A History of FyrnsiduPosted by Byron Pendason on September 22, 2023 CE, in Heathenry, Heathen basics, Heathen worldview, Politics, Updates
Wes hāl!1 Last month, I celebrated five years in Fyrnsidu, and I thought a good way to commemorate that would be to write up a brief history of Fyrnsidu and it’s predecessors. On my home page, I define Fyrnsidu as “a modern religion based upon the religion of the pre-Christian Germanic tribes that settled in Britain in the fifth century of the common era.” Today, we usually define it as Anglo-Saxon Heathenry, but it was originally meant as an alternative to Theodism. More on them in a bit though, first I want to explore the influences leading up to it. Before we begin though, I want to point out that Beofeld from Wind in the Worldtree has done a blog post on A Brief History of Modern Heathenry which would make an excellent companion to this blog post. So please go check it out!
The Anglo-Saxons were a group of Germanic tribes that settled in Britain in the fifth century. They brought with them a polytheistic religion that was most likely similar to, yet distinct from, their Norse cousins. While we don’t know every detail of what their faith consisted of, we do have some details from historical, literary, and archeological sources. We can combine this with what we know of their culture, and the cultures of those they were related to and came into contact with to create an approximate reconstruction of their religion.
Christianisation of the Anglo-Saxons began in the final years of the sixth century, and was complete by the close of the seventh century. A lot of information was lost at that point, but as I said, I feel confident we can recreate an approximate reconstruction.
In modern times, the first religion to take inspiration from the ancient Anglo-Saxons was Wicca. While many of the holidays in the wheel of the year are from Celtic sources, some are also from Anglo-Saxons sources (most notably, Yule). The name Wicca itself is the Old English word for witch. It’s founder Gerald Gardner claimed it was the native faith of English witches, which is undoubtedly false. However, he was a student of English history, and he heavily relied upon his knowledge of the Anglo-Saxons for his reconstruction of native British witchcraft.
Seax-Wica took this a step farther when founded in America by Raymond Buckland in 19732, and relabeled everything with Anglo-Saxon terminology. The Lord and Lady were called Wōden and Freyja (though some modern groups have replaced Freyja with Woden’s wife Frīge), and the holidays were given Old English names. A lot of the terminology was also changed to be Anglo-Saxon, for example the athame became the seax (the short sword that Saxon warriors were known for).
It remained Wiccan in practice and theology, however. It was still duotheistic (all the male gods were seen as manifestations the Lord, and all goddesses were seen as manifestations of the Lady), still followed the wheel of the year, and practices remained distinctly Wiccan.
Buckland admitted that Seax-Wica wasn’t meant to be a reconstruction of the ancient Anglo-Saxons’s religion, but it would later lead to the creation of Theodism, our next step in the journey to modern Fyrnsidu.
Theodism was founded by Garman Lord in 1976.3 Garman Lord had been a practitioner of Seax-Wica, but had become dissatisfied with it’s Wiccan influences. After supposedly receiving a vision of Wōden, he founded the first Theod (Theodish kindred). Theodism was the first real path that attempted to reconstruct the old ways. Unfortunately, reconstruction can be taken to the extreme and we can see this in that Theodism tried to reconstruct not only the religion but also the societal structures of the Anglo-Saxons which led to some highly problematic practices.
The most obvious of these was thralldom, or ritual slavery. Converts have to go through a probationary period where they would swear an oath of fealty to someone who was higher up, who would swear an oath of fealty to someone else, and this continued on up to the eorl (or another similar title), who was the head of the Theod. As one can imagine, this kind of system was rife for abuse. It was on the one hand based on initiatory traditions in Wicca and on the other upon early medieval feudalism. Theodism’s thralldom ultimately matched neither as Wicca was generally not trying on the guise of slavery and for feudalism it lacked the circumstances that made thralldom and serfdom occur in the first place.
