Bēowa

Meaning of Name:  From Old English ‘bēow’, meaning barley.

Pronunciation: The ‘ē’ is pronounced as the ‘a’ in ‘rake’, the ‘o’ as the ‘o’ in ‘stone’ and the ‘a’ as the ‘a’ in ‘sofa’.

Other names/ spelling variations: Bēow, Bēo, Bedwig(?), Bēaw, John Barleycorn (English Folk name?), Byggvir (Old Norse),

Iconography: None Known. Given His role, corn crops, especially that of barley, would be suitable as a representation of Him.  Beer, beer casks, loaves of bread, and farming implements would likewise be appropriate.

Function: Bēowa is a deity charged with overseeing the agrarian cycle.  From the first furrow ploughed into the field, to the last sheaf’s reaping, His is the hand in guiding the riches from the soil to the field.  Through his association with crops and the land’s fertility, He dies and is born again each year, with each Harvest.  In this way, He acts in the archetype of the ‘dying grain-god’.

Due to his innate connection to barley, Bēowa is the God of beer, brewers, and bakers, as well as farmers.  In the later English folk song John Barleycorn, believed to be a late reference to Bēowa, the titular character goes through the process of barley cultivation, beer production, and eventual consumption.  He is ritually “killed” and consumed, but later punishes the farmers and acts out his vengeance upon them by getting them intoxicated[1]. Given the importance of barley-based alcohols in traditional ritual and everyday life, Bēowa plays an integral part in the fertility of the land and in the divine mechanism which drives the seasons.

Bēowa is quite literally a terrestrial and underworld deity.  He brings forth the riches of the soil to be used by society, and dies every year in order to revivify the land.  His role of dying-and-rising God supports this underworld characteristic.

Attested Sources:  Bēowa appears in the Anglo-Saxon royal genealogies as the grandson of Scēaf and grandfather of Gēat. The character of John Barleycorn, from the English folk song of the same name may be an example of later narrative featuring Bēowa.

Interpretatio Romana: None. Although, parallels could be drawn between Bēowa and the Indigitamenta (Roman cereal Gods) and Ceres.

Contemporary Bīnaman: Ealusceop (Brewer), Sulhhandla (Ploughman), Sǣdere (Sower), Rīpere (Reaper), Bendfeorm (Harvest-Feast)

 

[1]  Kathleen Herbert, Looking for the Lost Gods of England, (Anglo-Saxon Books: England).


For further information see Finding Bēowa