Blōstmfrēols and Blōstmgield

A few weeks ago Marc wrote about Blōstmfrēols, which appears in Old English as a gloss for Latin Floralia, in “Blōstmfrēols: A Distinct Fyrnsidu Holiday” (archive). It’s a good post. Do read it.

It’s awkward to admit that I’ve encountered the name before and found it interesting, only to leave it buried in my old notes and then forgetting about it entirely. Good job, past me; you dropped the ball.

Nonetheless, I don’t have anything particularly insightful to add about Marc’s post, as he did a thorough job. But let’s once again dive into the language itself because why not?

In both Blōstmfrēols and its apparent alternative Blōstmgield1This actually appears as Blōstmgeld and Blōstmgild in extant texts, but in standardised West Saxon it would be –gield. the lead word is plainly blōstma or blōstm “blossom”.2Ultimately which form appears in the compound means exactly nothing. And, one way or another, either becomes blossom through regular sound changes down the line.

In Blōstmfrēols, the second word in the compound, frēols, is actually really interesting. It is a contracted compound of frēo “free” and heals “neck”. Specifically as a masculine noun, it has various meanings3David A. E. Pelteret, Slavery in Early Mediaeval England pp. 282–283:

  1. Freedom, that is, the legal condition of personal freedom from slavery. This meaning only appears in two extant texts: the Laws of Wihtred and a manumission document.
  2. Freedom from dues payable to an overlord and/or freedom to exercise rights without being subject to the control of another.
  3. A charter granting the freedom described in 2.
  4. A feast day. “Whereas the Latin diēs fēstīvālis drew on the concept of feasting, the Old English word employed that of freedom, presumably freedom from labour.” This meaning is very active in compounds.

This word has no modern descendant, though we still have both its components in free and halse “neck, throat”4Compare with Modern High German Hals “neck, throat”., the latter of which is archaic today.

In Blōstmgield, the second word in the compound, gield, is fairly common. It may also appear as gildgeld, and gyld. It means “service, offering, worship, sacrifice; tax, tribute, compensation; guild, brotherhood; Heathen god, idol”. This becomes yield and, with influence from Old Norse, guild in Modern English.

Like Marc, I feel that this is an important name to use in place of, say, May Day, which is both rather generic and partially foreign in its name.5Or shall I call it instead fremd or literally outlandish? Linguistic purity is an interesting topic to me and something that I support, but obviously there are limits in my public postings. But we have our issues in bringing it into Modern English. Sure, we could use the Old English forms, as is all too common already, but how many people will actually pronounce the words correctly? Few at best, I would venture. We run into difficulty, though.

Frēols is a problem in itself. It does not survive into Modern English one way or another. Through regular sound change this would become *freels, but a modern speaker cannot parse this at all. Perhaps that’s not an issue. Religious terminology is naturally conservative, after all.

Gieldyield is convenient, but the exact meaning is lacking nowadays. In its obsolete modern sense, it does mean “payment, tribute.” This is not precisely the same meaning used in Old English, but it is still appropriate in its own way. Do ut des, after all. It does bring about an interesting idea regarding a quantity of something, a high yield of blossoms. This is appropriate and something in our interest, especially in these days of dying bee colonies.

Having a modern holiday of Blossom Freels or Blossomfreels is possible, but I find the lack of comprehension an issue. I propose that Blossomyield is an entirely worthwhile form for the modern holiday that can be parsed by modern speakers to some degree. It is definitely something that I should start using, especially with the appropriate time being so soon.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This actually appears as Blōstmgeld and Blōstmgild in extant texts, but in standardised West Saxon it would be –gield.
2. Ultimately which form appears in the compound means exactly nothing. And, one way or another, either becomes blossom through regular sound changes down the line.
3. David A. E. Pelteret, Slavery in Early Mediaeval England pp. 282–283
4. Compare with Modern High German Hals “neck, throat”.
5. Or shall I call it instead fremd or literally outlandish? Linguistic purity is an interesting topic to me and something that I support, but obviously there are limits in my public postings.

Yule

Yule is fast approaching (or is already upon us, depending on your calendar) and I might as well post my plans, such as they are.

Mothers’ Night is on Monday, 21 December, though others are doing it on Sunday, varying based on what one considers the day before the solstice at that point. For me the solstice is approximately at 11:49 PM on Monday, a level of precision that did not exist historically.

The house will be thoroughly cleaned and organised before then. I’m planning on a large meal with my husband; this will involve something with ham, but I’m hardly the cook in the relationship. A full plate will be left out for the Mothers and later placed outdoors. I will give other offerings throughout the night and share stories about my female relatives, all of whom outside the immediate family having passed on.

In the morning, I will blōt to Sun.

It will then be a little quieter for a couple of days with fairly minimal celebration. On 24 December my husband and I will be joining my family for Yule. The night is usually filled with poorly made movies and sparkling cider, as is traditional for us.

