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Happy St David’s Day — from a sunny (yes, it is!) Wales!

As a St David’s Day present, here are the entries from Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names for David and Dewi.

David ♂ Biblical name of Hebrew origin. The meaning isn’t all that clear, but seems mostly likely to derive from a root meaning “beloved,” although, interestingly enough, the Hebrew letters which make up the name David are exactly the same ones used for “mandrake.” 12th C. St. David is the famous leek- and daffodil-wielding patron saint of Wales — but his real name was actually DEWI.

Diminutive forms: Dawe (historic); Dave, Davey, Davie, Davy.

David in other languages: Welsh: Dafydd; Dai (diminutive), Irish: Dáibhead, Daithí, Gaelic: Dàibheid, Dàibhidh, Cornish: Daveth, Czech, French, German, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Spanish: David, Hungarian: Dávid, Lithuanian: Davidas, Italian: Davide, Latvian: Dāvids, Pol: Dawid, Arabic: Da’wud, Hawaiian: Kāwika, Maori: Rāwiri, Finish: Taavetti, Taavi (diminutive).

Bearers: two medieval Scottish kings (d. 1153 and 1371); David Copperfield, the eponymous hero of Dickens’s 1850 novel, and the stage-name of  American illusionist David Kotkin (b. 1956); David Lloyd George, 1st Earl Lloyd-George, (1863–1945) and David Cameron (b. 1966), both British Prime Ministers; David Eddings (1931–2009), the American novelist; David Bowie (b. 1947), the British singer-songwriter.

Dewi ♂ ♀ The boy’s name Dewi is a very old and very interesting name. Dewi Sant is the Welsh name for St. David, and many people believe it is simply the Welsh form of David. It isn’t. David is simply the name adopted to render Dewi in English, a long time ago. Almost certainly, his name actually derives from the Common Celtic *dOEwo- “(a) God,” cognate with Zeus, Latin deus, Sanskrit deva and the Irish Dagda, etc.

The element is well attested in given names in the Roman period — examples include Deomiorix, Deiana, and Deieda. Some have attempted to derive the name from Dewydd, an alleged “old form” of Dafydd—the Welsh form of David — but the argument works just as well the other way — Dewydd may well represent an attempt to synthesize Dewi and Dafydd. The simple fact is, biblical names were not used in sub-Roman Britain, and thus the likelihood of someone genuinely being called “David” in sixth-century Wales is, quite frankly, about as likely as someone in the period being called Jayden.

Dewi was used as a given name in the Middle Ages, probably in honor of the saint, but then disappeared until its revival in Wales in the nineteenth century.

By coincidence, the Malaysian girl’s name Dewi means “Goddess.”

I love coincidences! ;)

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus!

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It’s really quite surprisingly how many names in the UK and US top 100 have Pagan roots when you start to dig below the surface.

Take Genesis, currently ranked 89th in America.

Most of its use is no doubt Christian, an adoption of the name of the first book of the Bible, a name which was first applied to the Vulgate — the Latin translation of the Hebrew Bible commissioned in the fourth century when Christianity was adopted as the state religion of the Roman Empire.

In Hebrew, it was known as Bere’šyt meaning “in (the) beginning” — the opening words of the book.

The Greek genesis was chosen for the translation.

It’s a noun which comes from the verb gignomai  meaning “to come into a being,” and thus “to be born,” “to begin” and “to become.”

Thus in its most basic sense, genesis means “origin” and “source” as well as “beginning.”

It carried a number of other senses such as “race,” “descent,” “generation,” and “age.”

It also meant “birth,” and was used in astrological language to mean “(birth-calculated) horoscope” and, by extension “lot” and “fortune” too.

Later, it passed into Latin with similar meanings, and also came to be used of a person’s natal-star.

Genesis also features as an element in a number of compound words.

One of my favorites has to be parthenogenesis, which combines it with the Greek parthenos “maiden.” This is a biological term used of reproduction from a gamete without fertilization, a process which occurs mostly in invertibrates and some plants.

