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

Today 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.

Leave a Reply