Anglo-Saxon paganism, sometimes termed Anglo-Saxon heathenism or Anglo-Saxon traditional religion, refers to the religious beliefs and practices followed by the Anglo-Saxons between the fifth and eighth centuries AD, during the initial period of Early Medieval England. A variant of the Germanic paganism found across much of north-western Europe, it encompassed a heterogeneous variety of disparate beliefs and cultic practices. Developing from the earlier Iron Age religion of continental northern Europe, it was introduced to Britain following the Anglo-Saxon migration in the mid fifth century, and remained the dominant religion in England until the Christianisation of its kingdoms between the seventh and eighth centuries, with some aspects gradually blending into folklore.
Modern scholarly understandings of pre-Christian belief in Anglo-Saxon England are incomplete and fragmented. The sources used to learn about this extinct belief system include the textual sources produced by Christians, place-name evidence, and archaeological material, as well as comparisons drawn from later British folklore and from better attested neighbouring societies such as that of the Norse.
Much of what is supposedly known about Anglo-Saxon paganism is the result of the efforts of literary antiquarians in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; in particular, the notion that Old English poetry contains vestiges of an actual, historical pre-Christian paganism has been queried by Anglo-Saxonists. Anglo-Saxon paganism was a polytheistic belief system, focused around the worship of deities known as the ése (singular ós). The most prominent of these deities was probably Woden, for which reason the religion has also been called Wodenism, although other prominent gods included Thunor and Tiw. There was also a belief in a variety of other supernatural entities who inhabited the landscape, including elves, nicor, and dragons. Cultic practice largely revolved around demonstrations of devotion, including sacrifice of inanimate objects and animals, to these deities, particularly at certain religious festivals during the year. Pagan beliefs also influenced funerary practices, where the dead were either inhumed or cremated, typically with a selection of grave goods. There was also a magical component to the early Anglo-Saxon religion, and some scholars[who?] have also theorised that there may have been shamanic aspects as well. These religious beliefs also had a bearing on the structure of Anglo-Saxon society, which was hierarchical, with kings often claiming a direct ancestral lineage from a god, particularly Woden. As such, it also had an influence on law codes during this period.
The deities of this religion provided the basis for the names of the days of the week in the English language. Despite this, there is much that is not known about this religion, and what is currently known about it comes mainly from the available archaeological evidence. What is known about the religion and its accompanying mythology have since influenced both literature and Modern Paganism.
- 1 Definition
- 2 Evidence
- 3 Mythology
- 4 Cultic practice
- 5 Pagan society
- 6 Legacy
- 7 The impact of conversion
- 8 Reception
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The term pagan is a Latin term that was employed by Christians in Anglo-Saxon England to describe non-Christians. In Old English, the vernacular language of Anglo-Saxon England, the equivalent word was hæðen ("heathen"), a term that was cognate to the Old Norse term heiðinn, both of which may derive from a putative Gothic word, haiþno. Both pagan and heathen were terms that carried pejorative overtones in their usage, with hæðen also being used in Late Anglo-Saxon texts to refer to criminals and others deemed to have not lived a Christian life. There is no evidence that anyone living in Anglo-Saxon England ever described themselves as a "pagan" or understood there to be a singular religion, "paganism", that stood as a monolithic alternative to Christianity. As a phenomenon, it appeared to lack any rules or consistency, also exhibiting regional variation and change over time. Instead, the term "paganism" was one used by Christians as form of othering. As the archaeologist Neil Price put it, in the Anglo-Saxon context, "paganism" is "largely an empty concept defined by what it is not (Christianity)".
Using the concept of "paganism" or "heathenism" when discussing pre-Christian belief systems in Anglo-Saxon England is problematic. Historically, many early scholars of the Anglo-Saxon period used the terms to describe the religious beliefs that existed in England prior to the conversion to Christianity. Several later scholars critiqued the usage of the term in this context, highlighting the problems with using such terms in a scholarly context. As the historian Ian S. Wood stated, using the term "pagan" when discussing the Anglo-Saxons forces the scholar to adopt "the cultural constructs and value judgements of the early medieval missionaries" and thus obscures scholarly understandings of the so-called pagans' own perspectives. At present, while some Anglo-Saxonists have ceased using the terms "paganism" or "pagan" when discussing the early Anglo-Saxon period, others have continued to do so, viewing these terms as a useful means of designating something that is not Christian yet which is still identifiably religious. Conversely, the social anthropologist David Turton has suggested that "traditional religion" might be a better alternative, although archaeologist Martin Carver cautioned against employing this term, noting that Britain in the fifth to the eighth century was replete with new ideas and thus belief systems of that period were not particularly "traditional". The use of "pre-Christian" religion avoids the judgemental connotations of "paganism" and "heathenism" and yet is not always accurate from a chronological perspective.
According to the archaeologists Carver, Alex Sanmark, and Sarah Semple, Anglo-Saxon paganism was "not a religion with supraregional rules and institutions but a loose term for a variety of local intellectual world views." They also suggested that early Anglo-Saxon Christianity had a similar structure, although acknowledged that this would be a controversial notion. Carver stressed that, in Anglo-Saxon England, neither paganism nor Christianity represented "homogenous intellectual positions or canons and practice"; instead, there was "considerable interdigitation" between the two.
The pre-Christian society of Anglo-Saxon England was illiterate. As a result of this, there is no contemporary written evidence from the period in which Anglo-Saxon paganism was actively being practiced. Instead, our primary textual source material for understanding Anglo-Saxon paganism derives from later authors, such as Bede or the anonymous author of the Life of St Wilfrid, who were writing in Latin rather than in Old English. These writers were not interested in providing a full portrait of the Anglo-Saxons' pre-Christian belief systems, and thus our textual portrayal of these religious beliefs is fragmentary and incidental. There is no neat, formalised account of Anglo-Saxon pagan beliefs as there for instance is for Classical mythology and Norse mythology.
Archaeologically, the realms of religion, ritual, and magic can only be identified if they had an impact on material culture. As such, scholarly understandings of pre-Christian religion in Anglo-Saxon England are reliant largely on rich burials and monumental buildings, which exert as much of a political purpose as a religious one. The world-views of the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons would have impinged on all aspects of everday life, making it particularly difficult for modern scholars to separate Anglo-Saxon ritual activities as something distinct from other areas of society.
Although many scholars have used Norse mythology as a guide to understanding the beliefs of pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon England, caution has been expressed as to the utility of this approach.
Based on the evidence available, the historian John Blair stated that the pre-Christian religion of Anglo-Saxon England largely resembled "that of the pagan Britons under Roman rule... at least in its outward forms". However, the archaeologist Audrey Meaney concluded that there exists "very little undoubted evidence for Anglo-Saxon paganism, and we remain ignorant of many of its essential features of organisation and philosophy".
Carver, Sanmark, and Semple suggested that every community within Anglo-Saxon England likely had "its own take on cosmology", although suggested that there may have been "an underlying system" that was widely shared.
