On the Most Venerable Bede
The English and very Venerable Bede (circa AD 672/3 – AD 735) was one of the most famous and accomplished medieval scholars. In point of fact he was so significant a figure and so respected that to this day we call him the Venerable Bede (it could be that in combination with the fact that Bede just seems too short a name for a monk of any stature).
He was respected in his day and age (7th/8th centuries).
He was respected in the 11th and 12th centuries our esteemable (but note not “Esteemable”) William of Malmesbury relied heavily on Bede in constructing his own works.
And the relevance of Bede continues to this day! It seems he has been at the center of a feud over the meaning of Easter between normal Christians on the one hand and fundamentalist Christians/fundamentalist atheists on the other hand. The relevant passages are about the word Easter and its origin and are in the work called Of the Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione), specifically in Chapter XV entitled “Of the Months of the English” (De meniscus Anglorum) in which Bede tackles the origin of the English month names, relating the original name for April to be Easter-monat, which he then derives from the name of an alleged Anglo-Saxon goddess Eostre leading the self-righteous in our society (and our society lately abounds in the self-righteous) to point out the rather obvious that Easter has pagan roots and then claim that those ever so-silly Christians had no idea how foolish they were. Boohoo. Here is what Bede actually says:
“In the days of old the English people, for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other nations’ observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s – calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans [the months] take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month month.”
(Antiqui autem Anglorum populi (neque enim mihi congruum videtur, aliarum gentium annalem observantiam dicere, et meae reticere) iuxta cursum lunae suos menses computavere; unde et a luna Hebraeorum et Graecorum more nomen accipiunt. Si quidem apud eos luna mona, mensis monath appellatur).
“The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath [sic – see below]; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Wodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called. They began the year on the 8th kalends [December 25th], when we celebrate the birth of the Lord. That very night, which we hold so sacred, they used to call by the heathen word Modranecht, that is, mother’s night”, because (we suspect) of the ceremonies they enacted all that night.”
(Primusque eorum mensis, quidem Latini Januarium vocant, dicitur Giuli. Deinde Februarius Sol-monath, Martius Rhed-monath, Aprilis Eostur-monath, Maius Thrimylchi, Junius Lida, Julius similiter Lida, Augustus Vueod-monath, September Haleg-monath, Oktober Vuinter-fylleth, November Blod-monath, December Giuli, eodem Januarius nomine, vocatur. Incipiebant autem annum ab octavo Calendarum Januariarum die, ubi nunc natale Domini celebramus. Et ipsam noctem nunc nobis sacrosanctum, tunc gentili vocabulo Modranicht, id est, matrum noctem, appellabant, ob causam, ut suspicamur. ceremoniarum quas in ea pervigiles agebant).
“Whenever it was a common year, they gave three lunar months to each season. When an embolismic year occurred (that is one of 13 lunar months) they assigned the extra month to summer, so that three months together bore the name “Litha”; hence they called [this embolismic] year “Thrilithi”. It had four summer months, with the usual three for the other seasons. But originally, they divided the year as a whole into two seasons, summer and winter, assigning the six months in which the days are longer than the nights to summer, and the other six to winter. Hence they called the month in which the winter season began “Winterfilleth”, a name made up from winter and “full Moon”, because winter began on the full Moon of that months.”
(Et quotiescunque communis esset annus, ternos menses lunares singulis anni temporibus dabant. Cum vero embolismus, hoc est, XIII mensium lunarium annus occurreret, superfluum mensem aestati apponebant, ita ut tunc tres menses simul Lida nomine vocarentur, et ob id annus ille Thri-lidi cognominabatur, habens IV menses aestatis, ternos ut semper temporum caeterorum. Item principaliter annum totum in duo tempora, hyemis, videlicet, et aestatis dispartiebant, sex illos menses quibus longiores noctibus dies sunt aestati tribuendo, sex reliquos hyemi. Unde et mensem quo hyemalia tempora incipiebant Vuinter-fylleth appellabant, composito nomine ab hyeme et plenilunio, quia videlicet a plenilunio eiusdem mensis hyems sortiretur initium).
“…Hrethmonath is named for their Goddess Hretha [but see Rheda [Rod?] below], to whom they sacrificed at this time. Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a Goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honor feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honored name of the old observance…”
(Rhed-monath a deo illorum Rheda, cui in illo sacrificabant, nominatur; Eostur-monath, qui nunc paschalis mensis interpretetur, quondam a dea illorum quae Eostre vocabatur, et cui in illo festa celebrabant, nomen habuit, a cuius nomine nunc paschale tempus cognominant; consueto antiquae observationis vocabulo gaudia novae solemnitatis vocantes).
With that behind us, let us reinsert ourselves into this “debate”, if only tangentially and with all due attention paid rather more to those matters that actually do concern us – those of the Slavs.