Even the Oxford English Dictionary makes reference to one of this word’s most famous outings — in the 1973 cult classic The Wicker Man.

It gets its mention when Edward Woodward is paying Lord Sumerisle a visit at his stately pile and witnesses the village girls conducting a Pagan ritual at the stone circle in the hope of experiencing parthenogenesis for themselves.

Needless to say, Edward isn’t impressed.

Genesis is also a close relation through the Greek and its Latin cognates of many other words relating to birth, beginnings and descent, such as “genes,” “genetics,” “generation,” “generate,” “genus,” “genuine,” “general,” “generous,” “generic,” “genial,” “genius,” “gender” … the list goes on and on.

Not to mention quite a cool rock band.

It has also featured in the title of many a book or comic, film or TV show.

My favorite has to be Doctor Who’s Genesis of the Daleks.

Related elements can be found in other names too, such as Eugene.

So you see, there’s a great deal more to Genesis than just the title of a book of the Bible — with plenty to please a Pagan. :)

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First of all, apologies to anyone who happened by yesterday when my blog was temporarily “suspended/archived.”  Thankfully it was a system error, and the nice people at WordPress sorted it out very quickly — though I did have a litter or two of kittens in panic in the meantime!

A couple of weeks ago, I included Agatha in my list of “Grannies” worthy of resurrection, and the eve of the feast day of the saint of the name seemed a good day to feature her properly.

For it was Saint Agatha whose popularity in Britain in the Middle Ages made Agatha a common name in medieval times.

Hers is a particularly gruesome tale, even by the usual standards of hagiography.

For refusing to succumb to the advances of the (naturally) Pagan Roman prefect of Sicily, Agatha was tortured — which included cutting off her breasts — and executed.

These scenes have been popular in art across the centuries, with Agatha usually portrayed carrying her breasts on a tray as though they were macaroons (inspiration, perhaps for the minni di virgini cakes, which are a speciality of St Agatha’s day in Sicily).

However, contemporary evidence for her existence is non-existent, and the first references to her date from the sixth century.

All the rest is pure legend and folklore.

So who really was Agatha?

Agatha is a straight-forward name to interpret. It is simply the feminine form of the Greek agathos “good.” Hence Agatha, at its most literal, means “the good (female) one,” in her case, it could be “good woman,” “good lady” — or  “good goddess.”

And, as fate has it, there was a Roman Goddess called exactly that, word for word in Latin — Bona Dea, “the Good Goddess.”

The Bona Dea is quite a mysterious deity. what we do know is that she was a goddess strongly linked with women, and her festival was celebrated only by women (and only well-born ones at that).

Ancient writers interpreted Bona Dea as a title or epithet, concealing her real identity, which was believed to be a closely guarded secret kept by those admitted to her mysteries.

This didn’t stop the writers speculating that her real identity was the fertility Goddess Ops (“plenty”), Magna Mater (the “Great Mother”) and/or Ceres, and she was also identified with Juno and Isis.

Intriguingly, there are many vestiges of the worship of Isis in the festivals of St. Agatha on Sicily, where the cult of Isis was strong in ancient times. These include the greeting of the cult statue and its procession on a carriage and an enormous party.

A further interesting “coincidence” is that these festivities begin on February 2nd—with one of her areas of patronage being protection against fire, linking her to Brigid, who is also sometimes equated with Isis, and whose feast day is suspiciously close.

On Sicily, this connection with fire is particularly linked to Sicily’s volcano, Etna; Agatha’s veil has supposedly protected the island from the volcano on more than one occasion.

Agatha, like Isis, is also closely connected with cats; in France, Agatha is said to appear in the guise of an angry cat to women who work on her feast day, and in Languedoc she even used to be referred to as “Santo Gatto.”

In the Middle Ages, Agatha was very much the “Sunday best” form of the name, used in Latin documents. Like many — if not most — names, the vernacular forms were simpler.

