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

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