There is a small town on the Hel peninsula on the Bay of Gdansk. At various times in its history it was referred to as Osternese (1582; Kossina, incorrectly, sticks in a 1532), Hesternest (1599), Hesternia (1627), Jasternia (1664) and now Jastarnia. Now the area in the past was (and some portions of it continue to be) populated by those Pomeranians who go by the name of Kaszubs. And at Easter, the Kaszubs celebrate Jastry instead of the Polish Swieta Wielkanocne (the Holidays of the Great Night – here too there is no Pascha). Now most people agree that that is a reference to the German Ostern (i.e., Easter). Well, there were Germans in Gdansk and the surrounding area. There were Scots, Dutchmen, etc. Some of them may well have lived in Jastarnia so if the locals became Polonized or simply took over the German name, that seems like nothing that is very exciting or unusual -so far. So let’s go on further.
The Hel Peninsula is called that because of the tiny town called Hel at its tip. Now, its name supposedly derives from Hel, the Germanic goddess of the underworld. So we have some deities finally. Maybe. The Polish etymology points “dune” or to helasz as in “to get away” (as in “get the hell out” or did you think that was a reference to an actual Hell?). The Linde Dictionary – that is The Dictionary of the Polish Language (from 1807) by Samuel Bogumił Linde – puts it this way:
The name of the town was originally Gellen or, perhaps, Gellin (as per a Danish Chronicle about a Danish King’s Valdemar II Victorious’ ship that floundered about there in 1192 – his dad was the guy who took Arkona for the Danes).
Perhaps though it is a German name. German hell means “light” or “bright” – presumably there was fire and brimstone involved in the Germanic underworld as in most well functioning underworlds. But perhaps the word hell means not the bright goddess of the underworld Hel per se but simply “bright”? But bright what or who?
And here we come to the light.
The Kaszubian word jastny (also in old Czech) means the same as jasny in Polish (i.e., light, bright) or hell in German. Ok… so?
So Jastarnia may also refer to brightness. Ok?
And it may refer to Ostern/Easter.
That is to say, it may mean both bright/light and Easter. Easter may be a celebration of light. Whose light? Well, Jassa‘s of course. We do know “Chiason sive Jassen” was connected by the Czech author with Sol, i.e., a solar cult. And Jasny does mean bright/light in Polish which seems an easy etymological fit for Yasse of Lucas of Great Kozmin and Jan Dlugosz.
Further, there is a concept of Jastrebog i.e., Jastergod in Kaszubian (and among the Polabian Slavs too). For example, the below states as follows:
“Jastrebog, but also Jutrobog [on that see below], the name of a hillock in the district (Gau, pago) of Wejherowo, lying between the villages of Linia and Miloszewo. And that is proof, that these here lands from many a century are Polish, before a German foot stood here, ha! even before Christianity arrived in these parts. Jutroboh, vel Jutrzyboh, vel Jutrzejboh, according to mythology the brother of Juternica, both the children of Swiatovid and Nocena, twins and a couple [ywww], mean the light that fights the shadows in the dawn. To honor Jutrzebog the town of Juterboh was built on the Saxon border.”
The above text comes from the Little Kaszubian Dictionary from 1875.
Now, we do not think that the “mythology” referred to above is exactly backed up by anything (perhaps folk tales? the author-priest does not say) and would even be inclined to dismiss a lot of it. On the other hand, the information about the hill of Jastrebog, seems plausible. And there are other Kaszubian dictionaries that mention the same hillock and, explicitly loop in Easter such as the following Kaszubian Comparative Dictionary:
“Jastry – Easter, jastrzany – of Easter; Jastrzebog – the name of a hillock in the district (Gau, pago) of Wejherowo,. Compare Old Slavic utro, jutro, za ustra, Lithuanian, auszra, Polish jutro, jutrznia, Polabian jeutre, Jutroboh, Jutrzejboh [on that see below] – deus solis orientis; German Ostra-alee – East street, Old German ostara, German Ostern.”
The same dictionary offers the following explanation for the town name Jastarnia:
“Jastarnia – a village on the Hel Pensinsula, German Heisternest; the German etymologists derive the from Heister, Haster – Elster and nest. Which name was the original, Polish or German? The origin of Jastarnia from “aster, jaster” [i.e., aster the flower] does not seem likely to me; a more likely derivation would be from a German name from Elster, Haster, Alster – magpie, because those kinds of birds were there [at Jastarnia] and continue to be there, while asters [flowers] were never there and continue not to be [there]. Also compare the following words: [goes to Jastry – see above]”
And the German town of Jüterbog continues to exist having been first mentioned under the year 1007 by our very own friend Thietmar of Merseburg as Jutriboc.
Now, whether that is a reference to a deity or to a “bok”, i.e., Slavic word for a “side” or to a Germanic “bach”, i.e., “stream” is a separate question (though Bach seems a stretch and even if it were a Bach, a question would have to be answered whether it was Jaster‘s/Jutro‘s Bach).
