Ælfric, Abbot of Eynsham

On the False Gods

This sermon is printed in John C. Pope, ed., Homilies of Ælfric: A Supplementary Collection, 2 vols., Early English Text Society 259-260 (London 1967-68) 2: 667-724. Translation by P. Baker.

Oh, most beloved brothers, holy scripture has taught us the worship of one true God, saying these words: There is one God, and one faith, and one baptism; one God, and the Father of all things, who is over all things and through all things and in us all. From him are all things, and through him are all things, and in him are all things; to him be glory forever, amen.

The almighty Father conceived a Son from himself without the company of woman, and through the Son he made all of creation, both visible and invisible. The Son is as old as the Father, because the Father was always without beginning and the Son was always conceived from him without beginning, as mighty as the Father. The Holy Spirit is not conceived, but rather is the will and love of the Father and the Son, from them both equally, and through the Spirit are endowed with life all of the creatures that the Father created through the Son, who is his wisdom. This holy Trinity is one almighty God, always without beginning and without end. They are three in name--Father, Son and Holy Spirit--and they are not three gods, but the three of them are one indivisible God, for the three of them have one nature, and one mind, and one deed in all things.[1]

And truly it is better for us to believe in this holy Trinity and to acknowledge it than it is for us to ponder it too deeply. This Trinity created the shining angels, and afterwards Adam and Eve as human beings, and gave them power over earthly creatures; and they might have dwelled forever without death if they had not broken God's one command. At that time Adam dwelled in bliss, without sorrow, and no created thing could harm him as long as he kept that heavenly command. Fire did not harm him, even if he stepped on it with his feet, and no water could drown that man, even if he ran into the water suddenly. And no wild animal could, and no serpent dared, to harm that man by biting with his mouth. Neither hunger nor thirst, neither grievous cold nor intense heat, and no sickness could oppress Adam in that land, as long as he faithfully obeyed that little command. Afterwards, when he had sinned and broken God's command, he lost that good fortune and lived in hardship, so that lice and fleas boldly bit him whom even the dragon had not dared to touch. Then he had to guard against water and fire, and carefully look out that he did not take a bad fall, and provide food for himself by his own toil; and he had to maintain the natural good that God had created within him, if he wished to have it, with great care, as even now good people do, who with difficulty keep themselves from vices. And also the sun, and indeed the moon, were deprived of their delightful brightness after Adam's sin, and not by any fault of their own. The sun had been seven times brighter before that man sinned, and the moon was just as bright as the sun now is as it shines on us. Nevertheless, after the Judgment Day they will have their full brightness, just as they were created, and the moon will not grow old after that day, but will always be shining whole, just as the sun does now. Men may, with great labor, merit that they dwell forever in bliss with God after the Judgment Day, forever without death, those who now obey his command in their deeds; and those who despise God will be sunk in hell in eternal punishment and endless death.

Now we do not read in books that anyone raised up idols[2] in all the time before Noah's flood until the giants made the wonderful tower after Noah's flood; and to them God gave as many languages as there were workmen.[3] When they had dispersed to distant lands, and mankind increased, then they were deceived by the ancient devil who before had deceived Adam, so that they perversely made gods for themselves and despised the Creator who had created them as men. They then accepted it as wisdom that they should worship the sun and moon as gods because of their shining brightness, and they made offerings to them and abandoned their Maker. Some men also said concerning the shining stars that they were gods and zealously worshipped them. Some of them believed in fire because of its rapid burning, some also in water, and they worshipped them as gods; some in the earth because it feeds all things. But they might have discerned, if they had had the knowledge, that he alone is God who for his great goodness created all these things for us to use. These created things do as their Maker directed them because they can do nothing but God's will; for there is no creator but the one true God, and we worship him with certain faith, saying with mouth and with the inward conviction of our minds that he alone is God who created all things.