In Agatha’s case, they were forms such as Agas, Agase and Agace, and Agacia was commonly found in Latin documents rather than Agatha.

Two significant medieval bearers were Agatha, the mother of Edgar Atheling, and Agatha of Normandy, a daughter of King William the Conqueror. The name is also ascribed to the mother of the famous fifteenth century “Mother Shipton” — Ursula Southill.

After the Reformation, Agatha plunged out of fashion, becoming unusual until the Victorians with their love of all things medieval plunked it from the history books.

Even then, however, it never became particularly common, while many an Agatha naturally became an Aggie.

The best-known real-life bearer of modern times is the British writer and archaeologist Agatha Christie (1890-1976). I’ve loved Agatha Christie’s books since childhood, and feel an additional bond because my Director of Studies at College, who excavated with Agatha Christie and her husband Max Mallowan in the 1950s. It was rather thrilling to hear about her from someone who knew her personally.

In fiction, there’s more than one witch of the name, such as Agatha Harkness, a witch in the world of Marvel Comics, and Agatha Cackle, the villain of Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch.

But probably the most famous literary Agatha has to be the formidable Aunt Agatha of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories.

Until recently, this battleaxe image has rendered Agatha virtually unusable. But things are changing, and little Agathas are starting to make appearances.

In Britain, the name’s prospects may have improved due to the children’s TV show Guardians of the Museum, which is hosted by a pretty 1930’s ghost called Agatha. Certainly, my Small Child associates the name with this character, and thinks it’s a fabulous name.

So even if the current generation of parents can’t appreciate Agatha’s qualities, the next is distinctly hopeful!

Happy St. Agatha’s!

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Over the course of today and or/tomorrow, most Pagans in the Northern Hemisphere will be celebrated Imbolc (down under, it’s time for Lughnasadh).

Both Imbolc and Lughnasadh are what are often dubbed “Celtic fire festivals.”

Both names are Irish, and are the names by which the festivals were known in the early medieval period, but it is thought that the fire festivals were celibrated across the Celtic world.

The other two are Samhain and Beltane, and they all fall midway between a Solstice and an Equinox — hence their other generic name “cross-quarter days.”

Imbolc — also called Imbolg, and correctly pronounced “i-molk” — marks the transition between the deepest, darkest days of winter and the Spring Equinox.

It seems to derive from the Old Irish for “in the belly,” although a medieval glossary said it meant “ewe’s milk.” Either way, its association with the burgeoning new life of spring is clear.

It’s still cold. It’s still dark, but signs of spring are increasingly everywhere, from the trembling, delicate snowdrops, to the shivering catkins on the hazel and the buds on the blossom trees.

It is the time of the Maiden.

Not surprising that the saints most strongly associated with early February are Bridget and Agatha, Bridget — often now called by the Irish form of her name, Brigid — on the first, Agatha on the fifth.

It is Brigid who has become most associated now with Imbolc — though not the saint. The Goddess who lies behind her. The great Irish Brigid, so beloved in Ireland in pre-Christian times that instead of trying to eradicate her worship, the Christians turned her into a sixth-century saint.

She is equally revered among many modern Pagans, especially Wiccans and Druids.

Many Christians — particularly Catholics — still contend  that the saint just happened to share the same name as Pagan Ireland’s favorite Goddess, that she just happened to found her monastery on the site of Bridget’s cult center in Kildare, and just happened to have a thing for fire, etc.

Similarly, the widespread nature of St. Bridget’s cult in England and Wales is often ascribed to the spread of the cult from Ireland when — although the form “Bridget” is Irish — her worship in the British Isles is probably much older; Bridget and the famous Brythonic Goddess Brigantia are almost
certainly the same deity.

The form Bridget developed from Brigitta, a Latinized form of the Medieval Irish Brigit and Brigid. It derives ultimately from the Common Celtic *brig-/brigant- “high,” or *briga- “might” and “power” combined with the Irish fem. suffix –ait. This has become Brighid in Modern Irish Gaelic. The variants Bríd and Bríde are also used.

