Holda

I’m still failing at being a productive Heathen, as my lack of posts shows, but I still do odds and ends in my free time. Nonetheless, as always I’m interested in language. Endlessly.

I’m rather fond of Holda. She’s obviously a little outside the scope of Fyrnsidu (or *Firnsid, if you’re so inclined) in normal practices, but this is an ancestral religion and I’m only half English, the rest being from North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. In many respects, my German heritage is more important than my English heritage, as my German mother made sure that I understood my roots.

I love how many stories exist for her. I love that she has so many associated areas, which I hope to see firsthand one day. There’s just so much and it’s precious to me. Some see her as another version of Frīg/Frigg and I admit that there’s a bit of overlap in functions, but Holda is fully separate in my view.

I don’t, however, do my religious work in German and, as I’ve whined repeatedly in the past, would prefer to do all such work in Modern English. So just calling her Holda is in a way not good enough. Oddly, this doesn’t make too much of a difference, as you’ll see toward the end.

Modern High German Holda is from Proto-Germanic *hulþô “friend, trustee” < *hulþaz “inclined, favourable; gracious, loyal; graceful”. The noun isn’t attested in Old English, but the adjective survived into hold “kind, friendly, pleasant, gracious, faithful, loyal, devoted”. This actually survived into Modern English, but it’s obsolete now. This points us the right direction regardless for later work. We also have the fantastic example of unholda “fiend”. Very, very useful.

A-mutation is the reason why –u– became –o-; it caused a short /u/ or /i/ to be lowered when the following syllable contained as non-high vowel. This is how we got Old English hold from Proto-Germanic *hulþaz (among other sound changes) or, to use a more useful example with a modern version, gold from *gulþą.

Word-final overlong vowels became regular long vowels during the Northwest Germanic period, so we had *-ô > *-ō, which regularly became –a in Old English.

Medial *-– became –ld– regularly in Old English. This is why you have Old English fealdan “fold”, but Gothic falþan, both from Proto-Germanic *falþaną.

Bringing these together, we have a very familiar *Holda. Well, that was roundabout. So we can definitively say what Holda’s name is in Old English. This completely agrees with its aforementioned negated form unholda. Useful, indeed!

From here, nothing much happens. Word-final vowels that are not a part of the core syllable are lost consistently after Old English, so we’re left with Modern English *Hold, giving us a form that is identical with the obsolete adjective.

This is a fair amount of writing for a surprisingly simple outcome, but now I can definitely say that, yes, Holda is simply *Hold in Modern English and I have a proper name to use.