Our only (specific) surviving reference to the Goddess Sinthgunt comes from the Old High German Second Merseburg Incantation (also known as the “Horse Cure Charm”), which dates to around the 9th or 10th Century. The Merseburg charms are the only examples of pre-Christian Germanic belief recorded in the Germanic language.
“The Dig” has just debuted on Netflix, which is an adaptation of the novel by John Preston. The story is about the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship grave, which is among the most significant archaeological finds ever found within the borders of modern England. The archaeological finds there remain among some of the most illuminating and important discoveries for their period of time for Anglo-Saxon culture. For the curious, a Hoo is a spur of land, in this case a parcel of land that overlooks the River Deben that is situated about 8-10 miles or so from the coastline in the Suffolk region of England (southeast coast). Today it’s part of Britain’s National Trust, while many of the artifacts (especially from the 1938-39 excavations) are housed in the British Museum in London, some artifacts (or replicas of the artifacts) are on display at Sutton Hoo.
So as a Heathen is the movie worth the watch?
Sadly, no—at least not for anything about the ancient culture. There’s very little emphasis placed on the unique discoveries themselves, nor any major discussion of Anglo Saxon history. The glimpses of the treasure are fleeting at best (seconds here, seconds there). It glosses over the archaeological work. You lose the fact that Basil Brown explored 4 mounds, over two years. It creates a love story that never happened (between archaeologist Peggy Piggott and the fictional Rory who never existed), implies that Stuart Piggott was in a homosexual relationship (and I find no evidence that he was queer), and invents a cave in that never happened to Basil Brown.
The film is very much a period character drama. The real events took place on the eve of Britain’s entry into World War II, and the looming war is very present in the film with constant reminders. The film becomes an encapsulation of life, that there is never enough time, and death ever looms. Yet for all of that it’s not a depressing film, just an ode to life. The script takes some biographical liberties with the characters to heighten that theme and the timeframe (right before WW2) in the film. While at the same time, seemingly pushing story elements for the modern consumer.
I enjoyed the film for what it was, an interesting insight into how this find came into being and the people behind ‘the dig’ albeit exaggerated for the purpose of a somewhat fictional narrative. But for the history buffs while it’s perhaps a pleasant diversion and tangential if not historically accurate supplemental, there’s so much more to dig into–pun intended.
The Real History
During its heyday the Roman Empire stretched from the British Isles, across Europe to Asia Minor and northern Africa. But the empire as it collapses offers opportunity. As the Empire’s power falls and it’s borders shrink, Germanic tribes begin their migration across Europe (taking advantage of the power vacuum and turmoil), including the Germanic tribes of the Angles and Saxons eventually migrating into England.
The finds at Sutton Hoo are exceedingly rare and precious, featuring superb craftmanship (some of the best in the time frame across all of Europe). The artifacts tell a story not only of wealth and art, but also of trade in the types of grave goods found. Some of the work was clearly created in the Byzantine Empire, as far away as Antioch (ancient Syria, modern Turkey), and others appear Celtic in origin. Character dialogue in the film have some statements along the lines of this was the end of the dark ages, because the art showed they weren’t just savages, or barbarians. Keep in mind there was still something of a belief (thanks to how the Romans themselves thought of the Germanic and native Britons as barbarians) that when Rome fell, so too did culture and civilization. This leads to what is called the “Dark Ages” across Europe. When education was heavily classics based for the historians and scholars of the time, this meant Roman scholarship about these other cultures was also taught and the prevailing thought and bias persisted.
There wasn’t just one dig at Sutton Hoo, but a series of digs over the years.
Britain’s National Trust has a great overview of the timeline of the ‘digs’ at the site through the centuries. In the 1600s you had treasure seekers (what they found was melted down to new purpose), and in the mid 1800s more treasure seekers, who had ship metal work reworked into horse shoes. Up until this point everyone was looking for profit, not so much for knowledge. Then comes 1938 where an exploration begins and finds some evidence that something good may lurk, but it’s not until 1939 we get the major ship burial discovery (the time in which this film takes place). More work would be done to the area of the original find, but it wasn’t really until the 1980s when significant work resumed at the site that would eventually lead to more burial graves including a woman of status. Currently the tally is at 18 mounds.
