On the Definition of Germanic Theology

Written by Dyami Millarson

Germanic theology is the study of Germanic divine matters.

Germanic historical theology is the study of historical sources concerning Germanic divine matters.

Germanic systematic theology is the study of principles or patterns relating to the Germanic divine matters.

Germanic practical theology is the study of practices related to the divine matters.

If there is a disconnection between modern and ancient practices, practical theology will seek to ameliorate it.

Comprehending Germanic Polytheism Requires Detective Work

Written by Dyami Millarson

In order to understand the essence of Germanic polytheism, detective work is required: one has to find leads.

Much of the information about Germanic paganism is based on regurgitation (repetition of information without analysis).

I wish more information about Germanic religion wete truly original. More input from human creativity would actually get us somewhere.

There are many leads to follow. To solve the mysteries of the Germanic religion case, the imaginative power of the human mind is needed.

Not just creativity and imagination are needed, but also empathy. If we can empathise with our subjects, namely the practitioners of Germanic religion, we can get closer to the essence of their practice. An empathic look is vital.

A good detective can place himself in the shoes of whoever he is investigating. He also has imaginative and creative powers that help him solve complex mysteries.

In conclusion, being a good Germanic polytheism researcher requires one to be a good Germanic religion detective, which means that one needs to be good at finding leads and once those leads have been found, one needs to folloe those leads using creativity, imagination, and empathy.

Sources of Gothic Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

The following are important sources for our knowledge of Gothic paganism:

  • Sabbas the Goth whose story has been described by Epiphanius where the Gothic ritual consumption of sacrificial meat is mentioned;
    • Likewise, Nicetas the Goth (see page 86 of Ulfilas: Apostle of the Goths) whose deeds (known as Actae Nicetae) have been commemorated in Acta Sanctorum where sacrifice to the Gothic Deities is mentioned;
  • Ammianus who wrote about Roman history mentioning the Goths and their custom of shouting praises of the ancestors before going into battle;
  • Jordanes who wrote a Gothic history and mentioned the Anses who were Gothic ancestors.

A Tentative List of Systems of Religion Applicable to Germanic Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

I have previously discussed how systems of religion may be defined in universal ways despite their particular origins (e.g. Roman, Greek, and so on) and may then again be defined in a particularly Germanic way such that they are useful for understanding Germanic religion (see my article on universal and particular definitions of systems of religion). Having gained this insight, we may then proceed to ask the following question: which systems of religion are applicable to Germanic religion? There are quite a few systems of religion that are applicable to Germanic religion. Giving an exhaustive list is beyond the scope of this article, as this article is merely meant to demonstrate such a list could potentially be made. Consequently, here follows an incomplete list of systems of religion that appear to be applicable to the Germanic context if defined in a way that fits Germanic religion:

  • Theism (polytheism, Vættirism, Vættir faith, Vęrðirism, Vęrðir faith, Godism, Goð faith, Mögnism, Mögn faith, Böndism Bönd faith, Męginism, Męgin faith, belief in High-Ranking and Low-Ranking Gods), animism (spiritism, spiritualism, spirituality)
    • Ginnręginism (Ginnręgin faith, Uppręgin faith)
    • Æsirism (Æsir faith, Ręgin faith)
      • Ásynjurism (Ásynjur faith)
    • Vanirism (Vanir faith)
    • Hero worship (Einhęrjarism, Einhęrjar faith, Saint faith, virtuous men worship, glorious men worship, brave men tradition, great men worship, strong men worship, deified ancestor worship, fallen hero faith, great ancestor worship, prime ancestor worship, homourable men worship)
      • Valkyrjurism (Valkyrjur faith)
    • Elemental Spirits, Nature Spirits, Place Spirits, Mithgarth Spirits
      • Landvættirism (Landvættir faith)
        • Landdísirism (Landdísir faith)
        • Stone Spirit Faith (Steinvættir faith, Hörgvættir faith)
        • Tree Spirit faith (Trévættir faith, Trémęnn faith, Skógarvættir faith, Viðarvættirism)
        • Household Spirit faith (Húsvęrðirism, Húsvættirism, Húsvættir faith)
        • Hill Spirit faith (Bjargvættirism)
      • Nykrarism (Nykrar faith, Marvættir faith, Marmęnn faith, Fjallvættir faith, Forsvættir faith, Vatnavættirism, Vatnavættir faith, Sævættir faith)
        • Marmęnnillism (Marmęnnill faith)
          • Margýgrism (Margýgr faith)
    • Álfarism (Álfar faith)
      • Dísirism (Dísir faith, Álfkonur faith)
      • Ljósálfarism (Ljósálfar faith, Himinvættir faith, leukotheism)
      • Dvergarism (Dvergar faith)
        • Dyrgjurism (Dyrgjur faith)
      • Svartálfarism (melanotheism)
      • Dökkálfarism (achluotheism)
    • Fylgjurism (Fylgjur faith)
    • Hamingjurism (Hamingjur faith)
    • Nornirism (Nornir faith)
    • Mörurism (Mörur faith)
    • Maltheism (belief in evil, harmful or hostile Gods, Meinvættirism, Íllskuvættirism, Úvættirism)
    • Eutheism (belief in friendly Gods, Hjálpvættirism, Holl Ręgin faith)
    • Draugarism (Draugar faith, zombie faith)
    • Ormarism (ophiotheism, Ormar faith, Drękarism, Drękar faith, ophiolatry)
    • Jötnarism (Jötnar faith, Þursarism (Þursar faith, trollism, troll faith)
      • Gýgjarism (Gýgjar faith)
  • Traditionalism (siðr, blótism, perspective, philosophy, worldview, way, code, thought, ritualism, custom, rite, superstition, Germanic sacrificialism, hemotheism)
    • Germanic fatalism (Ørlögism, Wyrdism, Urðrism, Urðarbrunnr faith)
      • Shamanism (Seiðrism, faith in magical wisdom, Galdrism, Görningism, Vittism, belief in Trolldómr, heroism, messianism, miracle-worker faith, sōtēres faith, soteric faith, soterotheism, Seiðmęnnism, Seiðmęnn faith, Spámęnn, Spámęnn faith, Görningamęnn, Görningamęnn faith, Galdravættirism, Galdravættir faith, Görningavættirism, Vittavættirism, Vittavættir faith, witch faith, sorcerer faith)
        • Belief in the quality of hamramr (shape-shifting, metamorphosis, transmutation)
          • Zootheism (animal worship, theriotheism)
            • Aviotheism (bird worship)
            • Lycotheism (wolf worship, lycanthropism, werewolf faith, vargúlfar faith, belief in eigi einhamr, hamramar faith, kveldúlfar faith, wolf-themed naming tradition)
            • Hippotheism (horse worship)
            • Arctotheism (bear worship, werebear faith, bęrserkar faith, bear-themed naming tradition)
            • Bootheism (cow worship)
            • Ichthyotheism (fish worship)
            • Myotheism (mouse worship)
        • Spá faith (millenarianism, omenism, omen belief, prophet faith, sooth-saying faith, prophesy faith, belief in fortune-telling, belief in foresight, belief in clairvoyance, Völurism, Völur faith, Seiðkonurism, Spákonurism)
          • Belief in drawing lots
          • Belief in interpreting animal speech (animal speech faith, animal-whispering faith, Speaking with animals
          • Belief in interpreting intestines
          • Belief in interpreting flight of birds
          • Belief in interpreting breezing of horses
          • Belief in foreboding dreams
        • Fetishism (magical items faith, magical objects faith) 
          • Magical weapons
          • Blótspánn faith
          • Totemism, idolatry, idolotheism, idolism
            • Pole God worship
    • Vé worship (sanctuary worship, Friðr observance, irenotheism, sacred space rites, sanctity faith, friðstaðr faith, hęlgistaðr faith), topotheism (place worship, landmark worship, landscape feature worship), nature worship (heimism, universism, cosmism, ‘naturalism’ redefined as the worship of natural events and forces of nature), Odinism (rex deōrum worship, animus mundī worship, King of the Gods worship; King of the Gods = King of the Heavens worship, King of the Clouds worship, worship of the ruler of the whole universe, worship of regnātor omium deōrum, Tīwaz worship)
      • Gardism (worship of the two garths, worship of Mithgarth and Asgarth)
        • Dendrotheism (tree worship, sacred grove worship, wood veneration, xylotheism, blótlundar faith, sacred tree worship, blótviðir faith, blóttré faith, sacred forest worship, hylotheism, blótskógar, forest worship, ‘arborism’ redefined as blóting to trees, dendrolatry, arborolatry)
          • Baduhennism (worship of Baduhenna’s forest)
          • Donarism (worship of Donar’s oak)
          • Yggdrasilism (world tree faith, axis mundī faith)
        • Hydrotheism (vatnablót, water worship, blóting to bodies of water, hydrolatry)
          • Njördism (sea worship, sæblót)
          • Blótkeldurism (sacred well worship, telmatotheism, bog worship, lake worship, blóting to lakes, Sacred spring worship, fanism, fanotheism, blótbrunnarism) telmatolatry)
          • Forsism, waterfall worship (blóting to waterfalls), stream worship, brooklet worship
        • Ouranotheism and chronotheism (sky worship, heaven worship, heavenly body worship, celestialism, himinblót, ouranolatry; time worship, season worship, chronolatry)
          • Sólism (sun worship, heliotheism, solarism, heliolatry)
          • Mánism (moon worship, selenotheism, selenolatry, lunarism)
          • Thorism (thunder worship)
          • Sumarrism (summer worship, sumarblót, miðsumarblót)
          • Vetrism (winter worship, vetrarblót, miðsvetrarblót)
          • Dagrism (day worship, hemerotheism)
          • Nóttism (night worship, nyctotheism)
        • Geotheism (land worship, geolatory)
          • Blótvęllirism (field worship, heath worship)
          • Jördism (Earth worship, Mother Earth worship, jarðarblót)
          • Island worship (fositism, véey faith, eyblót)
          • Blóthaugar faith (ancestralism, ancestral rites, ancestor worship, howe worship, mound worship, gravehill worship, fęll faith, natural hill worship, arrificial hill worship, terp worship)
          • Sacrificial pit worship (blótgrafir faith, ground-hole worship, sacrificial hole tradition)
        • Petrotheism (Cairn worship, Hörgar worship, Kumbl worship, blóting to a heap of stones, hörgblót, petrolatry, border stone worship, liminal deity worship)
          • Worship of Freyja with cairns 
        • Domotheism (worship in houses, worship confined within house walls, worship in domestic environment, worship of divine houses, worship of dwelling place of deity, álfablót, Temple worship, Hófism, blóthúsism, hófblót)

