact which is supported by a Doric etymological equivalent existing in Zeus Pasios [13].

In terms of iconography, Ktesios lacked an anthropomorphic representation. As stated above, the kadiskos was typically representative of his cult, though serpentine imagery also played a role. On a relief discovered at Thespiae, the epithet of Ktesios is recorded above the image of a large snake, iconography which was paralleled in later, Roman lararia. Snake worship associated with the home is believed to have originated in an earlier, agrarian period where the snake was seen as a chthonic protector of the storeroom against vermin and blight [14].


In Zeus Kataibates we find a deity with a very specific function – a function which is mirrored by other Indo-European thunder deities. The title Kataibates means ‘he who descends’ and is a direct reference to the thunderbolt, which was considered in ancient times to be the resulting impact of a stone axe wielded by Zeus [15].

In the ruins of a house at Oinomaos, the altar of Kataibates was found alongside an altar of Herkeios. Altars to Kataibates were also found at a home on Thera and at Tarentum, where, like the aforementioned example, they appeared in the courtyard before the megaron alongside Herkeios [16]. Here sacrifices were made to the God to stave off lightning strike and according to Chambers Guthrie, may have acted as an ancient lightning conductor [17].

In Slavic and Germanic religion, we see parallels to this apotropaic function. In Slavic culture, Gromoviti znaci or ‘thunder marks,’ are considered by some scholars to be an ancient symbol of Perun which, when engraved on roof beams or on the threshold of the home, protect against lightning strikes [18]

We see a similar motif appear in Germanic culture where stonecrops and houseleeks were planted on the roofs of houses to protect against lightning strike. In Anglo-Saxon England, these plants were referred to as Þunorwyrt, or ‘Thunder-plant,’ [19] suggesting a possible parallel to the functions of both Kataibates and Perun.


Roman Boundary Deities

In Jupiter, we are met with a number of epithets associated with protection and warding, including Tutator ‘warden,’ Vindex ‘protector,’ Serenator ‘he who clears the sky,’ and Praestes ‘protector.’ [20]

Of particular interest is the epithet, Terminalus, associating Jupiter with the God of boundaries, Terminus. According to Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Numa ordered that all Roman citizens should mark their boundaries with sacred stones consecrated to Jupiter Terminalus [21]. It was at these boundary stones that sacrifices were made to Terminalus each year at the festival of Terminalia.

In his De Condicionibus Agrorum, Siculus Flaccus gives an account of the ritual used to sanctify Terminus’ boundary stone, a ritual which consisted of placing ashes, bones and blood of a sacrificial victim, along with crops, wine and honeycomb in a hole where the estates converged. The hole was then sealed when the boundary stone was driven into it [22].

At Terminalia, families would decorate their side of the boundary marker with garlands and make offerings of crops, honeycomb and wine. The blood of a sacrificial lamb or pig would be poured over the marker, an act which was followed by communal feasting and the singing of hymns [23].

Woodard briefly explains the cultic origins of Terminus in his work, Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult.

“This observation immediately raises the question why a sacred stone
of fertility should be associated with boundaries at all. One could imagine that the development would be entirely secondary. One might expect that the nomadic Proto-Indo-European pastoralists had no need for boundary stones. In the sedentary Indo-European daughter cultures, such as that of Rome, stones provide an effective means for marking boundaries, and the archaic sacred stone might naturally be assimilated to such markers. Indeed, Terminus is not always a stone but at times is identified with a stump that serves to demarcate adjacent properties (see Ovid, Fast. 2.641–642; Tibullus 1.1.11).” [24]

While Terminus is likely the most well-known of the Roman boundary deities and had the most fleshed out cult, we can also look to Silvanus to buttress our reconstructive efforts. According to Dolabella, Silvanus was the God responsible for erecting the first boundary markers, positioning him as a deity associated with the delineation of coterminous space. He also states in his Ex Libris Dolabellae, that each homestead possessed three protective Silvani. Silvanus Domesticus ‘of the home,’ Silvanus Agrestis ‘of the farmstead,’ and Silvanus Orientalis ‘of the estate boundary,’ correspond closely to the tripartite Zeuses of the earlier, Hellenic house cult [25]. In terms of sacrifices, Silvani received offerings of grapes, milk, ears of grain, meat, wine and pigs [26][27].


A Fyrnsidu-specific Boundary Deity

Based on information collected from Greek and Roman sources, we should now be able to reconstruct a comparable household cult based in the linguistic and cultural framework of Fyrnsidu.

The first challenge we’re presented with is the sheer multiplicity of deities one could reconstruct from the cults listed above. For simplicity’s sake, we will focus our efforts on a singular deity which presides over the domestic property in toto, encompassing elements from tripartite Zeus, Terminus/Jupiter Terminalis and tripartite Silvanus.

The deity most suited to this role would likely be Þunor, due to the obvious parallels between him and Zeus. Þunor’s Norse counterpart, Þórr was a hallower and protector, a function shared by both Zeus and Jupiter in a number of their epithets.

In terms of providing a name for this distinct divinity, we have a variety of Old English compounds available to us – Þunor Eodorweard ‘Fence/Hedge Ward,’ Þunor Hūsbonda ‘Master of the House,’ or something to that effect, would be most consistent with the epithets attributed to Silvanus and Zeus [*].

The location of the altar, if we’re following the Greco-Roman example, would likely be placed outdoors in the yard near the fence or property boundary. Gifts of honeycomb, libation, grain or the ashes from a burnt offering might be given periodically at this location – an act which would be repeated at regular intervals to ensure protection for the domestic enclosure.

