from “The New Antaios” : Frans Eduard Farwerck

This text was written for The New Antaios online journal in 2010 or so. The website has been taken down since, so I decided to publish it here for ‘archival reasons’.
Go here for a much larger text about Farwerck

Some 8 years ago I met my girl­friend. We were both involved in a short-lived Dutch ‘spir­i­tual mag­a­zine’ that liked to treat con­tro­ver­sial sub­jects. Through the edi­tor of the mag­a­zine my girl­friend got acquinted with a Flem­ish ‘Asatru’ group and later so did I. At the time my inter­est still mainly laid at Renais­sance eso­teri­cism, Medieval magic, etc. This was already a bit closer to home, since before I had an inter­est in more exotic, East­ern sub­jects. In any case, meet­ing Asatru excelled my shift towards even more domes­tic inter­ests, the old reli­gion of North­ern Europe. While becom­ing active in the group I ini­tially sticked to my inter­ests, but I heard a lot of inter­est­ing new paths.

In the Nether­lands and Flan­ders we have a chain of fairly large anti­quar­ian book­shops called “De Slegte” and at the time I fre­quently vis­ited our local store. Nowa­days I specif­i­cally hunt for titles instead of just see­ing what I run into. Con­trary to my hab­bits of the time, I took a look through the folklore/faery tales sec­tion and my eye fell on the back of an enor­mous, red book. I took it from the shelf, paged through it and I realised that this had to a be title often used by the founder of the Asatru group. Sim­i­lar ideas, sim­i­lar sub­jects. The back said: Noordeu­ropese Mys­ter­iën. It was not cheap, but I bought it, read it and was blown away.

Since that time, this book has become a true cult-work among Dutch speak­ing hea­thens. The book has been out of print since 1978, but as there is demand for it, the price is pushed upwards. It has not yet become another Alt­ger­man­is­che Reli­gion­s­geschichte (Jan de Vries, 1956 and 1974, this two vol­ume work is usu­ally sold for sev­eral hun­dreds euros), but you do not just visit a (web)shop and buy it. Noordeu­ropese Mys­ter­iën is not impos­si­ble to find and it does not even have to be really expen­sive, but you have to look around not to pay an absurd price for it, since espe­cially after the inter­net cat­a­logues of anti­quar­ian book­shops, some peo­ple fig­ured out what they can ask for the title.

Con­trary to Alt­ger­man­is­che Reli­gion­s­geschichte, Noordeu­ropese Mys­ter­iën is writ­ten in Dutch (De Vries’ book is in Ger­man), nar­row­ing its audi­ence. This and the fact that is no longer in print, caused the fact that the book is unknown and over­looked in the non-Dutchspeaking world, espe­cially in the English-speaking world. I hope that this small arti­cle might change that. Of course, this might put even more pres­sure on the price, but per­haps a for­eign pub­lisher gets the idea of repub­lish­ing or even trans­lat­ing it. But at least, peo­ple who ‘should’ know the book, might now hear of it.

The book I am talk­ing about has the full title Noordeu­ropese Mys­ter­iën en hun sporen tot heden. This is trans­lated as ‘Northern-European mys­ter­ies and their traces to the present’. We know about the mys­tery cults of the medit­er­anean area, Greece, Egypt, etc.; we know about the mys­tery reli­gions of the near and far east, but mys­ter­ies in North­ern Europe? Was ancient North­ern Europe not inhab­ited by stu­pid plun­der­ing bar­bar­ians? Some schol­ars even doubt our ances­tors had a reli­gion to start with, let along a mys­tery cult. This book shows us oth­er­wise and shows more, much much more.

Noordeu­ropese Mys­ter­iën is the result of a life­long inves­ti­ga­tion and the result of a respect­full list of pub­li­ca­tions of the Dutch­man Frans Eduard Far­w­erck who lived from 1889 to 1978. Far­w­erck was a suc­ces­full trader of car­pets and joined Freema­sonry in 1918. It took a while before his first pub­li­ca­tion saw the light of day, in 1927 he pub­lished a book about the world’s mys­tery reli­gions through a reg­u­lar pub­lisher, but under the obvi­ously Masonic pseu­do­nym B.J. van der Zuylen (“Zuylen” is an old way of writ­ing “zuilen”, “pil­lars” and the ini­tials of course refer to Boas an Jachin). This impres­sive 565 paged book gives but lit­tle room to Ger­manic and Celtic mys­ter­ies, but they are already present. Farwerck’s next book is a truly Masonic one about the Hiram myth, pub­lished by “the lodge”. Then the Ger­mans raised to power, Far­w­erck joined the NSB (“nationaal-socialistische beweg­ing”, the Dutch national social­ist party) and he was expelled from “the lodge” in 1934 after a 16 year car­reer in which he reached the absolute high­est rank in his order.