In England and Wales, Bride and Bryde  were also commonly used in the Middle Ages, surviving in place names such as Bridewell.

Bridie — an Anglicized form of Bríde — is not uncommonly heard in Pagan circles too.

Bridget is found as a given name in England from the fourteenth century. In Ireland it wasn’t actually used until the seventeenth; it was considered
too sacred for everyday use in previous centuries (so much for the saint just happening to share the Goddess’s name!).

In the nineteenth century, the pet-form Biddy was so common in Ireland that it became a nickname for an Irishwoman (in the same way Paddy was used for an Irishman). It has lost this meaning now, but “old biddy” is still used in Britain as a mild slang term for an old woman.

Many wonderful old traditions surround Imbolc and St Bridget’s. One of it’s other names — Candlemas — comes from the tradition of making and blessing candles at St Bridget’s; the connection between candles and Brigid’s fires is obvious.

In Ireland, the tradition of making a Brigid’s Bed has survived until modern time in some parts; women and girls make a corn dolly, and a bed for her to lie on beside the fire. They then keep a vigil on the the eve of St Bridget’s, and the men visit to pay Bridget their respect.

In the morning, the dolly is sometimes taken round the village from door-to-door, a bit like a guy on Bonfire Night in England.

Due to the believe that Brigid goes abroad on Imbolc eve, clothes are sometimes placed outdoors for her to bless as she passes.

Candles are often placed in all the windows to welcome her.

But probably best-known is the Brigid Cross, with it’s four spokes, it almost certainly is a vestige of the Pagan Celtic sun-wheel. Generally woven from straw or rushes, they are placed in the chimney as a protection against fire. Although the general tradition was that they were renewed each year, with the old burnt on Imbolc fire, old ones are not uncommonly found forgotten up the chimneys of old Irish houses.

A bright and blessed Imbolc, one and all!

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That’s “Happy Saint Dwynwen’s Day!” in English.

Saint Who?

In Wales, Dwnywen (pronounce “doo-in-wen” — the “doo-in” bit pronounced so quickly that it almost sounds like “dwin”) is considered the “Welsh St. Valentine,” and people increasingly mark St Dwynwen’s as well as — sometimes instead of — Valentine’s day.

Naturally, she has also become the Welsh patron saint of lovers.

Like Valentine, she’s a saint of very shadowy roots.

The legend says she lived in the fifth century, one of the many daughters of the legendary Brychan Brycheiniog — a man who, according to the myths, has more saintly children under his belt than most of us have hot dinners.

There are many versions of her tale, but in essence, she fell in love with a young man called Maelon, but would not marry him, either because her father forbade it or because she had sworn herself to a life of saintly celibacy.

She prayed for a solution — and an angel appeared with a magic potion to give to Maelon.

She gave it to him — and it turned him into a block of ice, thus saving him the sorrow of pining away for her, and to remove him from her temptation.

In some versions, she then asks for three requests — that Maelon be released, that she never marry, and that she could become the patron of true loves.

Not exactly happy-ever-after, but at least there’s no beheading!

The centre of Dwynwen’s cult was originally on a small island off the coast of Anglesey called Llanddwyn Island, which preserves another form of her name within its — Dwyn.

She is also known as Donwen, and Donwenna — all of which hint strongly at what may well be her true origin, the ancient Cymric Goddess Dôn.

Her name is almost certainly a combination of Dôn with gwyn. This is a familiar ending in Welsh names — featuring as Gwyn and Gwen at the start of names, and –wyn and –wen at the end (in Welsh, –wyn is always masculine, and –wen is feminine).

It’s basic meaning is “white,” but it also carries the sense of “pure” and “blessed.”

