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.

Using Modern Language

I’ve not been nearly as active as I would like to say that I am. Between health issues and work concerns, I’ve not really had time to think about things to post here or, indeed, do actual Heathen things. Even my research has largely ground to a halt. It’s a pity.

Nonetheless, there has been something that interests me considerably lately: the use of language in modern Heathen practices. I’ve written about language a fair amount in the past, such as in one of my most popular posts “When a Cognate Isn’t Cognate” or its sequel “Care with Cognates“. Though never really cited much anywhere, “Modern Gods” will be important here, too.

We’re again seeing a sudden surge in using Old English to define ourselves in these modern times. It warms the cockles of my heart to see people learning and using Old English, but I personally don’t think that sticking with a long gone language is going to help us much now. I am, however, a very strong proponent of Anglish. It’s quite the boon to know our roots and then grow from there.

Since my teens I have been aware of people’s issues with Ásatrú when it comes to forming a noun for a practitioner of such. You’ll mostly see Ásatrúar, but that’s just a genitive form and is incorrect here. But no one wants to use Ásatrúmaður (or –maðr, if you prefer Old Norse) or some sort of odd Icelandic–English hybrid *Ásatrúman, so it just remains a sore point in those circles.

Fyrnsidu hasn’t really faired any better in this regard, but lately it seems that the people behind Lārhūs Fyrnsida are using Fyrnsidere, which is merely the Old English agent suffix –ere (> Modern English –er) being appended to the compound noun. This is a completely logical thing to do and I’ve seen others using it as well. Another possibility would have been *Fyrnsidman, but no one has ever used that evidently.

Both the Ásatrú and the Fyrnsidu examples suffer from the same issue in my mind: they’re not Modern English and that hampers people. I don’t much care for fixing Ásatrú’s internal messes, but let’s play with Fyrnsidu and its derivative:

  • For the prefix fyrn- “ancient, old; formerly”, the /y/ was unrounded in Middle English to /i/, then later made its way to /ɪ/, which tends to be pronounced as /ɝ/ when followed by <r>. That leaves us with *firn– /fɝn/.1This is then a homophone of fern and shares a vowel with fir.
  • Sidu “custom, practice; ritual; morality” had two different routes that it could have gone. Unstressed vowels were reduced to /ə/, spelled <e>, in Middle English, leaving us with side. This is where the split occurs. The unstressed vowel is dropped outright, leaving us with *sid /sɪd/. Occasionally, however, open-syllable lengthening occurs as well, which changes /i/ to /eː/, then later to /iː/ during the Great Vowel Shift.2You can see this in action with Old English wicu > Middle English weke > Modern English week. This leaves us with *seed /siːd/. I prefer the former, though.
  • Old English –ere just becomes Modern English –er, as already mentioned.

So for the religion itself we’re left with *Firnsid /ˈfɝnsɪd/ and for a follower with *Firnsider /ˈfɝnsɪdɚ/.3Those assume no R-dropping. If you’re in England, this is more along the lines of /ˈfɜːnsɪd/ and /ˈfɜːnsɪdə/, respectively. I personally find these forms to be better than using Old English, especially when keeping in mind that most people probably aren’t going to pronounce /y/ correctly anyway.

Truthfully, though, why stop there? Obviously English didn’t stop developing. So why not use *Tew /t(j)uː/ instead of Tīw? Or *Wooden /ˈwʊdən/ instead of Wōden? Easter instead of Ēastre? Sun instead of Sunna? These are easily figured descendants, after all. Conforming to Modern English’s patterns makes for an easier time for everyone, reduces the variety of incorrect pronunciations from people’s failed attempts at dead languages, and keeps our religious terms from sticking out like a sore thumb quite so much. And the joy of not needing to use macrons on everything!

There is honestly a good chance that in the future I’ll just switch over to projected forms of words instead of Old English, even going so far as to drop the asterisks. I won’t be able to pull this off everywhere, but here on Heargweard and in my private usage I see no issue whatsoever.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. This is then a homophone of fern and shares a vowel with fir.
2. You can see this in action with Old English wicu > Middle English weke > Modern English week.
3. Those assume no R-dropping. If you’re in England, this is more along the lines of /ˈfɜːnsɪd/ and /ˈfɜːnsɪdə/, respectively.

