Sunday, 27 October 2013

Heil, Lost God of the Anglo-Saxons

Recently whilst perusing my copy of Charles Isaac Elton`s Origins of English History I noticed a reference to an obscure Anglo-Saxon deity. Whilst discussing the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to xtianity he writes:

"The history of the conversion is full of incidents which illustrate the character of the English paganism. We are told of Ethelbert`s care to meet the missionaries under the open sky, for fear of the magical influence which they might gain by crossing his threshold; of the king bowing before his idol in a road-side shrine near Canterbury, and taking part with his nobles in the offering of the sacrifices, and of Augistine in his journey to the West breaking to pieces the image of a god which was adored by the villagers. The local traditions preserve the remembrance of the Woden-Hill within sight of the missionaries` landing-place, and of a temple on the site where Westminster Abbey stands, once `a place of dread` on the march-land where several kingdoms joined, but dedicated to the wealthy `King of London`, at the request of his protector Ethelbert."

The footnote to this text states:

"Bede, Hist. Eccl. i. 25; Thorn`s Chronicle, Dec. Script. 1760. `Cerne Abbey was built by Austin, the English apostle, when he had dash`d to pieces the idol of the pagan Saxons called Heil, and had delivered them from their superstitious ignorance.` Camden, Brit. 56; Will. Malmesb. Gesta Pontificum, 142."

I cannot however find any reference to the incident of the destruction of the idol of Heil in the relevant section of Bede`s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. However according to Paul Newman`s Lost Gods of Albion:

"The French hagiographer Gotselin[1058-98] was the first to record St Augustine`s visit to Cerne not long after he settled at Canterbury in 1090. Drawing on an earlier source-quite possibly Saxon-he describes the `demoniac` worshippers of `Helia` taunting and driving out St Augistine and his band. This account filtered into ampler chronicles, notably De Gestis Anglorum, written and compliled by William of Malmesbury, a scion of mixed Norman and English stock who died c. 1143."

Newman goes on to recount how Augistine came to `Cernel`, the old name for Cerne and he was jeered at and repulsed by the local community. He also refers to the Life of St Augistine in which the author tells us that Augustine destroyed the idol Heil, or Hegle. Walter of Coventry, a 13th century chronicler also recites a version of the story in which he refers to the idol as Helith. The well of  Augustine still stands at Cerne Abbas. Could it be that Heil, Hegle or Helith is the Anglo-Saxon name for Cerne? According to the 1789 edition of William Camden`s Britannia and William Stukely the chalk hill figure was called `Helis`.

Whether this figure has its origins with the Anglo-Saxons no one can determine but it is absolutely clear that our ancestors did venerate this figure and equated it with Heil. This often happens when new peoples take over an ancient sacred site. They honour it but name it after their own god or gods. One interesting aspect of the Cerne giant is that he wields a club in his right hand and some have speculated that he represents Hercules and thus has a Roman origin. However we need to bear in mind that Thunor also wielded a club as an alternative to the axe or hammer and thus it could just as easily be related to Him. The etymology though is against this idea and it is more likely that this area was sacred to the God referred to as Heil. The name would imply possibly a deity of healing. This name, particularly in the form Helith is in fact suggestive of a Goddess rather than a male deity. It is interesting that the well I referred to is reckoned to have healing properties and thus predates Augustine`s arrival there. Some have speculated that Helith may be related to Frau Hoelle or the Norse Hel but more research is surely needed about this deity before we can speak with any authority about Him/Her.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Harz, Thunor and the Ar-cynn

The ancient Hercynian Forest of northern Europe at one time stretched from the Ardennes through to the Black Forest and Harz Mountains along to Bohemia. It marked the division between northern and southern Europe. At one time Germany itself was almost totally covered by forest and still even today is heavily forested.

Hercynian is believed to have a Proto-Celtic derivation from *perkunia, meaning "oak". With the loss of the initial `p` and the addition of `h` in Latin the word becomes Hercynian. It is probable that Harz is in turn derived from Hercynian and is Middle High German for "mountain forest".

