Angria, Westfalia, Eastfalia, Northern Albingia: From the people of Saxony and its member tribes

In the Germanic settlement area the Saxons are the people to whom our ancestors originate. One speaks both by the people of Saxony and the Saxon tribe. If we look into the history of the Germans, a tribe is a larger group of people. These have commonalities in terms of language, culture and economic conditions. They are distinguished from other groups by this – sometimes only slightly – and live together in a defined area of settlement.

The Franks around 450

The smaller unit within a tribe or a part of a tribe is the clan. The clan is a composite of a number of families – people who can rely on a common ancestor of family ties. They settle mostly in one village, scattered settlements, small villages etc., which is located in one area, one region. In earlier times the Saxons had no cities or city-like formations. To live in large units was foreign and repugnant to them. The large people of Saxony is divided into sub-tribes we will deal later with.

The old Saxons - not the Saxons from today

But at first, based on our present conditions, we have to to clarify and demarcate the real Saxons and their descendants from those alleged Saxons that are named Saxons today. The inhabitants of the present state of Saxony with Dresden as its capital, have nothing to do with the tribe of the Saxons to the which we are concerned. In their majority they are actually East Thuringii. They name Saxony traveled there through nobility resp. ruling families. Descendants of the Saxon people in the original sense are essentially the people from Westphalia and Lower Saxony. However, the Frisians in the north of Lower Saxony must be excluded – they are a distinct tribe.

A very striking differentiator between the original Saxony and the people of the Free State of Saxony is already apparent in the language. The sound of the language of a Westphalian from the region of Paderborn differs considerably from that of an „Saxon“ from the region around Leipzig.

History of the Saxon tribes

Let us turn to a brief summary of the history of the Saxon people and their tribes. The name of the Saxons evolved from the name of the preferred weapon of the warriors of this tribe. The sahs (Seax) was the short sword typical of this tribe's armed men (see Saxon wars). The bearers of this weapon were called sahsnotas, which means sword comrades. Around 150 AD, the Saxon people first lived east of the Lower Elbe, in what is now the western part of Holstein. Gradually they expanded their territory. Around 500 AD, they moved to Britain with members of a neighbouring tribe, the Angles, and settled there. The name England comes from Angles Land, land of the Angles. The linguistic relationship between English and German also has its roots here – both are Germanic languages.

On the other hand, the Saxons advanced westwards and southwards across the Elbe, settled in the northwest of Germany and reached the Sauerland Roothaar mountains in the south, as well as a line stretching from Korbach to the north of Kassel. In the later centuries, however, the northern Hessian region, which was partly included in this context, was again overshadowed by the Hessian influence until approximately the current Westphalian border. The Hessians are essentially a mixture of members of the Chatti tribe and East Franconians. In the west, the Saxons advanced to the Rhine. Around 600 AD, this Saxon land seizure, as it is called in historical documents, was completed. West and south of Saxon territory, Franconian tribes lived. The "saxonization" of our region, including Northern Hesse and Waldeck, is already evident from the fact that a plethora of place names ends in -hausen. This is typical of the Saxon influence. We find the ending -hausen in the old Saxon -husin or -husen. The final syllable -sen in place names is merely a abbreviated -hausen. Just think of Niesen – originally this place was called Niehausen. To Schweckhausen we say in the shortened form Schwecksen. And Eissen? We'll come back to that later! In no way were the tribes from the northwest German region wiped out by the Saxons. On the contrary, they merged. Tribes absorbed by the Saxons are, for example, the Chauci, Bructeri and Cherusci. But the Saxon element prevailed.

Sub-tribes of the Saxons

Around 775 AD we learn something about a division of the Saxon people into tribal divisions. Sub-tribes were the Westfalen (Westphalians), Ostfalen (Eastphalians), Engern (Angrians) and Nordalbinger (Northern Albingians) the word Elbe is used in Albinger; it refers to the sub-tribes that lived north of the Elbe). The Ostfalen lived east of the Weser. We ourselves belonged to the land of the Engern. The name Engern, however, was lost in the course of the Middle Ages and the designation Westfalen became accepted for the area of Engern. Here and there we find this name still in place names like Enger near Herford (here is the grave of Widukind) or Ennigerloh near Beckum. The territories of the Saxon tribe were divided into smaller, more manageable units, in Gaue. Gaue were self-contained landscapes. Gau borders often resulted organically from natural conditions: valleys, rivers, streams, mountain ranges, etc.