Yet the heathens would not be satisfied with so few gods, but began to worship as gods various giants and men who were mighty in worldly offices and terrifying in life, even though they lived foully. There was one man who lived on the island of Crete, Saturn by name, so powerful and bloodthirsty that he devoured his sons when they were born, and in unfatherly manner made their flesh into food for himself. Nevertheless he left one alive, though he had devoured his brothers; he was called Jove, and he was malignant and powerful. He drove his father out of that island and meant to kill him if he encountered him. This Jove was so very lustful that he married his own sister; she was called Juno, a very exalted goddess. Their daughters were Minerva and Venus. Then the father lay with them both, and evilly defiled many of his kinsmen. These evil men were the greatest gods the heathen worshipped and made into gods for themselves; but the son was more greatly honored than the father was in their foul religion. This Jove is the most venerable of all the gods whom the heathens had in their heresy;[4] and among some nations he is called Thór, whom the Danish people love most.[5] His son is called Mars, and he was forever creating conflict, and he would always stir up contention and woe. The heathens worshipped this man as a lofty god, and whenever they campaigned or would go to battle, first they would make offerings to this god. They believed that he could help them greatly in battle because he loved battle. There was a man called Mercury in life; he was very dishonest and deceitful in his deeds, and also loved stealing and falsehood. The heathens made him into a great god and made offerings to him at crossroads and brought sacrifices to him on high mountains. This god is venerated among all the heathens, and he is called Óthin by another name in Danish.[6] Now the Danish say in their heresy that this Jove, whom they call Thór, was the son of Mercury, whom they call Óthin; but they are wrong in this, for we read in both heathen and Christian books that the malignant Jove was truly the son of Saturn, and the books that the ancient heathens thus wrote about him cannot be contradicted; and we also find it so written in the passions of the martyrs.[7] There was a woman called Venus, Jove's daughter; she was so abandoned in her lustfulness that her father had her, and also her brother, and others as well, like a prostitute; and yet the heathens worship her as a high goddess, as their god's daughter. Many other gods were found here and there throughout the earth, to the ruination of mankind; but these are the foremost--though they lived foully. The scheming devil who deceives mankind brought the heathens into that grievous heresy: that they established as their gods such foul men, who practiced vices that please the devil; that their worshippers also loved their shame and became estranged from the almighty God who abhors vice and loves cleanness.

They established a day for the sun and the moon and each of the other gods:[8] first Sunday for the sun, and afterwards Monday for the moon; and the third day they devoted to Mars, their battle-god, as a help to themselves.[9] They gave the fourth day to the aforementioned great god Mercury, also as a help to themselves. They celebrated the fifth day magnificently in honor of Jove, the greatest god. They established the sixth day in honor of the shameless goddess called Venus, or Frigg in Danish. They gave the seventh day to Saturn the old, father of the gods, as a help to themselves--last, even though he was oldest.[10]

They wished to worship the gods with even greater veneration, and gave them stars (as if they owned the stars!): the seven stars, that is, the sun and the moon and the other five, which always travel against the sky toward the east, though the heaven is always turning them backwards.[11] But nevertheless the stars shone in the heavens at the beginning of the earth, before the wicked gods were born, or chosen as gods. They also made images of the venerable gods, some of pure gold (and they designed those with skill!), some of white silver, some also of stone, some of various materials, according to their abilities; and they built for them houses, which they called temples, and within them placed their beloved gods, bound with lead, and prayed to them. Then the devils who had deceived them saw the beautiful images and flew to them, and through the images spoke to those wretched men and so led them astray with their lies and brought their souls to hellish torment. Smiths made them with subtle skill and often sold those silver gods, some for a greater price, according to the way they were made, and some for a lesser, according to their value. And for as long as he was hammering the half-made god and fiercely carving out its eye with a stylus,[12] the image held no terror for him; but as soon as it was finished he worshipped it as a god.

We read in the book that is called the Book of Kings[13] that the heathen Philistines often fought with the nation of Israel, who then were the only ones who believed in almighty God in the manner of Abraham. Then on a certain occasion it happened nevertheless, for their sins, that the heathens achieved a victory against that nation and captured the arcam Domini, that is God's ark.[14] In that ark was held the heavenly food,[15] and the staff of Aaron, the first bishop, and Moses's tablets which had been written on the mountain with God's finger to instruct his people.

