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Home » » What is the Anglo Saxon Paganism?

The Anglo-Saxon paganism, or as it has also been known, Anglo Saxon heathenism, refers to the religious beliefs and practices followed by the Anglo-Saxons between the fifth and eighth centuries CE, during the initial period of Early Mediaeval England. A variant of the wider Germanic paganism found across much of north-western Europe, it itself encompassed a heterogeneous variety of disparate beliefs and cultic practices. 

Developing from the earlier Iron Age religion of continental northern Europe, it was introduced to Britain following the Anglo-Saxon migration in the mid fifth century, and remained the dominant religion in England until the Christianization of its kingdoms between the seventh and eighth centuries, with some aspects gradually blending into English folklore. As with most religions designated as being pagan by later Christian writers, it was a polytheistic belief system, focused around the worship of deities known as the ese (singular os). 

The most prominent of these deities may have been Woden, for which reason the religion has also called Wodenism, although other prominent gods included Thunorand Tiw. There was also a belief in a variety of other supernatural entities that inhabited the landscape, including elves and dragons. Cultic practice largely revolved around demonstrations of devotion, including sacrifice ot inanimate objects and animals, to these deities, particularly at , certain religious festivals during the year. Pagan beliefs also influenced funerary practices, where the dead were either inhumed or cremated, typically with a selection of grave goods. 

There was also a magical component to the early Anglo-Saxon religion, and some scholars have also theorised that there may have been shamanic aspects as well. These religious beliefs also had a bearing on the structure of the Anglo-Saxon society, which was hierarchical, with kings often claiming a direct ancestral lineage from a god, particularly Woden. 

As such, it also had an influence on law codes during this period. Along with leaving traces in English folklore, the deities of this religion provided the basis for the names of the days of the week in the English language. Despite this, there is much that we do not know about this Mediaeval religion, and what is currently known about it comes from the study of the few first hand written accounts that survive from this period, such as those found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, through the study of literature from the later Christian period such as the Beowulf poem and also from the available archaeological evidence. What is known about the religion and its accompanying mythology have since influenced both literature and Neo paganism from the eighteenth century onwards. 


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