Blōstmfrēols: A Holiday of the Larhus Fyrnsida

Author’s Note: This article was originally posted to “Of Axe and Plough” on March 17, 2017.  It is posted here with permission.

In developing a more comprehensive character to one’s religious identity, inspiration for practice can come readily from scraps of information or otherwise from the barest of inspiration.  As a reconstructionist religion, Fyrnsidu is distinctly benefited from the use of various comparative methodologies in order to flesh itself out so that it does not remain in a static or otherwise stunted form.  Incidents of holidays and a religious calendar are one such facet which are underrepresented in the historic record and must be worked around in order to craft a proper identity.  The following is presented for practitioners of Fyrnsidu and the followers of the Larhus Fyrnsida to consider.

Bosworth-Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary includes a definition:

blōstm-frēols es; m.

A floral festival

Blōstmfrēols >>floralia<<.[1]

This definition is an Old English gloss for the Roman festival Floralia.  This may hint at an early-Spring festival that was associated with that more ancient observance, and was thus suitable for a proper Old English gloss for the Latin term.  It is known from the Anecdota Oxoniensia, the Old English Glosses, edited by Arthur S. Napier.

It is not unusual for an Old English gloss to exist for a corresponding Latin concept without proof of an existing practice.  Questions necessarily surround the extent of such a commonality of practice between these two terms.  But in this instance it may be reasonable to assume, with the prevalence of regional Spring festivals across the whole of Northern Europe that some measure of festival occurred within the Anglo-Saxon period that the scribes best associated with Floralia.

European folk traditions that take place in late-April and early-May are commonly known.  Of these, to modern practitioner, “May Day” celebrations are perhaps the best known of these Spring festivals.  It is common for contemporary Pagans to treat “May Day” as the archetypal spring festival honoring fertility, abundance and growth, given over to modern practice from a culturally syncretic Wiccan religious apparatus that combined Gaelic Beltane and traditional English folk practices.  

Blōstmfrēols is of interest in the quest of establishing a unique holiday practice to enrich the practice of Fyrnsidu as distinctly Old English practices for Heathens are largely nonexistent.  Blōstmfrēols, as a gloss of Floralia, gives us an insight into the nature of the period, and the position of that Roman holiday provides the foundations for a future construction of worship.

We are not alone in making these comparisons with Floralia, nor is this found only in Bosworth-Toller.  Such a comparison had been previously made in the monograph Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning Lincolnshire, by Eliza Gutch and Mabel Peacock.  Published in 1908, it was one of several printed volumes of collected folklore remnants at the time.  Floralia is intimately associated with the practice of “going a’Maying”, an old custom observed by children on the 1st of May.  Particularly, garlands of flowers were constructed that were adorned with dolls, explained by Gutch and Peacock as the chief doll “being representative of the goddess Flora, in the festival of the Roman Floralia[2].

While it is untenable to assume that the survival of pre-Saxon Roman practices into modern memory, the comparison nevertheless lays an important groundwork for the exploration of what could constitute a development of a particularly Old English Heathen practice.  Independent of Gaelicized-Wiccan observances, this practice can be explored through comparative study with the Floralia, in order to give more substance to what the writers of these glosses were describing.

Behind Blōstmfrēols: Floralia

As a festival celebrating the fertility and fecundity of the Spring, Floralia is the Roman festival for the goddess Flora and consisted of a festival post-dating the expansion of the original Flora cult in 238 BCE [3].  In the veneration of Flora, it consisted of hares and goats being released within the Circus Maximus and various seeds and beans scattered among the attending people gathered taking place on the 28th of April through the 3rd of May.  Given the emphasis on fertility and the bloom of the Spring and dealing with the fructification of the earth and humanity both, it was functionally and undeniably a festival for the common folk [4].

Flora is an old Italic deity who is associated with both Ceres, as the agricultural goddess of fertility, and with Venus, as the goddess of love and fecundity [5]. She is nevertheless set apart from these two deities.  She is not simply an “agrarian” deity in the same nature of Ceres, but deals specifically with the celebration of the Spring bloom of flowers.  Historically, the temples of Ceres and Flora were established separately, and their respective holidays were likewise kept apart.  Despite the apparent links between this holiday and the Cerealia, the celebration of Floralia-as-fertility festival was independent of celebration of agricultural cultivation

Floralia is representative of the fertility of the land through nonviolent means.  The release of the hares and goats, themselves herbivorous animals, were not sacrificed.  This positions Floralia against a bloodletting festival which would otherwise ensure the fertility of the land.  It takes place at the end of April when the flowers and fields are beginning to bloom for much of the northern hemisphere.  Much like Ēastre and Beltane, it would fall in the transitional period between April and May.

The festival of Floralia has been classified as a ‘propitiatory sacrifice’, or a piacula.  This denotes a ritual action reserved for sacrifices that are designed specifically in order to ensure the continuation of or otherwise protect against some specific outcome.  As much of a celebration of flowers and the Spring, it appears to have been a ritualistic safeguard to continue the natural order of spring growth.  

Blōstmfrēols in Contemporary Practice

The literal definition of Blōstmfrēols as a “floral festival” in Bosworth-Toller places flowers, flowering plants, and fructification as the highest concern in this holiday.  It celebrates the growth of those vibrant attractants and their importance within agriculture.  What does this include?  Flowers.  Bees.  Pollination.  Life.  It is more than a Spring festival, but one that actively worships the vibrant attractants which inevitably help produce the fruits and vegetables we as a society depend on, as well as the creatures that make that happen.

The question remains: How can one appreciate and celebrate this holiday if they so wish?  What are ways that practitioners of Fyrnsidu and their hearths can potentially approach such a holiday?  What would the requirements of ritual be?

It would perhaps be best to determine when the festivity should be.  Floralia is positioned late in the month of April, sometime between April 28th and May 3rd.  A similar positioning for Blōstmfrēols is absolutely appropriate, although individuals in different growing seasons are more than welcome to move it further ahead or behind, depending.  For instance, late April is a good time for those in what is considered “hardiness zone 5”, when things are entering their bloom.  Those that are in warmer climates further south may decide that close to Ēastre may be preferable.

It is a festival of both levity and solemnity, one that both celebrates flowers and new growth as well as seeks to ensure that the coming Spring and growing season are fruitful and prosperous.  Given its roots in the non-violent Floralia, it is unsuitable to celebrate Blōstmfrēols with offerings of meat or game products, relying instead on wines, honey, oils, and other products of agricultural practices which are benefited by the proliferation of flowers and pollinators.  Suitable sacrifices are poured out in libation or are otherwise “gifted back”, and coupled with votives (hares and goats in particular) and other offerings as deemed appropriate.

Though we do not have a comparative figure associated with Flora in Old English folklore, Ēastre provides a suitable focus for worship.  She is honored from the full moon of Ēastremōnaþ to the end of Blōstmfrēols, and celebrated as the bringer of the Spring and the flowers.  In this manner She is approached as the Goddess of flowers (Ēastre Blōstmbǣrende), of bees (Ēastre Bēomōder) and honey (Ēastre Hunigflōwende)[6].

