Anglo-Saxon Gods

Gods and goddesses

Tiw

Possibly the Creator god. A sky god, a god of light, and a war god. He has Indo-European origins and has counterparts in other cultures – Zeus in Greece, Dyaus in South Asia (Sanskrit), Deiws in Prussia.

Tiw may have been regarded as too important and powerful to be called on in daily life.

Tuesday takes its name from Tiw.

Woden

Like his Norse counterpart Odin, he is blind in one eye. Woden gives his name to Wednesday.

Thunor

God of Thunder. He has a hammer, like his Norse counterpart Thor. Thor is the origin of Thursday.

Seaxneat

Patron deity of the Saxons.

Earth god/goddess

A “Mother Earth” is documented by the Roman writer Tacitus. Nobody is sure whether this was a misunderstanding on Tacitus’s part. In later centuries the Earth god is thought of as male.

Ing or Ingui

A god of the Earth and fertility. Important in the Kingdom of Northumbria where they worshipped the sea, sky and earth.

Wuldor

A heavenly body or morning star. Thought to be Ullr in Norse mythology.

Hretha and Eostre

Goddesses. It is not certain that there was a belief in these goddesses. Bede mentioned them and may have heard stories about them in his childhood. March is Hretha’s month and it precedes April, Eostre’s month.

Sea deities

Personifications of the ocean.

An incomplete image of Anglo-Saxon paganism

Scholars have reconstructed only a partial picture of Anglo-Saxon paganism. More is unknown than known. Current knowledge comes from archaeological finds, early medieval and Roman writings, philologists’ work on vocabulary, and attempts to find older material in high and late medieval texts.

Disagreements are common between scholars. Some of their conclusions depend on an assessment of likelihoods. For example, when the Venerable Bede wrote about pagans how likely was he to be drawing from local stories he heard as a child?

It’s important to remember that the Anglo-Saxons were not one homogenous tribe. Settlers came from different Germanic tribes. They lived alongside Celtic Britons, who presumably had beliefs specific to local places. There was also contact with old Roman traditions in Britain and earlier, on the continent.

Anglo-Saxon beliefs are likely to have had variations in different parts of England. They also might have changed through the centuries and been influenced by the Vikings.

Is Anglo-Saxon paganism comparable with Norse paganism?

A wealth of writings survive on Old Norse gods and goddesses. Many people are tempted to draw direct like-for-like comparisons between the Old Norse and Anglo-Saxons pantheons.

Scholars advise caution. Although there were similarities between Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon cultures, there may be differences for which evidence has been lost. Religious beliefs are always developing and changing. Ideas that were comparable at one point in time could diverge away from each other in later centuries.

We know, for example, that the Anglo-Saxon idea of Valhalla was not as developed as the Norse idea.

Another problem with making direct comparisons is that many Old Norse myths only remain in writings from the Christian era. One of the major sources for Old Norse myths, Snorri Sturluson (1179 – 1241) of Iceland, wrote his works over 200 years after his country’s Christianization.

Today’s text of the Poetic Edda, another major source, comes from a 13th century manuscript. It was copied from a succession of manuscripts dating back to the 10th century. Although scholars try to identify the 10th century material in it, there’s no certainty over how much the Poetic Edda was changed.

Photo by Craig Adderley on Pexels.com

Sources

The Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons c.597 – c.700 by Marilyn Dunn