Currently, very little is known about the pagan cosmology or world view followed by the early Anglo-Saxons. In the Nine Herbs Charm, there is a mention of "seven worlds", which may indicate that the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons believed in seven realms. The Anglo-Saxons referred to the realm humans live on as Middangeard, (which was cognate to the Old Norse Midgard) and also to a realm called Neorxnawang, corresponding to the Christian idea of Heaven. While these are terms used in a Christian context, some scholars have theorised that they may have originally been used to apply to earlier pagan realms. Similarly, in the Crist poem, there is a mention of Earendel, which may have been a name of the morning star, identified in the poem with John the Baptist (who heralds the coming of the Christ as the morning star heralds the Sun).
The possibility that the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons held to a belief in a cosmological world tree has also been considered. This idea might be bolstered if it is the case, as some scholars have argued, that the concept of a world tree derived from a prehistoric Indo-European society and thus can be found throughout those societies who descended from the Indo-Europeans. Brian Branston argued that such a tree might be likely because of the Norse mythological concept of the world tree, although the historian Clive Tolley has cautioned that any Anglo-Saxon world tree would likely not be directly comparable to that referenced in Norse textual sources.
The Anglo-Saxon concept corresponding to fate was wyrd, although the "pagan" nature of this conception is subject to some debate; Dorothy Whitelock suggested that it was a belief held only after Christianisation, while Branston maintained that wyrd had been an important concept for the pagan Anglo-Saxons.
Anglo-Saxon paganism was a polytheistic belief system, with its practitioners believing in many deities. These were known as ése. The most popular god appears to have been Woden, as "traces of his cult are scattered more widely over the rolling English countryside than those of any other heathen deity". His name appears to have provided the basis for such place names as Woodnesborough in Kent and Wansdyke in Wiltshire. The importance of Woden can also be seen in the fact that he was euhemerised as an ancestor of the royal houses of Kent, Wessex, East Anglia and Mercia. There are traces of Woden in English folklore and toponymy, where he appears as the leader of the Wild Hunt and he is referred to as a healer in the Nine Herbs Charm, directly paralleling the role of his continental German counterpart Wodan in the Merseburg Incantations.
The second most widespread deity from Anglo-Saxon England appears to be the god Thunor, who was a god of the sky and thunder and who was "a friend of the common man", in contrast to Woden who was primarily associated with royalty. It has been suggested that the hammer and the swastika were the god's symbols, representing thunderbolts, and both of these symbols have been found in Anglo-Saxon graves, the latter being common on cremation urns. A third Anglo-Saxon god that is attested is Tiw, who, in the Anglo-Saxon rune poem Tir is identified with the star Polaris rather than with a deity, although it has been suggested that Tiw was probably a war deity.
Perhaps the most prominent female deity in Anglo-Saxon paganism was Fríge, however there is still very little evidence for her worship, although it has been speculated that she was "a goddess of love or festivity". Another Anglo-Saxon divinity was Frey, who is mentioned in both The Dream of the Rood and a poem by the monk Cædmon, in both of which he is compared to the later Christian figure Jesus Christ, indicating that Frey was perhaps a sacrificial deity. The East Saxon tribe who settled in southern England and formed the kingdom of Essex claimed to be the descendents of a god known as Seaxnēat, of whom little is known, while a runic poem mentions a god known as Ingui and the writer Asser mentioned a god known as Gēat. The Christian monk known as the Venerable Bede also mentioned two further goddesses in his written works; Eostre, who was celebrated at a spring festival, and Hretha, whose name meant "glory".
No wooden carvings of anthropomorphic figures have been found in the area that once encompassed Anglo-Saxon England that are comparable to those found in Scandinavia or continental Europe. A seated male figure appears on a cremation urn's lid discovered at Spong Hill in Norfolk, which was interpreted as a possible depiction of Woden on a throne. Also found on many crematory urns are a variety of symbols; of these, the swastikas have sometimes been interpreted as symbols associated with Thunor.
Many Anglo-Saxonists have also assumed that Anglo-Saxon paganism was animistic in basis, believing in a landscape populated by different spirits and other non-human entities, such as elves, dwarves, and dragons.
In Anglo-Saxon England, elves (aelfe) were viewed as malevolent beings who could bring harm to human beings. In the 10th century Metrical Charm "Against A Sudden Stitch" (Wið færstice), it states that various forms of sickness, such as rheumatism, could be induced by "elfshot" - invisible arrows fired by elves. They were believed to possess a type of magic known as siden. Alongside the elves, other supernatural beings included dwarfs (or dweorgas), ettins (or eoten) and dragons.. 'Etaynes' (ettins) and 'wodwos' (wood wos / wildmen) appear in Sir Gawain & the Green Knight, and these are potentially remnants of Anglo-Saxon belief. The name 'ettin' roughly translates as 'devourer' (eaten / eater) and is cognate with Jotun in Norse mythos. Another important figure in Anglo-Saxon belief appears to be 'thurse' (giant/ogre/monster), given the large number of place-names and folk-stories associated with derived forms (AS *hobbe-thurse: hobthurse, hobthrush, hobtrash, gytrash, trash etc.). Forms of dwarf (dwerrow, dwerger, dweorgas etc.) are not as well supported in the nomenclature of the English countryside implying that 'dwarfs' were not as widely a held customary belief, however 'bug-' (bugbear, bugaboo, scare-bug etc.) and '-mare' (woodmare, nightmare) appear to be better supported and are potentially derived from Anglo-Saxon words. The name 'hob' remains contentious, with the accepted meaning 'diminutive of Robert' sitting uncomfortably with the large number of apparently old 'hob-' placenames (hobhole, hobdell, hobgate etc.) in England.
Legend and poetry
In pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon England, legends and other stories were transmitted orally instead of being written down - it is for this reason that very few survive to us today. After Christianisation however, certain poems were indeed written down, with surviving examples including the Nine Herbs Charm, The Dream of the Rood, Waldere and most notably Beowulf. While these contain many Christianised elements, there were certain mentions of earlier pagan deities and practices contained within them.
One of the most prominent surviving myths of the pagan Anglo-Saxons was that of the brothers Hengest and Horsa, who are named in historical sources as leaders of the earliest Anglo-Saxon incursions in the south of Britain. The name Hengest means "stallion" and Horsa means "horse", reminiscent of the horse sacrifice connected to the inauguration of pagan kings. Another important mythological figure is Weyland the smith, a figure who also appeared in other forms of Germanic mythology. An image of Weyland adorns the Franks Casket, an Anglo-Saxon royal hoard box and was meant there to refer to wealth and partnership.
The only surviving Anglo-Saxon epic poem is the story of Beowulf, known only from a surviving manuscript that was written down by the Christian monk Sepa sometime between the eighth and eleventh centuries AD. The story it tells is set not in England but in Scandinavia, and revolves around a Geatish warrior named Beowulf who travels to Denmark to defeat a monster known as Grendel, who is terrorising the kingdom of Hrothgar, and later, Grendel's Mother as well. Following this, he later becomes the king of Geatland before finally dying in battle with a dragon. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, it was commonly believed that Beowulf was not an Anglo-Saxon pagan tale, but a Scandinavian Christian one; it was not until the influential critical essay Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics by J. R. R. Tolkien, delivered in 1936, that Beowulf was established as a quintessentially English poem that, while Christian, looked back on a living memory of paganism. Nonetheless, some academics still hold reservations about accepting it as containing information pertaining to Anglo-Saxon paganism, with Patrick Wormald noting that "vast reserves of intellectual energy have been devoted to threshing this poem for grains of authentic pagan belief, but it must be admitted that the harvest has been meagre. The poet may have known that his heroes were pagans, but he did not know much about paganism."