On 25 December it will be like most other families celebrating Christmas, despite the sheer lack of Christians in the immediate family. Gifts will be exchanged early in the morning. Snacks will be eaten in large quantities. There is a good chance that a small fire will be burning in the backyard eventually. Later we will have our “dinner”, which, despite its name, is actually just a slightly late lunch and will involve very large dumplings, pie, turkey, ham, and more.

Further partying resumes shortly thereafter with the birthdays of two friends, which I use to share greatly with numerous people whom I don’t often see in one place.

New Year’s Eve will be the last of the major celebrations for me. I will be spending my time with friends farther north and sharing what I can with them.

On the night of 5 January I will be wassailing. If I can find an orchard nearby doing this, I’ll likely attend that. Failing this, I’ll return to my parents’ property and try to coax the lone apple tree to have a harvest later at all, let alone a good one.

Throughout this time I will be leaving offerings of milk and cream to the cofgodas and other wights.

Depending on when snowfall finally happens, I will at some point be making offerings to the Charles River in the hope that flooding will not happen. The flooding of previous years caused a lot of damage to the surrounding plants and habitat, not to mention threatening the bridge that I cross quite often. I would rather not have that happen again.

For the sake of completeness, here are some things that three others have previously said about their Yule plans on /r/asatru.

/u/ceetsie said in the a comment that sadly can’t be embedded:

First, my wife and I are going to stay up from dusk til dawn on the first night of Yule, with a bonfire, food, drink, stories and just spending time with each other. In the middle of the night, we’ll be doing a blot to Odin, the wights, and our ancestors. And when the sun rises, a second blot, for Sunna and our ancestors.

While the following is largely in regards to happenings a few months ago, it does reach its conclusion in a few short weeks:

All of these contain some good ideas that may make their way into my practices here and there. It’s a delight to hear about what others do if only for the sake of comparison and the Yuletide always brings out people willing to share.

Holidays and Calendars

I enjoy reading people’s lists of holidays. Some are very simple, like mine, while others are stunningly complex and may even require a different calendar system in order to calculate dates. But most people’s lists come from publications of  the Asatru Free Assembly or The Troth, whether they know it or not, and these lists are often ahistorical.

The AFA’s original list was relatively simple, as it was based on the Wiccan Wheel of the Year:

  • Yule — 21 December
  • Charming of the Plough — 2 February
  • Summer Finding — 21/25 March
  • May Day — 1 May
  • Midsummer — 21 June
  • Freyfaxi — 1 August
  • Winter Finding — 21/29 September
  • Winter Nights — 31 October

The Troth’s Our Troth (2006) has a longer list:

  • Yule — winter solstice
  • Þorrablót — late January to early February
  • Disting — late February to early March
  • Remembrance for Eyvindr kinnrifi — 9 February
  • Feast of Váli — Valentine’s Day
  • Ragnar Lodbrok’s Day — 28 March
  • Remembrance for Haakon Sigurdsson — 9 April
  • Ostara/Sigrblót — April
  • Remembrance for Guðröðr of Guðbrandsdál — 9 May
  • Einherjar Day — Memorial Day
  • Remembrance for Sigurd — 9 June
  • Midsummer — summer solstice
  • Remembrance for Unnr the Deep-Minded — 9 July
  • Lammas/Freyfaxi — 1 August
  • Remembrance for Radbod, King of the Frisians — 9 August
  • Remembrance for Herman the Cheruscan — 9 September
  • Remembrance for Leif Ericson and his sister — Columbus Day
  • Winter Nights — mid October
  • Remembrance for Erik the Red — 28 October
  • Remembrance for Sigrid the Haughty — 9 November
  • Wayland the Smith’s Day — Thanksgiving
  • Remembrance for Egill Skallagrímsson — 9 December

This was hardly the first version. Stephan Grundy’s Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs & Practices of the Northern Tradition (1993) had a similar list:

  • Yule — 20 December to 1 January
  • Remembrance for Raud the Strong — 9 January
  • Feast of Thunar — full or new moon of January
  • Remembrance for Eyvindr kinnrifi — 9 February
  • Feast of Váli — Valentine’s Day
  • Charming of the Plough — new moon of February
  • Eostre — near the Spring Equinox
  • Ragnar Lodbrok’s Day — 28 March
  • Walpurgisnight — 30 April
  • May Day — 1 May
  • Einherjar Day — Memorial Day
  • Remembrance for Sigurdhr the Völsung — 9 June
  • Midsummer — solstice
  • Remembrance for Unnr the Deep-Minded — 9 July
  • Death of Olafr the Lawbreaker — 29 July
  • Loaf-Fest — 1 August
  • Radbod’s Day — 9 August
  • Remembrance for Herman the Cheruscan — 9 September
  • Winternights — near the Autumnal Equinox
  • Remembrance for Leif Ericsson and his sister — Columbus Day
  • Remembrance for Erik the Red — 28 October
  • Remembrance for Sigrid the Haughty — 9 November
  • Wayland Smith Day — Thanksgiving
  • Remembrance for Egill Skallagrímsson — 9 December

Still others have a “Feast of the Einherjar” or a “Feast of the Fallen” on Veterans Day. And let’s not get into the Asatru Alliance’s list of holidays, which is largely plagiarised with a splash of self-congratulatory nonsense and a lot of funny names.

