Hello members all, and welcome to a shedcast on Anglo Saxon Seasons. I need to start with an explanation.
Now look everyone, I did a terrible thing and read a book – not something of which I am normally guilty, I do try and avoid it wherever possible. Making history up is so much more fun, and productive, I find. But look this time I messed up and read/ The book was by Eleanor Parker, and is called Winters in the World.
Eleanor Parker is a Prof of Medieval Literature in Oxford, and is an Anglo Saxon specialist. It being literature, it was quite a tough demanding read, but I did also love it, and one of the things I loved was the way that the Anglo Saxons named their months. A really hoot, and how those names reflected their understanding of and relationship with the world around them, and their lives. So I thought wow – the medieval year, the turn of the seasons, what a great podcast that would make, I could tie it up with the liturgical year and all that. Go, Baby, Go, get on it right now!
But then during my researches I also came across a wonderful website, supporting this amazing podcast called the History of England. I mean I’m not kidding you, that guy is amazing, whoop and indeed whoop. I then realised that this was in fact my own podcast, and that I have already done two episodes on the medieval and liturgical year – episode 117 and episode 284 on some folk customs around them. Like Hocktide for example, an Easter tradition in memory of the massacre of the Danes under Ethelred in 1002. Interesting that one. And I’ve done the 12 days of Christmas, wassailing and all that. But I had some smashing information from Eleanor’s book additional to all of that, so I thought it would be well worth a shedcast specifically on the Seasons, focussing on Anglo Saxon England, and something of attitudes towards them. But in all honesty I need to point out that an unusually large percentage of this episode comes from Eleanor Parker’s Winters in the World. So much so, that you might consider this a book review almost. And if you like it, feel motivated to go and buy it. It is, as I say, not a cake walk, but afterall there is no pleasure without pain, and it really is very wonderful, the poetry and the passion Eleanor has for the subject in particular.
We start where all matters Anglo Saxon start in a way I suspect, with the epoch’s greatest chronicler, sat in a monastery in the North of England with a nutmeg by his side; the Venerable Bede. He was writing in the 8th century, 735 ish, and he wrote a book on the reckoning of Time. Now it is not that long ago that the Anglo Saxons had been pagan, and indeed despite our hard and fast date-based divisions, who knows how long that paganism lasted in secret or private? But Bede was close enough therefore to have some information about the Old English pagan names, before the latinised months we have now came into operation, and he noted them down and tried to explain them. And I thought we’d go through them, because in these old traditions lie some simple meanings about the world around them – before the Roman and more importantly, the Christian year overlaid them.
First and most startling thing for me was that the four season structure in England emerged during the Anglo Saxon period; that the starting place like, I think, the Celtic year, was for simply two seasons, summer and winter – not four. Things began to get bit complicated for me at this point, since I have always thought of seasons in a mother’s milk sort of way, rather than apply my brain. So for me, as most of us in temperate zones, there are four, and they are Spring, – March April May; Summer – June July August; Autumn – September, October, November, and last but sadly not least, Winter, December January February. These, I now learn these were formalised only in 1780 by the Societas Meteorologica Palatina, and they are meteorological seasons, based on temperature. I did no know, you probably did, that there are other types of season.
In the two season pagan Anglo Saxon structure, and later their 4 season version, the seasons are based instead on the solstices and equinoxes, a Luni-Solor year you might say; so Winter is defined as the period which has the equinox as it’s centre; so that’s 7th November to 7th February. Is this killing you by the way? Does my head in, I have to say. Anyway, these dates for Winter, November to January, is great news for me, because it means my birthday is in Spring, not winter; I mean the weather’s still as miserable as sin but hey, now I know it’s Spring! Is sin always miserable I wonder by the way? Asking for a friend, obviously.
Anyway. These winter dates may explain the description in this Old English Poem, prosaically called Maxims II, and I am going to try and butcher some Old English
Winter byð cealdost,
lencten hrimigost (he byð lengest ceald),
sumor sunwlitegost (swegel byð hatost),
hærfest hreðeadegost, hæleðum bringeð
geres wæstmas, þa þe him god sendeð.
