Updated: Jan 20
I thought for a long time about whether or not to write this post. I am a Saxon Heathen (most Saxons remained in Saxony, and did not travel with the Anglish to Britannia forging the nation of Angle-Land or England.) This is an English Heathen issue. I am not an English Heathen, nor should I be the voice of English Heathenry. But as a Saxon Heathen, people ask me this all the time, so I figured I would write my reply once and for all and be done with it. Anglish Heathens are absolutely 100% free to follow their understanding of the historical source for Mothers' Night and its dating from Bede. I will put my translation of Bede (from Latin) at the bottom of this article.
Let me state upfront that many Theodish and/or Old English Heathens (also known as Fyrnsida, various spellings) embrace the writings of Dr. Philip A. Shaw. Dr. Shaw has written a book about the origins of Eostre and the Matronae cult, proving that around 200 Austriahenae stones are related to Eostre, and these stones are only found in Frisia, northern Frankia, The Netherlands, and England. Roman Rhineland constituted Frisia, parts of The Netherlands, and Belgium, and it is a well known fact that the Romans did conquer "Britannia" or later England. Old English Heathens RIGHTFULLY use his work to note to Asatru that Eostre is a Goddess only known to the Old English and Frisian Heathens, who spoke Old English, which is classified by linguists as on the Anglo-Frisian language branch. Dr. Shaw also used linguistics (and he is a linguist) to prove that Eostre is confined to these areas. This does make sense, as Eostre is not mentioned in the two Eddas, nor in the seven hundred or so Norse Poems and Sagas that survived, nor in any historical source written by Christians describing Norse Heathenry. Dr. Philip A Shaw is a great scholar, but he is not a Heathen. When he wrote his book on the Matronae cult & Eostre, it was not on his radar that this would be an important issue for Old English Heathenry. In other words, it was not on his mind to connect the Matronae Cult to Mothers' Night, what many Old English Heathens claim to be the same event as Yule. It is possible that Mothers' Night has nothing to do with Yule, and has to do more with the Matronae Cult, as I will get into below. Afterall, if Eostre is a part of the Austriahenae stones, and the Matronae cult, why would "Mothers' Night" not also be a part of the Matronae cult, as Eostre is a part of the Matronae cult?
In addition to Dr. Shaw's great book on Eostre, I would recommend this book on the Roman Matronae cult, The Cult of the Matronae in the Roman Rhineland: An Historical Evaluation of the Archaeological Evidence by Alex G Garman: https://www.amazon.com/Cult-Matronae-Roman-Rhineland-Archaeological/dp/0773452249/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=Matronae+cult&qid=1576592971&sr=8-1
To recap: "Mothers Night" is a holiday peculiar to Anglish Heathenry, or Old English Heathenry. It is not something that applies to Saxon and Norse Heathens, not mentioned in their historical sources. Bede's Calendar doesn't apply to Continental Saxony, as Philip Shaw so wonderfully proves in his book: “Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons” (2011) Linguistics proves Bede's Calendar is for the Anglish, Frisians, and Northern Franks. The Goddess Eostre was only venerated in these areas. In addition, the Futhorc (Anglish Futhorc) is only found in Frisia and England, and modern linguistics also calls the English Language branch "Anglo-Frisian." These are strong indicators of where the Germanic tribes came to England from. Old English and Old Saxon are different languages on different language tree branches, spoken by two different peoples; i.e. the Anglo-Saxons vs. Saxons. England and the English language are named after the Angles, who are never mentioned again in their original homeland. Bede states that Anglia was "abandoned." The Old English in Beowulf is very different from the Old Saxon in the Old Saxon Heliand. Many wrongly just take English Heathenry and apply it to a Heathen Saxony, or vice versa, which is problematic at best, and completely wrong at the worst. The Old English kingdoms had kings, and Heathen Saxony was a Thingdom (similar to a democratic republic), with kings outlawed in their society. Words like "Irminsul" so central to Saxon Heathenry are not mentioned in Old English.
