Anglo-Saxon Heathendom & Islandic Asatru: Comparison and Contrast/ Paganismo anglosajón & Ásatrú...

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    Anglo-Saxon Heathendom and Icelandic Asatru: a Comparison and


    by Eric Wodening


    The ancient Germanic peoples essentially followed the same religion.

    Nearly all of them appear to have worshipped the major gods known to

    us from Norse mythology--inn, rR, FreyR, and so on. They also

    believed in many of the same "spirits" or wights--elves dwarves,

    thurses, and so on. They held various festivals, rituals, and

    customs in common. This is not to say that there were not

    differences among the tribes in their religious customs and beliefs.

    There was always some variation in religious practices and beliefs

    among the Germanic peoples.

    Perhaps the best demonstration of both the similarities and the

    differences which sometimes existed in the religious beliefs of the

    Germanic peoples would be to examine the respective beliefs of the

    Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic heathen.

    It must be noted right away that the ancient Germanic peoples lacked

    a name for their religion or its branches. An ancient Anglo-Saxon

    heathen if asked about his religion would probably have referred to

    it simply as mn odisc gelfa, "my tribe's belief." The Icelanders

    may have responded along similar lines, although today this ancient

    and modern branch of the Germanic heathen religion is

    called "Asatru." For simplicity's sake, we will use "Anglo-Saxon

    heathendom" and "Asatru" for the faiths of the ancient Anglo-Saxons

    and Icelanders respectively..

    Why There Were Differences

    Of course, it is understandable why there would be similarities

    between ancient Anglo-Saxon heathendom and ancient Asatru. After

    all, both groups of people descended from the Germanic tribes. Why,

    then, would there be any differences between the two? There are

    several reasons and all of them are very simple. The first is that

    even when a large group of people (such as several tribes or several

    nations) share a belief system, variations in that system will often

    arise peculiar to any given people. A perfect example of this is

    Irish and Italian Catholicism. Even though both Irish Catholics and

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    Italian Catholics belong to the same denomination of the same

    religion, one can easily observe differences between the two,

    especially in the ways in which each group observes church holidays.

    The Anglo-Saxons and Icelanders would have naturally evolved their

    own beliefs and customs peculiar only to themselves.

    Second, ancient heathendom was a religion closely tied to the land

    and hence the changing of the seasons. For the ancient Germanic

    peoples, winter did not necessarily arrive with the winter solstice,

    but whenever the first frost occurred. The beginnings of the seasons

    and the dates of festivals would then vary according to the climate.

    Naturally, a festival which would take place at the beginning of

    winter would occur later in a warmer clime than it would a colder


    Third, there are differences between ancient Anglo-Saxon heathendomand ancient Icelandic Asatru because of the time frame involved.

    England was converted in the 6th and 7th centuries CE while Iceland

    was not converted until 1000 CE. In the 400 years between the

    conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and the conversion of the Icelanders

    there was considerable opportunity for the religion to change and

    evolve, and no doubt such changes came even quicker due to the ever

    changing social conditions forced upon Northern Europe by


    Other changes developed from the social and political climate of the

    times. For the Anglo-Saxons the institution of sacral kingship was

    very important. Four hundred years later, however, the Icelanders

    had witnessed Norwegian kings demeaning the very office by breaking

    troth with the gods and the folk through unabashed tyranny.

    The institution of sacral kingship then ceased to be important for

    the Icelanders and they sought other ways of defending the tribal

    luck. Finally, it appears that the ancient heathen believed that

    great men could become gods upon their death--the Icelandic sagas

    show a few examples of kings being deified after they had passed on.

    In the 400 years between the Conversion of the Anglo-Saxons and the

    earliest Old Norse sources, various heroes could have been raised to

    godhood in the people's minds.

    While Anglo-Saxon heathendom and Icelandic Asatru both belong to

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    the same religion and as a result share much in common, there are

    also minor differences between the two which can occasionally result

    in confusion for anyone new to the study of heathendom.

    The Gods

    By far our best source on information on the gods worshipped by the

    ancient Germanic peoples are the Old Norse and Icelandic poems and

    sagas. References to the gods in Old English (the language of the

    Anglo-Saxons) sources are exceedingly rare. The names of the major

    gods were, however, preserved in several place names. Because of

    this we know that ancient Anglo-Saxon Anglo-Saxon heathendom and

    Icelandic Asatru shared most of the major gods named in the Norse


    Below is a table listing the major gods known to us from the elder

    sources. An asterisk before the name of a god indicates that it is areconstruction (that is, the name does not actually appear in the

    language). A short commentary follows on each of the gods.

    The Gods of Anglo-Saxon heathendom and Asatru Old English


    Wden inn

    nor rR

    Frge Frigg

    Tw TyR

    Fra FreyR

    Fro Freyja

    *Nor NjrR

    *Forseta Foreseti

    Hama HeimdallR

    Bealdor BaldR

    Geofon Gefjun

    Hel Hel

    ostre ?

    ? UllR

    ? Loki

    Even a cursory glance at this table shows that ancient Anglo-Saxon

    heathendom and ancient Asatru share the major gods of the Eddas in

    common. We know that these gods were worshipped by the Old Norse

    speakers from the literary record, place names, and archaeological

    evidence. While the Old English literary record of these gods is

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    scant, we do have place names and archaeological evidence that shows

    that the Anglo-Saxons worshipped them.

    That the Anglo-Saxons and the Icelanders (and the ancient

    Scandinavians before them) apparently held these gods in common

    shows that there was a high degree of agreement in the overallreligion that is heathendom. Naturally, there were a few differences

    between the two, and some gods found in Icelandic heathendom might

    not have been known to the Anglo-Saxon heathen. Similarly, a few

    gods appear to have been known to the Anglo-Saxons, but not to the


    Wden: Known in Old Norse as inn, best known now by an Anglicized

    version of that name, Odin, he appears to have been an important god

    for both the Anglo-Saxons and the ancient Scandinavians. He is the

    god most often mentioned in Old English sources and both England andScandinavia boast several places named for him. Interestingly, the

    most important Old English source to mention Wden, The Nine Herbs

    Charm, casts him in a role familiar to us from Norse mythology--as

    the supreme wizard.

    nor: Called rR in Old Norse and Thor in modern English, he was

    perhaps the single most popular god among the ancient Germanic

    peoples. Both England and Scandinavia had several places named for

    him and the fifth day of the week still bears his name in English

    and most of the Scandinavian countries (in modern English,


    Frge: Wden's wife, called Frigg in Old Norse and Frigga in modern

    English. She is rarely mentioned in Old Norse sources and references

    to her in Old English are nearly non-existent; however, places were

    named for her in both England and Scandinavia. The day Friday was

    also named for her (OE Frgesdg).

    Tw: Called TyR by the Old Norse, references to Tw in Old Norse and

    Scandinavian sources are rare. Nonetheless, we know he was important

    to both the Anglo-Saxons and the ancient Scandinavians from the

    places named for him and the day which still bears his name (NE


    Fra: Called FreyR in Old Norse and Frey in modern English, he was

    frequently mentioned in Old Norse sources. Also called Ing or Yngvi

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    in Old Norse, he may be remembered in the Old English Rune Poem's

    verse for Ing as well as the genealogy for the kings of Bernicia,

    where an Ingui is listed. Places were named for him in both England

    and Scandinavia.

    Fro: Called Freyja in Old Norse and Freya in modern English, thesister of Fra had places named for her in both England and

    Scandinavia. She appears in the Old Norse sources more than any

    other goddess.

    NjrR: The word Nor appears nowhere in Old English as the name of

    a god, though this would have been that god's name in the language.

    Though he is never mentioned in Old English sources, it is quite

    possible that the Anglo-Saxons worshipped him. The Roman scholar

    Tacitus in Germania records the worship of a goddess Nerthus among

    various Germanic tribes, among them the Angles who would settleBritain a few centuries later. The name Nerthus is almost certainly

    the same as NjrR, which has led to much debate as to this

    goddesses' identity. Some have even assumed that somehow through the

    centuries the goddess Nerthus changed sexes to become the god

    NjrR. More likely explanations are that Tacitus either heard the

    gender of the god's name wrong and assumed he was a goddess or that

    the Nerthus mentioned by Tacitus is simply NjrR's cult companion,

    perhaps the mysterious sister mentioned in Old Norse sources. At any

    rate, Scandinavia had many places named for the god.

    Forseti: The word Forseta appears nowhere as a name for a god in Old

    English. Like NorR, it is provided here to show what the Old

    English name of the god would have looked like. While his name does

    not appear in Old English sources, Forseti was probably worshipped

    by the Anglo-Saxons. He was the favourite god of the ancient

    Frisians (in whose language he was called Fosite), who later

    migrated to Britain with the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes. The name

    literally means "he who presides" or "president." He was apparently

    less important to the Old Norse speakers, as references to him in

    their literature is sparse. Indeed, he is even made the son of

    BaldR! The Old Norse sources do show, however, that Forseti was

    thought of as a "president." In the Eddic poem Grmnsml it is said

    that Forseti settles all disputes. This brings to mind the head of a

    thing or judicial assembly, who often had to settle disputes between


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    HeimdallR: In the Old Norse sources HeimdallR appears as the

    guardian of Bifrst and the enemy of Loki. A scrap of a myth refers

    to a battle between HeimdallR and Loki in the form of seals over a

    gem called the "sea kidney"--sometimes identified with Fro's

    necklace, Brsingamen by modern scholars. It is difficult to tell if

    the Anglo-Saxons knew of HeimdallR. The poem Bowulf relates a talein which a hero named Hama rescued a necklace called Brosinga mene,

    which could well be the Old English name for Fro's necklace. It

    seems possible that the author of Bowulf confused the Germanic hero

    Hama (the German hero Heimo linked to the cycle of Dietrich of Bern

    legends) with the god HeimdallR and attributed one of the god's

    legends to the hero. It also seems possible that Hama was simply a

    shortened form of the Old English equivalent of HeimdallR (if one

    even existed). If this is the case, then HeimdallR may have been

    worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons. Unfortunately, as Bowulf drew

    heavily upon continental sources, the tale of Hama and the necklacemay have come from Denmark, making it possible that the Anglo-Saxons

    did not known of the god.

