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From Odin and Woden to Anglo-Saxons in Britain

wodin and his followers

woden and his followers

 

 

saxon right to rule2

In my previous article on kings and dynasties, I stated that I would look at each group separately in more depth.  In order to better understand the Anglo-Saxon rule in England, we need to have some history on who the Angles, the Saxons and Jutes were, and how they came to England in the first place.  This article is a brief look at that history.

You can view the previous article here: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/i-am-king-really-why-and-how/

I am King

Before we get into the rulers and their divine right to rule, we need to look briefly at the history of the kingdoms, the people and how they came to be in Britain. We will look at the Angles, the Saxons, and yes even the Jutes who seem to get overlooked and forgotten in the discussions of early Britain, I am also going to include a segment on one other group that gets mixed in with the rest but does have it’s own separate identity… that would be a group of Geats from the area of Sweden who made their contribution via the Wulfinga tribe who would settle in part of Britain.  I am including this group for two reasons. They did play an important part in the history of  Britain, and one of our past rulers was presumably a part of this group. The unfortunate Jarl Borg  belonged  to a distinctive Norse tribe known as the Gautar, a people referred to in English works such as Beowulf and Widsith as the ‘Geats’, and related to the Germanic Goth tribes which invaded the western Roman Empire. The Gautar have since been assimilated by the Swedes in the Medieval period.  Jarl Borg, as a powerful Geatish lord of near-kingly powers, may have been a member of the royal clan of the Wulfings (descendents of the wolf) who traditionally ruled over the Gautar of Ostergotland.

Sam Newton and others (including Rupert Bruce-Mitford), have proposed that the East Anglian Wuffing dynasty was derived from the Wulfings, and it was at their court that Beowulf was first composed.  

The Wuffingas, Uffingas or Wuffings were the ruling dynasty of East Anglia, the long-lived Anglo-Saxon kingdom which today includes the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. The Wuffingas took their name from Wuffa, an early East Anglian king. Nothing is known of the members of the dynasty before Rædwald, who ruled from about 599 to circa 624. The Viking invasions of the ninth century destroyed the monasteries in East Anglia where many documents relating to the rule of the Wuffingas would have been kept.

The last of the Wuffingas kings was Ælfwald, who died in 749 and who was succeeded by kings whose lineage is unknown.  The kingdom of East Anglia was settled by peoples from northern Europe during the 5th and 6th centuries. Historical sources relating to the genealogy of the East Anglian kings include the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Bede‘s Ecclesiastical History, both compiled many years after the kingdom was formed, as well as lists produced by medieval historians, such as the 12th century Textus Roffensis, who may have had access to other sources that are now lost. Several of the Wuffingas kings are included in a pedigree of Ælfwald, contained in the Anglian collection that dates from the 9th century. In the pedigree, Ælfwald is claimed to descend from the god Wōden.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wulfing

jarl borg caressing his wife's skull

jarl borg caressing his wife’s skull

jarl borg planning revenge

jarl borg planning revenge

In my previous article about Horik and Ragnar, I did touch on the beginnings of the Angles and Saxons in Britain with their migration from their homelands as the Danish or Dani began to take over those areas.  This migration  included Jutes and Geats from the southern area of what is now Sweden. Keep in mind that this migration took place centuries prior to the Viking arrivals in late 700s and 800s. These earliest migrations began as the Romans were fighting to maintain control of this outpost known as Britannia. Another important fact to remember for our purposes here is that we are not looking at the areas of Wales, Cornwall, Scotland or Ireland in this discussion.

Little is really known about the Jutes, their migration to Britain or their eventual demise in that land. They most likely joined with their neighbors, the Angles and Saxons in the relocation to Britain when the Danes and Franks became more powerful and took over the home lands.  It is possible that the Jutes are a related people to the Geats and a Gothic people as it is mentioned in the Gutasaga that some inhabitants of Gotland left for mainland Europe. Large grave sites were found at Willenberg, Prussia (now Wielbark, Poland). The finds were attributed to the ancient Gutones, who may speculatively belinked to the much later Goths.

They settled in smaller  southern areas of England,  kent and Isle of  Whight.  If you look at this map of Anglo-Saxon England, you can see that Kent is fairly close to east Anglia where the Geats (Wulfings) settled. If the two groups were related or connected to each other, it would stand to reason that they re-settle in some close proximity.

The Jutes were a smaller group than the others and they seem to have rather quickly been assimilated into those larger groups, losing most of their previous individual history or identity. While it is commonplace to detect their influences in Kent (for example, the practice of partible inheritance known as gavelkind), the Jutes in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight vanished, probably assimilated to the surrounding Saxons, leaving only the slightest of traces.  The culture of the Jutes of Kent shows more signs of Roman, Frankish, and Christian influence than that of the Angles or Saxons. Funerary evidence indicates that the pagan practice of cremation ceased relatively early and jewellery recovered from graves has affinities with Rhenish styles from the Continent, perhaps suggesting close commercial connections with Francia. It is possible that being such a small group that they were more quickly assimilated into the Christian beliefs and culture as well. Some early historians speculated that they were victims of Ethnic cleansing by the West Saxons but later theories suggest that it was more a case of them assimilating themselves into the larger groups. What ever the reason, they disappeared as a group early on and played no role in the later settlements of  England by the Anglo-Saxons.

East-Anglia-11

 

 

Angles-Saxons-Jutes-&-Frisians during roman occupation of Britannia   map

Angles-Saxons-Jutes-&-Frisians during roman occupation of Britannia map

For our discussion, we are only going to focus on those areas that the Jutes, Angles and Saxons would conquer and settle in.  The following is an early map of  the home lands that the Jutes, Saxons and Angles occupied prior to the Danes took them over.

Angles_saxons_jutes in northland  map

Angles_saxons_jutes in northland map

This map gives a breakdown of where they originally settled in Roman era Brittania.

Anglo_saxon_jute breakdown in Britain map

Anglo_saxon_jute breakdown in Britain map

By the early 600s, this is what the kingdoms and settlements were beginning to look like with this, Angles and Saxons controlling much of the area and Jutes holding on to a few small portions. The native Britons were relegated to the areas of Whales and Scotland at that time. This is a precursor to the four main kingdoms that would remain and become vital power players in the future. By the  800s it would become Wessex, Mercia and Northumbria, with East Anglia remaining a small separate entity.

Angles,_Saxons,_Jutes_in_Britain_year_600  map

Angles,_Saxons,_Jutes_in_Britain_year_600 map

This is what the land looked like by late 700s, early 800s in the time of Ecbert.

Egbert_of_Wessex_map

Egbert_of_Wessex_map

 

 

The Romans left Britannia in the early 400s as the Angles, Saxons and Jutes began their migration to the area.  They left behind their buildings, their roadways, some of their culture and they left behind  their religion as well. By the time the Romans left Brittania, they were Christians. Some of their citizens and their priests would have chosen to stay in this land that they now considered home. As they became assimilated into the new cultures taking over the land, they would most likely have begun the process of  slowly merging and weaving together the two separate belief systems into a form of Christianity that those North people would understand and accept. By the 800s when the second wave of Northmen arrived, these earlier invaders and settlers had become  fully immersed in the Christian belief system with their previous Nordic beliefs long forgotten, set aside or kept secret. There would have been remaining sects and pockets of those who followed the old ways but this would have been in the more isolated, rural areas and even then, they would have kept it at a low profile so as not to draw attention or recrimination from the Church, which was becoming so much more powerful and controlling.

 

First we should look at the original migration of the Saxons, Angles and Jutes from their homeland to the areas that they each ultimately settled in Britain. They all came from the same general area, probably spoke the same language and most importantly, held the same beliefs. All of these early tribes followed Odin or Woden and they took their belief system with them to Brittania. The only difference in the belief system is that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes in Britain  followed this God as Woden while those who remained in the homeland used the word Odin..  Woden would eventually play an important part in determining the rulers of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.

gods of our saxon gods 1.sun god 2. moon god 3.god tiw 4. woden

gods of our saxon gods 1.sun god 2. moon god 3.god tiw 4. woden

The ancestor of the South Saxon kings, Woden was born at the beginning of time, his parents being the giant, Bor, and the giantess, Bestia, who came from chaos.

Woden was the Father God, the god of battle and death, the god of inspiration and wit, and, far from least, he was the god of learning. Woden was also the psychopomp of slain warriors, taking them back to Valhalla, his hall of the brave. Valhalla was situated in a joyous land called Gladheim, where Woden also had another hall with twelve thrones upon which were seated his councillors.

Woden was the great chief of the Aesir, a race of war gods who lived in Asgarth, the world of divinities. The god-chief had two ravens, Hugin (Thought) and Munin (Memory), who told him all that had happened in Milgard, the world of mortals.

Woden was in wedlock with Frigg, the goddess of fertility, conjugal love and motherhood.

Their eldest son, Balder, was the favourite of all the other gods and known for his matchless beauty and sweetness of character. He was the god of plants and good forces. He lived in a hall called Breithablik with his wife, the daughter of the god Nepr, and her name was Nanna. Forseti, their son, was the god of justice, peace and truth. He had a throne in his hall. This residence was called Glitnir, a palace which was embellished with silver and gold.

Balder was killed unintentionally by his blind brother, the god Hoder, with a bough of mistletoe, having been misled by the malicious Loki, the god of mischief, destruction and fire.

Woden and Frigg had another son who was killed in combat at the battle of Ragnasok. His name was Hermod. Since he had no children and nor did Hoder, presumably Aelle and Mealla (if they were royal) would have claimed descent from Woden through his grandson, Forseti. Woden also had a natural son called Vithar, by his concubine Grithir, who was a giantess.

Norway_Fjords woden

According to Norwegian myth the mountain caves in this land of fjords are peopled by supernatural giants called trolls, although they sometimes appear as dwarfs. Tradition also says that they read the Old Testament. Perhaps trolls derive their ancestry from a distant memory of neanderthals, as might the giants who are said to have existed in the chaos before the birth of Woden.

The traditional view has always been presented that the Anglo-Saxons made a great invasion of the land, destroyed everything in their path and took it over completely, wiping out all of the previous inhabitants or causing them to flee to the wilds and desolation of the west and northern portions. We have been told that, much like the second wave of Vikings, they were marauding, murderous heathenish Barbarians. This traditional view is slanted and biased in favor of the Romans, and the Christians who were able to write down their versions of what happened during that era. As with any history, there are two sides to every event and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Were there great battles, burnings, pillaging and death? Yes, of course there were- on all sides.  If you were a villager or farmer of that time, you may not have even been sure quite who was destroying your life. You might have imagined that it was that group of Barbarians, those Saxons that your overlord mentioned… but you may not have been aware of what your overlord had previously done to incur that wrath? You may not even have completely understood all of the groups waging war against each other, or that those Saxons were aiding some neighboring kingdom that your ruler had caused to create an enemy of. If you survived to tell of the battle, your recollection would be only of what you experienced first hand, or what your ruler told you was the cause. You would have known little or nothing about any underlying reasons and you most likely have not cared because in your small world, you would have gone on with your struggle for life in those bleak and uncertain times.

 

The Romans had been in control of the area for 350 years by the time they decided to leave. What happened in Britannia should hold the Romans as much or even more accountable and responsible than the Anglo-Saxons. They left the territory in a vulnerable state, having already destroyed and weakened the native Britons’ ability to rule or govern for themselves. What followed was chaos that left the remaining residents fighting amongst themselves for control of the area. As I’ve already mentioned, some Romans chose to remain as they now considered themselves more Briton than Roman.  Many of them held bitterness and resentment of the Roman Empire for what happened. One other thing to consider is that many  of those who remained may also have been soldiers who had been conscripted into the Roman army from all parts of the Empire, probably including those places of the Saxons, Angles and Jutes.  Just because one was attached to the Roman Empire it did not necessarily mean they were Roman or even a Roman citizen.  When the Roman Empire began to fall, many one time citizens or allies would probably have returned their allegiance to what ever home land they were from originally or the land they were residing in when the fall came. Those Romans that remained became Romo-Britons, and retained their previous elite statuses and lands for some time. They became part of the Briton elite rulers who were trying to re-build and re-establish kingdoms within the country.  Rome made Britain a melting pot of cultures before the Saxons ever thought of arriving.

If you search through the histories to find that in between middle ground, you will find that the Saxons were not unknown to the Roman Empire or the Britons, nor were they necessarily the barbarians they were depicted as other than for the fact they were one of the many groups rebelling against the Roman Empire at the time. The Saxons were at one time part of that Empire, having been brought into it by the Foederati or treaty system that the Romans used to increase their armies. foederati and its usage and meaning was extended by the Roman practice of subsidizing entire barbarian tribes — which included the Franks, Vandals, Alans and, best known, the Visigoths — in exchange for providing warriors to fight in the Roman armies. Alaric began his career leading a band of Gothic foederati.

Saxons were mentioned as early as 350 by the Romans who were already dealing with Saxon defiance to their rule. It was during that time that Rome created a military district called the Litus Saxonicum (“Saxon Coast”) on both sides of the English Channel.  The Saxons were fighting ongoing battles against the Franks who were Roman allies.  It is possible that Saxon settlement of Great Britain began only in response to expanding Frankish control of the Channel coast.  An important clue to why the Saxons might have felt some justification in their continuing settlement of Britain is that before the end of Roman rule in Britannia, many Saxons and other folk had been permitted to settle in these areas as farmers. The Romans opened the door for them to move in…. perhaps because they were already thinking of  pulling out of the area and did not really care so much about who moved in next. The Romans may have thought that if the Saxon groups moved into Britain, they would be less of a threat on the rest of the continent.  For the retreating Romans, it may have been a case of “Fine, you want a place of your own…Here take this place and Good Luck with that!”

 

After the Romans retreated from Britannia, some of the remaining powers continued to use the Roman system and still maintained some connection to Rome even though The Roman Empire had made it clear that those who remained in this place would be on their own and should not expect assistance from Rome. At some point they did appeal to Rome for assistance in fighting the Picts and Scoti, and this is possibly how the Saxons entered the picture on a larger scale. They were not marauding invaders, they were invited into the country by both the Romans and the later rulers of Britain!

This early documentation by Gildas in the 6th century is interesting because while he does refer to the Saxons as enemies, he admits that they were invited- hired to help, and he gives a clue as to what the middle ground may have been.

