Anglo-Saxon Names for the Months
The Matronae, from Burgundy, France; Musée de
la Civlisation Celtique, Bibracte, France.
"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
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
...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.
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.
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"
Bede tells us something interesting about this month: "Solmonath
can be called 'month of cakes,' mensis
placentarum, which they offered to their gods in
A charm from the 1100s, the Aecerbot or "Field
Blessing," talks about similar offerings (see the
Nim žonne ęlces cynnes melo and abacę
handa bradnę hlaf and gecned hine mid
meolce and mid
haligwętere and lecge under ža forman
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
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
Fill, field, with food for humankind
blooming you blessed worthy
holy name that this heaven shaped
and this earth that we live on
god that wrought this ground give us
us grain comes to benefit.
Library Cotton Caligula,
translates as "'victory, glory";
Bede, writing in 725, tells us:
Rhedmonath a dea illorum
cui in illo sacrificabant,
named for their goddess Hretha,
they now sacrifice.
De Temporum Ratione, Chapter 13
The other name
for this month is Hlyda, and
the Menologium, c. 1050,
Martius rethe, hlyda healic,
"fierce March, lofty loud one."
Hlyd -- loud, clamorous, noisy
-- is appropriate to this blustery,
stormy month, for maritime
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.
originates in the
Old English word
goddess whose roots go back to an Indo-European dawn goddess of the same name.
Bede writes in 725:
…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.
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
Eostre may also be the "Erce" named in
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, earth mother
you the all-ruler, ever-lord
fields fruitful and flourishing
fertile and strong
shafts, bright abundance
there, broad barley crops
there white wheat crops
all the earth’s abundance.
Library Cotton Caligula,
Plowing started in early April, followed by
planting. Christian holy days included Lent and
Easter. The word lent comes from
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.
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.
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...
"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
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
“Fence month” – a month-long period when
livestock weren’t allowed in woodland while deer
bore their fawns – typically began the second week
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
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
This period was also known as Mędmonaž,
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
significant part of produce also went to the
landlord if they didn't own their land.
Tithe barn at
Frocester Court, dating to the 1200s
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
Autumn or Harvest month; also
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
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
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.
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.
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.
drove their hogs into the
woodlands to fatten on acorns and other nuts before they
were butchered in 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
Roman names for
Carolingian names for the months