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C H A P.
of a Saxon punishment, the nation is too barbarous, or too contaminated, to be benefited, by the penalty.
In their marriages they allowed a son to wed his father's widow, and a brother his sister-in-law.'
By one of the laws of their confederates, the Frisians, who were among the tribes that settled in England, we learn that their religious establishment was protected by penalties as terrible as those which guarded their chastity. " Whoever " breaks into a temple, and takes away any of the sacred
things, let him be led to the sea, and in the sand which the “ tide usually covers, let his ears be cut off, let him be
castrated, and immolated to the gods, whose temples he 46 has violated.”
16 Sax Chron. Bede i. c. 27. p. 64.
87 Lek Fris. ep. 1. Lindenb. p. 508.
The Religion of the Saxons in their Pagan State.
this happy period of the world, we cannot reflect on
the idolatry of ancient times without astonishment at the infatuation which has so inveterately, in various regions, clouded the human mind. We feel, indeed, that it is impossible to contemplate the grand canopy of the universe; to descry the planets, moving in governed order; to find comets darting from system to system in an orbit of which a space almost incalculable is the diameter; to discover constellations beyond constellations in endless multiplicity, and to have indications of the light of others whose full beam of splendor has not yet reached us; we feel it impossible to meditate on these innumerable theatres of existence, without feeling with awe, that this amazing magnificence of nature announces an Author tremendously great. But it is very difficult to conceive how the lessons of the skies should have taught that localizing idolatry, which their transcendant grandeur, and almost infinite extent, scem expressly calculated to destroy.
The most ancient religions of the world appear to have been pure theism, with neither idols nor temples. These essential agents in the political mechanism of idolatry were unknown to the ancient Pelasgians, from whom the Grecians chiefly sprung, and to the early Egyptians and Romans. The Jewish patriarchs had them not, and even our German ancestors, according to Tacitus, were without them.
In every nation but the Jewish, a more gross system of superstition was gradually established. The Deity was dethroned by the symbols which human folly selected as his representatives; the most ancient of these were the heavenly
bodies, the most pardonable objects of crring adoration. But CHAP. when it was found possible to make superstition a profitable craft, then departed heroes and kings were exalted into gods. Delirious fancy soon added others so profusely, that the air, the sea, the rivers, the woods, and the earth, became so stocked with divinities, that it was easier, as an ancient sage remarked, to find a deity than a man.
When the Anglo-Saxons came into Britain, they had also abandoned the nobler customs of their ancestors for the degrading practice of idolatry. Their peculiar system is too imperfectly known to us for its stages to be discriminated, or its progress detailed. It appears to have been of a very mixed nature, and to have been so long in existence as to have attained a regular establishment and much ceremonial pomp.
That when they settled in Britain they had idols, altars, temples, and priests; that their temples were surrounded with inclosures ; that they were profaned if lances were thrown into them; and that it was not lawful for a priest to bear arms, or to ride but on a mare; we learn from the unquestionable authority of our venerable Bede."
Some of the subjects of their adoration we find in their names for the days of the week.
or Sunnan dæg, is the Sun's day.
'Bede, lib. ii. c. 13 et 9; lib. iii. c. 8; may imply either that the idol was a warlib. ii. c. 6. Pope Gregory mentions, that rior, or the god of war. if their pagan temples were well built, they 2 I take the Saxon names of the days of might be used for christian churches, lib. i. the week from the Cotton MS. Tiberius c. 30. Their name for idol was wig, and A. 3. They may be also found in the Saxon for altar wighed, the table or bed of the idol. gospels, p. 24 S. 72 M. 55 T. 48 W, The word wig also signifies war, and this 49 Th. 28 F. 52 S.
BOOK. Of the sun and moon we can only state, that their sun was
a female deity, and their moon was of the male sex ;' of their Tiw, we know nothing but his name. Woden was the great ancestor from whom they deduced their genealogies. It has been already remarked, that the calculations from the Saxon pedigrees place Woden in the third century.* Of the Saxon Woden, his wife Friga, and of Thunr, we know very little, and it would not be very profitable to detail all the reveries which have been published about them. The Odin, Frigg, and Thor of the Northmen were obviously the same characters; but we are not authorized to ascribe to the Saxon deities the apparatus and mythology which the Northern scalds of subsequent ages have transmitted to us from Denmark, Iceland, and Norway. Woden was the predominant idol of the Saxon adoration, but we can state no more of him, unless we describe the Odin of the Danes and Norwegians. Yet, as every people has its peculiar superstitions, it would be incorrect to apply to the more ancient Woden of the Saxons the religious costume and creed attached to the Danish Odin. It will be better to confess our ignorance of the Saxon superstition wherever it exists, and to reserve for a separate occasion the idolatry of the later Northmen."
3 The same peculiarity of genders ob- “ always he turns his ridge to the sun." tained in the ancient Northern language. « The moon hath no light but of the sun, Edda Semundi, p. 14. It is curious, that u and he is of all stars the lowest.”in the passage of an Arabian poet, cited by Cotton MS. Tib. A. iii. p. 63. Pocock, in not. ad Carmen Tograi, p. 13, * 1 Anglo-Saxons, p. 202. Perhaps hleothor, we meet with a female sun and masculine the Saxon for oracle, may have some refermoon. The distich is,
ence to Thor. Hleo means a shady place, Nec nomen femininum soli dedecus, or an asylum. Hleothor is literally the Nec masculinum lunæ gloria.
retirement of Thor. Hleothor cwyde means See Marshall's Observ, in Vers. Ev. p. 513. the saying of an oracle. Hleothorstede the Cæsar mentions, that the Germans wor- place of an oracle. shipped the sun and moon, lib. vi. c. 19. s Without imitating those who have lately In the Saxon treatise on the vernal equinox fancied that there never was an Odin, and that we have their peculiar genders of these bodies he is merely a mythological personage, the displayed. “ When the sun goeth at even- name of a deity, we may remark, that the “ ing under this earth, then is the earth's date of Odin's appearance in the North " breadth between us and the sun; so that cannot be accurately ascertained. This
we have not her light till she rises up at difficulty has arisen partly from the confuCe the other end." Of the moon it says, sion in which, from their want of chrono
The names of two of the Anglo-Saxon goddesses have been CHAP. transmitted to us by Bede. He mentions RHEDA, to whom they sacrificed in March, which, from her rites, received the appellation of Rehd-monath; and Eostre, whose festivities were celebrated in April, which thence obtained the name of Eostre-monath. Her name is still retained to express the season of our great pascal solemnity: and thus the memory of one of the idols of our ancestors will be perpetuated as long as our language and country continue. Their name for a goddess was gydena; and as the word is applied as a proper name instead of Vesta, it is not unlikely that they had a peculiar divinity so called.
The idol adored in Heligland, one of tlie islands originally occupied by the Saxons, was Fosete, who was so celebrated that the place became known by his name; it was called Fosetesland. Temples were there built to him, and the country was deemed so sacred, that none dared to touch any animal which fed on it, nor to draw water from a fountain which flowed there, unless in awful silence. In the eighth
logy, all the incidents of the North, anterior circumstance is, that the Northern chroni-