My goal is to be accurate and not a spreader of misinformation. If I were practicing reconstructionist Druidy today, you would not find me at Stonehenge, as the site pre-dates the Druids. I would be looking at studies by scholars like Jennifer Uzzell, a Doctoral Researcher at Durham University, and others for example. I am not (and would not be if I were a Druid) against people linking Druidry to Stonehenge for modern practice, as long as people state that Stonehenge had nothing to do with the Druids. (We know "next to nothing" on the Iron Age Druids, and Stonehenge is a Neolithic site.) This is of course an Aldsidu website, but I am using the Druidry example to stress my point, the goal is to be accurate in an academic first study of the pre-christian Heathen beliefs of the Old Saxons. Most people, the overwhelming number of people, in any modern "pagan" faith are not in any way academically inclined, and could care less if they spread misinformation.
I share that the historical data shows that the Germanic tribes (which includes the Scandinavians) started their Winter season on a full moon in October, held their Yule on a full moon in January, and started their Summer on a full moon in April. Bede is one piece of evidence, writing in the year 725 CE in his work De Temporum Ratione ch 15: "The moon by which they began their winter season was called “Winterfylleth”, a name compounded of the terms for winter and full moon, because from the full moon of that moon winter was thought to begin." While scholars agree with Bede here, they realize that Bede is not entirely honest elsewhere, contradicting himself.
Background The word “solstice” comes from the Latin word sol stasis meaning “sun standing.” There are a number of neolithic sun-circles (like Stonehenge) that prove that the solstice was known in neolithic times. Sites like Stonehenge prove solar awareness, not necessarily solar only calendars or worship. Moon-circles were not needed by ancient cultures because new lunar crescents and full moons can be seen with the naked eye. Ancient peoples could not tell the exact timing of the solstice without such structures. The Romans did not know the exact timing of the solstice. Dr. Angela Puca states the following: “The Romans were uncertain as to the exact date of the Winter Solstice. Pliny in the first century believed it to be on the 26th of December, while Columella, writing around the same period, thought it was the 23rd. Julius Caesar's official calendar marked it as December 25th. This uncertainty was understandable, as the sun appears to rise and set in the same place for several days around the solstice. There were significant festivals like Saturnalia, on December 17th, as well as the New year feast, Kalendae from 1 to 3 January. Initially the Roman year began in March, which is why months September through December are numerically named with a new year start date in March." [“Is Christmas a Midwinter Pagan Festival (Yule)?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRibH2NCu-8] Please note, September means “Seventh Moon”, October means “Eighth moon”, November means “Ninth Moon”, and December means “Tenth Moon."
The Julian Calendar was off about one day per every one hundred and twenty-eight years. This is why the Gregorian Calendar replaced the inaccurate Julian calendar in October 1582, skipping eleven days. October 4th was followed by October 15th, and after the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar, the winter solstice in most years would fall on December 21. [Richards, E. G. (2013). Urban, Sean E.; Seidelmann, P. Kenneth (eds.). Explanatory Supplement to the Astronomical Almanac (3rd ed.). Mill Valley, Calif: University Science Books. ISBN 978-1-891389-85-6.] Nonetheless, the Romans debated the exact timing of the solstice. By the mere fact that the exact timing of the solstice was a debate, this raises doubts as to how many of the commoners in pre-christian Heathen Germanic and Scandinavian lands knew the exact timing of the solstice and therefore would understand full moons after them quite easily.
Criticism of Bede
Beginning in 1889, Alexander Tille, examined Bede's account with the available evidence in the late 19th century. Alexander pointed out Bede's own admission that he did not understand the practices he described of the pagan Angles. Tille proposed that the festival Bede described might have been the christian nativity celebration, and the 'Mother' Bede referred to probably was the Virgin Mary. (This being said, both Dr. Puca and Alexander Tille seem to not realize that Mothers' Night is in the possessive plural form, i.e. Mothers' Night.) Nonetheless both Dr. Puca and Tille are correct in pointing out the absence of the term "Mothers' Night in any other English, continental Europe, nor Scandinavian source.
