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Anglo Saxon Ancestor Veneration

Discussion in 'Heathenry DIR' started by Hildeburh, Jul 3, 2020.

  1. Hildeburh

    Hildeburh Member

    Oct 5, 2017
    Ancestor Veneration

    Sibb æfre ne mæg wiht onwendan, þam ðe wel þenceð.

    'Kinship can never in any way be set aside, for one who thinks rightly'.

    Literary and archeological evidence suggests that ancestor veneration was practiced in the pre-Christian communal belief systems of Anglo-Saxon England.

    The existing evidence is as follows:

    The Venerable Bede:

    In his work, De temporum ratione (The Reckoning of Time) the Anglo-Saxon monk Bede (673 CE - 735 CE) writes:

    "The beginning of the year was the winter solstice, celebrated on 25th December or “Yiuli”. The preceding night was called “Modranect”, which involved certain rituals carried out by women".

    Bede does not enlighten us as to the nature of these rituals, either because they were pagan, which Christians did their utmost to write out of history, or he didn't know. Anglo-Saxons celebrated Modranicht (usually translated as Mother’s Night or Night of the Mothers'), which began at sundown on the first day of Æftera Geola (midwinter). Bede also tells us the Anglo-Saxon calendar year started on Mothers’ Night. Whilst there is no other written evidence for this pre-Christian celebration of Modranicht Shaw (2011) suggests that the Anglo-Saxon cult of mother figures can be viewed as similar to the cult of matrons seen on the Continent.

    Shaw, Philip A. Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of the Matrons. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2011.

    The Old English poems the Wanderer, Seafarer and the Ruin indicate that winter is inevitable and a time of uncertainty and deprivation, so it is understandable that the ancestors would be called upon for protection, healing and assistance during this difficult time of the year.

    Ancestor Lists

    The Historia Brittonum (830CE) and in the later Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Woden was recorded as the royal ancestor of the kings of Kent, Mercia, Deira, Bernicia and Wessex. The East Saxons recognised Sæxnot rather than Woden as the genealogical ancestor of their kings. The inclusion of Woden and Seaxnot as ancestor of kings long after Christianisation indicates the continuation of the importance of Woden and Sæxnot to folk belief, ancestor veneration and kingship.

    Burial Mounds

    Burial mounds served as locations for ritualised activity, such as, feasts for the dead and offerings to the dead. Burial mounds were important monuments which functioned as cultic places for communication between the dead and the living.

    Stephen Pollington writes:

    The grave, “need not be viewed as a static ‘container’ for the remains of the dead, but may instead be part of ongoing processes of ritual and social renewal”. He further states, “Since barrows held a physical remainder of the dead, they were viewed as ‘altars to the ancestors’ and this is especially true of the barrows which held founder-burials: in such cases the spirit of the deceased went on to be a protective genius for the locality and those who honoured it”

    The poem Wiþ færstice also features a group of powerful females traveling over a burial mound.

    Pollington, Stephen. Anglo-Saxon Burial Mounds: Princely burials in the 6th & 7th centuries. Swaffham: Anglo-Saxon Books, 2008.


    The continuing importance of ancestors post Christian conversion is illustrated by the following laws:

    The conflict between Christianity and the survival of folk beliefs toward the healing and protective power of the dead can be glimpsed in the prohibition against burning grain in a place where someone died, or in their own house to benefit the living. The 7th-century Penitential of Theodore states:

    ‘He who causes grains to be burned where a man has died, for the health
    of the living and of the house, shall do penance for five years’.

    The later Confessional of Egbert prescribes one year of fasting for ‘Anyone who burns corn in the place where a dead man lay, for the health of living men and of his house’.

    The 10th-century writings of Ælfric advised priests not to ‘eat or drink in the place where the corpse lies, lest you are imitators of the heathenism which they practise there’.

    Archeological Evidence

    Archeological evidence supporting graves as places of veneration and commemoration of the dead in Anglo Saxon England is summarised by Alexandra Sanmark, (2010):

    In Anglo-Saxon England evidence of drinking and feasting associated with burial has been noted in a few cemeteries; at Sutton Hoo evidence of a cattle feast following the construction of Mound 5. At Snape in East Anglia seven pits have been interpreted as cooking pits used for ritual feasting or cooking at the time of the burial.