With his national social­ist friends he founded a pub­lish­ing com­pany called “Der Vaderen Erfdeel” (losely trans­lated with “fathers’ her­itage”) through which in 1938 he pub­lished his clas­sic work Lev­end Verleden set­ting the tone for his later writ­ings. Far­w­erck trav­elled exten­sively, mak­ing count­less pho­tos, inves­ti­gat­ing local myths, sto­ries and folk­lore and ‘liv­ing past’ is a col­lec­tion of mostly build­ing and frontage sym­bol­ism, the ori­gins of which he traces back to the prechris­t­ian past. Then a few years of silence follow.

Again as Van der Zuylen in 1953 Far­w­erck pub­lishes Noord-Europese Mys­ter­iën en Inwi­jdin­gen in de Oud­heid (‘Northern-European Mys­ter­ies and Ini­ti­a­tions in ancient times’), a rough ver­sion of his much later Noordeu­ropese Mys­ter­iën. In the same year Far­w­erck pub­lished a book about that mys­te­ri­ous object that is nowa­days called the “Frank’s cas­ket” and after that the extremely inter­est­ing and (almost) impos­si­ble to find Noord-Europa, een der bron­nen van de Maçonieke sym­bol­iek (‘North­ern Europe, one of the sources of Masonic sym­bol­ism’ 1955). This lit­tle book con­tains infor­ma­tion that Far­w­erck appar­ently did not want/dare to pub­lish in his pub­lic pub­li­ca­tion, but roughly it rep­re­sents the next step in his inves­ti­ga­tions that would lead to Noordeu­ropese Mys­ter­iën.

This time under his own name, Far­w­erck again pub­lishes about the mys­tery reli­gions in gen­eral in 1960 and 1 year later fol­lows the final result, the man’s mag­num opus. It is sold out in no-time, but has but one reprint, since Farwerck’s war-past sud­denly became an obsta­cle. The sec­ond print­ing did not sell too well either.

Unfor­tu­nately the war past is a big issue in these parts. Many authors with inter­est in the pagan past of North­ern Europe thought that join­ing the national social­ists could be good for their cause and after the dis­as­ter of WWII they all remained with an inerad­i­ca­ble stain on their per­sons. Some even kept the ide­ol­ogy, oth­ers realised their mis­take, but the result remains that when some peo­ple started to raise ques­tions about cer­tain author’s past, they were banned. Their books were no longer printed or repub­lished, new authors who had no war-past what­so­ever can­not use these authors as their sources. The col­lec­tive shame for the actions of some of our peo­ple have made inves­ti­ga­tions in the sub­ject of the prechris­t­ian reli­gion of North­ern Europe vir­tu­ally impos­si­ble. Even the stan­dard works of Jan de Vries (1890–1964), no mat­ter how highly acclaimed by schol­ars, are no longer avail­ble. Iron­i­cally enough among schol­ars De Vries is pop­u­lar enough to give him some credit, so his Edda trans­la­tion can be found in most book­shops to this day and many authors cite him by lack of bet­ter sources. I do not expect a reprint, let alone a trans­la­tion of the Alt­ger­man­is­che Reli­gion­s­geschichte any time soon. The same goes for Farwerck’s superb work.

But enough about all that, let us talk a bit about the ideas in the book. Of course in a small arti­cle in which I want to give a biog­ra­phy and sum­merise the find­ings of half a decade of inves­ti­ga­tions, I can­not go into much detail. I hope to present you just enough to sparkle your inter­est in the sub­ject and/or inspire peo­ple to learn Dutch and/or do their own investigations.

Noord-Europese Mys­ter­iën

Far­w­erck starts with describ­ing “reli­gious and myth­i­cal con­cep­tions of the Ger­mans con­cern­ing rites of ini­ti­a­tion”. Death and the under­world, bur­ial prac­tices, life after death, imag­i­na­tions of the dead. This is all infor­ma­tion you can also find else­where, but it of course sets the tone, since the next part is about can­di­dates for the Ger­manic God of ini­ti­a­tion. Is it Wodan, is it Balder, is it Donar? Most exten­sively treated is Wodan/Odin. His con­nec­tion to the dead (con­form Mer­cury), his wolves, the eight-legged horse, hang­ings, offer­ing rit­u­als, the Ein­her­jar, all ele­ments that, put in the right per­spec­tive, could sug­gest Wodan has some­thing to do with ini­ti­a­tions. An entire chap­ter is ded­i­cated to the wild hunt(er) that goes around the nightly sky in the Yule-period, Wodan with his legion of the dead. Far­w­erck quotes from folk­lore and local myths to show that the idea of the Wild Hunt(er) can be found from France to Nor­way and from Slavic coun­tries to Ire­land. Wodan in con­nec­tion to fer­til­ity (and there­for again with the dead) is the sub­ject of the next chap­ter. After this Far­w­erck starts look­ing for infor­ma­tion about rites of ini­ti­a­tion, and we are not talk­ing about rites de pas­sage in which a boy becomes a man and a girl a woman. The first story that comes to mind is of course the story of Balder’s death and res­ur­rec­tion, the sec­ond Odin hang­ing down the world tree and learn­ing the runes or the hang­ing of king Vikarr by Starkadr, but first we go to another subject.