In Gildas‘s work of the sixth century, De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, a religious tract on the state of Britain, the Saxons were enemies originally from overseas, who brought well-deserved judgement upon the local kings or ‘tyrants’.

  1. After an appeal to Aëtius the Britons were gripped by famine while suffering attacks from the Picts and Scoti; some fought back successfully, leading to a period of peace.
  2. Peace led to luxuria and self-indulgence.
  3. A renewed attack was threatened by the Picts and Scoti, and this led to a council, where it was proposed and agreed that land in the east would be given to the Saxons on the basis of a treaty, a foedus, by which the Saxons would defend the Britons in exchange for food supplies. This type of arrangement was unexceptional in a Late Roman context; Franks had been settled as foederati on imperial territory in northern Gaul (Toxandria) in the 4th century, and the Visigoths were settled in Gallia Aquitania early in the 5th century.
  4. The Saxon foederati first complained that their monthly supplies were inadequate. Then they threatened to break the treaty, which they did, spreading the onslaught from “sea to sea”.
  5. This war, which Higham called the “War of the Saxon Federates”, ended some 20–30 years later shortly after the siege at Montis Badonici, and some 40 years before Gildas was born.
  6. There was a peace with the Saxons who returned to their eastern home, which Gildas called a lugubre divortium barbarorum – a grievous divorce with the barbarians. The “divorce settlement”, Higham in particular argued  was a better treaty and the ability to get tribute from the people in the east, under the leadership of the person Gildas called pater diabolus or Father-devil.

What this excerpt tells us is the Britons hired the Saxons, promised them  payment and supplies and then were unable or unwilling to carry through on the treaty. Other early writings mention that the Saxons were also promised land to settle and the Britons reneged on that as well. What ensued was a lengthy period of wars and battles between the Britons and the Saxons.

Gildas described the corruption of the elite: “Britain has kings but they are tyrants; she has judges but they are wicked”. This passage provides a glimpse into the world of Gildas, he continued: “they plunder and terrorise the innocent, they defend and protect the guilty and thieving, they have many wives, whores and adulteresses, swear false oaths, tell lies, reward thieves, sit with murderous men, despise the humble, their commanders are ‘enemies of God'”; the list is long. Interesting oath breaking and the absence of just judgements for ordinary people was mentioned a number of times. British leadership, everywhere, was immoral and the cause of the “ruin of Britain”.

Hengist and Horsa:

HegestAndHorsa hengist and horsa

The earliest accounts of the Saxon arrival are stories or legends regarding two Saxon brothers, Hengist and Horsa.  Bear in mind that these accounts were not written down until centuries later.  Both Anglo-Saxon chronicles and Norse Sagas give versions or accounts of the men.  Hengist and Horsa are figures of Anglo-Saxon history, which records the two as the Germanic brothers who led the Angle, Saxon, Frisian, and Jutish armies that conquered the first territories of Britain in the 5th century. Tradition lists Hengist (through his son, whose name varies by source) as the founder of the Kingdom of Kent. As with most of the stories, theirs was colored by the Christian Monks recording history of the time. What you need to do is strip all of that coloring away down the most basic part of the account. 

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry for the year 449 records that Hengest and Horsa were invited to Britain by Vortigern to assist his forces in fighting the Picts. Hengist and Horsa arrived at a place called Ipwinesfleet, and went on to defeat the Picts wherever they fought them. Hengist and Horsa sent word to the Angles describing “the worthlessness of the Britons, and the richness of the land” and asked for assistance. Their request was granted and support arrived. Afterward, more people arrived in Britain from “the three powers of Germany; the Old Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes”. The Old Saxons populated the areas of the kingdoms of Essex, Sussex and Wessex. The Jutes populated the area of Kent, the Isle of Wight and an area of the adjacent mainland that would later be part of Wessex. The East Angles, Middle Angles, Mercians and “all those north of Humber” arrived from the region of Anglia (a peninsula in Southern Schleswig, Northern Germany) “which has ever since remained waste between the Jutes and Saxons”. These forces were led by the brothers Hengist and Horsa, sons of Wihtgils, son of Witta, son of Wecta, son of Woden.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hengist_and_Horsa

The Historia Brittonum records that, during the reign of Vortigern in Britain, three vessels that had been exiled from Germania arrived in Britain, commanded by Hengist and Horsa. The Historia Brittonum details that Geta was said to be the son of a god, yet “not of the omnipotent God and our Lord Jesus Christ,” but rather “the offspring of one of their idols, and whom, blinded by some demon, they worshipped according to the custom of the heathen.” In 447 AD, Vortigern received Hengist and Horsa “as friends” and gave to the brothers the Isle of Thanet.

After the Saxons had lived on Thanet for “some time” Vortigern promised them supplies of clothing and other provisions on condition that the Saxons assist him in fighting the enemies of his country. The Saxons increased in number and the Britons were unable to keep their agreement. The Britons told the Saxons that the Saxons’ numbers had increased, that they no longer needed Saxon assistance and that the Saxons should go home as the Britons could no longer support them.

Vortigern allowed Hengist to send for more of Hengist’s countrymen to come over to Britain and fight for Vortigern. Messengers were sent to “Scythia“, where “a number” of warriors were selected, and, with sixteen ships, the messengers returned. With the men came Hengist’s beautiful daughter. Hengist prepared a feast, inviting Vortigern, Vortigern’s officers, and Ceretic, his translator. Prior to the feast, Hengist enjoined his daughter to serve the guests plenty of wine and ale so that they would get very intoxicated. The plan succeeded. “At the instigation of the Devil”, Vortigern fell in love with Hengist’s daughter and promised Hengist whatever he liked in exchange for her betrothal. Hengist, having previously “consulted with the Elders who attended him of the Angle race,” demanded Kent. Without the knowledge of the then-ruler of Kent, Vortigern agreed.

This account by the Historia Brittonum is somewhat contradictory at best… If Vortigern wanted them out of the country, why would he have then allowed them to send for additional forces? What is does do though, along with other accounts is set a basis for the British Kings reneging on their promises to those Saxons they needed help from. Hengist most likely knew full well of this breech and responded in kind with his own betrayals.  The British Kingdoms were not just fighting the Picts and Scoti, they were fighting each other and would go to such lengths as using Saxon mercenaries to win their battles. What eventually happened was that the Anglo-Saxons fought to retain lands they had been given, as well as developing allegiances with some of those British Kingdoms.

 

I am providing this history of the Anglo-Saxon immigration to Britain because I feel it is important to see them in that middle ground of a history that has often portrayed them as the scourge of Britain. It is difficult to piece together what might have happened but many historians today have searched for that middle ground, that in between, those few grains of possible truth sifted out from the extremes.  There a number of theories on how and why the Anglo-Saxons may have become the dominant culture in Britain where by the 8th century, they were viewed as the locals and native Britons were viewed as outsiders or foriegners.  The name Welsh originated as an exonym given to its speakers by the Anglo-Saxons, meaning “foreign speech” (see Walha). The native term for the language is Cymraeg and Cymru for “Wales”.

Most agree now that they did not come in all in one invading force and wipe out the previous culture. It began as a small migration and settlement of them in places where they had been given land. The Roman Britons did not disappear, nor did the native Britons.  A  last battle took place between the original Saxon mercenaries and the Britons- a battle which the Saxons felt justified in fighting because of broken treaties.  the Saxons lost this last battle but were not defeated, decimated or thrown out of the country. A compromise seemed to have been reached and lands were divided up between the British elite rulers and the Saxons. 

Historian Nick Higham is convinced that the success of the Anglo-Saxon elite in gaining an early compromise shortly after the Battle of Badon is a key to the success of the culture. This produced a political ascendancy across the south and east of Britain, which in turn required some structure to be successful.  After this time there began the process of cultures merging together to form one new one.  The Bretwalda concept is taken as evidence for a presence of a number of early Anglo-Saxon elite families and a clear unitary oversight. Whether the majority of these leaders were early settlers, descendant from settlers, or especially after the exploration stage they were Roman-British leaders who adopted Anglo-Saxon culture is unclear. The balance of opinion is that most were migrants, although it shouldn’t be assumed they were all “Germanic”. There is agreement: that these were small in number and proportion, yet large enough in power and influence to ensure “Anglo-Saxon” acculturation in the lowlands of Britain.  Most historians believe these elites were those named by Bede, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and others, although there is discussion regarding their floruit dates. Importantly, whatever their origin or when they flourished, they established their claim to lordship through their links to extended kin ties. As Helen Peake jokingly points out “they all just happened to be related back to Woden”.

For a more in depth and detailed look at the Anglo-Saxon migration and theories of why they were so successful, you can start your search here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Saxon_settlement_of_Britain

Throughout history, the reputation of those earliest Saxons has been colored by the Christian accounts of them as heathens and barbarians that destroyed a land and culture… what is interesting and important to remember is that those same Christians were  in the process of completely wiping out that culture and belief system that they were blaming the Saxons for.  The Christians had already cleared the land of much of it’s previous beliefs by decimating and eliminating the old religious leaders- the Druids and driving out the followers who still clung to those beliefs. Those early Christian leaders were as much responsible for the terror and dark ages that would follow as the Saxons were.

The early Christians shaped our history by shaping our tales, our legends and myths of that time. They were responsible for such tales as the brave and virtuous King Arthur, his valiant knights of the round table who fought evil, injustice and the barbarians in effort to save England, to unite it against all of those evil and demonic forces. We all know those legends and myths that portray the Christian brotherhood in glory and present the Saxons as some of those evil invaders…  And, somewhere even in those tales there are probably small grains of truth as to possible figures of who Arthur might have been or represented, of battles that probably did actually take place. There are a number of King Arthur theories relating to the history of Britain during those dark ages. If you are interested, I have a previous article for you to read:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/from-the-creator-ancient-history-connects-the-norse-with-romans-and-king-arthur/

I would also suggest that you read Bernard Cornwell’s series on King Arthur. He strips away much of the myth and legend, and tells a tale more of the history and the battles that ensued after Rome left. He still leaves the Saxons in a rather bad light but he does not paint such a perfect picture of Arthur or the Britons either, so it kind of evens out the story a bit. It is an interesting perspective on the legend and does take into account the long lasting Roman influences left behind!

 

winter_king_uk-179x307

‘Once upon a time, in a land that was called Britain, these things happened . . . . and I was there, and this is how it was.’ The Winter King , like the rest of the trilogy, is narrated by Derfel (which is pronounced Dervel), one of Arthur’s warriors. This first book tells how after the death of Uther, High King of Britain, the country falls into chaos. Uther’s heir is a child, Mordred, and Arthur, his uncle, is named one of the boy’s guardians. Arthur has to fight other British kingdoms and the dreadful “Sais” – the Saxons – who are invading Britain. Arthur is supposed to marry Ceinwyn, a princess of Powys, but falls disastrously in love with Guinevere – ‘There have been many more beautiful women, and thousands who were better, but since the world was weaned I doubt there have been many so unforgettable as Guinevere . . . and it would have been better, Merlin always said, had she been drowned at birth.’

 To read an interview  with the Camelot Project, click on this link:  http://d.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/text/thompson-interview-cornwell

For another perspective on the story of Arthur and the Roman involvement, you could also watch one of my favorite movies…

Movie_poster_king_arthur

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur_(film)

King Arthur is a 2004 action adventure film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by David Franzoni. It stars Clive Owen as the title character, Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot, and Keira Knightley as Guinevere.  The film is unusual in reinterpreting Arthur as a Roman officer rather than a medieval knight. Despite these departures from the source material, the Welsh Mabinogion, the producers of the film attempted to market it as a more historically accurate version of the Arthurian legends, supposedly inspired by new archaeological findings. The film was shot in England, Ireland, and Wales.  It gives a somewhat more historical perspective as well, but does still put the Saxons in the role as sole villains. I watched it recently while researching this history and found myself more seriously bothered by this representation than before! I am still searching for some sort of story that portrays the Saxons in a slightly more positive or at least more balanced light?

In the above movie, the Saxons are represented by their leader Cerdic and his son Cinric… They are of course the vicious torturing villains that we have come to expect Saxons to be. Of interesting note for Vikings fans, Cerdic is played by Stellan Skarsgard- father of Gustav Skarsgard who does such an incredible job portraying Floki!

stellan skarsgard cerdic4

In history, Cerdic was Cerdic was allegedly the first King of Anglo-Saxon Wessex from 519 to 534, cited by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the founder of the Kingdom of Wessex and ancestor of all its subsequent kings… which of course would feasibly include Ecbert. I say feasibly because there was some dispute as to whether Ecbert was actually a d descendant.

The most interesting and curious thing about Cerdic’s history is that while his supposed royal pedigree traced him back to Woden, just as all of the other rulers’ did, it seems to have been added later. Historians think that at some point there was forged and alliance between him and  Bernicia, and he conveniently borrowed the earlier pedigree of Bernicia, tacking it on to his own. The reason for this was to perhaps give himself more of a royal/divine lineage than he might have originally had.  There is currently a thought that he was actually  was a native Briton, and that his dynasty became Anglicised over time.   This suggests that ethnicity was possibly not as important in the establishment of rulership within the proto-states of Post-Roman Britain as has been traditionally thought. Cerdic’s father, Elesa, has been identified by some scholars with the Romano-Briton Elasius, the “chief of the region”, met by Germanus of Auxerre. 