Given that Terminus’ cult was aniconic, associated imagery may not be wholly necessary. If you opt to use iconography, the snake might make a good zoomorphic representation, especially considering the snake played a prominent role in both Greek and Roman house cult. Iconography associated with Indo-European thunder deities, such as the thunderbolt, hammer, or axe might be used, especially if anthropomorphic representations are to be employed. Silvanus is also regularly represented alongside a canine companion, a detail which would lend itself nicely to a cult focused on protection and vigilance.

If one were to celebrate a feast day specific to this cult, the date of Terminalia (February 23rd) might be used as a guideline.


[2] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[3] Mikalson, Jon D. Ancient Greek Religion.

[4] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[5] Anderson, Michael John. The Fall of Troy in Early Greek Poetry and Art.

[6] Virgil. Aeneid 2. 499-500

[7] Odyssey 22.334-6

[8] Dowden, Ken. Zeus.

[9] Harrison, Jane Ellen. Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion.

[10] Mikalson, Jon D. Ancient Greek Religion.

[11] Isaeus 8.16


[13] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[14] http://creadm.solent.ac.uk/custom/rwpainting/ch6/ch.6.6.html

[15] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[16] Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion.

[17] Chambers Guthrie, William Keith. The Greeks and Their Gods.

[18] Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 3

[19] Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” þunor-wyrt. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 7 Aug. 2017.

[20] Thulin, Carl. Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft

[21] Dionysius. Roman Antiquities

[22] Flaccus, Siculus. De Condicionibus Agrorum.

[23] Ovid. Fasti 2. 639-684

[24] Woodard, Roger D. Indo-European Sacred Space: Vedic and Roman Cult.

[25] Dolabella. Ex Libris Dolabellae

[26] Tibullus. II.5.27, 30.

[27] Horace. Epodes II.21-22.

[*] These are merely the names that Sundorwic Hearth has chosen to use. For your practice, you may decide on a different name or names for this particular cult.

Threshold Guardians: Dūrupālas

Erik Lacharity recently published an article on his page, Allodium Francorum, which provides insight into Frankish deities of the doorway, Francus and Vassus. This article, though entrenched in the Frankish model, provides a workable blueprint for reconstructing a parallel Anglo-Saxon threshold-cult, utilizing Hengest and Horsa in that role. While it would be superfluous to tread too heavily where Allodium Francorum has already trod, there are a few parallels worth touching on which may further our understanding of this cult. 


Germanic Sources

One of the most compelling pieces of supporting evidence for the “divine horse twins” acting as possible door guardians, is that of the horse-head gables found on Low Saxon houses throughout the North German Plain, all the way from the lower Rhine to Mecklenburg [1]. Here they were referred to as “Hengst und Hors” and according to Simek are suggestive of a belief in the twins as being equine in appearance [2]. A parallel motif also exists in Baltic countries, where horse-head gables, called žirgeliai, are employed as a ward against evil spirits [3].

“The employment of horses’ heads as talismans, a custom doubtless originating in heathendom, has been thought not only to suggest the sacrificial offering of a horse, but also to symbolize the religious dedication of a building placed under the protective influence of such a symbol. For among the ancient Teutons the horse was held to be the most holy of animals, and auguries were derived from the neighings of white horses in their sacred groves. There exists, moreover, among German peasants a widespread belief that the placing of carved wooden representations of horses’ heads upon house-gables is an act of homage to the Deity, whose blessing and benediction are thereby invoked upon the dwellings thus adorned, and upon the inmates as well.” [4]


The use of equine imagery as an apotropaic device was not limited to horse-head gables. In his Teutonic Mythology, Grimm describes the Scandinavian “nithing-pole,” or “spite-stake,” which consisted of a newly cleaved horse’s head being fastened to a pole with with its mouth fixed open. The nithing-pole (ON: níðstang) was then turned in the direction of an enemy, or the subject of one’s ire in an attempt to lay curses upon them.

In Egil’s Saga, the titular character erects a nithing-pole to send curses to Eric Bloodaxe and his wife, Gunnhilda.

“And when all was ready for sailing, Egil went up into the island. He took in his hand a hazel-pole, and went to a rocky eminence that looked inward to the mainland. Then he took a horse’s head and fixed it on the pole. After that, in solemn form of curse, he thus spake: ‘Here set I up a curse-pole, and this curse I turn on king Eric and queen Gunnhilda. (Here he turned the horse’s head landwards.) This curse I turn also on the guardian-spirits who dwell in this land, that they may all wander astray, nor reach or find their home till they have driven out of the land king Eric and Gunnhilda.’ This spoken, he planted the pole down in a rift of the rock, and let it stand there. The horse’s head he turned inwards to the mainland; but on the pole he cut runes, expressing the whole form of curse.” [5]

While the níðstang may not be a purely apotropaic device, their use does suggest an inherent belief in the power of horses as spiritual intercessors. This belief is likely informed by the Germanic concept of horses being vehicles for the dead, a motif which appears in a variety of written sources, as well as in archaeological finds [6].  

A similar account of horse heads being employed as wards occurs in the Roman account of the aftermath of the Battle of Teutoburg Forest. In this account, the Roman general, Caecina Severus reaches the scene of Varus’ defeat and sees the severed heads of horses fastened to trees. The horses, which belonged to Varus’ auxiliaries, were sacrificed by the Cherusci after the battle’s conclusion [7].

Comparatively, dead horses in Sussex were hung by the legs from horizontal tree branches to protect cattle. According to Robert Means Lawrence, this act may have been a survival from the Heathen period, mirroring earlier hanging sacrifices to Wōden [8].

While the use of sacrificial heads fell out of use after conversion, facsimiles continued to be used in the form of the aforementioned gables, as well as in the form of the horseshoe. An excerpt from Means Lawrence’s book sums up the horseshoe’s later use succinctly in a single paragraph. 