Was Mothers' Night the Old English "Yule"?
The first question at hand, is Mothers' Night an Old English night of Yule? Or is Mothers' Night separate from Old English Yule? Please note, if you were to read a Wikipedia article on "Yule" you would see that many people connect the Old English Mothers' Night to Old Norse Yule. Many claim that the Norse called Yule "Mothers Night" which is very inaccurate to say the least. The ONLY reference ever to Mothers' Night is from Bede in the early eighth century. The Eddas, the Sagas, make zero mention of a "Mothers' Night." The Norse sources connect the Disablot to Winter Nights, and not to Yule.
Here is a summary of the differences between Yule and Others Night:
1. Mothers' Night: Mothers' is plural possessive. Night is singular. Bede makes clear Mothers' Night is ONE night, with rites done through the night to the Mothers. Old Norse Yule was three days and three nights. Winter Nights was also three nights (hence the name "Winter NIGHTS"! (Please note, Bede in De Temporum Ratione states the Winterfylleth was one night.)
Jomsvikinga Saga references the "third Winter Night."
"I swear that before the third Winter Night has past I shall drive Aðalráð, king of England, from his kingdom or kill him otherwise and so gain possession of his domain. Now it's your turn, Sigvaldi, and let your vow be as far reaching as mine.' He said that so it should be. 'Your majesty, I swear,' he said, 'that before the third Winter Night has past I shall ravage Norway with as many men as I can assemble and drive Earl Hakon out of the land or kill him; or else my lifeless body will remain in Norway."
"Well," says Guðmundur, "I see that you pretend to have played well, and yet I have the courage to say that red will be seen in the score for the third winter night."
2. The Old English New Year is Mothers' Night. The Old Norse New Year, is Winter Nights (plural, again three nights). Winter Nights begins on the full moon of Haustmanuthr, which would match the Full Moon of Winterfylleth on Bede's Old English Calendar. Therefore, Yule is not the Norse New Year. Even Ynglinga Saga 8 claims that Winter Nights was a blot for the new year, and Mid-winter was a blot for good crops. To simplify, Old Norse Yule is NOT a Disablot or a blot to the Mothers, but Mothers' Night certainly would have been. Old Norse Yule is not the Norse new year. “Odin established the same law in his land that had been in force in Asaland… On winter day (first day of winter) there should be blot for a good year, and in the middle of winter for a good crop; and the third blot should be on summer day, a Victory-blot.” [Ynglinga Saga, ch 8]
3. Mothers' Night may indeed be on the Solstice, Heathen Yule (Old Norse Yule) was not, but was on the first full moon after the first new moon after the Solstice.
Since the Old Norse (historical Norse Heathen) Calendar has Disablot (also called "Haustblot" and "Winter Nights" in the Sagas and sources) on Winter Nights, it appears the Old English are quite different (to say the least) from their Norse counterparts under the Germanic Heathen umbrella. (This is of course, if Bede should be accepted as 100% accurate, and was not being dishonest linking Mothers' Night to Christmas and Eostre to Christian "Easter." Easter is called "Paska" in Old Saxon, and in Scandinavian countries today.). Bede discusses Mothers' Night and Pascha with Xmas and Easter a lot, and Bede is a christian. Scholars like Alexander Tille have questioned if Bede was even honest, presenting his Heathen Ancestors having knowledge of xmas and easter while they were still Heathen. I myself no longer hold to the view that Old English Mothers' Night is Yule. I believe Mothers' Night, like Eostre, is connected to the Celtic-Roman (and later Romano-British) Matronae cult. And the burden of proof here is on Old English Heathens on proving Mothers' Night was Yule. Why? Bede never states that Mothers' Night is Yule, and the Old English Heathens are the ones making this claim, despite no other sources calling Yule a Mothers' Night.