    BaldR: It is difficult to say if BaldR was even a god. There are

    almost no places named for him and evidence of his worship is non-

    existent. To further complicate matters are the conflicting myths

    about BaldR. In the Icelandic sources he appears as a god. He is the

    son of Wden and Frge and the most beloved of the gods, brave,

    wise, and pure of heart. The Danish scholar Saxo paints an entirely

    different picture of him. He calls BaldR a semideus or "a demigod,"

    indicating that he was the son of Wden by a mortal woman (keep in

    mind that this was not unusual--most Germanic kings traced their

    descent from Wden). Saxo also portrays BaldR as anything but pure

    of heart. He is selfish, devious, and wholly wanton. It then seems

    possible that the BaldR myths developed along national and political

    lines. For the Norwegians he may have been a hero, one of such

    stature that he was later deified. For the Danes he may have been an

    archvillain, one who would never see the halls of the gods. As for

    the Anglo-Saxons, there are no certain references to BaldR in Old

    English. Indeed, some scholars have questioned whether the word

    bealdor, a cognate of BaldR meaning "bold one, brave one." even

    existed. Of course, if BaldR was merely a hero deified by the

    Norwegians, we would have no reason to believe that the Anglo-Saxons

    worshipped him.

    Geofon: Geofon appears as a word for the sea in Old English. No

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    place does it appear as the name of a goddess; however, it appears

    to be the cognate of Gefjun. Gefjun was a Danish goddess of whom

    Snorri tells a short myth in the Prose Edda. Gefjun came to King

    Gylfi of Sweden as an old beggar woman and entertained him so well

    that he offered her as much land as she could plough with four oxen

    in a day as a reward. She then turned her four sons by an ettin intooxen and hitched them to a plough. She ploughed so deep and so hard

    that she dragged the land to a sound west of Sweden. She then fixed

    the land so that it wouldn't move and named it Zealand (now Danish

    territory). Where Zealand had once been there was now the lake

    called Mlar. Considering the fact that in this myth Gefjun deals as

    much with the sea as she does the land and considering the fact that

    she was worshipped in Denmark (the general area from whence the

    Angles, Saxons, and Jutes originated), it is quite possible that

    Geofon was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons and that her name later

    became a byname for the sea. Regardless, many places in Denmark boreher name.

    Hel: In the Old Norse sources Hel is the queen of the realm of the

    dead (also called Hel). In Old English sources Hel is also the name

    of the realm of the dead (hence our modern word Hell). In his

    Teutonic Mythology Jacob Grimm theorized that the goddess Hel was

    known to most, if not all, of the Germanic peoples. He even

    theorized that she and her realm may well have been inseparable, if

    not one and the same. Grimm noted that in Anglo-Saxon literature the

    place called Hel is often described with the characteristics of a

    person or or a wolf (its gaping jaws are often referred to)--so

    often that it seems possible that they were not speaking

    figuratively of a place, but literally of an entity.

    If this is the case, then the newly converted Anglo-Saxons may have

    still held a belief in Hel as an entity who governed the dead. This

    particularly seems likely concerning Hel's position in the Eddas.

    ostre: In his De Temporum Ratione the Anglo-Saxon scholar Bede

    stated that the Old English osturmna (roughly around March or

    April by the modern calendar) was named for the goddess ostre, to

    whom the Anglo-Saxons sacrificed during that month. Our modern word

    Easter, used for the Christian festival celebrating the resurrection

    of Jesus, also derives from her name. That she was also worshipped

    by the Continental Germans can be proven from the fact that the

    modern German name for the same festival (Ostern) also derives from

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    her name. The name ostre itself is related to the names of the

    Greek and Roman dawn goddesses, Eos and Aurora respectively, so that

    she was perhaps a goddess of the dawn and hence spring and the

    renewal of life. Unfortunately, ostre appears to have been unknown

    in Scandinavia and Iceland, as they preserve no trace of her name.

    It is possible that she was known to the Scandinavians under anothername. The goddess Iunn mentioned in the Eddas as guarding the

    apples of immortality would seem a possibility, considering the fact

    that she also appears to deal in the renewal of life.

    UllR: UllR is mentioned infrequently in Old Norse sources, though

    place names in Norway and Sweden show him to have been an important

    deity. He appears nowhere south of Norway and Sweden, however, and

    references to him are almost totally absent from the records of

    Denmark, the Continent, and England. It seems unlikely then that he

    was worshipped by the Anglo-Saxons.

    Loki: Loki is one of the major characters in the Icelandic sources,

    although his behaviour seems a bit schizophrenic when the myths are

    taken as a whole. He appears as either a good natured trickster,

    sometimes getting the gods into trouble, but ultimately helping

    them, or a malevolent creature who commits acts of evil against the

    gods and ultimately sides with the ettins against them. The reason

    for this is difficult to say. Perhaps Loki began as a benevolent

    trickster figure but evolved under Christian influence into a

    demonic character. Equally likely is that there were two Lokis. Both

    the Eddas and Saxo Grammaticus refer to an ettin named Utaraloki,

    who is quite clearly hostile to the gods. It is possible that the

    two eventually became confused in the people's minds, so that myths

    once attributed to Utaraloki were now attributed to the trickster.

    Regardless, there is no evidence that Loki was ever worshipped. None

    of the elder sources refer to his worship nor are there any places

    named for him.

    Loki's name is entirely absent from Old English and it is impossible

    to know if the Anglo-Saxons believed in Loki at all, let alone

    whether they regarded him as a benevolent trickster or a malevolent


    The Wights

    Around the world most peoples believe in entities less powerful than

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    gods, but more powerful than man. Generally scholars refer to such

    entities as spirits or demons (not to be confused with the demons of

    Christian mythology). Perhaps the best known example of such

    entities are the angels of the Judaeo-Christian mythos. Like most

    other peoples, the Germanic peoples also believed in such entities,

    generally calling them by ancient cognates of our word wight (OEwiht). Below is a table of the major wights known to the Germanic

    peoples. A short commentary on each of them follows.

    The Wights of Anglo-Saxon heathendom and Asatru Old English


    lf lfR

    yrs urs

    Eoten Jtunn

    Dweorgh DvergR

    Nicor NykR

    lf: The plural in Old English is ylfe and in Old Norse it is lfar.

    The Old English word survived as our modern elf. In the Old Norse

    sources the elves are often named alongside the se (Old Norse sir)

    and were apparently closely related to the Wen (ON Vanir)--at the

    very least we are told that Fra was given lfheimR ("home of the

    elves") as a gift upon receiving his first tooth. The precise nature

    of the elves is unclear in the Old Norse sources. At times they

    appear to be entities nearly on par with the gods, even associated

    with the sun (an Old Norse kenning for the sun was "the ray of

    elves," almost as if they were somehow responsible for it). At the

    same time, however, they appear almost as if they were the spirits

    of the dead. They apparently live in mounds and at least two dead

    Norwegian kings bore titles with the word "lfR" in them. Anyhow,

    the elves were linked to healing and invoked in childbirth as well.

    Despite this, they were also believed to cause diseases

    though "elfshot"--tiny darts or arrows of their own design.

    In Old English sources the elves also appear to have been powerful

    entities. In Bowulf they are named alongside the eotenas ("ettins"

    or "giants") and other demonic (form a Christian point of view,

    anyhow) forces. In the charm With Fstice "elfshot" is named

    alongside "shot from the se (that is, the gods)" as a cause for

    disease. From later folklore we know that in England were also

    regarded as living in mounds, though this idea could have admittedly

    been imported by the Danes. We also know from Old English sources

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    that they were regarded as causing diseases from "elfshot"--a belief

    common to most of the Germanic peoples.

    yrs and Eoten: These two terms appear to have been virtually

    interchangeable in both Old English and Old Norse (urs and jtunn

    respectively). In modern English the terms survived as thurse andettin respectively. They refer to what we now sometimes

    call "giants." In his book Runelore Edred Thorsson theorized that

    the terms may have originally been more specific in meaning. That

    is, jtunn referred to the ancient, nearly cosmic giants such as

    Ymir. On the other hand, the term urs referred to the somewhat dull

    minded and less powerful giants we more often see in the Norse myths

    (usually as nor's opponents). Thorsson's theory is an appealing

    one, though it is not borne out by Old English records. In Old

    English the term yrs could hardly have referred to an unintelligent

    wight. It developed the meaning "wizard" and was also used of theChristian devil. The Anglo-Saxons may well have regarded the yrs

    not only as a malevolent creature, but one intelligent enough to be

    compared to the Christian Satan.

