Some two years ago the first volume of the heathen journal saw the light of day. The introduction of volume one said: “What this means specifically is that we seek to encourage the development and assist in the promulgation of rational inquiry into Heathenry as expressed in the domains of Philosophy, Theology, Psychology, Sociology, Antropology, and other disciplines generally included under the umbrella of Religious Studies.” (p. ix). Yet: “[…] we are not solely interested in soliciting essays and dissertations of an academic nature. The Heathen community is not comprised entirely of scholars, and nor is Heathen thought uniformly scholastic in nature.” (p. xi) So, I (non-academic) submitted a text and wrote one on request. Both were declined just before volume II went to the printer. The reason? Writing style. This time the editorial preface states: “What we need from our readership is the same kind of scholarly analyses of Heathen doxa and praxes that have been presented in the journal so far.” (p. ix) So it seems that JOCHT has become an academic publication afterall. True, in such a publication, there is no place for me. I would write nothing like:
“Yet, without the intentional development of the seed-ideas that the faith of our ancestors presents us, we will remain locked into either a primitivist understanding of Heathenry as a static, historical relic, incapable of doxic development, or continue down the path of libertarian fragmentation where everyones believes what they want to believe and deal with the contradictory beliefs of others not by attempting to determine which theology is true, but by resorting to an epistomologically relativistic theological framework in which it is socially unacceptable for a theologian to publicly claim his position to be correct for fear that others might find his “dogmatism” unacceptable.”
I agree with editor Plaisance’s remark quoted from his “epistle to the heathen” added to his 80-page dissertation about “the emerging hierarchy”, but how big do the editors think the academic heathen community really it? Will such essays not scare away the average, but read, pagan who, either or not, manages to plough through the academic literature in his studies, with this way-too-learned-sounding way of writing? Should an academic not be able to write something that other people might understand as well, not only his/her fellow academics? If this is the path that this journal will take, I think it will overshoot it’s goal and limit it’s audience.
But, I ploughed through JOCHT II, so let us have a look at it.
The second volume opens with a translation of a text of Guido von List. I am not sure why, but I suppose that English-reading heathen might be unfamiliar with this controversial author. The text “On the German priesthood of Wuotan” perhaps gives an amusing insight in the thought of Von List, but it is hardly usefull for the contemporary pagan. The same goes for Friedrich Bernhard Marby’s “The origins of matter”. This speculative form of early science is perhaps inspired by runes, but that is the only heathen about this text.
After a contemporary poem in old English we continue with “The natural order and the ensouled folk” of Stephen M. Borthwick. This interesting article about the relation of pagans to nature thrives heavily on old Greek thinking and tends to become over-scholarly after a while. Both remarks count for the earlier quoted text of Chris Plaisance. Plato, Aristotle, Iamblichus, a big jump to Carl Jung and all that to come to some sort of polytheistic theology under One Source. The text is so long, dry and hard to follow that I started “scanning” it when I got halfway. Plaisance has a number of interesting points when he speaks about “historical authority” and other flaws in contemporary heathen thought, but something more compact and readable would be nice.
Kris Stevenson says a few things about Loki, but mostly about similar characters from other mythologies. Then follow essays about “Entropy personified”, “The horned man” and then comes a daring text of Stephen Borthwick “Against the primitivists” in which he takes a stand against heathens who shortsightedly avoid the study of Christianity and who refuse to come to any sort of coherent thought.
A couple of interviews follow, one of which is with John Michael Greer. His name does not ring a bell to me, perhaps this is because he is a Druid and I am not too familiar with that line of contemporary paganism. Greer presents what I think the editors of JOCHT are looking for. He wrote a book about polytheism and Chris Plaisance interviews him about his ideas. Greer proves to be a very strong and original thinker, extremely well-read and not blown away by questions about the “distinction between gnosis, episteme and doxa regarding religious knowledge.” (“Do you have any thoughts on how the fundamentally incommunicable and noetic nature of a hierophany relates to the sacred literature that forms the core of so many theologies?”) In fact”, Greer manages to answer questions like that in depth and understandably too. Perhaps Greer could contribute a text to issue III?
To close off, the journal ends with a critical review of a critical essay about Wodan and a few book reviews.
Nope, JOCHT is not an easy read. It is an interesting read though (most of the time), but do not expect 275 pages about contemporary Northern heathenry and be sure to have a dictionary with you. I admire how the journal takes a stand against the (consciously) childish approach of many heathens of our time, but the editors should watch out for overkill.
2012 Heiðinn Publications, isbn 978146948425