As archaeologist Sarah Semple noted, "the rituals [of the early Anglo-Saxons] involved the full pre-Christian repertoire: votive deposits, furnished burial, monumental mounds, sacred natural phenomenon and eventually constructed pillars, shrines and temples", thereby having many commonalities with other pre-Christian religions in Europe.
Places of worship
Place-name evidence may indicate some locations which were used as places of worship by the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons. However, no unambiguous archaeological evidence currently supports the interpretation of these sites as places of cultic practice.
The pagan Anglo-Saxons worshipped at a variety of different sites across their landscape, some of which were apparently specially built temples and others that were natural geographical features such as sacred trees, hilltops or wells. According to place name evidence, these sites of worship were known alternately as either hearg or as wēoh, and it was widely assumed by nineteenth and early twentieth century scholars that these two terms were synonyms that could be used interchangeably. However, in the latter part of the twentieth century, some etymologists began to theorise that the two words actually had different meanings. Archaeologist David Wilson stated that hearg "may" refer to "a special type of religious site, one that occupied a prominent position on high land and was a communal place of worship for a specific group of people, a tribe or folk group, perhaps at particular times of the year" while wēoh sites, the majority of which appeared to be "situated very close to ancient route ways", were instead more likely to be "small, wayside shrine[s], accessible to the traveller".
The pagan Anglo-Saxons built temples to worship their gods, which were "wooden-framed" and contained "an altar and a likeness of one or more gods". Some have suggested that sometimes these temples were built alongside pre-existing sacred sites in the landscape, and indeed, "ancient remains in the landscape held a significant place in the Anglo-Saxon mind as part of a wider, numinous, spiritual and resonant landscape". These temples are mentioned in various later Anglo-Saxon texts, most of which discuss them in reference to their Christianisation. Pope Gregory the Great, who was head of the Roman Catholic Church during much of the Christianisation of England, variously suggested both that the temples should be sprinkled with holy water and converted into churches, or that they should be destroyed. According to Bede, it was this latter advice that was taken up by Coifi, an influential English pagan priest for King Edwin of Northumbria, who after being converted to Christianity, cast a spear into the temple at Goodmanham and then burned it to the ground. Bede referred to these spaces using the Latin term fanum; he did not mention whether they were roofed or not, although chose to use fanum over the Latin term templum, which would more clearly describe a roofed temple building.
These occasional literary references to Anglo-Saxon temples are accompanied by some limited archaeological evidence. The best known example of this is a room, known by excavators as D2, which was a part of the royal complex at Yeavering in Northumberland, and which has been widely interpreted as a temple room, for it contained buried oxen skulls, two postholes that have been interpreted as holding idols, and no evidence of domestic usage. Other possible temples or shrine buildings have been identified by archaeological investigation as existing within such Anglo-Saxon cemeteries as Lyminge in Kent and Bishopstone in Sussex. Although Pope Gregory had promoted the idea, no archaeological investigation has yet found any firm evidence of churches being built on top of earlier pagan temples in England. Nonetheless, as archaeologist David Wilson noted, this is "hardly surprising" due to "the making of crypts and the general rebuilding of churches over the centuries", which would probably destroy any earlier pagan foundations.
Arnold suggested that it may be mistaken to assume that the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxons carried out ritual activity at specific sites, instead suggesting that such practices occurred within the domestic area. As evidence, he pointed to certain deposits that have been excavated in Anglo-Saxon settlements, such as the deposition of an adult cow above a pit of clay and cobbles which had been placed at Cowdery's Down.
Summarising the archaeological evidence, C. J. Arnold concluded that "the existence and nature of possible shrines remain intangible at present".
Noting that some of the putative shrines identified by Blair were located on prehistoric burial mounds dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, the archaeologist Sarah Semple suggested that in Early Anglo-Saxon England such barrows might have been understood as "the home of spirits, ancestors or gods" and accordingly used as cultic places.
Although there are virtually no references to pre-Christian sacred trees in Old English literature, there are condemnations of tree veneration as well as the veneration of stones and wells in several later Anglo-Saxon penitentials. In the 680s, the Christian writer Aldhelm referred to the pagan use of pillars associated with the "foul snake and stag", praising the fact that many had been converted into sites for Christian worship.
It remains difficult to determine the location of these pre-Christian holy trees. However, there are cases where sacred trees and groves may be referenced in place-names. Blair suggested that the use of the Old English word bēam ("tree") in Anglo-Saxon place-names may be a reference to a special tree. He also suggested that the place-names containing stapol ("post" or "pillar") might have represented trees that had been venerated when alive and which were transformed into carved pillars after their death. For instance, both Thurstable Hundred in Essex and Thurstaple in Kent appear to have derived from the Old English Þunres-stapol, meaning 'Pillar of Þunor'. Archaeologically, a large post was discovered at Yeavering which has been interpreted as having a religious function. The purpose of such poles remains debatable, however; some might have represented grave markers, others might have signalised group or kin identities, or marked territory, assembly places, or sacred spaces. Such wooden pillars would have been easy to convert into large crucifixes following the conversion to Christianity, and thus a number of these sacred sites may have survived as cultic spaces within a Christian context.
One of the inhumation burials excavated at Yeavering, classified as Grave AX, has been interpreted as being that of a pre-Christian priest; although the body was not able to be sexed or aged by osteoarchaeologists, it was found with a goat's skull buried by its feet and a long wooden staff with metal fittings beside it. There have also been suggestions that individuals who were biologically male but who were buried in female costume may have represented a form of magico-religious specialists in Anglo-Saxon England. This possibility is linked to an account provided by Tacitus in his 'Germania in which he refers to a male pagan priest who wore female clothing.
The pagan Anglo-Saxons performed animal sacrifice in honour of the gods. It appears that they emphasised the killing of oxen over other species, as suggested by both written and archaeological evidence. Sacrifice itself was not only found in Anglo-Saxon paganism, but was also common in other Germanic pagan religions, for instance the Norse practised a blood sacrifice known as Blót. The Old English Martyrology records that November (Old English Blótmónaþ "the month of sacrifice") was particularly associated with sacrificial practices:
- The original Old English:
- Se mónaþ is nemned Novembris on Léden, and on úre geþeóde "blótmónaþ", forðon úre yldran, ðá hý hǽðene wǽron, on ðam mónþe hý bleóton á, ðæt is, ðæt hý betǽhton and benémdon hyra deófolgyldum ða neát ða ðe hý woldon syllan.
- Modern English translation:
- "The month is called Novembris in Latin, and in our language 'bloodmonth', because our elders when they had been heathens, always in this month sacrificed, that is, that they took and devoted to their idols the cattle which they wished to offer."