Blōstmfrēols could then be seen as the end of the “Ēastre season”, the finished culmination of the honoring of the equinox, and the hope for the growth it should bring.

Compliments of the Sierra Club, such packets only help bee populations.

We can utilize later-period Lincolnshire folklore as an example for suitable actions, as well. The creation of flower garlands[7], especially utilizing native flowers to the area and grown at the appropriate time and adorned with ribbons and other festive decorations, is appropriate. Votive representations of either the hares or the goats, or of a divine figure placed within those garlands, can hang prominently throughout the period of the observance, only to be deposited on a body of water or buried in the soil at the end of the festival, as hearth practice entails.

Given the dire state of the bee population in the West, especially the United States where they suffer from Colony Collapse Disorder, the celebration and protection of pollinators is of paramount importance for our continued survival as a society.  Seeding local types of wildflowers or maintaining a space conducive for their growth will only aid in the proliferation of the bounty which Blōstmfrēols ultimately seeks to ensure.

In Summary

It is highly unlikely that the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon tribes maintained a festival that was undeniably drawn from Roman practices, as a simple reading of the gloss would otherwise intimate.  No matter the thoughts of folklorists and gloss scribes, it is simply unlikely to have happened.

It is, likewise, undeniable that Blōstmfrēols is a contemporary holiday that is built upon very ancient practices.  There are no claims to antiquity in the present practice of the observance.  Instead it takes the tradition of established Spring festivities and brings them to the fore for Fyrnsidu practice, incorporating a perspective of our world and employing it in a fundamentally unique way.  This is vital in the performance and continuation of a modern religious identity, for if those holes which we have are not filled, we will remain in the mire of intellectualism and academic debate and not a living religious identity.


[1] Bosworth, Joseph, ed. Thomas Northcote Toller and Others, Comp. Sean Christ and Ondřej Tichý “An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary Online.” Blóstm-freóls. (Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, 21 Mar. 2010), Accessed: Web. 29 July 2016. http://www.bosworthtoller.com/040634.  There is also another word given for Blōstmfrēols in Bosworth-Toller, “Blōstmgeld” which serves as an alternative.  This word also is translated as “floralia”.

[2] Eliza Gutch and Mabel Peacock, County Folk-lore Vol. V., Printed Extracts No. VII: Examples of Printed Folk-Lore Concerning Lincolnshire (London: Long Acre, 1908), pg. 200.

[3] W. Warde Fowler, The Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic: An Introduction to the Study of the Religion of the Romans, (London: Macmillan and Co. LTD.), 1899, pg 91.

[4] Fowler, Roman Festivals, pg. 95.

[5] Fowler, Roman Festivals, pg. 92.

[6] This would syncretize Her with Flora, Chloris and Mellona, respectively, providing additional clues for an appropriate practice of the holiday period.

[7] Gutch and Peacock, Printed Folk-Lore, pg. 200. Traditional descriptions of these garlands include an “oval shape”, and were otherwise composed of cowslips, wood anemones, crab-blossom, wall-flowers, primroses, and daisies. Given the geographic conditions of modern Fyrnsidere, it is advised that one uses locally procured flowers.

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Concerning Hāma

When it comes to reconstructing the Anglo-Saxon pantheon , I’m ever wary of merely copying and pasting from the Norse sources. It’s not that I don’t think there was overlap, it’s just that I think cultural differences as well as the differences in time period should be carefully considered. The simple fact that Frīge was split into two distinct goddesses during the Viking Age is a good indication that changes DID occur, so it would be wise to approach the Norse subject matter with caution when we reconstruct the earlier Anglo-Saxon religion.

One deity that appears to be venerated by many Anglo-Saxon Heathens in modern times is Hāma. Swain Wodening refers to him in a few of his books as the Anglo-Saxon version of Heimdallr.

For those who are unaware, Hāma is referred to twice in Old English lore. The first reference to him is in Beowulf;

“…since Hama bore off
to the shining city the Brosings’ necklace,
Gem-figured filigree. He gained the hatred
Of Eormanric the Goth, chose eternal reward.”

(trans. by Howell Chickering, 1977)

There certainly are some similarities between the account in Beowulf and Heimdallr’s role regarding the Brosinga Mene in the Prose Edda. Although, it is entirely possible that the story of the necklace’s theft was well known, but the players within the drama changed according to who was doing the telling. Either way, both Heimdallr and Hāma have a connection to this magical piece of Jewellery. In Skáldskaparmál, section 8, Heimdallr is referred to as “Seeker of Freyja’s necklace” by Sturluson.  In the Elder Edda, Heimdallr is the one who decides Þorr should dress as Freyja and marry Thrymir in order to retrieve the necklace from the clutches of Ettins.

“Then said Heimdall, of Æsir brightest —
he well foresaw, like other Vanir —
Let us clothe Thor with bridal raiment,
let him have the famed Brîsinga necklace.
“Let by his side keys jingle,
and woman’s weeds fall around his knees,
but on his breast place precious stones,
and a neat coif set on his head.”

(Benjamin Thorpe Trans.)

The second instance where Hāma is mentioned is in Widsið;

“I visited Raedhere and Rondhere, Rumstan and Gislhere, Withergield and Freotheric, Wudga and Hama. They were by no means the worst of companions, even though I happen to mention them last. Often a whistling spear flew from the army, screaming on its way to the enemy line; there the exiles Wudga and Hama gained twisted gold, men and women”

The two stanzas from Widsið do little to improve our understanding of Hāma. Although the second source supports the fact that Hāma was known to the English well enough to be listed in more than one source, it tells us very little about him. It certainly doesn’t lend any credence to the idea that Hāma was considered as anything more than a warrior-hero.  According to the Nordisk Familjebok (1909), the character of Wudga was most likely based on a Gothic hero named Vidigoia who battled the Huns in the Vistula Forests.  It’s possible that if Wudga was based off of a historical Gothic warrior, so too was Hāma.

The final thing I’d like to touch on is the fact that Old English lore is not the only place that Hāma appears.  Both Hāma and Wudga appear in Þiðrekssaga as Heimir and Viðga respectively. Hāma also appears as Heime in the Middle High German epics where he is connected to the Gothic kings Theordoric the Great and Eormenric, making his connections to the Goths all but certain.

So who is Hāma?

I suppose there is some evidence to suggest he may be the same deity as Heimdallr. The reference to Brosinga mene is certainly noteworthy, although not 100% convincing in my mind. Although I don’t know if Heimdallr and Hāma were one and the same character, it certainly doesn’t mean Hāma wasn’t venerated and shouldn’t be venerated today as a deity in his own right. It was most certainly common practice in elder days to demi-deify long dead, legendary kings and heroes of old, so why should today be any different?

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Watering The Roots: Ancestral Reverence In A Fyrnsidu Context

Continuing with the theme of hearth cult, I want to touch base with all of you on one of its central pieces. Essential to Fyrnsidu, and just about any other Heathen or Pagan custom. Ancestors and ancestral reverence. To look at this integral part of practice in both the ancient sense, and see how it applies to those who practice Fyrnsidu today.