J.N.L. Myres noted that when Cerdic and Cynric first appear in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in s.a. 495 they are described as ealdormen, which at that point in time was a fairly junior rank.   Myres believed that,

It is thus possible … to think of Cerdic as the head of a partly British noble family with extensive territorial interests at the western end of the Litus Saxonicum. As such he may well have been entrusted in the last days of Roman, or sub-Roman authority with its defence. He would then be what in later Anglo-Saxon terminology could be described as an ealdorman. …

Some would disagree with Myres, as Cerdic is reported to have landed in Hampshire. Some also would say that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle proves that Cerdic was indeed a Saxon, however it does not prove that he had no Celtic blood.  Some scholars believe it likely that his mother was a British Celt who left for the Continent, or perhaps a Continental Celt. Geoffrey Ashe postulates he may be a son of Riothamus.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cerdic_of_Wessex

Despite the conflictin history surrounding his origins, Descent from Cerdic became a necessary criterion for later kings of Wessex, and Egbert of Wessex, progenitor of the English royal house and subsequent rulers of England and Britain, claimed him as an ancestor.  As I mentioned, Egbert’s claim was dubious and is thought  by some to have been fabricated during his early reign  or his bid for that right to give him more legitimacy in his claim. Whether fabricated or not, it was accepted and he was allowed to trace his right back to Cerdic and to Woden….

cerdic is not happy

 

What ever the reasons or theories behind the Anglo-Saxons in Britain,  one thing is certain and evident. As a group, they succeeded where Rome and even the Britons themselves  failed. They entered into a land that even the Roman Empire had failed to conquer and succeeded for the most, so well that in the future they would be looked at as the locals and the native Britons would be considered the outsiders. They succeeded so well in fact that in the future, when the second wave of Northmen arrived on their shores, they looked at them as foreign Heathenish Barbarians.  By the time the Vikings arrived in the late 700s and into the 800s, the Anglo-Saxons had become a completely different culture and society that bore little or no resemblance what so ever to the past they had left behind.  But, had they truly left the past behind them, forgotten who they were originally?

 the Norse Sagas regarding Ragnar Lodbrok give reason to believe that perhaps these Saxons, Angles and Jutes had not completely forgotten their past or their heritage. Some versions of the sagas include passages that comment on how Ragnar’s Father, Sigurd Hring once counted a part of England as part of his realm. Another saga source also mentions that Ragnar Lodbrok went to the place in Angleland of which his forefathers owned.  This would tie in with the fact that the Angles who had originated in lands around Denmark had already migrated to parts of Britain as early as the 5th century. He visited this Angleland and was initially welcomed into their court of royalty. Then he was lured into visiting King Aelle in Northumbria and was murdered by him. I have addressed this connection in my previous article about Horik and Ragnar.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/horik-and-ragnar-part-of-the-oldest-monarchy-in-europe/

The Angles were thought to be allies at one time with the early Danes who took over their land and were a partial cause for them migrating to Britain. The Saxons were in a similar situation at the time of their migration to Britain. As the Danes became stronger and more powerful, they began to overtake those lands and cultures near to them- mainly the Angles and Saxons, but they also took over much of Juteland as well causing these three cultures to migrate to that land which held more opportunity for them. It does stand to reason that these people would continue to hold some grudge or resentment of those who were initially responsible for their relocation in the first place. They may have assimilated into some new culture, but they would probably have their own old oral  histories of a past that included tales of this distant ancestral land that had been taken over by those others… some of those oral histories are included in poems and heroic stories such as Beowulf, Wulf and Eadwacer and Judith.  Another such early work is that of Widsith  from the Exeter book. The Widsith is an old poem that surveys the people  kings, and heroes of Europe in the Heroic Age of Northern Europe.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Widsith

 

I hope that I have not bored you or overwhelmed you too much with the history of these earliest Saxons. As I keep mentioning, it is important to know some of their history and see both sides of it considering the fact that they did integrate so fully and deeply into the culture that it became their own. As they settled into this new culture and land, they forged those alliances with the remaining British Rulers, became rulers of their own kingdoms and quite quickly took on the Christian religion once they realized the power behind that force. That is not to say that the Christian missionaries had any easy time of converting the Anglo-Saxons. What the Church did in order to accomplish this feat would leave long lingering misgivings and resentments from other Christian Kingdoms and dynasties. The Church had an extremely difficult time converting these Heathens, and resorted to the practice of diluting their religion into terms that the Pagan Saxons would accept. They set about comparing their Christ God to Woden, to telling their testaments and stories in relation to Woden and even went so far as to accept and approve of those earliest Saxon Rulers having divine right to rule on the basis of their genealogy connecting them back to being sons of Woden!  Eventually all of the Anglo-Saxon Rulers of those early Kingdoms of Britain would prove their right by tracing their lineage back to Woden and the Church put it’s stamp of approval on this, in fact in some ways encouraged it. There had to be some way of proving right to rule other than just by might in order to maintain some stability and not descend into the chaos once again. In the future, other loyal and Royal Christian dynasties would decry this as giving in to those Pagans, view it as watering down the religion and hold little regard for these so called  new Christian Royals.

Before we look at what the Kingdoms became and looked like in the time of our Anglo-Saxon Rulers such as Ecbert, Aelle, and yes even Kweni, I want to suggest an interesting documentary about the early Saxons and how their religion evolved. 

This is a preview clip of the documentary called From Runes to Ruins by by Thomas Rowsell, Jamie Roper and Anthony Leigh. It is all about Anglo-Saxon paganism. 

About the director

 
While studying my Master’s degree in medieval history, I was fascinated by the same mythology and legends that had inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write The Lord of the Rings. Delving through old leather books and countless journals, trying to discover more about the forgotten religion of the Anglo-Saxon pagans, I couldn’t help noticing some familiar place names. It seemed that all the places from my youth were in some way connected to the history of the Anglo-Saxon heathens; whether it be the village of Thursley, named after Thor, which was near to my childhood home, or the ancient pagan barrows I used to camp on as a teen. I realised that through the landscape I had a personal relationship with the pre-Christian inhabitants of England and wondered how many other people had developed this strange fascination. Initially I had never intended to present From Runes to Ruins, but after the production house I was working with dropped the project, I no longer had the funds necessary to pay for a famous presenter. Financial constraints necessitated my stepping in to the presenting role, but this allowed me to put a personal slant on the documentary, using the pagan landscape of my own past to communicate the culture of a far more distant one. I hope that From Runes to Ruins sparks a new interest in the pagan religion of our Anglo-Saxon ancestors and also encourages people to look at the land itself as a beautiful, spiritual inheritance which brings us closer to nature, our ancestors and each other.
You can rent the entire video here:  http://fromrunestoruins.vhx.tv/
It is well worth  the 3.99 rental fee!
Now you know way too much about the early history of Angles, Saxons and Jutes in Britain… far more than you probably wanted to know! I do hope that it has given you some different perspective of the Anglo-Saxons, their reasons for moving to this land along with their justification for staying and fighting for it. Perhaps the next time you read a book or watch a movie about them, you will have some second thought about how they are portrayed.  In future articles, we will look at each of the four Kingdoms that remained during the later Vikings saga- Wessex, Mercia, Northumbria and East Anglia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Reflections, wishes and suggestions for the new year!

I just want to take a quick bit of time today to catch up and catch my breath from the busiest weeks of the Holiday season! I hope everyone is enjoying what ever winter holiday you observe or celebrate. My wish is that it is filled with joy, with love, with faith and blessings for the new year! May the coming year be filled with light and goodness for all of you!

After celebrating Yul with all of you here, Christmas with my family, and working, I am going to take a few days to relax and recover from all of it! As I do this, I am reminded of how holidays used to be as compared to what they are now? At one time, really not so many years ago… well, okay a lot of years ago if you are one of the young ones for whom time is still flashing by so quickly that you don’t realize it’s leaving you.  I’m showing my age here, so please be patient and understanding!  When I was growing up all of those years ago, certain days were considered and observed as National Holidays for almost everyone. Businesses were closed, entertainment venues, restaurants- all but essential services were closed so that people could take those few days to celebrate and enjoy the occasion with their families. Little of that remains anymore. Now these Holidays have become much like any other day, with people attempting to carve out some precious time to make it feel like a holiday and capture some thread of what was once so special about the event.  Families were much closer back then, in distance as well as heart. It was easier to come together, share the special time, reconnect with loved ones and build memories that would carry on to the future generations.

Now days, many of us struggle with trying to keep those traditions, those memories and yet adjust them to fit into a world that so quickly changing and evolving around us. With such change always comes compromise. We must give up some beliefs, traditions and sense of our past in order to adapt to a new world, new beginning. What we do not need to give though, are the memories, the stories and the lessons that we learned from the past! We are not the only society that has undergone great change so quickly and profoundly that it wiped out some traces of previous cultures and beliefs. As we look at history, we can find many examples of societies and civilizations that either survived, adapted or faded away as their worlds changed around them. The expression of “If we do not learn from history, we are destined to repeat it” holds as much truth and value today as it did when George Santayana first commented on it.

George_Santayana

Santayana is known for famous sayings, such as “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”,  or “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” Santayana, like many philosophers since the late nineteenth century, was a naturalist (that is, he denied the existence of supernatural beings, like gods and ghosts), but he found profound meaning in literary writings and in religious ideas and texts (which he regarded as fundamentally akin to literature). Santayana was a broad ranging cultural critic whose observations spanned many disciplines. He said that he stood in philosophy “exactly where [he stood] in daily life.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Santayana

 

It is my personal belief that we assume too often that history is not important, that it has no bearing or affect on what we are experiencing in such a new and different time. We assume that our current life struggles and issues are so vastly different from those of the past, that we are so much more intelligent, more evolved, and somehow better than those long dead ancient beings. Of what use or importance could any of their experiences be to us? In reality, they struggled with the same universal life issues that we do today. Some of them survived and flourished, some of them did not. It was all about choices that they made with their hearts, their consciences, and their desire to create a better world for the future. We all make those exact same choices each and every day.

My hope and wish for this coming year is simply that by coming here, reading through my thoughts and my impressions of the past, some of you might find that history speaks as much to you in some way as it does to me? I am reminded of what I have learned through years of teaching and helping others… If you make a difference in one person’s life, then you have succeeded in a purpose of your life. You may not be able to change the world, but if you change one person’s life, then you have made a start on that greater change.

 

Okay, enough my reflections and philosophy… As you take your own time to wind down from Holiday stress and prepare for the coming year, I just want to leave you with a few suggestions for reading and viewing!

 

Movies and Television Viewing Suggestions

For the many Outlander fans here, I have a viewing suggestion that may or may not interest you, but might help some of you get through the later books that involve so much detailed history of the American Revolution? The AHC- American Heroes Channel- has a three part mini series on the American Revolution. I have not watched it yet, but have it recorded and plan to watch it all later this evening!

http://www.ahctv.com/tv-shows/the-american-revolution

American revolution2 american-revolution-ahc-2

 

If you prefer some much earlier history, along with some blood letting and a look at the earliest beginnings of Britain, I have two suggestions for you.  I am not normally a fan of blood and heavy handed action movies that don’t necessarily portray history all that realistically but I did watch these two movies and stayed interested all the way through them!

First is The Eagle (2011 film)

The_Eagle_Poster

The Eagle is a 2011 historical adventure film set in Roman Britain directed by Kevin Macdonald, and starring Channing Tatum, Jamie Bell and Donald Sutherland. Adapted by Jeremy Brock from Rosemary Sutcliff‘s historical adventure novel The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), the film tells the story of a young Roman officer searching to recover the lost Roman eagle standard of his father’s legion in the northern part of Great Britain. The story is based on the Ninth Spanish Legion‘s supposed disappearance in Britain.

The film, an AngloAmerican co-production, was released in the U.S. and Canada on 11 February 2011, and was released in the United Kingdom and Ireland on 25 March 2011.

In the year AD 140, twenty years after the Ninth Legion disappeared in the north of Britain, Marcus Flavius Aquila, a young Roman centurion, arrives in Britain to serve at his first post as a garrison commander. Marcus’s father disappeared with the eagle standard of the ill-fated legion, and Marcus hopes to redeem his family’s honour by bravely serving in Britain. Shortly afterwards, only Marcus’s alertness and decisiveness save the garrison from being overrun by Celtic tribesmen. He is decorated for his bravery but honourably discharged due to a severe leg injury.

Living at his uncle’s estate near Calleva (modern Silchester) in southern Britain, Marcus has to cope with his military career having been cut short and his father’s name still being held in disrepute. Hearing rumours that the eagle standard has been seen in the north of Britain, Aquila decides to recover it. Despite the warnings of his uncle and his fellow Romans, who believe that no Roman can survive north of Hadrian’s Wall, he travels north into the territory of the Picts, accompanied only by his slave, Esca. The son of a deceased chieftain of the Brigantes, Esca detests Rome and what it stands for, but considers himself bound to Marcus, who saved his life during an amphitheatre show.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Eagle_(2011_film)

I enjoyed the movie for it’s look at the pre-history, and the history of the Roman involvement in Britain. It deals with the real mystery of the Ninth Legion, and you can find more information on that here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legio_IX_Hispana

the-eagle-movie the-eagle-movie2 the-eagle-movie-tatum-3

One other excellent film dealing with early Britain and legends is, King Arthur.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur_(film)

Movie_poster_king_arthur

This is not your typical King Arthur legend type of film! This movie presents the legend in a much more realistic portrayal. As many of my long time followers know, I have a deep fascination and interest in all things King Arthur related so this movie was perfect in every way for me! for more information on the history and legends about King Arthur, you can search through my archives on the subject!

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/from-the-creator-ancient-history-connects-the-norse-with-romans-and-king-arthur/

King Arthur is a 2004 film directed by Antoine Fuqua and written by David Franzoni. It stars Clive Owen as the title character, Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot, and Keira Knightley as Guinevere.

The film is unusual in reinterpreting Arthur as a Roman officer rather than a medieval knight. Despite these departures from the source material, the Welsh Mabinogion, the producers of the film attempted to market it as a more historically accurate version of the Arthurian legends, supposedly inspired by new archaeological findings. The film was shot in England, Ireland, and Wales.

Arthur, also known as Artorius Castus (Clive Owen), is portrayed as a Roman cavalry officer, the son of a Roman father and a Celtic mother, who commands a unit of Sarmatian auxiliary cavalry in Britain at the close of the Roman occupation in 467 A.D. He and his men guard Hadrian’s Wall against the Woads, a group of native Britons who are rebels against Roman rule, led by the mysterious Merlin (Stephen Dillane).

As the film begins, Arthur and his remaining knights Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Bors (Ray Winstone), Tristan (Mads Mikkelsen), Gawain (Joel Edgerton), Galahad (Hugh Dancy) and Dagonet (Ray Stevenson) expect to be discharged from their service to the Empire after faithfully fulfilling a fifteen-year commitment.

However, on the night they are to receive their freedom, Bishop Germanus (Ivano Marescotti) sends them on a final and possibly suicidal mission to rescue an important Roman family. Marius Honorius (Ken Stott) faces impending capture by the invading Saxons, led by their chief Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård) and his son Cynric (Til Schweiger). According to Germanus, Marius’ son, Alecto, is the Pope‘s favorite godson and may be “destined to be Pope one day”.