    Sanmark, Alexandra, Living on: ancestors and the soul, Published in: Signals of Belief in Early England, 2010.

    Similar pits have been identified at a number of cemeteries including Norton in Cleveland, Flixton in Suffolk, Nettleton Top in Lincolnshire and a Bronze Age round barrow at Cossington (Leicestershire) which was re-used for burial in the early Anglo-Saxon period. These structures may indicate that Anglo-Saxon cemeteries played a regular part in the ritual associated with burial and the dead.

    Helena Hamerow, David A. Hinton, Sally Crawford (editors), The Oxford Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology 201.

    Ancestor worship can also be glimpsed in the early 7th century AD whetstone found in the Sutton Hoo burial site; the four faces have been interpreted as representing the ancestors.

    Indo European Traditions

    In other Indo European traditions the ancestors were venerated in Germany at Yuletide, in India during festivals of the dead held at New Moon or on special occasions such as anniversaries. Ancestor veneration occurred at the Greek festival Chytroi, which was held on the third day of the Anthesteria at the end of winter, in Rome during Parentalia in February and the Lemuria in May and among the Bithynians the souls of those who had died abroad were invited to come and share a sacrificial meal. These festivals are grounded in a shared Indo-European culture, some of which take place at a similar time of the year.

    Call to Ancestors

    Acuman weorðful ieldran
    Ic âcîgan ge be ealdgesegen
    Wilcume ond hâlettung fæderencynnand ond medrencynn

    Bêo ðu hale blôd of mîn blôd
    Ic biddan eall mid blîðe heorte
    For mundwist ond spêd
    For hæl ond forþspównes

    Mæg þis offrung beo lîcwyrðe
    Mæg þú lóclóca uppan úre cyn mid modgunga ond forgiefu


    Come forth worthy ancestors
    I call upon you by ancient tradition
    Welcome and salutation father’s kin and mother’s kin

    Be you hale blood of my blood
    I pray to all with joyous heart
    for protection and luck/ success

    For health and prosperity for our kin
    May this offering be acceptable/pleasing
    May you look upon your kin with pride and kindness

    When I travel I also call on my ancestors for protection, this prayer is adapted from the AS Journey Charm:

    Ic me on þisse gyrde beluce
    and on min ieldran helde beode,
    Sygegealdor ic begale for god hyldes
    wið þane sarà stice, wið þane sarà siege,
    wið þane grymma gryre,
    wið þane micela egsa þе bid eghwam lað,
    and wið eal þaet lað þе into land fare.
    ne me mere ne gemyrre, ne me maga ne geswence,
    ac gehñle me ñlmihtig and sunu and frofre gast,


    I draw a protecting circle round myself with this rod
    and commend myself to my ancestors grace,
    A victory charm I sing for good favour/protection
    against the sore stitch, against the sore bite,
    against the fierce horror,
    against the mighty dread that is hateful to everybody,
    and against every evil that invades the land.
    May no nightmare disturb me, no powerful enemy oppress me,
    may nothing dreadful ever befall my life.

    Sygegealdor= derives from the verb galan = “to sing” or “to cry” to “practice incantation”.
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  2. Aupmanyav

    Aupmanyav Be your own guru

    May 5, 2007
    Atheist, Advaita (Non-duality), Orthodox Hindu
    Ancestor remembrance is a very important part of Hinduism. This is known as 'Shrāddha', which derives from 'Shraddhā' (honoring, devotion).
    Two fortnights, one in April and the other in October are assigned for it. In the October 'Shrāddha' fortnight, my family does not consume non-veg. food, holy days.
    Shradha Mantra Collection - Divine Chants For The Important Occasion - OnlinePrasad.com blog
    300,000 results with Google Search: mantras for shraddha - Google Search
  3. Hildeburh

    Hildeburh Member

    Oct 5, 2017
    Thanks for sharing that. I love it when non Christians share their rituals.