Dismissive and loaded interpretations of Germanic religion are superstition and mythology, which we should seek to abolish when speaking of Germanic theology as we should we sympathetic to Germanic religion when studying it, whilst hostility to the object of study only clouds our judgement and understanding. A similarly loaded and dismissive term in the science of language is dialect, which should be abolished just like the terms superstition and mythology when referring to Germanic religion or any other folk religion.

I used the plurals Æsir, Vanir, Jötnar, etc. to form Æsirism, Vanirism, Jötnarism, etc. to denote that it is not just about one of the Æsir, Vanir, Jötnar, etc. Thus, I used the plurals in the ism-formations to bear the same meaning as poly- in polytheism.

Germanic polytheism requires Æsirism, Vanirism, Jötnarism, Dvergarism, Álfarism, Fylgjurism, Hamingjurism, Nornirism, Nykrarism, Mörurism, Einhęrjarism, Seiðmęnnism, Draugarism, Ormarism, Meinvættirism, Hjálpvættirism, i.e., belief in the existence of the Æsir, Vanir, Jötnar, Dvergar, Drękar, Álfar, Fylgjur, Hamingjur, Nornir, Nykrar, Mörur, Einhęrjar, Seiðmęnn, Draugar, Ormar, Meinvættir, Hjálpvættir. The exact relationship with these divine beings may differ, as some require worship and others should be warded against. Similarly, Judeo-Christianity requires God faith, Angel faith and Devil faith, i.e., belief in God, Angels and Satan. This is simply how Judeo-Christianity works.

The full package of beliefs native to Germanic polytheism appears quite complex, yet we should not forget that the bulk of the religious emphasis in Indogermanic polytheism lies in (intuitively) recognising supernatural beings whereas the emphasis in the various strands of Semitic monotheism lies in a centrality and reduction of beings  by enforcing strict rules. The natural human situation is recognising a multitude of beings and the opposite can only be achieved with strict rules prohibiting the natural human situation.

Germanic religion certainly meant a reverence for whatever was native to the North or more specifically the Northwest of Europe, as this was practical; being in harmony with one’s local environment by having a natural sense of respect for said environment is healthy. This may be described as North worship, Nordic veneration, Northern veneration, or septentrional veneration. After all, septentrional languages was a term used in the past to designate the Germanic languages and it would therefore not to be so strange to speak of septentrional veneration or septentrionalism as a key tenet of Germanic society.

Being Northern is a part of Germanic identity since time immemorial. Names such as Northvegr and Northmenn attest to this. Nevertheless, an even more important current in Germanic thought was the concept of centrality. Germanic identity, as seen in the concept of Mithgarth, was linked with the notion of centrality in ancient times. The Germanic peoples perceived themselves as being in the middle of the world, and so while the perception of being Northern has ancient origins, the prevailing Germanic view was that the Germanic peoples were central in the world, meaning that they were the closest to Yggdrasil, the world tree, at the centre of the world. A comparable perception has existed among the Chinese peoples since ancient times, who perceived themselves as living in the Central Kingdom, which is a concept that ultimately has the same intended meaning as Mithgarth.

Germanic religion has different theistic aspects: belief that Gods who have a favourable disposition towards mankind exist (eutheism), belief that Gods who are may or may not be evil, i.e. morally ambiguous, exist (dystheism), belief that Gods who are evil, i.e. misanthropic, exist (maltheism). 

Terms for a folk religionist are: blætr kumbla, blótmaðr. A female folk religionist is a blótkona. A folk religious priest is: goði, blótgoði, blótjarl. Folk religious priests may also be called díar. A female folk religious priest is a gyðja, blótgyðja.

Belief in shape-shifting is intimately related with the tradition of animal-themed personal names, the belief in werewolves and werebears (bear-skins), and the belief in the Fylgjur and Trolls who can appear in a great many animal forms — not even to speak of the shape-shifting abilities of the Gods. Witchcraft is the domain of the trolls, hence the term trolldómr. Troll means Werewolf-Witch-Giant, and can by extension also be used to possess the same magical powers as trolls. Cleasby and Vigfusson say that “the evil spirits of the heathens were trolls and giants” and that the Old Norse concept of trolls “conveys the notion of huge creatures, giants, Titans, mostly in an evil, but also in a good sense.”

I gave more prominence to Nykrar than Sævættir, Vatnavættir, etc. because Nykrar are a generic water sprite. Furthermore, a salt/fresh water distinction is not of primary importance for water spirits; Nykrar occur in both salt and fresh water environments. For example, the Dutch nikkers may be found fresh water.

See the examples of the use of hjálpvættur in Icelandic in this online dictionary.

The Purpose of Prefexing Religion With Folk, Natural, Indigenous, Traditional, Ethnic, Cultural, Etc.

Written by Dyami Millarson

When one says Germanic religion, that is just that – a religion that is defined by whatever Germanic means. However, when one prefixes religion with folk, natural, indigenous, traditional, ethnic, cultural, etc. one adds a new flavour to what religion means, and this may offer a fresh perspective that helps us improve our fundamental understanding of Germanic religion. So what we are looking for with these prefixed descriptors is gaining new perspectives that help enlighten us on the nature of Germanic religion. Another added bonus is the fact that the familiar-sounding word religion itself is not substituted, yet the connotation is changed.