By golly, you’ve no idea how long that took, I do hope there are no native Anglo Saxon speakers amongst you. Here it is in the modern tongue of the English
Winter is the coldest,
the spring most icy—it’s cold for the longest—
the summer the most sun-beautiful—the heaven is hottest—
the harvest is most blessed, it brings to men the produce which God sets aside for them
There are a couple of things about this poem, which reflects the time of course when the four season structure had appeared. First of all, Spring is the frostiest, cold for longest; a bit surprising surely that’s winter? But maybe because spring includes February now, or maybe it’s a poetic thing – good lord, things ought to be getting warmer but this cold snap keeps going, curse it.
The other thing is that in the last line the season is called harvest, Haerfest, rather than the latin autumnus; and remember it includes August so this really is the time when the harvest is being gathered in, and this is the big one. Life or death time for societies that stood perpetually on the edge of famine and disaster. Autumn only starts to be used as a word at the end of the 14th Century, Fall is first recorded in the mid 16th century.
Possibly it’s Christianity which comes along to embed the 4 season structure, or at least the Christian church very consciously and very publicly align the liturgical year with the four seasons not two. I have certainly talked about the great feasts in the past as I say, but worth reminding you that some of the largest occur on the four quarter days of the Christian calendar, and broadly align with the solstices and equinoxes of the luna solar year; so Christmas, 25th December is close to the winter solstice on 21st . Next quarter day is Lady Day on 25th March, Midsummer on 24th June, and Michaelmas 29th September.
While we are talking about quarter days, it has always seemed to me that nothing could emphasise the dependence of society on the seasons than that the central day of each season should be noted for the collecting of rents and dues. So Lady Day was particularly important. Just to confuse matters further, lady day used to be called 5th April under the Julian calendar before the Gregorian calendar was introduced, which happened in from 1752. It just so happens that in the UK year tax year starts on 25th April, which makes no sense until you remember that this was once Lady Day when many rents became due. The Michaelmas quarter day however was the biggest day of the year for rents and the start of agricultural and domestic service contracts. This makes sense in a largely rural society dependant on the agricultural year; because my Michaelmas, the harvest was largely gathered, extra pay handed out for all the extra work needed at this time of year, and so people were in the money as it were.
Ok, to the Anglo Saxon Seasons as promised, and how they named and felt about them. And we should start with Winter, I guess, the start of which has it’s very own day, Winter’s Day. Winter is might be uncomfortable for us these days, though we might also rather enjoy it, a chance to get cosy by the fire side, and wonder at the weather outside. But for such vulnerable societies as the Anglo Saxons lived in, a bad winter and a deep Winter’s day, could mean death and dearth; even if not that bad, with little protection against the elements, winter was a time of fear, of confinement and restriction, almost imprisonment; so Eleanor quotes some lines from the Old English Poem the Menologium, which bemoans the ending of Harvest time
After comes Winters Day, far and wide
Six nights later and seizes sun-bright harvest
With it’s army of ice and snow
Fettered with frost by the lord’s command
And there are similar sentiments in a poem called The Wanderer:
I buried my lord in the darkness of the earth and from there
Journeyed winter-sorrowful over the binding waves
Winter-sorrowful is a rather expressive phrase isn’t it. Eleanor Parker quotes other poems that emphasise not just the iron cold, but the tempestuous assault of winter
And storms batter those rocky cliffs
Snow falling fetters the earth
The tumult of winter …
Here wealth is fleeting, here friend is fleeting
Here man is fleeting, here kinsman is fleeting
All the foundations of this world are turned to waste
I promise I’ll stop quoting poetry at you, could get embarrassing, but you get the point? Winter is the enemy, full of danger, the job is to buckle up tight and get to the end of it alive and in one piece.
