Everything we know about the Anglo-Saxon Calendar comes from the Venerable Bede’s On the Reckoning of Time, in which he relates the calendars of many ancient cultures. He gives us quite a bit of information. Unfortunately, as we shall soon see, he doesn’t give us quite enough information to reconstruct the calendar in its entirety. A couple of assumptions have to be made.
So what’s the purpose of learning the Anglo-Saxon Calendar? Heathenry generally recognizes four holy tides- a spring festival (in Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, it’s usually called Ēastre or something similar), Midsummer, a festival for the beginning of winter (which happens in the fall as the ancient Heathens only recognized two seasons, winter and summer), and Yule. Names vary for these holidays, but how they determine the dates generally fall into one of two methods- Solar, and Lunisolar. The solar calendars tend to place them on the appropriate equinox or solstice. The Lunisolar calendars tend to place them on the full moon after the first new moon that follows each solstice and equinox. What I’m offering here is a more authentic way of determining our holy tides, one more in line with how our spiritual predecessors would have done it.
As in the Jewish and liturgical Christian traditions, the Anglo-Saxons started their day with the evening. So the day began when the sun went down, instead of an arbitrary hour in the middle of the night like we do here in the USA and modern Europe. As a third shifter, this feels more natural to me anyways, as from the time I go in to work at 9 pm every night, I’m doing the paperwork with the next day’s date.
Bede tells us that their months were lunar. He doesn’t tell us what phase of the moon they began on, but the majority of ancient cultures that used lunar months began their months on the night that the young moon was sighted, when the first sliver of the moon was seen after the dark moon. (They called it the new moon, but what we call the new moon today is totally different. Our meaning for the term of the new moon is what they called the dark moon, when it is between the sun and the earth so it cannot be seen from the earth as the light side is facing away from us.) So I begin my months of the reconstructed calendar 36 hours after the new moon, as the young moon is usually visible by this point.
Bede tells us that they had twelve lunar months, and gives us the Roman months (which are the same as ours) that they generally coincide with. Since the Anglo-Saxons based their months upon the moon and the Romans didn’t, it doesn’t match up exactly. Bede also tells us that they would occasionally add a thirteenth month to keep the lunar months in line with the solar year (and thus, the seasons).
The Anglo-Saxons only recognized two seasons, winter and summer. Each was six months long, except on leap year, when summer would be seven months long! Winter would begin on the full moon of Wintermōnaþ (October) and summer would begin six months later, presumably on the full moon of Ēostremōnaþ (April).
The first month, Æfterra Gēola, roughly coincides with our January. It literally means “After Yule”. It is for this reason that I use the December Solctice to determine when to add the leap month. When there are thirteen new moons between the December Solctices of the previous year and the current year, I add the leap month after the sixth month. This puts Yule (Gēola in Old English) between the young moons of Ærra Gēola (literally before Yule) and Æfterra Gēola. Bede tells us that Gēola refers to the day that the sun “turns around” and the day begins to increase in length. Sounds like the Solctice to me!
(The letter Æ makes a short a sound as in cat. It is called the ash letter. It’s lowercase form is æ. The G in Gēola is a soft g, pronounced like the y in yellow.)
The second month was Sōlmōnaþ. Bede says it means “month of cakes” and that they baked cakes during this month. The Old English word sōl, however, means mud, so some speculate that these cakes had mud like color and/or texture. (Most of the months end in –mōnaþ as this is the Old English word for month/moon. The þ letter is pronounced as the th in thin when not sandwiched between vowels, so you’ll sometimes see these month names anglicised as –monath. When between vowels, it is pronounced as the th in that.)
Next we have Hreðmōnaþ, which corresponds roughly to March. It was in this month, Bede tells us, that the Anglo-Saxons made offerings to the goddess Hretha. Unfortunately, we do not know anything else about this goddess, though UPG about her abounds.
Next we come to Ēosturmōnaþ which roughly corresponds to April. Bede says that the Anglo-Saxons sacrificed to the goddess Ēastre during this month. Like Hretha, that’s all the information he gives about her. She is more known in popular culture than Hretha, and the Christian holiday Easter is named after her. It is ironic that the Neo-Pagan holiday named after her (Ostara, after her Germanic name), actually occurs in the month of Hreþmōnaþ!