“It has been supposed that the horse-shoe is placed at the outer entrance to a building because of an ancient Saxon superstition that witches were unable successfully to practice their wiles upon persons in the open air. The horse-shoe effectively bars the ingress of witches and evil spirits, but an entrance once obtained by these creatures, it is powerless to expel them. Therefore the horse-shoe within doors loses much of its efficacy, but is still an emblem of good luck.” [9]

The threshold plays an important role in the religious life of the home and according to some scholars, may have acted as the original family altar.

“In the earliest historic times, and in primitive communities, the entrance of a dwelling was considered a sacred place; and in the opinion of eminent scholars who have made a study of the subject, the threshold was the first family altar. A peculiar reverence for the doorway and threshold prevails to-day in many parts of the world, as is evident from the numerous ceremonial rites in vogue among widely separated savage tribes and uncivilized peoples. Indeed, the custom of placing amulets and charms in and about the entrance-doors of houses, stables, and other buildings is almost universal.” [10]

The Dioscuri

In Greek religion we find a parallel to Hengest and Horsa in the Dioscuri. Though they possess many attributes and epithets which place them outside the sphere of the home, we will focus solely on their role as deities related to the ancient household.

The Spartan Dioscuri were intrinsically linked to the dokana, which consisted of two upright beams crossed with two transverse beams. Although various explanations have been suggested for the dokana’s meaning,  the most probable theory is that it represents the frame of a house built of crude bricks [11].

“That the Dioscuri were house gods is proved by their cult. A meal was set out and a couch prepared for them in the house. This is what Euphorion did; Phormion was punished because he would not open the chamber of his house to them. These meals were called theoxenia. Theron of Agrigentum and Iason of Pherae prepared meals in honor of the Dioscuri, and Bacchylides in a poem invites them to a meal from which wine and songs will not be missing. The Athenians spread the table in the prytaneum for them with a frugal, old-fashioned meal of cheese, cakes, olives, and leeks. Some vase paintings and reliefs show the Dioscuri coming to the meal. Here they are riding, in accordance with the common conception.” [12][13]

In many cases the Dioscuri appear alongside snakes, a common motif in Greek house cult(s) which links them to Zeus Herkeios (Zeus of the boundary/fence) and Zeus Ktesios (Zeus of the home), both of which were were represented in serpentine fashion [14].

The cult of the Dioscuri was exported to ancient Lavinium and subsequently spread throughout the rest of the Italic Peninsula, where it retained much of its original Greek character. Here, the figures of Castor and Pollux took on the role of the
Dioscuri, where they were invoked as protective deities and gods of the threshold. It was only later in Roman history that their practice deviated from the functions of the original Hellenic cult.



An eastern equivalent of the Dūrupālas can be seen in the Dvarapala (door guards) found throughout the Hindu and Buddhist world. Dvarapala, like their Western counterparts, guard the doorways of homes and temples, warding against beings of malefic intent.

Dvarapala have their origins in tutelary deities, some of which, like Acala, are venerated in their own right [15]. In many cases these Dvarapala are considered Yaksha– a broad type of nature spirit who exercise guardianship over specific places [16]. According to Ram Nath Misra, the Yaksha were, as other deities, given specific adoration and offering.

“An essential part of devotional adoration lies in the offerings that are made to the deity. The offering to Yakshas comprised of flowers, incense (particularly aguru), meat and wine, a dish consisting of mixed and cooked cereals, fruits and water, rice, fish, flour cakes either cooked or uncooked, fragrant things, beverages and different types of wreaths and garments.” [17]


Dvarapala are typically anthropomorphic in appearance, though it is not uncommon to see Dvarapala in the form of snake in certain areas of Sri Lanka. In Java and Bali, the Dvarapala are often portrayed as fierce, kneeling giants with monstrous features wielding clubs. While in Thailand and Cambodia, Dvarapala appear slender and upright, holding their weapons in a downward position.

The major difference between the Eastern examples and the Greek and Germanic examples is that Dvarapala do not necessarily appear in pairs. The number of Dvarapala is largely dependent on the size of the structure, with larger buildings receiving higher numbers of guardians. There is also the obvious omission of equine qualities found in both the Dioscuri and Hengest and Horsa.


Now that we have explored the divine twin cults in Germanic areas, as well as in ancient Greece and we’ve given a brief overview of the Dvarapala, we may be better able to illustrate how a modern practitioner of Fyrnsidu might integrate this cult into their existing household praxis.

As stated at the beginning of this post, Hengest and Horsa would likely be best for the role of threshold guardians based on the evidence presented. Their links to Low German horse gables as well as their similarities to the Dioscuri position them as the ideal candidate.

For the modern practitioner, this cult might manifest in the form of horseshoes, or some other equine-related symbol placed directly above or on both sides of the door. The practitioner may also opt for a more anthropomorphic representation, reminiscent of Eastern door guardians. A spell of protection might be spoken or written and hung in conjunction with these images to ensure further efficacy.

“In some regions there still prevails a time-honored custom of placing over the chief entrances of dwellings inscriptions, embodying usually a religious thought or exhortation. Sometimes, however, the sentence commends the house and its occupants to the care of the goddess Fortune, thus having a significance akin to that of the horse-shoe symbol. “ [18]

Once the appropriate symbols and words are fixed, the practitioner might then invite the numen of the Dūrupālas (OE: Door-poles) into the threshold images, while simultaneously providing offering. Pouring libation outside the threshold, or leaving a small offering by the front door might be preferred [*].

After the sacred threshold is set up, the Þingere (household priest) will need to provide further offerings to the Dūrupālas as needed. Some may choose to do this on a weekly basis and some many opt to do it annually- this is left to the discretion of the particular household. The more often you make offering to the Dūrupālas, the more likely you are to stay in their favour.


