Anglo Saxon Paganism

Below is the detailed article about Anglo Saxon paganism and its effect on the Anglo Saxon Society. We will also see the kind of gods they worshipped, kinds of sacrifices they made and how these factors influenced their belief system. Let us discuss below.

Anglo Saxon paganism – Early Medieval England

The Anglo Saxon community was a community that has amalgamated from North Germanic, Scandinavian and North Western tribes. Therefore, it is quite obvious that different kinds of pagan beliefs existed among society.

anglo-saxons-worshipping-pagans
A painting of Anglo Saxons worshiping pagan gods

The word pagan in the Anglo Saxon era was used by fellow Christians to describe non-Christians. Hence, anybody that was not Christian was pagan according to the Christians in the Anglo Saxon days.

Evidence – Anglo Saxon Paganism

The Anglo Saxon were illiterate before being Christians. Hence, there is no written evidence about the paganism in written texts as such. But there are writings by Latin writers that suggest that paganism may have been followed in the Anglo Saxon era.

Books such as the ‘Life of St Wilfred’ and ‘Bede’, both having anonymous writers have comments that suggested the Anglo Saxon paganism practiced by their ancestors. Anglo Saxon paganism is also seen to have been followed near Ireland and Scandinavia.

The pre-Christian religious society of Anglo Saxons suggests paganism with respect to their material culture. Archaeologists have seen records of the same at monumental buildings and rich burial sites of the Anglo Saxons.

Beliefs – Anglo Saxon Paganism

Between the communities of the Anglo Saxons, each of them had their own take on the cosmology of the world. One of them chanted the 9 herbs charm – this suggested the existence of 7 worlds which can be referred to as paganism.

The poem ‘Bede’ also suggests that the King was against a pagan force that prevented him from going to ‘heaven fields’ which suggests the existence of an afterlife. There were also concepts picked up from the Norse mythology from which the existence of Ragnarok was gathered.

Anglo Saxon Pagan Gods and Deities

Many communities existed in the Anglo Saxon era before the Christianisation of the communities. many gods were worshipped and many traditions were followed. The names of the places suggest the same, Easole which meant ‘Gods Ridge’ and Eisey which meant ‘Gods island’ which is present-day Wiltshire.

The highest number of pieces of evidence are found for the deity ‘Woden’. Christians termed him as the heathen deity and were worshipped by people that lived towards the English countryside. The town of Woodnesborough is literally taken from the phrase ‘Wodens barrow’. Woden was worshipped by many royal ancestors of England.

Another anglo Saxon deity was ‘Thunor’.  Its symbol was the swastika and also a hammer. He denoted thunder and was often referred to as the thunderous deity. Places such as ‘Thundersley’ in Essex are names that have been adapted from worshippers of Thunor.

Third Anglo Saxon deity was the ‘Polaris’. He was considered the ultimate god or the creator. Some references also suggest him to be the god of war. Places like Warwickshire and Worcestershire are believed to have ancestors that worshipped Polaris as the god of war and hence, the names.

Anglo Saxon paganism also consisted of female deities. ‘Frig’ was the female deity and she was considered the goddess of love and festivals.

Anglo Saxon Pagan places of worship

Archaeologists are not definite about any site to be an Anglo Saxon place of cultic worship but many folktales and traditional spaces suggest the same. Many places have been found on high ground that could be Anglo Saxon places of worship. However, they can also be placed from the Roman British cultures.

Archaeologists suggest that places of cultic worship took place in forests in the deep woods. Along Neolithic barrow has been found in the English county of Oxfordshire.

Many tree venerations and stone venerations have also been a part of Anglo Saxon pagan culture.

 Anglo Saxon Pagan Sacrifices

Christians suggested or rather complained of animal sacrifices by Anglo Saxon pagans. It was believed that there was a ten-year penance for those who did not sacrifice animal meat. It was a regular and a well-established practice in the Anglo Saxon era.

The month of November or novembris in old English was referred to as the ‘blood month’ where regular sacrifices were to be made. No evidence of human sacrifice has been found in the Anglo Saxon era. However, all these practices were strongly condemned by the upcoming Christians in the Anglo Saxon society.

Scholars that study Anglo Saxon paganism has noticed a wide increase of shamanism in the era. It is clear through the literature that shamanic beliefs existed. Magic and witchcraft also existed during the period. Divination and the interpretation of omens and dreams were also a part of the beliefs in the Anglo Saxon era.

Role of Christianity in the Anglo Saxon era

Christianity came to widespread in the 5th and 6th century AD. The spread of Christianity influenced many cultures, traditions, and cults that existed in the era. The Roman influence in Britain gave rise to the spread of Christianity. In the fourth century, Christianity was even made the official religion of the Romans by the Emperor Theodosius “the Great” who was the ruler after Constantine.

The influence of St Patrick in Ireland helped spread Christianity in the Irish villages and townships. Pope Gregory the I, noticed this influence of Christianity among the people and sent the Benedictine monk – Augustine of Canterbury to the Anglo Saxons to spread Christianity for political reasons.

Augustine was given a church by the Saxons and that’s how the Saxons resorted to priestly learning and civilization in the Anglo Saxon Period.

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