When speaking of Germanic folk religion, Germanic natural religion, Germanic indigenous religion, Germanic traditional religion, Germanic traditional religion, Germanic ethnic religion, Germanic cultural religion, Germanic legal religion, etc. we are proposing equally valid alternate perspectives on Germanic religion and all of these perspectives have merit as they highlight or zoom in on a different aspect of the religion. The very nature of Germanic religion allows for this multitude of perspectives, and we should not be afraid to play with it and even have fun switching between different perspectives, as it deepens our understanding.

The ultimate purpose of this admittedly playful and fun approach is not just to entertain ourselves and the readers, but ultimately it is about learning to understand Germanic paleopaganism properly; we are trying to remove our own biases by highlighting various pristine associations – perhaps looking like contradictions to us – that exist within the religion. Changing between a variety of perspective namely has the advantage of opening our eyes to how religion penetrated the entirety of Germanic society.

Whilst Germanic religion is undoubtedly all-encompassing and spans across the entirety of Germanic existence, we cannot understand what it means to be Germanic without seeking to understand Germanic religion; being Germanic – or what it means to be Germanic – cannot properly be separated from Germanic religion. As Germanic religion is ‘everything that it means to be Germanic’ while it is everywhere in Germanic society, we must presuppose overlap that works like a vortex that cannot be escaped.

In other words, it is like the event horizon of a black hole which is inescapable. If we look at Germanic society from the outside, we see and feel an emptiness that is hard to define; we keep grasping at straws as we try to define what it is we are seeing. That is why we may symbolically see Germanic society as a black hole, it is a Ginnungap, an empty abyss that we can hardly comprehend. Continuing this black hole analogy, being Germanic is itself the event horizon, everything that is Germanic is connected and cannot be separated. Owing to the inescapable overlap that is inherent to the Germanic religious worldview or philosophy; as a result, every system of religion that is meant to help us understand Germanic religion is necessarily synonymous with Germanic religion itself (see my previous article).

Whilst Germanic religion was so deeply ingrained among the early Germanic tribes, it is inevitable that it survived in various forms. Similarly, Chinese religion survived in various forms despite the rise of Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. Various prefixes are applied to Chinese religion to differentiate it from those last three philosophies, and while our use of prefixes may also serve the purpose of differentiating from other philosophies prevalent in the West, really the main purpose for us is benefiting from the various perspectives that are offered – or conjured up – by the various terms that may be prefixed to religion.

Each prefix creates a new connotation or association that may inspire us and help us get a better intuitive grasp of Germanic religion. Since Germanic religion is as complex as it is, we cannot hope to ever fully intellectually understand it, but what we can hope for is to get an intuitive grasp such that we can be in harmony with the genuine tradition of the paleopagans who practised Germanic religion in their daily lives. Our goal is to get closer to the paleopagans and thus removing biases is vital; we have to embrace whatever it meant to be Germanic in the past and we have to let go of our modern ideologies which limit our understanding of the ancient world. Piecing together the ancient worldview that characterised Germanic religion means fitting pristine Germanic information into the matrix of our own worldview, as only then we can fully empathise with Germanic religion as it was. One has to live a philosophy or religion to truly understand it; Germanic religion is no exception.

Analysing Systems of Religion as Universal and Particular

Written by Dyami Millarson

Theism, animism, shamanism, messianism and totemism, which are respectively based on Greek, Latin, Manchu, Hebrew and Ojibwe terms, are systems of religion that may be analysed as universal despite their respective Greek, Latin, Manchu, Hebrew and Ojibwe origins, and therefore may also be analysed as particularly Germanic; for if the definition of each of these terms can be universally applied, it can also be particularly applied. When defining Germanic religion as theistic, animistic, shamanic, messianic and totemic, we need to define those systems of religion in a fitting Germanic way. The definitions, in other words, have to be adapted to the Germanic religious context if our stated aim is to study Germanic religion. The use of these terms in relation to Germanic religion is therefore no mere application of their universal definitions to the Germanic religious situation, but the universal definitions are merely a stage they pass through before being adapted to properly fit the Germanic context as we need an intermediate stage, free from particulars (e.g. Greek, Roman, Manchu, Hebrew or Ojibwe characteristics), that may help us get an idea of why the term may be useful. Regardless of the etymological origin of these concepts that we may define in such a way that they fit Germanic religion, the aforementioned terms are useful for describing the Germanic religious situation. After all, whilst students of Germanic religion, what we need is proper and familiar-sounding descriptors without preoccupying ourselves too much with their non-Germanic origins despite truthfully acknowledging these origins. When one speaks of Germanic theism, animism, shamanism, messianism and totemism, one is speaking of Germanic religion. To make any sense, these terms have to be defined in such a way that they are synonymous with (façets of) Germanic religion; they are merely alternate approaches to the same concept. In other words, each system of religion highlights another aspect of religion, and thus they are different, non-mutually exclusive ways to define what religion really is.

The key take-away from this article ought to be the insight that Germanic religion is theistic, animistic, shamanic, messianic and totemic as much as it is religious. The fact of the matter is that a Germanic theism, animism, shamanism, messianism and totemism defining and defined by Germanic religion are merely possible on the basis of the study of Germanic society as it once was before the decline of Germanic religion as an integral part of high culture (the culture of elite circles) as well as after Germanic religion was pushed out of elite discourse and receded to being merely part of low culture (the culture of the lower classes), as the decline of Germanic religion was a complex process whereby it did not die outright but simply gained a lower-class status in which it was socially locked and from which it could hardly escape before Protestants revived intellectual interest in the matter and began studying Germanic religious survivals into the modern era earnestly, which historically helped improve intellectual understanding of (continued) Germanic religion in elite circles. Given the unique situation of Germanic religion, culturally sensible definitions of Germanic theism, animism, shamanism, messianism and totemism cannot come from without by forcing universal definitions simply and mechanically on the Germanic situation, which will only create an anachronistic monstrosity unhelpful to our endeavour of trying to understand what Germanic religion is and what it is not – we seek to penetrate the Germanic zeitgeist using modern terms that may serve as tools for achieving that scholarly aim. Cultural sensitivity is a must when studying religion that is particularly Germanic rather than generally human, even though the general may be useful for the particular and vice versa. In other words, we cannot study Germanic religion unless we are sensitive to – and curious to learn – what makes it stand out as Germanic. The problem of the study of Germanic paleopaganism is that we have to be open to the ancient Germanic world and whatever that entails; we must not limit ourselves in seeking to understand, and thus our definitions ought to be flexible in that they may be adapted to what we learn as our study of Germanic religion progresses further.

Old Norse Terms for Gods

Written by Dyami Millarson

The Old Norse terms for Gods (in the plural) are:

  • Æsir
  • Díar
  • Tívar, Valtívar, Sigtívar
  • Bönd
  • Höpt
  • Rögn, Ręgin, Ginnręgin, Uppręgin
  • Guð

Vanir, which I did not include above, are another type of Gods.

Álfar (Landálfar) and Vættir (Landvættir, Sjóvættir, Vatnavættir, Loptvættir, Skógarvættir, Fjallvættir, Húsvættir) may also be considered terms for Gods. They may in fact be used as general terms for describing divine entities.

Terms for Goddesses are Ásynjur and Dísir (Freyja is also called Vanadís).

Męgin or Ásmęgin is not a term for the Gods but it is an attribute of the Gods; for it refers to Divine Strength, particularly that of Thor.

Is Messianism Compatible With Germanic Polytheism?

Written by Dyami Millarson

Even though the concept of messianism is associated with monotheism in the popular mind, the answer to the question in the title of this article is a resounding yes and Germanic polytheistic messianism predates monotheistic messianism in Northwestern Europe. So how does Germanic folk religious messianism work? To answer that question, we need to define messianism first: messianism is the belief in a messiah or that a particular group under the influence of a messiah is destined to save the world. Apparently, to understand the definition of messianism, we need to take a closer look at the functional role of a messiah: what does a messiah do? A messiah saves, and so a messiah is a saviour, which is σωτήρ in Ancient Greek. This is a very important semantic connection to understand for Germanic messianism. Additional semantic connections with saviour which I deem particularly relevant for our discussion of Germanic messianism are protector, guardian, patron, hero, and tutelar. So, we may understand a messiah functionally as a Tutelary Deity or Spirit. This tutelary function is what we ought to focus on with Germanic messianism: since time immemorial, Germanic religion has had the concept of Tutelars.

