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Runic Numerals- A proposal for writing numbers in runes

I’ve written a couple blog posts about writing modern English in runes (Here and here). One problem that arises is writing numbers in runes. As some may already know, the numbers we use on a regular basis (0, 1, 2, 3, etc) are called Arabic numerals. While it’s fine to use these when writing in runes, it’s not very helpful if you’re wanting to keep your thoughts private. It also doesn’t look as good, in my opinion. Your milage may vary though

Medieval and early modern Scandinavians sometimes used the Pentimal system for writing numbers, but the Anglo-Saxons did not use them. In my opinion, they also do not look very runic due to the straight horizontal lines and curved half circles. Someone trying to decipher your runes may notice how they look different from the rest and focus in on them to decipher your text. Another downside is that most fonts do not have them in their Unicode blocks, making it impossible to type them.

While the Anglo-Saxons (like many ancient people) were more likely to write down numbers fully written out (forty three, fifty two, etc), they also made frequent usage of Roman numerals. We do have one old English manuscript (Corpus Christi College, MS 041) where the writer uses the Futhorc (Anglo-Saxon runes) to write Roman numerals. It reads ᛉᛁᛁ⁊ᛉᛉᛉᛋᚹᛁᚦᚩᚱ, which is apparently to be read as 12 and 30 more (that is, 42). So my recommendation is to use Roman numerals to write numbers.

There are a couple things to note about the Anglo-Saxon usage of Roman numerals, however. If you take a so look at the first couple sentences of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in Old English, you’ll notice numbers such as .cccc. (400) and .xciiii. (94). This shows inconsistent use of the subtractive notion of Roman numerals, the standard that today’s Roman numerals are written in. Historically, there was never a single standard that Roman numerals conformed to, thought they got a little more consistent as the middle ages progressed.

If one examines the way numbers are written thoroughout Old English sources, the additive notation of Roman numerals is the norm. In this variant of Roman numerals, you would use iiii for 4 instead of iv, viiii for 9 instead of ix, xxxx for 40 instead of xl, etc. You will find subtractive notation used on occasion, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

Another thing you’ll probably notice is that the Anglo-Saxons wrote their Roman numerals lowercase bracketed by periods. So, with this in mind, my proposal for writing numbers in runes is to use Roman numerals, additive notation, in the Anglo-Saxon runes. So, I use a ᛁ for ones, ᚢ for fives, ᛉ for tens, ᛚ for fifties, ᚳ for hundreds, ᛞ for five hundreds, ᛗ for thousands, and ᚾ for zero. Surround a number with the end of sentence punctuation (two dots, looks like a colon). So, to help you visualize it, let’s count to 20 in runes!

᛬ᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛁᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᚢ᛬ ᛬ᚢᛁ᛬ ᛬ᚢᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᚢᛁᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᚢᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉ᛬ ᛬ᛉᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉᛁᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉᚢ᛬ ᛬ᛉᚢᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉᚢᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉᚢᛁᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉᚢᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬ ᛬ᛉᛉ᛬

So what about larger numbers? The Anglo-Saxons would often write out thousand. So for example, 15,000 could be written out as ᛬ᛉᚢ᛬ᚦᚩᚢᛋᚪᚾᛞ. But what if you need more precision than to the nearest thousand? I recommend separating magnitudes of a thousand with a punctuation mark, like we do today. I like to use ᛭ since it doesn’t get much use anywhere else. So, if you need to do something like 115,512, it would be ᛬ᚳᛉᚢ᛭ᛞᛉᛁᛁ᛬, and 7,000,062 would be ᛬ᚢᛁᛁ᛭ᚾ᛭ᛚᛉᛁᛁ᛬.

Now, the majority of use cases of using numbers in runic writing will probably be dates. I recommend going with the format of 1 June 2022, which in runes would be ᛬ᛁ᛬᛫ᛄᚢᚾᛖ᛫᛬ᛗᛗᛉᛉᛁᛁ᛬.

So, what about smaller numbers, like fractions and decimals? I’ve had a several ideas, but all ended up with major drawbacks. So, I’ve come to the conclusion that if you need that kind of precision, it’s probably best to stick to Arabic numerals.

So, to end this blog post, I’m going to give a few numbers below as an exercise to decode. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below!

1.) ᛬ᚳᛚᛉᛉᛉᛁᛁ᛬
2.) ᛬ᛞᚳᚳᚳᚳᛚᛉᚢᛁᛁ᛬
3.) ᛬ᛞᚳᛉᚢᛁ᛬
4.) ᛬ᚳᚳᛁᛁ᛬
5.) ᛬ᚳᚳᚳᚳᛚᚢᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬
6.) ᛬ᛞᚳᚳᚳᛚᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬
7.) ᛬ᛗᛞᚳᛁᛁᛁᛁ᛬


Fyrnsidic Cosmology: Gods & Ettins

I would like to preface this with a disclaimer. While Jotnar and ettins are cognates of one another, the way they are viewed by their respective religious traditions can vary wildly. While there might be Norse Heathens who would agree with my takes here, and Anglo-Saxon Heathens who may disagree with them, this seems to generally be the Anglo-Saxon view (at least, among those who self identify their religion as Fyrnsidu) and typically isn’t the modern Norse Heathen view.

