Barbarian Rites – Hans-Peter Hasenfratz (2011)

This book entered my radar because of its translator: Michael Moynihan. The title and the cover gave me second thoughts, but I purchased it in the end anyway. The original title sounds more appealing (to me) “Die Religiöse Welt Der Germanen”, basically the subtitle of the translation.

Moynihan sees that readers who cannot read German, miss a lot of information about ancient Northern culture so he decided to fill that gap a little. He took a fairly recent book. The original is from 1992. I did not know Hasenfratz. He seems to be a ‘generalist’ with books about Christianity, Eastern culture, etc.

Especially in the first half, the translated title is annoyingly fitting. Hasenfratz starts with the famous report of Ibn Fadlan, but rather than describing the ship burial, the quotes are about the filthy “Rus”, their bad habits and the way they treat their slaves. Also when discussing rituals and religion, the focus lays on their barbarity.

Only around halfway the tone changes somewhat and the information becomes better. The chapter about magic is alright as is the part about cosmology.

What I find a bit strange is the brevity of the information and the lack of context. Rigr from the Rigsthula is Odin and there is no mention that many investigators say it is Heimdallr. Odin is a war-god with little regard to other features. Only towards the end there is mention of Indo-European culture and the book closes with possible Christian influences on the texts that we have. Here, at least, Hasenfratz has the stance that not everything with a Christian similarity is due to conversion.

Moynihan added a great number of extra notes which adds more context for the English-speaking audience. A bit odd though. Hasenfratz starts over numbering notes which each chapter, Moynihan’s notes run throughout the book.

Here and there Hasenfratz has an angle that is not too obvious, but for the entire book I have wondered why Moyhihan decided to translate this one and not one of the many, many other German books about the subject.

2011 Inner Traditions, isbn 1594774218

De Laatste Heiden – Thorvald Ross (2021)

How often does it happen that a heathen themed novel is published? In Dutch even less so.

The author is also the first‐person narrator of the book. He is a journalist in the outskirts of Vlaanderen, Dutch-speaking Netherlands. He befriends a singular farmer named Firmin. Firmin leads a simple life, but he proves to have deep waters. The initially closed farmer has some peculiar habits. His enigmatic statements make place for deeply personal stories and as the story develops, Thorvald becomes familiar with the heathen practices of Firmin. When Firmin starts to prepare the autumn equinox, Thorvald rides along and the author describes the ritual in such detail and with explanations that the contemporary heathen just may get inspiration from it. Thorvald plunges into a vision which greatly deepens the friendship between the two men.

The story takes a somewhat sinister tone when the Wolf-time becomes more and more apparent. Local events are used to describe the destructive forces of modernism. Firmin does what he can. Different storylines meet at Midsummer and the author again offers a very detailed ritual.

The story contains known themes from Northern mythology, but also (known) themes from ‘the real world’. Some of the characters can (sometimes fairly easily) be connected to characters from Northern myths. These different themes are nicely woven together. The development of the story is not really surprising, especially not when you are familiar with the myths, but this actually adds some charm to the book.

“The Last Heathen” is a little book of only 123 pages. Contemporary (and Dutch-speaking) heathens may appreciate the book, because even though it is a novel, it brings enough to think over. The detailed rituals may even inspire your own.

Published at 25 January 2021, bookshops only have their copies available by 25 February.

2021 Aspekt, isbn 9464240784

Hermes Trismegistus – John van Schaik & Jacob Slavenburg (2020)

For the gift-giving month of December I had to come up with a present and I remembered that Slavenburg had a new book.

Co-authored with John van Schaik, Slavenburg made an overview of Hermes Trismegistus and Hermetism throughout the ages. Who was he? What are the texts? What do these texts say? How did these texts come to us? Who took inspiration from these texts? There is extra focus on Hermes in the Netherlands.

Having been familiar with the subject for a long time, the book does not bring me much news. What is a pro about the book is that the authors used the most recent information, so in a few details I did learn something new.

