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Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World

Reviewed by Steven Posch

[Snip] In Pagan Goddesses in the Early Germanic World: Eostre, Hreda, and the Cult of Matrons, Philip A. Shaw, lecturer in English and Old English at Leicester University, in a work surprisingly readable for all its dense erudition, attempts to stake out a centrist ground midway between maximalist and minimalist positions. Of greatest interest to the contemporary pagan reader (to this contemporary pagan reader, at any rate) is his marshaling of new information to shed new light on the subject.

The book is brief (128 pages, including index) but compact, and requires close reading. That said, Shaw’s writing is commendably accessible, and he has a great facility for explanation. I wish that I had had his chapter on “Linguistic Models and Methods,” in which he explains the complex of sound-changes that created Old English, back when I was a grad student in the field.

The book’s eponymous Germanic goddesses get three chapters: one for the Continental Matronae, one for Eostre, and one for Hreda, the goddess (if Bede is to be trusted) for whom the Anglo-Saxon month of March was named, and about whom it may honestly be said that we know even less than we do than about Easter. Easter, at least, had a festival named for her, and her name (if not her cultus) has lived on among English-speakers to our day. Not so Hreda.

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