It takes little effort to explain who ancestors are. They are, of course those from whom we are literally descended by blood, or by adoption or marriage. Others may go to further steps to provide other qualifiers, I leave that to the groups and individuals themselves to determine.

To explain why they are important should, in most cases, be self evident. After all, without them, you would not exist. It isn’t always a matter of fondness, though it can be. We may have tales of some of our ancestors. Or had been very close to some who we knew in our lives.

In the past, the Elder Heathens, of course, deeply revered their ancestors. Not that such a thing was uncommon throughout the world, it certainly wasn’t. In England, during the Anglo-Saxon age, we see that many people are buried with grave goods. This shows a process of continued gifting with the departed.

Before I go any further, it is important to mention that there was not a universal way of how the dead were interred in this time period. In almost any area, there is evidence for both cremation and burial.

To quote Stephen Pollington, in his work ‘Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England’ (page 446, paragraph 4):

“The two planes for the dead were the horizontal – the inhumed in their graves – and the vertical – the cremated who escaped the material world in the funeral fire.”

To touch on my next point, of ancestral reverence in the historic context, same author and book, this is said (page 447, paragraph 4):

“The impetus for ancestor-worship among the Anglo-Saxons and their neighbours may have been nothing more than a strong bond between kinsmen which could outlast and overcome death.”

This is the point that really drives it home. These were a people for whom familial ties could mean life or death. So, a closer family was more likely to survive, since there was not the social ”safety net” we see today. This can be shown in the reciting of ancestral tales, as well as the offerings such as food and weapons left in graves.

What this shows is that to the Elder Heathens, death was not the end of the gifting cycle. Once one died, and was regarded as ancestor, offerings continued. We see this being discouraged in laws post conversion. Such as in Theodore’s Penitential, written in the seventh century:

“He who causes grains to be burned where a man has died, for the health of the living and of the house, shall do penance for five years.”

As often, laws made by the early church can sometimes shed light on what might have been Pagan practices, burning grain for the dead seems to be one way offerings were made to ancestors.

In the present, there is little reason, with regards to Fyrnsidu, to not continue the gifting cycle with our ancestors. I would say almost none. After all, we are here because of them. Their ears are likely the most open to contact from practitioners. Not the only, but the most likely.

After all, from wherever your ancestors hail, they have survived wars, plagues, and countless hardships that have led to your existence. Some of you may have tales about those very things. Such that perhaps in some way, it inspires you to do things that later generations in your own line will remember with pride.

Ancestor offerings can also be either general or specific, to a particular ancestor at a particular time. Regardless of the case, it is an integral part of any serious practitioner’s custom. It is the reforging of broken chains through history. An element of practice not only seen in Fyrnsidu, but countless other practices the world over.

Even today, it is taboo to disrespect the dead. There are also many different burial customs that practiced in modern Western societies. Even the laying of flowers upon a grave is a type of offering! In many places there are also traffic laws regarding the passing of a funeral procession.

In our day to day lives, small offerings can be given to them periodically. Or, at least, words of thanks, or the recitation of ancestral tales. This is “bread and butter” Fyrnsidu. Perhaps the most important rituals we have are our ancestral rituals. Its place immovable, like a massive tree. The reason such is immovable is its roots.

There are, of course, those for whom this may be a sensitive issue. Not everyone gets along with their families, or some of their ancestors may have done terrible things. Though optimal, it isn’t always about love. Remembering our connection to our ancestors is also about remembering how we arrived to where we are today.

Just as we may thank Thunor for rain, we have our ancestors to thank, if for no other reason, for the fact that we exist. Without them there is no you, there is no Heathenry to revive. So, even if your relationship with them is less than well, since through them, you exist, you can then take it into your hands to bring about the deeds that you find worthy of pride.

It still starts with them. Honoring that connection starts with you.

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Bīnaman: A Distinctly Fyrnsidere Approach to Divinity

Author’s Note: This piece partially builds off of “Prayer in a Heathen Context” and “Prayer in a Fyrnsidu Context”, as a natural continuation of those practices within Fyrnsidu.

For practitioners of Fyrnsidu, or other Anglo-Saxon Heathen traditions, there exists a fundamental impasse in the understanding of divinity within strictly “Anglo-Saxon” religious perspectives. The problem is quite simple: the identifiable “pantheon” of Anglo-Saxon deities is beyond poorly represented in surviving literary works and materials. Outside of place-name analysis, the linguistic lineages such as the days of the week, and a few inclusions in authored works that survive – like Bede’s De Temporum Ratione – the actual identifiable names of deities are few and far between.

On the surface, this would not seem like much of a problem, until one thinks about the plethora of divinity that other tribal peoples would have access to. Instead, it generates the idea of a cultural monolith, which positions an unreasonable idea of uniformity across a group made up of several peoples. This consequently leaves Anglo-Saxon practitioners bereft of the vast theological expression which may be exhibited in other polytheistic traditions. A comparison between the list of known deities of the Norse mythos to the Anglo-Saxon will show the inherent deficiency in the Anglo-Saxon view.

This is a similar issue faced by conventional academic scholars interested in pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon religious expression, as adequately stated in Marilyn Dunn’s The Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons:

Both Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon paganism were fluid and constantly developing phenomena, and we should always bear in mind that there may be a very real gulf between the Anglo-Saxon gods and their later Scandinavian personifications, as well as an inexact fit between the two pantheons.” [1]

And,

..not only that the Anglo-Saxons did not know the entire pantheon of Scandinavian gods now familiar to us through Snorri, but they also worshipped several divinities whose memory has all but vanished. These include sea-deities or personifications of the ocean; a heavenly body who may be the morning star; and a ‘brilliance’ or ‘glory’ numen, Old English wuldor. None of these entities – thought of both as persons and personifications – crystallized into later Norse gods and goddesses, though their characteristics and attributes are preserved in later Old English poetry and in Old Norse vocabulary.[2]

These same issues hold true for Anglo-Saxon Heathens who approach their religious practice independently from – but perhaps buttressed by – the writings of Old Norse Heathens and their practices. At one time, it was common for notable Anglo-Saxon practitioners to have utilized ‘Anglicized’ Nordic deity and mythological personalities and names in order to fill the deficiencies in their own mythos [3]. For those practitioners who no longer wish to do this, or who may feel that this action is inappropriate to their iteration of Heathenry, there are few alternatives. As a result, many contemporary Heathens either include non-traditional (foreign) deities into their daily practice, or otherwise place less emphasis on the overall interactions with the divine gods in favor of greater emphasis on the nameless local wights, tutelary spirits, or ancestral bodies which may be important to the individual.

It is not the purpose of this writing to determine the appropriateness of these actions. It is, however, the purpose to explore the alternatives. There is much to be desired with these traditional stopgaps. It is a common defense of contemporary Heathen practice that the pagan Anglo-Saxons did not place a great emphasis on the deities and instead focused on the beings of closer ‘value’ to their relative position in society. Two historic incidents would place somewhat different emphasis on the social interactions with the divine:

  • Toponymy: the identification of place names, their social origins and meanings, their overall use, and the typology of the place. Numerous places in Old English history have been identified as associated with particular deities and, although the revisions of these places have reduced their incidence somewhat, they are nevertheless prominent in Anglo-Saxon history.