In my estimation, messianism as a concept in monotheism is intrinsically connected with the concept of the Tutelar and ultimately comes from a belief in many Tutelars. Messianism in monotheism may be derived from a polytheistic ur-messianism. The Germanic peoples had Hero-Gods, who exhibited important heroic traits and performed great deeds (presumably for the benefit of humanity); the motif of the protective Deity or Spirit is essential to Germanic religion, and consequently it is essential to Germanic messianism. Additionally, the apparent Germanic belief that Deities or Spirits, to which one may sacrifice, are protectors, guardians, patrons, heroes and Tutelars is particularly relevant to our definition of Germanic messianism.

In Germanic religion, the Gods are messiahs; for their function is to save in return for blood sacrifices. It is a quid pro quo matter: salvation can only be achieved through blood sacrifice. Do ut des is inherent in Germanic polytheism, and this ethos may also be observed in the Hávamál. While blood sacrifice (blót in Old Norse) is the preferred instrument or means of salvation in Germanic religion, blood sacrifice is the way to come into contact with the Germanic messiahs (Æsir); the nature of blood sacrifice is defining for the relationship with the Germanic messiahs. While the concept of Patron God (which is Beskermgod in Shire Frisian and Beschermgod in Dutch) is native to Germanic polytheism, we can assert with confidence that messianism is also native to Germanic polytheism, and Germanic messianism is not about a single messiah but a multitude of messiahs; every single Deity or Spirit that can be prayed to with a blood sacrifice is a messiah of some sort.

While Deities in Germanic religion are to be interpreted as saviours who normally provide salvation by means of blood sacrifice, we can establish with a very high degree of confidence that the concept of messianism is not alien to Germanic polytheism. Germanic polytheism may be defined as the belief in multiple messiahs manifesting themselves as various Vættir (Divine Beings) and the belief that people who are under the influence of the Sacrificial Gods (Blótguð in Old Norse) are destined, or prophesied by the decree of the Nornir who spin the webs of fate, to save the world. In the vein of the second definition, Einherjar may be understood as manifestations of War Saints who help protect humanity.

While the world is continuously saved from the destruction of the Giants by the Gods, blood sacrifice may be interpreted as an act that is aiding the Gods in that continuous struggle for the world. While the Gods fight for humanity and are thus delivering humanity from danger, human beings provide food in return for their military service against the forces of chaos wreaking havoc on the natural world and the strongest, bravest or best of mankind may become Einherjar who aid the Gods in their war; this is the man-Deity role division.

So the concept of messianism is useful for understanding Germanic religion in the same manner that animism, shamanism and polytheism are useful, and while the aforementioned concept is relevant to Germanic theology, it certainly makes sense to tweak the definition to fit the Germanic context; Germanic messianism, which is messianism adapted to the Germanic context, is obviously messianism with Germanic characteristics, and therefore it ought to be understood through the lens of typically Germanic concepts (such as blót, Blótguð, Nornir, ørlög, etc.). Although messianism is superficially a new word, its underlying concept is ancient. Likewise, polytheism is a modern word, but its underlying concept is ancient. Messianism and polytheism describe something that has always been the case among the Germanic peoples. Germanic messianism as an aspect of Germanic religion answers the essential question of what is the ultimate goal or purpose of Germanic religion.

On the Divinity of Earth and Heaven

Written by Dyami Millarson

We are wont to say ‘heaven and earth’ in Modern English, ‘heiven an yird’ in Modern Scots, and ‘hemel en aarde’ in Modern Dutch. Despite the fact that people might be inclined to think that the close association of heaven and earth is non-Germanic, this association is actually Germanic. However, the ancients had a habit of saying ‘earth and heaven.’ A Latin dissertation from 1861 says the following: ‘in loco Völuspae quem supra p. 8 adscripsimus aliisque poematis eddicis (Hammarsh. 2, Vafþrudnism. 20, Oddrûnargr. 18) iörð nê upphiminn, iörð eða upphiminn, iörð ok upphiminn, tum in harmonia evangeliorum saxonixa p. 88, 15 ertha endi upphimil, in carminibus denique anglosaxonicis (Andreas 799, Grimmii myth. 1186, Genes. 99, Exod. 26. 76. 429, Crist 968. 1129, Nauta 105) eorðe and upheofon sive uprador.’ We are interested, for our purpose, in the Old Norse expression jörð ok upphiminn, the Old Saxon expression ertha endi upphimil and the Anglo-Saxon (= Old English) expression eorðe and upheofon. The same expression as in the aforementioned old Germanic languages may be reconstructed for Proto-Germanic on the basis that these are genuine old expressions in Germanic. We learn from this that the ancients used to say it the other way around as they put earth before heaven rather instead of putting heaven before earth. So, while heaven and earth were already associated in Germanic times, it is relevant to note that the Germanic traditional order was different from our most common order nowadays. The ON. upphiminn, OS. upphimil and AGS. upheofon mean exactly the same thing: up-heaven or high heaven. The Dutch equivalent is ophemel, which is quite understandable in Dutch if one reasons logically, and one might be tempted to connect this with the familiar Dutch verb ophelemen, which means ‘to praise.’ I have always been tempted to interpret the verb as meaning ‘to lift in the air,’ as one might imagine that ancients had such a habit when they praised or celebrated someone. However, the Shire Frisian verb himmelje means ‘to store’ and this might provide us with a clue that Dutch hemelen might not originally be connected with OS. himil.

As became evident from my recent article where I discussed Erce at great length, it is absolutely certain that the ancient Germanic tribes venerated Mother Earth, which the Anglo-Saxons called eorþan modor, the Norsemen jörðr and Tacitus, who described the Germanic peoples of yore in Latin, mater terra. As a consequence, Germanic religion truly merits the term nature religion, which is a term that was, contrary to Wikipedia (last accessed 1 January 2022) claiming the term to have been coined only recently, already known in the High German language in the 19th century as Naturreligion, and the Dutch equivalent natuurreligie was already in use at that time as well as well. In conclusion, as we know that Jörðr is the spirit of the earth and the earth is the symbol of nature, it may be said that the Germanic peoples worshipped nature; the Germanic peoples certainly seem to have had a deep respect for nature. From the perspective of this profound respect for nature and from an animistic perspective which asserts that the world is inhabited by spirits or vættir as they are called in Old Norse, it makes sense to wonder: if jörð is a divinity and jörð is closely associated with himinn, then would jörð ok upphiminn not both be divinities? The divinity of himinn is expected from this animistic perspective, and while jörð exists in such close association with himinn, we can infer that the relationship must be equivalent to that of husband and wife. We know that the Jörðr is the mother of Thor and we know that Thor is Othin’s son, so we can say that Jörðr is Othin’s wife and must thus be identical to himinn in the physical world. The Germanic Tīwaz, who is called Týr in Old Norse and Tīw in Anglo-Saxon, is the Germanic equivalent of Ζεύς, who is the Greek Sky-God and head of the Greek pantheon. The question arises, if Othin is the head of the Germanic Gods, and if Tyr is the original name of the Sky God and may be equated with himinn, was Othin ever called Týr? Yes, although Týr has been called the son of Othin, we know that Othin has plenty of names where he is called Týr: Rúnatýr, Gautatýr, Sigtýr, Valtýr, Geirtýr, Hroptatýr, Veratýr, Reiðartýr, Hertýr, Fimbultýr, Hangatýr. This abundant use of the name Týr, which may be translated in this context as ‘heavenly being’ or simply ‘God,’ seems to suggest a connection with himinn.

