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Anglo-Saxon Burial Site ... 


Let's let Professor Tolkien demonstrate.

Take a word from Old English—English as it was spoken 1000 years ago—one that either never existed, or once existed, but didn't survive into modern times: say hol-bytla, “hole-builder.”

Ask yourself: if this word had survived into modern times, and undergone—mutatis mutandis—all the usual sound changes, what would it look like today?

Enter hobbit.


If there is a linguistic term for this process of artificial verbal aging, I for one don't know what it is. Over the years, drawing on the Greek and Latin vocabulary that linguists tend to use to describe matters linguistic, I've coined several names for the process. None were sufficiently utile (or beautiful) to linger even in the memory of the coiner.

(Yes, I could laboriously go back through my notebooks and find them again. I'll spare both you and me the results.)

Recently I asked fellow ledesman (see below) Theodsman Nick Ritter—a better linguist than me, any day of the lunar month—what he would call it.

Anglishing, he promptly fired back.


Anglish is the name given to the conlang (“constructed language”) which asks precisely this question: if the English language had never undergone the type of Frenchification (= linguistic imperialism) that overtook it after 1066, what would it look like today?

One of the foundational principles of Anglish is the avoidance of Romance/Classical vocabulary whenever possible. Hence, my abortive attempts to coin a Greco-Latin term for this process of linguistic updating, wrong-headed from the beginning.

Thanks, Nick: Anglishing it is.


(“How, then, would one Anglish 'Beowulf'?” I ask him.

Beowulf's people, the Geats, also fell out of memory, as did the hero—whose name means “bee-wolf” (i.e. bear) himself. But Nick, of course, has a ready answer.

Hail and welcome, Bolf the Yeet.)


Old English had two different words that could be translated “tribe” or “people”: théod and léod. Without a detailed study of the words in their original context, it's hard to say what the difference in denotation between the two might have been to the English-speaking ancestors.

With the demise of tribal identity among speakers of English, neither of these words survived into modern times—13th century scholars had to borrow the Latin word for the concept—but, via the wonders of Anglishing, we can say that, had they survived, we would today say thede and lede.

So, what's the difference these days? Easily told: the people writ small, and the people writ large.

Example #1: While regarding themselves primarily as Athenians, Spartans, or Corinthians, ancient Greeks would all have regarded themselves as Hellenes.

Example #2: Speakers of Anishinabe (“Ojibway”) share a larger sense of kinship with other speakers of Algonquin languages, the larger linguistic family that includes Anishinabe and various other related languages.

Example #3: Modern-day Wiccans: Witch by thede, Pagan by lede.


Lest anyone think such linguistic nativism unique to speakers of English, let me hasten to assure you that there's an entire movement out there to revive Gaulish, the extinct language of ancient Gaul.

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The advantage of any given language is that, in it, you will always be able to draw distinctions that you couldn't make in any other language.”

(Deer Stands Up, 1996)


OK class, take out your Witch-English dictionaries, please.

Now: I want everyone on this side of the room to look up Lede: L-E-D-E, lede.

On this side, Thede: T-H-E-D-E, thede.

Ready? Go.

Got it? Good. Rowan, would you give us the definition of lede, please?

OK, everybody got that? “A tribe, a people, a nation.”

Fritha, have you got a definition for “thede” for us?

Good. “A tribe, a people, a nation.” Two words, same definition. Now, we know that, in any given language, there are no true synonyms; all synonyms are only partially synonymous. There's always a shade of difference between the two: otherwise, why have two words?

So what's the difference here? How is a thede different from a lede?

Well, let's take a specific example. Robin, what's our thede?

Right: we're Witches, of the Tribe of Witches.

Ash, what's our lede, then?

Pagan, yes. We're Witch by thede, Pagan by lede. So “thede” is a sub-group of “lede.” Both are peoples, categories of being, but one term is more inclusive than the other. In any given lede, there will always be many different thedes.

