Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Anglo-Saxon Heathen Calendar

The only description we have of the Anglo-Saxon Heathen calendar comes from De Temporum Ratione, which was written by the Venerable Bede in eighth century England. The fact that he recorded the calendar has given us an awful lot of information about Anglo-Saxon Heathen culture and their year, that would otherwise be lost to us. Like the names of the months, the reason for the month names, the celebration of Heathen festivals, the worship of gods and goddesses and insights into how astronomical observances dictated and ruled the year. The Anglo-Saxon Heathen month names with our modern English ones are as follows:

(Æfterra) Geola = January
Solmonath = February
Hrethmonath = March
Eostremonath = April
Thrimilci = May
(Ærra) Litha = June
(Æfterra) Litha = July
Weodmonath = August
Haligmonath = September
Winterfylleth = October
Blotmonath = November
(Ærra) Geola = December

The calendar itself was solar-lunar, which, like us today began at the New Year, but unlike us, their New Year was said to start on what would today be Christmas Eve. The night that followed the New Year was called Modra Niht by Bede, which when translated into modern English means Mothers Night, or night of the mother's. The mother's in question were goddesses, who like the matrons of continental Germania, were venerated so as to bring protection to one's tribe or people. Both the New Year and Mother's Night fell within a period of time known as Geola, which is the Old English form of the modern Yule.

The word Geola is still today seen as being of an obscure origin, but it is believed by many to mean, or be related to, the word wheel. And when given thought this makes perfect sense, because the wheel in question would be the wheel of the year, and as the Heathen New Year begins within Geola, then this is the perfect time for the yearly wheel to start turning.

Geola was a period of time that could possibly have started about the time of the Winter Solstice and ending twelve days later. And because Geola fell in-between two months, the two months either side became known as (Ærra) Geola, which means before Yule, and (Æfterra) Geola, which means after Yule. This must have been an incredibly sacred time to the Anglo-Saxon Heathens as there seems to have been much celebration in a very short period of time. The next month was called Solmonath, which is said to mean Mud Month, but Bede believed the name of the month came about as a result of the cakes the Anglo-Saxons offered to their gods.

Some scholars believe Bede got the name of the month wrong as there is no Old English word sol meaning cakes. It is possible that he got the name wrong, but his statement that the Heathens offered cakes to their gods in that month is more than likely true, because surviving Anglo-Saxon Charms give first hand evidence of such a custom amongst Heathen farmers.

It has been pointed out that sol could be a word meaning sun, and that the cakes offered to their gods may have been called something like sun cakes. After Solmonath we have Hrethmonath, or the month of Hretha, which Bede says got it's name from the custom of celebrating the goddess
Hretha during this month. This was the last month of winter, and it is likely, since Hretha's name means glory, that she was seen by the Heathens as a goddess who battles winter and brings, for a while at least, it's demise. The first month of summer was known as Eostremonath, which like Hrethmonath, got it's name from the goddess that was celebrated during the month, in this case Eostre.

The goddess Eostre represented the re-birth of summer and life after the demise of winter. The next month was called Thrimilci, which simply means three milkings, due to the fact that cows could be milked three times during in a similar fashion to the two Yule months, whereas they were called Ærra and Æfterra Geola, these were called Ærra and Æfterra Litha, and just as Geola was the time that contained the Winter Solstice, Litha was the time that contained the Summer Solstice. Also like the word Geola, Litha is obscure, but it's quite possible that it's a word meaning moon. The next month was called Weod-monath, which simply means,
month of weeds. After that we have Halig-monath, which means
Holymonth, Bede also called it the month of offerings. There is no doubt that the festival that would have been celebrated during this month to give it the name Holymonth would have been a Heathen harvest festival. Thanks would have been given to the Earth Mother for blessing them with a good harvest. October was known as Winterfylleth, which is a term that is said to mean Winter-full-moon. Winterfylleth signalled the end of summer and the start of winter. As the name of the month means Winter-full-moon, it's likely that winter was judged to start on the sighting of the first full moon of that month. The name for November amongst the Heathens was Blotmonath, which means either Blood or Sacrifice month. In this month livestock was sacrificed in honour of the gods, and the meat stored for winter consumption. And this of course brings us back around to the Geola months and the return of the New Year, ready for the yearly wheel to start turning again.

The year in Heathen days only contained two seasons, those being winter and summer. Summer beginning with Eostremonath and ending with the start of winter at Winterfylleth. This means that there could be considered six summer months and six winter months both split by the solstices, as follows:

Summer Months
(Ærra) Litha

Winter Months
(Ærra) Geola

Summer Solstice
(Æfterra) Litha

Winter Solstice
(Æfterra) Geola

Each new month was more than likely seen to begin with the observence of the new moon, roughly every twenty-nine days. This can be seen in the very word month, which is related to the word moon. The Heathen year was one of observence, celebration, worship and hard work, to them the earth was their mother and the sky their father, the sun and moon dictated the year, nothing was done for the sake of it, and everything had a practical or religious reason.


1 comment:

homelessMontresor said...

Η λέξη month από το moon... xmmm
η λέξη μήνας από που βγαίνει?