The acquisition of wisdom is linked to surviving the passing of another winter, based on the old idea that wisdom is based on age, a concept I have found to be worryingly south of the truth, since in my experience all I have learned is the depth of my ignorance, and become progressively more anxious. Judas Priest had warned me with their angry track – to the accompaniment of grinding metal guitar – that You don’t have to be old to be wise’, but the Anglo Saxons apparently wouldn’t have believed them. Here’s the Wanderer again
And so a man cannot grow wise before he has had
His share of winters in the world
Or indeed her winters in the world or their winters in the world, just to bring it up to date. Getting through another winter is what marks your growing age and wisdom, not passing a random date you happened to be born and called your birthday.
The next most significant moment after the start of Winter at Winters Day, came of course at Midwinter, around the solstice. Midwinter of course gets taken over by Christmas, but before Christianity was most commonly known by the word Middewinter; But there were multiple names around Anglo Saxon England across the centuries. Before Christianity arrived, some of the AS’s had celebrated modraniht, Mother’s Night; it could be that this was a Romano British survival, a night of veneration of the Mother goddess. Others might have celebrated Geola, the word that becomes Yule, reinforced by the Old Norse word Jol, which famously still appears in Carols when we want to be cutsey and hand out the plum pudding and talk of yuletide good cheer and so on. Bah, and indeed humbug as others call it. Geola was also the name for the months, roughly, of December and January, before the Julian Calendar takes over and separates them into two months. Your AS might have talked about earlier and later Geola respectively. Another name or festival at midwinter that rarely but sometimes occurred was the worship of Earendel, who appears in an Old English poem as ‘brightest of angels’. The idea of a worship of the brightest of angels suggests that the midwinter celebrations, Christmas, is not only a religious ceremony, or a festival with a bit of fun to cheer up the darkest day of the year. It is also a celebration of the returning of the light; from here, the days start to get longer, and days of long lasting daylight get closer, the end of the fark tunnel is in sight. The Earendel thing, I must admit, evokes memories of the obscurer parts of Tolkein and the Silmarillion for me; and also doesn’t Frodo take a tube of Earnedil’s light into Shelob’s Lair?
Next up then, in Winter, is the start of the year thing. Here as I suspect you all know, there are a series of choices available. The Roman habit of 1st January I think attractively also lined up with Christ’s circumcision, and took over from 25th March, which had been New Year’s day before the Gregorian Calendar was finally adopted by the Brits in 1752.
I was interested to find out that First Footing as a tradition goes way back and has been subject to mockery and eye rolling since the days of the Anglo Saxon Monk Aelfric. First Footing being the idea that what you do or resolve to do on New Year’s Day will affect you all year. Like giving up lardy Cake on New Year’s day as a resolution for behaviour for the rest of the year. Almost always of course followed by obsession next day, and bingeing on it on 3rd.
So here are a couple of bits of fun, traditions about what happens around this time of year which will define the rest of the year. One relates the following year according to which of the 12 days of Christmas is a sunny day. So if the sun shines on the 2nd day of Christmas,
Gold will be easy to obtain for the English
So I’ll be looking out for that one, let me tell you. Or if the sun shines on the 10th day of christmas
The sea and rivers will be full of fish
Which is not as exotic, but definitely handy, especially if you are preparing a treaty with King John concerning fish weirs on the River Thames.
Another tradition was to predict the year ahead according to the day of the week on which New Year’s day falls, that can change everything. They are quite variable; so I had a go at looking up 1649, when a significant event happens in English history. If New Year’s Day 1649 had been a Tuesday then the prediction would have been on the money since
It will be dangerous for ships, and kings and noblemen will die
All clear for noble women, but nor for kings, as we and king Charles well know. However, it just so happens New Year’s Day 1649 was a Friday. And Fridays are great, though rather randomly, not for shepherds
If 1 January is on a Friday, there will be a variable winter, a good spring, and a good summer and much abundance. Sheep’s eyes will be weak in that year.