Siffrith? Oh, good question. Did everybody hear that? If in any given language there are no true synonyms, then what's the distinction between “thede” and “tribe”?

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It doesn't take much reading in ethnology to notice that many tribal ethnonyms—the names by which a people knows itself—tend to mean “the People,” with an extended sense of the “Real People,” the “True People,” the “Original People."

Well, that's how I see pagans.

Pagans are the Original People, by definition. Up until a few thousand years ago, we were all there were. Until recently, all non-pagan religions grew out of pagan soil. To paraphrase Terry Pratchett, it's pagans all the way down.

(Of course, back in pagan times, we didn't know that we were pagan; we just were. In this, we're like Native Americans. Encounter with others always imbues a new sense of self.)

Now there are more non-pagans in the world than pagans, but that doesn't change history. We were here first; we're still here; we'll always be here.

Savor this delicious corollary: human beings are inherently, instinctively pagan. Left to our own devices to figure the world out for ourselves, what we come up with is (by definition) pagan. To be human is to be born pagan; anything else you have to be made into.

Therefore, even those of us who (like myself) were raised in the ways of the un-Original people, by our embrace of the Old Ways, thereby rejoin our birthright status of being one of the Original People.

The implications here are dizzying, paradoxical. No matter how much paganisms may change, they're still Original.

A danger inherent in this way of looking at things, of course, is the potential to view non-pagans as somehow less than human. That way always lies danger.

But non-pagans were born pagan too, just like us; they've just, in a sense, forgotten who they are.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs



All right, I'm just going to say it.

If you think that your paganism is just a matter of your personal relationship with the gods, you're wrong.

Or, at least, you're only partially right.

All realized paganisms are tribal. They're the religions of a particular group. If in the old days you had asked someone “What's your religion?”, they would (assuming that they understood what you meant by “religion”) have answered you: “My religion is the [Name of Tribe or People] religion.”

That's the way that the Kalasha—the last remaining Indo-European-speaking people who have practiced their traditional religion continuously since antiquity—talk about their religion to this day.

Let me give you an example. I'm a Witch. My religion is the Witch religion.

The ancestors, of course, didn't know that they were pagan. Now we do. It's a situation analogous to that of American First Nations. Before Columbus, they didn't think of themselves as a collective group. They thought of themselves in terms of their own people: Dakota, Anishinabe, Ho-Chunk, etc. It wasn't until later that they began to see themselves as Indigenous Americans, a group sharing a common identity.

It's like that with us, too. Now we see that, beyond our immediate tribal affiliations, we've got shared concerns with others that we perceive as being unlike ourselves: that, in fact, we share a common identity.



The old Hwicce (Witch) language had two words that dictionaries define as “tribe, people, nation”: thede and lede.

(1000 years ago, that would have been þéod and léod, but of course, that was 1000 years ago, and language changes just like everything else.)

Here's the difference between the two terms: your thede is your immediate tribe; your lede is your tribe's tribe.

So as for me, I'm Witch by thede, Pagan by lede. The Kalasha girls shown above dancing at the Joshi (Spring) festival are Pagan by lede, Kalasha by thede.

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Posted by on in Culture Blogs
Who's Your People?

How do you become a witch?

Well, some of us are born to the tribe. They say that He Himself overshadows our fathers at the moment of our begetting. That explains why we turn out the way we do.

But like other tribes, the Tribe of Witches tends to be porous around the edges. Opting in is always a possibility. (So is opting out, but that's another matter. And you know what they say: Once a witch, always a witch.)

You can marry in. Love is the ultimate bind-oath. Once you speak the language, eat the food, and keep the holidays, you're more or less in by osmosis.

Or you can adopt in. The old rites of initiation are essentially rites of adoption: you make the bind-oath to the gods of the thede (tribe), you're blooded, and you're in.

Because (with all due deference to Uncle Gerald) we're not really a religion at all.

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