Then the heathens carried this ark with the heavenly relics to their temple and reverently set it next to their god. This god was called Dagon and was very dear to the heathens. Then in the morning, when they went in, they found their god lying on the floor before God's ark, as if he were asking mercy. They then lifted Dagon back up next to God's ark where he had stood before and went away. They came back in the morning and found out how it was: there was Dagon's head, cut off, at the door, and the two palms of his hands were hacked off at the threshold, and Dagon lay headless before the holy ark, for it was not fitting that the devilish image should stand so high next to the holy ark. Then immediately God angrily sent to that people a sudden pestilence, and killed the Philistines, for they had the holy ark there in their pagan religion, as if they wanted to possess it. Many mice also came to them throughout the land and laid waste their fields and ruined the earth. Then the inhabitants of that land said that they would send God's ark away from them, through their five cities, from shire to shire, so that the pestilence would cease. They carried the ark through the five cities, and wherever it came the pestilence immediately followed and killed the Philistines with sudden death, and they piteously cried out on account of that cruel death.

Then they asked their wise men what seemed best to them, what they should do with the holy ark, whether they should send it home or keep it there longer. Then the wise men answered those who were asking thus: "If you wish to send the holy ark home, do not send it empty, but honorably with gifts. Now gather together from your five cities and make five golden rings and five golden mice as offerings to God so that this anger will cease, for one punishment was common to you all. Also, reverently make a wagon for the ark and a new box as a container for your offerings, and take two young cows that have never come under the yoke so that they can carry the holy ark with the golden offerings that you are offering to God, and keep their calves tied up at home. Then you may know, if the cows wish to go forth, away from their calves, that it was God's wrath that afflicted you so. If they do not wish to depart with God's ark, then you will know that the pestilence did not come as a result of God's wrath, but for some other reason." Lo, then the Philistines accepted that counsel and made five rings from their five cities, and five golden mice, and made the wagon with all its equipment, and sent forth the ark. Then the young cows, yoked to the wagon, went to the land of Israel, lowing loudly after their calves, and nevertheless did not turn back from the direct way, as if they were endowed with reason. And the Philistines followed the wagon to the land of Israel and left it there; and then the pestilence and the infestation of mice ceased. Israel then with one accord submitted to God, and God then protected them against the heathen nations and gave them victory so that they slew their enemies and lived in peace during the time of Samuel. Here we may discern, concerning these heathen gods, what might they had against the almighty God. They are not gods, but are cruel devils, deceivers of souls and originators of sin, who bring their worshippers into the broad fire of hellish tribulation, from which they can never return.

It is also well known to us concerning the three boys in Chaldea, whom the king threw into a burning oven because they did not turn to his gods from the almighty God who created all things.[16] God also saved them from the cruel king so that even their hair was not burned in the fire, but they went singing in the roaring flame, praising their Lord, and remained unharmed.

In the same land was the prophet Daniel, God's chief minister, and a man of holy character.[17] Then in the time of Darius his counselors decreed that for a period of thirty days no man should pray any prayer to God, but rather to the king, and they wished so to ensnare the innocent Daniel because he was much loved by King Darius. Then the prophet did as his custom was, went into his upper chamber and there fell to his knees and prayed to God on bended limbs until the heathens came, who had been watching him closely. They accused Daniel to King Darius, saying that he had despised the law of them all, and wished to thrust him into the lions' den. Then the king labored until evening, wishing to protect the prophet from them. But when he could do so no longer, he had him taken and thrown to the lions who lay in the den. Then King Darius said to the prophet Daniel, "Your God, whom you worship, will save you." And he then sealed the den from without, and was so sorrowful that he could not sleep the whole night, and he lost his appetite.