    Dweorgh: This is simply our modern word dwarf, in Old Norse dvergR.

    References to the dwarves are scant in Old English, where they are

    mentioned most prominently in two charms against diseases caused by

    them. Later English folklore, however, shows the English view of the

    dwarves to be consistent with that of every other Germanic people.

    The dwarves are master smiths, often living in mountains or rocks,

    known to be rather jealous of their treasures. This is the view of

    the dwarves seen in the Icelandic sources as well, although there

    they are no mere fairy tale characters, but wights powerful enough

    to associate with the gods. Indeed, the gods' greatest treasures

    (Wden's spear Gungnir, nor's hammer, and so on) were all made by


    Wlcyrige: In Old Norse, Valkyrja, our modern word valkyrie. The

    word in both languages literally means, "chooser of the slain." In

    Old Norse sources the Valkyrjur appear as Wden's "handmaidens"--the

    wights charged with bringing newly killed heroes to Valhll

    or "Valhalla." Today many tend to view the Valkyrjur as beautiful

    maidens who wait upon the warriors in Valhll--Vendela in armour.

    And while the Valkyrjur are often said to be beautiful in the

    ancient sources, they also had a savage side. In Njals Saga

    Valkyrjur appear in a dream, weaving upon a loom of entrails and

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    weighted with severed heads.

    The more savage side of the Valkyrjur may have been remembered by

    the Anglo-Saxons. The word Wlcyrige is used to gloss the Furies of

    Greek mythology. Curiously, in his Sermon Lupi Wulfstan condemns

    Wlcyrigen alongside witches. This is odd, as the term wicce (ourmodern word witch) in Old English denoted a mortal, usually

    malevolent, spellcaster, while the Old Norse term Valkyrja denoted a

    goddess who chooses the slain. This leaves us with a number of


    The first is that following the Conversion the myths of the

    Wlcyrigen degenerated until they were regarded as little more than

    mortal human beings. This often happened following the adoption of

    Christianity. The elves, once seen as being nearly as powerful as

    the gods, were reduced to the level of fairies.

    The second is that the Wlcyrigen could have originated as mortal

    priestesses who, upon their death, were deified and became part of

    Wden's entourage. This could be borne out by references in Old

    Norse and Icelandic literature to the Valkyrjur as "the adopted

    daughters of Wden." Third, Wulfstan could have simply been mistaken

    and assumed that the Wlcyrigen were mortal entities, when in truth

    they were regarded as goddesses.

    Nicor: Both Old English nicor and Old Norse nykr are cognate to

    German nix and nixie; however, both words appear to have referred to

    water wights of a much deadlier and more sinister nature than the

    Germans' fairy tale river spirits. Indeed, Grendel's mother (from

    Bowulf) is an example of the Anglo-Saxon's idea of a nicor!

    It must be noted that besides these wights, Anglo-Saxon heathendom

    and Norse Asatru apparently shared a host of other wights, who

    survived in the fairy tales of England, Scandinavia, and Iceland.

    And though the names may vary from country to country, as may the

    particulars, the stories are often so similar that one must wonder

    that they don't have a common origin in the ancient Germanic past.

    Indeed, if the elder sources and the later fairy tales are any

    indication, every house, hill, stream, and lake had its very own


    Indeed, beyond the worship of a few major gods and various beliefs

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    (such as Wyrd), it is in the area of the wights where the Germanic

    peoples held the most in common. The reason for this is simple. The

    worship of the gods, including deified heroes, was to a large degree

    the province of priests and kings. On the other hand, the worship of

    wights was largely a matter of folk belief--the belief of the common

    man. It was the owners of the homes that saw to it that the housewights got sacrifices, not the local priest or lord.

    Folk belief is often much more conservative than those beliefs

    controlled by priests and kings, so that such beliefs, if they

    originated in the deep past of the Germanic peoples, probably

    changed very little. This is how such customs as the Yule log

    managed to survive several centuries in different countries. For

    that reason, perhaps, do we see an amazing consistency in beliefs

    regarding the dwarves and other wights.

    The Holidays

    When it comes to the religious festivals of the Germanic peoples we

    enter a murky area of the lore. The elder sources record very little

    information about the holidays. It is difficult to say why, but

    perhaps the chroniclers took them for granted. After all, how many

    times does the average modern American feel the need to explain

    Thanksgiving to others? This leaves the modern heathen in a bit of a

    bind, as there is often little in the way of guidance from the elder

    sources when it comes to holiday customs and observances. In many

    cases we cannot even be certain that any given holiday celebrated by

    any given people (such as Lammas among the Anglo-Saxons) was ever

    celebrated by the other Germanic peoples. In other cases, we may be

    certain that a specific day was celebrated by the whole of the

    Germanic peoples, but be at a total loss as to the day's name.

    Regardless, we do have some information on ancient Germanic

    festivals, little though it may be. Similarly, we can somewhat use

    traditional observances that have been passed down through the ages

    as something of a guide. Between the little information contained in

    the elder sources and holidays as passed down to us from the day

    yore, we can hazard a few rough guesses as to how any one festival

    may have been conducted in ancient times. Below is a table listing

    the various holidays. A question mark following a holiday's name or

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    a question mark in place of a name simply means that we cannot be

    sure of what it was originally called. A short commentary on each


    The Holidays of Anglo-Saxon heathendom and Asatru Modern English Old

    English Icelandic/Norse

    Yule Gol Jl

    Candlemas owomeoluc Giblt?

    Easter ostron ?

    May Day rimeolce? Sumarml

    Midsummer Midsumer/La? Misumar

    Lammas Hlfmsse KornskurR?

    Harvest Hrfest Haust

    Hallowe'en Winterfylle? VetrnttR

    Yule: Yule is by far the most documented holiday among the Germanic

    peoples. The holiday's name appears in nearly every Germanic

    languages and Latin sources even refer to Gothic months named for

    it. As early a source as the Latin scholar Procopius refers to a

    festival celebrated by the people of Thule (Scandinavia, perhaps?)

    to greet the sun on its return. Many of Yule's customs have survived

    to this day as part of the Christian and secular celebration of


    Bede speaks at length of the Anglo-Saxon celebration of Gol. He

    states that their year began on December 25 and that they referred

    to this night as Mdranht or "Mothers' Night." Garman Lord thinks

    it is possible that the night was actually called Mdranecta

    or "Mother of Nights"--that is, the first night of the year--

    instead, although he admits that this is not confirmed by any

    surviving manuscripts. Another possibility that scholars have

    considered is that the Anglo-Saxons may have made sacrifices to

    their ancestral mothers--possibly the goddesses called in Old Norse

    the Dsir--on this night. Regardless, Bede notes that they watched

    the night through, proving that staying awake all night

    on "Christmas Eve" is a ancient custom. Anglo-Saxon sources also

    tell of the wearing of animal masks at the Anglo-Saxon Gol

    celebration, perhaps an indication that the mummer's plays of the

    Middle Ages may be more ancient than many scholars think.

    Like the Anglo-Saxons and probably every other Germanic tribe, the

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    Icelanders and the ancient Scandinavians also celebrated Jl. One of

    Wden's names in Old Norse is Jlnir, which quite clearly derives

    from the holiday's name. An ancient historian mistakenly stated that

    Jl was named after Jlnir. Regardless, the holiday seems to have

    been sacred to Wden. It seems possible that sacrifices to Fra were

    also made at this time. At either Yule or February the boar to besacrificed to Fra would be led before the king. He was considered

    so holy that men would place their hands upon him and swear oaths.

    In Heimskringla King Hakon not only ordered that Jl should begin at

    the same time as the Christian celebration of Christmas, but that

    every man should brew some ale and keep Jl holy for as long as it

    lasted. It seems then that drinking as always been a part of the

    Yule celebration.

    Finally, it must be pointed that the imagery today associated

    with "Christmas" is fairly consistent among the nations descendedfrom the Germanic peoples From Scandinavia to Germany to England,

    one will see houses decked out in holly and evergreens around

    Yuletide. Similarly, the Yule log is a tradition found in many of

    those countries. And, of course, drinking is done in abundance. This

    could well point to a common heritage for these customs in the

    depths of the Germanic past.

    owomeoluc: February 2 was chosen by the Christian church for the

    minor festival of Candlemas, though today it is better known to most

    Americans as Groundhog Day. Of course, on Groundhog Day the

    groundhog is supposed to emerge from his burrow, either seeing his

    shadow and forecasting four more weeks of winter, or not seeing his

    shadow and indicating an early spring.

    This superstition originated in Europe (particularly Germany), where

    a bear or a badger was often the animal people used to forecast the

    coming weather. It must be pointed out that the date varied from

    locality to locality, however, with some people observing it on

    February 14th rather than February 2nd (in fact, when Missouri

    officially recognized the second as Groundhog Day, there was a bit

    of an uproar among some farmers). This custom could well date back

    to ancient times, as many folk beliefs do.

    Among the Anglo-Saxons this date was called owomeoluc, from the

    fact that this was the time when the ewes came into milk. Bede wrote

    that the month of February was called Solmana in Old English,

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    meaning "month of cakes," and that cakes were offered to the gods in

    this month. Bede may well have been mistaken on the name, as the

    word sol meaning "cakes" appears nowhere else. Garman Lord theorizes

    that instead Bede may have misunderstood the source for his

    information, probably a farmer in the countryside, who may have told

    him that it was Suhlmona or "plough month." Indeed, it must benoted that a custom still performed on various dates in late January

    and early to mid February in parts of Britain is the blessing of the

    plough. The blessing of the plough may well have its origins in

    rites of the sort described in the Old English charm cer Bt, which

    was meant to bring fertility to the land.