It is significant that from *perkunia we have a direct link to the reconstructed name of the North-West Aryan Thunder God *Perkunos. *Perkunos and the related Proto-Germanic *Thunaraz is of course the God of the oak. Thus the Harz belongs to Him. It is in the forest that the Teuton feels totally at home. No wonder that modern living and the concrete jungles of today`s world have acted as a cancer in the spirit of our folk.
In the forest the Teuton feels closer to his gods than in any other environment.

According to Charles Isaac Elton in his Origins of English History[1882]:

"The original spelling of the name was `Arcynia` and `Orcynia`.

Once again we meet with the prefix `Ar` as we do so many times in the names of our Aryan deities. The meaning of Arcynia could be defined as the Ar kin, the Ar cynn, in other words the forested land of the Aryan race. It is in this forested mountainous area that the Gods of the Germanic peoples have their origins, where they revealed themselves to the Ar-cynn. Our two primary deities Thunor and Woden are Gods that are definitely connected with mountains and the forest and it is from here that the Cult of Woden travelled north into Scandinavia.

Stories of our Gods have survived to this day in the Harz which has remained a mysterious and mystical place. For those of my readers who understand German there is an excellent two DVD documentary set titled Mythos Harz which takes the viewer on an exciting and informative tour of the cultic sites of the Harz.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Thunor/Thunaer/Donar/Thor-the Importance of Using the Saxon Name

For a while now I have reflected from time to time on the importance of using our own ancient Saxon and Anglo-Saxon names for our Gods. Too often I see non-Scandinavian Germanic people use Norse terms for their deities instead of their own more valid native names. A typical example is the use of the Norse Thor/Thorr/Tor when Thunor/Thunaer/Donar would be more valid. Sometimes this is out of laziness, sometimes due to lack of knowledge.

On occasions I have used the Norse terms but only so that the person I am talking to would more readily understand who these Gods are. I believe the time has now come when we as Saxons should refer to our deities by the correct terms. This article is a starting point for this.

Rudolf Simek in his Dictionary of Northern Mythology has this to say in the opening entry for Thor:

"Thor (ON Thorr, in southern areas >Donar.)"
"Donar. The southern Germanic equivalent of the Germanic god of thunder who is called> Thor in the north, and Thunor in Old English."
"Thunor (OE). The OE of the Germanic name of the god of thunder > Thor/Donar."
 "Thunaer. Old Saxon form of the name of the god Thor/Donar."

Phonetically the Old English and the Saxon names for this God are very close and either would be appropriate for us to use. Even Donar would be closer to the name of the God than Thor.
All these terms are related to the Germanic *thunar-`thunder`. The original name for the Proto-Germanic Thunder God would therefore have been *Thunaraz.

Simek states that in 9th and 10th century England the ON Thor/Thur was used predominately which he suggests is indicative "that the native name of Thunor had already been forgotten and that as a result of the very early Christianization of England the ON form had to be borrowed." He goes on to point out that place names in honour of Thunor such as Thunderley, Thursley and Thurstable are in Saxon areas. He is clearly a God much loved and honoured by the Saxon folc.

However the 9th to the 10th century Old English Dialogue of Solomon and Saturn does refer to Thunor:

 "Se thunor hit thryscedh mid thaere fyrenan aecxe."

Translated into Modern English: "Thunor threshes with his fiery axe."

I believe that it is important that we adhere to our native God names, not only because they are native but in most cases they are more ancient than the Old Norse terms. We do honour to our Gods by taking this approach.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Irmin, the God of the Irminsul and the Herminones

Some scholars such as Rudolf Simek[Dictionary of Northern Mythology] doubt the existence of the Saxon God Irmin. Their argument is that apart from the Irminsul which presupposes a God Irmin there is no independent evidence to support the theory of there being a God called by this name. They interpret Irmin to mean `great, tall` and thus the Irminsul to be nothing other than a tall column or pillar. This argument is shallow and does not stand up to indepth critical analysis.

My first question is why our Saxon ancestors would erect great pillars to worship if they did not symbolise an actual God? Of course one could equate the Irminsul of the Saxons with the Yggdrasil of the Scandinavians and I believe that this on one level is a valid thing to do. However there is only very limited evidence that the Scandinavians used such great pillars as part of their rites. The Irminsul is a thing that seems to be peculiar to the Saxons and the tradition lives on today in Saxon areas of Germany and in England in the form of the Maypole.