At dawn King Darius arose, went to the den, and called out sorrowfully, "Daniel, you man of God, could your God protect you against the lions?" And he immediately answered, "Oh beloved king, may you live forever! My God quickly sent his angel to me, and he shut the lions' mouths with his bonds so that none of them could harm my limbs, because righteousness was discovered in me before God, and I committed no crime, oh king, against you." The king thereupon rejoiced greatly and commanded Daniel to be drawn up out of the den and those who had accused him to be cast into it. They were then brought with their children and their wives and instantly cast into the den, and the lions seized them and tore their limbs before they could even fall down. Then the king soon after sent a letter among all his people and greeted them lovingly with these written words: "I desire that my people in all my kingdom bow down with one accord to Daniel's God and fear him. He is the living God and eternal in the world, and his kingdom will never be overthrown. He is the true Redeemer and the Maker of signs in the heavens and on the earth, he who kept Daniel from the cruel beasts so that they could not harm him."

Daniel lived much loved by the king until King Cyrus succeeded to the kingdom, and Daniel became that king's intimate,[18] and the king honored him above all his thanes.[19] At that time the god of the heathens, who was called Bel, was in the great city of Babylon, and he was daily fed with forty sheep, and he was given six sesters of wine a day and six sesters of meal for his food. The king honored him and came each day to pray to the god Bel, and the prophet Daniel despised this Bel and always prayed to the almighty God. Then one day the king asked Daniel, "Why won't you pray to the god Bel?" Then Daniel forthrightly answered the king, "I will not worship manufactured gods, but I believe in the living God who created the heavens and the earth and all things and has control over all flesh." Then the king answered the prophet, "Don't you think, Daniel, that this precious Bel is a living god, since he lives by eating and every day drinks what we give him?" Then Daniel said, "You're mistaken, king: this god is coated with brass on the outside and its inside is clay, and it does not live by food; indeed it has never eaten up to this very day."

Then the king's mind grew dark, and he commanded the worshippers who served Bel to come and speak with him and spoke to them thus: "Unless you tell me the truth about this, who eats the food that we make for Bel, then if I am well, you shall all die. If you show that he eats the food, then Daniel will die, since he slandered Bel and put him to shame." Then Daniel spoke to the king thus: "Stand by your words, oh king." And they went to the temple. In all there were seventy priests who served Bel in his cult at all times. They all said to the king with one accord, "We will all go out before you, king, and you yourself set the food before him and lock the door, if you do not believe us, and seal the lock with your own ring, and when you go in and look in the morning, if these offerings have not been consumed by Bel, then let it be our death; and if Bel eats them, then let Daniel die, who slandered him so." Then they all went out before the king, and he himself placed the offerings before Bel; and Daniel commanded ashes to be sifted about on the floor in the king's sight so that he could afterwards discover who had stepped on the floor who had taken the food; and then the king quickly sealed the door. Lo, then the priests with their children and their wives went into the temple under the earth, all in the night, and ate the food as their custom was, and drank the wine, and their god Bel did not eat the offerings.

Afterwards, in the morning, the king went with Daniel to the temple and examined the door; it remained sealed, just as they had left it in the evening. They opened the door and looked in. Then the king cried out and said to the image, "Great you are, Bel, and there is no fraud in you." Then Daniel laughed and stopped the king before he went in, and asked him thus: "What do you think, oh king? Can you recognize whose footsteps you see on this floor?" Then the king looked and said to Daniel, "I see in these ashes the steps of old men and women and children." And he became angry. He commanded the false priests to be seized, and against their will they showed him the door under the floor where they went in and ate the food that was intended for the god. Then the king immediately commanded that they should all be slain, and he delivered the god to Daniel's judgment. Then Daniel broke the god Bel and scornfully cast down his temple.

Then there was a dragon dwelling in that city, and the Babylonians brought him food and worshipped him as a god, even though he was a serpent. Then one day the king spoke thus to Daniel: "Now you can't say that this isn't a living god: pray to him, even though you wouldn't to Bel." Then Daniel easily answered the king: "I always pray to the almighty God, who is the living God; and if you give me leave, I will slay this dragon without sword or staff." Then King Cyrus said that he had to find out whether he could slay the serpent without weapons. Daniel then made this offering for the dragon: he took pitch and lard, beat them together, mixed it with bristles, kneaded it into morsels, boiled it a long time and gave it to the dragon. Then he burst apart as soon as he ate that food, and Daniel said to the dragon's worshippers, "Now you can see who it is you worshipped so." Then the Babylonians were enraged, and they came to the king and angrily said, "This foreigner Daniel has taken away your power; he has become king. He has slain the dragon and thrown down our Bel and killed his priests; now deliver him to us, or we will kill you." Then the king could not oppose them all, but delivered the prophet to these witless people, and they threw him in among the wild animals, where there were seven lions, and he remained there for six days. Up to that time they had given the lions two sheep and two corpses each day; but they gave them nothing so that they would eat Daniel.

