Image by Allan Curless

         The term Beorning seems to indicate either a descendant of Beorn or simply one of the tribe whom he came to rule as chief. Beorn as an individual should be well-known from The Hobbit. He was an huge man who was a skin-changer -- taking the shape of a huge black bear at times. At that time (2941) he was well-established but lived by himself with only animals around him in a house in in the Vales of Anduin near the western eaves of Mirkwood.

In The Hobbit (18 The Return Journey), it is written:

Beorn indeed became a great chief afterwards in those regions and ruled a wide land between the mountains and the wood; and it is said that for many generations the men of his line had the power of taking bear's shape, and some were grim men and bad, but most were in heart like Beorn, if less in size and strength. In their day the last goblins were hunted from the Misty Mountains and a new peace came over the edge of the Wild.

         In his letters, Tolkien explains that despite his remarkable abilities, Beorn definitely belonged to the race of Men: 'Though a skin-changer and no doubt a bit of a magician, Beorn was a Man'. In the same letter, Tolkien suggests that Beorn's lifespan was no greater than that of an ordinary Man. It is very unlikely, then, that he survived much beyond III 3000. (see The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien No 144, dated 1954).

         The etymology of Beorn's name is interesting. The Old English word originally meant 'bear', but evolved over the centuries to the point where it came to mean 'warrior'. So, Beorn's ability to transform from a bear to a man echoes the linguistic development of his name. The original meaning of Beorn relates to the bear's love of honey, and contains béo, meaning 'bee'. This also appears in the name Beowulf: like Beorn, this means 'bear', but is literally 'bee-wolf'. This bee connection ties in to the references in The Hobbit to Beorn's bee-pastures and huge bees: "The drones were bigger than your thumb, a good deal, and the bands of yellow on their deep black bodies shone like fiery gold" (The Hobbit 7: Queer Lodgings).

         In the time of the Lord of the Rings, Beorn was succeeded by his son Grimbeorn the Old. Grimbeorn is described as becoming a great lord in his own right. Like his father, he could take on the shape of a bear, and he dwelt in the same regions of the Vales of Anduin.


         What is known about the Beornings as a people, then, is mainly extrapolation from their region and from Beorn as an individual who became their leader. Some time after 2942, Beorn married and had a family and changed his hermit-like ways to socialize and indeed lead among humans.

         I would postulate that there were scattered clans of people who lived in the Vales of Anduin. Based on Beorn's personality, I could not picture him as a conqueror -- so they must have been leaderless before him. So Beorn came to lead them and was eventually acknowledged as chief. The people here would be colonies of the Northmen. In the time of Eorl the Young, men of this region rode south to the aid of Gondor and became the Rohirrim (around the year 2510 of the Third Age -- 430 years before Bilbo met Beorn). They were descended from the Edain and thus would speak a language that sounded like Adunaic and Rohirric.

         For my game, I saw them as being Nordic-like -- an even closer match than the Rohirrim. I was fairly familiar with the Icelandic sagas, and I pictured them being similar to that except for the seagoing tradition. Scattered clans raising sheep and milk-cows. United under Beorn they became a more cohesive and militant nation. The Beorning package for the Decipher game is:

       Armed Combat +2          Survival (Forest or Mountains) +1
       Ranged Combat +2         Track +1
       Hardy Edge
That seems fine to me. I played my character, Gudrid, very much like a strong-willed woman out of the sagas.

External Write-up

NOTE: What follows was someone's writeup of the Beornings which was posted to a message board that I saved. Unfortunately, the original link I had for it no longer works. What is here accords pretty well with my readings of Tolkien.