  • Christian responses: Gregory the Great’s expression of change in regards to the orders of the establishment of the English Mission in a letter carried by Abbot Mellitus to Æthelberht in 601. The evolution of the mission focused not on the systemic destruction of pagan attitudes and practices, but the adoption of such non-doctrinal actions into the Christian framework. Notably he abandoned, wholesale, the destruction of shrines and temples (fana) and established feast days to subvert the sacrifices to pagan personalities.

These two incidents indicate that specific attitudes and approaches towards the gods were prominent within society, not necessarily displaced solely by local spirits or ancestral veneration. The deeply ingrained social and cultural attitudes could not be excised in a hardcore, doctrinal fashion which Gregory had at first extolled [4]. These were living faiths, holistic and all-encompassing, grounded in social reality and reflected within society, and the gods undoubtedly took a more familiar place within the mentality of the individual as reflected in other contemporary and indigenous European paganisms.

Within the practice of contemporary Heathenry, a point is thus reached where there are a few options available to the individual practitioner regarding the question of the gods:

  1. Accept the inherent deficiency in understanding Anglo-Saxon tribal divinity and not be concerned.
  2. ‘Anglicize’ foreign deities in order to fit the lacking roles, as needed. This includes adopting Scandinavian deities from later history, or a-historically adopting Romano-British, Brythonic, or Continental Germanic deities.
  3. Develop contemporary, historically informed, practices in order to expand the interaction with divinity.

For the purposes of this discussion, the first two points are undesirable. The third must then be considered with the understanding that contemporary developments are historically informed can indeed be particularly relevant to modern practice. So what is the aspiring practitioner to do in this regard?

Here is where the idea of bīnaman is relevant to the discussion.

The Basis for Bīnaman

Germanic poetic literature, particularly the Old English and Old Norse literary corpi, contains numerous instances of embellishments of figurative language. These are compound words which are utilized in order to describe some noun – a person or an object – featured in the poetic meter. Known as kennings, they are most prominent found in the Old Norse corpus (particularly Eddas and Sagas), and in these we see them most often used as descriptive qualifiers for entities, as well as conventional nouns. Oðinn is reported to have two hundred such kennings. The Old English corpus, with its lack of emphasis on pre-Christian mythology, does not utilize them as frequently for the deities we are concerned with [5]. Kennings provide a native Germanic framework of by-naming within poetry or praise.

When applied to divine figures in the literature, kennings take on a similar incidence to the use of epithets, which have historically been used with great effect in some polytheistic religious practices. These are most notable in the Roman and Greek traditions.

Epithets likewise are by-names, descriptive phrases which are affixed to a deity name – or replacing the deity name – in order to further refine and reflect the particular qualities, aspects, or roles of that deity. One use is to identify localized variations or interpretations of the divinity, which would otherwise be subsumed by wider, or later, understandings of the deity in the national conscience or mythology. We can see this in Diana Nemorensis, or Diana of Nemi. Divine associations were oftentimes over-broad, and the use of epithets enabled them to focus on a more appropriate aspect for their particularly stringent prayer formulas.

For contemporary practitioners of Fyrnsidu, these are best known as bīnaman (Singular: bīnama; literally: ‘pronouns’), and offer an opportunity to expand on interaction with the diety in one’s religious practice without necessarily relying on the incorporation of foreign deities through Anglicization.

Bīnaman effectively isolate qualities in the use of prayer in order to direct one’s focus in order to more appropriately petition, honor, and venerate a deity’s role in the world and the practitioner’s practice. They utilize what is known about the deity in traditional legends and mythologies, those qualities which are ascribed to the deity in geographic relations, linguistic and literary expressions, or the ‘best guess’ of the figure’s role within society.

These are used in order to establish the deity’s position in the most probable of placements, effectively derived from the best guess of the actions of the elder tribes, were they placed in the same situation.

A bīnama is a contemporary development in approaching the gods of Fyrnsidu, an attempt at looking at the world and applying that worldview’s philosophy of the elder heathens to our present time. It is a way in which we can take what we associate with that worldview and adopt it, apply it in practical contemporary experiences, while simultaneously extending the breadth of our religious identity.

Consider that the Germanic gods were not native to Britain prior to the arrival of these tribes, and that their understanding of the gods similarly had to “settle” in the lands which they themselves began to inhabit. Their associations with the local landscape were discovered and applied after settlement. Their tribal variations differed across England, in part due to different geographic conditions, but also due to the differences inherent between the tribes themselves and their unique historical traditions.

Modern practitioners overwhelmingly find themselves in much of a similar position as these ancient peoples. Taking the central idea of a common religious practice, contemporary Fyrnsidere are diffused from it. These people are establishing their own contemporary practices from a variety of geographic locations, each with different influences that have formed a foundation of world view. Each of these individual practices will necessarily become informed by different factors, from location and experiences, and other environmental variables.

The use of bīnaman is simply a modern perspective of an older tradition of religious interpretation.

Formation and Examples of Bīnaman

As stated bīnaman are divine by-names and are closer to epithets than poetic kennings. They specifically identify the aspect or purview of the deity in question in order to attain a level of proper engagement in sacrifice or in request. Performing a daily hearth ritual to Frīge Heorþmōdor, Frige Hearth-Mother, will necessarily fulfill a different role in one’s religious expression than a rite approaching Frīge as Hǣlugifa, or Frige Health-Giver, who might be otherwise approached in a charm to cure an ailment. Likewise, approaching Ingui as the Lord of Ancestors (Ingui Ælf-Cyning) on account of the Anglo-Saxon propensity to conflate an ælf with the dead, is fundamentally different than a harvest faining celebration honoring him as Blædgifa, or the Giver of Prosperity.

In both of these instances Frige and Ingui are identified and appellated as separate representations of the deities in accordance with the purpose of the ritual or prayer. However they are nevertheless representative of the whole. Frīge Heorþmōdor and Frīge Hǣlugifa are still Frīge, still form part of the totality of the understanding which Frīge-as-divinity represents. Bīnaman should not be misconstrued as creating divinity where it was not previously. It is a simple recognition of different specializations or associations. Just as practitioners are different in different walks of life, so too are the gods they give worth to.

As is the case with other cultural epithets and kennings, a bīnama in the understanding of the Larhus Fyrnsida is formed by taking an associative descriptive essence and applying it after the name as a title or adjectival phrase.

