Bad luck

There is a unique snippet among the medico-magical texts of the Anglo-Saxons. They had absorbed at some point a Roman belief in good and bad days (they apparently came by it through the Egyptians). We really cannot say exactly how long the practices were around in Anglo-Saxon culture – if they predated Christianity’s arrival or not. However, it is likely that the practices were absorbed while leechcraft was still primarily pagan. In the very least we can say that the practice itself is a pagan one and was adopted by Anglo-Saxon leeches by the conversion era. The belief held that there were two days in every month that were unlucky, sometimes to the point of dangerousness. There was a one hour period on each of those days that were especially unlucky, in that hour if a person became injured (or had a medical procedure such as bloodletting) they would die or simply become deathly ill to the point that there would be no recovery.

 

Now here are the days as is said here.

In January, the first, and the seventh from the end.

In February, the fourth, and the third from the end.

The first day in March, that is, in the month of Hlyda, and the fourth day before the end of it.

In the month of May, the third day is mischievous, and the seventh before the end of it.

In the month of June, the tenth day, and the fifteenth before the end of it.

In July, the twelfth, and the tenth before the end.

In August, the first day, and the second before the end.

In September, the third day, and the tenth before the end.

In October, the third, and the tenth before the end.

In November, the fifth, and the third from the end.

In December, the seventh, and the tenth from the end.

(as a note, the version that was translated here by Cockayne originally had March as the first month because the Christian who wrote that particular copy later listed March as the month of the Earth’s creation. I have put January at the beginning of the list instead of after December for ease of viewing but I otherwise kept to the Cockayne translation.)

 

I’m not going to tell you that these days are actually unlucky; calculating the shift in the days listed here from this calendar to that of today would be nearly impossible with so few points of reference to go on (the calendar of today is vastly different from the calendar of that time). Basically, they wouldn’t really fit our current days even if they really were unlucky. Instead, the list is interesting simply because it exists.

 

This belief informs us not only about the strange practice of looking out for these days but it also informs us on how this could fit within a heathen worldview. Simply put, these beliefs give good evidence that the ancient heathens had a concept of good luck and bad luck. The belief in these good and bad days resonated with the culture of that time and was absorbed into their practices; but it could not and would not have been absorbed so readily if it did not already fit within the heathen worldview.

 

The pre-Christian leeches absorbed these lucky and unlucky days into their own culture and passed them along into the Christian era. It shows us that the ancient heathens had a concept of luck not dissimilar from that we have today. Not only is bad luck dangerous, it can also be mischievous. Bad luck also in this case has very little to do with who a person is or what they are doing – some bad luck is just the universe taking a massive dump on you for no other reason than it’s an unlucky day.

Cockayne, Rev. Thomas Oswald, trans. Leechdoms, Wortcunning, and Starcraft of Early England. (London: The Holland Press, 1961) vol. III p.153.

Taking Sacred Space

The demarcation of sacred space is an incredibly important part of most ritual aspects of Fyrnsidu. Methods of setting aside that space are greatly varied and some modern methods have less historical veracity. The method I use to demarcate outdoor sacred space is circumambulation with a torch.

Circle the weofod with a lit oak torch. At each of the cardinal corners strike a blow on the torch to give a good knock after certain of these words:

May the gods guide us, (Knock)
May our oaths keep us, (Knock)
May our deeds free us, (Knock)
May our ancestors aid us always. (Knock)
May the gods banish from this land and wood all ill and wrong,
Hallow this Weofod, shield this area from all baneful wights,
Let the gods’ blessing be over our heads!
(If you have a main fire, now use the torch to light it)

Instead of knocking the torch you could raise it up higher.

This ritual is directly based on Lacnunga 133. The wording has been translated from Latin and Old English using Pollington’s translation in his Leechcraft. Due to the partially Christianized nature of the original material changes had to be made to reheathen the ritual.

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Source:

Pollington, Stephen. Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plant Lore, and Healing. Norfolk, England: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2000.

 

Midsummer – Liþa

Midsummer was this past week, the summer solstice, the longest day and the shortest night of the whole year. For heathens, Midsummer is one of the holiest tides we can celebrate throughout the year.

The Anglo-Saxons celebrated Midsummer as Liþa, midnesumor, and midsumordæg. These celebrations were likely as important in their own right as Yule was when considering the similarity in the month structure of their calendar as recorded by Bede. The calendar was primarily lunar, with the months based on the movements of the moon. The two exceptions to this are the celebrations of Liþa and Geola (Yule) which were celebrated by the solstices. These also represent the midpoints in the seasons, Liþa as the middle of summer and Geola as the middle of winter. They used these solar points to reset their primarily lunar calendar to maintain order throughout the year; thus it was a lunisolar calendar and gives Midsummer and Yule great importance.