Here is an explanation from Linde again:
“Iuterbok – Serbian town within the borders of Lower Lusatia, so called after Iutroboh, that is the Goddess of dawn, who the Sorbs counted among their Gods”.
And then there is this:
In any event, as regards Jastarnia at least, the German writers describe it as a hive of superstition (Aberglaube), seemingly supporting its pagan roots
For example, so writes the redoubtable Carl Joseph Hübner in the the bestselling “Polens Ende, historisch, statistisch und geographisch beschrieben (mit vier (!) Kupfern und eine Landkarte)” published and republished in 1797-1807:
And to top it off with Hel, the town itself was for the longest time a pirate heaven. In fact, it was raided by the Teutonic Knights (at the request of the Hanseatic League) in the 14th century once the knights had helped themselves to Gdansk. Apparently, that did not stop the pirate activity and, eventually, the city was claimed by the sea – interestingly, the approximate date of this event is known (or at least it is claimed that it is known) and it is 1560 – specifically at Green Holidays (Zielone Swiatki), i.e., at Pentecost the sea destroyed the old pirate heaven… We have written about Pentecost so much already that we will not repeat ourselves here but we urge you to peruse prior postings. Apparently, a visitor to Hel in the 18th century saw the remains of an old church and the name Michel Tuba inscribed on the stone. Whatever that may mean, we, at least, do not even pretend to know.
Consequently, it seems plausible to suggest that ancient (relatively speaking) Polish Slavs worshipped Jassa while there Pomeranian cousins (or Kaszub Poles, if you prefer) worshipped Jasterbog. And the latter name also provides a clear (under the circumstances) connection with Easter which connects with Eostre further proving Jassa‘s and Jasterbog‘s divine connections.
What can Jastarnia mean then?
How about Oster-nese or flipping it Nase-oster, i.e., “nase” (i.e., our) Jaster.
There is another interesting thing about all of this – namely, yesterday:
In Slovenian tomorrow is “jutri”. In Polish “jutro”. In Czech “zitra”. In Croatian & Serbian “sutra” and in Russian/Ukrainian “zavtra”. These seem slightly different.
The Sorb language has both “jutře”, folkl. “zajtra”. So maybe the s’ and z’s are just vernacular (or maybe their Slavic is a bit different for some interesting (?) reason – think Porphyrogenitus).
Now the Sorb language also has the concept of “raniši kraj”, or just “ranje”. Which means… the East (Morgenland) (the West in German would be Abendland).
(Now, Ranie or Ranii were a tribe of Ruegen as we already discussed and, oh by the way, they appear in Jordanes’ Getica as a Germanic tribe: “Sunt quamquam et horum positura Grannii, Augandzi, Eunixi, Taetel, Rugi, Arochi, Ranii, quibus non ante multos annos Roduulf rex fuit, qui contempto proprio regno ad Theodorici Gothorum regis gremio convolavit et, ut desiderabat, invenit. Hae itaque gentes, Germanis corpore et animo grandiores, pugnabant beluina saevitia.”)
Getting back on point. East. We’re heading East. In Russian it is vostok, i.e., to stick out (versus West, zapad, i.e., to fall down). The other Slavic languages generally have some similar version of (e.g., Serb and Croatian, istok & zapad) though Polish and Ukrainian are slightly different (Wschod/Skhid & Zachod/Zakhid – coming up and going down not sticking out & falling) with Sorb (and to some extent Czech & Slovak) again straddling the fence.
(Incidentally, ostry means sharp. In many ways it is similar to East and its meaning. Why? How so? Because of the sharpness of the rising Sun. Similarly, ostrow means an island in Slavic. Why? Because it is like a cut in the surface of the water).
Trying to get back to our point again:
The prior day is “yesterday” in English (this one is not a revelation) and is “gestern” in German. But in Slavic languages, a cognate “jutro” is the subsequent day. (However, another cognate appears to be the Slavic “vecer” pronounced vecher, which means evening and also presumably vechoray, meaning yesterday). So that the Germanic language would see the East/Eostre behind their backs, yesterday. In Slavic, however, the East/Jaster would come tomorrow. So does that mean that the Slavs were heading East but the Germans West? And, if so how did they meet (assuming they did not go all the way around)?
Once more we hop on to Linde re: Jutrzenka, i.e. Morning Star (in Windish Juterniza – cognate to Jastarnia?):
And what does that mean for “gestern”‘s and “yesterday”‘s relationship with “stern” and “star,” respectively? jastarnia has a “star” in it but in Slavic “star” is g- or -h or “zvezda”. But “stari” or “stara” or “staro” means “old”. Interesting, isn’t?
So was Jassa/Jessa the divine light and the divine morning and the God of the spring (see vesna, wiosna)? Or was that just Jaster? And was Eostre, the Goddess of both the spring and the morning. All of them being divinities of the awakenings?
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