There are several cases where animal remains were buried in what appears to be ritualistic conditions, for instance at Frilford, Berkshire, a pig or boar's head was buried with six flat stones and two Roman-era tiles then placed on top, while at an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Soham, Cambridgeshire, an ox's head was buried with the muzzle facing down. Archaeologist David Wilson stated that these may be "evidence of sacrifices to a pagan god".
Many Germanic peoples are recorded as conducting human sacrifice, yet there is no firm evidence the Anglo-Saxons had such a practice, though there is speculation that twenty three of the bodies at the Sutton Hoo burial site were sacrificial victims clustered around a sacred tree from which they had been hanged. Alongside this, some have suggested that the corpse of an Anglo-Saxon woman found at Sewerby on the Yorkshire Wolds suggested that she had been buried alive alongside a nobleman, possibly as a sacrifice, or to accompany him to the afterlife.
Weapons, among them spears, swords, seaxes, and shield fittings have been found from English rivers, such as the River Thames, although no large-scale weapon deposits have been discovered that are akin to those found elsewhere in Europe.
One of the aspects of Anglo-Saxon paganism that we know most about is their burial customs, which we have discovered from archaeological excavations at various sites, including Sutton Hoo, Spong Hill, Prittlewell, Snape and Walkington Wold, and we today know of the existence of around 1200 Anglo-Saxon pagan cemeteries. There was no set form of burial among the pagan Anglo-Saxons, with cremation being preferred among the Angles in the north and burial among the Saxons in the south, although both forms were found throughout England, sometimes in the same cemeteries. When cremation did take place, the ashes were usually placed within an urn and then buried, sometimes along with grave goods. According to archaeologist Dave Wilson, "the usual orientation for an inhumation in a pagan Anglo-Saxon cemetery was west-east, with the head to the west, although there were often deviations from this." Indicating a possible religious belief, grave goods were common among inhumation burials as well as cremations; free Anglo-Saxon men were buried with at least one weapon in the pagan tradition, often a seax, but sometimes also with a spear, sword or shield, or a combination of these. There are also a number of recorded cases of parts of non-human animals being buried within such graves. Most common among these was body parts belonging to either goats or sheep, although parts of oxen were also relatively common, and there are also isolated cases of goose, crab apples, duck eggs and hazelnuts being buried in graves. It is widely thought therefore that such items constituted a food source for the deceased. In some cases, animal skulls, particularly oxen but also pig, were buried in human graves, a practice that was also found in earlier Roman Britain.
Certain Anglo-Saxon burials appeared to have ritualistic elements to them, implying that a religious rite was performed over them during the funeral. While there are many multiple burials, where more than one corpse was found in a single grave, that date from the Anglo-Saxon period, there is "a small group of such burials where an interpretation involving ritual practices may be possible". For instance, at Welbeck Hill in Lincolnshire, the corpse of a decapitated woman was placed in reverse on top of the body of an old man, while in a number of other similar examples, female bodies were again placed above those of men. This has led some archaeologists to suspect a form of suttee, where the female was the spouse of the male, and was killed to accompany him upon death. Other theories hold that the females were slaves who were viewed as the property of the men, and who were again killed to accompany their master. Similarly, four Anglo-Saxon burials have been excavated where it appears that the individual was buried while still alive, which could imply that this was a part of either a religious rite or as a form of punishment. There are also many cases where corpses have been found decapitated, for instance, at a mass grave in Thetford, Norfolk, fifty beheaded individuals were discovered, their heads possibly having been taken as trophies of war. In other cases of decapitation it seems possible that it was evidence of religious ritual (presumably human sacrifice) or execution.
Archaeological investigation has displayed that structures or buildings were built inside a number of pagan cemeteries, and as David Wilson noted, "The evidence, then, from cemetery excavations is suggestive of small structures and features, some of which may perhaps be interpreted as shrines or sacred areas". In some cases, there is evidence of far smaller structures being built around or alongside individual graves, implying possible small shrines to the dead individual or individuals buried there.
Eventually, in the sixth and seventh centuries, the idea of burial mounds began to appear in Anglo-Saxon England, and in certain cases earlier burial mounds from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romano-British periods were simply reused by the Anglo-Saxons. It is not known why they adopted this practice, but it may be from the practices of the native Britons. Burial mounds remained objects of veneration in early Anglo-Saxon Christianity, and numerous churches were built next to tumuli. Another form of burial was that of ship burials, which were practiced by many of the Germanic peoples across northern Europe. In many cases it seems that the corpse was placed in a ship that was either sent out to sea or left on land, but in both cases burned. In Suffolk however, ships were not burned, but buried, as is the case at Sutton Hoo, which it is believed, was the resting place of the king of the East Angles, Raedwald. Both ship and tumulus burials were described in the Beowulf poem, through the funerals of Scyld Scefing and Beowulf respectively.
It has been considered largely impossible to distinguish a pagan grave from a Christian one in the Anglo-Saxon context after the latter had spread throughout England.
Everything that we know about the religious festivals of the pagan Anglo-Saxons comes from a book written by the Christian monk, the Venerable Bede, titled De temporum ratione, meaning The Reckoning of Time, in which he described the calendar of the year. However, its purpose was not to describe the pagan sacred year. The pagan Anglo-Saxons followed a calendar with twelve lunar months, with the occasional year having thirteen months so that the lunar and solar alignment could be corrected. Bede claimed that the greatest pagan festival was Modraniht (meaning Mothers' Night), which was situated at the Winter solstice, which marked the start of the Anglo-Saxon year.
Following this festival, in the month of Solmonað (February), Bede claims that the pagans offered cakes to their deities. Then, in Eostur-monath Aprilis (April), a spring festival was celebrated, dedicated to the goddess Eostre, and the later Christian festival of Easter took its name from this month and its goddess. The month of September was known as Halegmonath, meaning Holy Month, which may indicate that it had special religious significance. The month of November was known as Blod-Monath, meaning Blood Month, and was commemorated with animal sacrifice, both in offering to the gods, and probably also to gather a source of food to be stored over the winter.
Remarking on Bede's account of the Anglo-Saxon year, the historian Brian Branston noted that they "show us a people who of necessity fitted closely into the pattern of the changing year, who were of the earth and what grows in it" and that they were "in fact, a people who were in a symbiotic relationship with mother earth and father sky". The historian James Campbell described this as a "complicated calendar", and expressed the view that it would have required "an organised and recognised priesthood" to plan the observation of it.
In Anglo-Saxon England, a feudal lord would organise a banquet known as a symbel for his retainers, whether they be Christian or pagan. Paul C. Bauschatz, in 1976, suggested that the term reflects a specifically pagan ritual that had a "great religious significance in the culture of the early Germanic people".
Regardless of its possible religious connotations, the symbel had a central function in maintaining hierarchy and allegiance in Anglo-Saxon warrior society. The symbel takes place in the chieftain's mead hall. It involved drinking ale or mead from a drinking horn, speech making (which often included formulaic boasting and oaths), and gift-giving. Eating and feasting were specifically excluded from symbel, and no alcohol was set aside for the gods or other deities in the form of a sacrifice.