Not everyone who wanted to worship the Anglo-Saxon gods wanted to subject themselves to this archaic and outdated social order, however, which brings us to the creation of Fyrnsidu.
Ge-ferraeden Fyrn Sida
The term Fyrnsidu was coined by Rob Holman (aka Osric) in 1999 as an Old English translation of the phrase Forn Sed, and used for his local inhired (kindred). Sometime between 2001 and 20044, Holman founded the Ge-ferraeden Fyrn Sida (translates to Fellowship of Fyrnsidu, abbreviated as GFS), and a website went up which now redirects to Osric’s new organisation’s website Ingwine.org. The GFS was a national nonprofit organisation consisting of several inhireds/kindreds, and was governed by a Witan (roughly equivalent to most organisations’s board of directors) led by a Thyle (which was filled by Holman). Around 2009, internal strife led to several of the kindreds leaving the GFS, causing the national organisation to essentially go defunct.
Alaric Albertsson, the head of the Earendel Inhired that was one of the early members of the GFS, went on to publish Travels Through Middle Earth, the best book on Anglo-Saxon Heathenry that I’ve come across and is on its second edition. He’s become a prominent leader in Anglo-Saxon paganism.
Holman left online Heathenry after the GFS went defunct in order to focus on his local group. In his absence, de facto leadership of what remained of the GFS fell to Anna Bucci who had been the groups publicist under Holman.
Around 2014, two individuals who went by Wodgar and Marc were interested in Fyrnsidu. Bucci, however, was at that time requiring people to travel to where she was to join the GFS. Marc and Wodgar found this impractical, so they formed a Facebook group in February of 2015 to promote Fyrnsidu. In 2015, Wodgar and Marc also created the Larhus Fyrnsida WordPress website, and created individual blogs to promote their vision of Fyrnsidu. Marc’s blog is Of Axe and Plough, while Wodgar’s blog (only available on the Wayback Machine now) was called Sundorwic.
While the GFS focused on the national organisation and local kindreds, Larhus Fyrnsida focused more on individual praxis because they recognized that most practitioners were spread out across the globe without local communities. This was not, to my understanding, to downplay the importance of local communities but rather to provide resources for those without local communities as well as those who already had local communities.
Wodgar has since shut down his blog and left the community to explore and work on his private praxis, whereas Marc continues to post to his blog but has otherwise mostly withdrawn from the public scene to focus on his spiritual journey.
In 2018 Marc and Wodgar both left Facebook entirely, leaving their Fyrnsidu Facebook group in the hands of Beofeld and Hreodbeorht Batweard, the two current moderators of the group.
Beofeld, like Wodgar and Marc, had joined the Facebook group because he too had been interested in the GFS but found that going to Bucci would be impractical.
Later on Beofeld created a Discord server for Fyrnsidu. The Facebook group and Discord server act as hubs around which most of the modern Fyrnsidu activity that we’re aware of happens.
The mod team of the Fyrnsidu Discord server is Beofeld, Batweard, Beorn Se Stranga, Barbatus, and myself. We’ve been working to advance and promote Fyrnsidu. In August of 2021, we put together a website for Fyrnsidu in order to help introduce new people to Fyrnsidu and to act as a directory of the Fyrnsidu websites of which we are aware.
So, that brings us to the present, but it’s not the end of the story. Fyrnsidu is still alive and well. How do you want to contribute to its story? Beo gesund!1
Wes hāl and Beo gesund are Old English greetings and farewells that literally mean Be well/whole/healthy. The first seemed to be more common among the Anglian dialects and the second more common among the Saxon dialects. I prefer to use both though, the first as a greeting and the second as a farewell. ↩ ↩2
In my research for this blog post, I’ve spoken to both Rob Holman and Alaric Albertsson (one of the early members of the Ge-ferraeden Fyrn Sida). The former gave me the year of 2001 as the beginning of the GFS, whereas the latter gave me the year 2004. ↩