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Thread: Difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse heathenism?

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    Copper Member Briton's Avatar
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    Difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse heathenism?

    Hi,

    I'm curious to find out, to what extent did the Anglo-Saxons' religion differ from that of the Scandinavians? They shared the gods, with different names, but were their practices different?

    On another point, are there any remaining Anglo-Saxon heathen sites in Britain that still exist, even as ruins or archaeological sites? Did they even have "temples" of sorts where believers went to for celebrations?
    I'm not one to ever pray for mercy
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    Re: Difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse heathenism?

    We don't know so much about English heathens because the conversion was so much earlier.

    There's no site that can clearly be identified as a temple. Brian Hope-Taylor (who taught me!) thought one of the buildings at Yeavering was a temple, but chiefly because he couldn't think what else it could be. We know there were temples. Bede mentions the destruction of a temple at Goodmanham. Pope Gregory told Augustine to convert temples into churches. He also said that they could still do animal sacrifices on Christian holidays!

    There are plenty of place names indicating sanctuaries or temples: those incorporating divine names, like Thursley and Wednesbury, and others like Weedon "temple hill".

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    Copper Member Briton's Avatar
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    Re: Difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse heathenism?

    Interesting, and that's unfortunate. Is Anglo-Saxon heathenism something that, unlike Norse heathenism, cannot be reconstructed unless it is to be identical to Norse heathenism?
    I'm not one to ever pray for mercy
    Or to wish on pennies in the fountain or the shrine
    But that day you know I left my money
    And I thought of you only
    All that copper glowing fine

  4. #4
    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse heathenism?

    I think you need to look very closely at whatever texts you use. I'd recommend Wilson's Anglo-saxon Paganism if you can get hold of it though you really have to read between the lines a lot. The information IS there, it's just rather obscured sometimes. You can always try my Magical World of the Anglo-Saxons if you want... it's cheap as a Kindle download too (pm me if you wanted a paperback).

    I would strongly caution against conflating the AS with Norse paganism - there is a huge difference in time and space. Also it's important to remember that the conversion of England was not straightforward - there was a lot of backsliding and changing of minds.

    We can find quite a few deities in Anglo-Saxon England actually. Not just the obvious ones like Woden or Thunor, but gods like Geat and Sheaf, and goddesses like Gefion of the Plough.
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    Re: Difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse heathenism?

    From what I know so far, our fragmentary version of the Germanic religion precedes the Norse branch. If you wish to know more about it, a good place to start would be to read about the religion/culture of Germanic peoples with different contemporary perspectives which are usually Graeco-Roman and early Christian sources from the 1st century (Ascension of Rome) to around the 600-700's (pre-Viking age) to help paint a decent picture of the world that our ancestors were a part of.

    A good place to start would be to read literature such as Beowulf, the poems in the Exeter Book and the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. (You can check them out on forgotten books for free)

    The Norse writings such as the Sagas and Eddas are excellent resources to help fill in the gaps of our older form of the religion, but be careful as it's a later development, so there's a few things that are noticeably absent from the Anglo-Saxon religions (for example, Baldr is absent from the pantheon at this stage).

    It's definitely worth looking further into. Books like these are excellent resources to help revive what we once had:

    "Heathen Gods in Old English Literature" by Richard North (Analyses old Germanic literature from the early middle ages)

    "Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited" by Martin Carver, Alex Sanmark, Sarah Semple (Mainly archaeology and psychology)

    This particular book is full of good information, but the formatting isn't so great:

    "Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times, 2nd Ed." By Swain Wodening (Nice information on spirituality, society and ritual)

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    Opinionated Rae'ya's Avatar
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    Re: Difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse heathenism?

    Quote Originally Posted by Briton View Post
    Hi,

    I'm curious to find out, to what extent did the Anglo-Saxons' religion differ from that of the Scandinavians? They shared the gods, with different names, but were their practices different?

    On another point, are there any remaining Anglo-Saxon heathen sites in Britain that still exist, even as ruins or archaeological sites? Did they even have "temples" of sorts where believers went to for celebrations?
    There is plenty of difference between Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian practices (and while we're at it... plenty of difference between Norse and Germanic practices). I have a mostly Norse focus, and I actually find it harder to find Norse-centric resources than Anglo-Saxon, Icelandic or Germanic resources on initial examination. Lots of modern Heathens are Anglo-Saxon based, or draw the majority of their inspiration from Anglo-Saxon sources to create a blended tradition. I think this is where the claim that the gods are exactly the same with different names comes from. But if you do some deeper research into Woden vs Odhinn, you'll find the differences! I do think it's the same god, but the Anglo-Saxons valued a different set of his traits and stories than the Norse did. This goes for several of the other gods as well, plus there are some deities worshipped in Anglo-Saxon traditions that do not have an explicit presence in Norse sources.

    In terms of actual practice, there is some differences in the archaelogical finds in England vs in Scandinavia. This should not be unexpected, given that the migrating Viking-age Scandinavians had a relatively syncretic style of religion. They found ways to adapt and assimilate local practices into the worship of their gods, as well as ways to adapt and assimilate their religious practices into the local religions. This is part of why the conversion took so long in certain areas of Northern Europe, and why it was not quite as straight-forward in England as some people like to believe.

    As usual when it comes to Heathenism, the best sources for information are are combination of our primary sources (which are limited in that most of them were written down well after the conversion), sources contemporary to and closely following the happenings of the timeframe in question (Tacitus, Saxo Grammaticus etc) and anthropological texts (of which there are plenty that focus on the Anglo Saxons vs the Norse, Germanic or Icelandic). Modern Heathen writings should be viewed with caution, but are still a valuable source once you have a bit of background knowledge under your belt.

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    Silver Member Tylluan Penry's Avatar
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    Re: Difference between Anglo-Saxon and Norse heathenism?

    Rae'ya I tried to give you more rep on this but it won't let me.

    I think much of the problem with conflating Norse and English heathenism comes from quite early sources. often I would buy a book on something Anglo-saxon related only to discover that the text hardly ever left the Eddas and Tacitus. There are huge differences of time and place.

    Personallly I would start with Stenton's Anglo-Saxon England. Yes, a little dated but basically sound, scholarly and well written. Then you can try something like Mayr-Harting's work. Or Gale Owen's.

    I find the penitentials are fascinating too... Did you burn down a church and kill the monks therein, my son?

    Yes, there are similarities and differences. I had to go and do my own translation of the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem for my latest book... and when I did I realised there were so many ambiguities it was just mind boggling. Often a translation contains more of the translator than of the original author. So do bear that in mind too. Unless you really want to work with old texts in the original language you are at the mercy of the translator. Some are more biased than others.

    As for religious sites, many lie beneath old Christian churches, as they were taken over.

    And don't forget the chronology:
    Roman pagan - Roman Christian - bit of a mess - Anglo-Saxon heathen - Anglo-Saxon Christian - Viking heathenism - Anglo-Saxon Christian.... altogether now... Ten Sixty Six!
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    Phantom Turnips never die.... they just get stewed occasionally....

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