The early kingdoms of post-roman Britain grounded their legitimacy in religious ancestries.
In Wales, the ancient Celtic war-god Belenos was preserved in Christian ancestries as Beli Mawr - Beli the Great - a mortal.
In the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Woden was the preferred ancestor, a problem when the royal families converted to Christianity and still
required appropriate myths to justify their positions of authority.
According to Davis ('Cultural assimilation in the Anglo-Saxon Genealogies', Anglo-Saxon England, vol 21, p.23):
'Founding deities already transitional between the mythical and the legendary,
between the divine and the merely heroic, were retained by complete secularization.'
Davis notes that the eighth-century royal houses of Kent, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, Bernicia,
Deira and Lindsey all trace their lineages to Woden, the chief war-god of the Anglo-Saxons. Intriguingly, Bede - that arch-christian- preserves Woden in his king lists without comment.
For example, he lists the ancestry of the Kentish royal family as:
Woden - Wecta - Witta - Hengist - Oeric or Oisc - Octa - Eormenric - Aethelberht.
As Davis observes, the list goes from pagan god to historical monarch. In the middle, is the
semi-mythical Hengist 'the stallion'. Although supposedly, the mercenary captain who turned against his British employers,
he and his brother Horsa may simply be remnants of a Germanic horse cult.
'... the strength of the cult of Woden in Kent, as attested by placename evidence, in addition to its
kings' boast of that god's paternity, make it very likely that whoever first founded the kingdom saw himself as
Woden's man. Once the new king had established his position, a genealogy tracing his ancestry to the battle-god could
be readily constructed in the confusion of tribal separation and dislocation. Even if Hengist happened to be a
genuinely historical figure or at least a human character from traditional heroic legend, the four neatly alliterative
generations between Hengist and Woden - Woden is only Hengists's great-great-grandfather - were all that were
considered necessary to demonstrate the Kentish kings' divine ancestry.'
In western Britain, attitudes to paganism can be inferred from the fate of Roman Bath. James Gerrard
('The End of Roman Bath', Current Archaeology, April 2008) concludes that the temple of Sulis Minerva was
deliberately destroyed in the late 5th or 6th centuries. This would have required the resources of a community, perhaps
organised by a local 'king'. Noting that whatever Gildas accused the British kings of, he never called them 'pagan'. He speculates that:
'Perhaps with the demise of Roman administration in the early 5th century, and the migration of pagan
Anglo-Saxons into Eastern England shortly afterwards, the distinction between Christians and pagans became sharper. Pagan
and 'barbarian' may have become synomymous, and Roman pagans, already losing power in the face of state-backed
Christianity during the 4th century, were now cast as an 'enemy within'. The end of Roman Bath may be the story of a
cult centre that had been supported by the Roman state, that staggered on for a few decades after the collapse of Roman
power, but then succumbed in the late 5th century to the attacks of a post-Roman Christian community engaged in an
ultimately successful struggle for political, economic and religious supremacy.'