Various recurring symbols appear on certain pagan Anglo-Saxon artefacts, in particular on grave goods. Most notable among these was the swastika, which was widely inscribed on crematory urns and also on various brooches and other forms of (often female) jewellery as well as on certain pieces of ceremonial weaponry. The archaeologist David Wilson remarked that this "undoubtedly had special importance for the Anglo-Saxons, either magical or religious, or both. It seems very likely that it was the symbol of the thunder god Thunor, and when found on weapons or military gear its purpose would be to provide protection and success in battle". He also noted however that its widespread usage might have led to it becoming "a purely decorative device with no real symbolic importance". Another symbol that has appeared on several pagan artefacts from this period was the rune ᛏ, which represented the letter T and is associated with the god Tiw.
Magic and witchcraft
Anglo-Saxon pagans believed in magic and witchcraft. There are various Old English terms for "witch", including hægtesse "witch, fury", whence Modern English hag, wicca, gealdricge, scinlæce and hellrúne. The belief in witchcraft was suppressed in the 9th to 10th century as is evident e.g. from the Laws of Ælfred (ca. 890). It is possible that the Anglo-Saxons drew no distinction between magic and ritual in the same manner as modern Western society does.
The Christian authorities attempted to stamp out a belief and practice in witchcraft, with the Paenitentiale Theodori attributed to Theodore of Tarsus condemning "those that consult divinations and use them in the pagan manner, or that permit people of that kind into their houses to seek some knowledge". Similarly, the U version of the Paenitentiale Theodori condemns those "who observe auguries, omens or dreams or any other prophecies after the manner of the pagans".
The word wiccan "witches" is associated with animistic healing rites in the Paenitentiale Halitgari where it is stated that:
- Some men are so blind that they bring their offering to earth-fast stone and also to trees and to wellsprings, as the witches teach, and are unwilling to understand how stupidly they do or how that dead stone or that dumb tree might help them or give forth health when they themselves are never able to stir from their place.
The phrase swa wiccan tæcaþ ("as the witches teach") seems to be an addition to Halitgar's original, added by an eleventh-century Old English translator.
The pagan Anglo-Saxons also appeared to wear amulets, and there are many cases where corpses were buried with them. As David Wilson noted, "To the early [Anglo-]Saxons, they were part and parcel of the supernatural that made up their world of 'belief', although occupying the shadowy dividing area between superstition and religion, if indeed such a division actually existed." One of the most notable amulets found in Anglo-Saxon graves is the cowrie shell, which has been often interpreted by modern academics as having been a fertility symbol due to its physical resemblance to the vagina and the fact that it was most commonly found in female graves. Not being native to British seas, the cowrie shells had to have been brought to England by traders who had come all the way from the Red Sea in the Middle East. Animal teeth were also used as amulets by the pagan Anglo-Saxons, and many examples have been found that had formerly belonged to boar, beaver, and in some cases even humans. Other amulets included items such as amethyst and amber beads, pieces of quartz or iron pyrite, worked and unworked flint, pre-Anglo-Saxon coinage and fossils, and from their distribution in graves, it has been stated that in Anglo-Saxon pagan society, "amulets [were] very much more the preserve of women than men".
Germanic pagan society was structured hierarchically, under a tribal chieftain or cyning ("king") who at the same time acted as military leader, high judge and high priest. The tribe was bound together by a code of customary proper behaviour or sidu regulating the contracts (ǽ) and conflicts between the individual families or sibbs within the tribe. The aristocratic society arrayed below the king included the ranks of ealdorman, thegn, heah-gerefa and gerefa. An eorl was a man of rank, as opposed to the ordinary freeman, known as ceorl. Free men were also a part of a hierarchy, with at least three different ranks (reflected in different amounts of weregild due for individuals of different ranks), although all free men had the right to participate in things (folkmoots). Germanic pagan society practiced slavery, and such slaves or unfree serfs were known as esne, and later also as theows.
Offices at the court included that of the thyle and the scop. The title of hlaford ("lord") denoted the head of any household in origin and expressed the relation to allegiance between a follower and his leader. Early Anglo-Saxon warfare had many aspects of endemic warfare typical of tribal warrior societies. It was based on retainers bound by oath to fight for their lords who in turn were obliged to show generosity to their followers.
The pagan Anglo-Saxons inherited the common Germanic institution of sacral kingship. A king (cyning) was elected from among eligible members of a royal family or cynn by the witena gemōt, an assembly of an elite that replaced the earlier folkmoot, which was the equivalent of the Germanic thing, the assembly of all free men. Tribal kingship came to an end in the 9th century with the hegemony of Wessex culminating in a unified kingdom of England by the 10th century. The cult of kingship was central to pagan Anglo-Saxon society. The king was equivalent to the position of high priest. By his divine descent he represented or indeed was the "luck" of the people. The central importance of the institution of kingship is illustrated by the twenty-six synonyms for "king" employed by the Beowulf poet.
The title of Bretwalda appears to have conveyed the status of some sort of formal or ceremonial overlordship over Britain, but it is uncertain whether it predates the 9th century, and if it does, what, if any, prerogatives it carried. Patrick Wormald interprets it as "less an objectively realised office than a subjectively perceived status" and emphasises the partiality of its usage in favour of Southumbrian kings.
Many Anglo-Saxon pagan kings made the claim that they were the semi-divine descendants of Woden, an idea that was transformed after Christianisation into the idea of the Divine Right of Christian monarchs ruling By the Grace of God (Dei Gratia).
Records of Anglo-Saxon law codes dating to the 7th century have survived, the first being the Law of Æthelberht, attributed to Æthelberht of Kent (c. 602 AD), then later codes by Hlothhære and Eadric of Kent, and by Ine of Wessex (c. 694 AD). Other codes survive from the 8th to 9th centuries, notably the Laws of Alfred the Great, dating to the 890s.
These law codes contain laws particular to the Church, including the churchfrith offering protection to a wanted criminal within a church building. The secular portions of the laws nevertheless clearly record tribal laws of the pagan period.
Campbell suggested that it might have been priestly authorities who organised the imposition of physical penalties in early Anglo-Saxon England, with secular authorities only taking on this role during the conversion to Christianity.
Many place names in England are named after various things to do with Anglo-Saxon paganism. A number of towns and villages, such as Weedon, Wyville and Harrowden have terms like ealh, weoh and hearh incorporated into them, indicating that they were places used for worship by the pagan Anglo-Saxons, and from using this toponymy, sixty sites of pagan worship have been identified across the country. Other sites are named after specific Anglo-Saxon deities, for instance, Frigedene and Freefolk are named after Frige, Thundersley after Thunor, and Woodway House, Woodnesborough and Wansdyke named after Woden.
Days of the week
Four of the modern English days of the week derive their names from these putative Anglo-Saxon deities.
