Commentary on Jon S. Mackley’s “The Anglo-Saxons — and their gods (still) among us”

Today Medievalists.net posted a link to Jon S. Mackley’s The Anglo-Saxons — and their gods (still) among us. I’m always excited to read what people have written about Anglo-Saxon culture, but I’m distinctly disappointed by this article. It started out well enough, but went downhill quickly after that.

My biggest complaint stems from the fact that Mr. Mackley conflates cultures and languages. Right on the fourth page he cites Lughnasadh as a Saxon holiday that became known as Hlāfmæsse, later Lammas. Not only is this just wrong, but then he worsens the situation by saying that the name became Lammas because of an association with lambs. Such a theory was advanced historically, but it’s been thoroughly disproven and only sound changes gave us Lammas, not folk etymology.

But that isn’t the only place where he doesn’t understand etymology or even spelling.

  • He says that the word for harvest is “hær[ƀ]fest”. <ƀ> does not exist in Old English and the word was simply hærfest.
  • Wōden is consistently written as Woðen.
  • He claims on the ninth page that Tīw comes from Old Norse Týr, but then immediately after says that this comes from Proto-Germanic *Tîwaz. (Even this is incorrect, as it’s *Tīwaz.) A page later Týr is now suddenly spelled Tir.
  • He proposes that Dienstag “Tuesday” may derive from an abbreviation of “O-Dienstag”, referring presumably to Óðinn then. This fails to take into account the local spelling for that god—Wodan—and is in no way attested anyway. He then says that it may be a corruption of Ziestag, which is used in other German-speaking areas. The currently accepted etymology is from a variation of ding “thing, assembly”.
  • Without proper citation, he mentions that Þunor may be from the Celtic “Jupiter Tanarus”. Such a name strikes me being purely Roman or, at best, Romano-Celtic, as the Celts wouldn’t have referred to a god by such a manner. And it ignores the thoroughly settled etymology for þunor “thunder”.
  • Marking of vowel length and accents are largely absent.

He doesn’t know when he’s mixing cultures or making very silly mistakes, like in the aforementioned Lughnasadh nonsense.

  • Yule is celebrated, yes, but then he goes on to say that the Saxons celebrated Jólnir, a byname for Óðinn, not Wōden. Wrong language and time period.
  • He says that the Saxons had Frigg, who is a Scandinavian goddess. The correct form would be Frīg, which is pronounced [fri:j].
  • Óðinn’s wife is apparently Freyja, which he spells Freya.
  • Frigg is apparently the Saxon Earth Mother. That doesn’t even make sense in any context, considering the attestation of Norse Jǫrð and possibly Anglo-Saxon Folde.
  • Only the Saxons are ever mentioned. Apparently the Angles, Jutes, and Frisians never got involved.

If I were grading this work, it would get a failing mark.

Old English Terms of the Body

It’s undeniable that people in Heathendom like to learn earlier stages of Germanic languages. Typically in the Anglosphere this is Old Norse because of Ásatrú, but outliers do exist. Most, however, want to learn just religious terms, even if that is only a tiny percentage of the overall language. So let’s be contrary and learn about the body in Old English.

The art of medicine is lǣcecræft (masculine). A lǣce (masculine) is a doctor or a physician; a lǣce is also a leech, which was likely assimilated into the first set of meanings by popular etymology. Lācnian is to heal, treat, or cure, while hǣlan is to heal. Doing so probably requires lācnung (“medicine”, feminine), which is possibly a sealf (“salve”, feminine), but all of this might cost lǣcefeoh (“physician’s fee”, neuter). Just be careful of an unlǣce (“unskilled physician”, masculine).

Let’s go over the body now.

Continue reading “Old English Terms of the Body”

Capitalisation

I’m very late to this party, but it has bothered me for a while that people insist on capitalising pagan and paganism. The reasons for it are aggravating at best.

The typical reasoning goes:

Pagan and Paganism are now the well-established chosen self-designations and internationally-recognised nominal identifiers of a defined religious community. The same terms are appropriately lower-case only when they refer to ancient “pagans” since, in that context, the term does not refer to a discrete movement or culture. In short, “Pagan” and “Paganism” now function much as “Jew,” “Judaism,” “Christian,” and “Christianity” do.

But this is wrong. “Pagan” is no more a discrete movement than monotheism collectively. It’s not a single religion in the slightest and some groups—especially us Heathens—want nothing to do with the term often enough, let alone the other religions forced into the label. Rarely do I wish to associate with Wicca, for example.

Worse yet, it’s a term defined what it is not: we’re not a part of an Abrahamic religion. That’s an awful way of defining oneself.

But let’s move on:

Thus contemporary Paganism (sometimes referred to as “Neo-Paganism” to distinguish it from historical pre-Christian folk traditions) should be understood as a revival and reconstruction of ancient nature-based religions, or religious innovation inspired by them, which is adapted for the modern world. Paganism is also called “The Old Religion,” “Ancient Ways,” “Nature Worship,” “Earth-Centered Spirituality,” “Natural Religion,” and “Green Religion.”

Ouch. These other terms are stunningly incorrect. While one could argue that Fyrnsidu is semantically similar to “The Old Religion”, I’ve never used the latter, nor have I ever heard anyone other than Wiccans use it. I am amused that the term is brought up in the same paragraph to mention “religious innovation”, so nothing old in and of itself necessarily.

Donna Bianca sums this whole issue up nicely on a post by Sermons from the Mound:

The word ‘Christian’ refers to one single religion, with many distinct sects or denominations – such as Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, etc. It’s proper and fitting that the name of a specific religion should be capitalized, as well as the names of its various sects or denominations. But we already have that: ‘Wicca’ as one specific religion is capitalized; and so are the various sects of Wicca, such as Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Georgian, Majestic, Cymmry, Stregheria, etc.

But the word ‘pagan’ is an umbrella term – just like monotheist, pantheist, polytheist, mystic, etc. Paganism does not refer to one single religion, like the words Judaism or Wicca or Asatru or Hinduism do.

If someone is advocating the capitalization of the term ‘pagan’ then logically they should also be advocating for the capitalization of words like pantheism and monotheism and many others. There are many umbrella terms out there; where would it all end?

No matter what happens, though, I’ll be stuck seeing people posting comments like the following from Terra Gazelle:

Please capitalize the word Pagan..as you would with the word Christian.

And there’s just no way to fight people like this without derailing conversations. How unfortunate.