From people clearly inspired by Hermes / Hermetism, the book continues with subjects in which this gets thinner and the authors more move towards general esotericism with Rosicrucians, Freemasons, Theosophy, Rudolf Steiner, OTO, etc. We close off with the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica and the Hermetic chair at the University of Amsterdam.

The most interesting parts are those in which the authors quite a variety of texts to show something about different subjects. The more general parts are ‘catching up’ or perhaps rather: information for those for whom the subject is new.

The book is in Dutch by the way.

2020 Walburg Pers, isbn 946249486X

Autobiography Of A Sadhu – Rampuri (2010)

De Western guru of Aki Cederberg published his autobiography through the same publisher a decade earlier.

Baba Rampuri was born William A. Gans in 1950. Like Cederberg, his longing for genuine spirituality brought Gans to India around his 20th. Contrary to Cederberg, Gans nevermore left.

Rampuri’s autobiography is an interesting read. On his way to India he meets a Frenchman who has spent more time in India already. The Frenchman gives the young Gans some suggestions. The American starts to crisscross India and in no time the three months that his visum is valid have expired. He manages to prolong his stay.

Gans visits several gurus, gets immerged in the spiritual life of India and at some point decides to look for a guru that the Frenchman suggested. He was expected and is almost immediately pressured into being initiated. A unique event as Westerners usually are not allowed to join.

Now called Ram Puri, Gans describes the hard life of an Indian mystic, how he is taught and what he is taught. This makes vivid descriptions of a life completely alien to a Westerner and beautiful stories about Hindu Gods, Goddesses and Baba’s.

After a while Rampuri is sent on the road to meet other gurus, but he is supposed to be present at the Kumph Mela for another initiation into the tradition that his guru connected him to. Meeting both friendliness and severe resistance Rampuri gets his initiation.

Life is not all fun and joy and we follow Rampuri’s travels, but also the ‘travels of his mind’. His Western upbringing keeps bringing up doubts and whatever he does, he remains an outsider.

Towards the end there is a major turn of events which almost makes me wonder if this is actually an autobiography or rather a novel!

Rampuri’s autobiography is a very nice read, interesting and entertaining. It has both a Western and an Eastern attitude, being initiated into a tradition of storytelling, Rampuri is a storyteller.

2010 Destiny Books, isbn 1594773300

Journeys In The Kali Yuga – Aki Cederberg (2017)

The author is a spiritually restless Fin who here presents his spiritual autobiography.

His wanderings bring Cederberg to India and Nepal and the first part of the book describes his many journeys there. His vivid descriptions of the (religious) madness in these countries are quite ‘disenchanting’ at times.

On his trips, Cederberg meets kindred souls and after long searches he finds a teacher in the Naga Baba tradition who has Western roots. Baba Rampuri was to be his guru and initiator into the Indian esoteric tradition. This took place in Sweden!

Cederberg went back to India several times, the peak of his visits is the gigantic Kumph Mela ‘festival’ which houses 40 million people on a single day! That experience, as impressive as it was, was a turning point and the author slowly starts to drift back to ancient European spirituality.

He journies remained many but closer to home. Every once in a while Cederberg runs into some Western friends that he knows from his ‘Indian period’, but also these (and also as suggested by Rampuri), connect to ancient European religion. Not as much as Cederberg though.

Thus you can read the spiritual quest of a man living in the desacralized West. A quest with ups and downs. “Journeys In The Kali Yuga” makes a nice read.

2017 Destiny Books, isbn 9781620556795

Heidens Jaarboek 14 (2020)

Just before the end of 2020 the 14th “heathen yearbook” of the Dutch group “Nederlands Heidendom” (‘Dutch heathenry’) is made available. 150 Well printed pages on A4 format.

The main theme of this edition is the Frisian king Redbad who died 1300 years ago in 2019. The first of two Redbad articles from the hand of main editor Boppo Grimmsma is a short one showing how Redbad was popularised leading up to 2019 with books, a play and a film.