The prevailing theory is that King Rædwald of East Anglia’s grave was the one discovered in 1939. This was the ship burial that was so famously discovered with the accoutrements of a warrior: from the now famous helmet, to the shield and sword. The helmet gives to us what is most likely Odinic imagery. The eyes were rimmed with garnets. The right eye had gold foil behind the garnets to reflect the light back through the stone. The left eye did not. Scholars Neil Price and Paul Mortimer examining a reconstruction of the helmet both noted the very intentional difference. The effect by firelight or sunlight made the one eye very visible and the other dark. While much of the decorative paneling of the helmet hasn’t survived intact, some panels of what does remain mirrors Odinic imagery we find elsewhere on Vendel era helmets, with ties to Odin and a warrior cultus.
No bodies have been discovered on site, as the acidic soil decomposed them long ago. However, chemical markers in the soil are consistent with what would happen to a body decomposed in situ, and there have been ‘sand bodies’ found too. In the later case the soil has interacted with the decomposition and left us the form of their bodies in the soil. Wood hasn’t survived in the soil either due to the high acidity. The ribbing of the boat here is a result of the decomposition of the wood reacting with soil to give us this impression, which really gives you an idea of the carefully meticulous work necessary in the excavation NOT to destroy the find.
If after watching the film you’re left wanting to know what biographical details were accurate, and which ones were not, there’s some more factual, accurate historical biographical information on some of the real people depicted in the film at the National Trust website.
At the end of the film, as often occurs with some stories based on real events and people, they did have a little bit about what happened to the people after the timeframe depicted in the film. I feel it was a miss not to show at least at the end here the artifacts they found, or any information about the later discoveries at the site. So to make up for that lack, here are some photos highlighting some of what has been found at Sutton Hoo. (And even this pales in truly presenting the scope from the site and nearby areas). The Sutton Hoo Helmet, one of four Helmets from the period ever discovered, remains in many ways the star of the discoveries. Popularly used on various book covers to represent the Anglo-Saxon culture, and even some adaptations of the early English epic, Beowulf.
Some Sutton Hoo Artifacts
Angrily flabbergasted is the best way I can describe my feelings as an American today. Our election process is set up that there are bipartisan volunteers at our polling locations, and who count our ballots. Biden won. He won the popular vote, he won the electoral college. The Trump administration and the Republican party challenged results in many locations, this is normal with our elections. But not a single judge anywhere found that a single law was broken. Biden won. Trump is a dangerous narcissist who can’t think about anyone else except himself, except for being right, except for wanting the world to reflect his delusional need of grandeur.
Let’s call it for what it was, he incited a crowd to attempt a coup on OUR HOUSE. His administration has been nothing more than a domineering, abusive, degradation on the US constitution, our democracy, and the truth.
Oh and fuck this clown too.
I want to be clear here wearing a valknut doesn’t make you special. Just as wearing a cross doesn’t make you special. Both the valknut and the cross are sacred symbols to their respective religions: Northern Tradition Polytheism, and Christianity. The valknut is a symbol sacred to the Norse God Odin, just as the hammer (mjolnir) is sacred to the defender of humanity, the Norse God Thor. It’s hard to see in the above picture, but Bull-Horny’s hand is covering a very large mjolnir (Thor’s Hammer) tattoo.
It has been an unfortunate truth that these sacred symbols of the Northern Tradition have in part been picked up by fringe white supremacists who wear the symbols as some made up mythology of superiority. But let me be clear, in the Northern Tradition these are the races that exist: the Giants, the Gods, the Dwarves, the Disir, the Alfar, other vaettir of land and sea, and the human race. That’s it.