Today we can trace back many pre-Christian midsummer rituals throughout Europe. They were collectively incorporated into early Catholicism under St. John’s day. They existed and persisted throughout Eastern and Northern Europe where to this day you can find many individuals practicing ritualized activities surrounding Midsummer. Bonfires are a commonality as well as general frivolity such as singing, dancing, floral hats, games, etc. It is and was a celebration of fertility, plenty, and the gentleness of this time of the year.

The ritual I created for my local group for Midsummer was simple enough and I will outline it here:

[Say these words after you have cleared your area bu the method of your choice.]

Six months have passed since Yule and we have gathered this day in thanks and celebration. The sun rose this day, and the longest day, to beat back the night. Tonight, the shortest night, we light fires to bring that light down into our lives.

Hail to thee, Sunne, day rider 

Hail to thee, brightener, shiner, awakener

Hail to thee, goddess of sunny summer so bright

Hail to thee, sister to the shadowy moonlight

Sunne, we thank you for your ride this midsummer.

You chased the shadows back to hiding

Today, longest of days, we give thanks to you.

Shine on us this evening, shine on us as you ride this year.

Shine on us and let the light and day into our lives.

[Say these words to each if you will be passing a blessing bowl:]

Sunne shine on you and let her light fill your life

[Pour out the remainder of the offering onto the focal point, be it a hearg, altar, tree, or ground.]

This Midsummer we offer to you that your bright gifts to man

Shall never be taken for granted by us, long though the days span

Though your ride is unwaveringly regular, though gentle the days may be

Let none here today forget the gift that was bright Sunne to see.

Sun Chariot
Trundholm Sun Chariot from Trundholm moor in Odsherred and now housed in the National Museum of Denmark.

The Ritual Power of Horses

Horses were among the most sacred animals to the ancient heathens. Testament to this fact was their nearly ubiquitous use in burial goods and sacrifices. Admonishments against eating horse flesh appear in a papal ban on the practice by Gregory III. The purpose of the ban was to ultimately enlighten the Germanic pagans. It falls directly before a ban on sacrifices to the dead. It is no coincidence that the two fall together, they are inextricably linked. It is that connection, between death and horses I would like to elaborate on.

The horse appears in the Rune poem as the rune Eh. No matter how you feel about the use of runes in divination, the runes have power and meaning. The poem for Eh reads:

Eh byþ for eorlum æþelinga wyn,
Hors hofum wlanc, ðær him hæleþ ymbe,
Welege on wicgum, wrixlaþ spræce,
And biþ unstyllum æfre frofur.

The last section, “biþ unstyllum æfre frofur” to me speaks to the horse’s qualities after death. Unstyllum could translate as unwaveringly or tirelessly or restlessly. You could translate the last line then as “and is (and shall be) restlessly, unwaveringly, always a comfort (consolation).” The word unstyllum to me hides the implication of being active even after it should be still. Biþ is simultaneously “is” and “shall be” and differs from the earlier use of byþ. So you have this creature which is a joy and comfort in life, what use could they hold afterward?

Archaeology has granted us the understanding of much that was located at the burial site. We know dogs and horses were cremated as burial goods very often. Later, the use of a horse’s teeth are found in burials. Their role there? Death is not a straight shot, it is the first step on a journey. The implication has been there all along, why bury goods at all if they’re going somewhere they have all they need? The horse’s function is like that of a boat, it speeds the journey, and it even helps guide the journey in the horse’s case. See such work as Saxo Grammaticus’ story of Hadding for a look into the journey.

The horse has powerful role to play for the deceased. If I were to spell it out most plainly, you can take it with you (but only if you can carry it). Our usual final resting place, Hell, we have to get there first. Why else are boats and horses involved at all? Why should you have a horse if travel is not involved? Why a boat if you’re not going somewhere in it? Essentially, the horse is an aide to the deceased on their journey.

Now to the terrible truth of our world, we cannot afford to sacrifice horses in today’s society. We’re left with then the use of votive offerings. There’s plenty of historical examples which show that votive offerings were meaningful to the ancient heathens and the greater pagan world. The votive can take the place of a sacrifice. No one I know can spare a horse, but a votive offering of a horse? That’s manageable.

Recently there was a death in the local heathen community. We gathered and all brought gifts to cremate. I made a votive horse of bread as an offering to burn. My hope is that the horse (with the Eh rune on it) would manifest itself to the intended offering recipient as a horse and not as a bread horse. I further hope that even if it doesn’t do that, it will carry the ritual power of a horse to help guide and speed their journey to the halls of their ancestors.

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