[1]Elkin, T.H. Germany. 1972

[2]Simek, Rodolf. Dictionary of Northern Mythology. 2007

Pranė, Dundulienė. Lietuviu Etnologija. 1991

[4]Means Lawrence, Robert. The Magic of the Horse-shoe. 1898

[5]Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar. Translation. Green, W.C. 1893

Roderick Ellis, Hilda. The Road to Hel. 1968

[7]Means Lawrence, Robert. The Magic of the Horse-shoe. 1898. Chapter XII

Means Lawrence, Robert. The Magic of the Horse-shoe. 1898. Chapter XII

[9]Means Lawrence, Robert. The Magic of the Horse-shoe. 1898. Chapter XIII

[10]Means Lawrence, Robert. The Magic of the Horse-shoe. 1898. Chapter XIV

[11]Nilsson, Martin P. Greek Popular Religion. 1940. Chapter IV

[12]Pausanias, III, 16, 3.

[13]Nilsson, Martin. P. Greek Popular Religion. 1940. Chapter IV

[14]Mikalson. Jon. D. Ancient Greek Religion. 2010

Van Bemmel, Helena A. Dvarapalas in Indonesia: Temple Guardians and Acculturation. 1994

[16]Richards, Richard John. South-East Asian Ceramics: Thai, Vietnamese and Khmer: From the Collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia. 1995

[17]Misra, Ram Nath. Yaksha Cult and Iconography. 1981

[18]Means Lawrence, Robert. The Magic of the Horse-shoe. 1898.

[*]It might be wise to exercise caution regarding the types of beverages/foodstuffs left for the Dūrupālas. Pouring a sweet mead on the threshold of your home is a great way to attract ants. Do you want ants? Because this is how you get ants. 

A Midsumor Prayer to Hengest and Horsa

Oh, supernal Gods revered
Sunbǣras, Hengest and Horsa
They who draw Sōl upon her path through the heavens
divine Steersmen of the sun-barge

So as the wheel of the year doth turn,
so too do I petition thee in the hope that
you bestow your blessings upon us,
to myself, to my household, and to my kin
and provide fair weather and plenty in the coming months

A gift for a gift
I give and I dedicate
May this offering find you well
May this offering be well-received

Tracing (9)


Current Thoughts & Reheathening Charms II

This is a follow-up to a post I made back in September called, Reheathening Charms I, found here.

I’ve wanted to write something for this blog for a couple weeks now, but couldn’t manage to gather my thoughts sufficiently enough to put them into words. Every time I think I’ve stumbled on something worth talking about, I hit a dead end or lose interest in the project entirely. I’ve had this odd feeling – an inexplicable pull- driving me to customize our hearth cult and to reconstruct deities necessary for that customization. It’s as if there are deities here that need to be sought out and given worship and they won’t take no for answer. As we progress as a household, more functions will need to be filled and more numinous powers will need to be recognized.

Hopefully, in the coming days I’ll be able to sift through the plethora of notes and excerpts I’ve been collecting and post something substantial to that effect. In the meantime, I’ve come across a set of charms worth sharing here.

Witchcraft and Folklore of Dartmoor by Ruth E. St.Leger-Gordon had been sitting on my bookshelf for months on end. When it came in the mail, I read about a quarter of the way through the book,  got pissed off at the author’s tone of superiority and her constant mockery of the subjects she was interviewing, and subsequently forgot I owned the book at all.

Today I cracked open St.Leger-Gordon’s book again. I’m still not fond of her approach, but I realize that she, like her contemporaries, is a product of her time. While her biased commentary is indeed annoying, the folkloric accounts recorded in the book are still worth exploring.

Two charms of comparable wording are recorded as cures for a sprain. The first, recorded in William Crossing’s Folk Rhymes of Devon,  is presented thusly:

“Bone to Bone and Vein to Vein
And vein turn thy rest again
And so shall thine
In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost”

In the second sprain charm, taken from a collection of old papers found at Marystowe, we are presented with a very similar formula to the one charm mentioned above.

“Marrow to marrow and bone to bone and sinews to sinews and skin to skin. 
In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Ghost I cast this sprain away.
Amen. So be it.”

According to the author, the final lines of these charms are reminiscent of, “as I will, so mote it be,” found in Rosicrucianism and neo-paganism- a recitation of forceful words that serve to shape reality in the witch’s favour.

The charms above represent a clear synthesis of Pagan and Christian ideas, though the pagan elements can easily separated from their Christian veneer. While some readers might question whether the non-Christian elements represent anything more than rural folk-magic, similarities to the 10th century Second Merseburg Charm suggest it may be a survival from a much earlier period.

Phol and Wodan were riding to the woods,
and the foot of Balder’s foal was sprained
So Sinthgunt, Sunna’s sister, conjured it.
and Frija, Volla’s sister, conjured it.
and Wodan conjured it, as well he could:
Like bone-sprain, so blood-sprain,
so joint-sprain:
Bone to bone, blood to blood,
joints to joints,
so may they be mended.

Comparing the three charms, we can see an obvious similarity in their wording and are able to reconstruct a charm of our own without the Christian overlay. Our charm for sprain might look something like this:

“Marrow to marrow
Bone to bone
Sinew to sinew
Blood to blood
And joints to joints, 
As I will it,
so may they be mended”


[1] Fortson, Benjamin W. Indo-European language and culture: an introduction, Wiley-Blackwell. (2004)


Of Wuduwāsan and Wild Men

The “wild man” is a folkloric figure who appears often as a motif in medieval European artworks and literature.  In these depictions, he is frequently portrayed as hirsute, brutish and uncivilized, attributes which lend themselves well to the “wild man” moniker. While there are many theories as to the origins of the wild man motif, the possible connections to earlier, pagan genii (deities or guardian spirits of a person, place, etc.)[1] is of paramount importance here.

