Saxon Heathen Cosmology
Updated: Sep 28, 2021
Norse Heathenry has many sources: the Poetic & Prose Eddas, as well as several hundred Norse Sagas, among others. Since less writings survived in Old Saxon, often Saxon Heathens borrow from Norse Heathenry to fill in holes. Since 21 writings in Old Saxon survived, many have not studied these writings first before borrowing from Norse Heathen sources. Here, we will piece together historical Saxon Cosmology, from the historical sources.
Irminsul – “great pillar,” the world tree, the universal column which runs through and connects the Seven Worlds (Old Norse: Yggdrasil. The Norse had Nine Worlds.)
Ginogigap - "great gap" Old Norse: Ginnungagap, the void between Mutspelli and Nevalhem- where creation occurred.
Uurðibrunno – “Uurd’s Well; The Well of Fate” Old Norse: Urðarbrunnr, the meeting place of the Uurð/Shapers (Sisters of Fate). The Uurðibrunno is found at the base of the Irminsul. Uurd and her Uurdgiscapou are mentioned over two dozen times in the Old Saxon Heliand. Saxon Heathens had Uurd and her Shapers (Old Saxon gicapou, pronounced "yee-shape-ooo"), Norse Heathens had Urthr and her Nornir.
Seven Saxon Heathen Realms:
Esyard – “God dwelling” Old Norse: Asgard, the dwelling place of the Ese/Gods.
Alfhem – “elf home” Old Norse: Alfheim, the home of the Alfe/Elves.
Middilyard – “middle realm” the world of men.
Etanhem – “giant home” Old Norse: Jotunheim, the home of the Frost Giants.
Nevalhem – “fog home” Old Norse: Niflheim, foggy icy realm.
Mutspelli – “fire home” Old Norse: Muspelheim, the home of Fire Giants.
Hellea – “hell” Old Norse: Hel, the realm of the dis-honorable Dead.
Norse Heathenry has nine worlds or realms. This comes specifically from the Prose Edda Poem Gylfaginning chapter three, that states that Hell is where evil men go and that it is one of the nine worlds. Old Anglish Heathenry had only seven worlds or realms as the Old English Poem Nine Herbs Charm (mid 10th century) clearly states:
“A worm came crawling, it killed nothing. For Woden took nine glory-twigs, he smote the adder that it flew apart into nine parts. There the Apple accomplished it against poison that she the loathsome serpent would never dwell in the house. Chervil and Fennell, two of much might, they were created by the wise lord, holy in heaven as he hung; he set and sent them to the seven worlds, to the wretched and the fortunate, as a help to all.”
Nonetheless, the Nine Herbs Charm (an Old English source) causes us Saxon Heathens to beg two questions: First Question: Since we Saxon Heathens do not have a surviving source stating how many realms were in Saxon Heathenry (as the English and Norse do), should Saxon Hethens lean to Scandinavian sources, or lean to the Old English Nine Herbs Charm? My stance as of October 2021: The Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum implies that the Saxon Heathens were similar to the Danes (their immediate neighbors) than many realize. The Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum mentions a "Victory Moon" celebration, that most equate with the Swedish Sigrblot. It is clear then that the Old Saxons did keep Sigrblot and not Eostre. I now am less enthusiastic of borrowing from Old English sources which clearly state "Eostre" when we have evidence of a Sigrblot (Victory Blot and Victory Moon) in the same codex as the Old Saxon Baptismal Vow. (Both the Vow and the Indiculus are dated to the 8th century.) To put it more bluntly, the Indiculus superstitionum et paganiarum implies we should seek Scandinavian sources more than Old English sources. This being said, the term "Vanir" is still not found outside of Scandinavia, and "light elves/dark elves" seems to be either a later evolution or Scandinavian specific belief. (Both Old English and Old Saxon sources just have "elves" and not the specific "light/dark" elves.) Therefore, I think Saxon Heathens should follow the Scandinavian Holy Days, and NOT Bede's calendar, specific to England. I also think the Old Saxons would be more like the Anglo-Frisians having only seven realms, as I lean to light elves and dark elves (as well as the term "Vanir") being later Scandinavian evolutions, as Heathenry south and west of Scandianvia was crushed first. This leads us to the second question... Second Question: If we accept only seven relams, which of the nine Norse Worlds are left out of Saxon Cosmology? A study of the Old Saxon Heliand, an epic poem of 5983 lines gives us clues, along with other Old Saxon sources. Hence, if you compare the seven worlds above with the Norse nine worlds, you would see that I am leaving out "Vanaheim" and "Dark-Elf-home." Here is how I cam to this conclusion:
The Old Saxon Heliand poem (early 9th century) names three of the nine Saxon Realms: Hellea (Hell), Mudspelles, and Middilyard. These words occur DOZENS of times in the Heliand. The Heliand gives references to Esyard (Asgard), not by name, but in its many references to the "Meadow in the Upper-realm" (i.e. Idavoll, the Green Meadow in Asgard). Four down, three to go...