I checked 1st January this year 2023 – it was a Sunday. We are quids-in according to 11th century Anglo Saxon monks, who reckon this means a year of peace and abundance and an exceptional yield on long term treasury bonds. Well, they only mention peace and abundance to be honest.
Of course Cardinal Wolsey I think it was who famously remarked that god looks after those who look after themselves, although I think as a sentiment that goes way back to Aesop. So the New Year was marked by more active attempts to make the year go well, which of course mainly depended on a good harvest without which, there was a possibility of, well, famine and a bad case of death. We’ve heard about Plough Monday in episode 117, where the plough was blessed and all that since that was the big job for January, but I missed a ceremony at a similar time called acerbot in Old English, or Field Remedy in new English. This was a Christian ritual which looks spookily just like any other form of witchcraft, with the application, over several days, of various unguents or condiments including things like oil, honey and other things. I mean why ban such things, but you can see what those fun suckers in the reformation were going on about. There was also a deal of wassailing fruit trees to encourage a good fruit season. King Prince Charles I believe used to talk to his plants, wassailing might be one better.
At Candlemas at last came the end of winter and the start of Spring – 2nd February, well before my birthday, Christian festivals with lots of candles and light to encourage the Sun to get on with it. The pagan name of the month of February Bede records was solmonath. He records it as being the month of cakes, which does sound good; but less a green light for a lardy cake binge, and more by way of offering of cakes to the gods. But Bede offers no explanation for this, and other etymologies have suggested that it might rather be translated as ‘mud month’, and certainly I can confirm that mud is a thing in an English February. Yet another interpretation refers to the sol bit of solmonath, and calls it the month of returning sun; Eleanor doesn’t mention this, so I present it to you without further comment. Might be one of those truthiness moments us amateurs get trapped by. I mean solmonath…sounds like sol. Anyway move on.
By the way, I looked up the names of full moons by month, in the hope that would yield something of interest. There are a few moon names, and some specifically Anglo Saxon, though surprisingly dull – the last full moon before Christmas is called the Moon before Yule, and the first afterwards, with depressingly predictability, was call the moon after Yule. There appear to be a wide range of Native American traditions, which are much more sexy – January being the wolf moon according to the Greenwich Observatory.
While I’m on moons, there’s a tradition of the September Full moon being called the harvest moon; and then there’s the Blue Moon thing. What is a Blue Moon? Well it turns out to be quite complicated and nothing to do with blighty. It appears first in the Maine Farmer’s Alamac in the early 20th century, maine as in the American place rather that the principle Farmer’s Almanac, and there refers to the third full moon of a season exceptionally containing four full moons, and now it’s also sometimes applied to a second full moon occurring within a single calendar month, which apparently happens only once every 2 ½ years. This is quite a specific and complicated sort of thing, but which is probably why I’d only try to explain the phenomenon once in a blue moon.
On to March, which Bede explains used to be called Hrethmonath, named for the Goddess Hreth to whom they made offerings; but another, West Saxon name for the month has also been uncovered, Hlyda. This is a word that means loud, or noisy, so probably referring to March windy weather, which can make something of a din. Funnily enough Bede didn’t seem to know the word; he was after all a Northumbrian, golden centre of the Anglo Saxon world in the 8th century, and a lifetime away from the grubby old Gewisse and West Saxons. But actually Hlyda as a name survived much longer than you might think, even past the time when the Latinate March took over. March is referred to as Lyde, a derivation of Hlyda in Middle English texts, and I am told that in Cornwall the first Friday in March, lude, was a holiday for tin miners into the 19th century. The Daffodil was called the Lide Lily apparently, and also based on that the Lent lily since it flowered in March – again, Lide being a derivation of Hlyda.
