An Anglo-Saxon Pagan Birth

        by Swain Wodening

Birth Rituals

Not much information survives on birth rituals. Going by Germanic folklore, the father was definitely expected to be present at the birth of a child, and to provide the mother moral support and help ease the pain during the birth its self. This is seen especially in the Scandinavian countries. An old German practice that has been preserved was for the midwife to lay the newborn after birth, on the floor or ground, where upon the father picked it up. This seems to have meant that the father claimed the child and it was not to be exposed. In the Norse areas this seems sometimes to have been incorporated into the naming rite, and done on the ninth day.

Within the lore its self, most brith rites deal with the goddesses and Idesa (Disir). Sigrdrífumál verse 9 advises "Biarg-(help-) runes thou must know, if thou wilt help, and loose the child from women. In the palm they must be graven, and round the joints be clasped, and the Dísir prayed for aid. (Thorpe Translation)" And in Óddrúnargrátr verses 7 and 8 we are advised "Then speech the woman  so weak began, Nor said she aught ere this she spake:  "So may the holy ones thee help, Frigg and Freyja and favoring gods, As thou hast saved me from sorrow now." (Bellows translation). Modern Heathens therefore should be ready to pray to Frige (Frigga) and Freo (Freya) during the birth, and invoke the Idesa (Disir) prior to it as well.

Name Giving

After the birth, the primary activity of an infants early life took place on the ninth day after the child was born. This was the day the child was formally named and brought into the family. The Vatni Ausa or Nefn Fostir is well preserved in the sagas, and may well be the most mentioned Heathen rite in the lore.

Mærin var vatni ausin og þetta nafn gefið. Hún óx þar upp og gerðist lík móður sinni að yfirlitum. Þau sömdust vel við Glúmur og Hallgerður og fór svo fram um hríð.

So the maiden was sprinkled with water, and had this name given her, and there she grew up, and got like her mother in looks and feature. Glum and Hallgerda agreed well together, and so it went on for a while.(Njal's Saga Chapter 14, DaSent translation)

Þórsteinn þorskabítur átti son er kallaður var Börkr digri. En sumar það er Þórsteinn var hálfþrítugur fæddi Þóra sveinbarn og var Grímur nefndur er vatni var ausinn. Þann svein gaf Þórsteinn Þór og kvað vera skyldu hofgoða og kallar hann Þórgrím.

Thorstein Codbiter had a son who was called Bork the Thick.  But on a summer when Thorstein was five-and-twenty winters old, Thora bore him a man-child who was called Grim, and sprinkled with water.  That lad Thorstein gave to Thor, and said that he should be a Temple-Priest, and called him Thorgrim. (Eyrbyggja Saga, Chapter 11, Morris and Magnusson translation)

Þóra ól barn um sumarið, og var það mær; var hún vatni ausin og nafn gefið og hét Ásgerðr.

Thora bare a child in the summer; it was a girl. She was sprinkled with water, and named Asgerdr. (Egils Saga Skallagrímssonar, chapter 35, Green translation)

By comparing the many different accounts of the Vatni Ausa, Edred Throsson reconstructed the naming rite in an article in the compilation work Green Runa as follows:

"Ek verp vatni þetta barn a, ok gef honum nafnit ______________(name) (eptir afa/ommu sinum/sinni.)"

(English translation:  "I throw water on this child and give it the name _______________ (after its grandfather/grandmother) (or some other ancestor).

One can do an Old English translation of this. For a boy this would be as:

Ic weorpe wæter on bearne, ond giefe hine naman  _______________ (æftre his Ealdfæder).

or for a girl:

Ic weorpe wæter on bearne, ond giefe hí naman  _______________ (æftre híre Ealdmodor).

One would of course want a longer ritual than this though, so it is suggested one add a blot and perhaps a symbel to the naming ceremony, not to mention flesh out the naming rite its self.  An outline for such a ritual might go as follows. Items needed are a blot bowl, and some water:

The Naming

1) The Opening: The folk are called to stand around the altar, the mother holds the child.

2) The Naming: The mother hands the father the newborn, and then picks up the blot bowl filled with water. The father then dips his fingers in the water, and says the following for a boy:

Ic weorpe wæter on bearne, ond giefe hine naman  (name).

Or for a girl:

Ic weorpe wæter on bearne, ond giefe hí naman (name).

He then sprinkles the water on the baby's forehead.

3) The Closing: The father then hands the mother the baby, and invites all to take part in the húsel to follow.

Baby's First Blot or Baby's First Húsel

The goddess Fríge should be invoked for the baby's first blot as she is the guardian of the newborn. Also invoked should be the ancestors especially the Idesa (Dísir). A basic blot outline can be seen at: http://haligwaerstow.ealdriht.org/blot.html. The first to be blessed during the blessing part of the blot should be the baby. Immediately, following the blot, all should be seated to feast. By now, baby should be ready to nurse, although he or she may need to go to sleep. If the babe needs to sleep, that is fine. He or she would not be the first to sleep through a feast in their honour!

Baby's First Symbel

Following the feast should be a short symbel in the baby's honour. The rounds would begin with the traditional first three, but the fourth round would be toasts to baby, or lullabies in the baby's honour. Following the fourth round, would be gifts to the baby. After the fourth round, the symbel may precede as usual. To read more on symbel goto symbel.htm.

A baby's naming rite is its first public ritual and therefore should be conducted with much joy and honour. It could well set the tone for the rest of the baby's life.

For further reading goto Old Norse Names


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