4. Bede states that there are two seasons to the year, and that the year is divided into halves. Thus, per Bede, the year has four equal parts "three moons each." So, since Bede makes clear Winterfylleth starts on a full moon in October (and summer starts on a full moon in April), how can the solstice be "mid-winter?"
The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg Chapter 17 (circa 925 AD): "As I have heard odd stories concerning their ancient mid-winter sacrifices, I will not allow this custom to be ignored. The middle of that kingdom is called Lederun (Lejre), in the region of Sjælland, all the people gathered every nine years in January, that is after we have celebrated the birth of the Lord [Christmas], and there they offered to their gods sacrifices…”
Please note: Some Old English Heathens in the Aldsidu circle do not agree with me that Mothers Night is on the Solstice; they have come to believe Mothers' Night is on the Full Moon of the 12th moon of the Old English Calendar, as the Solstice and the Full Moon in the year Bede wrote occurred at the same time: Dec 24th into December 25th. Therefore, I am aware of some Old English Heathens who keep Mothers Night on a Full Moon of the final moon of the year, and keep Yule on the first full moon of the year, one full moon after Mothers' Night. Others, keep Mothers' Night on the Solstice, and then do Yule on the full moon of the first moon of the year. I find people on all sides of this fence to have good hearts and are sincerely looking to accurately reconstruct their Old English calendar, and I respect people on all sides of this fence trying to be historical. Please see the image below, on evidence of the full moon in the year 725 AD also being on the night of christmas, and also (possibly) the solstice that year. (This article continues below the large image.)
Please join us on the Facebook group "Aldsidu: Saxon Heathenry."
Dr. Nordberg states: "The pre-Christian Yule feast occurs at the first full moon after the first new moon following the winter solstice, while the disting took place at the third full moon according to the same method of calculation."
For the Anglish Heathens: Please note, Andreas Nordberg breaks down Bede's De Temporum Ratione Chapter 15 in England in the summary of his work as well. A MUST read... Here is the Link to Nordberg's great work:
Now, lets move to the Anglish, what do the Anglish sources state?
Bede states: "The peoples who welcomed the year in this also assigned three moons to each season of the year. When however, an embolism occurred, that is, a year of thirteen lunar moons, they added the intercalated moon to the summer, so that in the case three moons in succession were called “Liða.” Such a year was known as “Thri-Liða”, having four moons of summer and three of each of the other seasons. The division of the year though was into two seasons: Winter and Summer. Summer comprising six (or seven) moons when days were longer than nights, and winter six moons when nights were longer than days. Thus, the moon by which they began their winter season was called “Winterfylleth”, a name compounded of the terms for winter and full moon, because from the full moon of that moon winter was thought to begin."
Bede seems confused here. He states Heathens in England had two seasons, but also four seasons. The logical view with critical thinking is that there were two seasons to Germanic Heathens, with mid-points, which means the year was divided into four EQUAL Quarters. The Old English Heathens often argue though that the year was divided into four UN-EQUAL quarters, which contradicts Bede. Bede states that the Anglish "assigned three moons to each season of the year." Therefore this view is not very logical, but it is held by those who argue Mothers' Night to both Yule and also being on the Solstice. According to this view, the first quarter of the year begins with a full moon in October, and ends on the solstice (circa 2 moons). The second quarter of the year is from the Solstice to the full moon in April, (circa 4 moons). The third quarter of the year starts on the start of summer (Eostre) on a full moon in April, but ends on the Summer Solstice in June (circa 2 months). The fourth quarter of the year starts with the Summer Solstice and ends 4 or 5 moons later with the full moon that starts Winter in October.
