Hreda

Old English Modern English
Name Hreda/Hreþe/Hreþa?
Pronunciation /ˈhredɑ/, /ˈhreðe/, /ˈhreðɑ/?

She is mentioned solely in chapter 15 of Bede’s De temporum ratione as having a month dedicated to her that is analogous to March and that:

Rhed-monath a Dea illorum Rheda, cui in illo sacrificabant, nominatur

Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time

The name of this goddess is thoroughly resistant to interpretation. Commonly it is stated that her name is related to Old English hrēþ “glory, fame, triumph, honour”1Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, hrēþ, or perhaps its probable derivative hrēþan “to rejoice”, as stated by Grimm more than a century ago.2Grimm, Teutonic Mythology Shaw, however, rejects this on etymological grounds, as the vowel stems from an i-mutated /oː/ originally, which would have been written as <oi> or <oe> in Bede’s dialect.3Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 79–80

Shaw also rejects hrēod “reed”4Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 74–75hreþa “mantle”5Another meaning is “goatskin garment”, but Shaw feels that this is likely an incorrect meaning. 6Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 75–78, and (h)rēþe “fierce, cruel, savage, rough”.7Shaw feels that the initial <r> spelling is likelier the original, with the <hr> spelling being the result of analogical influence. 8Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 78–79

Shaw spends a great deal of time analysing hræd “quick”, which alternated with hred in west Mercian due to the Second Fronting causing /æ/ to raise to /e/. He briefly posits that a feminine derivation of hræd with i/j forming the end of the stem could cause this as well, but discounts it because this usually causes a doubling of the final consonant.9Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 80–82 Complicating this is that hreþ also appears as a name element, which is an i-mutated form of the more common element hroþ; names alternated fairly commonly between i-mutated and unmutated forms. Both the adjective and the name element are, however, related in some manner.10Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 84–86

An additional complication is that the Goths were called Hreþgotan in Widsith and Elene, rather than the usual Gotan. It is notable that this is similar to Reiðgotar mentioned in Vafþrúðnismál, but the alliterative metre of the line requires that it be Hreiðgotar instead.11Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 86–92

Shaw writes:12Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pg. 92

There is, then, the possibility that the name Hreda is etymologically connected with an element used in forming personal and group names[.] If this is the case, it is connected with an element of obscure meaning and origins. On the other hand, it is equally possible that Hreda is to be connected with the adjective hræd “quick” and/or the related personal name element. […] We have suggested above that Eostre is probably a deity associated with a specific group or area, and the fact that Hreda can plausibly be connected with a personal name element—and perhaps with a personal name element that also appears as part of a group name—indicates that her cult may well have been similarly defined.

He continues later:13Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 96–97

It is noteworthy, however, that these etymologies both relate to terms used in forming personal names, and in one case to a term employed in group naming as well as personal naming. If Hreda’s name is indeed related to a term employed as an ethnic designation, she, along with Eostre, can be seen as part of a broader pattern of deities and ancestor figures whose names connect with social groupings. […]

Hreda, as ever, is an awkward case. While we might see her as deriving her name from some function related to notions of speed, the patterns noted above suggest that we should at least take seriously the possibility that her name draws on personal or group naming. We might see her as simply relating to a personal name element, perhaps implying that she was originally connected with a family who used that element in forming their own names. This would be consonant with some of the Romano-Germanic evidence that suggests overlap between human and divine name elements. […] The possible connections between Hreda and a name applied to the Goths in Old English and Old Norse, however, suggest another possibility: Hreda could relate to a group name. That the group name in question is usually applied to the Goths is clearly troubling, but it is a name that appears to have formed part of English and Scandinavian traditions of the Goths. It is possible that this name element was employed in forming personal and/or group names closer to home, as well as becoming attached to narratives about the Goths.

While we may reject the commonly held notion that this goddess was “the famous one” or “the victorious one”, it remains somewhat unclear what she was exactly otherwise.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, hrēþ
2. Grimm, Teutonic Mythology
3. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 79–80
4. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 74–75
5. Another meaning is “goatskin garment”, but Shaw feels that this is likely an incorrect meaning.
6. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 75–78
7. Shaw feels that the initial <r> spelling is likelier the original, with the <hr> spelling being the result of analogical influence.
8. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 78–79
9. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 80–82
10. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 84–86
11. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 86–92
12. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pg. 92
13. Philip A. Shaw, Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World (2011) pp. 96–97