Wyrtig

For gardeners with a sense of history
 

OE wyrtig, adj: Garden-like, full of plants;
On anum wyrtige hamme, Homl. Skt. ii. 30:312
.

  

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January, Hungerford Psalter, British Library Additional 61887

 

 Anglo-Saxon Names for the Months

 

Matronae, Musée de la Civlisation Celtique, Bibracte, France

The Matronae, from Burgundy, France; Musée de la Civlisation Celtique, Bibracte, France.

Ęfterra Geola
January

"After Yule," from Old Norse jol, a 12-day festival during the time of the winter solstice in late December. Bede tells us in De Temporum Ratione, written in the early 700s, that Giuli is the day when the sun turns back and day length begins to increase again. This was celebrated with the Modranecht -- Mothers' Night -- festival, about which Bede writes in Chapter 13:

Incipiebant autem annum ab octavo Calendarum Januariarum die, ubi nunc natale Domini celebramus. Et ipsam noctem nunc nobis sacrosanctam, tunc gentili vocabulo Modranicht, id est, matrum noctem appellabant: ob causam et suspicamur ceremoniarum, quas in ea pervigiles agebant.

 ...they began the year on the 8th kalends of January [25 December], the day on which we now celebrate the birth of the Lord. And they then called the very night, which is now sacrosanct to us, by the vernacular name of Modranecht, that is, the mothers' night, by reason, we suspect, of the ceremonies which they conducted on it.

More than 150 inscriptions, dating as far back as 200 BCE and naming the Matronae, the Mothers, have been found in Germany; altars, statues, and inscriptions to these three goddesses are found throughout western Europe.

Winter meant no fieldwork, but indoor occupations included maintenance of tools and equipment; spinning and weaving.
 

February, Bohun Psalter, British Library Egerton 3277
 

Solmonaž
February

 

The second month of the Anglo-Saxon year corresponds roughly with February. Sol is Old English for "mud," so this is Mud Month; or perhaps "earth" or "soil" month.

 

Bede tells us something interesting about this month: "Solmonath can be called 'month of cakes,' mensis placentarum, which they offered to their gods in that month."

A charm from the 1100s, the Aecerbot or "Field Blessing," talks about similar offerings (see the complete ritual here):
 

Nim žonne ęlces cynnes melo and abacę man innewerdre handa bradnę hlaf and gecned hine mid meolce and mid haligwętere and lecge under ža forman furh. Cweže žonne:


Ful ęcer fodres fira cinne
beorhtblowende žu gebletsod weorž
žęs haligan noman že šas heofon gesceop
and šas eoržan že we on lifiaž
se god, se žas grundas geworhte geunne us growende gife
žęt us corna gehwylc cume to nytte

Then take each kind of meal and bake a loaf as wide as within the palm of a man’s hand and knead that with milk and with holy water and lay it under the first furrow. Say then:

 

Fill, field, with food for humankind
bright blooming you blessed worthy
the holy name that this heaven shaped
and this earth that we live on

that god that wrought this ground give us growing gifts
that to us grain comes to benefit.

British Library Cotton Caligula, A. VII


 

March, Shaftesbury Psalter, British Library Lansdowne 383
 

Hrethamonaž, Hlyda
March
 

Hreth translates as "'victory, glory"; Bede, writing in 725, tells us:

Rhedmonath a dea illorum Rheda
cui in illo sacrificabant, nominatur.

 

Hretha month, named for their goddess Hretha,
to whom they now sacrifice.

               De Temporum Ratione, Chapter 13

 

The other name for this month is Hlyda, and the Menologium, c. 1050, says, Martius rethe, hlyda healic, "fierce March, lofty loud one." Hlyd -- loud, clamorous, noisy -- is appropriate to this blustery, stormy month, for maritime Britain often saw fierce storms known as equinoctial gales in late March, and again in September. March marked the start of both the farming year and the season of military campaigns; in the Roman pantheon, Mars was the god of both war and agriculture. The spring equinox usually falls on March 20, and days now become longer. In early medieval times, the farm year began on Lady Day, March 25.

 

April labor, from Hunterian psalter

Eosturmonaž
April

 

Easter originates in the Old English word Ēastre or Ēostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess whose roots go back to an Indo-European dawn goddess of the same name. Bede writes in 725:

Eosturmonath …called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance.

 

In the Germanic languages, eostre means both "from the east" and "dawn." For the Anglo-Saxons, summer is when the days begin to be longer than the nights, starting at the spring equinox.

 

Eostre may also be the "Erce" named in the Ęcerbot, an ancient Anglo-Saxon blessing for a barren field:

Erce, Erce, Erce eoržan modor
geunne že se alwalda, ece drihten
ęcera wexendra and wridendra
eacniendra and elniendra
sceafta hehra, scirra węstma
and žęra bradan berewęstma
and žęra hwitan hwętewęstma
and ealra eoržan węstma
.

Erce, Erce, Erce, earth mother

give you the all-ruler, ever-lord

fields fruitful and flourishing

fertile and strong

high shafts, bright abundance

And there, broad barley crops

And there white wheat crops

And all the earth’s abundance.