At that time there was a faithful prophet in Judea named Abbacuc, who had called in reapers for his grain and was taking their food to them. God's angel suddenly came flying to him and commanded him immediately to take the food to Babylon and give it to Daniel, who was sitting in the pit. Then Abbacuc spoke thus to the angel: "Oh, sir, I have never seen the city you have mentioned, and I don't know the pit, and I've never heard of it." Then the angel took Abbacuc by the hair and swiftly bore him to the aforesaid city and to the lions' pit with very swift flight. Then Abbacuc cried out to the other prophet, "You man of God Daniel, take this food, which God has sent, for yourself." And he immediately answered, "Oh my God, you were mindful of me, and you do not abandon those who love you." And he immediately ate what God had sent him, and the angel quickly conveyed Abbacuc back to his land over a very great distance. Then on the seventh day the king went sorrowfully to the pit and looked into it. Just then Daniel sat quite whole among the beasts. Then the king cried out and said thus to God: "Oh Lord God, whom Daniel believes in, you are great and mighty." And without delay he commanded his men to draw Daniel up out of the beasts' pit. Then he commanded those who had accused him to be thrown into it, and they were devoured by the fierce beasts in the twinkling of an eye, right before the king.

We could say a great deal about such false gods, how ignominious they were and how they incited their worshippers to all kinds of abominations and to endless murderous deeds; and he who committed the filthiest acts was dearest to the gods. Lo, then our Savior Christ came to this world in the sixth age,[20] and he taught righteousness and illuminated the hearts of men with many wonders and made known by signs that he is the true God when he arose from death through his lordly might and ascended to heaven before one hundred and twenty men and women who were his witnesses in all of the miracles that he worked in their presence. You have often heard about the Savior's miracles and about his holy teaching and how gracious he is to mankind, to those who despise vice and love their Maker; because worshippers who are full of sins are hateful to him, for it is his nature that he loves cleanness. It would also take too long to say how his faithful apostles overthrew idolatry after the Savior's ascension and put the wicked gods to flight along with the might of their images while men looked on. The apostles broke them to pieces and overthrew their cults, and the good kings who submitted to God commanded the idols to be entirely crushed; and people made from those goods good kettles and pots, and various utensils from those melted images, and they made use of the brass that before had been useless.

In the city of Alexandria in the land of Egypt, which was the capital of the Egyptian nation, the chief god whom that people worshipped was named Serapis and was highly celebrated at that time.[21] From ancient times a great temple had been raised for him with wonderful skill, splendidly arranged, and his image was beautifully made of every material that comes from the earth--from every kind of tree and from every metal, covered with gold and with white silver. The image was many fathoms tall, made of large materials, and it was so broad, made fast among the vaults, that it reached the two walls with its two hands, even though the building was very high and wide. It was quite terrifying to look at because of its hugeness and manifold contrivances, and the Egyptian people believed in the god, and his priests said that if anyone angered him the heaven would immediately fall and the earth beneath entirely burst asunder. Afterwards, when the time came in the days of the noble emperor Theodosius,[22] who with great faith commanded all the false gods to be destroyed, then the venerable Serapis was also destroyed. People struck him hard with a sharp ax, but he did not feel it since he was made of wood, and he did not speak a single word since he was not alive, and the heaven did not fall, and the earth did not burst asunder; but people quickly cut off his head. There was much merriment when many mice poured out of the image when its head was off, running around in multitudes on the spacious floor so that men could see that it had been a dwelling of mice there, and no divinity, and no cult of a god. They then cut the devilish god to pieces and pulled apart his limbs with long ropes; they scornfully dragged his head through the town and in the midst of the people burned his limbs and then his trunk as a spectacle; and the Christians destroyed all the images of the brazen gods in Alexandria and in all the cities, just as the emperor commanded, and then that ancient heresy was extinguished. Under the foul altar were also found the heads of boys who had been killed there as offerings to the gods, and other abominations as well, [hidden] so that their worshippers could not see the shameful filth. They were greatly ashamed that they had so long followed such foul lords, and then submitted to God and to his clean religion.