At the remote estate, Arthur discovers Marius has immured pagans: a Woad named Guinevere (Keira Knightley), and a small boy, Lucan. Arthur frees them and decides to take everyone, along with Marius’ family, back to Hadrian’s Wall.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur_(film)

Saxons

king-arthur-sagaci-sassoni saxons

Arthur and his Knights

King-Arthur-2004-king-arthur-875459_1000_674

A truly original and unique version of Guinivere!

king arthur movie2 king arthur movie

 

Of course, there are a number of television series that will entertain you and possibly, hopefully provide you some historical lessons as well. If you have Starz, or any number of online services, you might want to catch up on Outlander- if you have seen it already, or not enough times in the case of many fans out there! We’ve already discussed all of it in great depth through out the blog.  Just start searching through the archives for it and that could keep you busy until the show starts again in April!

http://www.starz.com/originals/outlander

OUT-101_20131011_EM-0630.jpg Outlanderday

 

Another show that we’ve made extensive reference to here is Vikings on the History Channel!

http://www.history.com/shows/Vikings

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings_(TV_series)

ragnar viking long boat Lindisfarne-ep2

The Vikings will return for season three on February 19! We will be exploring more of their history and the show in upcoming posts!

Vikings is an Emmy Award nominated  historical drama television series written and created by Michael Hirst for the television channel History. It premiered on 3 March 2013 in the United States and Canada.  Filmed in Ireland, it is an official Ireland/Canada co-production.

Vikings is inspired by the sagas of Viking Ragnar Lothbrok, one of the best-known mythological Norse heroes and notorious as the scourge of England and France. It portrays Ragnar as a former farmer who rises to fame by successful raids into England with the support of his family and fellow warriors: his brother Rollo, his son Bjorn, and his wives—the shieldmaiden Lagertha and the princess Aslaug.

On 5 April 2013, History renewed Vikings for a ten-episode second season, which premiered on 27 February 2014.  On 25 March 2014, History renewed Vikings for a ten-episode third season, which is scheduled to air on February 19, 2015.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vikings_(TV_series)

 

Book suggestions!

If the viewing suggestions are not enough, and you prefer reading about history, I do have a few suggestions for that as well.  Contrary to recent posts and public opinion, I do read a great deal besides Outlander! In fact, I spend much of my free time reading… I have a long commute to and from work each day, which provides me with plenty of time to indulge in one of my favorite pass times- reading. While I do occasionally venture into the time travel realm for reading enjoyment… I know, I know, it would seem and appear that time travel would be my main priority/focus, but actually it is not. Most of my reading focus is on early medieval history from the early Viking Ages through William the Conqueror and on through to about the 1500s.

I have been quite lax and remiss about updating my book reviews page since Outlander appeared but, please rest assured that I have indeed kept up with my other reading! I am providing a quick guide here for those of you who are interested in reading material aside from Outlander! You can also always check out my reviews and books on my Goodreads page.  I have better luck keeping those reviews updated than the ones here!  https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/22404301-judywork

For now, I will just update you with a few that I’ve read lately and may have referenced in earlier posts!

 

 Veil of Time  by Claire R. McDougall.  This was a one of the time travel exceptions I’ve made and it well worth the read as it is so much more than just time travel or a romance novel!

Veil of Time

A compelling tale of two Scotlands-one modern, one ancient-and the woman who parts the veil between them.

The medication that treats Maggie’s seizures leaves her in a haze, but it can’t dull her grief at losing her daughter to the same condition. With her marriage dissolved and her son away at school, Maggie retreats to a cottage below the ruins of Dunadd, once the royal seat of Scotland. But is it fantasy or reality when she awakens in a bustling village within the massive walls of eighth-century Dunadd? In a time and place so strange yet somehow familiar, Maggie is drawn to the striking, somber Fergus, brother of the king and father of Illa, who bears a keen resemblance to Maggie’s late daughter. With each dreamlike journey to the past, Maggie grows closer to Fergus and embraces the possibility of staying in this Dunadd. But with present-day demands calling her back, can Maggie leave behind the Scottish prince who dubs her mo chridhe, my heart?

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18144050-veil-of-time

Now, while the area of Dunnad and Kilmartin are filled with ancient Stone circles and Standing Stones, Maggie did not make use of them for her trip through time. They were an integral part or mechanism for her travel though as she had not experienced the time travel previously to her visit to Dunadd as an adult.  Also, the Druidess priestess and others she met in the past seemed to feel that the Stones were responsible for her travel as well as for any number of other events. Maggie was suffering from a number of traumatic events in life and decided to spend some time by herself in an isolated cottage at the base of the Dunnad hill fort.  She is working on her doctoral thesis- on the history of Witchcraft in Scotland and trying to finish it before facing a life altering and possible mind altering major operation to cure her of her epileptic seizures. It seems that the combination of the seizures and what ever mystical properties might be at this area are initially the trigger to send her back through time to the year 735 when Dunnad was at the height of it’s importance in history.

The book gives a very good description and visualization of  Mid-winter solstice celebrations as they might have taken place during that time! It also references the Druidic influences and Pict representation in that area and time.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/?s=veil+of+time

 

 

Circle of Ceridwen Series by Octavia Randolph

If you are interested in early Saxon and Viking history in Britain, I highly recommend this series!

For a more detailed and in depth look at these early Saxons, their struggle to hold on to their old ways and their eventual demise under the Christian influence, I would highly suggest you read this series of books by Octavia Randolph. I suggest here mainly because she deals with the early Saxon beliefs and how closely they were connected to the Norse/Vikings beliefs of the time. She also has excellent descriptions of some of their traditions and celebrations! It is a series of four books that tell a young woman’s journey through the Viking conquests of early England and then her life in the northern lands of  Danemark, and Gotland.

circle of ceridwen1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23123223-the-circle-of-ceridwen

In Circle of Ceridwen, Octavia Randolph discusses in great detail, the Saxon belief in Woden and  it’s close connection to the Viking belief in Odin.

Young women with courage. Swords with names. Vikings with tattoos. Danger. Passion. Survival. Warfare. Sheep. And Other Good Things…

The year 871, when England was Angle-Land. Of seven Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, five have fallen to the invading Vikings. Across this war-torn landscape travels fifteen year old Ceridwen, now thrust into the lives of the conquerors. But living with the enemy affords Ceridwen unusual freedoms – and unlooked-for conflicts. Amongst them she explores again her own heathen past, and learns to judge each man on his own merits. Her divided loyalties spur her to summon all her courage – a courage which will be sorely tested as she defies both Saxon and Dane and undertakes an extraordinary adventure to save a man she has never met.

The first book of The Circle of Ceridwen Trilogy, the historical adventure saga enjoyed by thousands of readers in over 125 nations.

 

There are four books in the series… and I am keeping my fingers crossed that there will eventually be more. The series covers the life and journey of Ceridwen from her early years as a somewhat naïve teen through her years living with the Viking conquerors of  Britain, to her journey to the Viking homelands of Gotland. It is an excellent well documented and detailed look at the changes in lives and cultures during that time period, with a focus on how one young woman deals with all of those sudden changes in her life.  I would definitely recommend you read all of them and check out Octavia Randolph!

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1365292.Octavia_Randolph

Ceridwen of Kilton the claiming Hall of Tyr

After reading the last one, Hall of Tyr, there was also a nice bonus of a medieval cookery booklet included. She includes early medieval Britain fare as well as medieval Scandinavian dishes!

For a sample of her cookery details, you should read this article!

http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2014/08/venison-pie-and-honey-cakes.html

3harts

 

For slightly later medieval history, try The Handfasted wife  and the Swan daughter by Carol McGrath.

the handfasted wife by Carol McGrath The Swan daughter by Carol McGrath

These two books are about history during the time of William the Conqueror. They are well written historical biography types more than romances.

The first one, Handfasted wife tells the story  of the Norman Conquest from the perspective of Edith (Elditha) Swanneck, Harold’s common-law wife. She is set aside for a political marriage when Harold becomes king in 1066. Determined to protect her children’s destinies and control her economic future, she is taken to William’s camp when her estate is sacked on the eve of the Battle of Hastings. She later identifies Harold’s body on the battlefield and her youngest son becomes a Norman hostage. Elditha avoids an arranged marriage with a Breton knight by which her son might or might not be given into his care. She makes her own choice and sets out through strife-torn England to seek help from her sons in Dublin. However, events again overtake her. Harold’s mother, Gytha, holds up in her city of Exeter with other aristocratic women, including Elditha’s eldest daughter. The girl is at risk, drawing Elditha back to Exeter and resistance. Initially supported by Exeter’s burghers the women withstand William’s siege. However, after three horrific weeks they negotiate exile and the removal of their treasure. Elditha takes sanctuary in a convent where eventually she is reunited with her hostage son. This is an adventure story of love, loss, survival and reconciliation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harold_Godwinson

1024px-Bayeux_Tapestry_scene23_Harold_sacramentum_fecit_Willelmo_duci

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_the_Fair

Edith_discovering_the_body_of_Harold

 

The second book is about Edith and Harold’s daughter, Gunnhild.  The Swan Daughter is a true 11th C tale of elopement and a love triangle by best-selling author of The Handfasted Wife, Carol McGrath. A marriage made in Heaven or Hell.  It is 1075 and Dowager Queen Edith has died. Gunnhild longs to leave Wilton Abbey but is her suitor Breton knight Count Alan of Richmond interested in her inheritance as the daughter of King Harold and Edith Swan-Neck or does he love her for herself? And is her own love for Count Alain an enduring love or has she made a mistake? 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Rufus

Alan_Rufus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunhild_of_Wessex

 

For a better and even more detailed perspective the events of this time period, I would suggest and encourage you to read  two other books about this era by Helen Hollick!

I have already previously mentioned her work, The Forever Queen (The Saxon Series #1)  on my book reviews page but am going repeat here for easier reference. This book is a great depiction and detail of  Emma of Normandy, whom little is known about but who is so important in history. It is the first of two books on Emma and her offspring, with the second book being, I am the Chosen King.

What kind of woman becomes the wife of two kings, and the mother of two more?

Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son, Cnut, cause a maelstrom of chaos, Emma, as Queen, must take control if the Kingdom-and her crown-are to be salvaged. Smarter than history remembers, and stronger than the foreign invaders who threaten England’s shores, Emma risks everything on a gamble that could either fulfill her ambitions and dreams or destroy her completely.

Emma, the Queen of Saxon England, comes to life through the exquisite writing of Helen Hollick, who shows in this epic tale how one of the most compelling and vivid heroines in English history stood tall through a turbulent fifty-year reign of proud determination, tragic despair, and triumph over treachery.

The Forever Queen (The Saxon Series, #1)The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick
My rating:
5 of 5 stars

Fantastic! I was quite impressed with all of this book. I appreciate that it was not so much a gushy over done, made up romance novel but more of a historical docu-drama of her life. Helen Hollick took the limited details surrounding this somewhat forgotten queen that we hear so little about and wove those details into an excellent story!

I wrote the above short review a while ago but wanted to add to it because I am still so impressed with the storytelling of Helen Hollick. I have not read the second book of the series yet, but will get to it soon! After spending an immense amount of time reading quite serious histories, I needed to take a break and read some less intense ones!

This was most definitely one of the more serious and intense ones! It is not a feel good, happily ever after love story by any means. If you are looking for that, you will be quite disappointed. What you will find is a story about the grim and gritty realities of a woman’s life in those early medieval times. Just because a woman was of noble blood and ended up with a crown- more than one, it did not mean her life was any easier. In fact, in so many ways it was even more difficult.

Emma was married first to Æthelred who failed as both a King and a husband, but Emma did do her duty in providing him with not one, but two legitimate heirs. That should have given her some security in those times but unfortunately luck was not with her… or maybe it was? The kingdom is overtaken by Cnut who claims her along with the kingdom. She finally finds love with him only to have him die leaving the kingdom in another battle of who should rule.

The story of her life was well documented in this book with more than enough factual information woven into the story to give what I felt it was an excellent representation of the constant hurdles she endured throughout her life that colored and shaped how she viewed her role and her destiny as well as that of her sons.

 

I am the Chosen King

In this beautifully crafted tale, Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England, is a respected, quick-witted man both vulnerable and strong, honorable and loving-and yet, in the end, only human. After the political turmoil and battles leading up to 1066, we all know William the Conquerer takes England. But Helen Hollick will have readers at the edge of their seats, hoping that just this once, for Harold, the story will have a different ending.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9223563-i-am-the-chosen-king

I am in the process of reading I am the Chosen King right now and am just as impressed with it as I was with the first book! What is interesting for me now is the comparison between this work and the information I previously read in Carol McGrath’s books about the same people. Where as Carol’s books deal more with Edith’s and her daughter’s lives and their possible perspectives of the time and events, this work goes into more depth concerning all of the key figures of the time. By reading all of them, I think you could gain a better insight and picture of  what was happening and how those involved might have come to the choices they made.

 

 

Now for one last thought of interest.  You might be wondering just how all of this extensive and in depth history ties into  my interest in the Vikings Saga on the history channel and it’s related actual history? Well, I will leave you with a few clues…

Vikings is inspired by the sagas of Viking Ragnar Lothbrok, one of the best-known mythological Norse heroes and notorious as the scourge of England and France. It portrays Ragnar as a former farmer who rises to fame by successful raids into England with the support of his family and fellow warriors: his brother Rollo, his son Bjorn, and his wives—the shieldmaiden Lagertha and the princess Aslaug.

As the above paragraph states, the show and it’s various main characters are based on what is known about actual history. Ragnar Lothbrok is based on

Ragnar Lodbrok or Lothbrok (Old Norse: Ragnarr Loðbrók, “Ragnar Hairy Breeches“) was a legendary Norse ruler and hero from the Viking Age described in Old Norse poetry and several sagas. In this tradition, Ragnar was the scourge of France and England and the father of many renowned sons, including Ivar the Boneless, Björn Ironside, Halfdan Ragnarsson, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, and Ubba. While these men are historical figures, it is uncertain whether Ragnar himself existed or really fathered them. Many of the tales about him appear to originate with the deeds of several historical Viking heroes and rulers.

According to legend, Ragnar was thrice married: to the shieldmaiden Lagertha, to the noblewoman Þóra Borgarhjǫrtr, and to Aslaug. Said to have been a relative of the Danish king Gudfred and son of the Swedish king Sigurd Hring, he became king himself and distinguished himself by many raids and conquests until he was eventually seized by his foe, King Ælla of Northumbria, and killed by being thrown into a pit of snakes. His sons bloodily avenged him by invading England with the Great Heathen Army.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragnar_Lodbrok

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In reality, Ragnar ultimately comes to a bad end and probably was not such a likeable fellow as he is portrayed in the show.

