Not quite the Travelers Tale, previously offered to Baobab, on second thoughts this is more a personal experiences and perspective of a trip in a story form, it may be unsuitable for this seminar series. Subsequently I've dug out a paper from 2003, which might interest a few folk. So with out future ado.....
Anglo Saxon Paganism
Similar to linguistic "Celts", the Angles, Anglos, Jutes and Saxons left no written record to determine the nature of paganism practiced, so it's likely to remain elusive. There is some evidence available through archaeology, linguistics and written sources. So to weave any tapestry of words can deny other aspects of the equation. For example the affect on the islands culture from the Roman period. One must not dismiss the influence from the two types of Christianising process, which swept through the land; but one should consider Gildas, the 5th century Christian monk who was concerned about the tyranny of Maelgwn dragon. So perhaps there were already Christians bordering onto those pagan lands. There to are the local alliances between the islands inhabitants with the new tribes, and the inter-tribal marriages, suggesting an impetus to increase the kingship influences and there allies. All become isolated puzzle pieces among many others, calling to be fitted somewhere into an even larger puzzle and snap shot of the past.
Generally the Angles, Anglo, Jutes and Saxon originated from Europe, but there too where the Romans conscripted members within its legions. Indeed did everyone really catch that last galley when it sailed off to Gaul? Perhaps some kid themselves that every military member, or intermarriages related partner, complete with sibling was accounted on some lost inventory list. Nonetheless, one could be tempted to refer to Tacitus to get a glimpse of past paganism practiced in the Germanic tribes. The tribes honoured their deities, they did not confine them within any structure, indeed like the air breathed they were free to come and go within their open wooded groves. Divinities are mentioned from specific named tribes. The Anglii and Aestii worshiped a fertility mother named 'Nerthus'. In contrast another group, the 'Naharvali' held two male divinities, brothers both named Acli in esteem. Tacitus frowned upon their ritual specialists of this group; he perceived them dressing up like women when working in their sacred groves. Then there is the confederation of Suebi, indicated to have sacrificed to an indigenous deity, but was it an import from Egypt seeing that it’s Isis. Indeed their ritual specialists are named as 'Semones' and held their alliance together through religious practices. Generally further deities are mentioned, Woden and Tiw, appear not to be confined or limited to any specific tribal community.
Roman eyes reported the functions of these ritual specialists, although Tacitus prefers the terminology of priests. Such labelling could conjecture a familiar comparison to those within the Empire. Irrespectively they have a multiple role to play while serving the society or community. Apart from any religious aspect one might wish to conjure up. They were responsible for administering punishment in respective communities, to that of gaining obedience from the warriors during battle both of these became enforced. Divination or augury was another function, whether it was casting the Germanic runes; to interpreting the sounds uttered from horses. These specifically were held in high regard, they were the animal confidants to the gods; thus any sound was likely to be considered with utmost importance. Nonetheless Tacitus comments in a similar style used on Ynys Mon concerning human and animal sacrifices. No Druids are indicated to be here, but his remarks become directed to the Semones of the Suebi. In this case they take the credited! It is quite suggestive he could have witnessed such a public rite. Specifically when information of the procedure concerning a non-participant who enters the grove connected to a cord or rope guided from within. Of course Tacitus wrote in the first century of the current era so caution is required when using it as a source. Is Roman culture stereotypes and cultural understanding being projected onto another? Is there a propaganda element in 'Germania', which might need consideration?
Nothing is recorded for another 400years where a snippet appears at Lyons. What become clear is that Saxons had seafaring abilities; unfortunately there is no mention of the ship destination. Sidonnius comments to a friend in a letter, concerning a rite undertaken before they set sail. Slaves or prisoners manning the vessel were noted to have drawn lots. An unnamed deity required a volunteer; one can only suppose its purpose was for a safe passage being its likely outcome.
Again there is silence apart from Gildas discontent of the moral behaviour. Indeed had the Christians on the isle reverted back to paganism? Yet perhaps they following a specific Christianise-pagan tradition, which Bean Drui suggested in her seminar paper on the Picts? Indeed, the collapse of the alliance at Metcaud /Aber Llue situated off Lindisfarne Island is an example. A three-day siege occurred, with the Anglo's hemmed in on the isle during the late 6th century. Urien Rheged according to the literature tradition became assassinated by one of his own alliance members during the stand off. Yet later recorded bardic narrative indicates that Llywarch Hen in the 9th century poetic saga was present. This was sometime after the assassination, yet it indicates he removed Urien Rheged head; thus safeguarding it from becoming blemished prior to a later burial, as the ravens fell towards his torso. Archaeology has indeed excavated a proportion of graves with decapitated heads from this period.