Wuduwāsa (Middle English: wodwo, Modern English: Woodwose) is a word employed in several Old English vocabularies as a gloss for a satyr, faun and silvanus.  The wudu element of the compound corresponds to the Old English word for ‘wood’, while wāsa is of an unknown etymological origin[2].  While the etymology may not provide us with much in the way of clues pertaining to the wuduwāsa’s (pl: wuduwāsan) pagan origins, we may be able to glean more insight into their pre-Christian character through studying similar beings and their role in their respective religious traditions.

Satyrs and Fauni

In the Greek religion, satyrs were a group of beings which accompanied their leader, Silenus and the God, Dionysos in their bacchanalian processions. Their connections to fertility were clearly illustrated by their large, permanently erect penises[3], ram’s horns and in the earliest depictions, their goat/horse-like hooves and tails.  As Dionysian beings, satyrs are said to be fond of the physical pleasures of the world, revelling in sex, drink and music. Satyrs are often depicted alongside the maenads, who they vociferously pursue in an attempt to satisfy their lust.  Though this act appears at first glance as playful freedom, Sheila McNally suggests that this was not the case, quoting several depictions where the lustful satyr is rebuffed by a hostile maenad, or where the maenad is effectively abducted and raped by her pursuer.

“In an art full of eroticism and abduction sexual conflict is rare, and Dionysiac revelry produces most of it. The supposed release gives rise to unparalleled tensions. We might conclude that the Greeks felt the most natural sexual relationship to be one of hostility, only restrained by the contracts of civilization. The depictions of conflict between satyr and maenad are not, however, ubiquitous enough to support that interpretation. They are limited to specific situations and reach a climax at one period: the end of archaic and beginning of classical art. There are two probable reasons why the deviation has not been adequately examined. In the first place, the evidence consists solely of scenes in art. In literature hostility may be directed from outside toward Dionysos or his followers, but they do not fight among themselves. In the second place, even among works of art the scenes of conflict are the exception, not the rule. The most striking examples are a few red-figure vase paintings executed between 500 and 470 B.C. The majority of Dionysiac scenes are indeed as carefree as one could wish.”[4]

Satyrs are commonly depicted holding a thyrsos, a large stalk of fennel topped with a pine cone associated with Dionysos. According to Ioannis Kakridis, the thyrsos acted as a symbol of phallic fertility and hedonism, with the stalk being representative of the shaft and the pine cone being the “seed”[5].

In Roman religion, fauns were half-man, half-goat beings of a particularly amoral disposition. Unlike their Greek counterparts, fauns were less sex-crazed and more prone to trickery and deceit. In Republican era ideology, fauni are representative of pastoral life and the farmer, via Virgil’s works- the
numina of rustic peoples.

In Aeneid Books VIII-XII, woodland fauns are represented as being born from the trunks of trees and from hard oak. In this depiction, the fauns are associated with pre-agrarianism and pre-civilization and Virgil refers to them as indigenae “indigenous inhabitants”, suggesting that belief in fauni was both ancient and indigenous[6].

“These woods were first the seat of sylvan pow’rs,
Of Nymphs and Fauns, and salvage men, who took
Their birth from trunks of trees and stubborn oak.
Nor laws they knew, nor manners, nor the care
Of lab’ring oxen, or the shining share,
Nor arts of gain, nor what they gain’d to spare.
Their exercise the chase; the running flood
Supplied their thirst, the trees supplied their food.”[7]

In the Republican-era, fauni appear as disembodied voices that echo within the natural and rural landscape.  Regarding this interesting quality, Di-Giusto posits that it may be evidence of fauni belonging to a “higher class of divinity”, invisible to those who encounter them, and perhaps more akin to the spirits of the place.[6].

Fauni were associated with Faunus, God of woods, plains and fields, presenting a juxtaposed image to that of Greek satyrs and Pan. While this particular tangent would serve as interesting reading material, it would likely do little to elucidate the character of wuduwāsan further. Suffice to say, Pan and Faunus were both deities who, like their followers (the satyrs and fauns respectively), represented fertility and rustic abundance. As a rustic deity, Pan was rarely worshipped indoors in man-made structures, but instead in caves and in grottoes[8].


Silvanus is the Roman tutelary God of forests and fields. As Roman society progressed, Silvanus went from being the menacing God of unreclaimed wild spaces on the fringes of society to that of woodland pastures, gardens, boundaries, villas and parks[9].  Silvanus’ role as a God of the natural landscape and its inherent fertility is also illustrated through his syncretism with Faunus, both of which possess goat and lupine theriomorphic tendencies. Faunus’ lupine nature is asserted by Ovid, who suggests Pan/Faunus as the central figure of the earliest Lupercalia celebrations[10].  

Silvanus’ iconography is difficult to pin down given its changeability and fluid nature. P. Dorsey states that “Ancient deities were complex religious entities with many seemingly unrelated or contradictory sides, overlapping more often than not with those of other divinities.” [11]

Roman engineer Dolabella stated that Silvanus was the deity responsible for setting up the first boundary markers used to delineate the organized farmland from the wilderness outside. He also indicated that each estate was home to three Silvani, suggesting a plurality as opposed to a singular deity. A Silvanus Domesticus (Silvanus of the home), Silvanus Agrestis (Silvanus of flocks and farmstead) and Silvanus Orientalis (Silvanus of the estate boundary) are listed as the genii loci who preside over the typical Roman homestead[12].