If the year was divided into two seaons, winter and summer, starting on a full moon, therefore, the solstice cannot be the half-way point. This implies that Mothers' Night, a solstice holiday was not mid-winter, or Yule. This burden of proof is on Old English Heathens, they must prove Yule and Mothers' Night are the same, and Bede implies that they are not. Please also note, in all Germanic/Scandinavian languages, the word "month" meant a "lunar cycle." This is how Old English works. Take the number seven, and add a "th". Now the number seven is in a sequence of numbers (i.e. seventh.) Add the word "th" to the word moon and you get the word "month", which we have new moons growing to full moons and waning again until the next new moon, over and over again.
Facts to Consider
1. Norse Heathenry, 100% for sure, had their Yule on the first full moon after the first new moon after the solstice. 2. Hakon the Good Saga chapter 15 documents Hakon the Good forcing Christianity on the masses, moving Yule to the same time as Xmas. Xmas was on the Solstice at this time period, i.e. on the Julian Calendar which was kept by the Christian West until October 1582 AD. Therefore, the Norse with forced Christianization had the Solstice forced on them in this manner, and Christmas forced on them in this manner. This is why Christmas is called Yule in Scandinavia today: the forced move of Yule to December 25th. 3. Norse Winter Nights, was on the Full Moon of Haust-manuthr, which corresponds to the Anglish "Winterfylleth." Three full moons after the Norse Winter Nights, was "Mid-Winter." Three Full Moons after Yule's Full Moon was Sigurblot, which would correspond to Anglish Eostre Full Moon. 4. The Norse and the Anglish Heathens celebrated their start of winter and summer on the same full moons (though they both titled these differently, i.e. Haust-manuthr vs. Winterfylleth, Sigurblot vs Eostre blot etc.). Therefore, some rightly ask: why would Norse Yule, Mid-Winter, be at a different time from Anglish Yule or Mid-Winter? If Mothers Night was Old English Yule, then Old English Yule was on the solstice, and the English had their own thing going. The English did have their own thing going, Mothers Night, a solstice holiday, if Bede is telling the truth. Bede never says that the English did not celebrate Yule, he simply did not mention it, outside of two moons called "Yule Moon." Bede mentioned Mothers Night, because Bede was a Christian Monk, and it was better for him to say his Heathen Ancestors knew Xmas before they became Christians, i.e. Mothers' Night was English Heathens divine foreknowledge of Jesus' birth.
Bede Stated that Mothers Night was on the same night of Christmas Bede stated that clearly. "the day we now celebrate as Christ Mass (Christmas); and the very night we attend Mass they designated by the Heathen term “modraniht”, that is, the Mothers’ night..."
Here are two different views to Bede's statement of Mothers' Night, and Old English Heathens need to pick one:
View #1: The Julian Calendar was in use when Bede wrote. The Julian Calendar stated the Solstice was on December 25th. Therefore, Bede stated Mothers' Night was on the Solstice, even though he did not use the word for Solstice. Bede seems to imply that all Mothers' Nights, not just in the year year 725, the year in which he wrote, were on the Solstice.
View#2 Bede stated December 25th. BUT December 25th was not the solstice in 725 AD. But the church was doing Christmas on the Julian December 25th in 725 AD, the year Bede wrote. The Germanic tribes knew when the solstice was most likely better than the bloody Roman Christians. The Julian calendar was off from the actual calendar. While Pope Julian established Christmas on December 25th as the solstice in 337 AD, and established the "Julian Calendar" (named after himself) as well, this calendar was flawed. In the year 1582, October 4th skipped to October 15th, because between 337 AD and 1582 AD, fifteen days were now off, as 11 days were skipped and the solstice was moved to from December 25th to December 21st as well. Christmas however, remained December 25th. Therefore, Bede stated Christmas, and not the Solstice. The Anglish had no idea what "December" was (a Roman solar period of time.) Outside of the Solstices, Germanic Heathens had no clue about fixed Roman "solar" dates as the Anglish calendar was CLEARLY lunar in terms of moons were understood as months. Therefore, why on earth would Anglish Heathens always be celebrating Mothers' Night on the same night the Christians did Christmas in pre-christian times?