The following list are a quick series of bīnaman for a handful of deities, established by interpreting the role that the god or goddess might have had in the society. These are based on their known attributes, qualities, and traits, which we have gleaned from toponymic, literate, and comparative studies. They are as follows, and do not represent the sum totality of bīnaman available for the recognized gods:

Frīge Cursberend – Frīge Curse-Carrier
Frīge Fēstermōdor – Frīge Foster-Mother
Frīge Freoðuwebbe – Frīge Peace-Weaver
Frīge Heorþmōdor – Frīge Hearth-Mother
Frīge Hǣlugifa – Frīge Health-Giver
Frīge Scildwīf – Frīge Shield Lady

Ingui Ælf-Cyning – Ingui Lord of Ancestors
Ingui Blædgifa – Ingui Giver of Prosperity
Ingui Cornsāwere – Ingui Grain-Sower
Ingui Werhād – Ingui Virility
Ingui Hunigflōwende – Ingui Flowing-With-Honey

Þunor Eorð-Cweccere – Thunor Earth-Shaker
Þunor Flōdes Ferigend – Thunor Flood Bringer
Þunor Regn Ferigend – Thunor Rain Bringer
Þunor Mann Freond – Thunor Friend of Man
Þunor Middangeardesweard – Thunor Warder of Middangeard

Wada Eormenmere – Wada of the Great Lakes
Wada Norþēa – Wada of the North River

Wōden Hyge-Ferigend – Wōden Soul Bearer
Wōden Pæþwyrhta – Wōden Path-Maker
Wōden Wordsāwere – Wōden Word-Sower
Wōden Wihtferiend – Wōden Wight Ferrier

As can be seen, this list is fairly straightforward. It incorporates poetic kennings and epithets in order to further define their intended role and position within a prayer, ritual, or other formalized setting. Wōden as the psychopomp – the soul collector and lord of the dead – is notable in his epithets of Wihtferiend or Hyge-Ferigend, despite never having been formally attested as in use within Anglo-Saxon lore. These epithets are granted, contemporaneously, based on the knowledge that Wōden is a ‘soul-ferrier’.

This is replicated throughout this list. The exceptions to a more traditional role are given in those of Wada Eormenmere and Wada Norþéa – Wada of the Great Lakes and Wada of the North River. These both were included to give separate instances where contemporary practitioners of Fyrnsidu might otherwise represent their geographic locations within their practices. This forges connections with their sense of place.

Someone living along the shores of the Great Lakes may feel a keen connection to Wada, and a marriage of their Heathen practices and contemporary lifestyle brings the two into a more seamless harmony. The same goes for “The North River”, an old by-name for the Hudson River in New York State. Both of these fundamentally reflect the practitioner’s engagement with the local, incorporating a continuation of similar associations that would have probably been reflected by Anglo-Saxons, despite existing inherently within the twenty-first century.

So then we shall take this concept of a contemporary form of a by-name, and utilize it in a prayer:

“Wōden Pæþwyrhta – Wōden Path-Maker

he who trod the unknown paths; who inspires wanderers,

guide of travelers, solitary lord of open road.

Realm walker and traveler, parter of shadowy trail,

Protect me, O’ Pæþwyrhta, grant me safe passage,

avert from me your savage gaze,

so that no harm may befall me upon my journey.”

This prayer is simple and straightforward, approaching Wōden in his aspect as a wanderer in order to gain some good fortune in one’s travels. Though Pæþwyrhta is not attested in the Old English literary corpus, it is nevertheless an appropriate compound word and by-name for this expression of Wōden’s role in one’s practice.

Conclusion

This piece has discussed the practice of applying a contemporary interpretation of historically informed by-names in a modern Heathen usage. In doing so, the usage of these bīnaman allow practicing Heathens a greater flexibility in appropriately engaging with and approaching individual deities for the purposes of prayer and ritual. It offers a complementary, not supplementary, focus for individuals seeking to work within a singular religious identity without necessarily incorporating alternative deities into their rites.

By building on the historic flexibility of epithets within prayer and practice, bīnaman allow a more varied and personalized engagement within an oftentimes ill-defined approach to divinity. We have seen that this practice is not at all inappropriate for those Heathens who wish to expand on their intersection with the gods.


[1] Marilyn Dunn, The Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons, c. 597-700: Discourses of Life, Death and Afterlife, (Continuum: London, 2009), pg. 56.

[2] Marilyn Dunn, Christianization, pg. 56.

[3] As is popularly championed by Swain Wodening in his work “Hammer of the Gods”.

[4] Marilyn Dunn, Christianization, pg. 56.

[5] This could potentially be due to the nature of Old English literature as compared to the Norse corpus. The Eddas were written, in part, as a glorification of the cultural history of the people, and necessarily dealt with the deities directly. Old English literature, on the other hand, did not feature stories of the gods nearly as prominently, with notable exceptions.

janussaxon

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“Prayer” in a Fyrnsidu Context

The following article is intended as a follow up to Prayer in a Heathen Context, which demonstrated Austfeld’s three step prayer format (as demonstrated by H.S. Versnel) used broadly by pre-Christian Indo-European peoples.

The aforementioned approach will be taken a step further and utilized for practical application in a Fyrnsidu context. The objective of this article is to produce a basic template, employing Old English terminology, which the Fyrnsidere/ Fyrnsidestre can use to construct prayers of their own.

The three components of prayer

In the previous article, Vernsel’s three components were listed as the invocatio (the invocation), pars epica (the argument) and the preces (the service or task).

To fit this into Fyrnsidu-specific praxis, the Old English glosses for the Latin terms might appear thusly:

1)  Cīgung (calling) – The formal address of the deity/deities in question, using epithets or descriptive phrases.  ie: “Frīge, Flax-Spinner, Hearth-Matron, All-Knower.”

2) Giwung (petition) – A direct explanation as to the purpose the deity/ deities in question are being approached , and why the devotee might be worthy of their blessings.  The devotee might recount past deeds or express familial bonds as a reason for petition.

3) Offrung (offering) – The gesture of good will on the devotee’s part, in the form of a sacrifice, offering or gift. This step is somewhat ambiguous, in that it can be a physical offering, or something less tangible, like that of an oath.

Combined, these three steps represent the ‘Bēd‘ or ‘prayer’ in its completed form.


An example of bēd

The following bēd is intended to Wōden, in his role as a healing deity.

“Wōden, leech, He who binds and draws poisons
wort-cunning ,wound-healer , He who mends bone and sinew .

I bid thee, oh crafty God, tend to my wounds and see me well again
Long have I shown my devotion, made offerings to you and tended this sacred site dedicated to your worship. While in my care, no man has drawn arms, nor broken oath in this place.

Please, accept this offering in accordance with our way. May this gift be met with gift, if you so will it. ”


In some cases it might be necessary to invoke a deity in propitiation, in order to avoid incurring their wrath or some form of calamitous happening within their control.

An example of propitiatory bēd

The following bēd is intended to Wada, in his role as master of seas and bodies of water.

“Wada, Lord of the whale-road, unyielding and tumultuous,
father of Wēland, blacksmith to the Gods

We call upon you to cease your anger and calm the frenzied waves that destroy our crops and consume our homes. Please, direct your ire elsewhere, for we are insignificant and unworthy of your scorn.