British Library Cotton Caligula, A. VII

Plowing started in early April, followed by planting. Christian holy days included Lent and Easter. The word lent comes from Old English lenct, springtime, derived from the word "lengthening," and referring to the gradual increase in daylight after the spring equinox, which fell (in the northern hemisphere) on March 20.
 

May labor, from Zwiefalten calendar 

Žrimilcemonaž
May

 

Žri, "three," and milce, "milk." May was a time of abundance. Planting continued; cows were put out into new grass, and new calves and lambs meant milk. From May to Michaelmas (September 29), milk and butter were available, and cheeses were made to store for the winter.

 

Bede, writing in 725, tells us:

Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day; such, at that time, was the fertility...

 

June labor, British Library Harley 2895 

Liža
June

 

Liža, [LI-tha], "gentle" -- the gentle or sheltering month; and also perhaps from lithan, "travel," which was far easier during the mild weather of summer. Another name sometimes used for this month was  Mędmonaž, "meadow month."

 

Haymaking in Britain began on St. Barnabas’ Day, June 11. Then as now, putting by a good supply of hay was essential to feed livestock through the winter.

 

“Fence month” – a month-long period when livestock weren’t allowed in woodland while deer bore their fawns – typically began the second week in June.

 

Ęrra Liža and Ęfterra Liža

Like the Yuletide period surrounding the winter solstice, there was a corresponding time surrounding the summer solstice, which takes place on June 20 or 21. This period was called Ęrra Liža (before the solstice) and Ęfterra Liža ("after the solstice." Aera Liža, which roughly corresponds to our June, was also known as Midsumormonaž, midsummer month.

 

Žriliža (Third Liža) was an extra set of days in the summer of a year that had 13 lunar months. Bede explains that in such a year "they assigned the extra month to summer, so that three months together bore the name "Litha," hence they called the it 'Trilithi.'"

 

The western world solves the problem of that extra month by adding a day to the end of February in every fourth year; our "leap year."
 

Ęftera Liža
July


After Liža. This period was also known as Mędmonaž, "Meadow month."

Weeding kept farmers and gardeners busy throughout the summer. By July, last year’s stored grain would be running out, so pasturage was essential. Winter wheat and rye harvests began, followed later by barley and oats. Farmers were expected to give ten percent of their crop to the Christian church as a religious tax or tithe. A significant part of produce also went to the landlord if they didn't own their land.

Tithe barn at Frocester Court, image from Wikimedia Commons
Tithe barn at Frocester Court, dating to the 1200s
 

August labor, Fulda Sacrementary

Weodmonaž
August

 

Weed month. Bede writes, “Weodmonath means 'month of weeds,' for they are very plentiful then.“ The harvest continued; with luck, it would be completed in August, before the autumn rains of September.

 

 

 

 

 

September labor, Montacute psalter
 

Hęrfestmonaž
September
 

Autumn or Harvest month; also called Halegmonaž, "holy month,' in Bede's words a "month of sacred rites." September saw the harvest home before the days began to shorten with the autumn equinox in late September. The harvest was an event that determined whether the community would have feast or famine in the coming months. The year was at a turning point, one marked by ritual.

 

Grapes were gathered for treading. Legumes – beans, peas, vetches – were harvested and dried; grains were threshed to eliminate  straw and chaff. On Michaelmas, September 29, people paid any debts, rents, and other payments owed to the lord of the manor.
 

October labor, labor, British Library Harley 2895

Winterfyllež
October

 

Winter full moon. Bede wrote:

But originally they divided the year as a whole into two seasons, summer and winter, assigning the six months in which the days are longer than the nights to summer, and the other six to winter. Hence they called the month in which the winter season began 'Winterfilleth,' a name made up from "winter" and "full moon," because winter began on the full moon of that month.

 

The autumn equinox usually occurs on September 22 or 23, so this WInterfilleth would begin with the next full moon in mid-October. Winter crops of wheat and rye were sown. Wild fruits and nuts were gathered.
 

November labor, Zwiefalten calendar

Blotmonaž
November


Sacrifice month. Bede says that this was a time when "the stock that were to be slaughtered were consecrated to their gods." With the onset of cold weather, cattle that hadn't been sold and that couldn't be fed through the winter were butchered. Some of the meat was eaten; the rest was preserved (by drying, salting, smoking, pickling) for the winter months.

 

Swineherds drove their hogs into the woodlands to fatten on acorns and other nuts before they were butchered in December.
 

December labor, Fecamp Psalter

Ęrra Geola
December

Before Yule. Geola, Yule, is derived from Old Norse jol, a 12-day festival during the time of the winter solstice in late December.  Bede tells us that Giuli is the day when the sun turns back to us and day length begins to increase again -- the winter solstice. This was celebrated with the Modranecht -- Mothers' Night, on December 25th (see January, above).

The year of the Christian church officially began four Sundays before Christmas; Yuletide feasting began Christmas Day, and continued for 12 days after.

December was the month in which hogs were butchered; most fieldwork had been completed, and people hunkered down for winter.
 

 

Medieval calendars and labors of the month

Medieval seasons

Roman names for the months

Carolingian names for the months

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