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ISSUE ONE (MAY 2000)

NOTES & QUERIES

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Pin!!David Staveley asks:

Are there any 'holy wells' associated with the Scandinavian Goddess Freya?

The editors reply...

   There seem to be very few, if any, English place-names which can be said definitely to contain the name of the goddess Frig or Frija (Freya).  Gelling (1961, p.19) gives only four examples of possible Frig names (one in Gloucester, three in Hampshire) and says 'unless some place-name is noted which contains an unequivocal mention of the goddess it will be safer to omit the possible references to Frig from the canon of established pagan place-names.   The occurrence of her name in Old English Frigedaeg, modern Friday, proves the existence of her cult among the Anglo-Saxons...'.  Ellis Davidson, writing in 1991 (p.56) confirms this view, saying that places named after the fertility deities, especially the goddess Frig or Frija, are rarely found.  Hutton (1991, p.267) mentions three place-names in Hampshire, one in Sussex and two in Yorkshire which are possible derivations, but like Gelling, he doesn't specify them, so we don't know whether any of these are well-names.

   So in the absence of specific Freya place-names, any based on 'Friday' may perhaps be worth considering.   The only example of a well that the editors could think of is Friday Well near Doncaster, Yorkshire.  Straffon (1997, p.144) notes that it is cited in a source dating from 1847 as Frigedeag Wella (no date for this form given).    A systematic trawl through the various county surveys produced by the English Place-Name Society would surely locate the examples Gelling and Hutton cite, and maybe more besides.  But to what extent wells with 'Friday' names are (or were) 'holy' would be more difficult to say.  They may simply be referring prosaically to the day of the week.

   Does anybody know of any others, from England or elsewhere?  And can anyone idenfity the sites mentioned by Gelling and Hutton?  Please email the editors if you have anything to add.

References

   Ellis Davidson, Hilda (1991).  The lost beliefs of northern Europe.  London: Routledge.

   Gelling, Margaret (1961).   Place-names and Anglo-Saxon paganism.  University of Birmingham Historical Journal, 8, pp.7-25.

   Hutton, Ronald (1991).  The pagan religions of the ancient British Isles.  Oxford: Blackwell.

   Straffon, Cheryl (1997). The Earth Goddess: Celtic and pagan legacy of the landscape. London: Blandford.

 

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