Reference > Cambridge History > From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance > Early National Poetry > Religious Poetry of Heathen Times
  The Ruin  

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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

III. Early National Poetry.

§ 13. Religious Poetry of Heathen Times.


A brief reference should be added, in conclusion, to the few traces that remain of the religious poetry of heathen times. The higher forms of such poetry, such as the hymns used in royal sanctuaries or at great popular festivals, have entirely perished. The songs which have been preserved seem to be in the nature of incantations for securing the fertility of the fields or for warding off witchcraft, and even these are largely transformed through Christian influence. Some of them occur in descriptions of the magical ceremonies at which they were sung. We may notice especially the verses used for the blessing of the plough when the first furrow is drawn. They are addressed to “Erce, the mother of the earth,” and are in the form of a prayer that the Almighty will grant her rich fields full of barley and wheat. Then the earth is greeted as “mother of mankind.” Other verses, less affected by Christian ideas, speak of the shafts shot by female beings (witches or valkyries) which ride through the air, and of the means by which these shafts can be averted or expelled. Another set of verses, in which the god Woden is mentioned, describes the magic properties of nine herbs. It is probable that all these songs, together with the descriptions of the ceremonies accompanying them, were written down at a comparatively late period, when the heathen practices which survived among the peasantry—apart from the more harmful species of magic—were no longer regarded as dangerous.   43

CONTENTS · VOLUME CONTENTS · INDEX OF ALL CHAPTERS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  The Ruin  
 
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