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Indo-European Mythology And Religion – Alexander Jacob (2019)

A while ago I got myself three recent Manticore books. When I had just started reading the present title, the publisher contacted me to tell me about yet another new title. Manticore is hard to keep up with.

I know Jacob from another Manticore title. In my review I noted Jacob has a different approach from my own and that he can be quite pedantic. Now I may add that his conclusions sometimes seem extremely easy.

As the cover says, the current title presents essays. The essays are based on two of Jacob’s interesting-sounding books Atman: A Reconstruction of the Solar Cosmology of the Indo-Europeans and Brahman: A Study of the Solar Rituals of the Indo-Europeans. As the titles suggest, Jacob sees a solar origin of the mythology. This approach is also present in the current title.

The book being made of essays brings the annoying fact that the author uses the same phrases, quotes and even entire sentences several times. A few times I even wondered if I had opened the book on the wrong page. Were these essays written especially for this book? In that case the redaction is not ‘optimal’.
Another such thing. Somewhere in some essay the author gives abbreviations of texts quoted. Why not just print such a list at the end where it can be found?

As I said I find Jacob’s approach too easy here and there. I think this is due to the vast terrain of information that he uses which does not allow him to be elucidative. You will often see lines such as: “[…] may be related to the worship of Muruga/Marduk/Ninurta” (p. 220), “This heroic figure in the evolution of the sun is called Zeus/Ganesha/Seth […] (p. 33) or: “The breath or life-force Vâyu/Wotan” (p. 20) as if these names are entirely interchangeable. Another such example makes page 261 where in one allinea Jacob bluntly equates “Muspell” with “heaven” and “Niflheim” with “hell”. A few lines down, Niflheim even is “Earth”.
On page 268 he even manages to state that the roots of Yggdrasil end in “Heaven, Muspell where the Gods (Aesir/Asuras) hold court. […] The second root reaches Ginnungagap where the “frost ogres” dwell. […] The third root ends in hel, or Niflheim […]”

I like a book with a high ‘information density’. This definitely goes for the first part of the book. The first essay is a brain-melting overview of Indo-European history. History, mythology, recent investigations, in a few dozen pages you will be up-to-date with the latest theories and findings even with a somewhat ‘Witzel-like’ peek into a ‘proto mythology’. Too much information to make sense entirely, but interesting.

From then on Jacob moves more towards mythology in which a lot of stress lays on Indian mythology, a little less on Mesopotamian. The basis seems to be that from the three sons of Noah came the three groups of men, Japhet being the father of the Indo-Aryans. Within the latter, there were fire-ritual ‘yogic’ peoples (“Vedic”) and those with more of a ‘worship approach (“Tantric”).
Four ages, floods, ritual and myth, Jacob works through them as if he was limited in the number of pages by his publisher.

As I said before, Jacob is quite ‘un-Dumézilian’ and however it is interesting to see a different approach, I sometimes fail to see the logic in his comparisons. Also he seems to sometimes limit himself to only a part of God(dess) and so coming to strange comparisons such as: The Norse God, Aegir, represents Enki/Varuna, the castrated primal Heaven that is sunk in the underworld (Earth) waiting to be revived by the storm-god.” (p. 265). “Wotan” is ‘but’ a wind-God (which does make the “windy tree” more interesting!), while all the way at the end he says that this is too simple.

Indeed, there is Germanic mythology in the book. Initially just a mention here and there, but the last essay is “On the Germanic gods Wotan and Thor”. Jacob follows Snorri’s euhemeristic account in which the Gods were men coming from the East. He makes some interesting remarks regarding this theory, but it does show how he focusses on one source without looking at alternative theories.

As before, Jacob’s book makes a nice read and it forced me to think over some things again. On the long run, I do not think his approach will be mine.

2019 Manticore Press, isbn 0648499618

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