Now we wish to speak concerning a certain false god who after Christ's incarnation was easily driven out of his image through Christ's faith. There was a certain very holy bishop named Gregory, who worked many miracles and powerful wonders through God. He rode on some business on a winter day over the great mountains called the Alps, and because of the snow he could not reach any place where he could camp; but a heathen temple was nearby, hallowed to the god called Apollo, and he went there and stayed in the temple on account of the winter's chill. There stood the image of the brazen god within the temple, and his priest would often ask something of the image, and the devil himself answered from the image and to the priest who honored him above all others told many lies, and he told them to the people who asked anything from the devilish image; and the priest lived always on the offerings that the heathens brought to the grievously false religion. Then the god was driven out of the foul image by the holy man who stayed the night there, and he could not answer the poor priest through the image as he had done before. He repeatedly offered the offerings to the god, and the image could not answer the priest. He then became miserably perplexed, but the devil said these words to him in his sleep: "Why do you call to me where I cannot come?" The other asked him for what reason he could not come there, and then the devil said that he had been driven from his secret dwelling by Gregory's arrival; and then the priest said, "What do you advise now?" And he immediately answered him, "I can by no means enter that place unless I have the permission of the holy Gregory." Then in the morning the priest made his journey over a long distance to the faithful bishop, and sought his feet, complaining of his lot, that his means of sustenance would be altogether lost to him because he had, by his arrival, suddenly driven the god whom he worshipped out of his accustomed place. Then Gregory wrote this letter to the god: "I greet you, Apollo, and I give you leave to go again into your place and to do the things that you did before." The priest then immediately took the letter and hastened to his home and laid the letter before the image. Then the devil was soon back in the image, and again spoke to him as he had done before, concerning the things he asked of him. Then the priest began to ponder very hard and said in his mind, "Now this is the way my god behaves: Gregory drove him out, and he instantly fled, and afterward could not come into his image unless Gregory allowed him. Then is it not so that Gregory is better than my god is?" His belief kindled, he then locked up his temple and went back again with the same letter to the venerable bishop and told him everything about his god's return and about what he had thought in his mind, and he fell at his feet, begging for baptism and that he would dedicate him to the heavenly God through the might with which he had driven out the gods of the heathens. He begged the bishop so long and with such belief that he christened him; and from that day he lived cleanly in great continence and left all worldly things and dwelled with the bishop. He then was baptized, and so perfectly and with such great belief did he prosper in holy virtues and in God's doctrine that he was consecrated as bishop after Gregory and wisely held the office of bishop with good example and to God's satisfaction, as books tell us; and our Lord's belief extinguished idolatry because Christendom came everywhere.

Often the heathens have said that our Savior Christ came after their gods and that they were older, and said that the older gods were more venerable and more to be worshipped than the one who came after. But those foolish men did not know that our Lord was always with his heavenly Father in perfect might, ever almighty God from the almighty Father, and came afterwards to men when he himself wished, in true humanity, to redeem mankind. And the gods that the heathens held in their heresy, our Savior with his heavenly Father created them--but he did not create them as gods, but as other creatures--because there is no created thing that God did not create, though some of them were turned into devils and some of them people perversely worshipped as gods. There is no other god, and no other creator but the holy Trinity, which is the God who rules in glory, he who alone rules all creation and will requite each man according to his deeds at the end of this world, and also, sometimes, before. Our Savior nevertheless said about his holy thanes, Ego dixi, dii estis, et filii Excelsi omnes: "I say that you are gods, and all sons of the Highest." Such great honor did the merciful Lord bestow upon his holy thanes that he called them gods; but nevertheless no man has any might of his own, except from the one God who created all things; to him be glory and praise forever. Amen.


