Monday, December 12, 2016

Alexander Tille's Yule and Christmas; Chapter 7

VII. Solstices and Equinoxes

In this chapter Tille takes on the notion that the ancient pagan German religions were somehow solar based. The chapter is worth reading on its own simply because the false claims Tille rebuts are expressed today in the same language and same reasoning. The only difference between the arguments then and now is that the names of the originators of this anachronistic mess have been nearly forgotten.

The primary scholars responsible for inventing and promoting these false ideas are Jacob Grimm (1785-1863), Heino Pfannenschmid (1828-1906) [the work], Hermann Grotefend (1845-1931)[the work], Karl Weinhold (1823-1901), and Ulrich Jahn (1861-1900) [the work].

Tille begins by lauding Grimm for his masterful scholarship while regretting Grimm’s tendency for unfounded speculation in several areas. Then he laments that prominent scholars chose to magnify the speculation rather than build on what Grimm had actually documented. Writing about Heino Phannenschmid and his “otherwise excellent book” states:

“It looks like a joke in the history of Germanic antiquarian studies, that the man who after Grimm made this subject his special study, and devoted years to it, should have wasted all his energy in the attempt to prove that the Germanics in pre-roman times had exactly the same year as the Romans; that they, therefore, had nothing to get from them, and rejoiced in quartering their year and celebrating imaginary solstices and equinoxes.” (p. 72)

Tille then reviews the seasonal relationship arguments and the textual evidence regarding the adoption of terms for the Summer Solstice. This required close contact with the Romans as well as the inventing of new terms for the Solstice in the various German dialects.

Tille follows with arguments from the existing linguistic data, which Grotefend had grossly misrepresented. Tille wrote:

“This amounts to the fact, that no medieval instance is known of December 25, or any of the days about it, having ever been called solstice in the German language: nay, that there is no medieval word wintersonnwende or the like, the corresponding term in the New-High-German being of quite modern growth. (p. 74)

Tille then documents the adoption of solar terms in the Anglo-Frisian dialects and others, demonstrating that the new terms for solstice were only used of the summer solstice and only after long term, close contact with Rome and the Church.

The discussion then turns to the terms for the equinoxes, where Tille emphasizes two main features of the data. First, that the term “sonnwende (solstice) though never used for winter solstice, is sometimes used for equinox, so that Germany can boast of having three solstices, which she certainly deserves on account of her ancient three seasons.” (p. 75)

But with respect to the regular use of terms for the equinoxes they do not appear in the German dialects until after the Church is educating the laity about how Easter should be calculated.

The last portion of the chapter is dedicated to debunking the notion that the German peoples were a sun-worshipping people.

“But, as regards Germanic tribes, that theory is so little applicable as to make it quite certain that among our ancestors the sun was no deity. We have not only absolutely no traces of sun worship among the Germanic nations, but even in historical times the sun has been of different gender in different German languages.” (pp. 76f)

He turns to the names of Germanic deities and the adoption of the Roman god day-names and the problems these present. The general acceptance of the Roman quarter days probably did not take place until after the eleventh century. There is no record of them before this time.

At this point Tille takes up the false history of Weinhold. Weinhold reads just like any modern Radical Reformed, Millerite, or Neopagan critique of Christian Holy Days:

“In his fanciful way he sets down the following bold guesses : [quoting Weinhold]
‘Midwinter and midsummer, Christmas and the feast of John Baptist, according to ecclesiastical denomination, stand out in the German year as very ancient high tides. Through the standing still of the sun, which, according to the opinion of that time, stopped in turning round to a new journey, the people felt themselves driven to solemn rest and the service of the deity of the sky which led the sun. Divination and prophecy prevailed during those tides, and with their mysterious thrill interrupted the noisy joy which wreathed round heathen sacrifices.’[thus far Weinhold]
Yet there is not a shadow of historical evidence for these fancies. The Germanics neither had a festival about Christmas nor about the day of John Baptist. The Twelve-nights, of which he talks a little further on, are simply the Dodekahemeron of the old Church, which existed there for centuries before they appeared among any Germanic tribe. Nay, all through the Middle Ages the term Sonnenwende, or solstice, has not a single time been shown to have been applied to December 25 : its use is absolutely restricted to June 24, just as the word solsticium was among the Romans.

Tille points out the problems with Weinhold’s interpretation of Bede’s comments on Ostara and Hreda. Then he turns to Weinhold’s great fiction in his Weihnacht-Spiele und Lieder aus Süddeutschland, rebuking Ulrich Jahn’s uncritical acceptance of Weinhold and his furtherance of “unhistorical speculations” about the so-called pre-Christian times.

This last bit begins on the bottom of page 79 and finishes on page 80.

“[H]e gives a still more enrapturing delineation of that alleged Germanic festival, without being in the least disturbed by the fact that such a thing never existed. There even the error occurs, that the solstice had been called Jul, accompanied by another, that the, winter solstice was the beginning of the Germanic year. We learn that that time was devoted to Wodan, and Fricke, or Holda, or Berchta or Hera, or Gode; that the boar (bär) led about through the village was not a boar at all, but a bear; that it was not the central figure of the procession, but probably merely accidental: and we have a hundred other products of unscientific imagination. The description given of the holy Twelve-nights of the Germanics is almost touching. That the Christmas fires have a close relation to the sun ; that yule has etymologically to do with wheel, that the Christmas tree is to be derived from Wodan; that a great number of the customs in use from Martinmas to Easter should properly be held on Christmas eve, or, at least, on the Twelve-nights; these and an extensive list of other most surprising fancies can be learned from that book. So the whole of the thirty-six pages which Professor Weinhold's disciple. Dr. Ulrich Jahn, in his book Die Deutschen opfergebräuche bei Ackerbau und Viehzucht, devotes to the offerings about the time of the winter solstice, contain, in so far as they are meant to apply to pre-Christian times, nothing but unhistorical speculations, and would have been better omitted from that book…”

The current notions about solar worship in pagan Germany are recent innovations, not history.