Sunday, December 11, 2016

Alexander Tille's Yule and Christmas; Chapter 6

VI. Martinmas and Michaelmas

Tille begins this chapter by challenging the “opinion [that] Michaelmas is an older term and festival than Martinmas” which was advanced by Professor Karl Weinhold. Along with this theory of precedence Weinhold asserted that the traditions around Michaelmas were transferred to Martinmas. Tille argues from Weinholds evidence that Weinhold interpreted his data backward, and points out the Weinhold gives no evidence for the claim about the transference of traditions.

Hermann Grotefend also in his Zeitrechnung des deutschen Mittelalters (1891) shared the same view as Weinhold that the Germans shifted the “beginning of winter from September 29 [Michaelmas] to November 11 [Martinmas], and add[ed] to it an imaginary shifting of the beginning of summer from April or Easter to the middle of May.” Add to this that those authors also knew about the Scandinavian shifting of the year to beginning in October 14 and mid-year to April 14. This Scandinavian shift of the year undercuts the argument Weinhold and Grotefend make because it is directly inconsistent with their theory of causes. (pp. 57f)

Tille demonstrates that Martinmas was actually the first of the two Holy Days established in the Germanic areas.

“Whilst Martinmas can be proved to have been a popular festival in 578 when the banqueting at Martinmas eve was forbidden by the Synod of Auxerre, it was not before the ninth century that the Church made an attempt to give to the end of the third quarter of the Roman year a special importance by a festival— that of St. Michael and of the angels and guardian angels in general— called in Germany Engelweihe or Fest der Engel. It was the Council of Mayence of 813 which added that angel-festival to two others (on March 15 and on May 2).” (p. 59)

And while Tille’s reference to just these documents would be adequate to resolve the issue, Tille produces dozens of quotations from period documents, enlisting liturgical practices, cannon law, economic law, tax law, lease law, and agriculture— citing the shift from pasturing to the development of the cultivation of meadows in the Carolingian age and its effects upon the timing of annual economic law and practice.  Indeed, while modern Neopagans project harvest festivals into the eras prior to Christian influence among the ancient Germanic and Celtic peoples, it is precisely this agricultural/economic shift which generates the ability of these peoples to have a significant, regular and planned harvest: and hence, some sort of regular festival surrounding harvests.

“Except Professor Weinhold, nobody doubts any longer the late origin of the harvest festivals.” (p. 64)

Tille’s evidence and line of reasoning would also apply to the modern anachronistic projection of Samhain as a harvest festival upon the early Celts. The change in agrarian/pastoral practice allowed for the wintering of more herd animals, giving rise to later and later “slaughter day” celebrations.

“The economic evolution, more especially the prevalence of agriculture over cattle-keeping, thus tended to destroy the ancient Germanic mid-November celebration, whilst favouring both a harvest festival held earlier in the year and the development of a festival about the middle of the German winter. (p. 70)

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