Hretha’s Drumbeats

Rattling drumbeats calling out

Howling trumpets soaring

Hretha’s army is on the march

Seek refuge while you can

Or, it started pouring down with rain just before I finished work this afternoon and I got soaked.

This, by the way, is my inadequate introduction to my post. Forgive the truly poor poetry. It was inspired by the weather this afternoon. My brain bounced from ‘the weather is awful’ to

‘March weather’ to ‘it’ll be Easter soon’ to ‘ooh, words’, basically.

There’s some dispute about whether or not the months of the Anglo-Saxon calender began on the new or full moon, but the Venerable Bede left us a list of the names of those months. In his work ‘On The Reckoning Of Time‘, written in 725 C.E., Bede primarily discussed the dating of Easter; it was a part of his contribution to the debate that was raging at the time in England (eight century) as to whether the Church in England should use the Orthodox or Catholic calculation of the date of Easter. Bede, along with other prominent Northumbrian clerics – Abbess Hild of Whitby being the best remembered – supported the Catholic calculation. Others, more influenced by the Irish Church who, before adopting Catholicism were heavily influenced by Byzantine Christianity, and thus were more supportive of the Orthodox calculation. Or, at least that’s my understanding of events. I really need to read more about it.

Bede gave as little detail as he could about pre-Christian English traditions but he does mention the names of the months. The month approximately March was Hrēþ-mōnaþ (Month of the Goddess Hrēþ), the month after (approximately April) was called Easter-mōnaþ (month named after the Goddess Eostre). This is the only mention of Hrēþ and Eostre.

Some – Jacob Grimm for a start – suggested that Bede made these names, or their explanations, up. Balanced against that is the view that Bede deliberately told less than he knew about ancestral traditions. He had access to manuscripts that have since been lost, as well as just being closer in time to events. The Conversion started less than two hundred years before Bede was born. There were still people who remembered customs and beliefs, or still held them.

If the month began on the new moon then this year Hrēþ-mōnaþ started 1st March 2014, if full moon then 16th March 2014. For Easter-mōnaþ the dates are 30th March or 15th April. Whether the month starts on the new or full moons, it’s still Hrēþ-mōnaþ. The etymology of ‘fierce’ or ‘cruel’ as the meaning of the hreth- element has been suggested by some commentators, as the Eost– element of Easter-mōnaþ is suggested to mean ‘east’ or ‘dawn’.

March weather is definitely cruel at times. The promise of summer, days that are just warm enough for you to go out without a jumper on, is so close you can smell it, but then you get days like today. It’s cold, windy and it’s rained on and off for the last couple of days. Damn it I almost got blown across the road on the way home from work today!

And now I have to stop writing, I’ve been writing and re-writing this for about five hours. Good night.



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