Män­ner­bünde

After the ground­break­ing work Kul­tische Gehe­im­bünde der Ger­ma­nen (‘cul­tic secret soci­eties of the Ger­mans’ 1934) the sub­ject of “Män­ner­bünde” (‘men bonds’) was ‘hip’ for a while. But… also Höfler became a mem­ber of the Ahnenerbe and the NSDAP so after WWII this was another sub­ject ‘not done’. Only recently schol­ars start to write about the sub­ject again. Even Eng­lish writ­ing schol­ars usu­ally use Höfler’s term “Män­ner­bünde”, so let us stick to that tra­di­tion. Män­ner­bünde, as the term sug­gests, are groups of men that stand with one leg out­side nor­mal soci­ety, they are secret groups. In the con­text of North­ern Euro­pean peo­ples we quickly think about some sort of elite war­rior groups such as the Ein­her­jar, the Uld­hed­nar and the Berz­erkr, but Far­w­erck sug­gests that many of the names that we think were tribes in the writ­ings of the Romans, actu­ally referred to such elite war­rior groups. The Harii, the Chat­tii, the Lan­go­b­ards, even the Vikings in the orig­i­nal mean­ing sup­pos­edly were such groups. Should the Män­ner­bünde have been mere war­rior groups, they would have not been as inter­est­ing as they are though.

When not at war, mem­bers of these groups had all kinds of spe­cial priv­iledges. The right of rep­ri­mand, the right to steal, they had cer­tain dances, fes­tiv­i­ties, dress­ing (such as ani­mal cloth­ing) and spe­cial roles in pub­lic cer­e­monies for fer­til­ity or sea­sonal feasts. Many things sug­gest that mem­bers of these groups ful­filled a spe­cial role in soci­ety, a role which even came with oblig­a­tions such as that of secrecy and sev­eral duties. Far­w­erck shows what he finds around these sub­jects and con­tin­ues to show that such groups have sur­vived much much longer than we may expect. They were cul­tic groups that sur­vived the com­ing of Chris­tian­ity by remod­el­ing to Chris­t­ian groups that we came to know as guilds. Besides such ‘reli­gious guilds’, there were of course the famous work­ers guilds of the masons, the tim­ber­men and the tan­ners, groups that have remark­able sim­i­lar­i­ties to the Män­ner­bünde of old.

Far­w­erck sums up a stag­ger­ing amount of folk­loris­tic hab­bits and other remains that are unmis­tak­enly con­nected to these groups. All kinds of saints seem merely Chris­tian­i­sa­tions of pagan deities and the tra­di­tions around them have but a thin layer of var­nish. Horn– and Mor­ris­dances, Mummer’s plays, sword dances, Schlem­laufen and Klaus­ja­gen, Far­w­erck lets a lot of these nice folk­loris­tic feasts pass the reader. It is amaz­ing how the steal­right or the right to rep­ri­mand are still rights of youth-groups as late as the early 20th cen­tury, groups that have some watered-down ele­ment of wear­ing ani­mal skin and cer­tain dances that have been per­formed in churches until the Ref­or­ma­tion. Of course much infor­ma­tion comes from Chris­t­ian sources try­ing to ban these pagan prac­tices, but this often did not work too well so they were tried to be Christianised.