Seeing the names Sigtýr and Valtýr, a favourite quote of mine by early 20th-century John Arnott MacCulloch comes to mind: “Still another term for gods is tivar, “shining ones,” related to Sanskrit devas. It occurs in some of the Eddic poems. The forms sig-tivar, val-tivar, “battle-gods,” also occur.” Thus, one may not just interpret himinn to be represented by a single being, but also by a plurality of beings. In other words, himinn is not necessarily equal to a single Týr, but may also be equal to a plurality of Tívar (which is the Old Norse plural grammatical form of Týr). While himinn might be equated with either single Týr or plural Tívar, might jörð perhaps be interpreted as both singular and plural as well? Indeed, this might be the case, as the Germanic peoples worshipped many matres et matronae, which might be equated with the Dísir. After all, Freyja is also called Vanadís, which means ‘Goddess of the Vanir‘ and implies that the Dísir were connected with fertility (based on what we know about Freyja and the Vanir), and there is also the concept of Landdísir, which means that the Dísir were connected with nature or the earth. So we have gone in full circle: we know that the Germanic peoples, as they were animists, believed the natural world to be inhabited by a multitude of spirits, and as I have pointed out the native terms, you now know that the earthly spirits might be called Landdísir and the spirits who are up high in the heavens might be called Tívar. Additionally, there are vættir called landvættir ‘supernatural beings of the land, ergo of the earth,’ and although I have found but a single mention of the plural form landálfar in an Icelandic book written by Jóni Espelin, published in 1862 and titled Íslands Árbækur í sögu-formi, the lemma landálfr (id est the single form of landálfar) has been adopted in the Latin dictionary of the Old Nordic language by Sveinbjörn Egilsson: “LANDÁLFR, m., genius terrae tutelaris.” (LANDÁLFR, masculine [noun], a tutelary spirit of the earth.) The Viking poet Egill Skallagrímsson mentioned landálfr in one of his poems that was recorded in the Old Norse saga about him:

Lögbrigðir hefir lagða,
landálfr! fyrir mér sjálfum
(blekkir brœðra sökkva
brúðfang) vegu langa.
Gunnhildi á ek at gjalda
(greypt er hennar skap) þenna
(ungr gat ek læ launat)
landrekstr (byli granda).

Chapter 59 of Egils saga Skallagrímssonar. The emphasis is mine.

Landálfr is rendered as ‘land-demon’ in the version of Wiki Saga:

‘Law-breaker, land-demon,
Long voyage lays on me;
He bane of his brothers,
Beguiled by his bride.
Gunnhilda the guilt bears
(Grim queen) of my exile:
Fain am I full swiftly
Her frauds to repay.’

English translation of Chapter 59 of Egils saga. The emphasis is mine.

Egill is invoking the landálfr in his poem and whoever the landálfr may be identified with from a theological point of view, we already know that this being is connected with fertility. A Latin-annotated edition of Egils saga says on page 370 the following about the semantic interpretation of landálfr: “LANDÁLFR, Rex (ut modo Land-áss, Deus). Alfi nempe inter Deos hominesque medii. G. Pauli. Magna invidia & ironia est in hoc nomine, collato cum altero, LÖGBRIGDIR.” (LANDÁLFR, King (like recently Landáss, God). The elves [are] no doubt half [= the middle] between Gods and men. G. Pauli. Great spite & irony is in this noun, [when] brought together with the other, LÖGBRIGDIR [which means ‘law-breaker’].) The same book offers the following translation in Latin, whilst rendering landálfr as ‘Genius terrae tutelaris’ (tutelary earth spirit):

Genius terrae tutelaris, legum violator,
Stavit longas vias mihimet:
Matrimonium corrumpit
Fratrum (suorum) hostem.
Gunnihilldae, mulieri noxiae,
Debeo hoc exilium;
Atrox illius animus est:
Minorennis injurias rependere potui.

Latin translation of Chapter 59 of Egils saga. The emphasis is mine.

Whilst landálfr is rendered as genius terrae, we can say with a degree of certainty that the landálfr is a plaatsgeest (i.e., the spirit of a place) as one might call it in Dutch or a genius loci (i.e., the spirit of a place) as one would call it in Latin. As it is also described with the adjective tutelaris in Latin, we can say it is a tutelar, which is usually a warden of a something in particular, such as a family clan or place. We might understand tutelaris as ‘protective,’ and therefore we might compare the landálfr with the Icelandic vörðr, which is a kind of tutelar following a person from birth to death (cp. the function of the nornir, the fylgjur and the hamingjur). I may delve much deeper into the issue of the landálfr, but I will leave it for now.

The sex of the landvættir may be assumed to be varied if they include both landdísir and landálfar, which may be interpreted to be female and male respectively. This means that jörð may be interpreted as a multitude of both female and male deities or spirits. Then, might the same be the case for upphiminn? Indeed, there is nothing that seems to exclude the Ásynjur (Goddesses) from the term Tívar, which, like the plural form Vanir, does not appear to be a sex-specific term, and thus we may bring upphiminn in connection with both males and females. Finally, we can say that if jörð ok upphiminn are interpreted as hosts of spirits, we can assume they can say they are both female and male, no matter whether they are earhtly or heavenly. However, if jörð ok upphiminn are interpreted as husband and wife due to their close association and therefore queen and king of the cosmos, we may say that jörð is female corresponding to the grammatical gender of jörð and that upphiminn is male corresponding to the grammatical gender of uphiminn.

While it may be tempting to say solely female beings are associated with jörð and solely male beings are associated with uphiminn, the reality is that both female and male beings live in the realms of jörð ok uphiminn; this is completely logical. However, when we get to the essence of what jörð ok uphiminn are, we realise that they are female and male; all the other beings, which live in their embrace, are but their children, and this is the cosmic symbolism of the fact that, although beings of any sex can live in either realm, the realm itself is underlying a specific sex; the grammatical gender of the nouns dictates this, and the fact that we know that the earth is associated with a Goddess makes it easy to conclude heaven is associated with a corresponding God, who has the function of fertilising the earth. Othin, as he is a God who produces many children, fits the image of a very fertile deity. I will close this article with these philosophical insights into the Germanic universe:

  1. Various beings, of either biological sex, inhabit earth and heaven;
  2. Earth is nevertheless fundamentally female, heaven is male whilst the former is fertilised (hence female noun), the latter is the fertiliser (hence male noun);
  3. All the beings inhabitating earth and heaven are children of earth and heaven.

This shows that grammar, nature symbolism, and basic human relationships (father-mother-child) are important for understanding Germanic religious culture.

Making Sense of Anglo-Saxon Mother-Goddess Erce

Written by Dyami Millarson

The earliest known reference to the Angliī (sing. Anglus), who are an ancestral tribe of the Anglo-Saxons, is chapter XL [40] (see the text here or here) of Publius Cornelius Tacitus’ treatise on the origin and location of the Germanic peoples (Dē orīgine et sītū Germānōrum) dated to 98 AD:

Reudigni […] et Aviones et Anglii et Varini et Eudoses et Suarines et Nuitones fluminibus aut silvis muniuntur. nec quicquam notabile in singulis, nisi quod in commune Nerthum, id est Terram matrem, colunt eamque intervenire rebus hominum, invehī populīs arbitrantur. est in insula Oceani castum nemus, dicatumque in eo vehiculum, veste contectum; attingere uni sacerdoti concessum. is adesse penetrali deam intellegit vectamque bubus feminis multa cum veneratione prosequitur. laeti tunc dies, festa loca, quaecumque adventu hospitioque dignatur. non bella ineunt, non arma sumunt; clausum omne ferrum; pax et quies tunc tantum nota, tunc tantum amata, donec idem sacerdos satiatam conversatione mortalium deam templo reddat. mox vehiculum et vestis et, si credere velis, numen ipsum secreto lacu abluitur. servi ministrant, quos statim idem lacus haurit. arcanus hinc terror sanctaque ignorantia, quid sit illud quod tantum perituri vident.
The Reudigni, the Aviones, the Anglii, the Varini, the Eudoses, the Suardones, and Nuithones are protected by rivers or forests. None of these tribes have any noteworthy feature, except they have in common that they worship Nerthus, that is Mother Earth, and they witness she intervenes in human affairs, [as she] is carried to the peoples. In an island of the ocean there is a sacred grove, and within it a consecrated chariot, covered over with a garment. Only one priest is permitted to touch it. He can perceive the presence of the Goddess in this sacred recess, and walks by her side with the utmost reverence as she is drawn along by heifers. It is a season of rejoicing, and festivity reigns wherever she deigns to go and be received. They do not go to battle or wear arms; every weapon is under lock; peace and quiet are known and welcomed only at these times, till the goddess, weary of human intercourse, is at length restored by the same priest to her temple. Afterwards the car, the vestments, and, if you like to believe it, the divinity herself, are purified in a secret lake. Slaves perform the rite, who are instantly swallowed up by its waters. Hence arises a mysterious terror and a pious ignorance concerning the nature of that which is seen only by men doomed to die.

