The Yorkshire ‘Av’mal
by Dan Coultas
Publisher: Independently Published
Publication Date: June 12, 2022
Lissen up yuh daft apeth, an’ let mi tell thi… about a new book that manages to combine one of the most well-known and celebrated parts of the Poetic Edda with a quirk of the English language known widely across the North of England but perhaps not very much anywhere else, these days. What language am I talking about? It’s the striking and, in the opinion of myself and many others, very beautiful Yorkshire dialect. My opening sentence was a little snippet of Yorkshire, written phonetically – more or less. Translated, it means “Listen up you daft apeth (the Yorkshire term “daft apeth” means someone acting in a ridiculous manner) let me tell you…”.
Authors Dan Coultas (Heathenry and the Sea; The Gods’ Own County;), Debi Gregory (The Elemenpals: Meet the Pals), Toni Wilson and illustrator Lou Flitcroft have, between them, created a highly fluid and accessible translation of one of Norse Paganism’s most important works: The Hávamál, also known as Words of the All Father. The text is presented in a living English dialect – that’s right, Yorkshire is still spoken widely across all four “shires”, and by many people born in Yorkshire who have moved elsewhere. Sometimes Yorkshire is only a vague accent, but at its most pure, it has its own words, phrases, and use of phonetics that simply don’t occur elsewhere. This book is written in “pure” Yorkshire, echoing how it sounds to speak to someone born and bred in the county itself.
The translation is from other English translations, rather than directly from Old Norse to Yorkshire. The authors are entirely transparent on this point, pointing out that none of them are scholars of the Norse language.
The resulting book is unique, fun and really highly practical. It takes messages that were previously complex and dense, perhaps difficult to parse, and makes them more meaningful and accessible for modern readers.
The Bellows’ translation is one of the most popular English translations of the Hávamál. His version of stanza 38 reads:
Away from his arms
In the open field
A man should fare not a foot
For never he knows
When the need for a spear
Shall arise on the distant road.
In the Yorkshire translation this becomes
Let nun tek wun step
on Ilkley Moor baht’at
else tha’s bahn’ to catch thy deeath o’cowd
n’ us’ll ha’ t’ bury thee.
To bring this back out of the dialect and into “standard” English, this means “Let none take one step onto Ilkley Moor without a hat, or you’re bound to catch your death of cold, and it’s us that will have to bury you.”
This brings local knowledge of the Yorkshire landscape plus a connection to a famous song based on this exact concept. This is so much more meaningful that some metaphorical distant road. The new translation focuses on the overall concept of being unprepared, rather than a specific need for shields or weaponry.
What does it really mean? That it’s critical to look after yourself. If you don’t you could cause grief for others as well as yourself – a crucial , pertinent lesson, siphoned from literature based on Norse culture, and carefully translated into a dialect still spoken by Tykes (Yorkshire folk) all over the world.
I’m a proper Yorkshire lass mesen (myself) so it’s perhaps no surprise that I was able to follow the translation with ease. However, I think anyone interested in Norse Paganism or Heathenry should give this book a go, especially if they’ve struggled with other translations and even if they’re not familiar with the Yorkshire words and phrasing. The ‘Av’mal proves that local and regional dialects can and do weave both spiritual and practical messages together in ways that really work.
Lou Flitcroft’s illustrations are perfect for this book, completing it beautifully. Lou’s comic styling is perfectly matched with the fun aspects of this book, while at the same time the images reinforce the key messages held within these verses.
I believe this to be one of the most easily accessible translations of the Hávamál available for modern readers. I think it will bring a lot of Norse Pagans or Heathens closer to the messages in the Poetic Edda, and it’s a wonderfully inclusive addition to any Pagan bookshelf.
Dan Coultas is Gothi and co-chair of Heathens of Yorkshire and the author of A Heathen Prayer Book, Walking with the Gods: A Heathen Activity Book (for children), and the editor of the first ever Pagan Poetry anthology from the U.K. Pagan Federation. He’s also deeply involved with environmental and anti-poverty charity Pagan Aid, as a trustee, board member, and Membership officer.
Debi Gregory is the author of The Elemenpals: Meet the ‘Pals, a book for young children about elemental imps that love to explore the world around them, gently introducing children to concepts such as taking care of the Earth and the inherent magic within nature. Debi also does plenty of work for Pagan Aid, as their Social Media Officer. Debi is currently working on several projects including an upcoming book about raising kids in a Pagan family.
Toni Wilson is also a vital member of the Heathens of Yorkshire, currently holding the title Segn-bora.
About the Author:
Mabh Savage is a Pagan author, poet and musician, as well as a freelance journalist and content creator. She’s a nature-based witch, obsessed with Irish and British Paganism and Folklore, plus she’s a massive plant nerd. She’s also a long-time Hekate devotee and a newbie Lokean. She works extensively with the UK Pagan Federation, including editing their bi-annual children’s magazine. Mabh is a passionate environmentalist and an advocate for inclusiveness and positive social transformation.
Mabh is the author of A Modern Celt: Seeking the Ancestors, Pagan Portals – Celtic Witchcraft: Modern Witchcraft Meets Celtic Ways, and most recently, Practically Pagan: An Alternative Guide to Planet Friendly Living. Search “Mabh Savage” on Spotify and @Mabherick on all socials.