Looking for a complete introduction to Anglo-saxon mythology in just a few minutes? You’ve come to the right place! Read on !
The beliefs of the Germanic peoples who settled in England from the 5th century onwards did not survive the Christianization of the country (7th century), and very few traces of Anglo-Saxon paganism remain.
Anglo-Saxon mythology is a body of myth that accompanied the Anglo-Saxon religion. Today, little is known about the mythology of the Anglo-Saxons due to the limited number of sources that discuss their beliefs.
Gods of Anglo-Saxon mythology
|Name||Characteristic and presentation of the god|
|Wōden||Wōden is the main Anglo-Saxon deity, much like his Norse deity Óðinn. He has two wolves as pets, and his horse has eight legs. Worden is also the leader of the Wild Hunt.|
|Þunor||Þunor, like Þorr, is the god of thunder. Thursday is named after him.|
|Frige||Frige is the goddess of love and celebration, and the eponymous goddess of the day Friday.|
|Tiw||Tiw was the god of war. Tuesday is named after him.|
|Seaxnēat||Seaxnēat (or Saxnōt) was the national god of the Saxons. He is sometimes known as Tiw.|
|Hretha||Hretha or Rheda is the goddess celebrated in Hrethamonath or March. Hretha appears to be seasonal and is associated with spring growth, life and fertility.|
|Ēostre||Bældæg is the counterpart of Norse Baldr and is listed as an ancestor in several Anglo-Saxon genealogies. His name means “bright day”.|
|Bældæg||Bældæg is the counterpart of Norse Baldr and is listed as an ancestor in several Anglo-Saxon genealogies. His name means “bright day”.|
|Nehalennia||Nehalennia is a goddess of unknown origin who may have been worshiped by the Anglo-Saxons. She was entrusted with maritime trade, gardening, and possibly reproductive rights.|
Erce, a deese of the Anglo-saxon mythology forgotten
Erce is perhaps an Anglo-Saxon goddess of the earth. The name appears in a charm intended to obtain the fertility of the soil.
The elves of the Anglo-Saxon mythology
There is evidence that the Anglo-Saxons believed in elves, as evidenced by various words such as Ælfgar, meaning “elven spear”.
Nicor in the Anglo-Saxon mythology
Nicor is a water spirit who can take the form of various creatures.
Giants in the Anglo-Saxon mythology
Several English place names refer to Thrys or Riesen, although these references are not necessarily from Anglo-Saxon times.
Dragons in the Anglo-Saxon mythology
Like many other cultures, the Anglo-Saxons believed that dragons roamed the countryside.
The Creation of the Myth
Each ancient culture had a Creation Myth in its religious tradition, which introduced the cosmogony specific to that people. In the great Germanic-Scandinavian cultural ensemble, the example of the Völuspá is often taken as a reference, to the detriment of earlier Germanic myths. In order to see the (sometimes notable) differences that exist, here is the Anglo-Saxon version of this myth.
In the beginning were two beings, Eallfaeder and Niht. From Eallfaeder and Niht were born Rymet, Eorthe and Daeg. Eallfaeder and Niht created a world, frozen in the North, burning in the South. At the junction of the hot and the cold, the giant Claeg was born. When he fell asleep, the first race, the Is Ents, was born from his being.
From the ice of the north came the cow Fendare. From her udders flowed four rivers of milk that fed Claeg. She licked the ice and three days later Tuist was born. Tuist had a son, Mann, who gave three sons to an Is Ent. These three were named Wisdom, Willan and Halignes. They fought with Claeg and killed him. His blood drowned all the Is Ents except one, who fled on a boat with his wife.
The sons of Mann built a world out of Claeg’s body. His blood became water, his flesh soil, his teeth rocks, his bones mountains and his hair trees. His skull became the sky and his brain became the clouds.
In the sky, they projected embers that became the stars and celestial lights.
From the worms that gnawed at Claeg’s body, beings were born, to whom the gift of intelligence was granted, the Dweorgians, one of them lying under each of the cardinal points of the sky. Daeg and Niht took their horses, Beorth Manu and Freorig Mane, whose saliva begets dew, and set out to travel the world.
Inspecting their work, the sons of Mann saw two trees, an ash and an elm, washed up on the shores of the world by the outer waves. From these trees they made two forms, from the ash a man, whom they named Aesc, and from the elm a woman, whom they named Elm. From Aesc and Elm were born the race of men, which pleased Mann’s offspring.
From Irminsul, the yew tree that grew in the center of the world, blossomed the gods who built their home in Heofon.
One of the roots of Irminsul flows into Sweging Cital, in Hel, which is guarded by Fetanre Death, the dragon that gnaws the root.
Another one plunges into the Spring of Wisdom, guarded by Mimir, in the realm of Ents, which is separated from the rest of Middangeard by a barrier made of Claeg’s eyebrows. The third root bathes in the Fountain of Destiny, in Heofon, where the gods meet every day. Nearby live the virgin daughters of Niht, Wyrd, Metod and Sculd, who like the Yew drink from the Spring.
Middangeard is connected to Heofon by the Heofonlic Boga bridge, guarded by Hama the sleepless. The kingdoms of the Dweorgians, the Beorth Aelfans, the Deorc Aelfans and the Ents are in these three worlds. But these immortal peoples rarely cross paths with men.