publius cornelius tacitus, de origine et situ germanorum, capitulum xl

The tribal denomination Anglus (pl. Angliī) may or may not be related to Shire Frisian [id est Clay Frisian and Wood Frisian] ing narrow and Dutch eng narrow, which may, in turn, have something to do with Tacitus’ description of this and similar tribes “being protected by rivers or forests” (fluminibus aut silvis muniuntur). It is true that rivers usually have an elongated, narrow shape whilst forests usually take take up a huge area in square metres in any direction; logically, the Shire Frisian ing and Dutch eng are, therefore, more likely to apply to the former than the latter as the adjectives usually describe something that has an elongated shape, such as in Shire Frisian: in inge wei a narrow road or in inge stripe lân a narrow strip of land. However, even if an etymological connection with Shire Frisian ing narrow and Dutch eng narrow is tempting given Tacitus’ own description of the situs location of the Angliī, we ought to be fair and consider other possibilities; an etymological connection with Shire Frisian angel a type of fishhook is another candidate, and this makes perfect sense as those belonging to the ancient tribe of the Angliī dwelled near the Wadden Sea, which is the cradle of Germanic civilisation, and fishing would, therefore, have been a means of sustenance of theirs. Furthermore, it is not strange for West Germanic tribes in the proximity of the Angliī to name themselves after frequently used tools, such as the Fran (sg. Francus) and the Saxōnēs (sg. Saxō) who are named after a type of javelin and knife respectively, and thus technological names for designating tribes may be considered a Germanic tradition, which is a cultural argument in favour of the etymological interpretation of Angliī as a technological name, and additionally, interpreting Angliī as a technological name makes historical sense as the Angliī were a nautical people which traversed the British Channel and thus became the ancestors of the later Anglo-Saxons, whence the Modern English and Scottish languages come. At the same time, if we consider that the Angliī lived near the Wadden Sea, we must also not overlook the fact that the beach along the coast of the Wadden Sea is a narrow strip of land, which, if the Angliī were connected with fishing, might also match well with the Shire Frisian adjective ing, which we discussed as an etymological candidate previously. Yet, the Latin name of the Germanic tribe contains an -l-, which has to be accounted for, and if we interpret this -l- as a Germanic diminutive suffix (cognate with the Latin suffix -(u)l- which may occur in nouns and adjectives), it might make the most sense if we interpret the root word of the tribal denomination as a noun describing a tool rather than an adjective describing the shape of something, although the latter interpretation is not wholly unthinkable. Given the suffix, I have a tendency to favour the Angliīangel connection over the Angliīing interpretation; however, I would not go so far as to suggest the latter is thereby completely ruled out, because ing + diminutive suffix could potentially denote a relatively small narrow object, such as an island (think of the narrowly-shaped North Frisian islands, such as the Halligen Islands, near the coast of Continental Europe) or an estuary.

Having delved into the etymology of the tribal name, we must now return to what Tacitus has to say about the Germanic traditional religion of the Angliī: it was customary among the Angliī and West Germanic tribes related to them “that they worship Nerthus, that is Mother Earth” (quod […] Nerthum, id est Terram matrem, colunt). Moreover, the Angliī and others are witnesses of Mother Earth’s deeds in the human world: “they witness she intervenes in human affairs, [as she] is carried to the peoples” (eam[…] intervenire rebus hominum, invehī populīs arbitrantur). Whilst Tacitus as an ancient Roman is a fellow polytheist, he can give a decent account of the worldview of the Angliī, helping us empathise with how they perceive things; it is evident that the Angliī believed themselves to be the witnesses of Mother Earth, and knowing this perception of Mother Earth as well as the perception of themselves (self-perception) as witnesses fully opens our window into the religious world of the Angliī, which can make us feel that we are much closer to the Angliī than our current year suggests, and this is the right time to realise that Tacitus’ lively description of the folk ways of the Angliī is, in the current year, almost two thousand years old.

Why is the religion of the Angliī so important for the topic of this article? As suggested by the title, the goal of this article is to make sense of an Anglo-Saxon Goddess named Erce, which may appear elusive as she has, unfortunately, been mentioned only once in an Anglo-Saxon charm, which means we do not have much to work with and we therefore had to take a look at the wider ethnoreligious context before we could begin to grasp the nature of Erce as a Germanic Goddess.

While there is only one Anglo-Saxon charm in which Erce is mentioned, there is great merit to reading the entire charm (I edited the Anglo-Saxon text):

Anglo-Saxon: Æcerbot

her ys seo bot, hu ðu meaht
þine æceras betan gif hi nellaþ
wel wexan oþþe þær hwilc unge
defe þing on gedon bið on dry
oððe on lyblace genim þonne
on niht, ær hyt dagige, feower
tyrf on feower healfa þæs lan
des & gemearca hu hy ær stod
on . Nim þonne ele hunig beor
man ælces feos meolc þe on þæm
lande sy ælces treocynnes
dæl þe on þæm lande sy gewexen
butan heardan beaman ælcre
nam cuþre wyrte dæl butan
glappan anon do þonne haligwæt
er ðær on & drype þon þriwa on
þone staðol þara turfa & cwe
þe ðonne ðas word . Crescite . wexe .
et multiplicamini . & gemænig
fealda . et replete . & gefylle .
terre . þas eorðan . In nomine

patris . et filii . et spiritus
sancti sit bene
dicti . & pater noster swa oft swa
þæt oðer & bere siþþan ða turf to circean
& mæssepreost asinge feower mæssan
ofer þan turfon . & wende man þæt grene
to ðan weofode & siþþan gebringe
man þa turf þær hi ær
wæron ær sunnan setl gange . & hæbbe hi
gæworht of cwicbeame feower cris
tes mælo & awrite on ælcon ende .
Matheus . & marcus, LucaS . & Iohes
lege þæt cristes mæl on þone pyt
neoþeweardne cweðe ðonne . Crux
matheus . Crux . marc . Crux . Lucas
Crux . Sct. Iohannes. Nim ðonne
þa turf & sete ðær ufon on & cweþe
ðonne nigon siþon þas word . Crescite .
& swa oft . pater noster & wende þe þon
eastweard & onlut nigon siðon
eadmod lice . & cweð þonne þas word
eastweard ic stande, arena ic me
bidde bidde ic þone mæran . d[omi]ne
bidde ðone miclan drihten

bidde ic ðone haligan heofonrices
weard . eorðan ic bidde & upheofon
& ða soþan s[an]c[t]a marian . & heofones
meaht . & heahreced þt ic mote
þis gealdor mid gife drihtnes
toðu ontynan þurh trumne ge
þanc aweccan þas wæstmas us
to woruld nytte gefyllan þas
foldan mid fæste geleafan wlitigi
gan þas wancg turf swa se witega
cwæð . þæt se hæfde are on eorþ
rice se þe ælmyssan dælde dom
lice drihtnes þances . wende þe
þon . III . sunganges astrece þon
on andlang & arim þær letanias
& cweð þonne: s[an]c[tu]s,scs. scs. oþende.
Sing þon benedicite aþenedon
earmon . manificat . & pat[er]
noster . III . & bebeod hit xpe
& sca marian . & þære halgan
rode tolofe . & to weorþinga
& þa are þe þæt landage & eallon