Silvanus Orientalis was given the title of salutaris, or “salutary”, because he was considered a benefactor of the home.  He is the spirit of the forest, the silva, and likely the multitudes of beings that dwell within it, as the Indo-European suffix -no implies sovereignty[13].

His functions are implied in the many epithets associated with his name. Pecudifer, Lactifer, Glandifer, Poncifer, Cannabifer, Linifer mean, respectively, “He who encourages the reproduction of flocks,” “He who produces milk,” “He who produces acorns,” “He who produces fruits,” “He who makes the hemp grow,” and “He who makes the trees grow”[14].  In his Etymologiae, Isidore of Seville gives him the name rusticorum deus, or “God of the peasants.”

In Latin works, Silvanus is regularly depicted as a kindly, bearded old man who carries the trunk of a cyprus tree[15]. This depiction is mirrored in medieval and Renaissance images of woodwose who are regularly depicted carrying clubs or the uprooted trunk of a tree.


The nature sprite of Slavic folklore combines both anthropomorphic and demonic traits, manifesting as a very large or very short, hairy man akin to the woodwose[16].  In some depictions, the leshy (Russian: Ле́ший, Belarusian: Лешы, Polish: Leszy, Czech: Leši, Serbian: Лешиј, Croatian: Lešij, Leši) [17] appears with goat legs and hooves, reminiscent of Roman Faunus.  In others he is depicted as an old, grey-bearded man dressed in a white or in a coniferous green cloak[18].  Leshy are shapeshifters, able to transmute in size and shape at will- transforming into both bird and beast. They are exceedingly territorial, with felled trees and frightened animals considered the result of their calamitous territorial disputes[19].  Each tract of woodland is thought to be home to a single male leshy and his family. Similar to the of the fauni, leshy are frequently encountered as disembodied voices in the forest, but are seldom seen, which is suggestive of an incorporeal entity as opposed to that of a corporeal one[20].

Leshy are avid tricksters and, like the fauni, are known to lead hapless travellers astray. While this might suggest an inherent malevolence, this view is tempered by stories of leshy shepherding woodland creatures, protecting them from hunters and striking mutually beneficial deals with humans who rely on the forest’s bounty. If the human end of the deals are met, the leshy would help the hunters trap animals, keep watch over beekeeper’s hollow logs and protect shepherd’s flocks and ensure the health of cattle[21].  Wolves and bears are often among the leshy’s entourage and, like the woodwose, they are said to carry clubs representative of his rulership over the forest[22].

The Medieval Woodwose

By the twelfth century, the woodwose became a common fixture of roof bosses and as supporters of German coats-of-arms. In Lombardy, woodwose were referred to as salvan, or salvang, both of which are derivatives of Latin, Silvanus. In Tyrol and German-speaking Switzerland, the wild man was known as Fange or Fanke, which derive their name from a feminine form of faun[23].

Dorothy Yamamoto demonstrates that the Medieval wild man was the embodiment of fears pertaining to cultivated space of mankind and the wilderness beyond it.

“In the wild man the dividing line between the centre and the periphery seems to have vanished altogether. How can the prevailing discourse cope with him? The region he inhabits has always been one of absorbed speculation, and also of profound anxiety, since his presence within culture suggests that the membrane between humanness and otherness is frighteningly permeable- that there might, in fact, be circumstances in which men might lose their humanity, and revert, or sink, to the level of beasts”[24].

There are several later folk traditions which may have been remnants of an earlier, pagan practice. In Grisons, Switzerland, peasants reenacted the capture and binding of the “wild man”, demanding his secrets in exchange for his freedom. This practice is reflected in earlier accounts relayed by Xenophon, Ovid, Pausanias, and Claudius Aelianus, where shepherds captured Silenus or Faunus for much the same purpose.[25]


Now that we have explored lore pertaining to satyrs, fauni, Silvanus, leshy and woodwose, we can attempt to piece together a completed picture of what the Anglo-Saxon wuduwāsa may have looked like, and how they might be incorporated into modern Fyrnsidu practice.

Based on the examples above, we can posit the role of wuduwāsan as that of genii loci of both boundaries and of wild, uncultivated space. Based on comparisons to satyrs, fauni and later depictions of woodwose, the wuduwāsa was likely thought of as hirsute, or bestial in appearance, able to assume the form of various woodland creatures. Wuduwāsan were also likely able to change their size at will, or disappear completely, becoming nothing more than a disembodied voice.

Wuduwāsan were deities associated with fertility, via their associations with Silvanus and the Dionysian procession – a comparison which is suggestive of an unbridled, unpredictable nature.  As amoral beings concerned more with the well-being of woodland creatures than of men, the wuduwāsa should be approached with prudence.  While entering into a reciprocal relationship with the local wuduwāsa is likely possible, as is illustrated in fauni and leshy lore, the risks of angering the one may outweigh the potential gains.

If offerings are to be left for wuduwāsan, it may be advisable to stick to those propitiatory sacrifices typically associated with Silvanus, such as: grapes, ears of grain, milk, meat, wine and pork[26].  These sacrifices should be left in wild, liminal spaces like caves, grottoes or the hollows of trees – preferably oak or pine.  Due to the leshy and Silvanus’ role as protectors of cattle, offerings of beef might be ill-advised.

While it may be unwise to assume a singular, Anglo-Saxon deity akin to Pan, Faunus, or Silvanus, given the evidence above, accepting a broader group of woodland genii loci, based on comparative study, and survival of the later medieval woodwose is more tenable.



