24 Facts About Anglo-Saxon paganism


Contemporary knowledge of Anglo-Saxon paganism derives largely from three sources: textual evidence produced by Christian Anglo-Saxons like Bede and Aldhelm, place-name evidence, and archaeological evidence of cultic practices.

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Much of this archaeological material comes from the period in which pagan beliefs were being supplanted by Christianity, and thus an understanding of Anglo-Saxon paganism must be seen in tandem with the archaeology of the conversion.

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The scholar Michael Bintley cautioned against this approach, noting that this "'Germanic' Anglo-Saxon paganism" had "never had a single ur-form" from which later variants developed.

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Anglo-Saxon paganism only existed for a relatively short time-span, from the fifth to the eighth centuries.

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Such "cultural Anglo-Saxon paganism" could represent a reference to the cultural heritage of the Scandinavian population rather than their religious heritage.

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Bintley argued that aspects of Anglo-Saxon paganism served as the foundations for parts of Anglo-Saxon Christianity.

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For instance, writing in the 1720s, Henry Bourne stated his belief that the winter custom of the Yule log was a leftover from Anglo-Saxon paganism, however this is an idea that has been disputed by some subsequent research by the likes of historian Ronald Hutton, who believe that it was only introduced into England in the seventeenth century by immigrants arriving from Flanders.

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Anglo-Saxon paganism suggested that it was cognate to the Icelandic term Urdr and thus was connected to the concept of three sisters, the Nornir, who oversee fate in recorded Norse mythology.

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Anglo-Saxon paganism was a polytheistic belief system, with its practitioners believing in many deities.

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However, most Christian Anglo-Saxon paganism writers had little or no interest in the pagan gods, and thus did not discuss them in their texts.

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Anglo-Saxon paganism is often interpreted as being cognate with the Norse god Oðinn and the Old High German Uuodan.

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Many Anglo-Saxonists have assumed that Anglo-Saxon paganism was animistic in basis, believing in a landscape populated by different spirits and other non-human entities, such as elves, dwarves, and dragons.

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Anglo-Saxon paganism's suggested that these entities might have exhibited similarities with later English beliefs in fairies.

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Anglo-Saxon paganism's suggested that those who were used as victims included slaves, criminals, or prisoners of war, and that such sacrifices were only resorted to in times of crisis, such as plagues, famine, or attack.

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Alongside this, some have suggested that the corpse of an Anglo-Saxon paganism woman found at Sewerby on the Yorkshire Wolds suggested that she had been buried alive alongside a nobleman, possibly as a sacrifice, or to accompany him to the afterlife.

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Early Anglo-Saxon paganism warfare had many aspects of endemic warfare typical of tribal warrior societies.

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Certain Anglo-Saxon paganism burials appeared to have ritualistic elements to them, implying that a religious rite was performed over them during the funeral.

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Similarly, four Anglo-Saxon paganism burials have been excavated where it appears that the individual was buried while still alive, which could imply that this was a part of either a religious rite or as a form of punishment.

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Anglo-Saxon paganism noted however that its widespread usage might have led to it becoming "a purely decorative device with no real symbolic importance".

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Williams argued that Anglo-Saxon paganism had a shamanic component through his analysis of early funerary rites.

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Anglo-Saxon paganism nevertheless highlighted problems with the use of "shamanism" in this context, noting that any such Anglo-Saxon practices would have been different from the shamanism of Siberia.

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Study of Anglo-Saxon paganism began only in the mid nineteenth century, when John Kemble published The Saxons in England Volume I, in which he discussed the usefulness of examining place-names to find out about the religion.

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Deities of pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon religion have been adopted by practitioners of various forms of modern Paganism, specifically those belonging to the new religious movement of Heathenry.

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The Anglo-Saxon paganism gods have been adopted in forms of the modern Pagan religion of Wicca, particularly the denomination of Seax-Wicca, founded by Raymond Buckland in the 1970s, which combined Anglo-Saxon paganism deity names with the Wiccan theological structure.

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