The 5 Most Important Anglo-Saxon Gods | History Hit

The 5 Most Important Anglo-Saxon Gods

A 12th century manuscript with illustrations of Odin as Woden.
Image Credit: CPA Media Pte Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

The gods of the Anglo-Saxons are still with us today. We still worship Frige, the mother of the gods and goddess of love, because her day means the start of the weekend. Three other days of the week are also named after some of the most important Anglo-Saxon gods.

Their gods were similar in many respects to the more recognisable Norse gods – made popular by fiction, in novels and on screen.

1. Woden

The chief of the Anglo-Saxon gods was Woden. As with many of the male Anglo-Saxon gods, Woden was often associated with war. Anglo-Saxon warriors would offer tribute to him before battle to gain his protection on the field and his favour to strengthen their arms and guide their spears. The spear was Woden’s sacred weapon and he is often depicted wielding it.

Woden was not only a god of war, but also a god of wisdom. The Anglo-Saxons believed that the ancient runes – the system their writing was based upon – were invented and passed to man by Woden.

The day named after him is, of course, Wednesday, or as it was once known, Woden’s day. Woden was also known Odin in Norse mythological traditions.

Woden / Odin depicted on his throne with his spear.

2. Frige

Frige (or Frigg in Norse) was Woden’s wife, and she was the goddess of love, which covered all marriage, children, and the harvest. As a result, Anglo-Saxons offered her tribute to aid the harvest and thank her for good harvests, and she also appears to have been viewed as an earth goddess. Women would have also offered up tributes to her before and after childbirth.

Her day is Friday: Frige’s day, and September was closely associated with Frige because of the harvest. In Old English, the equivalent of September was known as ‘Holy Month’, possibly as a result of this connection.

A 19th century illustration of Frige and one of her handmaidens.

3. Thunor

Thunor (or Thor, in Norse), son of Frige and Woden was the god of the weather, particularly thunder and lightning. He was also god of the forge, and so was especially important to blacksmiths.

The Anglo-Saxons believed that the sound of thunder was Thunor striking his hammer on his mighty anvil; lightning, meanwhile, was the spark created by the strike. Archaeologists know that Thunor was one of the most popular gods as pendants showing his symbol, the hammer, have been found in many Anglo-Saxon graves.

Some believe that the tradition of a Yule Log may well stem from Thunor: he was associated with oak tree and so bringing one inside the house once a year was a means of protecting your house against lightning and fire.

“Donar-Thor” by Max Friedrich Koch, c. 1905

This may have been because the Anglo-Saxons perceived Thunor as one of the most powerful of all of the gods due to his association with the elements: the most powerful force of nature with which many were aware of. Thunor’s day was the fourth of the week, Thursday.

4. Tiw

The god Tiw (Tyr in the Norse tradition) was another important deity for the Anglo-Saxons as he was the god of war, swordplay and the sky. Even though the Anglo-Saxons appealed to both Thunor and Woden in matters of warfare, Tiw was the official god of war. He was also reputedly the most skilled in combat of all of the gods – despite having only one hand.

He was revered for this fact as he sacrificed his sword hand to the monstrous wolf, Fenris, who prophecy said would one day slay Woden.

The dwarves had made a special invisible chain to hold the beast so that they may stop the prophecy, but the wolf wouldn’t let anyone near unless one of the gods put their hand in his mouth. Tiw selflessly volunteered and Fenris was successfully chained, but in his fury he bit off the god’s sword hand.

Because of this heroic act, and the fact that Tiw was just as skilled with his left hand as he was with his right, Anglo-Saxon warriors widely revered him. The wolf was also his sacred animal. Tuesday was Tiw’s day.

The Anglo-Saxon period is vital for the formation of England and the UK as we know it but is a difficult era to fully understand. The departure of the Romans left a power vacuum that was filled by warlords with violence, foreign invasion, occupation and religious strife being endemic. But out of this turbulent period the foundation of what we now call England came into being. Dan is joined by Marc Morris one of the most distinguished medieval historians in the world and author of a new book called The Anglo-Saxons: A History of the Beginnings of England. Marc guides us through these difficult centuries separating truth from legend and illuminating this dark period in history.
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5. Eostre

Eostre was a spring goddess, associated with rebirth. Her name is closely etymologically linked with the word ‘Easter’, and her sacred month was April, when Easter is often celebrated. Anglo-Saxons would venerate her in the hope that she would bring prosperity throughout the summer months.

Some have said that the worship of Eostre is the origin of the hot cross bun – they were served as an offering, and the four quarters represent the quarters of the moon. There’s no definitive evidence for this legend however. Some have debated whether she was simply an invention of Bede as he is virtually the only source describing Eostre’s existence.

Sarah Roller