þam þe him under ðeodde synt ðonne
þ[æ]t eall sie gedon þon nime man uncuþ
sæd æt ælmes mannu & selle him
twa swylc swylce man æt hi nime
& gegaderie ealle his sulh geteogo
togædere borige þon on þa beame
stor . & finol . & gehalgode sapan
& gehalgod sealt nim þonne þt sæd sete
on þæs sules bodig . cweð þon Erce .
Erce . Erce . eorþan modor
geunne
þe se alwalda ece drihten æcera
wexendra & wridendra eacnien
dra & elniendra sceafta henre
scirra wæstma . & þæra bradan
bere wæstma . & þæra hwitan
hwæte wæstma . & ealra eorþan
wæstma . geunne hi ece drihten
& his halige þeon heofonum synt
þæt hys yrþ si gefriþod wið ealra
feonda gehwæne & heo si gebor
gen wið ealra bealwa ge hwylc
þara lyblaca geond land sawen
Nu ic bidde ðone walden se ðe ðas
woruld gesceop þæt ne synan to þæs cwi
dol wif ne to þæs cræftig man þæt
awendan ne mæge worud þus gecwedene
þon man þa sulh forð drife .
& þa forman furh onsceote . cweð
þon hal wes þu folde fira modor
beo þu growende ongodes fæþme
fodre gefylled firum to nytte .
Nim þon ælces cynnes melo & abacæ
man Innewerdre handa bradnæ
hlaf & gecned hine mid meolce &
mid halig wætere & lecge under þa forman
furh cweþe þonne ful æcer fodres fira
cinne beorht blowende þu gebletsod
weorþ þæs haligan noman þe ðas
heofon gesceop & ðas eorþan þe we
onlifiaþ se god se þas grundas ge
worhte geunne us growende gife
þæt us corna gehwylc cume to nytte .
cweð þonne . III . Crescite . In nomine patris .
sit benedicti . Amen & pat ns . þriwa .

Modern English: field blessing

Here is the remedy, how you may
your fields better if they do not
grow well, or if any unhealthy
thing has been done to them
by sorcery or by poison
at night, before it is dawn, [take] four
sods from the four parts of your land
& mark where they stood
before . Then take oil & honey & yeast
& milk from each cow that is on the
land & of each kind of tree
a bit that on the land you grow
except hornbeam & of each
named herb take a piece except only
buckbean & add then holy water
& drip thereon three times on
the bottom of the sods &
say then these words. Crescite .grow.
& multiply . & become many-
fold . and replete . & fill .
terre . the earth. In the name

of the father . and son . and spirit
be blessed . & the pater noster as often as the
other & afterwards bear the sods to church
& priest sings four masses
over the sods . & turn the green
side to the altar & afterwards bring
the sods to where they were previously, before
sunset go. & have one
make of mountain ash four crosses
[use] meal & write on each end .
Matthew . & mark, Luke . & John
lay the meal-marked crosses in the holes
below then say . Cross
matthew . Cross . mark . Cross . Luke .
Cross St. John . Take then
the sods & set them down there & say
then nine times this word . Crescite [grow] .
& as often . the pater noster & turn them then
eastward & bow nine times afterwards
humbly . & say then these words
eastward I stand, mercy I for me
bid bid I the mighty . lord
bid then the great ruler

bid I the holy heaven’s
ward . earth I bid & heaven
& the true st. mary . & heaven’s
might . & high place that I might
with this spell with the gift of the ruler
to us untie through firm
thought awaken this bounty for us
to world knit fullness these
fields with stout leafy beauty
go with the cut turf as the wise
one said . he who has earthly
riches gives alms dealing as
as his lordly ruler intends . Turn you
then . 3 . times sunwise stretch then
lengthwise & count there litanies
& say then . holy . holy . holy . to the end.
Sing then benedicite, extending
arms . magnificat . & pater
noster . 3 . [times] & commend it to christ
& st. mary . & the holy
rood for love . & for worthiness
& for the land owner & all

those who are his people when that
all is done then take unfamiliar
seed from an almsman & give him
twice as much as you took from him
& gather all his plough gear
together bore then into the beam
frankincense . & fennel . & blessed soap
& blessed salt take then the seed
set it on the plow’s body . say then Erce .
Erce . Erce . earth’s mother
give
us all-wielder ever-ruler acres
fruitful & flourishing
fertile & strong high shafts
bright abundance . & there broad
barley crops . & there white
wheat crops . & all earth’s
abundance . give all ruler
& those holy ones who are in heaven
that this earth is strong against all
fiends every one & armored
against all evils whatsoever
every poison throughout the land sown
Now I bid that these fields themselves this
world that nothing created by the spell-
binding wife nor of by the crafty man
may unravel words thus spoken
then one drives the plow forward .
& opens the first furrow, saying
then health to you, field, the folk’s mother
be thou growing in the embrace of good
food-filled for the people to enjoy .
Then take each kind of meal & bake
as a man’s Inner hand broad
a loaf & knead that with milk &
with holy water & lay it under the first
furrow say then fill fields with food for human
kind bright blooming your blessed
worth this sacred place this that
heaven shaped & this earth that we
live on that the god this ground
wrought giving us growing gifts
that to us grain comes to benefit.
Say then 3 times . Grow in the name of the father,
be blessed. Amen & the pater noster thrice .

Now we should note that the charm is not a purely Germanic folk religious charm, but it is a syncretic charm which incorporates both Germanic and non-Germanic elements – a fact which makes it historically interesting, as Germanic polytheism survived Christianity, which posed an existential threat, by adapting (see more here, here and here), and syncretism thus became a core tenet of the way in which that evolutionary adaptation for survival manifested itself; by carefully studying pagan survivals in modern Germanic languages and cultures as well as the continuity between Germanic paganism and the folklore of later ages, it eventually dawned upon me that, from an evolutionary perspective, Germanic polytheism works like a living organism which adapts for the sake of its self-preservation. As a result of the evolutionary adaptation, paganism was never truly dead & gone, although gravely wounded and in dire need of medical attention if it were to make a full recovery.

I have printed Erce, Erce, Erce, eorþan modor (Erce, Erce, Erce, earth’s mother) in bold as it is the pagan element of the charm that we are interested in. We ought to immediately notice that the name – we are now assuming that it is actually a proper name although other readings are possible – is said three times, and this is no mere coincidence as Germanic pagans believed 3 to denote holiness (also see my previous article where I discuss how deities are worshipped in specific numbers).

The mention of a Germanic Goddess in an Anglo-Saxon charm which exhibits non-Germanic aesthetics is not that strange. The Norwegian Halldor Olson Opedal has collected evidence that Norwegian fishermen used to thank Njörun – who is to be equated with Njorth (also compare Nerthus which is mention in the work of Tacitus) – for bounty whenever they caught fish. This tradition of Norwegian fishermen may be seen in the same light as the Anglo-Saxon charm which fits in an agricultural context; both fishermen and farmers are conservative social groups which tend to preserve ancient traditions, as I have noticed with the Terschelling Frisians, Schiermonnikoog Frisians, and Hindeloopen Frisians in 2018.

Methinks it is time now to move on to the etymology of the Anglo-Saxon divine name Erce so we may get a better grasp of what the Goddess originally stands for.

Let me dispel a spurious etymological connection first: any etymological connection between Latin Cerēs and Anglo-Saxon Erce is fanciful. Namely, it is exceedingly unlikely that Erce stands for *Cere as Germanic consonants do not just wander about in Germanic words that much and if they wander about at all, they stay very close to their original position; an imagined metathesis such as *Ecre is within the realm of the possible in the Germanic language family, but an original form *Cere, which requires an evolution entirely alien to the regular sound developments in the Germanic language family, is simply a bridge too far. So to put it very clearly, an etymological connection with Cerēs is undoubtedly a figment of the imagination.

