We’ve been having some lovely weather where I live, but the mornings are noticeably chillier and some of the leaves are starting to turn. The Venerable Bede, who wrote a history of the English and from whom we get a lot of our information about the Saxon year, says that rather than having four seasons they had a simpler two-season system based on daylight hours – the months when the days were longer than the nights were summer, and the months when the nights were longer than the days were winter.
The changeover point for summer to winter came this month, with the first full moon after the autumn equinox, and the Saxons called October Winterfylleþ (or Winterfilleð – in both cases the þ and ð represent a ‘th’ sound.)
The ‘Winter’ part is self-explanatory, but the ‘filleth’ part is not quite as it seems – and in fact from my own researches provides something of a mystery. It looks like something to do with ‘filling’ and I thought it was maybe to do with rain filling ditches or something. But the accepted version is that it means ‘full moon’, and it’s true that the letter Y was pronounced as a U or OO sound, so it would mean winter full, with the moon part being implicit. But the fact is, the Old English word for moon (mona) isn’t there. Not only that, but my trusty Old English dictionary says that fylleþ means ‘fells’ or ‘destroys’.
‘Winter Destroys’ might make sense at the end of winter, but hardly at the beginning. But it was interesting to note, scanning through similar words in the dictionary, that fyllo means ‘fullness’, and another word fylð can equate to fealeð, which means ‘falls’. Either of ‘Winter fulness’ (ie the winter full moon) or ‘Winter Falls’ would both make perfect sense.
Could it be that Bede got it slightly wrong?!