With a start in the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, there’s been little hope to see the US organisations admit to the error of their ways. All of them are trapped in cults of personality that don’t permit them to say that they made mistakes. To do so would dispel the public image that they’ve worked so hard to create over the decades.

The Troth’s beloved remembrances are silly at best. I’ve seen few of them ever actually practiced, though lots of people like to have them listed in order to show their piety. And I’ll never understand why they’re largely placed on the ninth of a month. If there was ever a reason for that, I’ve missed it or it’s been lost to the sands of time. I would almost bet that there was some numerological meaning behind that with no basis in Germanic polytheism, as the early days were filled with people interested in magical numbers and hidden meanings.

The glossing of US holidays is hilariously bad. These holidays already have meanings, even if one doesn’t care about them. The Feast of Váli? That’s not Valentine’s Day at all. Grundy says that it’s folk etymology, but it’s not. He clearly doesn’t understand that term. Stuff for Leifr Eiríksson and his sister, who is oddly never named in these lists? I get the idea behind putting it on Columbus Day, but it’s foolish. Americans are mildly obsessed with Columbus and they don’t even understand the history surrounding him, let alone where he actually sailed. Finally, Grundy openly says that he doesn’t know why Wayland Smith Day is magically on Thanksgiving, so why do some do it at all then?

I’ll never get over the idea of having “Feast of the Einherjar” placed specifically on a holiday about veterans, dead or alive. That creation was definitely a mixup with Memorial Day and thus why there’s a similarly named event on that holiday. How that persists is beyond me.

I find “Charming of the Plough” to be woefully misguided. It’s definitely an attempt to bring Plough Monday into Heathenry, although a month later than traditionally celebrated. But many places are not like England. Many places are frozen solid still, so the agricultural year can’t start by any means. Here in New England I laugh at the idea of doing any meaningful outdoor work in February, let alone January. But my main contention is simple: most people aren’t farmers these days. Why have an agricultural holiday when you have no relation to the event at all? People celebrated things that mattered to them. In the past, everyone was involved in farming in some way. That’s hardly so nowadays! Most can’t even describe what a crop rotation is or how soil drainage is important for some species, so why bother? It’s a hollow gesture.

Equally problematic is the fact that these calendars are a mixture of cultures. These events were not all celebrated side by side. Lammas did not happen seven months or so after Þorrablót, as Lammas (< Old English hlāfmæsse “loaf-mass”; mæsse < Vulgar Latin *messa < Late Latin missa “mass; Christian eucharistic liturgy” < Latin mittere “to send, announce, yield”) is attested in Anglo-Saxon England onward, while Þorrablót was first mentioned in extant records in the early thirteenth century, didn’t come to its current popularity until the late nineteenth century, and is in Iceland.

These calendars are also invariable for the most part. For a bit in the ’90s people were realising that setting exact dates for things that don’t have exact dates didn’t especially make sense. It seems that the last decade has seen people reverting to rigid dates again. It causes them to celebrate things that have no bearing. Midsummer isn’t on the same day every year, after all. Equinoxes move around. Seasons aren’t precisely the same everywhere. Why are people celebrating Winter Finding at the end of September in subtropical regions? Worse yet, why do people celebrate Yule in the middle of the Summer in the Southern Hemisphere?

Modern people forget a key fact about the past: people were often very pragmatic. If it didn’t matter, it was far less likely to be done. We’re accustomed to having edicts from far away officials who decide legal holidays for us. Our ancestors didn’t especially have that and were far more localised. This is exactly why we encounter such variation in relatively small areas. One village did one thing, while the neighbouring village did something potentially very different. Priorities and interests varied, so outcomes changed.

We’re very dogmatic about how things should be done. We want everything to line up neatly, even when evidence says otherwise. It’s important that we adapt and accept that we have differing needs and cares. I don’t farm, so I don’t do farming rituals. I do, however, value my female ancestors, so Mothers’ Night is celebrated every December as Yule begins.

Don’t blindly accept what some person far away pushes onto you. Learn your heritage. Find out what your ancestors considered important and see where there’s overlap in your life. Research locally important dates. We don’t need to be fully unified in our holidays; doing so would erase what matters to us and our kin. And, if you really want to make a new holiday entirely, go ahead, but admit to it and make it something meaningful because it matters, not because a poorly written book without citations says so.