Dôn is the Welsh equivalent of the Irish Goddess Danu. In Welsh myth, she is the mother of the Plant Dôn—the “Children of Dôn”— a number of major Welsh deities, including Gwydion and Arianrhod.

As a very ancient Goddess, unraveling her name is difficult, and there are a number of options. One is the Common Celtic *dƒnu– “gift.”

However, she is associated with a number of rivers. There are four called Don in the British Isles, plus others that are related: the Dane in Cheshire,
two Devons (one English, one Scottish), and possibly the Teign, Tone, and Tyne too. Then there are the great European rivers deriving from the same root: the Danube, the Dneiper, and the Donetz.

Moreover, in the early medieval period, Dôn may also have been known as Donwy. An old name for the River Dee, which flows through Chester, is the Dwfrdonwy (dwfr is a Middle Welsh word meaning “water” + Donwy), while the Welsh name for the Danube is Afon Donwy—i.e. “River Donwy.” Donwy is also found in the name of yet another Welsh river, the Trydonwy, known in English as the Roden.

All this makes it quite likely that the name’s roots lie far, far back with the Proto-Indo-European *dānus “river.”

But there’s a further twist to this tale. What if this Goddess’s associations with rivers is so ancient that instead of her gaining the name “river,” the word *dānus derived from her name?

This would explain why there does not seem to be any vestige of *dānus with the meaning “river” in any of the living Celtic languages, despite the large number of rivers in the British isles which seem to derive from it.

But there is a further option for its etymology.

A clue lies with Deva, a Celtic name by which the Romans knew the River Dee. It points firmly towards the Proto-Indo-European *deyw-o– “a divine being,” combined with the suffix –ono– (often indicative of the name of a Deity).

Originally, *deyw-o-, seems to have carried connotations of relating to a sky God; it litters the Indo-European languages in words meaning “a god”, as well as names of individual Gods and Goddesses themselves, such as Zeus and Diana.

Despite her popularity in modern Wales, Dwynwen is a rarity. But it’s a pretty name, and whatever the truth that lies at its roots, no-one can dispute that it has history and positive associations in abundance.

Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus!

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St. Agnes’ Eve — Ah, bitter chill it was!

The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;

The hare limp’d trembling through the frozen grass,

And silent was the flock in woolly fold…

Tomorrow is St. Agnes’s Day

Which makes today the Eve of St. Agnes…

It is one of those occasions of the year steeped in old traditions. In St Agnes’s case, it is one of a number which focuses on glimpsing the future, specifically, of young women glimpsing in a dream the face of the man they will marry:

They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve,

Young virgins might have visions of delight,

And soft adorings from their loves receive

Upon the honey’d middle of the night,

If ceremonies due they did aright;

As, supperless to bed they must retire,

And couch supine their beauties, lily white;

Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require

Of Heaven with upwards eyes for all that they desire…

We know from the antiquarian John Aubrey that this tradition dates to at least the seventeenth century.

It proved an enticing one for Keats in the early nineteenth century, who immortalized it in his poem The Eve of St Agnes.

In it, the wonderfully-named Porphyro takes advantage of the tradition — and the over-romantic sensibilities of the object of his love (Madeline) — to ensure that his was the face she dreamed about.

He didn’t actually need to, because she was in love with him too… but the attempted ruse did result in their eloping together the following morning.

Whether it was to a happy-ever-after or not has been a matter of debate ever since.

Another distinctly un-biblical custom takes place on her feast day in Rome itself.

Two lambs from one of the abbeys in Rome are taken to the pope to be blessed. They are shorn on Maundy Thursday and their wool used to weave the pallia (ecclesiastical cloaks) of certain bishops.

This has all the hallmarks of more than one tradition in the Pagan classical world of the ritual annual weaving of new robes for a God or Goddess.

It is quite likely that the date of the St Agnes’s Day is due to this Catholic custom.

How?

Well, very early on, the similarity of the name Agnes and the Latin agnus “lamb” was observed, which lead to her association with lambs, and she is invariably depicted with one.