Another example of the survival of Hlyda’s month, comes in a wise old proverb. This has it that
Ducks won’t lay until they have drunk Lide water
So – duck won’t lay until after March. The expression reminds me, vaguely, just to digress, of the saying Daph the publican at the Cherry Tree used to quote. She would nod her head wisely when we remarked how spring like it seemed during some random bout of good weather in February, and she’d say gravely that ‘Spring wasn’t in until the May Blossom blooms’, or
N’er cast a clout till May is out
This suggests Spring is until much later than February, because May Blossom refers to the Hawthorn, which may blossom anywhere between April and June depending on the weather, your location and the current progress of climate change which, I am told has given old England an extra 3 weeks of growing season. Not that I am advocating it as a good thing, obviously, given the desertification, famine, displacement, general fear of social collapse and potential end to all life on earth as we turn into the new Venus, which seems a high price to pay for being able to keep the spuds in the ground a little longer.
Anyway, how on earth did you get me on to this? Spring of course was joyfully represented in AS poetry and writing – a joyful release from the fetters of winter sort of thing, and I’d like to mention Cuckoos here, though I seem to moving increasingly from anything like history to folk lore. Here’s a line Eleanor quotes from a poem about a hermit, St Guthlac of Crowland, celebrating the return of Spring. Here we go – I’m quoting poetry at you again, sorry, don’t tell your other half
Serene was the field of victory and the dwelling renewed;
Fair was the song of the birds, the land blossomed
Cuckoos heralded the Spring
Winter’s army of ice and snow defeated and sent packing, as it were. Now the Cuckoo; I had occasion to write to Eleanor and Martin at the Three Ravens Podcast about cuckoos, and they read out my name on their excellent podcast. I felt inordinately excited, though the expected paparazzi didn’t turn up at my door as my fame spread, fortunately. Anyway, the Cuckoo was seen as the harbinger of Spring, and thereby fertility; so one local legend was that, and I quote from the Tales of Gotham,
‘and a young girl, hearing the cuckoo for the first time in spring, would count the number of its notes, for this would tell her the number of years that were to come before she would be married’.
In Cornwall, again, a hot bed of folklore obviously, apparently the Cuckoo was supposed not to migrate, but to hide in caves waiting for spring. Anyway around us, in the much more business like and prosaic South Oxfordshire, there was the myth of the Pent Cuckoo. It’s not specific only to Oxfordshire, but it’s particularly prevalent in the landscape around us, because there are a number of points labelled as ‘Cuckoo Pen’ on the 1900 OS maps along the Chiltern scarp. The myth goes that the triangular planting of the Cuckoo Pen was designed to entice the Cuckoo in, and thus trap it, and bring fertility to parish. So you know, if you are worried about the local birth rate, you might propose it as a solution in your next parish meeting. Let me know how it goes, and anyway planting trees is popular these days given the aforementioned imminent global climate collapse.
Back to the names of the month and seasons, and to Lent and eastermonath. Lent came from the old English and Germanic lencten and referred both to the season and to the tradition of fasting; so lencten might indeed be used as a general word for spring. That led to the month of April and the most important Christian festival of the year, Easter. I think most languages, come from a derivation of the word for Passover, paschalis in Latin, hence the words for Easter like Paques in French. But not in England; here’s the Venomous Bede, giving us the pagan name for the most holy of Christian festivals
eastermonath, which is now interpreted as the paschal month, once had its name from their goddess, who was called Eostre, and in whom they celebrated festivals, from whose name they now call the paschal season, calling the joys of the new solemnity by the usual term of ancient observance.
It is apparently a passage hotly disputed by scholars who labour in dingy garret rooms in place like Oxford, Bologna and Heidelberg getting hot collars. There seems to be no other reference in Old English to his mysterious Goddess, although there’s a Germanic fertility goddess elsewhere called Eostre. Some of the people inside those warm and presumably slightly sweat collars have even accused Bede of being a fibber, which would have made him proper venomous I’d have thought. And a reasonable question has been asked, – why would a Christian so fervent and enthusiastic as the monk Bede invent a pagan goddess as the namesake for the most holy of Christian festivals? A killer point that. Anyway there we are, we are an outlier in English in the name for Paschalis, Easter.