This blog post will build upon my last blog post about Order and Chaos. The key take away from that is that the gods established the cosmic order, and that the Þing (assembly) of the gods maintains that cosmic order. A lot of what will be said here is much more eloquently stated in Wind in the Worldtree‘s video What makes a god?, and further expanded upon in his video Gray Areas of Deity.

Before anything else existed, there was only chaos. From that chaos, emerged the gods and the ettins. (For most Anglo-Saxon Heathens, Gimm/Gyme/Ymir was the first to emerge from the chaos, and the gods and ettins emerged from him.) The gods and the ettins are typically seen as being the same kind of beings, more or less equal in power/abilities. This can be seen even in Norse mythology in stories in which a Jotun will join the gods, usually by marrying an Æsir. So what’s the difference between the gods and the ettins in Fyrnsidu?

As I stated above, the gods established the cosmic order of the universe. The Þing (pronounced like the modern English thing) is the Assembly of the gods (which according to our lore is headed by Tīw), and it maintains the cosmic order. Most Fyrnsideras then logically see the dividing line between the gods and the ettins as affiliation with the Þing. Those that are members of, or are otherwise affiliated with, the Þing are the gods. They each have duties that maintain the cosmic order, and are thus bound by the cosmic order.

Those god-like beings (for a lack of a better term) that emerged from the chaos that are not affiliated with the Þing are the ettins. They aren’t all necessarily evil, many are completely indifferent to the gods and cosmic order. Some do actively oppose the gods, and these are the enemies of the gods. But many are simply neutral in the order-chaos war.

Historically, the ettins were not worshipped (a really good video on this is Is Chaos Worship Historical?), with the exception of those ettins that joined the gods (which would have made them gods rather than ettins). They were sometimes propitiated, but that is not worship. Worship comes from the Old English and originally meant the state of being worthy; worthiness.

This brings us to the fundamental characteristic of a god in most polytheistic religions that separate them from other beings who are often seen as being more or less just as powerful as a god. That is, to be a god one must be seen as being worthy of worship. To most Fyrnsideras, the gods are worthy of our worship, whereas the ettins are not. It’s not because the ettins are necessarily evil, or even because they are chaotic. It’s because they do not support cosmic order. Cosmic order is what makes the universe habitable for physical life, and this is what makes the gods worthy of our worship.

The gods are bound by the cosmic order, whereas the ettins are not. The gods, then, are bound to honor reciprocity (the principle of a gift for a gift that is fundamental to Proto-Indo-European pre-Christian religions), whereas the ettins are not. This makes them risky to try to build relationships with. I’m not saying it’s impossible, only that it’s very risky.

So, for a quick recap, the first being to emerge from the chaos was Gimm (Gyme/Ymir). From Gimm emerged all the proto-gods (for lack of a better term). The gods are those beings who established and maintain the cosmic order with their affiliation to the Þing. All the other beings from this group are called ettins. They are all either neutral towards the cosmic order, or actively work to undermine it. Some of these beings (especially those who actively work against the cosmic order) could be considered evil, but others are just neutral.

Hail the gods, maintainers of the cosmic order!

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Fyrnsidic Cosmology- Order vs Chaos

Cosmology is defined as the study of the nature of the universe. Physical cosmology studies the structure of the universe, how it operates, the laws that cause it to operate in that way, and how it all began. Religious cosmology generally studies all that from a spiritual viewpoint. It often, but not always, includes a creation myth. When dealing with the beginning of the universe, it is also known as cosmogony.

There is no official cosmology of Fyrnsidu, as there is no central authority to craft one. Fyrnsidu is a very decentralized religious movement that creates a spirituality based upon the religion of the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon tribes. Most of the modern groups that fit into this category don’t self-identify themselves as Fyrnsidere but takes different labels, the most common being Anglo-Saxon Heathen. So the cosmology I will describe on this blog as Fyrnsidic cosmology will be what I perceive as the general consensus of those who self-identify their religion as Fyrnsidu. This perception of consensus is formed mainly from talking to other Fyrnsideras and reading Fyrnsidic blogs. There will be some who identify themselves as a Fyrnsidere who don’t hold this particular cosmology. There may also be those who identify as some other form of Heathen or even pagan who may subscribe to this cosmology. As is usual when dealing with these kinds of things, the water is far muddier than it is clear!

I plan to make this a part of a series of blog posts on Fyrnsidic cosmology. I had initially planned to cover it in a single blog post, but it didn’t take long to realize it was just too large of a topic to deal with all at once! So today, we’ll be dealing with the most fundamental aspect of Fyrnsidic cosmology- order vs chaos.

