Æcerbot: Rituals & Christianization

There is a very common idea, not just in pagan circles but among atheists and even certain Christian sects, that many events, practices, and holidays celebrated by the world’s Christian communities are pagan. In pagan spaces specifically, the idea is that Christianity “stole” pagan ideas, that much of what is considered today “Christian” is just jury-rigged remnants of the pagan past deliberately hijacked by priests for conversion purposes.

What really happened, for the most part, is that even after Christianization, the converted peoples simply… carried on with their old practices. What tended to happen is that things were recontextualized under the new system; they replaced the names of the old gods with that of their new Lord, of Christ, and their saints. Sometimes, like in the famous case of Saint Brigid, or with later portrayals of the canonized Olaf II of Norway, they even seemed to reuse the names and faces of gods for new Christian icons of worship. The celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus, what is known as Pascha for much of the Christian world, bears the name in English, Dutch, and German of a goddess of spring and the dawn, Easter from Eostre.

These were not thefts, made by conniving priests; if anything, all priests did was react to the common practices of the people, reluctantly allowing ancient pagan practices to continue, while slapping Jesus on top and trickling in Christian ideas to make it more palatable to themselves.

So we come to today’s topic, the Æcerbot (you will have to navigate to it yourself, in charms under “For Unfruitful Land”). Æcerbot, “Field Remedy,” was an Old English ritual found in old manuscripts for, as the name suggests, remedying low crop output. It is a Christian text on the surface, full of entreaties to God in his Trinitarian form and liberal usage of Latin here and there. However, the poetic parts of the ritual betrays itself quite easily with one line: Erce, erce, erce, eorþan modor. Translated into Modern English, it can read “be true, be true, be true, Earth our mother.”

That’s… not sounding very Christian, is it? The poem tries to breeze past that by once more entreating God, but essentially, the pagan root of the entire charm lies bare. Later it once more refers to a very polytheist personification of the land; Hal wes þu, folde, fira modor!, “Hail to you, Folde, mother of man!”, Folde being a poetic name for the Earth. It is incredibly obvious, even with the entreaties to the Christian God and his saints, that this was a pagan prayer.

The Æcerbot, thus, has been adapted a few times by modern Heathen hands; an excellent one is right here. I, being an exceedingly massive nerd who literally can’t help herself, also wrote my own version, hewing closer to the original alliterative meter. The text lies below, and feel free to use it yourself if it resonates with you, or even adapt and make your own out of it.

Æcerbot, a Ritual for Fertile Land

This is a modern adaptation of the ancient Anglo-Saxon Æcerbot, the “Field Remedy.”

  1. Make a mix of honey, oil (of your choice), and milk; a grain of some sort, rice or flour or whatever, is also recommended.
  2. Have enough hallowed water to combine in the mix.
  3. Dig up soil from all the areas in which you will be hallowing.
  4. Mix them all together at the site of ritual.

When at the site of hallowing, burn incense, and begin with these words:

Hail, to the High Ese, – from the Heavens you reign;
Hail, Graceful Goddesses, – the Glories of the world;
Hail Wights ever Wild, – through Winter and Summer;
Hail Sunne, hail Mona, – hail Sacred Ancestors;
Hail Divine above us, – hail Divine below us.

Face the east and repeat these words:

Eastward I stand, – pray ever for blessing,
I pray to Father Tiw, – I pray to Lord Ing,
I pray to Eostre, – I pray to Eorthe,
I pray to Hrethe, – and I pray to Thunor.
I pray that I might – get to pry open this charm
With my teeth and tongue, – by High Tiw’s law,
By firmest thought, – and finest care;
Awaken this land, – the arising flowers,
The bounty of the earth, – that brings food and wealth,
With thanks to the Gods, – and thanks to the land.

Erce, erce, erce, – Earth our Mother,
Grant us this gift, – O Great Mighty Earth,
Of growing green things – that grip the fields,
That grow ever strong, – that grow ever wide;
Of the barley crop – that broadly spreads,
Of the wheaten crop – in whiteness it rests,
And the fruits of the land – that fill mankind’s belly.

May Ing fair Lord – grant unto us thus,
His elves swear him, – that ever dart around,
That the sprouts be shielded – from spying wicked eyes,
That the crops be kept – from cribbing wicked hands.

Now I bid thee, – brightest Ese,
From ettin’s flesh – the Earth you made,
That you protect – our precious land
From creeping girls – and crafty men,
That words they weave – can’t work on it.

Now take the soil, mixed with the blessed concoction, and place in all the spots, repeating thus;

Hal wes þu, folde, – fira modor!
Beo þu growende – on godu fæþme,
fodre gefylled – firum to nytte.

(Hail to you, Earth, – Mankind’s mother!
Be you growing – in the Gods’ embrace,
Become filled, – and useful to man!)

Full field of fodder, – for the future of man,
Bursting with blooms, – becoming blessed,
In their holy names, – from Heavens shaped earth
And all Mankind – they made from wood;
That Tiw and Ing, – who took time to work,
Might grant us their gifts – and the grace of Eorthe,
That the corn we grow – will come to good use.

Finally, say these words:

From the Gods, to the Earth, to us; from us, to the Earth, to the Gods. A gift has been given, may it be well received, so it shall be.

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