Erce, if it is a proper name, may mean ‘holy one’ as it appears to be connected with Old English eorcnan true, precious, Old High German erc(h)an true, genuine (equated with Lat. vērō truly), and Gothic unaírkns unholy and aírkns holy, which is a synonym of Gothic háilags holy (in the sense of ‘whole, sound’) and weihs holy (in the sense of ‘chosen, dedicated, sacred’). It is also connected with the first element of the Swedish compound jär-tecken omen and the Icelandic compound jar-teikn omen, which are derived from Old Norse jar-tegn (gen. sg. -tein, nom. pl. -teikn) token, miracle. The meanings of these compounds already demonstrate that the element jar- is closely associated with (pagan) religion. Another interesting compound, in which the same element occurs, is Old Norse jarkna-steinn (gen. sg. -steins, nom. pl. -steinar) glittering gem and Anglo-Saxon eorcnanstān (gen. sg. -stānes, nom. pl. -stānas) precious stone. This compound originally means ‘holy stone’ and it can be inferred that a stone thus called would have possessed special religious significance to the Germ. polytheists, who indeed had an inherited custom of venerating both trees and stones. In any case, it ought to be clear that all of the aforementioned compounds with this element belong to a semantic web that has its pristine origins in Germanic paganism. In Old High German, there is the compound erchanpruoder full brother, which gives a decent idea of the meaning of erchan in Old High German: it means something along the lines of Latin vērus true, genuine and as these two words are semantically comparable, we have a decent idea of what erchan actually means, which in turn helps us understand the meaning of this word in Gothic better as well: Gothic unaírkns, which I translated as impure, may be understood as untrue and while I translated Gothic aírkns as holy, it may also be understood as true, which underscores the relationship between truth and holiness. Therefore, Erce may mean ‘Holy One’ in the sense of ‘True One’; if this is another epithet of Mother Earth, it means she is a manifestation of holy truth (Seith) as opposed to a manifestation of being ‘whole’ (háilags) or ‘sacred’ (weihs), and the fact that the name Erce is mentioned thrice, emphasises her holiness. When Erce is mentioned thrice, this has magical power and the purpose of this is to create a favourable truth or jartegn omen; this is apparently how Seith works. She does not have a healing function (háilags) nor a sacrificial function (weihs), but a fertility or growing function (as seen in the charm), hence she is “genuine” (aírkns). So the aforementioned three-way distinction between háilags, weihs and aírkns, if correct, may help us understand Erce and what her exact function is; she is a Fertility Goddess, and this is also expected from the fact she is equated with Mother Earth. Erce, at least with this specific epithet, is originally called upon for fertility magic rather than sacrificial or healing magic, although that cannot be entirely ruled out whilst Germanic peoples (like in the Anglo-Saxon charm) did not make such clear distinctions and simply did whatever they deemed proper for their situation and in reality, as the Germanic peoples also accepted, things are inevitably not clear-cut but blurred, which means that, for instance as in the case of the Anglo-Saxon charm, when one requires fertility magic, one may require healing magic at the same time. Gothic aírkns may further be compared with Ancient Greek ἀργός bright, white, ἀργής bright, white, ἄργυρος silver (a shining, white metal), Sanskrit अर्जुन bright, white; made of silver, रजत silver-like, whitish, ऋज्र fast, red, Latin argentum silver, arguere to clarify (possibly originally ‘to brighten’), Old Armenian արծաթ silver, Tocharian A ārki white and Tocharian B ārkwi white. The semantic web, which is observed in all of the aforementioned Indogermanic terms, may be connected with the notion that the Germanic Gods were originally perceived as “white, bright, silver-like,” and this quality, if indeed so relevant, may perhaps also be closely associated with “white magic” (i.e., good magic, positive supernatural influence). Finally, there is the Bavarian Erchtag which means Tuesday. I am not entirely sure what to make of this, but Germanic Gods are usually featured in the days of the week, and it may perhaps be assumed that Erch– is apparently a deity; interestingly, the element in the compound has lost the n just like the Anglo-Saxon erce, and this may either be a coincidence, or it may point to a common origin. We have already discussed this en passant, but I would once again like to raise the reader’s attention to the fact that the Anglo-Saxon charm equated Erce with eorþan modor Mother Earth. Why is this so relevant? As a matter of fact, Tacitus said of the Angliī, the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons, in the passage quoted at the onset of this article “that they worship Nerthus, that is Mother Earth” (quod […] Nerthum, id est Terram matrem, colunt). This checks out with the apparent Anglo-Saxon worship of Mother Earth in later times. If it is true that Erce = eorþan modor and if it is true that Nerthus = Terra mater, then it may be true that Erce = Nerthus (i.e., Erce is an epithet of Nerthus) or in case we wish to be more cautious, at the very least very closely relatedness, which, either way, profoundly enhances our comprehension of Erce. In case we assume that Erce is simply closely related to Nerthus, we may surmise that both Goddesses are similar in character and consequently may be expected to be worshipped in similar fashion. The Old Norse also knew Mother Earth, whom they called Jorth, and this was the mother of Thor, whom she begat with Othin. So, we already know that Erce, equated with Mother Earth, must at the very least have been a Jorth-like and Nerthus-like being. Since Erce is not mentioned in further sources and although dubious, the Bavarian Erchtag Tuesday seems to confirm that a Goddess by the name of Erch- existed, it is, perhaps, not likely that she was an unfamiliar deity, but rather that Erce is an epithet of the familiar Nerthus.

Finally, a word of caution: we should briefly consider the possibility that Erce may actually not be a proper name and that we might read the passage differently. In fact, we might read erce, erce, erce as a threefold repetition of holy, and I have indeed seen such a threefold repetition of sanctus in Latin hymns. Therefore, one might interpret Erchtag Tuesday as simply meaning ‘holy day’ but that would strike me as somewhat odd, as the days of the week are usually named after deities in Germanic and Roman tradition. It is definitely reasonable to read erce and Erch- not as a proper name. The fact remains that Tacitus clearly stated that the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons venerated Mother Earth and the Anglo-Saxon charm clearly mentions Mother Earth, and this fact is not negated if we do not read erce as a proper name. So, the connection with Nerthus has no bearing on how to read erce and the argument for the connection between the Anglo-Saxon Mother Earth and the Mother Earth of the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons remains intact. However, reading Erce as a proper name does also certainty make sense and all the etymological evidence does certainly not argue against it; in fact, it would make perfect sense for a Fertility Goddess to have a name meaning ‘holy one.’ So, on the one hand, we cannot rule out a genuine pagan origin, yet on the other hand, we cannot rule out that three times repetition of erce is of non-pagan origin. Given the syncretic nature of the text, it is not possible to discern the truth with any absolute degree of certainly and if no new evidence arises to shed more light on which of the two possibilities is the correct one, one may believe whatever one wishes to believe; however one interprets this does not really alter matters. However, I am personally inclined to believe that it is an imitation of sanctus, sanctus, sanctus as found in other Latin hymns, while I cannot really recall having seen such a threefold repetition of a name before in Germanic poems (although my memory may fail me). Of course, as I have already mentioned, the Germanic peoples did in fact have a tradition of worshipping deities in groupings, and so it would not be entirely surprising within the Germanic tradition if the same name were repeated thrice, yet I find the position of erce before Mother Earth somewhat strange, which inclines me to think that erce is, in fact, not a proper name but something else. Nevertheless, who knows? Human beings are creative and they may create strange combinations, so my suspicion of the placement of erce does not entirely rule out a reading of erce as a proper name for a Goddess also known as Mother Earth. No matter how unsatisfying this may be from an etymological point of view, this matter remains – if we wish to know with much more certainty how to read erce – unresolved for now. Regardless, I am currently thinking of how the matter may perhaps be resolved: a solution might be a thorough meta-analysis of all the available Germanic pagan materials to see whether (1) repetitions of the same proper name occur or not all and whether (2) such repetitions, if they do occur at all, may occur before (or after) another proper name that is used in an attributive manner. Such a meta-analysis could perhaps provide more clarity from a linguistic point of view. Barring the ability to do so within a short timeframe, I can still do a quick literature check as I have access to a wide variety of linguistic sources.