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. If one would go to my article on Historical Heathen Yule, one would quickly notice a difference between historical Norse Yule and Old English Mothers' Night. Here is a summary of the differences: 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.
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 is. Old Norse Yule is not the new year either.
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 major difference causes me to lean to the view that Bede's calendar probably has Celtic Matronae elements, mixed with Romano-British elements, mixed with Germanic elements, and was a calendar very unique to a not fully Germanic Britain. This in my view is a reason why the Old English calendar is so much more "busy" than the other Germanic tribes' calendars. While all are free to make up their minds on the matter, I do lean to the view that Mothers' Night is not the same as Yule in which the Germanic tribes outside of England kept (and in England). Therefore, 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. *Please remember, as a Saxon Heathen (from Saxony, i.e. Northern Germany), to borrow a phrase from Dr. Jackson Crawford, "I do not have a horse in that race." (Dr. Jackson says this when he makes clear he is not a Heathen, and his teaching is about historical Norse Culture, and not about modern Heathenry.) I am an Old Saxon Heathen, and this is my view that Old English Heathens are free to ignore.
Please note: Some Old English Heathens in my circle agree with me, but 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 "Saxon Heathenry." Please see amazon.com for the author page of Robert Sass.
Was Mothers' Night on the Solstice, or was it on a Full Moon after the Solstice?
Were the Anglish different from the other Germanic tribes who venerated historical Yule on the Full Moon of Yule Moon (Yulir Mantur), i.e. the Danes, Swedes, Geats, Norwegians, Saxons, etc. Was the Anglish Mothers' Night on the Solstice, while the Norse Heathens did not follow that practice? This is one of two possibilities. I will argue both and explain both views, compare and contrast. For the Newbies, I could point you all to my various blogs disproving Norse Yule was on the solstice. I have four of them. But instead I will use Andreas Nordberg, the world's foremost scholar on Norse holidays. He posted his book online for free in PDF form. There is a one-page English intro, and at the end of the book, a twenty or so page summary of the literary and archaeological evidence (many calendar Rune Staffs from the 9th through 13th centuries) that proves Norse pre-christian Yule was not on the solstice. 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?
Issue #1: Did Bede mean four seasons? Or did he mean two seasons? Bede recorded the Anglish Heathen calendar in chapter 15 of his De Temporum Ratione. (I include my translation from Latin at the bottom of this blog). Bede states that the Anglish Heathen Year was split into four seasons. Bede also states that the Anglish Heathen year was split into two seasons. Well Bede, which is it? I STRONGLY believe Bede is not contradicting himself, as some suppose. 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."
View #1 to Issue #1: The year was divided into four UN-EQUAL quarters. The con of this view, is that 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 be on the Solstice. The Pro of this view is that Bede equates Xmas (the Solstice) with Mothers' Night. Therefore, according to this view, the first quarter of the year begins with a full moon in October (most years), and ends on the solstice (circa 2 moons). The second quarter of the year is from the Solstice to the full moon (most years) 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. (Another Con of this view, is that Bede states a "Tri Litha" year was when they added a fourth moon to "summer" the final quarter. Notice Bede did not say they added a fifth moon...) To give this view more justice, I will discuss Bede's Christmas and Mothers' Night statement more below, in Issue #2.
View #2 to Issue #1: The year was divided into four equal quarters. Bede makes clear, Winter starts on the Full Moon of WinterFylleth. This means that Summer would start exactly six full moons after the full moon to start Winter. Those that hold View #2 to this issue argue that there were two seasons to the Anglish Heathen year, with four Full Moons that started the two seasons, and divided the two seasons. i.e. Winter Starts on a Full Moon, Mid-winter (or Yule) is on the Full Moon three full moons later, and three full moons after mid-winter or Yule is the start of Summer (Eostre to the Anglish), and three full moons after the start of summer is "mid-summer." This is the biggest strength of this view: Norse Winter Nights is on the Full Moon of Haust-manuthr, three full moons later is the Full Moon of Yulir Manuthr or Yule, three full moons later is the Full Moon of Goje Manuthr, the start of Summer, three full moons later is the Full Moon that is understood as "Mid-Summer." The Con of this view is Bede's reference to Christmas and Mothers' Night, which COULD imply that the Anglish and the Norse Heathens just celebrated Yule at different times...