The difficulty now is pagan practices have to be enticed from early secular monastic sources. Indeed the majority of Jutes were still pagan in parts of Sussex, Hampshire and the Isle of Wright. Wilfred had only recently commenced the conversion process there by the 7th Century; they were the last to convert. Further more one must also be aware of who the targets were in the conversion process. Moreover, Derida and Elmet which later formed parts of Northumbria, specific leading individuals were converted twice by missionaries, Paulinus from Rome and Aedaen from Iona prior to the return of allegiance in 664, back to Rome. By which time Angles, Anglos, Jutes and Saxons were firmly settled within territorial areas. Some of which had political ambitions to increase their boarders.
Bede is just one source, which could assist, although he followed Canterbury school of thought stretching back to papal Rome. Respect is shown to the earlier Irish influence via Iona and Lindisfarne. These had once stretched south to the Thames and across towards Avon (Bristol). Nonetheless, Pope Gregory mission to the "Angels" (Angles or even the earlier Germanic Anglii) to bring them into the flock. Indeed clashes with the Eastern Empire of Rome concerning theological arguments about man relationship and aspects of divinity to god, were not going too well. Indeed such early perception of the native Angles slave is credited to have sparked the impetus of Gregory through sending the Augustine mission to convert the "Angels" beyond Gaul. Indeed intermarriages between the King Aethelbert son of a pagan Saxon in Kent, to the Franks Christian Royal daughter was simply a bonus. Such relationships allowed lucrative trade of wares that flowed in both directions across the channel; this would open up also to Rome again in due course. Nonetheless the title Bede chose for his history of the English people, suggests, an attempt to amalgamate the various ethnic identities in a single cauldron brew. Angles or Anglos become plucked out, renewed, refresh and in harmony with its Christian leanings.
Specific pagan activities were just a passing interest glossed over with very little detail by early Christian missionaries. Yet Bede is not shy to place a mark blaming the Britons unwillingness to preach to their tribal neighbours. Yet why conduct a meeting with other Briton Christians under an oak tree? Later a propagandist style appears as the Britons change in a stroke of the quill, now described as pagans. Indeed alliances occur between Cadwallon, a Christian king from North Wales and Pender a pagan king of Mercia, in the Midlands. Together with respective revenue of fighters they harried the Anglo's King Edwin north as far as Manu Gododdin and down into Bernica. Scholars have commented there were political motives of expansionism being exercised. However a Blood feud after the demise of Chester in c.613/5AD, including the monks from Bangor Is Coed may well be another. Cadwallon had been slain in 634, north on the boarders caught by surprise at Cant Scaul that has been recognised as Hexhem. Yet there were also similar activities and another alliance extended to harass the Saxons lands.
Political, Blood feuds and territorial issues aside Bede description concerning an early conversion of King Edwin c. 575, undertaken by Paulinus, is of interest. A pagan high priest named Coifi attached and served both the old deity and Edwin royal household. If the suggestion that the Angles are the descendants of the earlier Anglii from Tacitus 'Germania', a further conjecture concurs and might deduce a shrine to the fertility deity of Nerthus. However Bede does not associate or state any divinity to this shrine. But Coifi officiates over a pagan structured shrine which is not the earlier wooded grove previously mentioned. On the other hand it could indeed be set within one at its centre. So there is a structure in which effigies are enclosed. Indeed they are indicated in other shrines with the East Angles and in Saxon Kent areas. So walls and roof now enclosed their deities, one wonders whether they were free to come and go! It becomes clear that Coifi is a high standing pagan priest. This in itself suggests an organised structure with rules of conduct, which could govern or administer to others who followed their ways.
Bede adds more than a glimpse in this case, which can be explored further. Coifi also becomes converted along with King Edwin. So Coifi may well have broken pagan ethics by, riding a horse, with a spear in his hand. The shrine is recorded located at Goodmanham although it still remains unidentified. According to the account Coifi throws the spear over the shrine, and later burns it to the ground. The symbolism of the spear could hold an importance, as scholars have speculated Germanic pagans in battle determined sacrificial victims to Woden; simply achieved by throwing a spear over their enemies' head. Those caught in between were then dedicated to the deity. So is then an act using pagan methods, but in this case dedicating it to a new god? Another point, which may be relevant, is the priests of the Anglii were not allowed to carry any arms. Again this could just be speculation depending on ones view of the origins of the Anglo's in Derida and Bernicia. Yet all what can be gleamed from the Anglo Saxon chronicles is that Ida is the recorded founder of the later Northumbria tribes in 547AD. It does list an impressive genealogy right back to the deity of Woden. The territorial no doubt commenced from Derida, Specifically seeing that Y Gododdin makes no mention of Bernicia, so it's probably that event occurred before it became established.