The Anglo-Saxons, like other Germanic peoples, adapted the week-day names introduced by their interaction with the Roman Empire but glossed their indigenous gods over the Roman deities (with the exception of Saturday) in a process known as Interpretatio germanica:
|Modern English day name||Old English day name||English day name meaning||Glossed from Latin day name||Latin day name meaning|
|Monday||Mōnandæg||"Moon's day", personified in related Norse mythology as the god Máni||Dies Lunae||"Day of Luna (moon)"|
|Tuesday||Tiwesdæg||"Tiw's day", personified in related Norse mythology as the god Tyr||Dies Martis||"Day of Mars"|
|Wednesday||Wōdnesdæg||"Woden's day", personified in related Norse mythology as the god Odin||Dies Mercurii||"Day of Mercury"|
|Thursday||Þūnresdæg||"Thunor's day", personified in related Norse mythology as the god Thor or Tor||Dies Iovis||"Day of Jupiter"|
|Friday||Frigedæg||"Frigg's day", personified in related Norse mythology as the goddess Frigg and/or Freyja||Dies Veneris||"Day of Venus"|
|Saturday||Sæturnesdæg||"Saturn's day"||Dies Saturni||"Day of Saturn"|
|Sunday||Sunnandæg||Sun's day", personified in related Norse mythology as the goddess Sól||Dies Solis||"Day of Sol Invictus (sun) "|
The impact of conversion
Although Christianity had been adopted across Anglo-Saxon England by the late seventh century, many pre-Christian customs continued to be practiced. However, it remains difficult to determine the extent to which pre-Christian beliefs retained their popularity among the Anglo-Saxon populace from the seventh century onward. Both secular and church authorities issued condemnations of alleged non-Christian pagan practices, such as the veneration of wells, trees, and stones, right through to the eleventh century and into the High Middle Ages. However, most of the penitentials condemning such practices – notably that attributed to Ecgbert of York – were largely produced around the year 1000, which may suggest that their prohibitions against non-Christian cultic behaviour may be a response to Norse pagan beliefs brought in by Danish settlers rather than a reference to old Anglo-Saxon practices. Various scholars, among them historical geographer Della Hooke and archaeologist Neil Price, have contrastingly believed that these reflected the continuing practice of veneration at wells and trees at a popular level long after the official Christianisation of Anglo-Saxon society.
In the Late Anglo-Saxon period, Scandinavian settlers arrived in Britain, bringing with them their own pre-Christian beliefs. No cultic sites used by Scandinavian pagans have been archaeologically identified, although place names suggest some possible examples. For instance, Roseberry Topping in North Yorkshire was known as Othensberg in the twelfth century, a name which derived from the Old Norse Óðinsberg, or 'Hill of Óðin'. A number of pendants representing Mjolnir, the hammer of the god Thor, have also been found in England, reflecting the probability that he was worshipped among the Anglo-Scandinavian population. Jesch argued that, given that there was only evidence for the worship of Odin and Thor in Anglo-Scandinavian England, these might have been the only deities to have been actively venerated by the Scandinavian settlers, even if they were aware of the mythological stories surrounding other Norse gods and goddesses.
A number of Scandinavian furnished burial styles were also introduced that differed from the Christian churchyard burials then dominant in Late Anglo-Saxon England. Whether these represent clear pagan identity or not is however debated among archaeologists.
The English church found itself in need of conducting a new conversion process to Christianise this incoming population. Understanding how the Christian institutions converted these Scandinavian settlers is not well understood, in part due to a lack of textual descriptions of this conversion process equivalent to Bede's description of the earlier Anglo-Saxon conversion. The historian Judith Jesch suggested that these beliefs survived throughout Late Anglo-Saxon England not in the form of an active non-Christian religion, but as "cultural paganism", the acceptance of references to pre-Christian myths in particular cultural contexts within an officially Christian society. Such "cultural paganism" could represent a reference to the cultural heritage of the Scandinavian population rather than their religious heritage. For instance, many Norse mythological themes and motifs are present in the poetry composed for the court of Cnut the Great, an eleventh-century Anglo-Scandinavian king who had been baptised into Christianity and who otherwise emphasised his identity as a Christian monarch.
Pre-Christian beliefs impacted on the folklore of the Anglo-Saxon period, and through this continued to exert an influence on popular religion within the late Anglo-Saxon period. The conversion did not result in the obliteration of pre-Christian traditions, but resulted in various ways created a synthesis of traditions, as exhibited for instance by the Franks Casket, an artwork depicting both the pre-Christian myth of Weland the Smith and the Christian myth of the Adoration of the Magi.
Various elements of English folklore from the Mediaeval period onwards have been interpreted as being survivals from Anglo-Saxon paganism. For instance, writing in the 1720s, Henry Bourne stated his belief that the winter custom of the Yule log was a leftover from Anglo-Saxon paganism, however this is an idea that has been disputed by some subsequent research by the likes of historian Ronald Hutton, who believe that it was only introduced into England in the seventeenth century by immigrants arriving from Flanders.
The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, which is performed annually in the village of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, has also been claimed, by some, to be a remnant of Anglo-Saxon paganism. The antlers used in the dance belonged to reindeer and have been carbon dated to the eleventh century, and it is therefore believed that they originated in Norway and were brought to England some time in the late Mediaeval period, as by that time reindeer were extinct in Britain.
While historical investigation into Germanic paganism and its mythology began in the seventeenth century with Peder Resen's Edda Islandorum (1665), this largely focused only upon Norse mythology, much of which was preserved in Old Icelandic sources. In the eighteenth century, English Romanticism developed a strong enthusiasm for Iceland and Nordic culture, expressed in original English poems extolling Viking virtues, such as Thomas Warton's "Runic Odes" of 1748. In the nineteenth century this developed into two movements within the British educated elite, one of which was composed of Scandophiles and the other of Germanophiles, who associated the English with either the Scandinavians or the Germans, respectively. With nascent nationalism in early nineteenth-century Europe, by the 1830s both Nordic and German philology had produced "national mythologies" in N. F. S. Grundtvig's Nordens Mytologi and Jacob Grimm's Deutsche Mythologie, respectively. British Romanticism at the same time had at its disposal both a Celtic and a Viking revival, but nothing focusing on the Anglo-Saxons because there was very little evidence of their pagan mythology still surviving. Indeed, so scant was evidence of paganism in Anglo-Saxon England that some scholars came to assume that the Anglo-Saxons had been Christianised essentially from the moment of their arrival in Britain.
The study of Anglo-Saxon paganism began only in the mid nineteenth century, when John Kemble published The Saxons in England Volume I (1849), in which he discussed the usefulness of examining place-names to find out about the religion. This was followed by the publication of John Yonge Akerman's Remains of Pagan Saxondom (1855). Akerman defended his chosen subject in the introduction by pointing out the archaeological evidence of a "Pagan Saxon mode of sepulture" on English soil lasting from the "middle of the fifth to the middle or perhaps the end of the seventh century". From this point onward, more academic research into the Anglo-Saxons' pagan religion appeared. This led to further books on the subject, such as those primarily about the Anglo-Saxon gods, such as Brian Branston's The Lost Gods of England (1957), and Kathy Herbert's Looking for the Lost Gods of England (1994). Others emphasised archaeological evidence, such as David Wilson's Anglo-Saxon Paganism (1992) and the edited anthology Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited (2010).
The putative deities of pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon religion have been adopted by practitioners of various forms of modern Paganism, specifically those belonging to the new religious movement of Heathenry. The putative Anglo-Saxon gods have also been adopted in forms of the modern Pagan religion of Wicca, particularly the denomination of Seax-Wicca, founded by Raymond Buckland in the 1970s, which combined Anglo-Saxon deity names with the Wiccan theological structure. Such belief systems have often conflated Anglo-Saxon beliefs with those of the Norse, thus spreading historical misinformation about these past societies.
