Early Britain eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 210 pages of information about Early Britain.
inhabitants, they do actually resemble a hammer in shape.  But Woden, the special god of the Teutonic race, had practically usurped the highest place in their mythology:  he is represented as the leader of the Germans in their exodus from Asia to north-western Europe, and since all the pedigrees of their chieftains were traced back to Woden, it is not improbable that he may have been really a deified ancestor of the principal Germanic families.  The popular creed, however, was mainly one of lesser gods, such as elves, ogres, giants, and monsters, inhabitants of the mark and fen, stories of whom still survive in English villages as folk-lore or fairy tales.  A few legends of the pagan time are preserved for us in Christian books. Beowulf is rich in allusions to these ancient superstitions.  If we may build upon the slender materials which alone are available, it would seem that the dead chieftains were buried in barrows, and ghost-worship was practised at their tombs.  The temples were mere stockades of wood, with rude blocks or monoliths to represent deities and altars.  Probably their few rites consisted merely of human or other sacrifices to the gods or the ghosts of departed chiefs.  There was a regular priesthood of the great gods, but each man was priest for his own household.  As in most other heathen communities, the real worship of the people was mainly directed to the special family deities of every hearth.  The great gods were appealed to by the chieftains and by the race in battle:  but the household gods or deified ancestors received the chief homage of the churls by their own firesides.

Thus the Anglo-Saxons, before the great exodus from Denmark and North Germany, appear as a race of fierce, cruel, and barbaric pagans, delighting in the sea, in slaughter, and in drink.  They dwelt in little isolated communities, bound together internally by ties of blood, and uniting occasionally with others only for purposes of rapine.  They lived a life which mainly alternated between grazing, piratical seafaring, and cattle-lifting; always on the war-trail against the possessions of others, when they were not specially engaged in taking care of their own.  Every record and every indication shows them to us as fiercer heathen prototypes of the Scotch clans in the most lawless days of the Highlands.  Incapable of union for any peaceful purpose at home, they learned their earliest lesson of subordination in their piratical attacks upon the civilised Christian community of Roman Britain.  We first meet with them in history in the character of destroyers and sea-robbers.  Yet they possessed already in their wild marshy home the germs of those free institutions which have made the history of England unique amongst the nations of Europe.



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Early Britain from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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