1 At this point Ælfric switches to his rhythmical prose style. [return]

2 Hæþengyld, literally ‘heathen offering'. The phrase arærde hæþengyld could also be translated "established idolatry." [return]

3 The reference of course is to the tower of Babel at Genesis 11:1-9. The Bible does not call the people who built the tower giants (Old English entas, singular ent). There was a tradition that giants existed in the time of the Old Testament, but the English also called any very ancient people entas. [return]

4 Old English gedwyld, literally ‘a wandering off course.' In Ælfric's version of history, all peoples originally worshipped one God; therefore the Greeks and Romans were heretics (those whose belief had been perverted), not infidels (those who had never believed correctly). [return]

5 Old Norse Þórr is equivalent to Old English Þunor (whose name means "thunder"). Pre-Christian Germanic peoples saw their own gods and the Roman gods as equivalent, as is most strikingly illustrated by several of the English names of the days of the week, on which see below. [return]

6 Old Norse Óðinn is equivalent to Old English Woden. [return]

7 The "passion" of a martyr was an account of his or her death. In the context of such a story Jove would come up as one of the gods whom the heathen persecutor was trying to force the martyr to sacrifice to. Several such passions did indeed mention that Jove was the son of Saturn. [return]

8 The English names for days of the week were adapted from the Roman system: Sunnandæg, the day of the sun; Monandæg, the day of the moon; Tiwesdæg, the day of Tiw, for the Roman day of Mars; Wodnesdæg, the day of Woden, for the day of Mercury; Þunresdæg, the day of Þunor, for the day of Jove; Frigedæg, the day of Frig, for the day of Venus. The Germanic pantheon had no equivalent for Saturn, so they did not translate his name, but called his day Sæternesdæg. [return]

9 I.e. they hoped to gain the favor of the god by dedicating a day to him. [return]

10 Above, p. x, Ælfric seems to take it as a sign of the perversity of the heathens that they do not properly honor the most ancient of their gods. [return]

11 The sun and the moon and the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn (which still retain their Roman names) were thought of as the "wandering stars" because they did not move with the "fixed stars" (what we now call simply "stars"). The fixed stars were thought to revolve, as Ælfric says, from east to west. Ælfric explains the apparently more erratic movements of the wandering stars as the result of their attempt to move from west to east. The inner planets Mercury and Venus did in fact appear to move back and forth, sometimes east and sometimes west; the others lagged behind the fixed stars in their westward course. In another work Ælfric said they moved westward unþances, ‘against their will'. [return]

12 The word Ælfric uses to describe hammering to shape the idol (slean) also means ‘to slay', and hollowing out the idol's eye is implicitly compared with putting out an enemy's eye: thus the smith is imagined not just as making the idol, but also abusing it with impunity. [return]

13 In most modern Bibles, I Samuel 4:1-7:17. [return]

14 Ælfric uses the word scrin (our word ‘shrine'), which was commonly used of a container for a saint's relics. [return]

15 That is, manna. [return]

16 The story is told in Daniel 3. [return]

17 The story of Daniel in the lion's den is in Daniel 6. [return]

18 Old English gedrinca, the literal meaning "drinking companion", but here probably used metaphorically. [return]

19 The stories of Bel and the dragon are apocrypha (material of doubtful authenticity) in Daniel 14:1-41. [return]

20 The whole history of the world, past and future, was thought to be divided into six ages. The eleventh-century scholar Byrhtferth of Ramsey listed them in his Enchiridion (iv. 2): "There are six ages of the world. The first was from Adam to Noah; the second from Noah to Abraham; the third from Abraham to David; the fourth from David to the Babylonian capitivity; the fifth from the Babylonian captivity to the advent of Christ; the sixth from Christ's advent until his second coming." [return]

21 For the stories in the remainder of this tract, Ælfric consulted ecclesiastical histories by the late classical authors Rufinus and Cassiodorus. [return]

22 Theodosius I, Roman emperor 388-95. He issued his decree outlawing paganism in 391. [return]