His brother, Rollo is inspired and based on another historical Viking.

A character based on the historical Rollo, played by Clive Standen, is Ragnar Lodbrok‘s brother in the 2013 television series Vikings

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rollo

vikings_gallery7_2-P rollo

 

In actual history, Rollo comes out far better than Ragnar ever could have hoped for!

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If you look at his family tree, you will see how he ties in to medieval history. He was the ancestor of William the Conqueror- and if you look into William’s activities, you might see that his Viking heritage of conquering came out quite boldly in his genes!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_the_Conqueror

 

Rollo is the great-great-great-grandfather of William the Conqueror. Through William, he is an ancestor of the present-day British royal family, as well as an ancestor of all current European monarchs and a great many pretenders to abolished European thrones. A genetic investigation into the remains of Rollo’s grandson Richard I and great-grandson Richard II has been announced, with the intention of discerning the origins of the famous Viking warrior.

The “Clameur de Haro” in the Channel Islands is, supposedly, an appeal to Rollo.

Rollo’s grave at the cathedral of Rouen

1024px-Grave_of_Rollo_of_Normandy

So, as my last thought and conclusion for the day…. Which brother would you prefer to take your chances with? Personally, I am going with team Rollo!

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Follow our Viking journey in coming new year!

Ragnar and Rollo legacy

Time Traveler’s Christmas : Happy Yule Fest!

 

 

 

 

viking yule2

New religions new traditions

Previous Christmas guide post: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/15/time-travelers-guide-to-christmas-oh-christmas-tree/

Christmas music: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/musical-inspiration-christmas-music/

yule the longest night Yule_log

First of all, I do need to acknowledge that some people may take offense at portions of this next discussion about the origins and history of Christmas.  A great many Christians firmly believe that Christmas is their own personal, sacred holiday and that it should be observed within the context of  the Christian symbolism of  it.

 

The early Christian Church involvement

If you have been following our previous discussion, you will already know that we have touched on many of the pre-Christian roots of the holiday. For an excellent article that refers to the true history of  what Christmas should mean, please read this article!

http://time.com/3631899/christians-christmas/

The mid winter festival and holiday was around long before Christianity ever became a part of it. In fact, in terms of the history of civilization, the Christian addition to the holiday is quite recent. We have already pointed out that the early Christian Church could not compete with the so called Pagan religions and beliefs so they instead chose to incorporate those traditions and beliefs into their religion in order to convert the Pagans.

There are many Christians today who believe that they as Christians somehow own the rights and observances of this holiday? They cry outrage and criticism that others have taken the Christ of  Christmas in such ways as referring to the day as x-mas.  In reality, the x has been a part of the holiday since it’s earliest days of Christianity!

xp in x-mas

http://news.yahoo.com/x-xmas-literally-means-christ-150002098.html

 

The winter Solstice celebrations have been around probably since the earliest beginnings of man’s understanding and record keeping of the seasons, the sun and the darkness.

The solstice itself may have been a special moment of the annual cycle of the year even during neolithic times. Astronomical events, which during ancient times controlled the mating of animals, sowing of crops and metering of winter reserves between harvests, show how various cultural mythologies and traditions have arisen. This is attested by physical remains in the layouts of late Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland. The primary axes of both of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise (Newgrange) and the winter solstice sunset (Stonehenge). Significant in respect of Stonehenge is the fact that the Great Trilithon was erected outwards from the centre of the monument, i.e., its smooth flat face was turned towards the midwinter Sun.

 

Neolithic site of Goseck circle. The yellow lines are the direction the Sun rises and sets at winter solstice.

The winter solstice may have been immensely important because communities were not certain of living through the winter, and had to be prepared during the previous nine months. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months”. In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast celebration, before deep winter began. Most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter, so it was almost the only time of year when a supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking at this time. The concentration of the observances were not always on the day commencing at midnight or at dawn, but the beginning of the pre-Romanized day, which falls on the previous eve.

Because the event is seen as the reversal of the Sun‘s ebbing presence in the sky, concepts of the birth or rebirth of sun gods have been common and, in cultures using winter solstice based cyclic calendars, the year as reborn has been celebrated with regard to life-death-rebirth deities or new beginnings such as Hogmanay‘s redding, a New Year cleaning tradition. Also reversal is yet another usual theme as in Saturnalia‘s slave and master reversals.

Some time during the fourth century, the Christian Church became involved in the celebration.

Athelstan

 The chronography of 354 AD contains early evidence of the celebration on December 25 of a Christian liturgical feast of the birth of Jesus. This was in Rome, while in Eastern Christianity the birth of Jesus was already celebrated in connection with the Epiphany on January 6.  The December 25 celebration was imported into the East later: in Antioch by John Chrysostom towards the end of the 4th century, probably in 388, and in Alexandria only in the following century. Even in the West, the January 6 celebration of the nativity of Jesus seems to have continued until after 380.  In 245, Origen of Alexandria, writing about Leviticus 12:1–8, commented that Scripture mentions only sinners as celebrating their birthdays, namely Pharaoh, who then had his chief baker hanged (Genesis 40:20–22), and Herod, who then had John the Baptist beheaded (Mark 6:21–27), and mentions saints as cursing the day of their birth, namely Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:14–15) and Job (Job 3:1–16).  In 303, Arnobius ridiculed the idea of celebrating the birthdays of gods, a passage cited as evidence that Arnobius was unaware of any nativity celebration.[55] Since Christmas does not celebrate Christ’s birth “as God” but “as man”, this is not evidence against Christmas being a feast at this time.  The fact the Donatists of North Africa celebrated Christmas may indicate that the feast was established by the time that church was created in 311.

ChristAsSol

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti

Main article: Sol Invictus

Dies Natalis Solis Invicti means “the birthday of the Unconquered Sun”, a festival inaugurated by the Roman emperor Aurelian to celebrate the sun god and celebrated at the winter solstice, 25 December.  During the reign of the emperor Constantine, Christian writers assimilated this feast as the birthday of Jesus, associating him with the ‘sun of righteousness’ mentioned in Malachi 4:2 (Sol Iustitiae).   In his work Adversus Haereses, Irenaeus (c. 130–202) identified the conception of Jesus as March 25 and linked it to the crucifixion, with the birth of Jesus nine months after on December 25.  Celebration of the conception of Jesus, known as the Annunciation, became associated with the spring equinox, thus led to Christmas coinciding with the winter solstice.   An anonymous work known as De Pascha Computus (243) linked the idea that creation began at the spring equinox, on 25 March with the conception or birth (the word nascor can mean either) of Jesus on 28 March, the day of the creation of the sun in the Genesis account. One translation reads: “O the splendid and divine providence of the Lord, that on that day, the very day, on which the sun was made, the 28 March, a Wednesday, Christ should be born. For this reason Malachi the prophet, speaking about him to the people, fittingly said, ‘Unto you shall the sun of righteousness arise, and healing is in his wings.'”

In the fourth century, John Chrysostom, who promoted the celebration on 25 December, commented on the connection: “But Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December … the eight before the calends of January [25 December] …, But they call it the ‘Birthday of the Unconquered’. Who indeed is so unconquered as Our Lord …? Or, if they say that it is the birthday of the Sun, He is the Sun of Justice.”  With regard to a December religious feast of the sun as a god (Sol), as distinct from a solstice feast of the (re)birth of the astronomical sun, one scholar has commented that, “while the winter solstice on or around December 25 was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas”.  “Thomas Talley has shown that, although the Emperor Aurelian’s dedication of a temple to the sun god in the Campus Martius (C.E. 274) probably took place on the ‘Birthday of the Invincible Sun’ on December 25, the cult of the sun in pagan Rome ironically did not celebrate the winter solstice nor any of the other quarter-tense days, as one might expect.”   The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought remarks on the uncertainty about the order of precedence between the religious celebrations of the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun and of the birthday of Jesus, stating that the hypothesis that 25 December was chosen for celebrating the birth of Jesus on the basis of the belief that his conception occurred on 25 March “potentially establishes 25 December as a Christian festival before Aurelian’s decree, which, when promulgated, might have provided for the Christian feast both opportunity and challenge.

 

There is of course far more involved in the Church’s attempt to take over the Holiday from the Pagan influences, this is just a very brief and basic description it. What it came down to though, was a thought on the winter solstice of, if you can’t eliminate it or beat it… join it and make it your own. While the masses converted to Christianity, most of them still continued with their winter Solstice traditions and celebrations despite every attempt by the early Church to eradicate the celebrations.

My personal thought on the current outpouring of criticism and demands for Christ to be put back in Christmas… it was always first and foremost a Pagan festival, perhaps all of the so called Pagans of the World should speak up and insist upon putting the Pagan back in Yule! If one were to use the early Church’s definition and perception of Pagan, that would include a great many people today. The early Christian Church recognized only one true religion- that being the Roman Catholic Church, anyone who did not follow that religion and it’s beliefs would be considered a Pagan, a heretic, a heathen.

gods of our saxon gods 1.sun god 2. moon god 3.god tiw 4. woden

gods of our saxon gods 1.sun god 2. moon god 3.god tiw 4. woden

Another excellent article on thoughts about the holiday: Putting Odin back into the Yule Tide Season!

http://ezinearticles.com/?Putting-Odin-Back-Into-the-Yule-Tide-Season&id=3005931

 

Now that we have discussed the early Church’s involvement in the holiday, let’s move on to the Pagan celebration that seems to have had the most influence on our present day traditions and celebrations of the holiday.

Yule

yule9 yule2

Yule or Yuletide (“Yule time”) is a pagan religious festival observed by the historical Germanic peoples, later being absorbed into and equated with the Christian festival of Christmas. The earliest references to Yule are by way of indigenous Germanic month names Ærra Jéola (Before Yule) or Jiuli and Æftera Jéola (After Yule). Scholars have connected the celebration to the Wild Hunt, the god Odin and the pagan Anglo-Saxon Modranicht.

Terms with an etymological equivalent to Yule are used in the Nordic countries for Christmas with its religious rites, but also for the holidays of this season. Yule is also used to a lesser extent in English-speaking countries to refer to Christmas. Customs such as the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule. A number of Neopagans have introduced their own rites.

 

Yule is the modern English representation of the Old English words ġéol or ġéohol and ġéola or ġéoli, with the former indicating the 12-day festival of “Yule” (later: “Christmastide“) and the latter indicating the month of “Yule”, whereby ǽrra ġéola referred to the period before the Yule festival (December) and æftera ġéola referred to the period after Yule (January). Both words are thought to be derived from Common Germanic *jeχʷla-, and are cognate with Gothic (fruma) jiuleis and Old Norse (Icelandic and Faroese) jól (Danish and Swedish jul and Norwegian jul or jol) as well as ýlir,  Estonian jõul(ud) and Finnish joulu. The etymological pedigree of the word, however, remains uncertain, though numerous speculative attempts have been made to find Indo-European cognates outside the Germanic group, too.

The noun Yuletide is first attested from around 1475.  The word is attested in an explicitly pre-Christian context primarily in Old Norse. Among many others (see List of names of Odin), the long-bearded god Odin bears the names jólfaðr (Old Norse ‘Yule father’) and jólnir (Old Norse ‘the Yule one’). In plural (Old Norse jólnar; ‘the Yule ones’) may refer to the Norse gods in general. In Old Norse poetry, the word is often employed as a synonym for ‘feast’, such as in the kenning hugins jól (Old Norse ‘Huginn‘s Yule’ > ‘a raven’s feast’).

 

Yule is attested early in the history of the Germanic peoples; from the 4th century Gothic language it appears in the month name fruma jiuleis, and, in the 8th century, the English historian Bede wrote that the Anglo-Saxon calendar included the months geola or giuli corresponding with either modern December or December and January.

While the Old Norse month name ýlir is similarly attested, the Old Norse corpus also contains numerous references to an event by the Old Norse form of the name, jól. In chapter 55 of the Prose Edda book Skáldskaparmál, different names for the gods are given. One of the names provided is “Yule-beings.” A work by the skald Eyvindr Skáldaspillir that uses the term is then quoted, which reads “again we have produced Yule-being’s feast [mead of poetry], our rulers’ eulogy, like a bridge of masonry.”  In addition, one of the numerous names of Odin is Jólnir, referring to the event.

The Saga of Hákon the Good credits King Haakon I of Norway with the Christianization of Norway as well as rescheduling the date of Yule to coincide with Christian celebrations held at the time. The saga states that when Haakon arrived in Norway he was confirmed a Christian, but since the land was still altogether heathen and the people retained their pagan practices, Haakon hid his Christianity to receive the help of the “great chieftains.” In time, Haakon had a law passed establishing that Yule celebrations were to take place at the same time as the Christians celebrated Christmas, “and at that time everyone was to have ale for the celebration with a measure of grain, or else pay fines, and had to keep the holiday while the ale lasted.”

Yule had previously been celebrated for three nights from midwinter night, according to the saga. Haakon planned that when he had solidly established himself and held power over the whole country, he would then “have the gospel preached.” According to the saga, the result was that his popularity caused many to allow themselves to be baptised, and some people stopped making sacrifices. Haakon spent most of this time in Trondheim, Norway. When Haakon believed that he wielded enough power, he requested a bishop and other priests from England, and they came to Norway. On their arrival, “Haakon made it known that he would have the gospel preached in the whole country.” The saga continues, describing the different reactions of various regional things.

                     It was ancient custom that when sacrifice was to be made, all farmers were to come to the heathen temple and bring along with them the food they needed while the feast lasted. At this feast all were to take part of the drinking of ale. Also all kinds of livestock were killed in connection with it, horses also; and all the blood from them was called hlaut [ sacrificial blood ], and hlautbolli, the vessel holding the blood; and hlautteinar, the sacrificial twigs [ aspergills ]. These were fashioned like sprinklers, and with them were to be smeared all over with blood the pedestals of the idols and also the walls of the temple within and without; and likewise the men present were to be sprinkled with blood. But the meat of the animals was to be boiled and served as food at the banquet. Fires were to be lighted in the middle of the temple floor, and kettles hung over them. The sacrificial beaker was to be borne around the fire, and he who made the feast and was chieftain, was to bless the beaker as well as all the sacrificial meat.