However Ida displays an Indo European trait claiming to be an ancestor in direct line from Woden, so one could argue the relationship between the land and king to this deity is relevant. Indeed was it not the sovereignty of Ireland also connected to the land. Do the vernacular priests have similar attributes to the relationships between King Edwin and Coifi, the land and deity in the 6th century are suggestive parallels. However some might reject any connection to the Anglo's for being a non-Celtic variety linguistically.
Of course there was the Augustine Mission in 597AD surely there are more pagan references here. Indeed one very important piece, which comes to light within a papal letter. Mellitus a companion to Augustine arrives later carrying this. The message within the letter overrules the previous one to King Aethelbert of Kent, which had urged him to destroy the shrines after he was evangelised. So the previous contents were rebuked but a new procedure of dealing with pagan idols and shrines were instigated. Now they were recycled in a friendly environmental way. Idols were discouraged or even destroyed; the structure was blessed and consecrate with holy water. Moreover a shrewd move perhaps, why upset the locals. Yet is there an element of magic on display, whose god or gods were more powerful. Indeed one may recall the sparing contests between the vernacular pagans/priests and the missionaries from an earlier period.
Shrines dedicated to the new and the old beliefs were also evident and became recorded in specific cases. The East Angles King Redwald served both beliefs separately on one altar placed in the same shrine or temple. Indeed this approach has led to numerous critical debates. Some reason, the worship of a single god was unfamiliar. However others have taken a different and may be a possible humorist approach of simply considering he was unsure and just hedged his bets. Irrespectively it shows the challenges of both pagan laity and the venerability of the secular missionary. None where immune or removed from pagan beliefs, superstitions nor any magical element they could have held. So it was no ordinary task, it had set backs and indeed evangelisation was a long drawn out process that took centuries. Indeed pockets of resistance remained into late 9th century and probably beyond. Even the Norwegian and Danish Vikings left their pagan calling card too.
It too could be argued the christianised process was at first had a superficial affect one which could have nearly failed. There were cases when the new belief or faith failed to be accepted or even passed down, from king to his heir. As was the case at Aethelburt death, as his son and heir revived the old ways. The warriors no doubt followed, yet had the overall community been also converted. Well perhaps some had been, but it's a generic they usually followed the king. Yet Augustine aid Millitus had a role to play in establishing a school at its early Christian centre at Canterbury. Indeed ecclesial education became introduced to converts and as a progressive way to move forward within its organisation. One method undertook was simply purchasing slaves to convert and weaned in the new religion. Indeed a similar method was adopted at Lindisfarne. In turn it assisted both areas in the evangelisation process. Much worse was the plague in the mid 7th century; it had a devastating effect similar to the one that claimed Maelgwn. The loss of bishops attached to royal courts hampered any sort of progress; even the archbishop of Canterbury seat became vacant for some years till 669. Yet the loss of clerics in the monasteries remains an unknown factor.
Not until the Pascal debate in 664 was sorted out under sovereign approval of King Oswy that it allowed more opportunities. Yet not all agreed with his judgement to change allegiances to St. Peter rather than St. John, subsequently a split occurred at Lindisfarne. One group remained while the other made an exodus to Ireland via Iona. Yet Iona community and the Britons refused to alter their traditional method of calculation. Indeed the quarterdecans where cast out as heretics, as each withdrew to there respective old or new territories. Indeed the long awaited arrival of the new archbishop Theodore to Canterbury took five years to accomplish. Well he did have to travel from Antioch situated in Turkey via Rome. Interesting too is that he had to grow out, and reshape his tonsure to the accepted Roman style! So it then suggests that the "Celtic" tonsure is not necessarily limited to these Islands. Specifically when it was an accepted style in Turkey; once again his aid Adain travelling from North Africa via Rome arrived later.
