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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Old English

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
The Language of Birds

These quarantine times give us medievalists plenty of parallels to draw: times of plague and difficulties of travel -- but the effects are the same on us. Normally I would be with my family in Scotland by this time. There I would be hearing the screams of the gulls, the occasional melodic outburst of a blackbird and the friendly croaks of my beloved magpies.

Now I lie awake in the (earlier every day) dawn light listening to a very different set of birds: sparrows galore, North American robins -- enormous athletic birds so different from the jolly European kind -- finches, wrens, catbirds, four kinds of woodpeckers including the giant pileated woodpecker whose laugh echoes often. The crows come by to eat the corn. The bluejays tend to come in a pack and chatter loudly to one another. In the morning and at dusk you can hear the turkeys gobble.

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Posted by on in Studies Blogs
John Barleycorn & the Ale Wives

There's an Old English riddle from the Exeter Book that is part of a long tradition about the abuses of alcohol through the ages. While there is much to celebrate in the joy of drinking, there is a dark side, too, that many have fallen prey to over the years. The poem goes like this:

Biþ foldan dæl     fægre gegierwed
mid þy heardestan      mid þy scearpestan
 mid þy grymmestan     gumena ge streona ·
corfen sworfen     cyrred þyrred
bunden wunden     blæced wæced
frætwed geatwed     feorran læded
to durum dryhta     dream bið iinnan
cwicra wihta     clengeð lengeð
þara þe ær lifgende     longe hwile
wilna bruceð      no wið spriceð
 þōn æfter deaþe     deman onginneð
meldan mislice     micel is to hycganne
wisfæstum menn     hwæt seo wiht sy.

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  • Tyger
    Tyger says #
    Very interesting. Thank you!

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
God-Gots

My friend Michelle made a savvy observation the other day that, in this season of the ancestors, I'd like to pass along.

We tend to think of gods and ancestors as separate categories (at least, I do). But in the Wide World of Paganism, these are actually overlapping modalities of being.

To pagans, it's perfectly conceivable that gods should have human offspring. Unlike some, we don't maintain a wall of separation between human and divine.

Achilles, after all, was reckoned a descendant of Zeus (through Herakles). To take a somewhat less exalted example, the current incumbent of the British throne, Betty Windsor, is (believe it or don't) counted (along with her ancestors, the Anglo-Saxon kings of Wessex) among the offspring of Woden.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Gidden

On the off chance that there's still anyone left out there who would contend that there has been an ongoing tradition of Goddess-worship in the English-speaking world since antiquity, I have some bad news for you: the word “goddess” itself proves that you're wrong.

But this very fact opens the door to an exciting possibility.

Compare the words for “goddess” in Modern English and its sister Germanic languages:

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thank you! Gidden bless you as well!
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    According to Cleasby-Vigfusson, gyðja is the feminine form of both goð, "god" and goði, "'priest'", and so means both "goddess" (a
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Gidden. I like it. I like words. gyðja isn't a word for goddess, though. Gythia is the feminine form of godhi, meaning priest or
  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks Gwion, stay tuned: more tomorrow.
  • Gwion Raven
    Gwion Raven says #
    Oh Stephen! How I do love the word Gidden. I just used it yesterday in a multi-traditional Pagan gathering and saw a few quizzical

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Sunsteads and Evendays

English: the sacred language of the Witches.

“Solstice” and “equinox” are fine old words with a rolling, Latinate solemnity to them, but to my ear they have a rather clinical sound. Wishing someone a happy Equinox always sounds a little stilted to me. When I'm snugged up in bed with another guy, we're probably not going to talk about “penises.” Chances are, if we're talking, we'll use something a little more intimate instead.

A while back I sat down with my friend Ro (“Granny”) NicBourne to see what we could come up with. We pulled my old grad school Anglo-Saxon dictionary off the shelf and gave it a look-see.

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  • Steven Posch
    Steven Posch says #
    Thanks Archer, I'm glad you like it. Tell your fiends [sic]. And since we're within the Evenday Thirtnight, I can still wish you a
  • Archer
    Archer says #
    I always enjoy your work Steven and I especially appreciate your love of language. "Sunstead" and "evenday" do sound so satisfying

Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Oses and Osern and Aesir (Oh My)

The English language is an amazing inheritance: every word a story.

In Norse thought we find the fascinating idea that, as with humanity, there are different tribes of gods. One of these tribes is known collectively as the Aesir. This is a plural form; the singular, unfortunately, is áss. In Icelandic, this rhymes with house, but there's no denying that it's jarring to the eye of the English-reader.*

The English-speaking ancestors knew these gods as well, but unlike the good old pagan word god, ôs came to refer specifically to a pagan god, and so fell out of common usage. Eventually the word became extinct.

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