Next we have the month of þrimilcemōnaþ, which roughly coresponds to May. A literally means the month of three milkings. Summer time is here, and the cattle produce more milk, and need to be milked more often. Bede says they were milked three times a day!
Now we come to Ærra Liða, which roughly corresponds to June. (The letter ð makes the th sound as that, compared to the softer þ which sounds like the th in thin.) Liða in Old English means gentle or mild, and referred to the mild weather of the seas this time of year. Some speculate it also referred to the Summer Solctice, and neopagans call their Sabbat on the Summer Solctice Litha for this reason. I simply refer to it as Midsummer.
Next, in leap years, we have Þriliða. In other years, this month is skipped. It literally means three Liðas. We are not sure how the Anglo-Saxons determined when to add it, but it was probably decided on a regional basis (that is, each chieftain or king would decree when it was a leap year for his village, tribe or kingdom). I add it when there are 13 new moons between the December Solctices of the current and previous years. This keeps Yule in its proper month, as explained above.
After this (or after Ærra Liða in common years), is Æfterra Liða. This month roughly corresponds to July, and it literally means after Liða.
Next we have Weodmōnaþ, which corresponds roughly to August. Bede tells us it means month of tares, “for they are plentiful then.” With summer winding down (remember, the Anglo-Saxons didn’t recognize spring or autumn), the crops would be about ready for harvest, and the harvest would be soon underway, if it wasn’t already!
September corresponds roughly to Haligmōnaþ, which means holy month. We don’t know what holy tides they may have had this month, or what made it holy. (The g in Haligmōnaþ is a soft g, bring pronounced as the y in yellow. Combined with the i in front of it, the –ig– is pronounced like the i in machine.)
Next we have Wintermōnaþ, which corresponds roughly to October. It means winter month, because winter began with the full moon of this month (called Winterfylleþ). Winterfylleþ is the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of the Norse Winter Nights.
Next is Blōtmōnaþ, which means sacrifice month. The herds of cattle were culled during this month, both to get their numbers down to a manageable number that could be fed through the winter and as sacrifices for a mild winter.
The last month of the year was Ærra Gēola, which literally means before Yule. During this month was Modraniht, Mother’s Night. This was the holy tide where the Anglo-Saxons worshipped the Mothers, the female ancestral spirits that continued to watch over their families.
Which brings us back to the first month, Æfterra Gēola.
I know that was a lot of information to absorb, and I apologise for it. For a more concise summary of the Anglo-Saxon Calendar, you can see the Calendar page on the Larhus Fyrnsida website.
So how do I take all this information and use it to form a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon Calendar? I first get the dates of the December Solstices of the previous year and the current year. I then find all the new moon dates in between, and add 36 hours to each to estimate the young moon. If there’s twelve of them in between the December Solstices, it’s a normal year. If there’s thirteen of them, it’ll be a leap year and we will add the leap month as the seventh month. Then I find the dates for the four holy tides. Midsummer and Yule will be on the date of the winter and summer solstices, and Ēastre and Winterfylleþ will be on the full moons of Ēastremōnaþ and Wintermōnaþ, respectively. I will give an example for 2019 below:
ANGLO-SAXON CALENDAR FOR 2019
Æfterra Gēola begins on Monday January 07, 2019.
Solmōnaþ begins on Tuesday February 05, 2019.
Hreþmonaþ begins on Thursday March 07, 2019.
Ēastremōnaþ begins on Friday April 05, 2019.
Þrimilcemōnaþ begins on Sunday May 05, 2019.
Ærra Liða begins on Monday June 03, 2019.
Æfterra Liða begins on Wednesday July 03, 2019.
Weodmōnaþ begins on Friday August 02, 2019.
Hāligmōnaþ begins on Saturday August 31, 2019.
Wintermōnaþ begins on Monday September 30, 2019.
Blōtmōnaþ begins on Tuesday October 29, 2019.
Ærra Gēola begins on Thursday November 28, 2019.
Ēastre is on Friday April 19, 2019.
Midsumor is on Friday June 21, 2019.
Winterfylleþ is on Sunday October 13, 2019.
Modraniht (Yule) is on Saturday December 21, 2019
Below are links to specific years:
I have created a webpage that will generate the Calendar for any year. It can be found here: http://anglo-saxon-calendar.atwebpages.com/