    The sacrifice of cakes to the gods may also have been meant to bring

    fertility to the land in hope of bountiful crops in the summer and

    fall. Of course, the Anglo-Saxons might have also spent some time

    watching for the bear or badger to come out of hibernation as well.

    It is unclear whether the Scandinavians had a holiday corresponding

    exactly to owomeoluc. They may have sacrificed to Fra in February,

    so that it is possible that they may have celebrated a festival

    equivalent to owomeoluc that month. The Icelanders conducted a

    sacrifice at the beginning of the month they called Gi, which

    generally fell anywhere from mid-February to mid-March according to

    our calendar. The Giblt could well have been an Icelandic version

    of the holiday called owomeoluc in Old English.

    Easter: Today Easter is used of the Christian festival celebrating

    the resurrection of Jesus according to their mythology. Like Yule,

    the name Easter dates back to heathendom. The Anglo-Saxons usually

    called the holiday astron, the plural of Old English astre (see

    the discussion on astre above). Bede tells us that the Anglo-Saxons

    called April osturmona, after the goddess astre, for whom they

    held festivals that month. That the worship of astre and the

    celebration of her festival was not confined to the Anglo-Saxons can

    be seen in the modern German word for the holiday, Ostran, which

    also derived from the goddess's name.

    Though we know that the Anglo-Saxons apparently celebrated the

    holiday of Easter, we don't really know how they celebrated it. It

    is difficult, then, to say whether such things as "Easter eggs" are

    a survival of a heathen custom. In fact, some scholars argue that

    the egg symbolism of the Christian "Easter" originated in the Near

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    East. Here I must disagree with them. It seems to me that

    the "Easter egg" is most prevalent in areas settled by speakers of

    Indo-European languages. That is, not only do the Germanic countries

    celebrate the Christian "Easter" with "Easter eggs," but so do the

    Slavs (indeed, the Russians are known for their exquisitely designed

    eggs), while the custom is much rarer in the Near East. The customwould then seem to have its origins among the Indo-European peoples.

    The "Easter bunny" or "Easter hare" first appeared in Germany in the

    1500s, so that we cannot rule out the survival of a heathen custom,

    though we have no way of knowing if the Anglo-Saxons knew of

    the "Easter hare."

    As noted above, the Scandinavians either did not know of the goddess

    ostre or failed to preserve her name. In mediaeval Iceland the

    Christian holiday was not called by a cognate of Easter, but Paskar

    instead, a word descending ultimately from the Hebrew word forPassover. We see the same thing occurring in Norway, Sweden, and

    Denmark. That does not mean that the ancient heathen Scandinavians

    did not celebrate their own equivalent of Easter, whatever its name

    may have been. In fact, they share many Easter customs with other

    Germanic peoples. In Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland, Easter is

    celebrated with decorating eggs, Easter egg hunts, and various games

    involving Easter eggs, much as it is celebrated in other Germanic

    countries. If these customs are indeed survivals of heathen ones

    rather than borrowings from foreign sources, then the Scandinavians

    may have celebrated a holiday analogous to the Anglo-Saxons'


    rimeolce: May Day was a holiday long celebrated in England, though

    it was forgotten for a time in the modern era. Of course, it takes

    its modern name from the month of May, which is a Latin borrowing.

    It is then extremely doubtful that the elder heathen called it "May

    Day." This leaves us at a loss as to what the day was called. In

    many countries the day is known as "Walpurgis Day," a day named in

    honour of the early, Anglo-Saxon St. Walburga. This has led some

    scholars to theorize that a goddess named Walburga (often identified

    with Fro) must have existed, so that St. Walburga simply took over

    a holiday originally held in honour of a goddess of the same name.

    The elder sources, however, contain no references to a goddess

    called Walburga, so that it is doubtful she even existed. It seems

    more likely that the Anglo-Saxons may have originally called the

    holiday rimeolce, the name they gave the month of May. According to

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    Bede, rimeolce was so named because the cows could be milked three

    times a day. If the Anglo-Saxons named a day for a time when the

    ewes came into milk (owomeoluc), who is to say that they wouldn't

    name one for the time when the cows could be milked three times a

    day? Regardless, the name rimeolce could well be very ancient and

    may have been common to all of the Germanic peoples at one time. Inparts of Sweden the marsh-marigold is called trimjlkgrs or "three

    milk grass."

    Regardless of the holiday's name, we can be fairly certain that May

    Day is a heathen survival. In England May Eve was celebrated with

    bonfires. May Day itself was celebrated by gathering flowers and in

    some areas even a battle between individuals costumed as "Winter"

    and "Summer." The erection of the maypole on May Day could have been

    a borrowing from the Celts, as many other Germanic peoples erect it

    on Midsummer Day instead. Of this, however, we cannot be certain.Some other Germanic peoples appear to focus on May Eve as the

    primary time of celebration. Among the Germans Walpurgisnacht was

    celebrated with huge bonfires and much merriment. Of course, the

    Germans also believed Walpurgisnacht to be a time for witches, as so

    aptly portrayed Goethe's Faust.

    Like most Germanic peoples, the ancient Scandinavians also

    apparently celebrated May Day. In Sweden Valborgsmssoafton is still

    a major holiday, celebrated with bonfires and, today, even

    fireworks. For both the ancient and modern Icelanders the end of

    April marked the official beginning of summer. Sumurml, which

    usually occurred around April 20, marked the last days of winter and

    the first days of summer. It is possible that the "blt for victory"

    or sigrblt mentioned in Norse sources occurred at this time.

    Midsummer: The Christian church chose the summer solstice as the

    date for St. John's Day. At least part of the reason this date was

    chosen was the fact that it also marked the date of one of

    heathendom's biggest celebrations, Midsummer. Among many of the

    Germanic peoples, Midsummer was a summertime equivalent of Yule. In

    England Midsummer's Eve was celebrated with huge bonfires, through

    which daring young men would leap. Midsummer's Eve was also

    considered a perfect time for divination. Among other things a young

    maid could use various means of learning whom she would marry on

    Midsummer's Eve. Midsummer's Day was celebrated with the gathering

    of flowers (as on May Day) and the usual dancing and drinking.

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    As to the holiday's name, the Anglo-Saxons probably did call it

    Midsumer, however, Old English sources could lead us to wonder if it

    wasn't originally called by another name. Anglo-Saxon chroniclers

    sometimes refer to June and July as rra La and ftera

    La, "before" La and "after La," respectively. This reflectsthe names for December and January rra Gola and ftera

    Gola, "before Yule" and "after Yule." This makes it possible, at

    least, that the Anglo-Saxons also knew Midsummer by the name "La"

    as well.

    As stated earlier, nearly all of the Germanic peoples celebrated

    Midsummer and the Scandinavians were no different. As in other

    Germanic countries, Midsummer's Eve was celebrated with bonfires

    through which young men would leap. To this day in Sweden young

    girls still weave garlands from flowers and the maypole is stillraised. Today, as perhaps in ancient times, the Swedish Midsummer

    celebration lasts three days.

    Lammas: From Old English sources we know that Lammas or, in Old

    English, Hlfmsse was a Christian festival in which the season's

    first new loaves of bread were blessed, celebrated on August 1.

    Given the fact that Christianity's festivals almost never concern

    themselves with the first fruits of the season, it would seem likely

    that Lammas was a survival of a heathen festival, in which the first

    loaves of the season were baked and perhaps offered to the gods.

    Regardless, there are other clues that Lammas was originally a

    heathen festival. On the holiday "Lammas lands," lands that were

    held privately from spring to Lammas, were thrown open to common

    pasturage until next spring. Similarly, in Scotland, Lammas was one

    of the days on which tenants paid their rent.

    That Lammas was originally a heathen festival seems likely, though

    the heathen holiday could hardly have been called "Hlfmsse." The

    msse in Hlmsse is our modern word mass, as in "a Catholic mass"

    and stems originally from Latin. Garman Lord theorizes that the

    festival may have originally been called Hlfmst or "feast of

    loaves," though we have no way of knowing this for certain. Though

    we cannot be sure of its original name, it seems likely that it was

    named for the loaves of bread that were baked at the time.

    Old Norse and Icelandic sources show little trace of a festival

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    celebrated in either late July or early August; however, this does

    not make it entirely impossible. In Sweden August was called

    Skrdemnad "reaping month" or Skortant "reaping." In Iceland it was

    called Kornskurmn or "corn reaping month." This means that the

    harvest of the first grain of the summer must have taken place in

    Sweden and Iceland at approximately the same time that it did inEngland. It seems possible, if not likely, then, that the ancient

    Scandinavians may have had a festival at this time. After all, it

    would have been a reasonable and pleasurable way to end the first

    harvest of the year.

    Harvest: In ancient times, as now, September was a month when

    several crops were harvested. It should come as no surprise, then,

    that the ancient Germanic peoples may have held harvest festivals

    around the fall equinox. Indeed, the Old English word hrfest and

    its cognates in the other Germanic languages not only meant "thereaping of grain," but also "the season of fall" as well. That the

    Anglo-Saxons may have held a harvest festival in September can be

    shown by the name they gave that month--Haligmona or "holy month."