PS- I hold to view #2 on Issue #1. All are free to choose either view, as the people who hold both viewpoints both sincerely want to celebrate Yule on the historically correct date. Both views are not following Asatru's Wiccan Wheel of the Year off a cliff here.
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. The Chronicon of Thietmar of Merseburg Chapter 17 (circa 1000 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 [Xmas], and there they offered to their gods sacrifices…” See the Nordberg link for more evidence, or my four blogs by clicking "blog" above and then reading through the titles of my blogs. 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", and the full moon of Yulir Manuthr. Three Full Moons after Yulir Manuthr's Full Moon was the full moon of "Goje Manuthr" or 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? But the same can be argued the other way, the Anglish Heathens were not Norse Heathens, and there are other differences outside of the calendar showing that Anglish Heathenry had different deities, and only seven realms (the Norse had nine realms. See the Nine Herbs Charm, an Old English Poem that shows the Anglish Heathen cosmology only had seven realms.)
Issue #2 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..."
View #1 to Issue #2: 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 to Issue #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 336 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 336 AD and 1582 AD, sixteen 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, and outside of the Solstices, they 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?
PS- I hold to view #2 on Issue #2. All are free to choose either view, as the people who hold both viewpoints both sincerely want to celebrate Yule on the historically correct date. Both views are not following Asatru's Wiccan Wheel of the Year off a cliff here.
Issue #3 Was Bede being honest?
View #1 to Issue #3: Why would Bede lie? He has no reason to make up Eostre, or to make anything up, like Mothers' Night.
View #2 to Issue #3: 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 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 to Issue #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. See the screen shot above proving the full moon was on December 24th into the 25th in the year 725 AD.
PS- I hold to view #2 on Issue #3. All are free to chose either view, as the people who hold both viewpoints both sincerely want to celebrate Yule on the historically correct date. Both views are not following Asatru's Wiccan Wheel of the Year off a cliff here.
Excerpt from Bede “de Temporum Ratione” (725 AD)
Translation by Robert Sass from Latin
“The Ancient Angle (English) peoples, for it does not seem proper for me to explain the yearly practice of other nations, and to keep quiet concerning my own, reckoned their months by the moon, just as they were named from the moon in Hebrew and Greek. Therefore, they called the moon “mona”, the month was called “monath”. The first moon, which the Romans call “January”, is with them Giuli (Yule). Then follow February, Solmonath, March, Hredmonath, April, Eosturmonath, May, Thrimilki, June, Liða, July, Liða, August, Weodmonath, September, Halegmonath, October, Winterfylleth, November, Blotmonath, December, Giuli, same as for January. They began the year with December 25, 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, a name named, I suspect, because of the ceremonies which they performed while seeing this night through. 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. It would not be strange to our endeavor if I propose to interpret the names of their other moons. The moons called “Giuli” (Yule) receive their name from the sun’s change to a longer day, since the first precedes, and the second follows. Solmonath may be rendered “moon of cakes”. Cakes being offered in this moon to their Gods. Hredmonath was named from their goddess Hreða, to whom they sacrificed in this moon. Eosturmonath, which is now interpreted as “paschal moon” had its name from their Goddess Easter (Eostre), to whom they held feasts in this moon, thus in naming the Paschal season after her, they designate the joys of a new celebration by the customary term applied to an ancient rite. Thrimilki was so called because in that moon milking was performed three times in one day, such being then the richness of Britain, or instead Germany, from which the Angle (English) people entered Britain. Liða means “delightful”, and at this time, the seas are navigated. Weodmonath is the moon of weeds, since then the weeds are plentiful. Halegmonath is the moon of holy rites. Winterfylleth is to say, “winter full moon.” Blotmonath is the moon of sacrifices, because in that moon they consecrated to their gods the animals that they were about to kill.” (Bede De Temporum Ratione, chapter 15)