Most pre-Christian religions taught that before anything else existed, there was only chaos. Before going any further, it is important to distinguish between cosmic chaos and mundane chaos. Mundane chaos is disorder, and is what we think of today when we talk about chaos. A wild party, for example, could be an example of mundane chaos.

To the ancients, mundane chaos is not what was pictured when someone mentioned chaos. Chaos was something much more. Many Fyrnsideras call this cosmic chaos. This is to distinguish it from the modern understanding. To the most ancient sources, it was a vast nothingness, a true vacuum. This is the view we get from Hesiod’s , that of chaos as a temporary infinity of nothingness.

Starting with the Greek philosopher Aristotle, cosmic chaos began to be understood differently. Instead of being nothingness, it was the foundation from which the order of the universe came. It was the building blocks the gods used to create the world. The Roman Ovid called it “a shapeless heap”. In other words, everything that was needed to form everything in the universe was present in the chaos, just unable to take any kind of recognizable form yet.

Chaos came to English from the Greek khaos. The Old English word for chaos would be Gedwolma. (Most Old English dictionaries will list this word without the ge- prefix, because the prefix is almost always optional in Old English.) In the ancient Greek cosmology, Khaos continued to be a location either above the earth or below it. I think of it as being on the very edges of the physical universe, and is the area inhabited by the Ettins (more about them later).

Things begin to diverge here among the mythologies of ancient cultures, so let’s focus on the mythologies of the Indo-European cultures, the family of cultures which include the Norse (and other Germanic tribes), the Celtic tribes, the Greeks and Romans, and the Hindus (among others!). These cultures have enough similarities that they likely are descended from a common group of people, often called the Proto-Indo-Europeans. Using the languages, religions, and cultures of these diverse peoples, we’ve been able to reconstruct the Proto-Indo-European language, religion, and culture with a reasonable amount of certainty.

So, to recap, before anything else existed there was only chaos. After an indeterminate amount of time, the first beings emerge from the chaos. In Norse mythology, the giant Ymir and the cosmic cow are the first to emerge. From them came the Æsir (gods) and the Jotnar. In Hellenic-Roman mythology, the Titans emerged from the chaos, who later gave birth to the Olympians (gods). Regardless of the culture, the first beings to emerge from the chaos are the gods and the primal enemies of the gods, or the first beings that emerge from the chaos lead to the birth of the two groups.

The two groups are known in Hinduism as the Devas and the Asuras. In Hellenic-Roman paganism, they were known as the Olympiads and the Titans. The Norse called them the Æsir and the Jotnar. In Fyrnsidu, we call them the Ēse (the gods) and the ettins (the giants). Regardless of what each culture called them, there is war between the two groups because the gods wish to bring order to the chaos, but their enemies wish to preserve the chaos the way it was. The gods eventually prevail and establish the natural order, thereby shaping the chaos into the universe as we know it now. The gods continue to maintain the order of the universe, whereas their enemies continue to undermine the order so that the universe can return to its initial state of chaos. In Fyrnsidu, most practitioners see order as being established and maintained by the divine Þing (the Assembly of the gods; the letter Þ is known as thorn and makes a th sound), which was established by Tīw and continues to be led by him. Obviously, the enemies of the gods winning and reverting the universe to its initial state of chaos would be what is colloquially known as A Very Bad Thing for all physical life which depends upon the natural order for it’s very existence.

Before concluding this blog post, I would like to address a common misconception about chaos. A lot of modern pagans believe that there needs to be a balance between order and chaos. They see order as static, and chaos as being the dynamic force that brings change and growth to nature. While philosophically this makes a lot of sense, it would have been totally alien to any of the ancient pre-Christian cultures. Change and growth are part of the cosmic order. The “destruction” that many modern pagans point to as necessary chaos (for example, the forest fires that rejuvinate forests) is, in fact, part of the natural order. This order itself is the balance that keeps the universe moving along. Chaos is the disruption of that balance. An example of this would be the man-made global warming that causes the forest fires to go unchecked and completely burns the forest down, leading to the destruction of ecosystems and extinction of plant and animal species.

(For those who wish to keep this philosophy of balance, only a simple renaming of the concepts being balanced is necessary. Instead of order and chaos needing to be balanced, one can refer instead to the balance of life and death, or creation and destruction, or stability and change.)

This is all great theory, you may say, but what effect does this have on our lives? Humanity has developed to the point where our actions can directly effect the natural order. Nuclear war could easily destroy all life on the planet. Man made global warming, likewise, threatens to upset the balance of the natural order in many ways. With this power comes responsibility. We are, I believe, morally obligated to do whatever we can to stave off these potentially earth-destroying outcomes. The main way to do this, of course, is to use our political voices. Vote for those least likely to cause more ecological destruction. Those candidates that will cause more ecological destruction need to be defeated at the election polls in any way possible.