    This indicates that some sort of sacral activity accompanied the

    September harvest. In other words, a festival may have been held.

    This festival could well have survived in many parts of England

    as "Harvest Home," in which the end of the harvest was celebrated.

    It seems likely that the Scandinavians also celebrated a harvest

    festival. Icelandic sources refer to the haustblt or "fall

    sacrifice" and the haustbo or "fall feast." And just as "Harvest

    Home" celebrations are common in England and America, so too are

    they to be found in Scandinavia and Iceland. These festivals could

    well be heathen survivals.

    Winter Nights or Winterfylle: The festival called VetrnttR

    or "Winter Nights" in Old Norse sources is one of the best

    documented holidays among the Germanic peoples. Several Icelandic

    sagas refer to it and its observance has survived in some form to

    this day. Celebrated around October 14 according to our modern

    calendar, the ancient Scandinavians considered VetrnttR to be the

    official beginning of winter (as it still is in Iceland and Norway).

    It appears to have been a time of several blts. Icelandic sources

    make it fairly clear that blts to both the lfar (the elves) and

    the Dsir took place at this time. It also seems likely that a blt

    to Fra also took place during this festival. A good part of this

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    festival was celebrated in private, with only close friends and

    family present. King Olaf's poet Sigvat complained in one of his

    verses once that while travelling in Sweden he could not find

    lodging because everyone was sacrificing to the the elves.

    It seems quite apparent that the Anglo-Saxons celebrated their ownequivalent of VetrnttR. The Old English name for the month of

    October was Winterfylle, which has been interpreted as "winter full

    moon." That the Anglo-Saxons gave this name to the month of October

    indicates that they may have considered it the beginning of winter,

    much as the Scandinavians did. Winterfylle is immediately followed

    by Bltmona on the Anglo-Saxon calendar. Bede states that Bltmona

    was so named because the ancient Anglo-Saxons gave a portion of

    their slaughtered livestock to the gods at that time. It would then

    appear that the Anglo-Saxons not only began winter at approximately

    the same time as the Scandinavians, but held blts at approximatelythe same time too. This Anglo-Saxon equivalent to VetrnttR could

    well have been called by the month name, Winterfylle.

    It would be misleading to say that these were the only holidays

    celebrated by the Germanic peoples. In the elder sources we

    sometimes see references to festivals which were apparently peculiar

    to only one tribe or region. For instance, the ancient Icelandic

    Asatruarar celebrated a festival called orrablt, so named because

    it took place in the month of orri (which began anywhere from

    January 9th to January 16th according to our modern calendar).

    Though an important holiday for the ancient Icelanders, it is not to

    be found among the Anglo-Saxons or the Continental Germanic tribes.

    Similarly, it must be pointed out that many rural areas in modern

    England celebrate their own festivals peculiar only to themselves.

    Many of these festivals could date back to heathen times. The above

    mentioned festivals are simply those that appear to have been the

    major festivals of the year for the Germanic peoples, what the

    Fourth of July or Thanksgiving are to modern Americans.

    As can be seen, the ancient Anglo-Saxons and the ancient Icelanders

    held quite a bit in common with regards to religious festivals. We

    know that both groups celebrated Yule and Midsummer. They may have

    also held Easter, "May Day," "Harvest Home," and "Winter Nights" in

    common. owomeoluc and Lammas are the only two holidays which they

    might not have shared--evidence for the celebration of the two

    lacking in Iceland and Scandinavia. Even then, however, we cannot

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    rule out the possibility that they were celebrated in Iceland and

    Scandinavia in one form or another.

    Sacral Kingship

    As can be seen above, the Anglo-Saxons and Icelanders shared manybeliefs and many religious practices in common. In addition to those

    cited above, both groups also believed in the dynamistic force

    called in Old English mgen and in wyrd. One of the biggest

    differences between the two groups, however, was in the fact that

    the Anglo-Saxons practised sacral kingship, while the Icelanders did


    For the Anglo-Saxons sacral kingship was a central part of their

    religion. The king was the high priest of the tribes. He was the

    bearer of the tribal mgen, its protector and guardian. As theking's luck fared, so too did the luck of the tribe. Sacral kingship

    was not unique to the Anglo-Saxons. It was also practised in Sweden,

    Denmark, Norway, and other Germanic countries.

    On the other hand, circumstances would force Iceland to abandon

    sacral kingship. In the ninth and tenth centuries Norway suffered

    through some of the worst kings to appear among the Germanic

    peoples. The first of these was ironically the man who unified

    Norway, Harald Finehair. Harald Finehair seized the hereditary

    estates and forced all farmers, whether they owned land or not, to

    be his tenants. Many left their homes to settle in Iceland. His son

    and heir, EirkR Bloodaxe was even worse. He continued his father's

    reign of tyranny and even murdered his own brothers. In the end he

    was driven from Norway. In behaving as despots, Harald Finehair and

    EirkR Bloodaxe both violated the central tenets of sacral kingship.

    As the folk's representative to the gods, it was the duty of the

    king not only to defend the folk's luck, but the folk themselves.

    Unfortunately, Harald Finehair and EirkR Bloodaxe did very little

    in the way of defending the folk, instead violating their rights

    given to them by the gods, such as the right to keep their own

    hereditary lands. Since the kings of Norway had broken troth with

    them, many Norwegians fled for Iceland where they had to find new

    ways of defending the tribal luck.

    Even though the system the Icelanders developed lacked sacral

    kingship, its roots were still firmly in Germanic tradition. Like

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    the other Germanic peoples, much of the task of determining the law

    fell to various local assemblies or ings. The highest ing,

    the "Supreme Court" if you will, was the Aling, the

    national "parliament" of Iceland. Within this ing system the duties

    which would usually fall to a king were divided between various

    offices. In the Icelandic government it was the lgsgumaR ("lawspeaking man") who acted as the guardian of the law. Indeed, he was

    required to recite it from memory at the beginning of each Aling.

    The interpretation of the law fell to the goar, who in heathen

    times had been the priests.

    The goar made up the Lgrtta, a legislative assembly consisting of

    forty eight members. Among other things, the Lgrtta named the men

    who would sit on the various courts. In this way the Icelanders saw

    to it that the tribal luck was defended, even though they lacked a


    It must be pointed out that the Icelanders were not the only

    Germanic peoples who did not have sacral kings. Many scholars

    believe that the Saxons may have lacked sacral kingship before they

    arrived in England, where they adopted the concept from the Angles.

    Yet other Germanic tribes failed to develop the concept of sacral

    kingship, depending on powerful nobles and the ing system to defend

    the tribal luck. That Iceland operated without a sacral king is then

    not a precedent, but another variation in the very flexible

    traditions of Germanic government.


    Anglo-Saxon heathendom and Icelandic Asatru had much in common. Both

    groups worshipped the same major gods. Similarly, both groups

    believed in many of the same wights--no doubt elves, ettins,

    dwarves, and nickers populated the legends of both peoples. Finally,

    they also celebrated many of the same festivals.

    At approximately the same time of year, both the Anglo-Saxons and

    the ancient Scandinavians celebrated Yule, Midsummer, and Winter

    Nights. These two branches of heathendom are remarkably similar, as

    two branches of the same religion would be expected to be.

    Anglo-Saxon heathendom and Icelandic Asatru also differed in many

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    respects. Some of the gods known to the Anglo-Saxons might not have

    been known to the Icelanders and vice versa. And while they appear

    to have held the major festivals in common, some of the lesser

    festivals may not have been celebrated by both groups or may have

    had much less importance to one group than it did the other.

    Of course, the most glaring difference between Anglo-Saxon

    heathendom and Icelandic Asatru is that the Icelanders lacked sacral

    kingship. This is not to say that the Icelanders did not believe in

    sacral kingship, but more likely that they did not practise it.

    Their own kings having broken troth with them, the Icelanders had to

    protect the tribal luck through other means.

    Even then, the system they developed was rooted firmly in the ing

    system found among many Germanic peoples, including the Anglo-


    Though they differ in some respects, Anglo-Saxon heathendom and

    Icelandic Asatru are very similar.

    Both were genuine manifestations of Germanic heathendom and both

    grew out of the beliefs of the same peoples who inhabited northwest

    Europe in the days of yore.

    SPANISH *************************************************

    Paganismo anglosajn y satr islands: comparacin y contraste

    Por Eric Wodening


    Los pueblos germanos antiguos seguan esencialmente la misma religin. Casi todos ellos parecen

    haber adorado a la mayora de los Dioses conocidos por nosotros de la mitologa nrdica -inn,

    rR, FreyR y dems. Tambin crean en muchas de las mismas energas o espritus elfos,

    enanos, gigantes y dems. Celebraban varios festivales, rituales y costumbres en comn. Y no es

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    que no haya diferencias entre las tribus en sus costumbres religiosas y creencias. Siempre hubo

    alguna variacin en las prcticas religiosas y creencias entre el pueblo germano.

    Quizs la mejor demostracin de las similitudes y diferencias que algunas veces existieron en las

    creencias religiosas de los pueblos germanos sera examinar las creencias respectivas de los

    paganos anglosajones e islandeses.

    Debe ser notado ya mismo que los pueblos germanos antiguos no tenan un nombre para su

    religin o sus ramas. Si un pagano anglosajn antiguo cuestionara su religin podra haberse

    referido a eso simplemente como mn odisc gelfa, la creencia de mi tribu. Los islandeses

    pudieron haber respondido alrededor de lneas similares, aunque actualmente esta rama antigua y

    moderna de la religin pagana germnica es llamada satr. Por el bien de la simplicidad,

    usaremos paganismo anglosajn y satr para las religiones de los anglosajones e islandeses

    antiguos, respectivamente.