On to May, which might be my favourite month, and the poet of the Menologium may well have felt the same
May Comes to the city sweeping swiftly, splendid in its adornments of woods and plants, beautiful Thrymilce to the dwellings
In there, as the sharp eared of you will have noticed is the old English word for May in, Thrymilce. This is a word which stars with a special the Old English letter, the Thorn. Bede tells us that this May is so names precisely because the cows need to be milked thrice a day in this month, a month of plenty and fertility.
May Day however wasn’t a thing in AS England by the looks of thing, though it will most certainly be by the middle ages; and isn’t it a Gaelic thing, Beltane and all that? Now May is definitely spring for me, but let me remind you it was not for your Anglo Saxons; nope, 7th May was the start of summer given again that the Summer solstice of June 21st occurs in the middle of the summer season – so summer was May June and July. In May and June we have a bunch of Christian festivals which I talked about in episode 117; originally Rogantide was all about carrying the blessings of God out from the church into the countryside so that the crops would get a shufti on; again the reformation didn’t like this sort of elegiac thing, so they dropped the relics, but still beat the bounds of the parish, and in either idiom it was an opportunity for a party. These walks had an Old English name too – gangdagas, walking days, and they survive into the 19th century as the ‘gang days’, which were the three days leading up to Ascension, which is 39 days after the moveable feast of Easter. All ver complicated.
After the next festival of Pentecost, or Whitsun, we are now approaching midsummer, and so time for the pagan AS name for June, and yet the name Bede gives us is not two names, but one, Litha. Litha means June and July both together, just as like geola means December and January. The word means gentle, and Bede tells us these are therefore named as the gentle or navigable months, and then gets a little specific to be honest, noting that they are so named because they are good for sailing. This is the easy time; the word litha was associated with words like mild, pleasant, sweet, gentle, or when used with people, merciful, and kindly. The use of the word in these senses survived into middle English before dying out; but an echo survives in the word lithe, and lithe is indeed a lovely word isn’t it, lithe supple, young, free.
So, in a gentle and happy time of year came midsummer, 24th June, a very popular festival and a quarter day of course, and close to the solstice of 21st. On a side note, by the way, I understand that the word Solstice derives from the Latin word for staying still, because it was thought that God had the sun pause in it’s path for a while, and stand still. Just so you know if someone asks.
Midsummer was a standard marker in Anglo Saxon society; things are referred to as happening before Midsummer, or after midsummer. The day was a special day of great significance, a day to conjure with and be conjured by; it was thought to be one where the spirit of God was close, a day of great potency and power. Potions and healing balms were thought to be more effective if prepared at Midsummer and, in particular, it was a great time for preparing love potions, something to bear in mind. I am told that St Johns Wort, a medicinal herb and a hardy sort of beast in my experience, gets its name because midsummer is also St John the Baptist’s feast day, the plant flowers at this time and is supposed to have healing and protective powers. There were celebrations and festivals at Midsummer, with Bonfires figuring large, houses decorated with flowers and all. Good times.
August on the other hand in our Anglo Saxon timings is the start of autumn – or haerfest as the season was known of course. Bede tells us that August was known to the pagans as Weodmonath – the month of weeds, because as Bede explains, ‘they are very plentiful then’, and he’s not kidding, my veg patch can attest to that. There were other regional names though; In Kent August seems to have been called Rutgern, probably referring to the month as the right time for the harvesting of Rye. Either way, this is the most important month to an agricultural society. On the one hand it’s the month of gift and glory, when
God, holy king of heaven, causes the earth to give bright fruits for nobles and the needy
And hopefully enough for both of course, but if not, the nobles will have ‘em. The first festival was lammas on 1st August, a name I was only aware of because of a Jeeves and Wooster episode when Steven Fry as Jeeves remarks that Lammas eve is when Old boggie walks, a part of a plan to get Bertie out of yet another scrape. Well I don’t know about Old Boggie, but Lammas was the first of the series of harvest festivals, probably celebrating the first fruits of harvest; the word comes from hlaf, the Old English for bread; but also sharing a root with the words for lord and lady; so, rather beautifully, it has a sense of ‘bread guardian’ sort of thing. Eleanor Parker speculates that maybe loaves for hlafmaesse were made with the first grain from the harvest. But who knows. Unlike midsummer, it was supposed to be a bad time for making various potions and healing, or bloodletting, bloodletting in good way I mean, and this was because Lammas also coincides with the Dog Days. I think you may already know this, certainly Jane did when I told her I had an interesting fact, but Dog Days were when the Dog Star, Sirius, are in the ascendant or whatever the astrological term is. The Dog Days were associated with disease, with fever, thunder, lethargy. Not good things, anyway.