So, let’s end this blog post by summarising the Fyrnsidic cosmology that I’ve built up so far. Before anything else existed, there was only chaos. From the chaos emerged the gods and the ettins. The gods wanted to bring order to the chaos, but the ettins wouldn’t let them so war broke out between the two groups. The gods prevailed, and they created the universe by shaping that chaos into order. The gods continue to maintain this cosmic order, whereas many of the ettins continue to undermine it in an attempt to sink the universe back into its initial state of cosmic chaos.

What aspects of this cosmology match your own, and what aspects differ from yours? Let me know in the comments below, and why your cosmology leads you in that direction!

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How Hreðe defeated Old Man Winter

The following is an original myth written by myself with suggestions and help from various Fyrnsideras (Anglo-Saxon Heathens). While it is based on elements from Anglo-Saxon mythology (as I understand it), and incorporates elements from folklore, it is not based upon any surviving Anglo-Saxon myth, as few Anglo-Saxon myths survived the Christian purge of ancient Anglo-Saxon Heathenry.

After the gods made the world, they placed it under the care of Sætern Se Sædere (Sætern the Sower). Now, Sædere was a god of wealth and abundance. For a thousand years, he ruled over the world in perpetual summer, and the people of the world prospered. They had no need to work, because Sædere himself sowed the fields and harvested the crops for them. It was an era of plenty.

But perpetual summer eventually led to problems. Droughts became common. The trees and the fields became barren due to nonstop sowing and harvesting. People started dying from the heat.

Sædere took this problem before the divine Þing (the assembly of the gods). The gods discussed the problem for a long time. Old Man Winter spoke up, “What is needed is balance. Allow me to go to the world and put it in a slumber so that it can renew itself.”

“We are all aware of your indifference towards the humans,” Hreðe responded, “How do we know you won’t end up killing them all?”

“I do not hate them,” Winter responded, “I just want to do my job and give the earth its rest. A few humans may die, but it’s not like I will hunt them down. Their survival will be up to them.”

“As long as it isn’t too long a rest, the humans will be fine,” Tīw said.

“Why don’t we limit his rule to the time it takes for my hibernating animals to awaken?” Ēostre suggested, “That should just make it a few months.”

The gods agreed to this, and so placed the world under the care of Old Man Winter. “Only until the hibernating animals begin to wake up,” they told him, “Then you must give up your reign of the world.”

Winter agreed, and he and his children came upon the world. At first, it only got colder. The trees started to change their leaves to the colours of the sun- red, yellow, and orange- in order to coax Sunne to bring back the warmth. Many animals not liking the cold, snuggled into their lairs to hibernate.

Ēostre saw the plants dying, and she saw the animals retreating. “I cannot stand to see the world so lifeless,” she said to herself, “I think I will take a trip until the world’s rest is finished.”

After this, the snow started to fall. The trees realized that the weight of the snow on their leaves would add up and break off their branches! So the trees began to drop their leaves.

All this happened gradually, so the humans were able to adjust. A thousand years of plenty had allowed them to store much provisions back. But still, they watched as their provisions slowly shrunk, and they began fear what would happen if summer did not return soon. So they began to call out to the gods, begging for summers return.

As the snow continued though, things got worse. People began to get snowed into their homes and unable to leave. So they would cry out to the gods for their aid. The gods did what they could. They would go to Winter and ask for him to melt his snow. Sometimes, he would comply, but other times he would get indignant. “You have given me a job to do. That job had nothing to do with the humans, but rather to give the earth a rest. How I do my job is totally up to me, until the hibernating animals begin to wake up!”

The gods expected the hibernating animals to awaken at any time. However, a thousand years of plenty had given them enough sustenance to sleep for just as long.

When the humans ran out of food, they began to emerge from their homes whenever they weren’t snowed in, in order to search for food. But there were no crops on the ground nor fruits in the trees. So Ægil and Sceadu taught them how to hunt. But a thousand years of having everything handed to them had made the humans weak. Many perished in the snow on their hunting trips.

The gods saw that the deaths were rising exponentially, and they knew that it was not good. So Tīw summoned Hreðe before the divine Þing. “More and more humans are dying every day to Winter’s reign,” they told her, “And he insists on remaining where he is until the hibernating animals begin to wake up. So we need you to lead an assault in order to remove him by force.”

“We must resist the urge to act dishonourably!” Hreðe insisted, “We agreed to let him have until the animals awaken. So let me go and awaken them. Then, if he does not leave, I will do as you have asked me.”

The gods agreed, and sent Hreðe to the earth to accomplish her mission. She first approached the bear, who only woke up long enough to growl menacingly at her. She next tried to wake the badger but she couldn’t even move him, much less wake him. The hedgehog was the next animal she tried to awaken, but he was nestled so far into his burrow that Hreðe couldn’t even reach him.