Modern Gods

An interesting question was asked on reddit recently that is right up my alley (archive). Sadly, my several month absence from the Internet left me nearly two weeks late to the party, so I’ll discuss it here instead.

Linguistic question for ASH heathens from asatru

All in all, the thread was pretty barren, I’m sad to say, but some did help. Wodgar and /u/CorporateHeathen were the stars.

As always in linguistics, a reconstructed, projected, or outright incorrect form is marked by an asterisk. Chevrons are also used in their standard form; “<” denotes that the lead word descends from the following word, while “>” denotes that the lead word becomes the following word.

In all cases of two modern pronunciations, the first is General American and the second is Received Pronunciation.

Tīw /tiːw/ > *Tew or *Tue /t(j)uː/

The name is fairly simple and predictable. For the same sound shift, consider hīw > hue and nīwe > new. CorporateHeathen did a fine job of pointing this out:

The two spellings are purely orthographic differences, as shown in the IPA. The biggest difference will be seen across the Atlantic: /j/ would be in England, while the sound would generally be lacking in the US.

Wōden /ˈwoːden/ > *Wooden /ˈwʊdən/

Old English <ō> /oː/ split into a few sounds on its march to Modern English. On its own it often became <oo> /uː/, but its environment could cause /ɔ(ː)/ (before <r>), /ʌ/ (occasionally before /ð/, /d/, and /v/), and /ʊ/ (often before /ð/, /d/, /t/, and /k/).

Due to this, /ˈwʊdən/ is the likeliest result, but also possibly /ˈwʌdən/. Assuming the former over the latter, the word is a homonym to wooden “made of wood”.

The issue of Wednesday does pose an interesting question. Had Wōden been the base form, we would have *Wodnesday instead, just as Old English had Wōdnesdæg /ˈwoːdnesdæj/. Wednesday is the result of Old English *Wēden, which would share a root with Old Frisian Wēda and Old Norse Óðinn in the form of Proto-Germanic *Wōdinaz, as opposed to Wōden‘s antecedent of Proto-Germanic *Wōdanaz.

Accepting this otherwise unattested variant, we would have *Weeden /ˈwidən/. This is despite the fact that Wednesday is pronounced with an /ɛ/, but this is a result of two consonants following <e>. This environment always caused <e> to become /ɛ/ later and would not be applicable to the base form.

UPDATE: Thoraborinn takes issue with the above two paragraphs.

Ing /iŋg/ > *Ing /ɪŋ/

Nothing especially changes here. /i/ becomes /ɪ/ in most environments. /ŋg/ always becomes /ŋ/ due to NG-coalescence.

Þunor /ˈθunor/ > Thunder /ˈθʌn.dɚ/ or /ˈθʌn.də/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity. The intrusive /d/ appeared between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries and is otherwise not predictable.

Frīg /friːj/ > *Frie or *Fry /fɹaɪ/

This one is interesting:

  • Popularly the goddess’s name is written as *Frīge, but this is incorrect. There is no nominative ending for feminine strong nouns with a long syllable (which is either a long vowel or a short vowel followed by two consonants). If this word had a short syllable, it would be Frigu, which is actually attested, but never in this context to my knowledge.
  • Frīge is, however, the genitive form, which is firmly attested in Frīgedæg “Friday”.
  • There aren’t too many words ending in –īg that survive into Modern English, especially once you discount the adjective ending –ig /ij/ “-y” /i/.

Old English <ī> /i:/ very often became Modern English /aɪ/, except when two consonants or /m/ followed, plus some other odds and ends.

/j/ entirely disappeared in this environment. Modern English doesn’t especially like /j/ coming after a vowel at the end of the word.

Spelling is really the issue here. Despite the spelling of Friday, ending a word in <i> just doesn’t happen, nor is <i> often pronounced /aɪ/ on its own. This immediately removes *Fri as an option. In keeping with patterns in orthography and the handful of words with similar sounds, though, *Frie or perhaps even *Fry would be the likeliest outcome.

Eorþe /ˈeorθe/ > Earth /ɝθ/ or /ɜːθ/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity.

Folde /ˈfolde/ > Fold /foʊld/ or /fəʊld/

All word-final vowels that are not a part of the root syllable were dropped after Old English.

The word survives dialectally and thus has a known modern form regardless.