Recon­struc­tion of ancient initiations

Chap­ter 10 is ded­i­cated to the sum­ming up of infor­ma­tion that Far­w­erck has been able to find to see if he can recon­struct the rites. He starts with the pos­si­ble places where the cer­e­monies would be held. Of course lakes, for­rests, hills, etc. were the sacred places for Ger­mans and Celts alike. There are many toponyms (place names) that sug­gest cer­tain cer­e­monies. Mur­der pits, wolf pits, devil’s hills even “woensberg”en or places named “Woensel” (now part of the city of Eind­hoven) and “Woens­drecht” all clearly refer to Wodan and in the case of the mur­der pits, could there death-and-resurrection cer­e­monies have been held? There are also toponyms that seem to refer to (sacred) meals (cul­tic meals?), so called “troja burchten” (con­struc­tions or draw­ings in the form of a spi­ral) about which a lot is to say (Far­w­erck uses 24 pages). Then we have the sacred times of the sol­stices and equinoxes around which (folk)stories exist that sug­gest cul­tic rites vague shad­ows of which have been kept in folk­lore and recent fes­ti­vals. After this Far­w­erck comes to cloth­ing, sacred weapons, cer­tain songs and dances, hang­ings and spear-woundings, trav­els to the under­world and res­ur­rec­tions there­from, new names, the sacred potion (usu­ally some­thing made with honey) and old and less old ref­er­ences to broth­er­hoods of all sorts.

Far­w­erck con­tin­ues with guilds. Since they are fairly recent there is more infor­ma­tion avail­able about their struc­ture, hab­bits, legal sta­tus, etc. Not only workers-guilds are spo­ken about, but also for exam­ple shoot­ing guilds, a beloved sub­ject for peo­ple who want to find the traces back to a fur­ther past.

With “build­ing huts” and build­ing guilds we are a step closer to our own time, because you will prob­a­bly know that they are well rep­re­sented in the his­tory the Freema­sons give them­selves. Dif­fer­ent kinds of guilds have all kinds of secrets that are both prac­ti­cal, but also reli­gious. You can read all about it in the pop­u­lar his­to­ries of Freema­sonry, but Far­w­erck presents a nice overview and very inter­est­ing details. Now also fol­low more pho­tos that Far­w­erck took in churches with faces with a hand below their chin, sup­pos­edly a secret sign of mas­ter masons. Of course there are also the master-signs (some sort of sig­na­tures) that often remind of runes, but we are already talk­ing about the 11/12th cen­tury here. Quite some infor­ma­tion about these guilds seems to come directly from Masonic writ­ings, but of course, Masons says that these guilds are their pre­de­ces­sors. And then we get pho­tos of all kinds of strange orna­ments in churches with one-eyed fig­ures (Wodan?), mock­eries of the church, pic­tures of men in strange pos­tures and all kinds of sug­ges­tive scenes that seem too unchris­t­ian to be built into a church.

Freema­sonry

And there we have it, Far­w­erck spends the last 150 pages of his book show­ing that “Freema­sonry [is] one of the youngest descen­dants of the ancient men bonds”. Hav­ing been a high-ranking Mason him­self, he quotes all kinds of Masonic texts, rit­u­als, etc. (but I think he tells us noth­ing he should bet­ter not) and com­pares them to what we find in myths, sagas, pagan art or folk­lore. The form of the tem­ple, the place where the dif­fer­ent offi­ciants can be found, rit­u­al­is­tic sym­bol­isms such as the limp­ing or signs of recog­ni­tion, sym­bol­ism on the “tableau”, the three pil­lars, the large and the small lights, Masonic cloth­ing (Thor’s iron gloves and gir­dle), the con­se­crat­ing ham­mer and even the open­ing and clos­ing rites, they all seem to have North­ern Euro­pean ori­gins rather than Jew­ish or Egyptian.

There is a lot more to say, but here you have the red thread. In work­ing to his con­clu­sion, Far­w­erck sheds light on a great many ele­ments of folk­lore and (folk) sym­bol­ism, giv­ing new inter­pre­ta­tions of tales, sagas and texts that we know, cross ref­er­enc­ing dif­fer­ent myths and dif­fer­ent folk­tales and all together his book is a true gold­mine and a just rea­son to have grown into being a cult book. This is the kind of book that I hope to run into some time again, but I doubt I ever will. Besides all the works that I own of Dumézil, Eli­ade, Guénon or De Vries, I often first check Far­w­erck, then the rest. Espe­cially when I am look­ing for visu­als, I go to Far­w­erck, since his books are as much stuffed with pho­tos and draw­ings as they are with infor­ma­tion and until this day, he has col­lected an unprece­dented amount of visu­als of details and sym­bol­ism. These alone are a rea­son to get the book.

Even when you are not inter­ested in the North­ern Euro­pean his­tory of Freema­sonry (most peo­ple who buy this book are not), you will find enough infor­ma­tion in the uplighted parts that Far­w­erck needs to present his proof. Per­son­ally I admire the book too for being a non-Traditionalist, he presents a story that almost no Tra­di­tion­al­ist has ever told even though (s)he should have: the unbro­ken chain has been kept in the West though West­ern organ­i­sa­tions until this very day.

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