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The narrative continues that toasts were to be drunk. The first toast was to be drunk to Odin “for victory and power to the king”, the second to the gods Njörðr and Freyr “for good harvests and for peace”, and thirdly a beaker was to be drunk to the king himself. In addition, toasts were drunk to the memory of departed kinsfolk. These were called “minni [memorial toast]”.

The Svarfdæla saga records a story in which a berserker put off a duel until three days after Yule to honour the sanctity of the holiday. Grettis Saga refers to Yule as a time of “greatest mirth and joy among men.”  This saga is set soon after Iceland converted to Christianity and identifies Yule with Christmas: “No Christian man is wont to eat meat this day [Yule Eve], because that on the morrow is the first day of Yule,” says she, “wherefore must men first fast today.”

Haakon the Good ruled Norway during the early 900s. He lived from 920-961 and spent most of his youth being raised in England and fostered by King Haakon was fostered by King Athelstan, as part of a peace agreement made by his father, for which reason Haakon was nicknamed Adalsteinfostre.  The English king brought him up in the Christian religion.  When Haakon returned to Norway to claim his throne, he was successful in every way except converting the Norse to Christianity. Haakon was frequently successful in everything he undertook except in his attempt to introduce Christianity, which aroused an opposition he did not feel strong enough to face. So entirely did even his immediate circle ignore his religion that Eyvindr Skáldaspillir, his court poet, composed the poem Hákonarmál on his death, representing his reception by the Norse gods into Valhalla.

The Nordic regions were the most resistant and longest hold outs to the conversion to Christianity, perhaps that is one of the reasons that their ancient traditions have remained with us even though for the most part, theirs was an oral history and language. Their ancient beliefs were so strong that they have continued to influence us to the present day.

Scholars have connected the month event and Yule time period to the Wild Hunt (a ghostly procession in the winter sky), the god Odin (who is attested in Germanic areas as leading the Wild Hunt and, as mentioned above, bears the name Jólnir), and increased supernatural activity, such as the aforementioned Wild Hunt and the increased activities of draugar—undead beings who walk the earth.

Modranicht, an event focused on collective female beings attested by Bede as having occurred among the pagan Anglo-Saxons on what is now Christmas Eve, has been seen as further evidence of a fertility event during the Yule period.

The events of Yule are generally held to have centred on Midwinter (although specific dating is a matter of debate), and feasting, drinking, and sacrifice (blót) were involved. Scholar Rudolf Simek comments that the pagan Yule feast “had a pronounced religious character” and comments that “it is uncertain whether the Germanic Yule feast still had a function in the cult of the dead and in the veneration of the ancestors, a function which the mid-winter sacrifice certainly held for the West European Stone and Bronze Ages.” The traditions of the Yule log, Yule goat, Yule boar (Sonargöltr) still reflected in the Christmas ham, Yule singing, and others stem from Yule customs, and customs which Simek takes as “indicat[ing] the significance of the feast in pre-Christian times.”

When the Norse migrated to the British Isles, they brought their religion, their beliefs, traditions and Yule with them.  In the northern regions such as Scotland, traces of it can be found in Hogmanay, and throughout the rest of the Isles, it has merged with the celebration of Christmas until it is difficult to differentiate any of it!

yule log5 yule-log6

The celebration of Yule became Yuletide, Christmastide, Candlemas, Twelve days of Christmas… All of these had origins and roots in the ancient Yule celebration and observance.

One of the most familiar of the traditions is the Yule log.

yule4

A yule log is a large wooden log which is burned in the hearth as a part of traditional Yule or modern Christmas celebrations in several European cultures. It may also be associated with the winter solstice festival or the Twelve Days of Christmas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or Twelfth Night.

The Yule log has been said to have its origins in the historical Germanic paganism which was practiced across Northern Europe prior to Christianization. One of the first people to suggest this was the English historian Henry Bourne, who, writing in the 1720s, described the practice occurring in the Tyne valley. Bourne theorised that the practice derives from customs in 6th to 7th century Anglo-Saxon paganism.

Robert Chambers, in his 1864 work, Book of Days notes that “two popular observances belonging to Christmas are more especially derived from the worship of our pagan ancestors—the hanging up of the mistletoe and the burning of the Yule log.” James George Frazer in his work on anthropology, The Golden Bough (p. 736) holds that “the ancient fire-festival of the winter solstice appears to survive” in the Yule log custom. Frazer records traditions from England, France, among the South Slavs, in Central Germany (Meiningen) and western Switzerland (the Bernese Jura).

There is some controversy over the origin of the tradition in England.   Because there are no accounts of the custom in Great Britain prior to the 17th century, some historians and folklorists have theorised that it was not an ancient British custom but was in fact imported into Britain from continental Europe in the early modern period, possibly from Flanders in Belgium, where the tradition thrived in this period. My personal theory on this is that once the Saxons and Vikings who remained in  England converted to Christianity, the practice would have been set aside in the Nobility classes who were trying to adhere to the Church beliefs. It most likely would have continued in rural areas that held on to the old ways much longer.  When the practice returned in the 1600s, it would have been looked on as a novel, new and festive tradition without the previous ties to the pagan religion. There would have been those who remembered the old ways though and embraced this new acceptance of the practice.

The earliest origins of burning the yule log probably involved burning the log outdoors together as a group to keep the darkness at bay on the longest night of the year until the sun returned.  There is evidence of burning of sacred trees such as the Yew tree in ancient Britain.  Fire was sacred to all ancients and they would have revered the burning of  such large and sacred trees as offerings to their Gods.

http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/the-oldest-living-thing-in-europe/0012067/

 

The yule log is a remnant of the bonfires that the European pagans would set ablaze at the time of winter solstice. These bonfires symbolized the return of the Sun.

An oak log, plus a fireplace or bonfire area is needed for this form of celebration. The oak log should be very dry so that it will blaze well. On the night of Yule, carve a symbol of your hopes for the coming year into the log. Burn the log to release it’s power. It can be decorated with burnable red ribbons of natural fiber and dried holly leaves. In the fireplace or bonfire area, dried kindling should be set to facilitate the burning of the log.The Yule log can be made of any wood (Oak is traditional). Each releases its own kind of magick.

Ash — brings protection, prosperity, and health

Aspen — invokes understanding of the grand design

Birch — signifies new beginnings

Holly — inspires visions and reveals past lives

Oak — brings healing, strength, and wisdom

Pine — signifies prosperity and growth

Willow — invokes the Goddess to achieve desires

http://thecronescottage.tripod.com/thecottagedecyule2001/id16.html

Yule and it’s Viking origins of Odin the Wanderer

Odin on his eight legged horse.

Odin on his eight legged horse.

wodin

Long before Christianity spread throughout the world, Pagan rituals and customs were prevalent throughout the lands and there was another whose arrival was long awaited by the inhabitants of northern Germany and Scandinavia – Odin the Wanderer or Wodan, the father of all the gods. Also known as the warrior god, the legends that became part of our Santa tradition were mostly of the benevolent kind. It was Odin who traveled the skies by night on his sled with his eight-legged horse Sleipner bringing gifts of bread for those in need.

According to Viking lore, the northern Germans and Scandinavians celebrated Yule, a pagan religious festival heralding the arrival of the winter solstice from mid-December to early January. During this time, many believed that Odin, disguised in a long blue-hooded cloak, would travel to earth on his eight-legged horse, to observe homesteaders gathered around the campfires to see how content the people were and for those in need of food, he left his gifts of bread and disappeared.

As traditions grew over time, the children of these lands would anticipate the arrival of gift-bearing Odin and would fill their boots with straw, carrots or sugar and place them near the fireplace so that Sleipnir could come down to eat during his midnight rides. Odin would then reward these kind children by replacing the food with gifts and candy treats inside the boots.

By now, you can see that many of those traditions transcended time albeit with slight changes: the eight-legged horse became eight tiny reindeer; the boots by the fireplaces would eventually become stockings “hung by the chimney with care;” and the food and candy, well those became to toys from the chief toymakers of the land – Santa and his elves!

Although Odin and Santa share many characteristics in that they both are older men with white beards and donning cloaks, there is one striking difference between the two – Odin is missing his left eye. According to legend, Odin ventured to Mimir’s Well, near Jötunheim, the land of the giants, as not Odin himself, but as Vegtam the Wanderer.  To gain knowledge of the past, present and future, Odin had to drink from the Well of Wisdom but for a price.  Ultimately, he had to sacrifice his left eye and today, it lies at the bottom of this Well of Wisdom as a symbol of the price he paid for the wisdom he possesses.  Fascinating legend!   

Upon the advent of Christianity, Odin eventually evolved into Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus and today, the children await the arrival of Sinterklaas or Santa Claus or both.   According to legend, Odin, the father of all the gods, portrayed one of twelve characters each month of the year. In December, he became Jul and the season of his arrival was known as Jultid or Yuletide.

http://www.examiner.com/article/christmas-traditions-europe-odin-and-the-celebration-of-yule

 

The time of Yule was one of great feasting and merriment as well as being full of sacred rituals.  Besides being a time of greatest darkness and fear, it was also a time to look forward to the sun’s lengthening and to new beginnings.

 

We have been focusing our discussion around the time period of the 800s with the Vikings arrival in England. I have chosen this time period because it provides for a good comparison between the early Christian Church’s influence and the still strong beliefs held by those Vikings. I think it is one of the most interesting eras for the specific reason that it shaped the future of  Europe in so many ways,  was a turning point, and yet left such long lasting traces of the ancient beliefs. This time frame also showed how much power and influence the Roman Catholic Church had at the time in the fact that it so quickly assimilated and converted the Anglo-Saxons in the area. Prior to the 800s, the Saxons were still holding on to their Northern Germanic identities and cultures. Within the space of  less than a century for the most part, those Saxons had completely settled into the areas of Britain.  They became the dominant force with the help of the Church, and had as a compromise, given up any outward sign of their previous culture and belief system. I say outward sign, because many of the Overlords held their old beliefs in some secrecy and it was more a matter of acceding to the Church as a way of receiving the benefits the Church could provide.

 

When the Vikings arrived in England, they were introduced to new teachings, new ways and beliefs. These new beliefs would have an affect on many of the Vikings and would cause them to rethink their own ways.  For what ever reasons, the Vikings would not  forget their old beliefs and traditions as quickly or as easily as the previous Anglo-Saxons had. It would be a long struggle for Christianity to convert these followers of the old Norse Gods and Goddesses.

 

Even the ancient Yule log has taken on a more Christian symbolic form.  The original log with it’s adornments of nature’s symbols attached to it have been replaced with Christian symbolism in the more modern tradition of a small log with three candles to represent the Holy Trinity.  Where once the Holly and Ivy that may have been wrapped around it had more pagan meanings, now they are a part of the Christian symbolism. Holly was once associated with ancient Romans and Druids. 

yule3 yule

 

European Holly  was sacred to druids  who associated it with the winter solstice, and for Romans, holly was considered the plant of Saturn.  European Holly has always traditionally had a strong association with Christmas. Henry VIII wrote a love song Green groweth the holly which alludes to holly and ivy resisting winter blasts and not changing their green hue So I am and ever hath been Unto my lady true.

The Holly and Ivy once symbolized the masculine and feminine and would have probably been an integral part of some Winter Solstice observances that included fertility and new beginnings.

The Christian symbolism of Holly and Ivy are presented in the Christmas Carol, The Holly and the Ivy

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

Refrain:
Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.
The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour
Refrain
The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.
Refrain
The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.
Refrain
The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.

Earlier Carols reference the more ancient and pagan origins and meanings.

An early book mentions the carol as well as a manuscript containing a more ancient song which is, or was, in the British Museum. The book was printed in 1823 and entitled Ancient Mysteries Described: Especially the English Miracle Plays founded on Aprocryphal New Testament Story extant among the unpublished manuscripts in the British Museum by the author, investigative journalist, devout Christian and former satirist, William Hone (1780–1842), and printed at 45 Ludgate Hill London. The book contains a list of carols (p 99) described as Christmas Carols now annually Printed including 70. The holly and the ivy, now are both well grown.

The book also describes (p 94) a British Museum manuscript: The same volume contains a song on the Holly and the Ivy which I mention because there is an old Carol on the same subject still printed. The MS begins with,

Holly and ivy in the snow in Elmstead Wood

Nay, my nay, hyt shal not be I wys,
Let holy hafe the maystry, as the maner ys:
Holy stond in the hall, faire to behold,
Ivy stond without the dore, she ys ful sore acold,
Nay, my nay etc
Holy and hys mery men, they dawnseyn and they syng,
Ivy and hur maydyns, they wepen and they wryng.
Nay, my nay etc’

The music and most of the text was also collected later by Cecil Sharp (1859–1924) from a woman in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire which is also related to the older carol described as: “The Contest of the Ivy and the Holly”, a contest between the traditional emblems of woman and man respectively.

Holly stands in the hall, fair to behold:
Ivy stands without the door, she is full sore a cold.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
Holly and his merry men, they dance and they sing,
Ivy and her maidens, they weep and they wring.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
Ivy hath chapped fingers, she caught them from the cold,
So might they all have, aye, that with ivy hold.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
Holly hath berries red as any rose,
The forester, the hunter, keep them from the does.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
Ivy hath berries black as any sloe;
There come the owl and eat him as she go.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
Holly hath birds a fair full flock,
The nightingale, the popinjay, the gentle laverock.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
Good ivy, what birds hast thou?
None but the owlet that cries how, how.
Nay, ivy, nay, it shall not be I wis;
Let holly have the mastery, as the manner is.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holly_and_the_Ivy

 

 

On a personal note, after much reflection on all of the history, and fond memories from my childhood, I chose to include a yule log in our holiday celebration this year.   Growing up, my family was not overly religious and we celebrated the holiday for it’s family traditions rather than any deeply religious or spiritual beliefs. Most of our holiday traditions were family oriented and tied to the traditions of my parents from when they grew up. Often they wouldn’t even know the reason or origin of a tradition other than, “It’s just what we’ve always done.”  My Mother was German, my Father was of  English and Dutch descent, but one thing they both held memories of was the Yule log. So, we always had one as décor at the holidays.