Sunne /ˈsunːe/ > Sun /sʌn/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity.

Mōna /ˈmoːnɑ/ > Moon /muːn/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity.

Ēastre /ˈæːɑstre/ > Easter /ˈi.stɚ/ or /ˈiː.stə/

The noun did not die out and is thus fully known without ambiguity.

Wēland /ˈweːlɑnd/ > Weeland /ˈwilənd/

Despite how predictable this form is, it has instead survived as Wayland /ˈweɪlənd/.

Seaxnēat /ˈsæɑksnæːɑt/ > *Saxneat /ˈsæks.nɛt/

<ea> /æɑ/ typically became <a> /æ/, while <ēat> /æːɑt/ often became /ɛt/ (as opposed to /iː/ when there is no /t/).

Seax did also survive into Modern English as sax. Nēat died out, but was borrowed back into Modern English in its full form as geneat for historical purposes.

Bēow /beːow/ > Bue /buː/

<ēo> /eːo/ often became /uː/ before/w/, written as <ue>.

Frēa /fræːɑ/ > *Frea /fɹiː/

Though often combined with Ing in emulation of the Norse form, there is no direct attestation that this was ever used as a theonym in Old English. It does, however, have a curious usage in Beowulf when Hroþgar is called frēan Ingwine “lord of the Ingwins”.1Beowulf, line 1319. If this usage implies any religious meaning, it is now lost on us. The word is included only for the sake of argument.

<ēa> /æːɑ/ very often became /iː/, usually written as <ea>.

Frēo /freːo/ > *Free /fɹiː/

It is sometimes believed that Freyja existed among the Anglo-Saxons as well, but there is no evidence of this. Personally I believe that the split between what would later be known as Frigg and Freyja had not occurred in the southern tribes at all. The word is included only for the sake of argument, though on even shakier ground than Frēa above.

Without any other conditional changes due to environment, <ēo> /eːo/ very often became /iː/, usually written as <ee>.

The Problem with Frēa and Frēo

Other than not being attested as theonyms, there’s one overarching issue: they would have become homophones, if not also possibly homographs. Had they survived into more modern times at all, the meanings would have probably collapsed together into some general “noble” definition. That alone might have killed the words later anyway.

Truthfully, though, the words were already limited largely to poetry, especially Frēa. The words were probably moribund regardless.

Conclusion

Language is fun! It’s always a delight to see what might have happened in a different word. Amusement aside, it’s not a bad idea to use these reconstructed forms instead. The language changed and that would not have skipped theonyms.

This being said, things are not always predictable, as seen in a few examples above. No one could have predicted Þunor becoming Thunder. This could be equally true for any number of other names. Religion is by its very nature conservative, which may lead to some names being severely delayed for some sound changes, if included at all.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Beowulf, line 1319.

Care with Cognates

I’ve complained before about cognates. I am known to rage a bit when I see something offensively wrong done in the name of reconstruction. But occasionally I see something that tickles me.

The Old Norse word for Saturday is laugurdagr “bathing day”. This is continued into the daughter languages:

  • Danish lørdag
  • Swedish lördag
  • Icelandic laugardagur
  • Norwegian lørdag or laurdag

Meanwhile in Old English, we have Sæternesdæg. Some, including Grimm, have tried to say that the day of the week is named after the otherwise unknown god Sæter(n), even though all evidence points to the Roman god Saturn.

And so people try to reconstruct things in a different direction and claim that this bathing day was a universal thing, despite an equal lack of evidence. Suddenly we have Old English *Lēagedæg. But there’s a major issue: while lēag is cognate with laug, their meanings differ already by this point. Lēag isn’t a bath, but rather lye, its modern form.1J.R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

So I really hope that you like lye, as Lyeday is apparently a thing to some people. Good luck not getting any on your skin.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. J.R. Clark Hall, A Concise Anglo-Saxon Dictionary

Wind Gods

I like to ponder what we’re missing in our religion and what we’re ignoring for simplicity’s sake. We tend to gloss over a lot of things; many act as though our world is a simple one and seemingly want as few divine entities as possible. A notable absence in my mind are wind gods.