And it is around this time that the first lambs are born.

Originally, she had another feast on the 28th too.

As for St Agnes herself, legend has it she was a virgin martyr, who died in 304 CE.

The earliest account of her life was written by St Ambrose in the late fourth century, though it contained none of the sensationalized stuff of later hagiographies.

And, as with so many of the saints, it’s quite likely that a deity really lies behind her.

St. Agnes is certainly well-known to have taken the place of Gabija, the Lithuanian Goddess of fire, when Lithuania was Christianized in the medieval period.

It has been suggested that the Celtic Goddess Anu to lie at her roots, who is also thought to lie behind the English folk-figure of  Black Annis.

It is certainly the case that Annis is a medieval variant of Agnes.

Agnes itself is usually derived from the Greek hagnos “pure,” although the form “Agnes” is curious.

If it was truly from hagnos, it ought to have been Hagne or Hagno in Greek (there was a nymph called Hagno in Greek mythology — she was one of Zeus’s wet-nurses)

This would be Latinized as Hagna.

Although the loss of the “h” could be forgiven, the ending –es, is, quite frankly, a serious anomaly.

Such an anomaly, that it almost certainly isn’t really Greek at all.

It rather strengthens the case that Agnes’s true origins lie elsewhere. And if she does come from the same source as Anu, one option for the etymology is that it comes from the same Proto-Indo-European root which gives the Latin ignis  and Sanskrit agni — “fire.”

Unsurprisingly, Agnes does have more than one link with fire, and in the past was invoked for protection against fire.

Presumably, the similarity between Agnes and ignis was also at least noted by the Middle Ages too, accounting for the well-known blatant usurpation of  Gabija, Goddess of fire, by Agnes when Lithuania adopted Christianity in the fifteenth century.

St. Agnes was one of the most popular saints in medieval times, and her veneration made Agnes likewise one of the most popular girls’ names in medieval Britain. It was often use in vernacular forms such as the already mentioned Annis, Anis, Annise, Anise and Annot, with the traditional nick-names of Aggie, Taggy and, in Scotland, Nessie.

After the Reformation, it fell out of favor, but continued in steady use until the Victorians with their obsession for all things medieval fell in love with her again.

For some decades, she has been regarded as painfully old-fashioned and shunned accordingly, but the tide may be turning; Jennifer Connelly called her little girl Agnes last year. Will it, and the growing interest in “great-granny” names be enough to see Agnes finally return?

Time will tell!

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Twelfth Night

Today is the Christian feast of Epiphany, the traditional date among Catholics and Protestants when the legendary “Three Kings” visited the baby Jesus.

In parts of Italy, it is at Epiphany, not on Christmas Day, that children get their presents — delivered by a witch called Befana by broomstick last night.

Befana is a much magled form of Epifania — the Italian form of Epiphany — and she almost certainly evolved from the Pagan Goddess Strenia, who presided over the presents given at the New Year. (It also gives us Tiffany).

Meanwhile, in the Orthodox Church, today is Christmas…

In Britain and America, however, Epiphany — which also happens to be the twelfth day of Christmas, that is to say “Twelfth Night” — is often entirely neglected now, though once, when the twelve days were kept with full festivity, it was a big event — so big, it even got a Shakespearian play named after it.

The fabled “Twelve Days of Christmas” have their roots in the Norse Jól, and were originally kept between December 20th and the 31st.

They also have very prosiac origins; at this darkest time of the year, with the harvest gathered in, animals slaughtered, and crops requiring sowing in the autumn sowed, there really wasn’t much that needed doing – making it a perfect time for relaxing, and enjoying the year’s produce while it was still fresh.

I’ve always felt it rather sad that while the shops start celebrating the Midwinter festivals in the summer, and many people can’t wait to get their decorations out at the start of December — sometimes even in November, as soon as the New Year comes, it all gets put away, even though this is the traditional period for still celebrating.

