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.

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.

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.

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.