         The Beornings as a people exists under this name since the time after the Battle of five Armies when Beorn the Skinchanger united the wide spread tribes and scattered Groups the Men of the Northern Anduin Vales under his mighty Axe to clean their Lands from the remnants of the Misty Mountain Goblins of whom small bands roamed still roamed the Mountain Valleys and raided lonely farms. After Beorn's death the Sons of his Warriors proudly called themselves the Beornings (Éo.:"Sons of Beorn") which soon became the name under which the new Northman Nation was known. However the true origins of the Beornings and many of their strange traditions reach far more back into the second and first Age and little is known about their origins since hardly any records were made about the Men of this part of the World in the old times. As can be seen by the straw blonde Hair and blue Eyes of most of the Beornings, they seem to be the descendants of Éothéod farmers who did not follow their King Eorl to the South into Calenardhon but stayed in their ancestral home, but few of them show blood traces which lead into another direction, Men as Beorn himself, taller than most Northmen and with dark Brown or almost Black Hair and light Grey Eyes, Men who are believed to be the last descendants of the Old Tribes of the Misty Mountains who lived there in the first Age and were known to the Wood-Elves as the Ordvir (Ta.:"Mountain Men"). Some People believe that they were closely akin to the Edain of Beleriand and originally belonged to the same people as the ancestors of the Beorians. In the second Age they had close contact with the Dwarves of Dúrin's House who at the time ruled the Misty Mountains and it seems that the Mountainmen spoke a language which was very similar to that of which still many names exist in the Kingdom of Dale near the end of the third Age, and as some of the Bardings just like their King Bard I the Bowman seem also of Darker Hair than most of the Northmen it seems obvious that there were originally close ties between the Men of the Misty Mountains and the ancestors of the Dale-Men. According to the Dwarves the Men of the Misty Mountains called themselves Beriaskhals (Old Rhov.: "fighting Men") or earlier Beriaskbers (Old Rhov.:" fighting Bears") and it was them who first gave the father of the Longbeards the old Rhovanian Name Dúrin. There are old Legends among the Beornings that their forefathers were protected by bears in Mountain Caves and legends speak of "the Gift from the Great Bear" but many of these old traditions are now forgotten or held in secret by the Beornings. At last there are many hints that the Gift of Skinchanging at first appeared among the Beriaskberiar. When the Orcish Hordes of the Northern waste began to invade the misty Mountains and Gundabad was lost the expulsion of the Beriaskhaliar from the Misty Mountains begun, many fled into the Anduin Vales while others fled into the Northern Waste, these were known in the third Age as the Berseggi (Old Rhov.:"Bear-Warriors") or Beroings (Old Rhov.: "Bear-Sons") and were a small people which shared many obvious traditions with the Beornings of the Anduin Vales, although smaller in number and different in Appearance through intermixion with the Forodwaith. Of the early Beriaskhal Leaders in the Anduin Vales only two are told of in the Beorning Myths, Berobrand and Ulfera. It seems that there were serious tribal feuds with the Isumari, Northmen who lived near the Anduin Springs and served the Witch-King of Angmar. These feuds decimated the Beriaskhals so that with the arrival of the Éothéod in the North, who drove away or destroyed the last Servants of Angmar in Rhovanion , the Beriaskhals became a part of the Éothéod people and intermixed with the newly arrived Farmers and Horsemen from the south. But even if the old Mountainmen took over the new language and some traditions they stayed mostly among themselves and did not leave the Anduin Valley when Eorl's Messengers arrived in the North to lead his people into Calenardhon. Too much Beriaskhal blood was shed and too much had the people suffered for their home to give it easily up, so most Mountainmen descendants and some of the Éothéod who were related to them by marriage stayed in the north and lived long as a scattered people without leader. It was Beorn (Éo.:"Warrior"), probably the greatest son of the old Mountain Folk , who again built a Nation out of these scattered Men and his son Grimbeorn (Éo.: "Angry Warrior") and right hand Man Wecca (Éo.:"Guardian") continued his effords into the fourth Age.

Beorning Culture:

