One of my historical re-enactment societies ran an online workshop on how to make and use a quill pen. With the help of kindly neighbours I scrounged up lovely white goose feathers for people, and had a go myself.

Freya showed us authentically made books, parchment, pen, penknife, ink and pigments, before guiding us in making our own pens. We also referred to this very useful online guide to making quill pens, with bonus cat.

The right-hand page is where I started, with huge letters, then I cut the nib finer.

I’m pretty chuffed with how I did! I had no real expectation of being able to make something usable on my first go, but by following Freya’s instructions carefully and taking my time, I made a genuine, functional pen and wrote some Anglo-Saxon texts. To practice writing, Freya provided a selection of quotes from the Old English poem known as Maxims II which I found curiously reminiscent of Hávamál in style.

Maxims II is a collection of statements about the world and how it works – from the social order to the weather, from the habits of different animals to the works of God. Probably written down in the mid 11 th century. It is found on two pages of the manuscript known as Cotton MS Tiberius B I (f.115r-v) and you can see it in magnificent high resolution here: http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=cotton_ms_tiberius_b_i_f112r

You can also find the transliterated OE text in a free ebook of the Anglo-Saxon Poetic Records from the University of Oxford Text Archive, which is where the transliterations here have been copied from: https://ota.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/repository/xmlui/handle/20.500.12024/3009

These are the maxims I tried to write:

ellen sceal on eorle . ecg sceal wið hell
me . hilde gebidan
Courage must be in the noble warrior, blade must be against helmet, be in battle.

draca sceal on hlæwe . frod, frætwum wlanc.
The dragon must be in the barrow, wise, magnificent (proud?) with treasures

wulf sceal on bearowe . earm anhaga.
the wolf must be in the forest, wretched loner,

tungol sceal on heofenum . beorhte scinan . swa him bebead meotud.
The star must be in heaven, (must) shine brightly, as God ordered it.

Is seo forðgesceaft . digol and dyrne . drihten ana wat
The shape of the future is obscure and hidden, the Lord only knows (it).

fyrd sceal ætsomne . tírfæstra getrum.
The army must stay together, a troop of glory-firm (men).

Writing with a quill is an extremely physical process, so it’s very easy to lose track of where you are in a word – or sentence. I also tried my hand at marginalia.