Perthro/Peorð and Its Meanings

July 29, 2019 | Filed Under Tarot, Runes, Oracles | No Comments

If you’re not familiar with, I encourage you to click the link and check it out (after you’ve read this post, of course!). It’s a site which aggregates nearly-infinite numbers of research papers on pretty much any topic that might interest you. The papers are posted and managed by their authors, so they don’t have to rely on corporate publishers, and the site is *free* for readers to use. It’s like having an incredibly large library in your home.

Many of the authors posting on the site have fancy credentials, but not all of them do—many of them are amateur historians, folklorists, etc. who pursue knowledge for the love of doing so, rather than as part of their academic career. Thus, you are as likely to find an article from your neighbor who has been studying Norse history for years and years next to an article from Jesse Byock. Perhaps consider posting your own research there!

I’ve been reading papers on there for some years, and it occurred to me just today that perhaps my readers would be interested in hearing about some of the items I’ve been reading.

Today’s selection is “From Hebrew Coph to Ogam Cert to Runic Peorð“, by Alan Griffiths, Ph.D.  Griffiths writes extensively about runes, ogam, and other alphabets of the early middle ages. He’s written previously about Peorð, and the article linked above is his most recent examination of its linguistic history and possible meanings.

As an introduction, you may want to check out his piece, “A Family of Names”, which lays the groundwork of his theory, or else just read this excerpt so the Peorð article makes more sense:
“that ogam-names are based on interpretations of Hebrew, Greek or Latin letter-names given by Jerome, Ambrose and others, and introduced into Ireland by Christian missionaries (fifth to sixth centuries). Subsequently, under the influence of Irish Christian missionaries in northern Britain, names were also created for runes (seventh to eighth centuries). Before then, there had been no comprehensive system of rune-names, but the introduction of names led to the composition of the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem. Although few would dispute that it shows Christian influence, the Anglo-Saxon poem is still thought to be based on a pre-Christian ” common Germanic ” Urgedicht, which is more faithfully represented in the comparable Scandinavian rune-poems. The implication of my thesis is that no rune-poem existed before the Anglo-Saxon poem and that it is this poem, with its Christian allusions, that is likely to have been the original version and to have formed a basis for the Scandinavian poems, in which pagan allusions are examples of scholarly antiquarianism.”

He traces the history of the glosses and kennings for both Peorð (Perthro) and Quert (Cweorth) in the written lore, and speculates as to possible connections between them, going back to the Hebrew letter Qoph. Meanings vary widely—and wildly—from various sources and languages, from “an enclosure” to “a rag or piece of clothing”, to “a pear tree”. To further muddle the matter, in the one source for the Anglo-Saxon Rune Poem, the stanza on Peorð is incomplete, so linguists and historians have added their own words to replace the missing ones, with, of course, varying meanings as a result.

I won’t spoil his conclusion for you, in case you want to read the paper for yourself. However, if you just can’t wait to find out, it’s posted below the cut.

Spoiler Alert! He concludes: “I would now suggest, is that the OE word is related to Irish bert, which not only encompasses a similar meaning to ceirt, in the sense of “rag, piece of clothing” (rather than cert, [enclosure]), namely “clothing, covering, clothes, attire, apparel”, but can also refer to a move in a game, or a game as such, with a derivative bertrach or bertlach, explained as a chessboard.”


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