The Greeks have a very detailed list of wind gods, mostly contained within the Anemoi (“winds”). The Romans have the Venti (“winds”), who mostly took on the attributes, but not the names, of their Greek counterparts. Slavic religion evidently has Stribog, god of winds, sky, and air. Hinduism has Vāyu, lord of the winds, also known as Vāta. There are also the Dikpāla. In Iranian religion, Vate is the god of air and wind.

Njǫrðr has this function, but to me this only makes sense in the context of sailing. Largely forgotten, there are also Norðri, Suðri, Austri, and Vestri. They are mentioned in Gylfaginning as four dwarves and may be related to Dáinn, Dvalinn, Duneyrr, and Duraþrór, the four stags of Yggdrasill. (I’m personally inclined to say that they are unrelated, that the four stags are a later invention, and that Eikþyrnir was the original, sole stag.) Whether they are related to wind is up for debate.

I’m conflicted about these dwarves. They hold up the skull of Ymir, although this seems like an odd job for dwarves. I’m of the opinion that they were not dwarves originally or at least had a much more detailed story to themselves once. We’ll likely never know anything else.

Despite this, I decided to have some fun in reconstructing their names in Old English, even if we have no such evidence for them. Undoubtedly at least one deity governed the winds, so let’s go with what we have.

Barring any mistakes on my part, the names of the dwarves are merely the names of the cardinal directions (norðr, suðr, austr, vestr) plus the suffux –i (< Proto-Germanic *-į̄, which forms an abstract noun from an adjective). In Old English, the cardinal directions are norþ, sūþ, ēast, and west. The cognate suffix is –u, which later became –o, and causes i-mutation:

  • norþ > *nerþu
  • sūþ > *sȳþu
  • ēast > *īestu (*ēstu in dialects other than West Saxon)
  • west > *wistu

Let’s go further into Modern English. Vowel changes were drastic during the Great Vowel Shift and all word-final vowels in polysyllabic words were lost, thus erasing the suffix entirely.

  • *nerþu > *nerth /nɛ(ɹ)ð/
  • *sȳþu > *sithe /saɪð/
  • *īestu > *eest or *east /iːst/
  • *wistu > *wist /wɪst/

Had things gone very differently, we might have been worshipping Nerth, Sithe, Eest, and Wist and asking for good winds from them.

Lexical Evidence for the Relative Chronology of Old English Poetry

Lexical Evidence for the Relative Chronology of Old English Poetry” by Leonard Neidorf:

This article explores the dating implications of rare vocabulary attested in Beowulf, Genesis A, Daniel, Exodus, Maxims I, and Widsið. It argues that these poems preserve an archaic lexical stratum, which consists of words that became obsolete before the composition of ninth-century poetry and prose.

Neidorf presents a compelling argument for an early dating of the aforementioned poems based on the work of Dennis Cronan, while expertly smashing aside the poor, contrarian arguments of Roberta Frank. He analyses a multitude of Old English words, both from Cronan’s earlier work and his own research, and provides a glimpse into early Anglo-Saxon vocabulary that is not present in later, extant manuscripts, let alone the standard dictionaries for the language today.

His conclusion includes a fantastic swipe at those who feel that Beowulf cannot be dated firmly:

The controversy over the dating of Beowulf is a product not of ambiguous linguistic evidence, but of the tendency of literary scholars to ignore linguistic evidence and frame the question of dating in ambiguous terms not conducive to rational debate. (pg. 40)

In dating some of the poems:

The corpus of archaic poetry, encompassing works probably composed at various dates between roughly 675 and 750, consists chiefly of Beowulf, Genesis A, Daniel, Exodus, Guthlac A, and Christ III. (pg. 39)

Consider reading the entire paper, as it discusses these things and more at length.

Language and Mysticism

Heathenry in the Anglosphere has this penchant for using foreign languages in its rituals. Most commonly this is Old Norse, but periodically you’ll see Old English, which is just as foreign to most by virtue of its age. (Amusingly, I’ve yet to see Old High German, among others, used in this way, but I feel that this is related to the dearth of language resources.) There’s a level of mystery when you use a foreign language, which many seemingly feel is a requirement for religious activities. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

I feel that this comes from two different things:

  1. The usage of Latin in Christian rituals, even though that usage has declined considerably in recent decades in the wake of such events as the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965).
  2. A way to impress others by showing that you know another language, despite how badly it’s being butchered oftentimes. In monolingual communities, especially America, this can carry a surprising weight.