A sacrifice, this day is given, so that you might be satisfied and leave us be, so that we might prosper. ”


457

Image of Tollund Man being placed into the bog, by Niels Bach

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“Prayer” in a Heathen Context

 

Author’s note: This was originally posted on 9.19.2016 on “Of Axe And Plough”, and is used with permission.

For all its claim to empiricism, popular opinions remain barriers to reconstructionist Heathen practice. Whether through misunderstanding, poor scholarship, or emotive clinging to attitudes from previous religious engagements (example: Christian-themed cultural baggage), these opinions tend to shape the growth of Heathen religious traditions for years. In some extreme cases – especially in the wider Contemporary Pagan community – the conflation between practice and this emotional baggage results in the disregarding of similar traditions or concepts.

This phenomenon can be examined in the regrettably still common Heathen claim that the pre-Christian Germanic pagans did not “kneel before their gods”. A concerted effort from various corners of the scholastic Heathen community has largely dispelled this notion, and have largely shifted the paradigm in regards to the concept of genuflection in holy situations. Yet similar claims exist for other common practices, claims which have no backing in historical or anthropological records. Indeed, many of these individuals claim an argumentum ad ignorantiam. An appeal to ignorance based on the lack of contrary evidence, in such a culture of reconstructionism where primary source material is severely lacking, is a particularly dangerous and ultimately futile attempt to protect fragile emotional states which may press against uncomfortable baggage.

“Prayer” is one such practice which tends to find derision and criticism in contemporary Heathen groups. This is largely due to the associations with popular, particularly Christian, instances of prayer. The role and use of prayer within ritual are rarely, if ever, discussed within contemporary Heathenry, and individual practitioners often cannot articulate the purpose of prayer. This work will serve as an example for our discussion of prayer in the wider Indo-European context, in an effort to position the idea of “prayer” within a native Germanic tradition.

Understanding Prayer

Like many religious enactments within Indo-European practice, a combination of formalized prayer and ritualized action are performed in order to take part in the sacred exchange of the gifting cycle, the fundamental basis of these religions. Heathenry, as an orthopraxic religion, relies on these rites and statements just as much as other Indo-European paganisms. However, because we lack the source material for pre-Christian Germanic religious practice, alternative cultural examples must be explored in order to give a wider understanding of Germanic prayer.

Prayer supplications can – in part – be explored through oracular questions, literature, and other textual remnants. In approaching the antique (pre-Christian) context of prayer, the utilization of H.S. Versnel’s approach is aptly and appropriately done. In the case of the oracular questioning, the lesser-known oracles provide examples of the wants and needs of the day-to-day life of antiquity. Because of these insights, it is perhaps better to study the questions asked of individuals like the Egyptian magician Astrampsychos or the oracle of the Greeks at Dodona than it is to approach the most famous oracle sites in history, as at Delphi [1]. As notorious as Delphi’s oracles are to history, they are unsuitable for this examination of prayer in a common context, given their focus on legendary events and the utilization by an elite minority of statesmen or civic leaders.

These lesser-known oracular examples provide an example of the types of personal prayers which were common in supplication in antiquity. Importantly, they reflect the needs and wants of the day-to-day and provide examples of how modern practitioners of a polytheistic identity like Heathenry can find concordance within their daily lies in a formalized prayer structure. The similarity of thousands of examples of prayer across centuries show that humanity has maintained a striking similarity in prayer-format up through the modern period. Accepting that modern prayers are built on a foundation of classic, that is pre-Christian, prayers is the first step in understanding the role that they play in religious experience.

These prayers can be formally divided into three component parts, which follow C. Austfeld’s own division of prayer: invocatio, pars epica, and the preces[2]. Dissecting these components of prayer reveals three, distinct, elemental characteristics:

  1. The first is the invocatio. This forms a means by which the deity – or deities – are approached are formally invoked into the prayer formula or ritual format. Through the use of their names, surnames, epithets, or other identifying descriptive phrases, this constitutes the whom of the prayer: To whom it is addressed and directed.
  2. The second is the pars epica. This is typically portrayed in scholasticism as an ‘argument’, or a basis of explanation as to the why of the prayer. It is essentially a description of the benevolent nature of the God, insofar as that deity is disposed to intervene to mortal benefit, and why the prayer is to be/hoped to be productive in the capacity of being the God. It includes reasons the supplicant is approaching the deity invoked, the relationship which that supplicant has to the deity, the defense of asking for such things, and other reasonable explanations for approaching the god.
  3. The third is the preces. This can rightly be said to be the actual prayer itself. It consists of the service and task that the supplicant is beseeching the divine entity for, as well as any other loose ends within the prayer which need to be tied up. This is the end result and the objective of the whole engagement with the deity.[3]

These three aspects form, in essence, the totality of what is considered prayer in the sense of antique polytheism. Variations, of course, occur within history. But for the nature of polytheistic supplications, the most indispensable element to the prayer itself is the invocatio. A prayer is not, in the words of Bremer, a simple utterance of “HELP”, unguided and left open to the universe[4]. It is directed, aimed at a very specific divine entity, which is realized only through the formalized invocation of the god. However, of these three acts, the second has been identified as somewhat dispensable. A study of the Greek hymns would readily show a general lack of an ‘argument’ in various praise-prayer.

But even a deviation in particulars can highlight these particular forms of prayer creation. In an example Homeric hymn to Athena, taken from The Homeric Hymns in Apostolos N. Athanassakis’ work on the subject, we can find elements of these three categorizations. Consider the following:

“I begin to sing of Pallas Athena, defender of cities,

awesome goddess; she and Ares care for deeds of war,

cities being sacked and cries of battle.

And she protects an army going to war and returning,

Hail, O goddess, and grant me good fortune and happiness”[5]

In this traditional prayer, the deity Athena is invoked directly by name, epithet, and role as “Pallas Athena, defender of cities”. This is the invocatio, which appropriately directs the following prayer. Although Bremer does not place much in the way of an emphasis on the ‘argument’ of the prayer, we can see what could be construed as such a thing here. The writer actively defends his reasoning for the prayer: she is a warlike goddess, and protects those who go to war and are similarly returning from the conflict. Finally, the actual component of the prayer, the preces is simply stated: “Grant me good fortune and happiness.”

This tripartite division of prayer composition is inherent within Indo-European cultural prayers. Studies of Homeric hymns, Skaldic texts, local magcial and medicinal charms, and other similar writings. This indicates an important tradition of commonality in such things as meter and format, irrespective of the “level” of divinity being approached.

It should not be claimed that these prayers were only for the “highest” of deities within a culture’s religious world. It is a failing of contemporary practice in Heathenry to distinctly and arbitrarily divide the divine and their “roles” based on their relative position to humanity [6]. The ‘spheres of authority’ of these deities, whether ‘ancestral gods’, wights of the home or land, or celestial and infernal gods themselves, appear to be incorrectly and rigorously assigned. This is an utterly anachronistic, modernist approach which clashes with the traditionalism of Indo-European polytheism. Utilizing the history of these indigenous faiths, it can be seen that the ancients themselves would not have conceived in the divine in these separate ways.
Approaching the prayer formulas, and their implementation, we see that many of these prayers concern themselves with utterly mundane concepts: healing, travel, and safety, and a plethora of other socially ‘unimportant’ and intensely personal requests. We have discussed the oracle at Dodona precisely because it represents an intersection with “normal” people and the gods. In some Indo-European cultures, the concept of divinity was central to the idea a prayer, and not the varying degrees thereof. Versnel’s study of Roman prayer formulas account for this, where the idea of mis-apellation of a deity in prayer was so much of a cultural faux pas that the prayer formulas would either give the name ad hoc or left so wide that they could not potentially cause offense[7].