Eissen in the Saxon Hessengau

Eissen belonged to the Saxon Hessengau, which covered approximately the Warburger Börde. Occasionally it is also called Diemelgau. South of it was the Hessengau, also known as Fränkischer Hessengau. Apparently, the Saxons acquired a part of the originally unified Franconian Hessengau in the course of the Saxon occupation. The Saxon region of Hessengau or Diemelgau was clearly Saxonically dominated and aligned. Viewed from Eissen, the northern border of the Saxon Hessengau was just beyond the villages of Scherfede, Borlinghausen, Löwen, Peckelsheim and Willegassen, which led south past Natingen, followed by the Bever from Borgholz and reached the Weser north of Helmarshausen. Important for the history of our village is the Ittergau, as it becomes clear elsewhere. The Ittergau is named after the tributary of the Diemel, the Itter and stretched from the Eresburg (Obermarsberg) to about Korbach, covering the greater part of the Waldecker Land.
North of us we find the well-known Nethegau, sung by Friedrich-Wilhelm Weber in “Dreizehnlinden”. It began south of Natzungen.

Faith of the Saxons

The religion of the Saxons was an ethnic religion. Striking phenomena in nature were worshipped by the Saxons, as indeed by the Germans. Here they felt very close to the gods. Shrines were for them sources, mighty trees, imposing rock formations (such as the Externsteine). Also the fire, as a very essential element, was worshipped by them. Even the hearth fire was sacred to them and was guarded. The latter was also done for practical reasons: The fire was never allowed to go out, and the danger of fire was also high with the timber and straw construction method of the huts.

The Roman historian Tacitus provides us with important and informative insights into the world of our ancestors' beliefs. He reports:
“Incidentally, the Teutons believe that it is incompatible with the sovereignty of the Celestials to enclose gods in walls and somehow depict them in a human-like manner. Clearings and groves consecrate them, and names of gods give them only to that mystery which they see in deep sinking.”

Tacitus also reports of holy horses, from whose whinnys and snorting the priests interpret the future:
“The animals are kept at the expense of the tribe in the aforementioned groves and clearings, shining white and not desecrated by any earthly ministry.”A horse sacrificed to one of the gods was not allowed to carry a rider before, otherwise it was considered desecrated.

In the past, the name Hibbeke, situated in the inner village of Eissen, was once interpreted as an indication of a Germanic sanctuary. Accordingly, the name Hibbeke is said to have come from Hillige Bicke, Holy Creek, and to have received this name from the spring pond at the Hibbeke, which together with an adjoining grove had served as a sanctuary. This interpretation does not lack a certain attraction. However, there is no concrete evidence that this speculative interpretation is correct.

Deities of the Saxons

What would the religion of the Saxons and the Germanic tribes be without the corresponding deities? Wodan or Odin was the most powerful of the gods. He is the “eerie wild hunter of the skies”, chasing away with yelping crowds (wind, storm) in the sky vault. He is also the God of breath and thus of souls, of the dead as well and of the hereafter. But the hereafter is called Valhalla. The name of this supreme god Odin is used in the northern Germanic peoples and the name Wodan is common in the southern Germanic peoples.

The next important god is Donar, called Thor in the Nordic area. He is the god who swings the hammer and throws the lightning bolts. Donar does this while he chases over the clouds with his wagons, which are strung with fiery horses, and thus generates the thunder. For some Germanic tribes this activity is performed by the Thor mentioned above.

Ziu (Tin/Týr) is the god of war. He also protects the Thing, the court assembly of the Germans.

Baldur (Baldr) is the light spring god whose dying and resurrection (the yearly recurring spring) is transfigured in the myth of the Teutons.

Freya or Frija/Freyja is a goddess. She is the wife of Wodan and goddess of fertility. In some Germanic tribes she has a brother called Freyr.

In addition to these deities, there were numerous local gods and goddesses, but they were not so important.
Most of these gods are still present in the name of our weekday names.
Wodan: His name is still recognizable in English. There the Mittwoch is called Wednesday (Wodan's day).
Donar/Thor: Thursday/Donnerstag is dedicated to him.
Ziu/Tin: We'll find him on Tuesday (Dienstag).

Religious acts and sacrifices

Religious acts, especially offering sacrifices, were carried out in the holy places by priests who were dedicated to a special deity (e. g. priests of Wodan) and female priests. Some Germanic tribes called them druids. This term comes from the Celtic language. Below the Karlsschanze at Willebadessen we find the so-called Druiden- or Gertrudenkammer and below the cliffs of Hardehausen there is a huge stone, which was once said to have been used by the Saxons as a sacrificial stone.
Valuable animals and crops were sacrificed. The highest and most valuable sacrifice, however, was a young white horse that had never carried a rider before and had not been used for field work. But only Wodan was entitled to this noble sacrifice.

The early period of the proselytization of the Saxons

The Christianization of the Saxons will be covered in connection with the Saxon wars. At this point, we would like to briefly report on the early period of the missionary attempts.

For the Germanic tribes, Christianity gained a foothold for the first time when the powerful tribe of the Franks turned to Christ. This happened at the time of the Frankish king Chlodwig (482 – 511 AD). He converted to Christianity with his people in 496 AD.
The spread of Christianity in Germania also coincides with this period. The first messengers of faith came from Ireland and Britain. Saint Kilian, for example, came from Ireland, worked in the Main area and founded the Würzburg Monastery. From here, the first contacts to Christianity in our region arose (see also “Saxon Wars”). The most important Anglo-Saxon missionary and actual “apostle of the Germans” was Saint Boniface (died 754 AD). He first won Hesse and Thuringia for the Christian faith, but later worked in the whole Germanic region.