Finally, she came to the groundhog. Hreðe knew this was her last chance. She called into the burrow, “Oh groundhog! It’s time to wake up.”

She listened for a sound to indicate whether the groundhog had awakened. She heard nothing.

So she started stomping on the ground above the groundhog’s lair, shouting as she did for the groundhog to wake up. Still no response.

Frustrated, she reached into his burrow, grabbed him by the scuff of his neck, and yanked him out of his hole. This woke the groundhog alright, and he was more terrified than he had ever been in his life.

“I know you animals had your fill for a thousand years of plenty!” Hreðe scolded the groundhog, “But that’s no excuse for this slothfulness. What was supposed to be a rest for the world has turned into a coma, because you animals stay asleep. Now go, wake your friends, and usher in the springtime!”

The poor little groundhog just hung there from her hand and stared wide-eyed at her with fright. Once Hreðe put him down, he ran off to do as instructed.

To this day, when the groundhog pops his head out of his hole every February, he does so with apprehension because he fears that Hreðe might be waiting on him. If he sees his shadow, he will dive back into his hole and refuse to come out for another six weeks.

Hreðe approached Old Man Winter. “It is time to release your hold on the world,” she declared, “The hibernating animals have begun to awaken!”

Winter sat there and thought for a minute. “I will not,” he declared, “You have cheated! The animals did not awaken naturally, you woke them up.”

Hreðe responded, “The deal that you made with the Þing did not specify the manner in which the animals woke up. It only stated that you could rule the world until the hibernating animals began to wake up. So, I’ll give you six weeks. If you have not left the world at that time, I will forcibly remove you!”

With that, she left to report to the Þing.

Winter had resolved to not go easily. The weather actually began to improve because Old Man Winter focused most of those six weeks on preparing for the fight with Hreðe.

Meanwhile, the Þing discussed what should happen to the world next. “The natural order of the world is a delicate balance,” Sætern declared, “It is too difficult for one god to maintain on their own.”

“Yes, this is true,” Tīw declared, “We shall split up the duties that are required to maintain the natural order amongst ourselves.”

“I noticed something during my sojourn through the world,” Hreðe reported, “Sætern had provided everything for the humans, and it had made them weak. Even when taught how to hunt by the most capable gods, most were unable to survive.”

Tīw declared, “Going forward we must not coddle the humans. We may assist them but we must not do things for them. If they are to survive, they must learn how to do for themselves.”

The gods discussed and deliberated these issues in depth. In the end, they decided that Tīw’s recommendations were most wise, and so they declared it the order of the world.

When Winter’s six weeks had come to an end, Hreðe grabbed her sword and her shield and went to confront Winter. She pointed her sword at him, and asked, “Do you submit to the decision of the Þing?”

“No, for you have cheated,” Winter responded, “This is my world now, and I refuse to give it up!”

Winter’s sons Frost, Hægl, Slete, and Snaw attacked her.  One by one, each fell before her. Enraged, Winter rushed at her.

The battle was long, and the battle was intense. Winter had been building his strength for the last thousand years, but Hreðe was no rookie warrior. In the end, even Old Man Winter lay at her feet, begging for mercy.

“You and your sons have been defeated,” Hreðe declared, “But I have spared your lives because you will be needed to maintain the natural order. Leave the world until it next needs its rest.”

After Winter left, Eostre finally returned to the world. She brought summer with her, as the animals began to emerge and the plants began to again bloom.

Writing in Runes Revisited- What we can learn from Tolkien

About a year and a half ago, I did a blog post about writing in Anglo-Saxon runes. I explained both the runic substitution method (which more or less uses modern spelling) and phonetic method of writing in runes. At the time, I used the runes to write phonetically. And I continued to do it that way until rather recently. One day, though, a thought struck me. When Old English started writing in Latin letters instead of the Futhorc runes, they pretty much chose a letter to represent each rune. We can see this by examining runic inscriptions with the words of as they developed later. So the thought that came to me was, how would reversing that process be any different? (For another argument in favour of using modern spelling with runes, see this article.)

Obviously, when using an ancient alphabet to write a modern language, there’s going to be issues that come up. Jackson Crawford does a nice job going through these issues. Check out his videos on runes here and here if you’re interested in exploring these issues. The main counterargument he raises for using modern spelling with runes is that it wouldn’t be recognizable to the ancient peoples who wrote in runes. But even if we write phonetically, it would still be unrecognizable to them because they didn’t know modern English. And frankly, we wouldn’t be writing to them anyways, but rather to modern people to whom writing phonetically is absolutely foreign.

In the Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien uses Futhorc runes to write in code on Thror’s map (pictured below). There are two blocks of runes on this map. The one on the left was always visible, whereas the one on the bottom are “moon runes” which were only visible at night under the same moon phase it was originally written under. I’ll leave translating them as an exercise for the reader, but translations are given in the book at the end of Chapter 3.