         The Beornings are mostly farmers and to a degree Breeders of Cattle who live in small villages and great farms. Although a part of this people due to their descend from the Éothéod eat Meat, a lot of Beornings revived the ancient tradition of living only from Honey, Milk and Bread or other Vegan food. Especially the Warrior Caste formed by Beorn live by this strict ritual way and reject to eat animals (except wild beasts which they themselves hunt of course). The strict refuse is probably out of religious reasons for the Beornings see themselves closely tied to nature and animals. They have a number of deities who are through their Contacts with Merchants from Gondor and Eriador identified with different Valar whom they call "the Brega" (Éo.:"Rulers"), for most Warriors love the God Magol (Éo.: "The Mighty") who appears a God of War and strength. He is often described as a tall, strong Man with red-blonde Hair and Beard who wears a Bear-skin, an Iron Glove and a Longbow. This War-God is often identified with Tulkas who also in few ancient records was depicted with a Longbow and closely connected with Bears. The other much beloved Deity is the Goddess Blostma who is connected with the Wild, the animals and Nature and whose holy animal is the Stag. Mostly because of the Stag and her connection with Magol she's seen as corresponding with Nessa even if there's also some resemblance to Yavanna. Magol is preferred by most Men who are Warriors and is closely connected with the few Beornings who are chosen to be Skinchangers (Éo.:"Fellwidhas"). These mostly male Beornings are direct descendants of Ancient Mountainmen who achieved the Gift of changing into Bears. This transformation is performed by the use of a sacred Bear-skin which is given of from Generation to generation. The Beorning takes off his clothes and covers his himself with the Bear-skin and concentrates on his animal instincts which rest deeply in every Beorning the Individual becomes one with the spirit of the Bear and wakes up in the shape of a hughe Bear , having all the animals instincts and strengths. The Head of the Fellwidhas is the Leader of the Beorning people and bears the title Waldend (Éo.:"Ruler") which means that he has the most importand voice in the Beorning Thing. This Thing is a large Meeting at a holy place , the Eorcnan-Stanas (Éo.:"Precious-Stones") a collection of three large Carrocks (Éo.:"Stones of Sorrow") where all Beornings who are in position to vote gather and hold court, select a new Waldend or introduce Young Men in the Communtity of Warriors. Carrocks are hughe stone Islands which tower up from the landscape and are considered holy places of sorrow and meditation by the Beornings. Every Fellwidha inherits to his magic Bear-Skin also a Carrock-place. While the Warrior-Caste which is so strongly connected with Magol consists mostly out of Men and is led by the Waldend who is the Leader of the Hafódmannas (Éo.:"Headmen") as the Beorning Chieftains are called , the Women who dedicate themselves to Blostma are led by the Megen-Môder (Éo.:"Great Mother") a kind of Head-priestess which resides at the Wîf-stede , the Place of Women where no Male is allowed to enter. The Megen-Môder theoretically is equal to the Waldend and has the power to block up his Word in the Thing by a veto but in general she does not take part at things and keeps out of matters of the Warrior-caste. The Greatest two Beorning settlements are the remnants of Framsburg, the ancient capital of the Éothéod were still a fortified place is uphold and the town of Methelburg (Éo.:"Market-Fortress") a fortified town in a valley of the Misty Mountains were the main Beorning Market-Place is. Smaller settlements are also at Waldendbaru, the Holy Grove were the Skinchangers use to meet, at Wîf-Stede, the place of Women and the Éorcnan-Stanas, were the Beorning Thing is hold up, most other Settlements are simply big Farms as Beornedor, Beorns parental homestead. The Beornings speak Éothéodan, the same language as the Rohirrim, but of course another dialect than that of the Riddermark, additionally to the normal speech Beornings know a sign language which they use in the Woods and which they refer to as Woldtacen. Woldtacen consists of a number of signs as for example a simple broken off branch or three acorns on the Ground which probably would not be identified as a secret message by a stranger but can mean a quite complex message to a learned Beorning Ranger.

         Beorning clothes are usually of Wool or Deerskin, since the animals they hold at their farms are usually not eaten. Men wear tunics with short sleeves , narrow trousers and heavy Pelt Boots ,usually Wolf of Warg Pelt. Women tend to wear long gowns sometimes combined with a Coat. In the colder times of the Year pelt-wraps are worn, but only the Skinchangers wear heavy Wraps of Bear-Skin and the Bear is forbidden to be hunted.

         The traditional Beorning Weapons are the two-handed Axe and the Spear, Beorning shields are usually big Roundshields which are covered with Wolfskin. Heavy Armor is mostly unknown due to the lack of greater Ironsmeltworks.


Beijabar - Beriaskhal(iar)s
Beijagahar - Beriaskber(iar)s
Berninga - Beroings, Berseggi
Esteravi - Isumari
Great Mother - Megen-Môder
Headman - Hafódman
Mathlaburg - Methelburg
Place of Women - Wîf-Stede
Wacho - Wecca
Waildanbair - Waldend
Waildnabar - Waldendbaru
Waildyth - Woldtacen
Skin-Changers - Fellwidhas
Beoraborn - Berobrand
Waulfa - Ulfera

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Mon Mar 21 01:06:53 2005