The earliest works in modern Heathenry came at a time when Latin was still used in church services, but poorly understood at best. The first organisations were founded in the 1970s and their membership had grown up with a foreign language being on the public conscience, even if other Christian denominations didn’t aways go that route. Simultaneously, Wiccan rituals had a similar knack for using language in order to provide mysticism. Materials were then written with these in mind. These resulting rituals, such as the Hammer Rite, were then thoughtlessly copied, barely with changes, over the decades to the point that contrasting opinion barely exists.

Multilingualism is notably absent in the United States, although it’s a bit less of an issue in Canada and the UK with the presence of French and other languages. The 2007 American Community Survey found that only 20% of households spoke a language other than English1United States Census Bureau, “New Census Bureau Report Analyzes Nation’s Linguistic Diversity” (2010)., although this does not mean that 80% of households are monolingual or that 20% are multilingual.2Michael Erard, “Are We Really Monolingual?” in The New York Times (2012). Fluency in another language, however, is nonetheless lacking. If anything, it’s overwhelmingly Spanish.

Thus I take issue with Heathen ritual and the absorption of these things. Language should not be mysterious, nor do we need mysticism of that stripe. We are a pragmatic bunch, just as our forebears were, but many come with baggage that they don’t see.

Words matter. Orthopraxy is ultimately among the more important concepts for us, but doing the right actions should require you to understand what you’re doing. If you’re uttering broken Old Norse without an inkling of what’s being said or completing actions without understanding why they’re done, this is hardly orthopractic. You might as well sign a binding contract without actually knowing what is written.

There is nothing wrong with plain English (or whatever else you wish to use). If spoken truthfully, your words are just as powerful. The gods will understand you just as well. Your ancestors would presumably understand you, especially the more recently departed who are likelier to have spoken what and how you do. We have no evidence to show that religious happenings were conducted in another language, so we emulate nothing in doing so now.3Poetry did have a habit of using otherwise archaic or dialectal words, but these were still understood.

Oddly enough, people do not seem to realise that this idea of using another language is not followed everywhere else. Icelanders use Icelandic, although that’s not far off from Old Norse in many respects. The rest of Scandinavia uses their modern languages. When you watch a video made by adherents of Urglaawe, it’s in Pennsylvania German and English. And let’s not forget the many Christians who worked historically to have church services done in the vernacular instead of Latin or to have translations of the Bible at all. They had an issue like we do and they got over it in many respects. We don’t need to repeat the mistake.

I’ll conclude by saying that there’s nothing wrong with learning a dead language for enjoyment and enrichment. You can learn a great deal by learning a language, as it shows you how a people saw the world. But let’s not obscure what we’re doing now and make it opaque to those around us.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. United States Census Bureau, “New Census Bureau Report Analyzes Nation’s Linguistic Diversity” (2010).
2. Michael Erard, “Are We Really Monolingual?” in The New York Times (2012).
3. Poetry did have a habit of using otherwise archaic or dialectal words, but these were still understood.

When a Cognate Isn’t Cognate

Fyrnsidu has periodically seen bursts of activity in using native words as much as possible. Some of this is very easy, as we have the words either still in Modern English or in a very similar form to what is in Ásatrú. It can be rendered far more difficult, however, when we don’t have a known cognate at all.

It’s this difficulty that causes people to make cognates. We can solve it in one of two ways:

  1. Understand the Proto-Germanic word and make an educated guess as to the form in Old English (and possibly beyond) by applying the relevant sound changes.1Wikipedia, “Phonological history of English”.
  2. Produce new compounds that mirror what is used elsewhere, commonly Old Norse for our purposes. The parts of the compounds may already be attested on their own or may require some of the above, but are not otherwise attested as the compound itself.

Regardless of what is done, the resulting word is properly marked with an asterisk in order to show that it’s hypothetical (or perhaps outright incorrect, as the case may be). Many people are already accustomed to this to a degree when seeing Proto-Germanic words, as they’re all marked as reconstructions by way of comparative linguistics. Consider *Þunraz, which became Old English Þunor and Old Norse Þórr, but is not attested in extant sources. The names of runes in the Elder Futhark are frequently and properly seen this way, too.