Again there are some who say that "there is no evidence" to link the Maypole with the Irminsul but they are otherwise at a loss to explain the Maypole`s origin! Some in typical Freudian style view the Maypole as a phallic symbol despite there being no evidence to support this. A more likely comparison between Maypole dancing would be the dancing sunwise around certain megaliths which continues up to the present day. Often the people who carry out these customs do not understand the true purpose of the activity or that they are indeed carrying out a prextian sacred rite in honour of the Sun and/or Irmin. It is significant that this is both an English, Scandinavian and a continental Germanic custom. The spread of this customer may have started in Saxon Germany and spread northwards and into England with the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons. Of course with the growth of the English empire this custom spread to other parts of Britain and modern English speaking countries.

The customs that the Church could not suppress or plagiarise continue today in our folklore. A useful guide to such customs is to be found in In Search of Lost Gods. A Guide to British Folklore by Ralph Whitlock.

In addition to the Irminsul the name of Irmin is to be found in one of the three tribal designations referred to in Tacitus` Germania:

"In ancient lays, their only type of historical tradition, they celebrate Tuisto, a god brought forth from the earth. They attribute to him a son, Mannus, the source and founder of their people, and to Mannus three sons, from whose names those nearest the Ocean are called Ingvaeones, those in the middle Herminones, and the rest Istvaeones. Some people, inasmuch as antiquity gives free reign to speculation, maintain that there were more sons born from the god and hence more tribal designations-Marsi, Gambrivii, Suebi, and Vandilii-and that those names are genuine and ancient."[Germania 2.2]

The Frankish Table of Nations from around 520CE states:

"there were three brothers, first Erminus, second Inguo, third Istio; from them developed thirteen peoples."

Other classical writers such as Mela and Pliny also mention the Hermiones. The use of the `h` at the beginning of Hermiones or Herminones is purely a Latin aspirate and was not used by the Germanic peoples.
Our ancestors would have referred to themselves as Irmiones/Ermiones or Irminones/Erminones or something cognate with this term. It is interesting that all three Germanic tribal divisions are said to alliterate, ie they each start with the same letter: Ingvaeones, Irminones and Istvaeones.

"The aspirate given by the Romans to Herminones, as to Hermunduri, is strictly no part of the German word, but is also very commonly retained by Latin writers of the Mid. Ages in proper names compounded with Irmin."[Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1, Jacob Grimm]

Interestingly the Hermunduri occupied the region of Saxony and Thunringia and undoubtedly were in part the ancestors of the Saxons and belonged to the tribal division of Herminones.

We know that there is evidence to support the argument that the Ingvaeones were named after their ancestral deity Ing. It is conjectured also that the Istvaeones were named after the first Germanic man, Askr[see Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1]. It is logical therefore that the Irmin of Irminones must be a divine ancestor.

Irmin can be found as part of many ancient Germanic names,eg:

Hermanaric, Hermann, Ermintrudis, Irminfrith[King of the neighbouring Thuringi], Irmansuint, Irmingart, Irminolt, Irmandrut, Irmanperalit, Irmandegan, Irmandeo, Eormenric, Eormenred, Iiurminburg, etc.

Of course the great prince of the Cherusci who thrashed the Romans in the 1st century CE was named Arminius or Hermann. He was of course an historical figure but one can see how such figures can become embroiled in myth when comparisons with the legendary Siegfried are made.  

Scholars are tempted to equate Irmin with other deities such as Saxnot who is purely a Saxon God like Krodo but also He has been compared with Tiw and even Woden. I think it best that we consider Him on His own merits until further research of a conclusive nature is carried out.

In an earlier article titled Aryaman/Airyaman/Ariomanus/Eremon/Irmin-the Divine Concept of Aryanness, published on my Aryan Myth and Metahistory blog on 17/8/12 I demonstrated that Irmin has His origins in an original Aryan deity even though over time amongst the Germanic peoples His worship appears to have been confined mainly to the Saxons. This deity reconstructed name is *Aryomn. We are thus genetically and spiritually Ar-manen or Ir-minen, Arya. There should now be no doubt about the validity of our use of this term as a self-descriptor.