Grimmsma’s second article is much longer and takes a big chunk of the 14th yearbook. He investigates how likely the year of death 719 is correct, if the available information on his death (after a lengthy sickbed) makes any sense, but most of all: if the hagiography Vita Wulframni has an edited, yet original Frisian hero-saga about Redbad incorporated into it. Displaying and weighing sources, Grimmsma reaches a few uncommon conclusions, such as that the “devil” that appears to Redbad in a dream is not Wodan, as some investigators claim, but “Fra” (the Frisian counterpart of Freyr).

Another contribution of some length is of myself. I tried to make a compilation of the information I gathered about Franz Farwerck.

There is a text by Gijsbrecht on the Lekebacken ancient graveyard in Sweden, another translated part of Jan de Vries’ Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, Gerard continues his investigations into ancient symbolism by looking into the three dots and then we have a whole pack of 999 character stories that are presented at the twice yearly celebrations of the group. Since there were no yearbooks in 2015-2018 there was some catching up to do.

So again a varied and interesting read for those who are able to read Dutch. Click on the cover on information how to obtain your copy.

2020 Nederlands Heidendom

European Paganism – Ken Dowden (2008)

The author apparently wanted to make an overview of literal evidence for pre Christian practices all over Europe. His area goes from the far North to Greece and from Ireland to the Easternmost parts of Europe.

The subjects are thematic. Landscape, elements of that landscape, statues, shrines and temples, rituals, calendar, Gods, priests and important points in life and in the year.

The book reads a bit like the mythology books of 150 years ago. As in: ‘The Romans did this and the Slavs this.’ Dowden mostly uses written sources and looks at them critically. For Germanic information he mostly uses Jan de Vries.

So “European Paganism” became a bit of an inventory. You can check what sources are available on a wide variety of subjects and in many cases Dowden sketches how credible the source is. There is not much new information, but some of his sources are not the best known.

Dowden does refer to Dumézil and his theory several times and here and there has an uncommon opinion such as stating that Thor in many cases is the God of the Thing (p. 286).

Even though the author seems positive critical towards paganism and shows the colored information from Christian sources, he does say on page 2017: “If, on the other hand, we are convinced, as I am, that the pagans were wholly deluded in supposing various gods to exists and that ontologically, in the cruel light of day, they were worshipping nothing.”

2008 Routledge, isbn 0415474639

Rediscovered Rituals Of English Freemasonry – David Harrison (2020)

Once again Harrison publishes a book about old Masonic texts. About I must stress as we will see.

The concerning texts is a collection of Masonic rituals made by Richard Carlile (1790-1843) under the title Manual Of Freemasonry (first published 1845).

The book begins with Carlile, a political radical and not a Freemason (!) who wanted to educate the general public about a variety of subjects, including Freemasonry.

Carlile proves to be a good investigator with good sources and a keen insight in the symbolism and workings of Freemasonry. He compiled 30 rituals, including the three “craft degrees” (entered apprentice, fellowcraft, master mason). They are not presented as one system, Carlile compiled degrees from all kinds of systems. Besides, in these days, may degrees not all really were part of a system. The compilation does show what degrees were ‘worked’ in these days of course.

So you get ‘high degrees’, ‘side degrees’, many degrees that are now part of the Ancient And Accepted Scottish Rite, etc., etc. Unfortunately Harrison chose to only retell the stories of the degrees, rather than printing the texts that Carlile has published.

The historical part is somewhat interesting. The short stories of the degrees is only mildly so. What is of more interest is that Harrison shows how Carlile ordered his degrees so that there is some sort of developing story throughout the degrees.

It seems that again I have to conclude that the author appears to have much more information available than what he presents is this little book (just a little over 100 pages of text). Harrisons books would be much more interesting if he did not compress his information into tiny books such as this one.