The outstanding event is the cutting of the Donar oak near Geismar in Hesse. This tree was dedicated to the supreme deity of the Teutons. The come running Germans waited eagerly for the reaction of their Gods, but nothing happened. After this event many people were baptized.

Boniface, originally called Winfried, founded numerous dioceses. As a Benedictine monk he was, he created the monastery of Fulda, where he was also buried after being murdered in 754 AD with 52 companions in the land of the Frisians on a missionary journey. Boniface received the honorary title “Apostle of Germania”.

From 776 AD onwards the abbot of Fulda, Sturmius, missionized in Saxony. He struggled above all for the conversion of the Saxons in the Diemel area (Marsberg) and in the region of Paderborn.
There are still many deserving names of missionaries to mention here, but this would go beyond the scope of the explanations.

It remains to be noted that from about 777 AD onwards (empire meeting with Franconian king Charlemagne at the springs of the Pader river) Paderborn became the centre of the Saxon mission. In a biography of King resp. Emperor Charlemagne (from 800) it is said: The sublime sovereign Charlemagne drew the flocks of forest dwellers to the kingdom of heaven and immediately transformed the rabid wolves into pious lambs. (Einhard in “Vita Caroli Magni”)

Language of the Saxons

Let's take a look at the language of the Saxons. It is the language of our ancestors, our fathers and mothers. Many a man still masters it today. It's about the Low German. From a linguistic point of view, we are talking about Lower German in comparison to High German.

Lower German is the language of the Saxons. But also the Lower Franconian language, which was spoken on the Lower Rhine or is still in use, belongs to this language area. Dutch and Flemish are also part of this language group.

In the Saxon land seizure described above, the people of this tribe brought the Low German language into our region. Thus, Low German is a very old cultural language, which for centuries has been the only linguistic means of communication. Of course, they were also spoken by kings and emperors, provided that they came from the Lower German-speaking countries, such as the Duke of Saxony Heinrich, who was German king from 919 to 936 and came from Quedlinburg at the Harz. His successors, called Ottonen, also used this beautiful and expressive language.

The Lower German language border runs, coming from the Lower Rhine, along the southern edge of the Sauerland (the Siegen and Wittgensteiner Land is already outside the Lower German language area), takes Waldecker Land and the Northern Hessian region into the Low German language region, runs south of Korbach and north of Kassel and extends into the southern Lower Saxony area. Further this language border takes its way in northeastern direction to East Prussia.

Linguists speak of the Benrath language border, because today's district of Düsseldorf, Benrath, is a language divide. North of this linguistic divide or border, the Low German is native - but unfortunately no longer in the desired frequency and meaning. South of this border, the High German is originally at home with the subdivision into Middle and Upper German.

In the 5th and 7th century the language changed in the High German speaking area. The change came from the Danube area and lost its impact as it moved northwards. In technical jargon, we call this process (high German) consonant shift. At the language border to Low German, which has just been pointed out, it bounced off. Our ancestors stayed with their Lower German language, held fast to it and cared for it.

Let us illustrate this process with an example: p became pf; from "Appel" in Low German "Apfel" in High German. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the language of the Hanseatic League was Low German, which was also spoken in the branches of this association by merchants outside the German-speaking area and used as a written language.

In the first half of the last century, more and more people switched to the High German way of speaking. The Low German language was considered rude, much to the regret of lovers of linguistic peculiarities in general. The influence of the media encourages a levelling and thus flattening of our language behaviour. Linguistic diversity and individuality threaten to disappear. Undoubtedly a considerable cultural loss.

It would be desirable if we were to consider the following Low German saying:

Dat Olle ehren,
dat Nigge hören,
dat Gudde mehren,
dat Schlimme wehren.

Honour the old,
listen to the new,
increase the good,
fight the bad.

And this is the Lord’s Prayer in Eissener Platt.

We-i wöllt nou bähn, we-i use Här et
us sölwest lährt hat:
Gott, use Vatter in nen Himmerl.
Heilig sall De-in Name sin.
De-in Rik kume to us.
De-in Will geschaie.
In-nen Himmel un op de Ärde.
Use täglig Braut giff us olle Dage.
Un vergiff us use Schuld.
So wött auch we-i usen Schuldigern vergiewen.
Stah us bei-i, wann we-i in Versökung kumet
un hall us fre-i van allen Bäsen.
Denn De-in is da Rik, de Macht un
de Herrlichkeit
für ömmer un ewig.

De Här hätt to se-inen Aposteln siggt:
Frieden hingerlate ick juch,
me-inen Frieden giewe ick juch!