September was known by Bede’s pagans as haligmonath, holy month, though that’s all he tells us. Eleanor speculates that a likely explanation is that this is harvest festival time , the celebrations as the last sheaf was cut as opposed to Lammas when the first fruit was picked. This does seem like an attractive conclusion does it not? Aelfric also uses a different name for the month, of Haefestmonath, harvest month. Apparently Snorri Stulurson of Sagas fame also had a list of months in Old Norse, and the only one with a word cognate to the Pagan AS words, is this month, in Norse Haustmanudur, harvest month again.
It was the time for Michaelmas, which became the autumnal quarter day, equinox, and the most important one for rents and contracts and all that as previously mentioned. Close on its heels came October; the moon that followed harvest was considered to be the first moon of the winter, and October was therefore named accordingly – the winterfylled, winter full moon. The moon brought with it the first winter wage, translated as the first pledge of winter. Again isn’t that a thoroughly awfully poetic way of reflecting those first genuinely cold blasts which tell you things are changing, brings you the promise of the colder weather to come. Eleanor tells us that there is little sign in Old English poetry of that rather pleasant sense of gentle autumnal browns and comfortable evenings in. Rather more grimly, the stronger association is between the fall of leaves and the approach of death, So that’s cheery then, but I suppose if you are very vulnerable to a bad winter, that’s the way you’d look at it.
And the next month, the last one as we come full circle, is the start of winter, November. This is the time of the last of the Christian festivals, Martinmas. The month, Bede tells us is called blotmonath. This sounds like blood month, and indeed many Anglo Saxon references call it that too; and Snorri calls it Gormanudur, slaughter month. Now Bede however tells us, this is the month of sacrifices, because those horrid pagans dedicated any cattle slaughtered at this time to their gods, referred to by Pope Theodore as devils rather than Gods of course. And then Bede also gets a bit preachy and says how nice it is that Christianity demands only the sacrifice of prayer.
But whether sacrificed to gods or devils, there was of course a more practical reason why this was blood month. Not all the animals could be kept through the winter; those for whom there was not enough winter feed must be slaughtered, and their meat preserved as well as possible to get the community through the winter. Which was in itself a challenge; this didn’t come up earlier, but I am sure I found out that May, June, July, the lovely warm months, might also be called the hungry months; because things might be growing but hadn’t grown yet enough to be harvested, and last Autumn’s stuff was looking distinctly mouldy and thin on the ground. Sounds thoroughly plausible, but I think it was a bloke called Eddie, and was related to me in a pub, and Edde was not a historian but an accountant and jazz player. So…you now know my sources and their quality.
Well, I have to say that Eddie seems like a good place to leave this story. I had planned for this to be a shedcast short, but it turned out not to be a shortcast in the shed, I warbled, warbled badly. I’d like to thank Eleanor Parker, though she doesn’t know me from Adam, but I found it all very interesting which is why I warbled so badly. Her book, just to remind you, is called Winters in the World.
Right, that just leaves it for me to thank you all most humbly for being members, for listening to this shedcast and for putting up with my creaky Anglo Saxon. Good luck everyone, and have a great week.