I don’t know Bull-Horny here, and frankly I’m glad not to have suffered his presence personally. I don’t know why he has the symbol of the valknut, sacred to Odin, on his body. Nor do I know why he has a tattoo of Thor’s Hammer, a symbol used for hallowing and protection. But I do know he was in a crowd of people carrying signs for Jesus, and giant Christian crosses, and the sign he holds (shown above) clearly mentions a singular God. So he is not a polytheist. He doesn’t worship OUR GODS. He’s just some spoiled brat having a tantrum in a sandbox, but unfortunately his tantrum amounts to him being part of a terrorist mob whose actions led to the deaths of multiple persons. Let’s be clear these are NOT representatives of the whole of either of these religions, these are fringe radicals. But they have been stirred up by some of our elected officials, and make no mistake those persons have blood on their hands today.
After the houses of our legislative arm were evacuated today they ended up mostly sequestered together during the chaos. Once security got things controlled on the Capitol our elected officials went back to work, and finished confirming the election. In 2 weeks, by meeting the requirements set forth in the Constitution and associated amendments, Biden will be sworn in as President. I think I speak for many Americans tonight that I say the next two weeks may have us on edge, and the 25th Amendment is still in play. There may not be much time but the cabinet could declare Trump unfit (which I doubt they will since they were appointed by him) and remove him from office. Congress has 2 weeks to bring up new impeachment charges and the potential to convict and remove him. We have 2 weeks of being on edge to look forward to until Biden is sworn in.
And then comes the weeks to come, the months ahead as we deal with these repercussions as we head to our next major federal elections in 2022.
Is it unsettling to be an American right now? You betcha. While there’s a cynical part of me that can definitely see things spinning out of control quickly, most of me trusts that there’s enough men and women who believe in our democracy from a range of political viewpoints and backgrounds who will protect the underpinnings of our country: the Constitution that has brought us all together.
As a gythia (priestess), one of the questions I am asked the most is what deity would be good to pray to for ‘X’. In times of crisis, I field a great many more of these sorts of questions. Currently with the global pandemic of Covid-19, I thought it would be a good idea to spotlight all the deities (and there’s more than a dozen!) who are known to have ties to healing in the Northern Tradition (those cultures from ancient Germania, Scandinavia and Anglo-Saxon England with a common worship to Odin/Woden).
For those of us in the Northern Tradition (which encompasses the peoples with a common worship to Odin), the high holy tide of Ostara/Eostre is upon us. Some are gearing up to celebrate during the astronomical spring equinox (which varies slightly but always occurs between March 19-21), some may wait for the signs of spring in their local area, and others may postpone their celebrations so that they coincide more with the observed Christian date of Easter instead, which for 2019 occurs on April 21th. The later allows heathen children to be able to participate in more mainstream activities such as egg hunts with their peers at school and at community parks.
One of the religious staples of the Northern Tradition, is the honor and reverence shown for not only our ancestors, but also for our heroes. All too often when reading some of the grand exploits, battles and wars found in the sagas we associate the word hero to that of being a warrior, but while there are indeed many great heroes who are warriors, sometimes heroes are simply those who stay true to their beliefs.
It is a historical fact that the Christian conversion of the pre-Christian peoples wasn’t always a peaceful affair. Some of the early Norse Kings have an especially bloody reputation when it came to killing the ancient heathens within their lands, and these accounts are preserved in part within the Heimskringla, a collection of various historically oriented sagas about the Norse Kings.
In the annals of history, we know far more about the Christian conquering leaders, than we do the names of the devout heathens that would not submit to conversion. Occasionally, we do have preserved the names of some of those ancient pagan martyrs who were determined to continue to honor their Gods and the traditions of their people. One such account occurs in the 11th Century during the reign of King Olaf II of Norway (canonized as Saint Olaf), and it is at this time of year in particular, as we approach the holy tide of Ostara that I always remember and honor in ritual: Olvir. He was a renowned local leader from a powerful family in the Trondheim area of Norway, and as such it fell to him to represent his people to the King, and to conduct religious rites within his local community.
I’m probably about to get the internet trolls and deniers attacking me in an online community where I recently responded to someone else’s posts where they said in angry response to some asshole: “Even my Gods don’t ask me to kneel. Bye.”
The idea there is no kneeling or similar practices to our Gods is erroneous, there’s references abounding to it in the lore.
The real question is how common it was, or if such practices were unique to specific cultic worship, specific deities, specific celebrations or observances?