If you notice, he uses an extreme form of word wrap. Words may be split across two lines, it simply goes to the next line whenever the end of the line is reached. He uses a single rune for certain letter combinations, like TH, NG, and EE. There are a couple spelling mistakes like wolk instead of walk, but the runes for a and o are similar enough to make that easy to do. Tolkien uses dots instead of spaces to separate words, and a double or triple dot for the end of a sentence.

Tolkien doesn’t seem to have a problem with double consonants, as he uses the L-rune (lagu) twice for the word will in the bottom block of runes. He does simplify the double o in door in the runic block on the left, but I think that’s due to his expertise in Old English (Old English long o evolved in modern English’s oo, as can be seen by the pair of Old English words gōd which means good, and god which means, well, god.) He also switches around the w and h in when. Again, this is due to Old English usage. For example, hwæt evolved into modern English what.

So what can we take away from this runic usage? Following Tolkien’s method, we would use modern spelling except to use the TH, NG, and EE runes for those combinations instead of the runes for the individual letters. Use dots instead of spaces in between words. The triple dot isn’t available in unicode fonts, so use double dots (looks kind of like a colon) for end of sentences.

Tolkien’s k rune isn’t available with most Unicode fonts, because he invented that particular rune (it’s actually a modified ᚳ c-rune, with the leg having a bend in it). If you want to use his system, you can use the c rune for k (so the common ck letter combination would be ᚳᚳ, or a double c). I prefer calc (ᛣ) for k as it makes the /k/ sound. Tolkien uses this rune for z (the ᛉ x-rune of the Futhorc made a z sound in Elder Futhark, so Tolkien turned it upside down to be his z rune). So I use the “bookhand” variant of ᛋ sigel for z: ᚴ, since Old English uses s for both the /s/ and /z/ sounds.

I don’t simplify oo to a single o, nor switch wh to hw. These are artifacts of Old English usage. While it would be cool to employ them, they have the potential to cause confusion. Especially the first one; think about the following pairs of words just for an example. Good/god, noon/non, toon/ton.

Below, I will include my key for Anglo-Saxon runes to modern English letters. It mostly follows Tolkien’s system, but takes the above notes into account.

In addition to ᛫ and ᛬ for punctuation, I also use the runic cross ᛭ for commas. It just makes sense to me, so use it or not as you see fit.

Let me end this blog post with an exercise to translate into runes. Feel free to leave your own runic inscriptions in the comments below.


Beginning the New Year with Mothers Night

Modraniht is one of the holiest tides of the year for Anglo-Saxon Heathenry. All the information we have on its ancient observance is from the Venerable Bede in Chapter 15 of his The Reckoning of Time.

They began the year on the 8th kalends of January [25 December], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, “mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night.

Not a lot to go off, is it? But we were able to draw quite a bit from his passages about Eostre and Hreðe, so it’s nothing new for us. First, let’s start with the name. Modraniht (Latinised as Modranecht) means Mothers’ Night. Who were the Mothers that they honoured this night? According to Bosworth-Toller, modor means the female parent (used for humans and animals), can be used of a spiritual relationship, and includes those who act like a mother. He also glosses the word with the Latin matres, which were female goddesses on the continent (usually depicted in threes) that watched over either a specific geographic area, or of a clan/tribe. A related word found in Bosworth-Toller is eald-mōdor, literally means old mother but is used for grandmothers.

In modern Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, the Modru are usually the female ancestresses of one’s line, but some also tie them to the continental ideses, which are Valkyrie-like guardians of a family. If we go with the definition of the matres, they could be seen as a trio of goddesses (possibly made up of ancient ancestresses) that watch over the family.

In my own practice, the Modru are my female ancestresses, the women of my family that have departed this world but continue to watch over my family. I see them as pretty much being deities who have domain over their descendants. They can bless us with the wisdom they have gained not only from their own lives, but also from the lives of others they have listened to the stories of in the underworld paradise. But we have to be willing to listen for this wisdom.

Modern Heathenry traditionally celebrates Mothers Night on the Eve of Yule (the night before).  This is because of Bede telling us it was on December 25. We will get to the reason why a little bit later in this blog post. For now, let’s discuss the effect that having the two so close together has. A few of us Fyrnsideras (Anglo-Saxon Heathens) were discussing this on the Fyrnsidu Discord server back in July, and someone commented on how they feel like the solemnity of Mothers Night gets superceded by the festivity of Yule. So we started thinking about alternatives. Since Bede tells us Mothers Night was their new year, we ended up deciding that we were going to experiment this year by observing it on the first day of the Anglo-Saxon year, that is the first day of Æfterra Ġeola.