Do I have to say that this book will only be interesting for people either ‘going through’ Masonic degrees and/or interested in their histories?

2020 Lewis Masonic, isbn 9780853185710

Autobiography – Adam McLean (2020)

  • history

Adam McLean (1948-) is the (in)famous man behind I remember knowing that website for as long as I have access to the internet, so even when it was still hosted at This book shows why that recollection is correct.

Of course McLean did way more than hosting a website. He is probably best known for coloring Alchemical plates, but he published many, many Alchemical texts, wrote books himself, had some journals (the most famous of which is the Hermetic Journal), etc. etc.

Now that McLean is starting to become of age, he not only started to look back at his life, but also to sell his massive collections of book, tarot decks, paintings, drawings and whatever he collected during his life. And a collector he sure is. As an example. Quite late in his life McLean developed an interest in the art of tarot cards. In the next decade he collected several thousands of them!

The autobiography starts quite autobiographical. McLean was interested in electronic devices and chemics from a very early age. He experimented, created his own devices and picked up an interest in maths. Formal education did not quite bring what he hoped, so McLean started to look for other ways to pursue his interests. Needless to say that somewhere along the line, he got interested in Alchemy.

You can read how he prints his own books, what projects he worked on, how he met people such as Joost Ritman of the Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica, conferences he organised and attended, the many times he moved residence, his experiments with early computers and indeed, how he created a website as soon the internet became available to the general public.

(Overly) active, even obsessive perhaps, McLean goes after anything that triggers his interest, being it surreal art, Jeroen Bosch, mathematics, magic, (al)chemy, etc. A driven man indeed and he still is. Also his entire life he tries to convince people that a more rational approach of his subjects is to be preferred, something which is not always received with applause.

The book is an amusing read. Here and there I got some context to history that I was (vaguely) aware of before, such as the founding of the Ritman Library. As the book continues, it becomes less autobiographical though and more a list of McLean’s numerous projects.

2020 Kilbirnie Press, isbn 979-8669905583

How Thor Lost His Thunder – Declan Taggart (2018)

This book has been on my wish list for a while. It was an expensive academic publication though. The hardback is still around $ 150,-. A while ago I noticed that there is a Kindle version (Amazon ebook) for $ 37,-. Still expensive and I did not have a Kindle. By the time I got myself one, Amazon also started selling a paperback for the same price as the digital version. Weird, how the book market can act!

Taggard had published articles about the subject of his PhD and the publication for this PhD is worked into this book.

Taggart’s book is both dull and fascinating. Dull, because the author meticulously investigates all ancient written sources about the God Thor. Page after page about some literary expression or another detail. On the other hand, this is fascinating too. Seldom do I see such thorough scholarship, weighing arguments, comparing interpretations. Of course the book is stuffed with references to texts that we know, but also lesser known sources. It does help if you know your sources, as Taggart does not always provide context to the details he presents.

As the title suggests, the main thesis of Taggart is showing that the often repeated connection of Thor to thunder and lightning is not entirely corroborated by the sources. Much (the book is 228 pages) is presented to investigate this. Taggart describes the sources, looks for original meanings for names and words, investigates landscape and climate of the regions where the sources were written down, takes a critical look to the interpretatio Romano and the other way around and then starts investigating different sources and elements thereof.

So where is Thor actually connected with thunder, not in translation, but in the original texts? What do words in these texts mean in another context? These are the things you will read about in Taggarts book.

There are also subject such as, what does “Thor vigi” actually mean? Is every symbol that looks like a hammer a reference to Thor and what could these symbols, pendants, etc. have been for?

Taggard is critical, but positively so. He is more positive to Snorri than some other authors for example. He explains in detail why he refutes or corroborates interpretations or when he simply cannot be entirely sure.

Indeed, How Thor Lost His Thunder is an interesting read. Perhaps too detailed for some, but it are investigations like these that really polish the way we look at the old texts.

2018 Routledge, isbn 0367889021 (of the 2019 paperback version)