By October, the chilly nights and crispy mornings indicate that winter is coming. Throughout history, it has been a time to prepare.
'The old English people split the year into two seasons, summer and winter, placing six months — during which the days are longer than the nights — in summer, and the other six in winter. They called the month when the winter season began Ƿintirfylliþ, a word composed of "winter" and "full moon", because winter began on the first full moon of that month.'
Large herds of deer roamed the Anglo-Saxon landscape, as well as boar. For those who had the skills to hunt these animals, their larders would be full enough to see them and their families through the dark days. However, hunting boar was difficult as they were intelligent and aggressive creatures. Still are, I suppose, although they were hunted to extinction a few hundred years after the Dark Ages, in the thirteenth century. Hunting boar and deer became a sport that involved the skilful use of weapons such as the spear and bow. The hunts numbered many men and horses and deaths were frequent, especially during the boar hunt. One such king injured was Wulfhere and you can read about his suffering in my novel Teon.
Hawking was definitely a sport for the nobles. Falcons, hawks and eagles (for royalty) caught smaller birds for the rich man’s pot. There was an active trade in birds of prey, too. Vikings captured and trained these birds in Scandinavia and sold them on to the British aristocracy and the royal house throughout northern Europe.
However, archaeological evidence has shown that people consumed domestic livestock rather than deer and boar. This could be because it was easier and safer than hunting but also because hunting wild animals was more of a sport for the nobility who would have their quarry served up at feasts. After 1066 (Norman conquest!) all game was owned by the crown anyway, so ordinary folk had no choice but to eat domestic animals. And as towns grew, hunting became less of method of sourcing food.
The next month, November, was known as Blood Month according toBede. This was because the Anglo-Saxon peoples sacrificed their livestock. The chances of them making it through the winter were low because the folk needed any vegetation for themselves. So the logical thing would be to slaughter the beasts (sheep, pigs, goats and cattle) and dedicate them to the gods for safe measure. Could only work in their favour after all. Then the meat would be dried or salted and consumed throughout winter.
No doubt some of it was saved for the Yuletide celebrations at the time of the solstice. But that’s another story.