[2] Bosworth, Joseph. “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” Wudu-wása. Ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others. Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý. Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010. Web. 13 May 2017.
[3] Dictionary of Greek Mythology by Hellenica.
[4] McNally, Sheila. The Maenad in Early Greek Art
[5] Kakridis, Ioannis. Ελληνική μυθολογία Εκδοτική Αθηνών 1987
[6] Di-Giusto, Tammy. Faunus and the Fauns in Latin Literature of the Republic and Early Empire. University of Adelaide, Discipline of Classics. Faculty of Arts. October 2015.
[8] Horbury, William (1992). Jewish Inscriptions of Graeco-Roman Egypt. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press
[9] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Silvanus-Roman-god
[10] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities 1.32.3–5, 1.80
[11] Dorsey, Peter. The Cult of Silvanus: A Study in Roman Folk Religion. (1992)
[12] Dolabella. ex libris Dolabellae, in “Die Schriften der rômischen Feldmesser”, edited by Karl Lachmann, Georg Reimer ed., Berlin, 1848
[13] Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices. (pp.50)
[14] Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices. (pp.51)
[15] Virgil. Georgics I.20-1
[16] Anglickienė, Laima . Slavic Folklore DIDACTICAL GUIDELINES (pp.137)
[17] Krinichnaya, Neonila Artyomovna. (2004) Русская мифология: Мир образов фольклора [Russian Mythology: The World of Folklore Images]. Akademicheskii Proyekt. Moscow. ch. 3, “Leshy: Totemic origins and the polysemy of images”
[18] Anglickienė, Laima . Slavic Folklore DIDACTICAL GUIDELINES (pp.137)
[19] http://mythandlore.blogspot.ca/2012/04/leshy.html
[20] https://www.britannica.com/topic/leshy
[21] Anglickienė, Laima . Slavic Folklore DIDACTICAL GUIDELINES (pp.138)
[22] Green, Gary. The Slavic Pagan World:Slavic Pagan Beliefs, Gods, Myths, Recipes, Magic, Spells, Divinations, Remedies, Songs. (pp.121)
[23] Bernheimer, Richard . Wild men in the Middle Ages, Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1952; New York : Octagon books, 1979
[24] Yamamoto, Dorothy. The Boundaries of the Human in Medieval English Literature
[25] Bernheimer, Richard . Wild men in the Middle Ages, Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1952; New York : Octagon books, 1979. (pp.25)
[26] Horace. Epistles II.1.143

Concerning Dweorgas

In the following article we will examine Germanic dwarf lore and how these beings might fit into Fyrnsidu cosmology.

In Anglo-Saxon Sources

While dweorg/dweorh appears a number of times in Old English glossaries, the most significant example appears in the Lacnunga manuscript metrical charm, Wið Dweorh. The charm, which translates as Against a Dwarf is a ward against illnesses caused by dwarfs, which Edward Pettit equates with fever.[1]

The metrical charm is translated into modern English as follows.

“Take seven little wafers, such as those used in worship, and write these names on each wafer: Maximianus, Malchus, Iohannes, Martimianus, Dionisius, Constantinus, Serafion. Then sing the charm that is given, first in the left ear, then in the right ear, then over the top of the head. And then let a virgin go to him and hang it on his neck. And do this for three days. He will soon be better.

A spider-thing     came on the scene
with his cloak in his hand;     claiming you for his horse,
he put his cord on your neck.     Then they began to cast off from land;
as soon as they left the land     they nonetheless began to cool.
The beast’s sister     came on the scene;
she stopped it,     and swore these oaths:
that this should never     hurt the sick one,
nor any who tried     to take this charm,
nor any who should     speak this charm.
Amen. Fiat.”[2]

In this example, the dweorg is clearly a being of malefic intent who is capable of causing sickness and bodily harm to mortals. While Pettit’s assertion is that Dweorg is analogous with fever, Matthew C. G. Lewis argues it may constitute an entity which causes sleep paralysis, akin to the Germanic Mara (OE Mære).[3] Lewis speculates that the reference to a ‘spider-thing’ alludes to a binding feeling common to episodes of sleep paralysis. As this is an article dealing largely with the metaphysical aspects of the dwarf as it pertains to Fyrnsidu, we will not traverse further down this rabbit hole, suffice to say it elucidates possible characteristics and capabilities of dweorgas and like-entities as purveyors of physical oppression.

In Norse Sources

In Vǫluspá, dwarfs are described as being the product  of the bones of Blain and the blood of Brimir, both of which are considered bynames of the primordial giant, Ymir. In the Prose Edda, the connection to Ymir is more concrete, as the dwarfs are purported to be maggot-like creatures who grew in the flesh of the giant. Over 100 names are given for dwarfs in both Eddas, with four in particular being given a cosmological role as beings who hold up the sky and are named for the four cardinal directions. [4]

Depictions of dwarfs in Norse lore are often complex and confusing, with significant overlap occurring between dwarfs, elves, giants and trolls. Scholars have noted the similarities between dwarfs and Svartálfar (dark elves), as both are listed as residing in Svartálfaheimr, suggesting a coupling of sorts.[5]

This similarity is further established between elves and dwarfs by their shared propensity to cause ‘shot’, a type of malign, metaphysical pain. The term ylfa gescot (elf-shot) appears in Wið Færstice, an Anglo-Saxon metrical charm designed to ward against a ‘sudden stitch.’ This use of ‘shot’ appears to have been a shared Germanic concept, based on its inclusion in later German, Danish and Norwegian texts.  Alvskot (elf-shot), trollskot (troll-shot) and dvergskot (dwarf-shot) all appear in later Norwegian usage , effectively blurring the line between elf and dwarf and their perceived malefic abilities.[6]

Norse dwarfs, like their elfish counterparts, were frequently associated with the dead and liminality. In Ynglinga Saga, dwarfs are guardians of a doorway through a mountain which leads to the realm of Oðinn, a gateway which Lotte Motz suggests is a doorway between worlds.[7] Lecouteux corroborates this belief in dwarfs being related to the dead, suggesting that those who suffer a premature, violent or unusual death are likely to be transformed into revenants or dwarfs rather than elves.