PS- I hold the view that while in 725 AD/CE, the full moon was also on December 25th (the solstice), that this is a coincidence. Yule would be one full moon later, and Mothers' Night was on the Solstice.
Issue: Was Bede being honest?
View #1 Why would Bede lie? He has no reason to make up Eostre, or to make anything up, like Mothers' Night.
View #2: Bede was not exactly truthful equating his Heathen Anglish Ancestor past keeping Xmas, a fixed solar date, which is “odd” and out of character for a Germanic Tribe. Bede in De Temporum Ratione spends too much time discussing Christian Christmas and Easter when discussing the Anglish Heathen calendar of his past Ancestors. It comes off as Bede is trying to make the Anglish Heathens have some divine truth about Christ and Christian holidays prior to their conversion. We do not feel Bede made up Eostre, but she is a legit Goddess attested in England. But considering the fact Bede did not use the word "Solstice" but yet wants us to believe that every year, the Anglish Heathens celebrated Mothers Night on the Solstice, which was a different night than the Christians did their Christmas midnight mass, is "odd." Hence, Bede did not state that, Bede stated Mothers' Night was on the same night as Christmas. View #3: In the year 725 AD, the Full Moon during December was on December 24th, at night, going into December 25th. Therefore, in this one year only the Christian Christmas and the Full Moon happened to be on the same night. Con of this view... it conflicts with the Germanic Norse understanding that Yule was a three-night Blot that began on the Blot Night, Mid-winter, i.e. the first full moon after the first new moon after the Solstice.
PS- I believe the Matronae Cult venerated the Solstice and called it Mothers Night, a separate night from Yule. In the end, Fyrnsida and other Old English Heathens make fun of me. But they have not dissected Bede the way I just did. They just ASSume Mothers' Night is Yule, and they do not prove it, nor explain why zero other mentions of Yule in Scandinavian literature use the term "Mothers' Night." They do not address how the year can be divided into four equal parts, if the seasons like Winterfylleth start on Full Moons. They do not and have never answered how Mothers Night is the Middle of Winter, when it is two months or so after the full moon of October starts winter, and then four moons later, summer starts. Theitmar of Merseburg, like Bede, did NOT lie. Bede did not invent Mothers' Night, nor did he invent Eostre. But Bede did not state Yule and Mothers' Night were the same night, and clearly, Mid-Winter was not Mothers' Night. Lastly, no need to make fun of anyone. I am clearly trying to research, and so are the Old English Heathens. We have just come to different views. I will not dishonorably make stupid statements about their efforts to figure it out. They should do the same.
Aldsidu vs. Asatru vs. Old English Heathenry Aldsidu is different from Asatru because our calendar has three blots that start on full moons, and we do not use the Wiccan Wheel of the year, the 8-spoke calendar of Wicca. Our Yule is on a full moon after the solstice, and not on the Solstice. Blot and Sumble is done differently as well, using the historical sources, and not following the Wiccan Sabbat model. But in a nutshell, this is the difference between Aldsidu and Asatru summarized. (Though, Aldsidu does not tolerate dishonorable behavior, racism, and drama.)
Various forms of Old English Heathenry follow Bede without any critical analysis. The start Winterfylleth (Winter Nights) on a Full Moon, and they do an Eostreblot to begin summer on a Full Moon. In short, Aldsidu and Old English Heathenry starts Winter and Summer on the same full moons, on the same date. However, Aldsidu's new year is with Winter Nights, and Old English's new year is on the Solstice. The main difference between Aldsidu and Old English Heathenry, in summary, would be that Aldsidu keeps Yule for Three Days on a Full Moon, and Old English Heathenry keeps Yule and Mothers' Night on the Solstice. Some groups do twelve days of Mothers' Night (even though the word "night" is singular per Bede), and some just do one night. I find that Old English Heathens do not tend to argue at all with my blot or sumble research. The main difference between Aldsidu and most branches of Old English Heathenry is Yule on a Full Moon vs. the Solstice.