|Date:||August 8, 2014|
Understanding Anglo-Saxon artwork is not a simple task; what you see at first sight is almost certainly not what you see on closer inspection, this is not only a continuation of the Old English love of riddles but also a reflection of how the Unseen hide around every corner and share our space. The artwork of the period can be seen in three broad groups; anthromorphic/zoomorphic (designs featuring humans/humanoids and animals/creatures), geometric (abstract shapes, knots, ring-dots, fylfots etc) and pictorial (realistic representations); these terms should not be confused with style or chronological groupings such as Salin’s style groups. For the purposes of this introduction to Anglian animal art and its symbolic meaning I will focus mainly on representations of animals and birds, specifically those depictions carried into battle by the Anglian warriors.
The use of animals as totemic protection is clear from an examination of the four complete helmets found in England. All four helmets are Anglian which is useful as there is no confusion from Saxon or Jutish cultures, they are; Sutton Hoo from Suffolk (East Anglia), Wollaston Pioneer from Northamptonshire (Middle Anglia/Mercia), Benty Grange from Derbyshire (Mercia) and Coppergate from York (Northumbria). Only the Coppergate helmet falls outside of the Heathen period but it should not be removed from this study as it shares characteristics with the earlier types. The animals connected to helmets are boars and dragons, these will be dealt with separately.
Eofor-lic scionon ofer hleor-bergan
(Boar shapes shone over cheek guards)
The boar in Norse lore an animal with close connections to Freyr (and thus by inference the Anglian Ingwe or Ing) a god regarded by many modern Heathens as solely a fertility god yet here in the Anglian Ing(we) we find his full warrior nature, he is the “warrior defender” who not only gives life but actively protects life. Ing according to the Old English Rune Poem is a hero who travels by wagon. The last line of the verse “ðus heardingas ðone hæle nemdum” translates as “thus heroes (or hard men) named the hero” suggesting that Ing is the hero of heroes.
The two most obvious boars in the corpus are on the Benty Grange and the Wollaston helmets; both these have boar crests or figurines which are fitted directly to the front to back band at the apex of the dome. Another boar figurine exists from Guilden Morden, Cambridgeshire (East Anglia), it was found in 1864 but there is no associated helmet even though the figurine itself does have fixing rivets on its feet matching both Wollaston and Benty Grange. Less obvious boars are found on the Sutton Hoo helmet which for this reason requires special attention, see below. The Coppergate helmet reflects this protective motif in a less direct way through a script written along the “wala” or crest band, this time from a Christian perspective yet with echoes of the Lord Ing. The script reads “IN. NOMINE. DNI. NOSTRI IHV. SCS. SPS. D. ET. OMNIBUS DECEMUS. AMEN. OSHERE. XPI. “in the name of our Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God and all, we pray. Amen. Oshere. Christ” (trans. Pollington 2001). It can be argued that the defender “Ingwe-Frea”, Lord Ing, (Yngvi-Freyr of the Norse) has been replaced with the saviour Lord Christ to achieve the same protective powers for the wearer of the helmet.
 – Pollington 2001, p155
 – Underwood 1999, p102