Since Bede tells us Modraniht was on December 25, most people assume this means the Solstice. The early church, after all, dated the winter solstice as being December 25. Bede, however, recognizes that this dating for the Solstice is wrong in chapter 30 of The Reckoning of Time. He admits the timing of the Solstice should be a few days before this. So I don’t think he was referring to the winter solstice here. He actually does refer to the Solstice later on when he’s talking about the day of Yule being “the day the sun turns back and begins to increase.” He doesn’t mention December 25 (or any date) in that context.

Due to the drift of the Julian calendar, the winter solstice was actually on December 18 in Bede’s time (see the table here for proof; it sometimes falls on the 17th, but it’s at night when it does. By Anglo-Saxon reckoning, the night before the 18th is on the 18th). So an alternative date would be a week after the solstice because Dec 25 is a week after December 18. Since most modern Heathens celebrate Yule for twelve days, this would mean putting it on the eighth day of Yule (this year, that would be December 28).

Another alternative, and my favourite theory, is that Mothers Night was originally celebrated on the first day of the year. That would be the First of Æfterra Ġeola. By my reckoning, that would be January 4th this upcoming year (2022). My theory is that when Bede gave December 25 as the day for Mothers Night, he was giving the closest day of significance on his own calendar, because the day would jump around every year on the Julian calendar if this theory is correct. By my calculation, the first of Æfterra Ġeola actually would have fallen in Bede’s time on December 25 once every 19 years (the closest to the writing of The Reckoning of Time in 725 C.E. would be 721 CE). My calculation is done by adding 36 hours to the new moon after the solstice (December 18 in Bede’s time). See my Anglo-Saxon Calendar page as to why. You can see the raw data for lunar phases in Bede’s time here.

If you do the calculations, the First of Æfterra Ġeola fell within a week of December 25 almost half the time in the century that The Reckoning of Time was written (9 times out of every 19 years, or 47% of the time). To figure this out, figure out the first full moon after the solstice (December 18 in Bede’s time) for each year, and add 36 hours to it (this estimates when the first sliver of the moon would have been visible, which is what the ancient world called the new moon). If it’s on or before December 31, it’s within a week of December 25.

Since we can’t say for certainty which day Modraniht would have been celebrated on from Bede’s account, modernizing the date for your practice is also valid. The evening of December 31 would make sense, because Bede tells us it was their new year. Going with the date Bede gives us (Christmas Eve) would be also be valid. I’ve also seen an American Fyrnsidere suggest that it could be moved to the night before Americans celebrate Mother’s Day (which is in early May).

Which date for Mothers Night should you observe? That’s an individual choice. Go with whatever date makes the most sense to you and/or works best for you. I’m not going to judge you for your decision, and anyone who does doesn’t deserve a say in your practice, in my opinion.

So how does one celebrate Mothers Night? Bede mentions ceremonies, which is just another word for rituals. Most Heathens who celebrate Mothers Night do a ritual that includes or even culminates in an offering to their Modru. If mothers are present for the ritual, recognizing them as future Modru is also appropriate. A celebratory feast before or after also wouldn’t be out of line, if you’re celebrating with others.

Regardless of when you celebrate it (other than maybe doing it on the American Mothers Day), it should be considered the spiritual beginning of the year. So reflections on the previous year, what you did right and what you did wrong, and how to do better in the following year, is also appropriate. New Year’s resolutions may be a fun way to supplement your holiday celebrations. I’d be careful of making them oaths though, because broken oaths can have severe negative consequences in Heathenry.

If you decide to join those of us who are experimenting with celebrating Mothers Night on the beginning of the lunar month following Yule, do me a favour. Come back here after you do and leave a comment about your experience of it. We’re trying to decide if and how separating Yule and Mothers Night works for us, and the more people recording their experience of it helps us because more data is always useful.

In Defense of a December Yule

Yule is one of our holiest tides and indeed our most well known holiday. It is also a holiday that almost all Heathens celebrate. Given its relative importance, it is a valid question to ask: When should one celebrate Yule? But that question is not as cut and dry as it might seem.

I have said before that as a general rule, the right date to observe any Heathen holiday is the day that is best for you. It is the act of celebration and worship that is more important than any date on the calendar or position of any celestial body. The mindset that the ancient ways are the only appropriate ways is a toxic one. Also toxic is the idea that there is only one correct way of doing Heathenry. There are a number of factors that can determine whether a specific date is right for you to celebrate any given holiday. Historical accuracy is only one among many. History gets a say, not a veto, after all.

And yet, it would seem that every December there is this special breed of Heathen which will crop up in most any and every online Heathen space and target anyone who mentions celebrating Yule on the solstice. Though these Heathens are typically Old Saxon Heathens, they will quote Norse sources in an attempt to prove to you that Yule should be celebrated mid January and any other date is wrong.

It’s when the ancient Germanic peoples observed Yule, before Hakon the Good changed it to the Solstice! This is their claim. And since it’s a historical claim, it’s open to scrutiny. So how about we investigate this historical claim to determine its accuracy? (For a more entertaining look at this type of Heathen, see Wind in the Worldtree’s The Grump That Stole Yule.)