    Porqu hubo diferencias

    Por supuesto, es entendible porqu habran similitudes entre el paganismo anglosajn antiguo y el

    satr antiguo. Despus de todo, ambos grupos de personas descendieron de las tribus

    germnicas. Por qu, entonces, habra algunas diferencias entre los dos? Hay muchas razones y

    todas ellas son muy simples. La primera es que aunque un grupo grande de personas (tal como

    muchas tribus o muchas naciones) comparten un sistema de creencias, las variaciones en ese

    sistema surgen a menudo peculiares para cualquier persona determinada. Un ejemplo perfecto de

    esto es el catolicismo irlands e italiano. A pesar de que ambos pertenecen a la misma

    denominacin de la misma religin, fcilmente uno puede observar diferencias entre los dos,

    especialmente en cuanto a lo que cada grupo realiza en las festividades de la iglesia. Los

    anglosajones e islandeses podran haber evolucionado naturalmente sus propias creencias ycostumbres peculiares slo para ellos mismos.

    En segunda, el paganismo antiguo fue una religin estrechamente ligada a la tierra y por tanto al

    cambio de estaciones. Para los pueblos germanos antiguos, el invierno no llegaba necesariamente

    con el solsticio de invierno, sino cuando ocurra la primera nevada. Entonces, los comienzos de las

    estaciones y las fechas de los festivales podan variar de acuerdo al clima. Naturalmente, un

    festival que tuviera lugar al comienzo del invierno poda ocurrir despus en un clima ms clido

    que en uno ms fro.

    En tercer lugar, hay diferencias entre el paganismo anglosajn antiguo y el satr islands antiguo

    debido al contexto temporal involucrado. Inglaterra fue convertida en los siglos VI y VII de la era

    comn, mientras que Islandia no fue convertida hasta el ao 1000 de la era comn. En los 400

    aos entre la conversin de los anglosajones y la conversin de los islandeses hubo una

    considerable oportunidad para que la religin cambiara y evolucionara, y no hay duda de que esas

    transformaciones vinieron an ms rpido debido a los constantes cambios en las condiciones

    sociales impuestas sobre el norte de Europa por la Cristiandad.

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    Otros cambios se desarrollaron desde el clima social y poltico de los tiempos. La institucin del

    reinado sagrado fue muy importante para los anglosajones. Cuatrocientos aos despus, sin

    embargo, fueron testigos de la degradacin de los reyes noruegos a s mismos al romper la

    fidelidad con los Dioses y con la gente a travs de la tirana descarada.

    Entonces, la institucin del reinado sagrado dej de ser importante para los islandeses y buscaronotros caminos para defender la suerte tribal. Finalmente, parece que el pagano antiguo crey que

    los grandes hombres podran convertirse en Dioses hasta su muertelas sagas islandesas

    muestran algunos ejemplos de reyes siendo deificados despus de que fallecieron. En los 400 aos

    entre la conversin de los anglosajones y las ms tempranas fuentes del nrdico antiguo, varios

    hroes podran haber sido elevados a divinidad en las mentes de la gente.

    Mientras el paganismo anglosajn y el satr islands pertenecan ambos a la misma religin y

    como resultado comparten mucho en comn, tambin hay diferencias menores entre los dos que

    ocasionalmente pueden provocar confusin para algn novato en el estudio del paganismo.

    Los Dioses

    Por mucho, nuestra mejor fuente de informacin acerca de los Dioses adorados por los pueblos

    germanos antiguos son los poemas y sagas en nrdico antiguo e islands. Refirindonos a los

    Dioses en ingls antiguo (lenguaje de los anglosajones) las fuentes son excesivamente raras. Los

    nombres de la mayora de los Dioses eran, sin embargo, preservados en muchos nombres de

    lugares. De esto sabemos que el anglosajn antiguo, el paganismo anglosajn y el satr islands

    compartieron la mayora de los Dioses mayores mencionados en las fuentes nrdicas.

    A continuacin hay una tabla listando a los Dioses mayores conocidos por nosotros mediante las

    fuentes viejas. Un asterisco antes del nombre de un Dios indica que es una reconstruccin (esto

    es, que el nombre no aparece actualmente en el lenguaje). Se aade un comentario breve a cada

    uno de los Dioses.

    Los Dioses del paganismo anglosajn y del satr en ingls antiguo


    Wden inn

    nor rR

    Frge Frigg

    Tw TyR

    Fra FreyR

    Fro Freyja

    *Nor NjrR

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    *Forseta Foreseti

    Hama HeimdallR

    Bealdor BaldR

    Geofon Gefjun

    Hel Hel

    ? ostre

    ? UllR

    ? Loki

    Aun una mirada superficial a esta tabla muestra que el paganismo anglosajn y el satr antiguo

    comparten en comn a los Dioses mayores de las Eddas. Sabemos que estos Dioses fueron

    adorados por hablantes del nrdico antiguo desde un registro literal, nombres de lugares y

    evidencia arqueolgica. Mientras que el registro literal en ingls antiguo de estos Dioses es escaso,

    tenemos nombres de lugares y evidencia arqueolgica que muestra que los anglosajones los


    El hecho de que los anglosajones y los islandeses (y los escandinavos antiguos antes que ellos)

    aparentemente mantenan estos Dioses en comn, muestra que haba un alto grado de acuerdo

    en la religin en general que es el paganismo. Naturalmente, haba algunas diferencias entre los

    dos y algunos Dioses encontrados en el paganismo islands podran no haber sido conocidas por el

    pagano anglosajn. Similarmente, algunos Dioses parecen haber sido por los anglosajones, pero

    no por los islandeses.

    Wden: Conocido en nrdico antiguo como inn, mejor conocido ahora por la versin inglesa de

    ese nombre, Odin, l parece haber sido un Dios importante para los anglosajones y para los

    escandinavos antiguos. l es el Dios ms mencionado en las fuentes del ingls antiguo y ambas,

    Inglaterra y Escandinavia se jactan de muchos lugares nombrados a l. Interesantemente, la

    fuente del ingls antiguo ms importante para mencionar a Wden, el encantamiento de nueve

    hierbas, lo encasilla en un rol familiar para nosotros en la mitologa nrdica, como el mago


    nor: Llamado orR en nrdico antiguo y Thor en ingls moderno, tal vez l solo fue el Dios ms

    popular entre los pueblos germanos antiguos. Ambas, Inglaterra y Escandinavia tuvieron muchos

    lugares nombrados a l y el quinto da de la semana aun lleva su nombre en ingls y en la mayora

    de los pases escandinavos (en ingls moderno, Thursday).

    Frige: La esposa de Wden, llamada Frigg en nrdico antiguo y Frigga en ingls moderno. Ella es

    raramente mencionada en fuentes de nrdico antiguo y las referencias a ella en ingls antiguo son

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    casi inexistentes; sin embargo, hubo lugares nombrados a ella en Inglaterra y Escandinavia.

    Tambin el da viernes Friday fue nombrado por ella (OE Frgesdg).

    Tw: Llamado TyR por el nrdico antiguo, las referencias a Tw en fuentes de nrdico antiguo y

    escandinavo son raras. En todo caso, sabemos que l fue importante para los anglosajones y los

    escandinavos antiguos por los lugares nombrados a l y el da que sigue llevando su nombre (NETuesday).

    Fra: Llamado FreyR en nrdico antiguo y Frey en ingls moderno, l fue mencionado

    frecuentemente en las fuentes del nrdico antiguo. Tambin llamado Ing o Yngvi en nrdico

    antiguo, l puede ser recordado en el verso de Ing del poema rnico en ingls antiguo, as como en

    la genealoga de los reyes de Bernicia, donde un Ingui es listado. Lugares fueron nombrados a l en

    Inglaterra y Escandinavia.

    Fro: Llamada Freyja en nrdico antiguo y Freya en ingls moderno, la hermana de Fra tuvo

    lugares nombrados a ella en Inglaterra y Escandinavia. Ella aparece en las fuentes del nrdico

    antiguo ms que cualquier otra Diosa.

    NjrR: La palabra Nor no aparece como el nombre de un Dios en el ingls antiguo, aunque esto

    pudo haber sido nombre de Dios en el lenguaje. A pesar de que l nunca es mencionado en las

    fuentes del ingls antiguo, es muy probable que los anglosajones lo adoraran. El estudioso romano

    Tcito registra en Germania el culto a una Diosa Nerthus entre varias tribus germnicas, entre ellas

    los anglos quienes estableceran Britania algunos siglos despus. El nombre Nerthus es

    ciertamente casi el mismo de NjrR, el cual ha dado lugar a mucho debate en cuanto a esta

    identidad de Diosas. Aun algunas han sido asumidas de alguna forma a travs de los siglos, la Diosa

    Nerthus cambi sexos para convertirse en el Dios NjrR. Explicaciones ms probables son que

    Tcito o escuch mal el gnero del nombre del Dios y asumi que era una Diosa o que la mencinde Nerthus por Tcito es simplemente un acompaante del culto de NjrR, tal vez la hermana

    misteriosa mencionada en las fuentes del nrdico antiguo. De todos modos, Escandinavia tuvo

    muchos lugares nombrados al Dios.