Growing up, my family was one of the few who did keep Twelfth Night, making a special event of the last day of the tree. We still do.

One of our little traditions is that as we take down the decorations, we always sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

Unfortately, the gifts sent on each of the days aren’t that name-worthy in their own right, but they do suggest those that are.

And so, to mark the occasion, here are my ideas:

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

A partridge in a pear-tree

Airi, Alula, Apion, Betrisen, Ena, Enas, Li, Madaria, Mia, Pear, Pera, Perdiz, Pernice, Perina, Perry, Piro, Primula, Primus, Rika, Una

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Two turtle doves

Aphrodite, Callum, Colm, Colmán, Columba, Columbine, Dove, Dovie, Duo, Jemima, Jonah, Mimi, Paloma, Peleia, Secunda, Secundus, Thania, Trygon, Tuvi, Venus

On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Three French hens

Chuck, Frances, Francesca, Francis, Frank, Hen, Talitha, Tertia, Tertius, Tertulla, Thrima, Tria, Trinity, Triskele, Trystine, Wren

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me,

Four colly birds,

Aderyn, Amsel, Bird, Chogan, Colly, Deryn, Lonan, Merle, Merula, Quatro, Quartilla, Quartus, Tessera, Tesseres

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Five gold rings

Aranka, Aurea, Cinq, Cressida, Cyclamen, Eliphaz, Golden, Kirk, Marigold, Morgan, Orla, Quinque, Quintilla, Quintus, Sovann, Sunakai, Suwan

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Six geese a-laying

Anser, Antzara, Gander, Goshawk, Gossamer, Gus, Guska, Hani, Hex, Liba, Sextilla, Sextus, Zoss

On the seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Seven swans a-swimming

Cygne, Cygnet, Cygnus, Ella, Gulbė, Iswan, Joutsen, Leda, Luik, Odette, Septima, Septimus, Seven, Swan, Swanilda

On the eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Eight maids a-milking

Aludra, Cora, Corinna, Galatea, Impi, Meinir, Octavia, Octavian, Octavius, Octo, Parthenia, Virginia, Virgo

On the ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Nine ladies dancing

Anassa, Beletili, Caryatis, Ceilidh, Cordax, Creusa, Damsel, Dominique, Dominy, Donna, Jive, Lady, Madonna, Martha, Nephthys, Nina, Nona, Nonus, Nostradamus

On the tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Ten lords a-leaping

Adonai, Anaxandra, Anaxander, Baal, Caderyn, Cyril, Deacon, Decima, Decimus, Dinesh, Dominic, Don, Doyen, Edwen, Lapwing, Lord, Marquis, Meredith, Murdoch, Ner, Nerys, Rakesh, Ramnath, Sacheverell, Tiernan, Tierney

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Eleven pipers piping

Aule, Auletes, Auletris, Aulus, Endeka, Doucet, Fife, Flauta, Fletna, Flute, Fretel, Ney, Onze, Pan, Pfeifer, Piper, Quena, Subulo, Tibiae, Tibicen, Tibicina, Undecima, Undecimus

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me

Twelve drummers drumming

Baraban, Boben, Davul, Drummer, Duodecima, Duodecima, Nagara, Ngoma, Rebana, Tabala, Tambor, Tambour, Timbrel, Trommel, Trumm, Typanon

What meanings lie behind the strange gifts have not been satisfactorily elucidated. Some Catholics claim they arose as a catechism to help teach tenets of Catholicism in England after the Reformation, but there is no proof of this, and it is more likely its roots are far older. I prefer the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes’ interpretation:

Suggestions have been made that the gifts have significance, as representing the food or sport for each month of the year. Importance [certainly has] long been attached to the Twelve Days, when, for instance, the weather on each day was carefully observed to see what it would be in the corresponding month of the coming year. Nevertheless, whatever the ultimate origin of the chant, it seems probable [that] the lines that survive today both in England and France are merely an irreligious travesty.

Happy Twelfth Night!

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