The Heliand strongly implies that the "Weg" (pronounced "way") was the Saxon understanding of the Norse "Bifrost", as we have many references to a "Weg" (or "way" or "road") between the Saxon realms in the Heliand. Old Saxon does not have words for "Valhalla" or "Ragnarok". It should be noted that the word "hell" is cognate to the modern English word "hall."
The Old Saxon Heliand verses 923-927, showing the word "middilyard." (Translation mine). Please note, I can give several dozen references to "middilyard" or "middilgard" in Old Saxon.
The Old Saxon Heliand verses 944-948, showing the word "meadow (in Asgard)." (Translation mine). Please note, this "meadow" seems to be a Saxon reference to the Norse Meadow in Asgard called Idavollr or Ithavoll. In Norse Heathenry, Asgard was the throne of the king of the gods, Odin. This throne was called Hlidskjalf, and it was set in a beautiful meadow called Ithavoll. Idavoll, is where the Ese (Aesir) meet to decide important issues. (See Voluspa, multiple occurrences, especially verse 60). The Christian "Heaven" doesn't have a "meadow" in the Bible. Asgard did have such a meadow. I can give more verses of "uuanga" in Old Saxon, and several occurrences of "Wanga" for "meadow" in Old English. It appears in the Heliand, the glorious dead went to the Meadow, and the dishonorable dead went to Hellea.
The Old Saxon Heliand verses 895-899, showing the word "Hellea" (Translation mine). Please note that the word "hellea" is cognate to the modern English word "hall." Also, understand, in the Christian Greek New Testament, the word for "hell" is not "hell", but "hades" and/or "tartarus." The word "Hell" as a title definitely comes into Christian thought from Germanic Heathenry. Hell in Germanic Heathenry is not a place of burning torment like it is in the Christian Bible, but is a hall. I can give many Old Saxon word occurrences of the word "Hellea". All of them agree with the Norse Poem in the Prose Edda Gylfaginning that Hell or Hellea is a hall in Nevalhem (Norse Niflheim) where evil people go. The Heliand does seem to have a good people go to the Meadow in the Upper Realm (Asgard), and bad people go to "Hellea" in a Hall below ideal. The Prose Edda Baldr story seems to contradict the Prose Edda Gylfaginning in that it Baldr goes where Gylfaginning claims evil men go to at their death, though Baldr was not evil.
The Old Saxon Heliand verses 2590-2595, showing the word "Mudspelles" (Translation mine). Please note that the Saxons had Mudspelles, not Ragnarok. Mudspelles appears to be "the Saxon Ragnarok" in simple terms. Mudspelles is not just an Old Saxon term, but an Old Frankish one as well, as the Muspilli is an Old Frankish (High German) Poem from the 9th century agreeing that this was the "end of the world" as well. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muspilli This concept in the verses presented below, appears to match the Norse Asgard as well, as the Ithavoll in Norse Folklore turns green at the end of time. (The verses below show the fields "ripening."). Mudspelles is therefore a Saxon world or "realm."
The Saxons and Anglish have words in Old Saxon and Old English (two different languages) for Elves (Alfe), Giants (Etans), and Fog (Neval). Therefore, it is not crazy to state that the Saxons had these worlds. The words "Vanir" and "Vanaheim" are not found anywhere outside of Scandinavia, and this is well documented. Therefore, Vanaheim is an easy elimination. The difficult elimination are the Norse "light elves" and "dark elves", and light elf home and "dark elf home" being just one "home" in Saxon Cosmology. But we have clues too from Old English. It appears in Old English literature in particular, there is only one kind of elf, and all elves are not friendly towards mankind. There are zero Old Saxon or Old English mentions of "dark elves" or "light elves."
Beowulf verses 1111-1113: “From there all monsters arose, ettins and elves and orcneas, likewise the giants who strove against God.” There are several references to the Elves in Old English that show that Elves gave “elf-shot” (diseases) to humans. In Old English, there is a charm for water Elf disease, and Leechbook III (paragraph 41) and Leechbook III (paragraph 62) are Old English charms for the healing of Elven magic inflicted on humans. Therefore, having only one elf home in Saxon Cosmology makes sense.
Do you agree or disagree with my list? Please leave comments below. Thank you.
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