Episode 43: Anglo-Saxon Monsters and Mythology

Many Anglo-Saxons believed in a world inhabited by monsters and mythological creatures. They also believed in the power of sorcery and witchcraft. These ideas are reflected in the literature of the Anglo-Saxons, most notably the epic poem Beowulf. In this episode, we explore the monsters and mythological creatures of the Anglo-Saxons and their ancestors.


16 thoughts on “Episode 43: Anglo-Saxon Monsters and Mythology

  1. Hello, Kevin.

    I had a bit of confusion during this episode, when you were describing the evolution of wicca and wicce. It must be very difficult, with only audio, to juggle explanations of the changes over time of both spellings and pronunciations of words and word parts. In general, you do a great job. In this case, though, I wasn’t able to follow the reasoning. You were referring to the “a” sound and the “e” sounds as the different endings leading to the difference in the preceding consonant; but when you pronounced the two different words, I heard no difference in the ending vowel. Help?


    • The male version was ‘wicca’ (/wee-kah/) and the female version was ‘wicce’ (/wee-keh/). However, in Old English, the letter ‘C’ became a /ch/ sound before a front vowel (e,i,y). So ‘wicce’ (/wee-keh/) became /wee-cheh/ – and then eventually became ‘witch.’

  2. Very interesting and entertaining episode! I’ve studied (and currently teach) Beowulf to 12th graders. This episode was packed full of interesting detail. I loved learning the backstory of so many modern English terms.

  3. Hi Kevin I really enjoyed this episode, do you have any more episodes or bonus episodes planned about monsters or mythology? would love to learn more! I’ve just downloaded the alphabet and Beowulf audiobooks so I’m sure there will be some in there too. Looking forward to the transcript for this episode in particular, my 50c is ready! Thank you for your efforts.

    • I don’t have any specific episodes planned, but I’m sure the subject will come up again at some point as I explore more modern words for monsters. Also, I should have a transcript update very soon.

  4. Fantastic work! I love that what you created years ago can be heard in my kitchen today, and again tomorrow, since it’s worth a repeat.

    I’m finding out who my friends are since listening to you. ; ) Some people don’t want to hear me talk about this fascinating topic. Perhaps your delivery is better, so I told them to listen to your podcast. I didn’t recruit everyone, but at least a couple talk with me about language history.

    Thank you Kevin!

  5. Another fascinating episode.

    On the topic of eliding the ‘n’ at the start of a word, the etymology of Orange is another example. The word came from the Sanskrit naranga, which became naranj in Persian and Arabic, naranja in Spanish. When oranges first came to England they were called norange. The same thing happened in Italian too, changing from narancia to arancia.

    About the etymology of the word ‘dream’ the German translation is Traum. There must be a common root word. Fascinating to hear the etymology of nightmare. I often wondered.

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  7. I just want to say, I’m loving your podcast. I initially just wanted to learn about the medieval use of pronouns, but I’ve listened to many episodes now and I’ve found the information fascinating, though I’m not a historian or a linguist. This one on monsters is one of my favorites. I appreciate how you’re also telling the history of England itself, which makes the content far less dry than it might be if it was purely linguistics.

  8. Hi Kevin
    I was really interested in your reference to the word “blasting” meaning a curse on livestock. You didn’t mention its modern day use, so I wonder if it only found in British English, and possibly also only by people of a certain age… I’m in my 50s and I’d use “blast” as a synonym for “damn” or “curse” when it’s not appropriate to use a stronger expletive. As in:
    “Damn and blast! I’ve dropped the blasted hammer on my foot. Blast the man who made it so heavy”

    I had always thought it was just an alternative form of “bless” as in “I’ve dropped the blessed hammer” … and it occurs to me that blessed in this usage would always be pronounced as a two syllable word, so perhaps it is the other way round & blessed is an alternative pronunciation of blasted?

    I’d love to know what you think


    • I’m not Kevin (obviously), but “blessed” is what’s known as a minced oath – a swear word that’s been self-censored by the speaker mid-utterance, when they’ve just remembered they’re having tea with the vicar. “Blooming” is a clean version of “bloody”; “crumbs” and “cripes” stand in for “crap”; the Very American “gosh darn it” means “goddamn (it)”; words like “frigging”, “twit”, and “shoot” you can probably work out.

      Therefore, you are probably right that “blessed” is an even softer version of the already minced “blasted”. “Blast it” to mean “curse it” makes a lot of sense, and it would be great to know if it was true, but an application like “the blasted hammer” definitely seems more like a ‘clean’ version of “bloody hammer” to me.

  9. Dear Kevin, I recently found your show and am binging it from episode 1. Great job! In this episode you mentioned a Scandinavian legend of a man-monster battle that you suggested inspired the similar battle in Beowulf. Can you provide a reference to that legend? Thanks

  10. My full first name is Dovber, Dov is the Hebrew word for bear and Ber is the Yiddish word for bear. ‘el’ is a common Yiddish diminutive suffix, hence my name Berel.
    Pretty cool to have the same name as Baewolf!

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