    Forseti: La palabra Forseta no aparece como el nombre de un Dios en el ingls antiguo. Como

    NorR, aqu est previsto mostrarse cmo pudo haberse visto el nombre del Dios en ingls

    antiguo. Mientras que su nombre no aparece en las fuentes del ingls antiguo, Forseti fue adorado

    probablemente por los anglosajones. l fue el Dios favorito de los frisones antiguos (llamado

    Fosite en su lenguaje), quienes despus emigraron a Britania con los anglos, sajones y jutos. El

    nombre significa literalmente quien preside o presidente. l fue de menor importanciaaparentemente para los hablantes del nrdico antiguo, las referencias a l en su literatura son

    escasas. De hecho, l incluso es hecho el hijo de BaldR! Las fuentes del nrdico antiguo muestran,

    sin embargo, que Forseti fue considerado como un presidente. En el poema ddico Grmnsml

    se deca que Forseti estableca todas las disputas. Esto trae a la mente el jefe de algo o una

    asamblea judicial que a menudo tena que establecer las disputas entre la gente.

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    HeimdallR: En las fuentes del nrdico antiguo HeimdallR aparece como el guardin de Bifrst y

    enemigo de Loki. Un fragmento de un mito se refiere a una batalla entre HeimdallR y Loki en la

    forma de sellos sobre una gema llamada el rin marino algunas veces identificado por

    estudiosos modernos con el collar de Fro, Brsingamen. Es difcil decir si los anglosajones

    conocan de HeimdallR. El poema Bowulf relata un cuento donde un hroe llamado Hama rescata

    un collar llamado Brosinga mene, el cual bien podra ser el nombre para el collar de Fro en inglsantiguo. Parece posible que el autor de Bowulf confundiera al hroe germnico Hama (el hroe

    alemn Heimo vinculado al ciclo de leyendas de Dietrich de Bern) con el Dios HeimdallR y le

    atribuyera una de las leyendas del Dios al hroe. Tambin parece ser posible que Hama fuera

    simplemente una forma acortada del equivalente del ingls antiguo para HeimdallR (si alguno

    existi). Si este es el caso, entonces HeimdallR pudo haber sido adorado por los anglosajones.

    Desafortunadamente, como Bowulf influy fuertemente sobre fuentes continentales, el cuento

    de Hama y el collar pudo haber venido de Dinamarca, haciendo posible que los anglosajones no

    supieran del Dios.

    BaldR: Es difcil decir si BaldR era an un Dios. Casi no hay lugares nombrados a l y la evidencia desu culto es inexistente. Adems, hay asuntos complejos en los mitos conflictivos acerca de BaldR.

    En las fuentes islandesas l aparece como un Dios. l es el hijo de Wden y Frge, adems de ser el

    ms amado de los Dioses, valiente, sabio y puro de corazn. El estudioso dans Saxo pinta una

    imagen completamente diferente de l. l llama a BaldR como un semideus o semidios,

    indicando que l fue el hijo de Wden a travs de una mujer mortal (hay que pensar que esto no

    era inusualla mayora de los Dioses germnicos rastrearon su descendencia desde Wden).

    Tambin Saxo retrata a BaldR como todo menos puro de corazn. l es egosta, taimado y

    completamente irracional. Entonces es posible que los mitos de BaldR se desarrollaran a lo largo

    de lneas nacionales y polticas. Para los noruegos l pudo haber sido un hroe, uno de tal estatura

    que fuera deificado despus. Para los daneses l pudo haber sido un archienemigo, uno quiennunca vera los salones de los Dioses. As como para los anglosajones, no hay referencias ciertas

    acerca de BaldR en ingls antiguo. De hecho, algunos estudiosos han cuestionado si la palabra

    bealdor, un cognado de BaldR significando audaz, valiente lleg a existir. Por supuesto, si BaldR

    fue solamente un hroe deificado por los noruegos, pudiramos no tener razn para creer que los

    anglosajones lo adoraran.

    Geofon: Geofon aparece como una palabra para el mar en ingls antiguo. Ningn lugar aparece

    como el nombre de una Diosa; sin embargo, parece ser el cognado de Gefjun. Gefjun fue una

    Diosa danesa de quien Snorri cuenta un mito breve en la Edda prosada. Gefjun lleg al rey Gylfi de

    Suecia como una vieja pordiosera y lo entretuvo tan bien que l le ofreci como recompensatantas tierras como ella pudiera arar con cuatro bueyes en un da. Entonces ella convirti en

    bueyes a los cuatro hijos que ella tuvo con un gigante y los enganch a un arado. Ella ar tan

    profundo y tan fuerte que arrastr la tierra hasta el oeste de Suecia. Entonces ella estrech la

    tierra de forma que no se moviera y la nombr Zelandia (ahora territorio dans). Donde Zelandia

    alguna vez haba estado se encontraba el lago llamado Mlar. Considerando el hecho de que en

    este mito Gefjun negocia tanto con el mar como con la tierra y considerando el hecho de que ella

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    fue adorada en Dinamarca (el rea general de donde los anglos, sajones y jutos son originarios), es

    muy posible que Geofon fuera adorada por los anglosajones y que su nombre despus se

    convirtiera en un apodo para el mar. De cualquier forma, muchos lugares en Dinamarca llevan su


    Hel: En las fuentes del nrdico antiguo Hel es la reina del mundo de los muertos (tambin llamadoHel). En las fuentes del ingls antiguo Hel tambin es el nombre del reino de los muertos (por

    tanto nuestra palabra moderna Hell). Jacob Grimm, en su Mitologa teutnica teoriz que la

    Diosa Hel fue conocida por la mayora o por casi todos los pueblos germanos. Incluso teoriz que

    ella y su reino bien podran haber sido inseparables, si no es que uno mismo. Grimm seala que en

    la literatura anglosajona, el lugar llamado Hel, es a menudo descrito con las caractersticas de una

    persona o de un lobo (sus fauces abiertas son referidas a menudo), tan a menudo que parece

    posible que ellos no estuvieran hablando figurativamente de un lugar sino de una entidad


    Si este es el caso, los anglosajones recientemente convertidos an podran tener una creencia en

    Hel como una entidad que gobern los muertos. Esto sobre todo, parece probable refirindose a

    la posicin de Hel en las Eddas.

    ostre: El estudioso anglosajn Bede, en su De Temporum Ratione declara que el ingls antiguo

    osturmna (aproximadamente en marzo o abril del calendario moderno) fue nombrado por la

    Diosa ostre, a quien los anglosajones ofrecan sacrificios durante ese mes. Nuestra palabra

    moderna Easter, usada por el festival cristiano celebrando la resurreccin de Jess, tambin se

    deriva de su nombre. Que ella tambin fue adorada por los alemanes continentales puede ser

    probado desde el hecho de que el nombre alemn moderno para el mismo festival (Ostern)

    tambin se deriva de su nombre. El nombre ostre en s mismo est relacionado a los nombres de

    Diosas diurnas griegas y romanas, Eos y Aurora, respectivamente, de modo que ella tal vez fue una

    Diosa del amanecer y por lo tanto de la primavera y de la renovacin de la vida.

    Desafortunadamente, ostre parece haber sido desconocida en Escandinavia e Islandia, ya que

    ellos no conservan rastro de su nombre. La Diosa Iunn mencionada en las Eddas como la

    guardiana de las manzanas de la inmortalidad parecera una posibilidad, considerando el hecho de

    que ella tambin aparece para lidiar con la renovacin de la vida.

    UllR: UllR es poco mencionado en las fuentes del nrdico antiguo, aunque nombres de lugares en

    Noruega y Suecia muestren que l ha sido una deidad importante. Sin embargo, no aparece en el

    sur de Noruega y Suecia, y las referencias a l estn casi ausentes de los registros de Dinamarca, el

    continente e Inglaterra. Entonces parece poco probable que l fuera adorado por los anglosajones.

    Loki: Loki es uno de los mayores personajes en las fuentes islandesas, a pesar de que su

    comportamiento parece un poco esquizofrnico cuando los mitos son vistos como un todo. l

    aparece o como un tramposo bonachn que algunas veces mete a los Dioses en problemas pero

    finalmente los ayuda, o como una criatura malvola quien comete actos de maldad contra los

    Dioses y finalmente se pone contra ellos del lado de los gigantes. La razn de esto es difcil de

    decir. Quizs Loki comenz como una figura tramposa benevolente pero evolucion en un

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    personaje demoniaco bajo la influencia cristiana. La misma probabilidad es que hubiera dos Lokis.

    Las Eddas y Saxo Grammaticus se remiten a un gigante llamado Utaraloki, quien es claramente

    muy hostil a los Dioses. Es posible que los dos, eventualmente se volvieran confusos en la mente

    de las personas, por lo que los mitos alguna vez atribuyeron a Utaraloki fuera ahora atribuido al

    tramposo. A pesar de todo, no hay evidencia de que alguna vez Loki fuera adorado. Ninguna de las

    fuentes antiguas se remite a su culto y tampoco hay lugares nombrados a l.

    El nombre de Loki est completamente ausente del ingls antiguo y es imposible saber si los

    anglosajones creyeron del todo en Loki, dejando a un lado si lo consideraban como un tramposo

    benevolente o un gigante malvolo.