For the purposes of the continued discussion the modern anachronism of dividing the roles of the divine is dispensed with.

Prayer as an Indo-European Continuum

The smallest foundation of religious observance in modern Heathenry is the hearth cult. This traditional practice blurs the lines separating the priest and an individual position that does not have religious connotations. Whether this is within the nondescript house cult, or something more formally recognized as the Roman paterfamilias. An individual who necessarily performs hearth-based rites and rituals acts in the same tradition of an orator of prayer, a ritual poet, or other such official position within the Indo-European religious tradition.

There is a notable link in these traditions consisting of religious poetry, invocations and prayers, or hymns of praise which are directed towards the gods, all of which are inextricably linked to the worship of the being and the propagation and all the paraphernalia of that cult [8]. One of these traditions which spans Indo-European linguistic and poetic territory is the incidence of ‘name-giving’. This culture of giving personal names, typically a bipartite compound name, finds expression in various formulas and values, which form a nexus of tradition extending from India to the furthest extent of Western Europe. For this discussion, it is a tradition which is replicated in some of the oldest Celtic and Germanic linguistic monuments[9].

What is found is that extensive religious ritual texts can contain near-identical, if not wholly identical, enumerations in practice. A series of Hittite ritual texts grouped together contain litany-like spells and incantations in which physical maladies are addressed. These ritual texts are identical to Germanic, Indic, and Irish healing charms, and contain a linked formula with curative juxtapositions. Consider the following,

“ḫaštai=kan ḫaštai ḫandan

UZUSA=kan ANA UZUSA ḫandan

ēšḫar=kan ēšḫani ḫandan”

“bone to bone is fitted

sinew to sinew is fitted

blood to blood is fitted.” [10]

as a charm in Hurrian, especially when compared with the last two lines of the Second Merseburg Charm:

“ben zi bena, bluot si bluoda,

lid zi geliden, sose gelimida sin”

“Bone to bone, blood to blood,

joints to joints, so may they be mended.” [11]

This sequence is an example of stylistic replication, between two very different cultures and two very different periods. For the purposes of this paper, it should be looked at as an indication that comparative analysis between even distantly related pieces is a worthwhile pursuit. We will be able to suggest further practices which are in line with this foundational cultural continuum as it is currently understood.

Studies of extant Germanic texts, particularly later expressions found in the Scandinavian literary corpus, shed some light on potential applications of prayer within a Heathen context.

A paper by John Lindow, published in the Spring 1988 edition of the Scandinavian Studies journal speaks to a handful of fragmentary texts which remain from the Scandinavian Sagas, which he interprets as a native attempt to bridge the gap between human and deity through prayer. This is done in several instances by invoking the deity directly, in apparent conflict with pervasive contemporary approaches towards Heathen religious understanding.

There are two fragmentary texts penned by Vetrliði Sumarliðason and Þorbjorn disarskald, the latter potentially the same man as Þorbjorn Þorkelsson, and later preserved by Snorri. Lindow considers the association and implication of these prayers: these texts attempt to bridge the gap between man and deity, invoking the deity directly, but have no small amount of anomalous considerations of their own.

An arguably problematic par of pieces, the first of which had been penned initially by Vetrliði, and then replicated in some respects by Þorbjorn. They have historically been argued to as either a Christian-influenced prayer, or a native representation steeped in the older tradition of Indo-European prayer. Lindow ultimately disagrees with the conclusion that these prayers were the result of influence by Christianity, and agrees with older scholars that these works represent some aspect of religious continuum indigenous to pre-Christian peoples of Europe[12].

Consider the fragmentary text of Vetrliði Sumarliðason, as it reads:

“Leggi brauzt Leiknar,

lamðir Þrivalda,

steypðir Starkeði,

stett of Glop dauða”

“You smashed the limbs of Leikn;

you bashed Þrivaldi;

you knocked down Starkaðr;

you trod Gjalp dead under foot” [13]

Scholars have identified two components of prayer components within the manuscript fragments: deific praise summarily followed by a request. In short, they contain the invocatio and the presces from the aforementioned Versnal prayer format.

Vetrliði’s extant stanza attempts to invoke the deity Thor, laying out the actual groundwork of the prayer itself by beseeching the Giant-Slayer to kill and maim the targets of his ire. While the poetry identifies no less than four men and women, it has been commonly accepted in scholarship that the two Christian missionaries Þangbrandr and Guðleifr were the targets of the text [14]. Vetrliði implicitly assigns two Jotun a piece, one male and female, per missionary, at once both including them in the mythological cycle as agents of destruction and chaos, and summarily emasculating and ‘othering’ each through identification with the feminine.

Vetrliði’s words were most effective at one thing: rousing the ire of the missionaries, who were said in the sources to have “attacked Vetrliði in such a way that a murder-hammer resounded from his head in the way that a smith’s hammer resounds from an anvil”[15] and summarily slew the man. This builds off of the known quality of Vetrliði raising a nið against Þangbrandr [16], and that he intended Thor to slay the missionaries like other trolls. Bo Almqvist concludes that Vetrliði’s extant verse is the first helming of his nið, and that the survival within Snorri’s works would put him in a position not to continue the recording of those lines, his religious ethos overriding his inclination to preserve his cultural heritage [17].

The study of other Indo-European prayers and traditions supports this comparison. Following in the footsteps of Chadwick, an exploration of the Iliad, or the Homeric hymns provide an European correlation. Vedic parallels lay the foundation of the overall origin-of-form for the Indo-European practice, especially those to Soma and Maruts containing the same invocatio and presces formats in blending praise and request. Vetrliði and Þorbjorn’s work simply represent the latest, and arguably last, pagan prayer type commonly shared among the Indo-European peoples[18].

Even the Merseburg charms, the other Germanic representation, show connection to epic poetry which implicitly praise a deity, then demanding some action. We have already seen how they share a tradition with older Indo-European linguistic charms. They are nevertheless useful to look at in the concept of a prayer. “Phol and Wotan went into the woods” and “bone to bone, blood to blood” can be seen as constituting vestigial aspects of the prayer formula; a clear connection to the cultural expression of prayer itself, and not simply related in meter or format to charms.

Conclusion

We have thus approached the idea that the Germanic peoples were capable of articulating what can be considered “traditional Indo-European prayer” and that the concept of prayer in contemporary Heathenry is not something which should be approached as a ‘vestigial Christianism’. It is very much an extant, attested tradition in its own right and would understandably be utilized as a central, important facet in the intersection of man and divine.