- Carver, Sanmark and Semple 2010. p. ix.
- E. G. Stanley, The Search for Anglo-Saxon Paganism (Cambridge, 1975), passim.
- Atkinson 1891.
- Semple 2010. pp. 24–25.
- Welch 2011, p. 864.
- Jesch 2004, p. 55; Welch 2011, p. 864.
- Reynolds 2002, pp. 175–179; Shaw 2002, p. 30.
- Doyle White 2014, p. 285.
- Price 2010, p. xiv.
- Wood 1995, p. 253; Doyle White 2014, p. 285.
- Wood 1995, pp. 276–277; Doyle White 2014, p. 285.
- Carver 2010, p. 7.
- Jesch 2004, p. 55.
- Carver, Sanmark & Semple 2010, p. ix.
- Carver 2010, p. 15.
- Meaney 1999, p. 351; Hutton 2013, p. 297.
- Arnold 1997, p. 149; Hutton 2013, p. 297.
- Meaney 1999, p. 351; Welch 2011, p. 864.
- Hutton 2013, p. 297.
- Herbert 1994, p. 8.
- Welch 2011, p. 872.
- Carver 2010, p. 5.
- Arnold 1997, p. 149.
- Meaney 1999, p. 351; Jesch 2004, p. 55.
- Blair 2000, pp. 6–7.
- Meaney 1999, p. 352.
- Jeep 2001. p. 554.
- Tolley 2013, p. 179.
- Tolley 2013, p. 182.
- Branston 1957. p. 64.
- Hutton 1991. p. 272.
- Branston 1957. p. 34.
- Branston 1957. p. 57.
- Wilson 1992. p. 118.
- Branston 1957. p. 29.
- Welch 2011, p. 865.
- Hutton 1991. p. 265.
- Doyle White 2014, p. 284.
- Branston 1957. p. 30.
- Hutton 1991. p. 266.
- Hutton 1991. p. 267.
- Hutton 1991. p. 268.
- Welch 2011, p. 868.
- Welch 2011, p. 869.
- Ewing (2008:115)
- "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight". GradeSaver. Retrieved 11 December 2014.
- J Westwood & J Simpson The Lore of the Land: A guide to Englands Legends 2005
- "Franks Casket - Appendices - Wayland saga". Franks-casket.de. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
- Wormald 1978. p. 66.
- Semple 2010. p. 42.
- Arnold 1997, p. 150; Semple 2010, pp. 39, 40.
- Wilson 1992. p. 06.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 08–10.
- Hooke 2010, p. 24.
- Branston 1957. p. 47.
- Semple 2010. p. 36.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 28–29.
- Bede c.731. II: 13.
- Branston 1957. p. 25.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 45–47.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 48–49.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 44–45.
- Arnold 1997, p. 150.
- Arnold 1997, p. 151.
- Semple 1998, p. 118.
- Hooke 2010, pp. 32–34.
- Semple 2010, p. 39; Blair 2013, p. 190.
- Blair 2013, p. 186.
- Hooke 2010, p. 46.
- Blair 2013, p. 187.
- Blair 2013, p. 189.
- Semple 2010, p. 41; Hooke 2010, p. 50.
- Blair 2013, p. 190.
- Semple 2010, p. 41.
- Blair 2013, pp. 190–191.
- Campbell 2007, p. 68.
- Welch 2011, p. 871.
- Ewing 2008. pp. 24–26.
-  trans. Joseph Bosworth[dead link]
- Wilson 1992. p. 100.
- Ewing 2008. p. 17.
- Hutton 1991. p. 274.
- Welch 2011, p. 870.
- Wilson 1992. p. 87.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 98–100.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 71–75.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 77–80.
- Hutton 1991. p. 275.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 92–95.
- Wilson 1992. p. 63.
- Wilson 1992. p. 53.
- Hutton 1991. p. 277.
- Arnold 1997, p. 165.
- Hutton 1991. p. 271.
- Herbert 1994, p. 18.
- Branston 1957. p. 41.
- Herbert 1994, p. 21.
- Branston 1957. pp. 42–43.
- First proposed at the Third International Conference of Nordic and General Linguistics, at the University of Texas at Austin, April 5–9, 1976 (published in 1978), elaborated in Bauschatz, "The Germanic ritual feast" and The Well and the Tree; Pollington, Mead-hall.
- Bauschatz (74–75).
- Wilson 1992. pp. 115 and 118–119.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 116–117.
- Ewing (2008:83)
- Petterson, David C. Hostile Witnesses: Rescuing the History of Witchcraft from the Writings of Scholars and Churchmen. David C. Petterson. Petterson cites Halitgar's Penitential, II.22, as in Die Altenglische Version des Halitgar'schen Bussbuches, ed. Raith, p29; quoted in North, Richard, Heathen Gods in Old English Literature, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1997 , p276.
- Wilson 1992. p. 103.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 103–107.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 108–112.
- Wilson 1992. pp. 112–115.
- Kemble, Saxons in England (1876) II. v. 151–181
- Halsall (1989:155—177).
- Chaney (1970).
- Bowra (1952:244).
- Wormald (118—119).
- Chaney (1970:174). Chaney notes that:
The written formulation of law is largely stimulated by an attempt to cope with the new religion.
- Chaney (1970:174–176). Chaney notes that:
In Kentish law, for example, dooms concerning the church show less alliteration and may be taken as newer.... the principal features of the first Anglo-Saxon codes are the concrete and specific nature of their dooms and the elliptical, unelaborated method of recording what the tribal practice had been.
- Campbell 2007, p. 70.
- P. H. Reany (1960). The Origin of English Placenames. Page 117.
- Branston 1957. pp. 29–30.
- Welch 2011, p. 863.
- Jolly 1996, p. 45.
- Hooke 2010, p. 31.
- Arnold 1997, p. 175.
- Hooke 2010, p. 35; Price 2010, p. xiv.
- Jolly 1996, p. 36.
- Jesch 2011, pp. 19–20.
- Jesch 2011, p. 15.
- Jesch 2011, pp. 17–19.
- Jesch 2011, p. 21.
- Jesch 2011, p. 14.
- Jolly 1996, pp. 41–43; Jesch 2004, p. 56.
- Jesch 2004, p. 57.
- Jesch 2004, p. 61.
- Jesch 2004, pp. 57–59.
- Jolly 1996, p. 24.
- Jolly 1996, p. 29.
- Hutton 1996. pp. 39–41.
- Jones and Pennick 1995. p. 159.
- Tom Shippey, Tolkien and Iceland: The Philology of Envy (2002).
- Branston 1957. p. 27.
- Kemble 1849.
- Ackerman 1855. p. vii.
- Doyle White 2014, p. 302.
- Doyle White 2014, p. 303.
- Arnold, C. J. (1997). An Archaeology of the Early Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (new ed.). London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415156363.
- Blair, John (1995). "Anglo-Saxon Pagan Shrines and their Prototypes". Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 8: 1–28.
- Blair, John (2000). The Anglo-Saxon Age: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192854032.