    Los espritus

    Alrededor del mundo la mayora de la gente cree en entidades menos poderosas que los Dioses,

    pero ms poderosas que un hombre. Los estudiosos se remiten generalmente a tales entidades

    como espritus o demonios (n debe ser confundido con los demonios de la mitologa cristiana). Tal

    vez el mejor ejemplo conocido de tales entidades son los ngeles de los mitos judeo-cristianos.Como la mayora de otras personas, los germnicos tambin creyeron en tales entidades,

    llamndolas generalmente por cognados antiguos de la palabra wight (OE wiht). Abajo hay una

    tabla de los mayores espritus conocidos por la gente germnica. Le sigue un pequeo comentario

    para cada uno.

    Los espritus del paganismo anglosajn y satr ingls antiguo


    lf lfR

    yrs urs

    Eoten Jtunn

    Dweorgh DvergR

    Nicor NykR

    lf: El plural en ingls antiguo es ylfe y en nrdico antiguo es lfar. La palabra en ingls antiguo

    sobrevivi como el moderno elfo. En las fuentes del nrdico antiguo son nombrados a menudo

    junto con los se (sir en nrdico antiguo) y fue al parecer estrechamente relacionado a los Wen

    (Vanir del NA)por lo menos se nos dice que a Fra le fue dado lfheimR (hogar de los elfos)como un regalo al recibir su primer diente. La naturaleza precisa de los elfos no es clara en las

    fuentes del nrdico antiguo. En momentos parecen ser entidades casi a la par con los Dioses,

    incluso asociados con el sol (un kenningar del nrdico antiguo para el sol fue el rayo de los elfos,

    casi como si de alguna forma ellos fueran responsables de eso). Al mismo tiempo, sin embargo,

    parece como si ellos fueran los espritus de los muertos. Aparentemente ellos viven en montculos

    y al menos dos reyes noruegos muertos llevaban ttulos con la palabra lfR en ellos. De cualquier

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    forma, los elfos estuvieron vinculados a la curacin y tambin invocados en los partos. A pesar de

    esto, tambin se les crea la causa de enfermedades, siendo los tiros de elfo pequeos dardos o

    flechas de su propio diseo.

    En las fuentes del ingls antiguo los elfos tambin parecen haber sido entidades poderosas. En

    Bowulf son nombrados al lado de los eotenas (ettins o gigantes) y otras fuerzas demoniacas(de cualquier forma, un punto de vista cristiano). En el encantamiento Con Fstice, tiro de elfo

    es nombrado al lado del tiro de los se (o sea, los Dioses) como una causa de enfermedad. Del

    folclor tardo sabemos que en Inglaterra tambin se les consideraba viviendo en montculos,

    aunque esta idea ciertamente podra haber sido importada por los daneses. Tambin sabemos por

    fuentes del ingls antiguo que ellos fueron considerados como causa de enfermedades gracias al

    tiro de elfo una creencia comn de los pueblos germanos.

    yrs y Eoten: Estos dos trminos parecen haber sido virtualmente intercambiables tanto en el

    ingls antiguo como en el nrdico antiguo (urs y jtunn, respectivamente). En el ingls moderno

    los trminos sobrevivieron como thurse y ettin respectivamente. Ellos remiten a lo que ahora

    algunas veces llamamos gigantes. Edred Thorsson, en su libro Runelore (Tradicin rnica)

    teoriz que los trminos originalmente pueden haber sido ms especficos en significado. Esto es,

    jtunn se remita a los antiguos gigantes casi csmicos tales como Ymir. Por otro lado, el trmino

    urs se remita a los algo torpes y menos poderosos gigantes que se ven ms a menudo en los

    mitos nrdicos (usualmente como oponentes de nor). La teora de Thorsson es atractiva,

    aunque no est confirmada por los registros del ingls antiguo. El trmino yrs el ingls antiguo,

    difcilmente podra haber sido remitido a un espritu poco inteligente. Se desarroll el significado

    mago y tambin fue usado por el diablo cristiano. Los anglosajones bien pudieron haber

    considerado a los yrs no slo como una criatura malvola, pero lo suficientemente inteligente

    para ser comparada con el Satn cristiano.

    Dweorgh: Esto es simplemente nuestra palabra moderna para enano, dvergR en nrdico antiguo.

    Las referencias a los enanos son escasas en ingls antiguo, donde ellos son mencionados ms

    prominentemente en dos encantamientos contra enfermedades causadas por ellos. El folclor

    ingls tardo, sin embargo, muestra la visin inglesa de los enanos para ser coherentes con los

    dems pueblos germanos. Los enanos son maestros herreros, a menudo viviendo en montaas y

    rocas, conocidos por ser celosos de sus tesoros. Tambin esta es la visin de los enanos mostrada

    en las fuentes islandesas, aunque ellos no son meros personajes de cuentos de hadas, sino como

    espritus suficientemente poderosos como para asociarlos con los Dioses. De hecho, los ms

    grandes tesoros de los Dioses (Gungnir la lanza de Wden, el martillo de nor, etc.) fueron

    hechos todos por los enanos.

    Wlcyrige: Valkyrja en nrdico antiguo, nuestra palabra moderna valquiria. En ambos lenguajes la

    palabra literalmente significa selector de los muertos. En las fuentes del nrdico antiguo las

    Valkyrjur aparecen como las sirvientas de Wden los espritus cargados con los hroes

    recientemente muertos para llevarlos al Valhll o Valhalla. Actualmente muchos tienden a ver a

    las Valkyrjur como doncellas hermosas quienes esperan a los guerreros en el Valhlluna Vendela

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    en armadura. Y mientras las Valkyrjur son a menudo vistas como hermosas por las fuentes

    antiguas, tambin tuvieron un lado salvaje. En la saga de Njals, las Valkyrjur aparecen en un sueo,

    tejiendo un telar con entraas ponderado con cabezas cortadas.

    El lado ms salvaje de las Valkyrjur pudo haber sido recordado por los anglosajones. La palabra

    Wlcyrige es usada para hacer brillar a las Furias de la mitologa griega. Curiosamente, Wulfstanen su Sermn del lobo condena Wlcyrigen al lado de brujas. Esto es extrao, como el trmino

    wicce (bruja en nuestra palabra moderna) en ingls antiguo denota un mortal lanzador de

    conjuros, usualmente malvolo, mientras que el trmino Valkyrja del nrdico antiguo denota a

    una Diosa que selecciona a los muertos. Esto nos deja con muchas posibilidades.

    La primera es que siguiendo la conversin los mitos de las Wlcyrigen degeneraron hasta que

    ellas fueron consideradas como algo ms que seres humanos. Esto pasaba a menudo seguido a la

    adopcin de la Cristiandad. Los elfos, alguna vez vistos casi tan poderosos como los Dioses, fueron

    reducidos al nivel de hadas.

    La segunda es que las Wlcyrigen podran haber sido originalmente sacerdotisas mortalesquienes, despus de su muerte, fueron deificadas y se convirtieron en parte del entorno de

    Wden. Esto podra haber confirmado a las Valkyrjur en las referencias en nrdico antiguo y en

    literatura islandesa como las hijas adoptivas de Wden. La tercera, Wulfstan simplemente

    podra haber sido malentendido y asumido que las Wlcyrigen fueron entidades mortales, cuando

    en verdad ellas fueron consideradas como Diosas.

    Nicor: Tanto nicor en ingls antiguo, como nykr en nrdico antiguo son cognados de nix y nixie

    (genio) en alemn; sin embargo, ambas palabras parecen haberse remitido a espritus acuticos de

    una naturaleza ms siniestra y mortal que los espritus del ro de los cuentos de hadas alemanes.

    De hecho, la madre de Grendel (de Bowulf) es un ejemplo de la idea de los anglosajones paranicor!

    Debe ser sealado que adems de estos espritus, el paganismo anglosajn y el satr nrdico

    compartieron aparentemente a un anfitrin de otros espritus, quien sobrevivi en los cuentos de

    hadas de Inglaterra, Escandinavia e Islandia. Y aunque los nombres, as como los datos pueden

    variar de pas a pas, las historias son a menudo tan similares que uno puede preguntarse si ellos

    no tienen un origen comn en el pasado germnico antiguo. De hecho, las fuentes antiguas y los

    cuentos de hadas tardos son indicio de que cada casa, colina, arroyo y lago tuvieron su propio


    De hecho, ms all del culto de algunos Dioses mayores y varias creencias (como la del Wyrd), en

    el rea de los espritus es donde los pueblos germanos tuvieron ms en comn. La razn para esto

    es sencilla. El culto a los Dioses, incluyendo hroes deificados, fue un alto grado de la jurisdiccin

    de los sacerdotes y reyes. Por otro lado, el culto de los espritus fue en gran parte un asunto de

    creencia popularla creencia del hombre comn. Fueron los dueos de las casas quienes se

    encargaron de los sacrificios en el hogar de los espritus, no el sacerdote local o seor.

  • 8/8/2019 Anglo-Saxon Heathendom & Islandic Asatru: Comparison and Contrast/ Paganismo anglosajn & satr islands: co


    La creencia popular es a menudo mucho ms conservadora que aquellas creencias controladas por

    sacerdotes y reyes, es como tales creencias, si fueron originadas en el pasado profundo de los

    pueblos germanos, probablemente cambi muy poco. Es as como lidiaron las costumbres tales

    como el tronco del Yule para sobrevivir muchos siglos en diferentes pases. Por esa razn, quizs,

    vemos una consistencia impresionante en las creencias concernientes a los enanos y otros