First, let’s start with the Anglo-Saxon context. It is clear from Anglo-Saxon sources that Yule was on the Solstice. Bede, the eighth century author of The Reckoning of Time, tells us:

The months of Giuli [Yule] derive their name from the day when the Sun turns back [and begins] to increase, because one of [these months] precedes [this day] and the other follows.

The Reckoning of Time, chapter 15

This tells us not only that Yule is on the Solstice, but that it is located between the new moons of Ærra Geola and Æfterra Geola. The Old English Martyrology also attests to this fact. In support of this conclusion, we have all the Yuletide customs and traditions of the Anglo-Saxons’ descendants happening in the latter half of December rather than in mid January.

So what about other branches of Heathenry? Well, the opponents of the December Yule will point to the Norse Saga of Hakon the Good. It states:

He [Hakon the Good] made a law that the festival of Yule should begin at the same time as Christian people held it, and that every man, under penalty, should brew a meal of malt into ale, and therewith keep the Yule holy as long as it lasted.  Before him, the beginning of Yule, or the slaughter night, was the night of mid-winter (Dec. 14), and Yule was kept for three days thereafter.

Hakon the Good

Notice that it identifies the original Yule as Midwinter. The translator of this passage helpfully identifies this as December 14. Why? Well, in the middle ages when the Eddas and the Sagas were recorded, the winter solstice was on December 14-15. I know this goes against the common misconception that the winter solstice in the Middle Ages was December 25, but you can see the evidence for it here: (We will address this common misconception in more detail in an upcoming blog post, in which it will be more consequential.)

The argument that Yule should be on the full moon of January comes from redefining Midwinter to mean the exact middle of winter, that is three months exactly from the start of winter (the full moon of October), since there’s six months of winter. As logical as this may appear, Midwinter in Germanic cultures predominantly was defined as the winter solstice, just as midsummer was generally defined as the summer solstice. When Hakon the Good moved Yule from Midwinter to December 25, he was in fact moving it forward a week and a half from the Solstice (December 15/16, evidence here) to December 25.

For further evidence of this timing for Yule, we can look at the Old Icelandic month of Ýlir, which means “Yule Month”. It began mid November and ran to the Solstice in mid-December. The Old Gothic month Fruma jiuleis means “Before Yule”, and also began in mid November and ran to just before Yule. We can also recall the Anglo-Saxon months of Ærra Ġeola and Æfterra Ġeola, the first of which begins the new moon before the Solstice, and the other begins the new moon after the Solstice.

There are many reasons to celebrate Yule in January. Perhaps it is more convenient for you after the busy Christmas season is over. Perhaps it feels more appropriate because it feels more like winter in your locale than it does in December. Maybe your inhired/kindred celebrates it in January. While there are many reasons to celebrate Yule in January, historical authenticity isn’t one of them. So I wish everyone a happy, joyous, and blessed Yuletide season, regardless of when you celebrate it. And when you see the haters of the Solstice engaging in their attacks, just remember: Their argument doesn’t hold water any better than a cheesecloth can.

Blog updates- Published books and upcoming blog posts

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll already know that I’ve published two books! Both focus on the Anglo-Saxon Calendar. The first book,”The Anglo-Saxon Calendar for the Twenty-First Century“, lists all the major dates for each year of this century. That’s the beginning of each month, the full moons, and the four major Holidays of Fyrnsidu.

The other book is The 2022 Fyrnsidu Calendar. It is a weekly calendar that has the Anglo-Saxon date and regular (Gregorian) date for each day of the year for 2022. It also marks the beginning of each month, the full moon, and the major holidays of Fyrnsidu.

I also have a couple blog posts planned for this holiday season. The first will be entitled In Defense of a December Yule. It will explain why Yule being celebrated on the December Solstice is the most historically authentic, at least for an Anglo-Saxon context. If you think that’ll be controversial, wait until you hear next one!

The other blog post will be entitled Beginning the Year with Mother’s Night. In this blog post, I will propose an alternate date for Modraniht, the benefits of separating the Yule and Modraniht celebrations, and an argument for why I feel it is actually more historically authentic.

So stay tuned, we’re in for a fun month ahead!

New Webpage to Generate the Calendar

A lot of Heathens avoid using an ancient lunisolar calendar (such as my reconstructed calendar) because of the hassle of calculating it all out. With this in mind, I programmed a webpage that will calculate the my Reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Calendar for any year. It includes the start of each month, the full moons, and the holy tides for any year that you input. Additionally, I have a date converter at the bottom of the page so that you can convert any Gregorian Calendar date to the Anglo-Saxon date.

I have more plans for the webpage in the future. I plan to add the keeping track of the Metonic Cycle, and I would like to add more holidays. If you have any suggestions for more features, feel free to put it in the comments!

The link to the webpage can be found here. If you know someone who might be interested in this page, feel free to pass it on to them.