“This last name refers to a very specific characteristic of dwarves: the sun blinds and petrifies them. Undoubtedly even more interesting are the names that clearly show that dwarves represent a mythical vision of the dead, or, at the very least, that they have a very close bond with the dead. Here are several of them: Dáinn (“Died”), Nár and Náinn (both meaning “Corpse”), Frosti (“Cold”), Funinn (“Decomposed”), Dvalinn (“Torpid”), Hornbori (“Pierced by a Horn”), Haugspori (“The One Who Enters the Burial Mound”) and Búinn (“Readyfor-Departure,” i.e., for burial). To this list we can also add Nýi (“Dark”) and Niði (“New Moon”), since this planetary body is that of the deceased, and Ái (“Ancestor”), which clearly indicates the transformation of the dead into dwarves. Furthermore, the natural habitat of the dwarves is the lithic realm, which is of course that of the deceased.” [8]

Continental and Later Medieval Sources

Nowhere was the image of the dwarf more diluted and confused than in continental Germanic folklore. It was there that the dwarf (OHG: twerg, twerc, MHG: twerc, zwerc) was used as a gloss for a number of supernatural beings. In the Middle High German glossaries, zwerc was used as an amalgam for wiht, schrat, pilwiz, pumilo, nanus/pygmaeus and pilosus. Due to the fact that zwerc and schrat were conflated and the word schrat itself subsumed incubus, succubus, silvanus/silenus, fanus/panes, larva, penates and satyrus, studying the unique features of the continental dwarf has become a laborious exercise.[9]

The comparisons to schrat and pilwiz are of particular interest here, as both can serve to buttress lore regarding dwarfs. In the most ancient glosses, schrat is glossed as larva and monstrum, or “dead one” and “revenant” respectively and as Lares mali, “evil Lares.”[10] These glosses are suggestive of a maleficent, or at least amoral genius loci, similar to the beings described in Wið Dweorh. They also corroborate Lecouteux’s claim that dwarfs were likely viewed as revenants who had died tragic or untimely deaths.

The comparison to pilwiz (MHG: Bilwiss , Bilwiz, MLG: Belewitte) also provides confirmation that dwarfs may have served as genii loci, or house spirits prior to their power being dimished by Christian writers.  In his lyrical poetry, Wolfram von Eschenbach refers to the Wilwis as an elf-like being able to shoot magic arrows called Bilwizschuß, “Bilwiz-shot” which can cause paralysis in humans. Grimm also provides the term pilbisbawm, or “Pilbis-tree”, a tree which is said to house an elfish genius loci.[11]

Like the dwarf, pilwiz was a term which held many meanings, depending on the time period and geographic location, though, As Lecouteux says of genii loci in Demons and Spirits of the Land, “their shape, names and appearances were protean, but their role, duties, and localization remained unchanged.”

Dwarfs in a Fyrnsidu Context

Now that we have explored pertinent Anglo-Saxon, Norse and continental dwarf lore, we are able to assemble a more complete image of dweorgas[*] and how they might be approached by practitioners of Fyrnsidu.  

As we saw in all three sections, dweorgas can be dangerous entities, possessing the ability to cause illness and paralysis by way of magic, if slighted. Dweorgas are also likely those who have suffered a premature or violent death, which may explain their latent erratic and malefic behaviour.  They are seemingly able to oppress their victims during sleep, exerting their powers in the form of nightmares and sleep paralysis.

As genii loci (tutelary spirits), dweorgas are connected to specific geographic locations and homes. Though propitiatory offerings can and should be made, entering into a reciprocal cycle of do ut des would be both dangerous and ill-advised. As the dead are liminal beings, offerings might be placed in a nearby body of water or doorway in placation.

Dweorgas are also chthonic/infernal beings akin to the Dii Manes of the Roman religion, so gestures of appeasement during especially liminal periods of the year (Gēola, Winterfylleþ) are advisable to halt their encroachment.

unnamed (1)

Edward Pettit, Anglo-Saxon Remedies, Charms, and Prayers from British Library MS Harley 585: The Lacnunga : Introduction, Apr 2001
[2]Karl Young,  https://www.thing.net/~grist/ld/young/ky-chrm.htm
[3] Matthew C. G. Lewis, Dreaming of Dwarves: Nightmares and Shamanism in Anglo-Saxon Poetics and the Wið Dweorh Charm.
[4] Simek, Rudolf (2007) translated by Angela Hall. Dictionary of Northern Mythology(2007:67–68)
[5] Simek (2007:305), Orchard (1997:35), and Hafstein (2002:111)
[6] De Vries, Jan. Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, I, pp.296-7
Motz, Lotte (1983). The Wise One of the Mountain: Form, Function and Significance of the Subterranean Smith: A Study in Folklore. Göppinger Arbeiten zur Germanistik
[8] Lecouteux, Claude. Garden Dwarves and House Spirits
[9]Lecouteux, Claude. Demons and Spirits of the Land: Ancestral Lore and Practices. (pp.55-6)
[10]Lecouteux, Claude. The Tradition of Household Spirits: Ancestral Lore and Practices. (pp.111)
[11]Grimm, Jacob. German Mythology 1st volume (2nd edition), Dieterichsche bookstore, Göttingen (1844), page 441- 446
[*]The plural form *dweorgas is used here, though there doesn’t seem to be an existing plural form. The ‘as’ ending seems likely when we compare other masculine nouns with similar endings.