It’s not enough to find cognates alone, though. The meanings must also be relevant. A classic example of this comes from Old Norse heimr “home, abode; land, world; village, ham”.2A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic, “heimr” pg. 192. This is cognate to Old English hām “home, house; property, estate”.3Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary“hām”. Only the first set of meanings of each is directly comparable. Any reference to heimr as a world cannot be translated as hām without drastically changing the meaning. This nuance is often lost in any attempted translation, though.

Fyrnsidu has had this issue and painfully so. In emulation of Ásatrú, a surprisingly large number of people will say that there are nine worlds, even though the Nine Herbs Charm4Sacred Texts, The Nine Herbs Charm. states that there are seven:

ðas VIIII magon wið nygon attrum.
Wyrm com snican, toslat he man;
ða genam Woden VIIII wuldortanas,
sloh ða þa næddran, þæt heo on VIIII tofleah.
þær geændade æppel and attor,

þæt heo næfre ne wolde on hus bugan.
Fille and finule, felamihtigu twa,
þa wyrte gesceop witig drihten,
halig on heofonum, þa he hongode;
sette and sænde on VII worulde

These worlds are not named within the text. This lack of information has not stopped people from making cognates of Norse worlds and assuming that they would equate exactly, even when there are centuries between the Anglo-Saxons and what was written down in Iceland.

Let’s use the list provided by Swain Wodening5Swain Wodening, Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times (2003) pp. 15-18. and the Wednesbury Shire6Wednesbury Shire, “The Nine Worlds“. Archived on 18 February 2014., among others. Vowel length for Old English has been added as needed.

  1. *Ēsageard for Ásgarðr. Comparable and cognate.
  2. *Wenahām for Vanaheimr. Indefensible. The Vanir are not attested in Anglo-Saxon mythology and they are barely attested in Norse mythology as a separate group.7Rudolf Simek, “The Vanir: An Obituary.” The Retrospective Methods Network Newsletter (2010) pp. 10-19. The meaning of the word is unknown. No cognates are known, so it cannot be reconstructed in Proto-Germanic, let alone Old English. The second elements have differing meanings.
  3. *Ælfhām for Álfheimr. Indefensible. The second elements have differing meanings.
  4. Middangeard for Miðgarðr. Comparable, attested, and cognate.
  5. *Eotenhām for Jǫtunheimr. Indefensible. The second elements have differing meanings.
  6. Hell for Hel. Comparable, attested, and cognate.
  7. *Sweartælfhām for Svartálfheimr. Indefensible. Black elves are unattested in English folklore, although dwarves are. The second elements have differing meanings.
  8. *Mūspell for Muspelheimr. Indefensible. *Mūspell is unattested in Old English, but cognates appear in Old Saxon as Mūdspelli and Mūtspelli and in Old High German as Mūspilli as events and not worlds. These and Old Norse Múspell all deal with fire, but these are the only similarities in extant sources. Etymology is unknown. The name for the Old Norse world is Múspellsheimr, not Muspelheimr.
  9. *Nifolhām for Niflheimr. Indefensible. The second elements have differing meanings.

As seen above, the original scholarship, which is presumably from Swain Wodening, is utterly lacking. Sadly, Wodening was a somewhat prolific poster of content online and his books were often the only printed resources for Fyrnsidu, especially after Garman Lord’s Thēodish books largely disappeared a decade ago. This original poor understanding spread to many of today’s adherents of Fyrnsidu. To make matters worse, it assumes that the Anglo-Saxons practiced the same things as the Norse, for which we have no such proof. It also presupposes that the one line in question from the Nine Herbs Charm is a proper and accurate representation of Anglo-Saxon polytheism.

This should underscore why it’s important to conduct scholarly discourse properly. In our efforts to reconstruct the religion, we must be careful not to introduce falsehoods. If we fail at this, we’ll only build upon a poor foundation and hurt ourselves later when everything comes crashing down.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Wikipedia, “Phonological history of English”.
2. A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic, “heimr” pg. 192.
3. Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary“hām”.
4. Sacred Texts, The Nine Herbs Charm.
5. Swain Wodening, Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times (2003) pp. 15-18.
6. Wednesbury Shire, “The Nine Worlds“. Archived on 18 February 2014.
7. Rudolf Simek, “The Vanir: An Obituary.” The Retrospective Methods Network Newsletter (2010) pp. 10-19.