Nothing was going to stop Theodore; he undertook a tour to assess the situation. Indeed like a "spin-doctor", he slowly turned the situation around. Cannon laws were agreed with the small number of surviving Bishops. His authority was recognised as being derived direct from Rome. They humbly agreed after much debate to become subservient to Canterbury. Thus undermining the sovereign kingship power base, indeed he also commenced to out manoeuvre the authority of kingships further. Theodore slowly removed their authority to elect and locate the new bishops. There too was an overall restructuring process being carried on even after his time, centred on the dioceses. This was no longer based on the territory areas held by Kingships and its extended or diminished boarders. This alone was dependent on the political ambitions of the kingships. All generated an appropriate amount of wealth related to there size. Subsequently ecclesiastical establishment’s wealth had varied. Indeed the dioceses boundaries slowly changed the situation allowing it to be evened out and become more manageable administration wise. However that too had its challenges as Bede's letter to Ecgbert indicates.
Yet other aspect affected various areas with the introduction of law codes; indeed Athelburt of Kent followed and imitated the previous Roman style, apart from the laws that protected the church. Basically what is happening is the regional oral customary laws are taking a written form. Some also has survived from the West Saxon in the laws of Ince. More to our interestingly are those glimpses of pagan folklore that have survived. Yet it's only helpful in some areas. Another helpful source in this area are the penitentials' that are credited to Archbishop Theodore. Not only are there some wonderful snippets of information another very interesting factor emerge. This is the way Theodore appears to work in the synthesis of the old with the new; indeed it's similar to the analogy given to Bede's work with the cauldron.
The biggest change affecting all of the Islands society whether Angles, Anglos, Saxons or Jutes was the introduction of the ecclesial calendar. The celebration of feast and saint days became more rigid within the working of the church, affecting those who had converted. Yet rural areas unaffected generally continued with a different calendar scheme. Returning to Bede once more in an earlier work prior to his History, the monk produced the 'De Temproum Ratione'. This contains a record concerning the names of months relating to the pagan festivals. Again snippets of activities and practices can be snatched and no doubt speculated on.
Starting with the seasonal round; Solmonath was celebrated in February, described as the month when cakes were offered to divinities. Scholars have also conjectured these were likely to be shaped. Rhedmonath came next in March being a celebration to the goddess Rheda. (Interesting one wonders whether this is an equinox celebration. Eastmonath called in April where Bede indicates it's named after a goddess Eastre or Eostre. One could conjecture a spring or even the commencement of summer. Then there is a long wait until Halegmonath in September. Bede considered this as their 'Holy Month' when offerings where offered. Scholars have speculated it could be a harvest festival. (Once again is it opposite Rhedmonath). Lastly there is Blodmonath in November; here Bede informs it's a 'month of sacrifice'. Indeed a common customary agricultural practice where the joint community culled its livestock before winter. Saving the best animals and no doubt the seeds had been harvest earlier for the next spring.
There too are the recorded names of some weekdays dedicated to deities. Indeed this evidence is not complete and is rather scarce. Some deities do crop up in the place-names from around the respective areas these people occupied. Inclusive are remnants of shrines and sacred places hidden but preserved linguistically. Indeed one has not included the archaeological evidence. Much like a stone, when skimmed and skipped across the water pond, any pool or drop of water on a spider web, it is complex and tangled with many interlocking threads.
Hillgarth, J.N. 1987, 'Modes of evangelisation of Western Europe in the 7th Century,' in P. Ni Chathain & M. Richter (Eds.), 1987, Ireland and Christendom: The Bible and the Mission pp. 311-331
John, E., 1992, ‘The Point of Woden’ in Anglo Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 5, pp 127-134
Meaney, A.L., Anglo Saxon Idolators and Ecclesiastes from Theodore to Aclcuin; A source Study in Anglo Saxon Studies in archaeology and history 5, pp.103-125
Myr-Harting, H., 1991, the coming of Christianity to Anglo Saxon England, Batesford
Richter, M., 1987, 'Practical aspects of the conversion of the Anglo Saxons', in P. Ni Chathain & M. Richter (Eds.), Ireland and Christendom: The Bible and the Mission, pp. 362- 376
Sherley-Price (Trans), 1990, Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, Penguin Classics
Sims-Williams, P., 1990, Religion and Literature in Western England 600-800, Cambridge University Press
Wilson, D., 1992 Anglo Saxon Paganism, London; Routledge
Wood, I., 1987, ‘Pagans and Holy Men 600-800AD in P. Ni Chathain & M. Richter (Eds.), Ireland and Christendom: The Bible and the Mission (1987) pp. 347-361