This year, I brought back the tradition. For our family tradition, it had to be a birch log…probably because we lived in Northern Minnesota where the Birch was abundant! Now, after reading some of the symbolism, the Birch does make sense as it represents new beginnings.  Of course, living here in California, I had some difficulty getting a birch log! Amazon.com to the rescue though, and I was able to receive a birch log from my homeland of Northern Minnesota!

wpid-20141212_190123.jpg

It came with the modern Christian symbolism of the trinity of candles and I am fine with that. I did give much thought to the decoration of it though, in reference to more ancient symbolism. Alas… No, I do not have a fire place to put it into so decorating around it will have to suffice.

wpid-20141220_164909.jpg

I used a combination of natural live greenery and some artificial to achieve the affect I wanted, only because I could not find easily purchasable fresh holly or mistletoe.

yule log finished

yule log finished

The Mistletoe Magic :

From the earliest times mistletoe has been one of the most magical, mysterious, and sacred plants of European folklore. It was considered to bestow life and fertility; a protection against poison; and an aphrodisiac. The mistletoe of the sacred oak was especially sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids. On the sixth night of the moon white-robed Druid priests would cut the oak mistletoe with a golden sickle. Two white bulls would be sacrificed amid prayers that the recipients of the mistletoe would prosper. Later, the ritual of cutting the mistletoe from the oak came to symbolize the emasculation of the old King by his successor. Mistletoe was long regarded as both a sexual symbol and the “soul” of the oak. It was gathered at both mid-summer and winter solstices, and the custom of using mistletoe to decorate houses at Christmas is a survival of the Druid and other pre-Christian traditions. The Greeks also thought that it had mystical powers and down through the centuries it became associated with many folklore customs. In the Middle Ages and later, branches of mistletoe were hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. In Europe they were placed over house and stable doors to prevent the entrance of witches. It was also believed that the oak mistletoe could extinguish fire. This was associated with an earlier belief that the mistletoe itself could come to the tree during a flash of lightning. The traditions which began with the European mistletoe were transferred to the similar American plant with the process of immigration and settlement.

 Mistletoe_Berries_Uk mistletoe2

The Legend :

For its supposedly mystical power mistletoe has long been at the center of many folklore. One is associated with the Goddess Frigga. The story goes that Mistletoe was the sacred plant of Frigga, goddess of love and the mother of Balder, the god of the summer sun. Balder had a dream of death which greatly alarmed his mother, for should he die, all life on earth would end. In an attempt to keep this from happening, Frigga went at once to air, fire, water, earth, and every animal and plant seeking a promise that no harm would come to her son. Balder now could not be hurt by anything on earth or under the earth. But Balder had one enemy, Loki, god of evil and he knew of one plant that Frigga had overlooked in her quest to keep her son safe. It grew neither on the earth nor under the earth, but on apple and oak trees. It was lowly mistletoe. So Loki made an arrow tip of the mistletoe, gave to the blind god of winter, Hoder, who shot it , striking Balder dead. The sky paled and all things in earth and heaven wept for the sun god. For three days each element tried to bring Balder back to life. He was finally restored by Frigga, the goddess and his mother. It is said the tears she shed for her son turned into the pearly white berries on the mistletoe plant and in her joy Frigga kissed everyone who passed beneath the tree on which it grew. The story ends with a decree that who should ever stand under the humble mistletoe, no harm should befall them, only a kiss, a token of love. What could be more natural than to translate the spirit of this old myth into a Christian way of thinking and accept the mistletoe as the emblem of that Love which conquers Death? Its medicinal properties, whether real or imaginary, make it a just emblematic of that Tree of Life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations thus paralleling it to the Virgin Birth of Christ.
Read more at http://www.theholidayspot.com/christmas/history/mistletoe.htm#c7QoxysJ1HStX4Xw.99

 

As we close out this year and prepare for the beginnings of the new year, we pay tribute to those Saxons and  Vikings who met each other in England so long ago. The new ways of the Christian Church met the old beliefs of the Norse Gods and there would be a long dark battle to see the light again. What would emerge was a new beginning, a merging of cultures and traditions even though the Church would attempt ever after to gloss over those old beliefs, eradicate them and turn them into Church approved symbolism.

 

craigh_na_dun_time tours

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/beyond-crag-na-dun-other-sites-and-options-for-your-time-travel-experience/

 

In the coming year, I will be embarking on my Viking time travel adventure courtesy of Mrs. Graham and Crag na dun Time Travel, so I thought it appropriate at this time to pass along Yule Tide and Odin’s Feast greetings from some of those who will be involved in this experience!

viking yule2

Ragnar Lodbrok and his wife, Auslag bid you welcome to their feast at Kattegat.

 

 

Kattegat, Danemark

Kattegat, Danemark

King Egbert of Wessex sends his own greetings and warnings from the Saxon Christians of England

vikings_episode4_gallery_1-P

 

 

King Ecgbert of Wessex

King Ecgbert of Wessex

Egbert_of_Wessex_map

Athelstan the Monk sends his prayers to all.

 

Athelstan the Monk

 

 

Rollo, brother of Ragnar bids you not to forget the old ways and the fires burning from within.

Old ways of yule

Lagertha, one time wife of Ragnar Lodbrok, valiant Shield Maiden and now an Earl in her own right, sends blessings from her home of choice- Hedeby, Scandinavia.

Lagertha's Yule greeting

hedeby2 Hedeby3

 

 

 

 

Time Traveler’s guide to Christmas: Pre-Christian roots

Music to accompany your holiday time travel journey: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/musical-inspiration-christmas-music/

 

 History of Christmas in early England

Previous post: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/time-travelers-guide-to-christmas-part-one/

yule3

As I mentioned in the previous post, this next discussion will focus on earlier forms of celebrating Christmas. As we work through the history, you will find that many of the customs and traditions you follow now as Christmas celebrations are passed on from much earlier pre-Christian winter Solstice celebrations.  Some of them are remnants of Roman traditions but the majority of them that we are most familiar with stem from ancient Germanic and Nordic beliefs and customs. As we saw in the previous post, the earliest Norse migration into northern Scotland and the later Saxon and Viking migrations into the southern portions of the British Isles infused the cultures there with those Germanic and Norse traditions.  The earliest Romans also left their mark in some ways, but towards the end of their occupation of the land, they had become Christians and would eventually bring Christianity to the land.

 

 Roman traditions and beliefs

The druids, the Celtic priestly caste who were believed to originate in Britain,  were outlawed by Claudius,  and in 61 they vainly defended their sacred groves from destruction by the Romans on the island of Mona (Anglesey).  However, under Roman rule the Britons continued to worship native Celtic deities, such as Ancasta, but often conflated with their Roman equivalents, like Mars Rigonemetos at Nettleham.

The degree to which earlier native beliefs survived is difficult to gauge precisely. Certain European ritual traits such as the significance of the number 3, the importance of the head and of water sources such as springs remain in the archaeological record, but the differences in the votive offerings made at the baths at Bath, Somerset, before and after the Roman conquest suggest that continuity was only partial. Worship of the Roman emperor is widely recorded, especially at military sites. The founding of a Roman temple to Claudius at Camulodunum was one of the impositions that led to the revolt of Boudica. By the 3rd century, Pagans Hill Roman Temple in Somerset was able to exist peaceably and it did so into the 5th century.

Eastern cults such as Mithraism also grew in popularity towards the end of the occupation. The Temple of Mithras is one example of the popularity of mystery religions amongst the rich urban classes and temples to Mithras also exist in military contexts at Vindobala on Hadrian’s Wall (the Rudchester Mithraeum) and at Segontium in Roman Wales (the Caernarfon Mithraeum).

 

Fourth century Chi-Rho fresco from Lullingstone Roman Villa, Kent, which contains the only known Christian paintings from the Roman era in Britain.

It is not clear when or how Christianity came to Britain. A 2nd-century “word square” has been discovered in Mamucium, the Roman settlement of Manchester.  It consists of an anagram of PATER NOSTER carved on a piece of amphora. There has been discussion by academics whether the “word square” is actually a Christian artefact, but if it is, it is one of the earliest examples of early Christianity in Britain.  The earliest confirmed written evidence for Christianity in Britain is a statement by Tertullian, c. 200 AD, in which he described “all the limits of the Spains, and the diverse nations of the Gauls, and the haunts of the Britons, inaccessible to the Romans, but subjugated to Christ”.  Archaeological evidence for Christian communities begins to appear in the 3rd and 4th centuries. Small timber churches are suggested at Lincoln and Silchester and baptismal fonts have been found at Icklingham and the Saxon Shore Fort at Richborough. The Icklingham font is made of lead, and visible in the British Museum. A Roman Christian graveyard exists at the same site in Icklingham. A possible Roman 4th century church and associated burial ground was also discovered at Butt Road on the south-west outskirts of Colchester during the construction of the new police station there, overlying an earlier pagan cemetery. The Water Newton Treasure is a hoard of Christian silver church plate from the early 4th century and the Roman villas at Lullingstone and Hinton St Mary contained Christian wall paintings and mosaics respectively. A large 4th century cemetery at Poundbury with its east-west oriented burials and lack of grave goods has been interpreted as an early Christian burial ground, although such burial rites were also becoming increasingly common in pagan contexts during the period.

The Church in Britain seems to have developed the customary diocesan system, as evidenced from the records of the Council of Arles in Gaul in 314: represented at the Council were bishops from thirty-five sees from Europe and North Africa, including three bishops from Britain, Eborius of York, Restitutus of London, and Adelphius, possibly a bishop of Lincoln. No other early sees are documented, and the material remains of early church structures are far to seek.  The existence of a church in the forum courtyard of Lincoln and the martyrium of Saint Alban on the outskirts of Roman Verulamium are exceptional.  Alban, the first British Christian martyr and by far the most prominent, is believed to have died in the early 4th century (although some date him in the middle 3rd century), followed by Saints Julius and Aaron of Isca Augusta. Christianity was legalised in the Roman Empire by Constantine I in 313. Theodosius I made Christianity the state religion of the empire in 391, and by the 5th century it was well established. One belief labelled a heresy by the church authorities — Pelagianism — was originated by a British monk teaching in Rome: Pelagius lived c. 354 to c. 420/440.

A letter found on a lead tablet in Bath, Somerset, datable to c. 363, had been widely publicised as documentary evidence regarding the state of Christianity in Britain during Roman times. According to its first translator, it was written in Wroxeter by a Christian man called Vinisius to a Christian woman called Nigra, and was claimed as the first epigraphic record of Christianity in Britain. However, this translation of the letter was apparently based on grave paleographical errors, and the text, in fact, has nothing to do with Christianity, and in fact relates to pagan rituals.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Britain#Religion_2

While this may not seem related to our discussion of early Christmas traditions, it is important to know some of the early history of the land in order to better understand how the various beliefs and traditions came to merge together and become what we observe and practice today. It is of course, extremely important to any time traveler who might find themselves in such an earlier time period either by choice… or as the result of any miscalculation or error in the time travel mechanism! While Crag na dun Time Travel has perfected it’s travel, there is always the slight chance of malfunction resulting in a misplacement in time. In these rare cases, Crag na dun Travel will offer full refund and reimbursement upon your return. Please keep some receipt of travel to the time period as your proof of error on their part! Now, back to our discussion…

During the Roman occupation of the British Isles, they most likely left traces of their own midwinter celebrations. Their occupation of the area lasted for some time, from about 45Ad to the late 5th century.  Over those centuries, they made the transition from paganism to Christianity but many still practices and observed their Pagan festivals even after turning to Christianity. One such festival was that of Saturnalia.

Saturnalia

Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honor of the deity Saturn, held on the 17th of December of the Julian calendar and later expanded with festivities through to the 23rd of December. The holiday was celebrated with a sacrifice at the Temple of Saturn, in the Roman Forum, and a public banquet, followed by private gift-giving, continual partying, and a carnival atmosphere that overturned Roman social norms: gambling was permitted, and masters provided table service for their slaves. The poet Catullus called it “the best of days.”

In Roman mythology, Saturn was an agricultural deity who was said to have reigned over the world in the Golden Age, when humans enjoyed the spontaneous bounty of the earth without labor in a state of social egalitarianism. The revelries of Saturnalia were supposed to reflect the conditions of the lost mythical age, not all of them desirable. The Greek equivalent was the Kronia.

Although probably the best-known Roman holiday, Saturnalia as a whole is not described from beginning to end in any single ancient source. Modern understanding of the festival is pieced together from several accounts dealing with various aspects.  The Saturnalia was the dramatic setting of the multivolume work of that name by Macrobius, a Latin writer from late antiquity who is the major source for information about the holiday. In one of the interpretations in Macrobius’s work, Saturnalia is a festival of light leading to the winter solstice, with the abundant presence of candles symbolizing the quest for knowledge and truth.  The renewal of light and the coming of the new year was celebrated in the later Roman Empire at the Dies Natalis of Sol Invictus, the “Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun,” on December 25.

The popularity of Saturnalia continued into the third and fourth centuries AD, and as the Roman Empire came under Christian rule, some of its customs have influenced the seasonal celebrations surrounding Christmas and the New Year.

The poet Catullus describes Saturnalia as the best of days. It was a time of celebration, visits to friends, and gift-giving, particularly of wax candles (cerei), and earthenware figurines (sigillaria). The best part of the Saturnalia (for slaves) was the temporary reversal of roles. Masters served meals to their slaves who were permitted the unaccustomed luxuries of leisure and gambling. Clothing was relaxed and included the peaked woollen cap that symbolized the freed slave, which looks an awful lot like Santa Claus’s peaked red hat . A member of the familia (family plus slaves) was appointed Saturnalicius princeps, roughly, Lord of Misrule.

So, the tradition of Saturnalia left us with gift giving, candles, Santa’s red hat… and the Lord of Misrule!

 

Lord of Misrule

In England, the Lord of Misrule — known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots — was an officer appointed by lot at Christmas to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying, in the pagan tradition of Saturnalia.

The Church held a similar festival involving a Boy Bishop. This custom was abolished by Henry VIII in 1541, restored by the Catholic Queen Mary I and again abolished by Protestant Elizabeth I, though here and there it lingered on for some time longer.[1] On the Continent it was suppressed by the Council of Basle in 1431, but was revived in some places from time to time, even as late as the eighteenth century.

 

In the spirit of misrule, identified by the grinning masks in the corners, medieval floor tiles from the Derby Black Friary show a triumphant hunting hare mounted on a dog.