- Blair, John (2005). The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199211173.
- Blair, John (2013). "Holy Beams: Anglo-Saxon Cult Sites and the Place-Name Element Bēam". In Michael D. J. Bintley and Michael G. Shapland. Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 186–210. ISBN 978-0-19-968079-5.
- Branston, Brian (1957). The Lost Gods of England. London: Thames and Hudson.
- Carver, Martin (2010). "Agency, Intellect and the Archaeological Agenda". In Carver, Martin; Sanmark, Alex; Semple, Sarah. Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited. Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books. pp. 1–20. ISBN 978-1-84217-395-4.
- Carver, Martin; Sanmark, Alex; Semple, Sarah (2010). "Preface". In Carver, Martin; Sanmark, Alex; Semple, Sarah. Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited. Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books. pp. ix–x. ISBN 978-1-84217-395-4.
- Campbell, James (2007). "Some Considerations on Religion in Early England". In Martin Henig and Tyler Jo Smith. Collectanea Antiqua: Essays in Memory of Sonia Chadwick Hawkes. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports. pp. 67–73. ISBN 978-1-4073-0108-2.
- Cusack, Carole M. (1998). Conversion among the Germanic Peoples. London and New York: Cassell. ISBN 978-0304701551.
- Doyle White, Ethan (2014). "The Goddess Frig: Reassessing an Anglo-Saxon Deity". Preternature: Critical and Historical Studies on the Preternatural 3 (2): 284–310. JSTOR 10.5325/preternature.3.2.0284.
- Herbert, Kathleen (1994). Looking for the Lost Gods of England. Hockwold-cum-Wilton: Anglo-Saxon Books. ISBN 1-898281-04-1.
- Hutton, Ronald (1991). The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: Their Nature and Legacy. Oxford and Cambridge: Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-17288-8.
- Hutton, Ronald (2013). Pagan Britain. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-197716.
- Jesch, Judith (2004). "Scandinavians and 'Cultural Paganism' in Late Anglo-Saxon England". In Paul Cavill (ed.). The Christian Tradition in Anglo-Saxon England: Approaches to Current Scholarship and Teaching. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer. pp. 55–68. ISBN 978-0859918411.
- Jesch, Judith (2011). "The Norse Gods in England and the Isle of Man". In Daniel Anlezark (ed). Myths, Legends, and Heroes: Essays on Old Norse and Old English Literature. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. 11–24. ISBN 978-0802099471.
- Jolly, Karen Louise (1996). Popular Religion in Late Saxon England: Elf Charms in Context. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0807845653.
- Meaney, Audrey (1995). "Pagan English Sanctuaries, Place-Names and Hundred Meeting-Places". Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 8: 29–42.
- Meaney, Audrey (1999). "Paganism". The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. Michael Lapidge, John Blair, Simon Keynes, and Donald Scragg (eds). Oxford and Malden: Blackwell. pp. 351–352. ISBN 978-0631155652.
- North, Richard (1997). Heathen Gods in Old English Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521551830.
- Owen, Gale R. (1985). Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons. Not specified: Dorset Press. ISBN 978-0715377598.
- Pollington, Stephen (2011). The Elder Gods: The Otherworld of Early England. Little Downham, Cambs.: Anglo-Saxon Books. ISBN 978-1-898281-64-1.
- Price, Neil (2010). "Heathen Songs and Devil's Games". In Carver, Martin; Sanmark, Alex; Semple, Sarah. Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited. Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books. pp. xiii–xvi. ISBN 978-1-84217-395-4.
- Reynolds, Andrew (2002). "Burials, Boundaries and Charters in Anglo-Saxon England: A Reassessment". In Sam Lucy and Andrew Reynolds (eds). Burial in Early Medieval England and Wales. The Society for Medieval Archaeology Monograph Series 17. London: The Society for Medieval Archaeology. pp. 171–194.
- Semple, Sarah (1998). "A Fear of the Past: The Place of the Prehistoric Burial Mound in the Ideology of Middle and Later Anglo-Saxon England". World Archaeology 30 (1): 109–126.
- Semple, Sarah (2010). "In the Open Air". In Carver, Martin; Sanmark, Alex; Semple, Sarah. Signals of Belief in Early England: Anglo-Saxon Paganism Revisited. Oxford and Oakville: Oxbow Books. pp. 21–48. ISBN 978-1-84217-395-4.
- Shaw, Philip A. (2002). Uses of Wodan: The Development of his Cult and of Medieval Literary Responses to It (PDF) (Doctoral thesis). University of Leeds.
- Shaw, Philip A. (2011). Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda and the Cult of Matrons. London: Bristol Classical Press. ISBN 9780715637975.
- Stanley, Eric Gerald (2000). Imagining the Anglo-Saxon Past: The Search for Anglo-Saxon Paganism and Anglo-Saxon Trial by Jury. Cambridge: D. S Brewer. ISBN 9780859915885.
- Tolley, Clive (2013). "What is a 'World Tree', and Should We Expect to Find One Growing in Anglo-Saxon England?". In Michael D. J. Bintley and Michael G. Shapland. Trees and Timber in the Anglo-Saxon World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 177–185. ISBN 978-0-19-968079-5.
- Welch, Martin (2011). "Pre-Christian Practices in the Anglo-Saxon World". In Timothy Insoll. The Archaeology of Ritual and Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 863–876. ISBN 978-0-19-923244-4.
- Historical texts
- Bede (c. 731). Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People).
- Ackerman, John Yonge (1855). Remains of Pagan Saxondom. London: John Russel Smith.
- Atkinson, John C. (1891). Forty Years in a Moorland Parish.
- Chaney, William A. (1970). The Cult of Kinship in Anglo-Saxon England: The Transition from Paganism to Christianity. California: University of California Press.
- Ewing, Thor (2008). Gods and Worshippers in the Viking and Germanic World. Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-3590-6.
- Griffiths, Bill (1996). Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Magic. Anglo-Saxon Books. ISBN 1-898281-33-5.
- Hutton, Ronald (1996). The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Jones, Prudence; Pennick, Nigel (1995). A History of Pagan Europe. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-09136-5.
- Macleod, Mindy; Mees, Bernard (2006). Runic Amulets and Magic Objects. Boydell Press. ISBN 1-84383-205-4.
- Kemble, John (1849). The Saxons in England Vol. I. London.
- Academic Articles
- Crawford, Sally (2004). "Votive Deposition, Religion and the Anglo-Saxon Furnished Burial Ritual". World Archaeology 36 (1): 87–102. doi:10.1080/0043824042000192641.
- Halsall, Guy (1989). "Anthropology and the Study of Pre-Conquest Warfare and Society: The Ritual War in Anglo-Saxon England". In Hawkes. Weapons and Warfare in Anglo-Saxon England.
- Wormald, Patrick (1978). "Bede, Beowulf and the Conversion of the Anglo-Saxon Aristocracy". In Farrell, R. T. Bede and Anglo-Saxon England. British Archaeological Reports, British Series, 46.
- Wormald, Patrick (1983). "Bede, Bretwaldas and the Origins of the Gens Anglorum". In Wormald, Patrick. Ideal and Reality in Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Society. Oxford.