In the utilization of a comparative method, modern practitioners are capable of avoiding a deleterious disputation buttressed by fallacious arguments relating to the employment of traditional prayers and charm formats. The Austfeld/Versnal prayer-format, in some capacity, provides an easy-to-understand template for the history, purpose, and ultimate proliferation of uniquely Heathen prayers, approachable by contemporary practitioners eager to do so.

More importantly, in doing so, Heathens are not breaking with tradition in the slightest, but instead are engaging quite naturally within the cultural continuum of Indo-European polytheistic traditions. To argue the idea of prayer is a ‘foreign’ concept is ultimately to deny one’s practice the rich and fulfilling history of poetic composition, and allowing one’s emotional attachment to preconceptions to override critical inquests to history and culture.

 


[1] H.S. Versnel, Faith, Hope, and Worship: Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World, (Leiden: Brill, 1981), pg. 6.

[2] H.S. Versnel, Faith, pg. 2.

[3] H.S. Versnel, Faith, pg 2. In this, Versnel points to J.M Bremmer’s paper focusing solely on the pars epica and the argumentative aspects of that position in prayer. Versnel avoids speaking to the pars epcia due to the combination of this aspect of prayer and the invocatio being closer to a hymnal or religious poetry and unsuited to his dissertation. Bremer’s work articulates that the pars epica is better suited to an intermediary position, and is readily replaced with other terms (‘argument’ by JM Bremmer himself, or sanctio by Zelinksi). As this work deals with prayers, not necessarily ‘hymns’, we shall keep to Ausfeld’s particular definition.

It should be noted in the second item in the list, the pars epica, that “benevolent” does not necessarily constitute the orientation of the God vis-à-vis their mortal supplicants as a wholly “good” or beneficial deity. A deity which intercedes in the doings of a mortal, for the benefit of that mortal, is thus acting in a benevolent capacity. This holds even if their benevolence manifests as benign neglect or condescension.

[4] J.M. Bremer, “Greek Hymns”, in Faith, Hope, and Worship: Aspects of Religious Mentality in the Ancient World (Leiden: Brill, 1981), pg. 194

[5] Apostolos N. Athanassakis, The Homeric Hymns, (Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 2004), pg. 53

[6] On certain online fora, it has become trendy to argue that Heathens go “first to their ancestors, then the wights, then the gods” or that the “gods only care about the group, and not the individual”. Prayer formulas from other related Indo-European religions would position this attitude as an incorrect one.

[7] H.S. Versnel, Faith, pg. 15.

[8] Calvert Watkins, How to Kill A Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics (Oxford University Press, 1995), pg. 69.

[9] Watkins, Dragon, pg. 246.

[10] Watkins, Dragon, pg. 250.

[11] Bill Griffiths, Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic (Anglo-Saxon Books, 2003), pg. 173.

[12] John Lindow, “Addressing Thor”, Scandinavian Studies, 60:2 (Spring, 1998): 119. It is important to note that earlier scholars, such as H.M Chadwick in the 1930s and 1940s, had already made this association between these extant texts and Homeric hymnals in the tradition of the Heisod.

[13] John Lindow, “Addressing Thor”, from Finnur Jonsson, Skjaldedigtning, B1:166, pg. 121
Translation from Gabriel Turville-Petre, Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia, (Holt, Reinhart, & Winston: New York, 1964) pg 85.

[14] John Lindow, “Addressing Thor”, pg 133.

[15] John Lindow, “Addressing Thor”, pg. 134.

[16] John Lindow, “Addressing Thor”, pg. 131. Vetrliði is known in a number of sources: Landnamabok, Heimskringla, Kristni saga, Njals Saga, and the Longest Saga of Olaf Tryggvason. His raising of a nið is probably what the man is best known for in history.

[17] John Lindow, “Addressing Thor”, pg. 131.

[18] John Lindow, “Addressing Thor”, pg. 135

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Reconstructing Frīge: Foreknowledge and the Spinning of Fate

Throughout Germanic folklore, Frīge and her epithets are connected to spinning and foreknowledge. These two attributes seem to be interwoven (pun intended), her spinning or weaving acting as a metaphor for her both knowing and thus being able to alter the fate of all beings, as alluded to in Norse sources.

“Mad art thou, Loki, | that known thou makest
The wrong and shame thou hast wrought;
The fate of all | does Frigg know well,
Though herself she says it not.”

(Lokasenna. Bellows trans.)

Frīge’s role as a goddess associated with wyrd is also touched upon, albeit loosely when she outwits Wōden in the origin myth of the Langobards.

“The Winnilies lived on an island called Scadanan. They were ruled by two chieftains, called Ybor and Agio, and their mother, Gambara. The Vandals moved in with their army, and the two Vandal chieftains, Ambri and Assi, ordered the Winniles either to pay or to engage with them in battle. The Winniles chose to fight their opponents. Then the Vandals entreated Godan to grant them victory, and he replied that he intended to bestow victory on those whom he first saw at sunrise. Not to be outdone, Gambara approached Godan’s wife, Frea, for advice. She suggested that the warriors of the Godan’s wife should line up at sunrise, accompanied by their wives with their hair let down and held around their faces to resemble beards. When day broke, Frea turned around the bed of the still sleeping Godan to face the east and then woke him. On seeing the Winniles lined up, Godan exclaimed, Who are these long-bearded ones?” Frea then commented that since he had given the Winniles a name, he had to give them victory. Consequently the Winniles defeated the Vandals and were thenceforth called ‘Langobards’.”

(Origo gentis Langobardorum)

Although the events in Origo gentis Langobardorum could be viewed as a simple case of Frea’s guile and crafty nature, it can also be viewed as loose evidence of Frīge’s gift of foreknowledge outside of the Icelandic sources.

The Norse and Langobardic sources are not the only places where a Frīge-like goddess is connected to spinning. In Alemannic regions Perchta or Berchta is frequently depicted as an old woman, connected to the spinning of flax. William P. Reaves’ Odin’s Wife: Mother Earth In Germanic Mythology is replete with regional tales concerning Perchta punishing those who shirk their spinning duties.

“She may visit the spinning rooms on the night before Twelfth-day, tossing empty reels in through the window with the demand that they all be filled in a short period of time. If her demands are not met, she breaks and befouls the flax. From Langendembach in the Thuringian Forest comes a story that tells of an old woman who refused to quit working on the eve of Twelfth-day, complaining “Perchta brings me no shirts, I must spin them myself.” At that, the window flew open and Perchta threw some empty spools into the room demanding that they all be spun full in an hour’s time. Terrified, the spinster spun a few rounds on each spool, and then threw them all into a nearby brook. With this, Perchta was appeased.”

Although many of the tales concerning Frau Perchta have been transformed and censored by Christianity, often making her appear as a sinister witch-like character, her connections to spinning and ultimately the web of wyrd remains intact, creating a possible tether to Frīge’s importance as a goddess associated with causality and fate.


1-unknown-artist-ms-fr-599-f-40-french-1400s-woman-spinning-flax-using-a-drop-spindle-and-distaff

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