While mostly known as a British holiday custom, the appointment of a Lord of Misrule comes from antiquity. In ancient Rome, from the 17th to the 23rd of December, a Lord of Misrule was appointed for the feast of Saturnalia, in the guise of the good god Saturn. During this time the ordinary rules of life were subverted as masters served their slaves, and the offices of state were held by slaves. The Lord of Misrule presided over all of this, and had the power to command anyone to do anything during the holiday period. This holiday seems to be the precursor to the more modern holiday, and it carried over into the Christian era.

In the Tudor period the Lord of Misrule is mentioned a number of times by contemporary documents referring to both revels at court and among the ordinary people.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_of_Misrule

 

Boxing Day

In addition to the already listed contributions, the Romans were also responsible for the eventual tradition and holiday of Boxing Day, which is celebrated throughout the British Isles.

The exact etymology of the term “boxing day” is unclear. There are several competing theories, none of which is definitive.  The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in places of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen, which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.

In Britain, it was a custom for tradespeople to collect “Christmas boxes” of money or presents on the first weekday after Christmas as thanks for good service throughout the year.This is mentioned in Samuel Pepys‘ diary entry for 19 December 1663.  This custom is linked to an older English tradition: since they would have to wait on their masters on Christmas Day, the servants of the wealthy were allowed the next day to visit their families. The employers would give each servant a box to take home containing gifts and bonuses, and maybe sometimes leftover food.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxing_Day

 

Anglo-saxon  period, traditions and beliefs

The Romans left the British Isles around the end of the 5th century and were replaced by the Angles/ Saxon invasion and migration into the area. They arrived during the 5th century and remained a dominant force until 1066 and William the Conqueror took over the land.

The Anglo-Saxons were a people who inhabited Great Britain from the 5th century. They included people from Germanic tribes who migrated to the island from continental Europe, and their descendants; as well as indigenous British groups who adopted some aspects of Anglo-Saxon culture and language. The Anglo-Saxon period denotes the period of British history between about 450 and 1066, after their initial settlement, and up until the Norman conquest.

The Anglo-Saxon period includes the creation of an English nation, with many of the aspects that survive today including regional government of shires and hundreds; the re-establishment of Christianity; a flowering in literature and language; and the establishment of charters and law. The term Anglo-Saxon is also popularly used for the language, in scholarly use more usually called Old English, that was spoken and written by the Anglo-Saxons in England and eastern Scotland between at least the mid-5th century and the mid-12th century.

The history of the Anglo-Saxons is the history of a cultural identity, and how this developed from divergent groups, grew with the adoption of Christianity, was used in the establishment of various kingdoms, and, in the face of a threat from Danish settlers, re-established itself as one identity until after the Norman Conquest.  The outward appearance of Anglo-Saxon culture can be seen in the material culture of buildings, dress styles, illuminated texts and grave goods. Behind the symbolic nature of these cultural emblems there are strong elements of tribal and lordship ties, and an elite that became kings who developed burhs, and saw themselves and their people in Biblical terms. Above all, as Helena Hamerow has observed, “local and extended kin groups remained…the essential unit of production throughout the Anglo-Saxon period”.

Use of the term Anglo-Saxon assumes that the words Angles, Saxons or Anglo-Saxon have the same meaning in all the sources. Assigning ethnic labels such as “Anglo-Saxon” is fraught with difficulties, and the term itself only began to be used in the 8th century to distinguish “Germanic” groups in Britain from those on the continent.  Catherine Hills summarised the views of many modern scholars that attitudes towards Anglo-Saxon and hence the interpretation of their culture and history has been “more contingent on contemporary political and religious theology as on any kind of evidence.”

The history of the Saxons is far too in depth and extensive to delve into here and does not pertain all that much to our discussion of early Christmas traditions and beliefs. The most important thing to keep in mind and consider is that they were made of a variety of northern Germanic tribes. While some of these tribes were early converts to Christianity, many of them were not and brought with them their more Norse beliefs.

800px-Anglo_Saxon_migration_5th_cen

Many of the early Saxons had similar beliefs to the later Viking invaders, though as time passed they became the minority and were eventually over taken by those who had converted to Christianity.

For a more detailed and in depth look at these early Saxons, their struggle to hold on to their old ways and their eventual demise under the Christian influence, I would highly suggest you read this series of books by Octavia Randolph. I suggest here mainly because she deals with the early Saxon beliefs and how closely they were connected to the Norse/Vikings beliefs of the time. She also has excellent descriptions of some of their traditions and celebrations! It is a series of four books that tell a young woman’s journey through the Viking conquests of early England and then her life in the northern lands of  Danemark, and Gotland.

circle of ceridwen1

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23123223-the-circle-of-ceridwen

In Circle of Ceridwen, Octavia Randolph discusses in great detail, the Saxon belief in Woden and  it’s close connection to the Viking belief in Odin.

 

 

Woden in Anglo-Saxon England

“If a West Saxon farmer in pagan times had walked out of his bury or ton above the Vale of Pewsey some autumn day, and looking up to the hills had caught sight of a bearded stranger seeming in long cloak larger than life as he stalked the skyline through the low cloud; and if they had met at the gallows by the cross-roads where a body still dangled; and if the farmer had noticed the old wanderer glancing up from under a shadowy hood or floppy brimmed hat with a gleam of recognition out of his one piercing eye as though acclaimed a more than ordinary interest, a positive interest, in the corpse;… and if all this had induced in the beholder a feeling of awe; then he would have been justified in believing that he was in the presence of Woden tramping the world of men over his own Wansdyke.”

Anglo-Saxon polytheism reached Great Britain during the 5th and 6th centuries with the Anglo-Saxon migration, and persisted until the completion of the Christianization of England by the 8th or 9th century.

For the Anglo-Saxons, Woden was the psychopomp or carrier of the dead,  but not necessarily with the same attributes as the Norse Odin. There has been some doubt as to whether the early English shared the Norse concepts of Valkyries and Valhalla. The Sermo Lupi ad Anglos refers to the wælcyrian “valkyries”, but the term appears to have been a loan from Old Norse; in the text, it is used to mean “(human) sorceress”.

The Christian writer of the Maxims found in the Exeter Book (341, 28) records the verse Wôden worhte weos, wuldor alwealda rûme roderas (“Woden wrought the (heathen) altars / the almighty Lord the wide heavens”). The name of such Wôdenes weohas (Saxon Wôdanes with, Norse Oðins ve) or sanctuaries to Woden survives in toponymy as Odinsvi, Wodeneswegs.

Royal genealogy

Woden listed as an ancestor of Ælfwald of East Anglia in the Textus Roffensis (12th century).

As the Christianisation of England took place, Woden was euhemerised as an important historical king  and was believed to be the progenitor of numerous Anglo-Saxon royal houses.

Discussing the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain, Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People (completed in or before 731) writes that:

The two first commanders are said to have been Hengist and Horsa … They were the sons of Victgilsus, whose father was Vecta, son of Woden; from whose stock the royal race of many provinces deduce their original.

The Historia Brittonum, composed around 830,  presents a similar genealogy and additionally lists Woden as a descendent of Godwulf,  who likewise in Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda is said to be an ancestor of “Vóden, whom we call Odin“.

According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, composed during the reign of Alfred the Great,  Woden was the father of Wecta, Beldeg, Wihtgils and Wihtlaeg  and was therefore an ancestor of the Kings of Wessex, Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia. As in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, a history of early Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain incorporating Woden as an ancestor of Hengist and Horsa is given:

These men came from three tribes of Germany: from the Old Saxons, from the Angles, and from the Jutes … their commanders were two brothers, Hengest and Horsa, that were the sons of Wihtgils. Wihtgils was Witta’s offspring, Witta Wecta’s offspring, Wecta Woden’s offspring. From that Woden originated all our royal family …

Descent from Woden appears to have been an important concept in Early Medieval England. According to N. J. Higham, claiming Woden as an ancestor had by the 8th century become an essential way to establish royal authority. Richard North (1997) similarly believes that “no king by the late seventh century could do without the status that descent from Woden entailed.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W%C5%8Dden

Pre-cursor to Santa Claus

The reason that Woden and Odin become important in our discussion of Christmas is that they are both considered pre-cursors to Father Christmas and Santa Claus!

Throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern period, Woden persisted as a figure in folklore and folk religion, notably as the leader of the Wild Hunt found in English, German, Swiss, and Scandinavian traditions.

Woden is thought to be the precursor of the English Father Christmas, or Father Winter, and the American Santa Claus.

A celebrated late attestation of invocation of Wodan in Germany dates to 1593, in Mecklenburg, where the formula Wode, Hale dynem Rosse nun Voder “Wodan, fetch now food for your horse” was spoken over the last sheaf of the harvest.  David Franck adds, that at the squires’ mansions, when the rye is all cut, there is Wodel-beer served out to the mowers; no one weeds flax on a Wodenstag, lest Woden’s horse should trample the seeds; from Christmas to Twelfth-day they will not spin, nor leave any flax on the distaff, and to the question why? they answer, Wode is galloping across. We are expressly told, this wild hunter Wode rides a white horse.

A custom in Schaumburg is reported by Jacob Grimm: the people go out to mow in parties of twelve, sixteen, or twenty scythes, but it is managed in such a manner that, on the last day of harvest, they are all finished at the same time, or some leave a strip that they can cut down at a stroke, or they merely pass their scythes over the stubble, pretending that there is still some left to mow. At the last strokes of their scythes, they raise their implements aloft, plant them upright, and beat the blades three times with their strops. Each spills on the field a little of his drink—whether beer, brandy, or milk—then drinks it himself, while they wave their hats, beat their scythes three times, and cry aloud Wôld, Wôld, Wôld!. The women knock all of the crumbs out of their baskets onto the stubble. They march home shouting and singing. If the ceremony was omitted, the hay and corn crops would be bad in the following year. The first verse of the song is quoted by Grimm,

„Wôld, Wôld, Wôld!
Hävens wei wat schüt,
jümm hei dal van Häven süt.
Vulle Kruken un Sangen hät hei,
upen Holte wässt manigerlei:
hei is nig barn un wert nig old.
Wôld, Wôld, Wôld! “

“Wôld, Wôld, Wôld”!
Heaven’s giant knows what happens,
He, looking down from heaven,
Providing full jugs and sheaves.
Many a plant grows in the woods.
He is not born and grows not old.

“Wôld, Wôld, Wôld”!

 

Wodan_heilt_Balders_Pferd_by_Emil_Doepler wodin saxon god wodin

 

As the Saxons became Christians, their beliefs in the old Gods and old ways were considered Pagan by the Church. It was a constant struggle  for the Church to eliminate the Pagan beliefs and traditions so they began to incorporate the Pagan beliefs into their preaching as a way to draw the people in. This took place from the beginnings of the Church as an organized powerful and political force. No matter how they tried though, they were unable to get people to give up many of their long held traditions and celebrations of the mid-winter Solstice.  Their earliest means of  incorporating the mid-winter Solstice was to set the birth of Jesus at the same time, referring to him and the event as the “Sun of Righteousness”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas

The Saxons became Christians and the lower portions of the British Isles were  settled into small separate  kingdoms and territories ruled by newly Christian overlords who fought amongst themselves for power and control but  generally followed the laws of the Church, which held most of the power at the time. If they still practiced or observed Pagan traditions, they did it privately.

The arrival of the Norse Vikings brought back old ways, beliefs and traditions.

It is important to note here that the Saxon migration, as well as the later Viking migration only applies to the lower portion of the British Isles. Scotland was not really involved in this restructuring of the land and was dealing with it’s own changing dynamics. As I have previously mentioned, there was already a Norse migration and influence on the Northern portions of Scotland, the Church was also making it’s way into converting the Scottish lands, and there was what might be considered as a form of genocide of the remaining Druids and Picts of the areas. Little remains of either culture to determine what their traditions or beliefs might have entailed.  what we can note here is that the inhabitants of the Highland areas had a clan or tribal system that might be similar to those of Germanic or Norse tribal or clan systems.

For a better feel and sense of what was taking place in the northern areas of Scotland during these early times, I would suggest reading

 

For our purposes, we are focusing on the beliefs and traditions that we can more easily trace back to their original roots.

 Maggie Griggs makes the trip back in time in Veil of Time  by Claire R. McDougall.

Veil of Time

A compelling tale of two Scotlands-one modern, one ancient-and the woman who parts the veil between them.

The medication that treats Maggie’s seizures leaves her in a haze, but it can’t dull her grief at losing her daughter to the same condition. With her marriage dissolved and her son away at school, Maggie retreats to a cottage below the ruins of Dunadd, once the royal seat of Scotland. But is it fantasy or reality when she awakens in a bustling village within the massive walls of eighth-century Dunadd? In a time and place so strange yet somehow familiar, Maggie is drawn to the striking, somber Fergus, brother of the king and father of Illa, who bears a keen resemblance to Maggie’s late daughter. With each dreamlike journey to the past, Maggie grows closer to Fergus and embraces the possibility of staying in this Dunadd. But with present-day demands calling her back, can Maggie leave behind the Scottish prince who dubs her mo chridhe, my heart?

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18144050-veil-of-time

Now, while the area of Dunnad and Kilmartin are filled with ancient Stone circles and Standing Stones, Maggie did not make use of them for her trip through time. They were an integral part or mechanism for her travel though as she had not experienced the time travel previously to her visit to Dunadd as an adult.  Also, the Druidess priestess and others she met in the past seemed to feel that the Stones were responsible for her travel as well as for any number of other events. Maggie was suffering from a number of traumatic events in life and decided to spend some time by herself in an isolated cottage at the base of the Dunnad hill fort.  She is working on her doctoral thesis- on the history of Witchcraft in Scotland and trying to finish it before facing a life altering and possible mind altering major operation to cure her of her epileptic seizures. It seems that the combination of the seizures and what ever mystical properties might be at this area are initially the trigger to send her back through time to the year 735 when Dunnad was at the height of it’s importance in history.

The book gives a very good description and visualization of  Mid-winter solstice celebrations as they might have taken place during that time! It also references the Druidic influences and Pict representation in that area and time.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/?s=veil+of+time

 

In our next segment, we will explore what happens when the Saxons of England face their past and their future with the arrival of the Norse Vikings who bring with them the old beliefs and traditions once more.

 

Settled Christian Saxons face their past and their future with arrival of Vikings

King Ecgbert of Wessex

King Ecgbert of Wessex