Hammer Of The Gods * Swain Wodening (2003)

Some time ago I was fooling around a little on the internet and I ran into the “blog” of Swain Wodening. I like his thoughtfull writings and practical approach to paganism so I have followed this “blog” since. I also followed some of the links, visited the main website englatheod.org and probably for the first time heard about “Theodism”. Later I learned that Swain has written some books too, so I decided to try two two find out if I would still like his writings if they were a bit more at length. I just finished Hammer Of The Gods and started Þéodisc Geléafa which I will of course review when I finished it.

The first glance at the book shows a cheesy cover and a subtitle that is suspicious to some: “Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times”. The back calls this work “the most comprehensive guide to modern Anglo-Saxon paganism”. That focus on “Anglo-Saxons” is definately something new to me. It appears that “Theodsmen” follow the “belief of the tribe” (which is what “Theodism” literally means), which in this case are the tribes that inhabited what is nowadays the United Kingdom and who the “Theodsmen” apparently see as their ancestors. “Asatru” is seen as another branch of heathenry, being the Scandinavian version. I have alway had the impression that “Asatru” is just an umbrella term for Northern European paganism, but in America things are different. Wodening names all kinds of heathenisms that I never heard of. It is like anybody in the USA whose ideas are slightly different from somebody else, gives birth to a new movement with a new name. “Theodism” has roots in wicca with Garman Lord as founder, but the good man has been outgrown somewhat especially because of the brothers Wodening (Swain and Eric). Nowadays “Theodism” tries to “reconstruct the beliefs and practices of several historic Northern European tribes”. Read more in the nice Wikipedia article about “Theodism” where I took the quote from. Wodening starts with a history of paganism and of course works towards the Anglo-Saxons and “Theodism”. To separate it from “Icelandic Heathenry” he writes on page 13: “The Anglo-Saxon troth, Þéodisc geleafa, Theodish Belief, or Hæðengyld (as it is sometimes called) differs from Icelandic Heathenry in that it has been more innately “tribal” of Þéodisc in nature.”

When reading a book I usually have a pencil at hand to mark interesting or good parts, but just as well to make notes of another kind. Especially the first part of the book has a lot of stripings, sidenotes an marks of that other kind. The first things that shows is the need to make term Old English, artificial if needed. If a term is not available in the Anglo-Saxon sources, it is translated back and thus you get *Íormensyll for Yggdrasil or *Eotenham for Jotunhein. The writer is fair enough to use asterixes for the reconstructed terms. The book is full of smaller and larger errors. When speaking of the nine worlds, the writer gives ten. The descriptions of some parts of the myths are sometimes short and questionable. There are strange typos, some consistent (“none the less” and “its self”), sometimes obviously typos (Siedhr, “Þunor made have been…”) and other disarrays, such as “Bonfire Night” in England would have been on St. Martin’s day (11 November) while the rhime says: “Remember remember the fifth of November with bonfire treason and plot” (watch “V For Vendetta” to remember). When speaking of gods, godesses, giants, dwarves, etc. there is a strange list in a strange order (some lack, of some I wonder why they are named) and when we come to subjects such as afterlife, ritual tools, different rites, the runes, “spaecraft and moundsitting” my reading speed went up a few gears. There are a lot of “should”s in those descriptions, but also many “could”s, but I cannot rid myself of the feeling that these parts are for a large parts wishfull thinking/writing and a bit too artificial. On the other hand, a main obligation for a “Theodsman” is study. Throughout the book it is very obvious that as a native English speaker, the writer has missed an enormous amount of scholarly literature that could have a made things better. The sources are many American writers, and those writers are often not the best. A few exceptions are Ellis Davidson and Wodening has found a translation of the Deutsche Mythologie of the brothers Grimm; not bad, but this is one of the first works in this vein and much better have been written later, of course in German and unavailable for people who cannot read German. However the other book refers to Dumézil and Eliade, I find no trace of the ideas of these two writings in this book. Too bad, because Dumézil’s greatest works are available in English and could shed light on several subjects, even for people who do not agree with his main theories.

I know it begins to seem as if I want to burn this book to the ground. This is not the case. For Europeans who can read other languages than English and for people who are looking for a scholarly work about paganism, I do not advice to buy this book. It is by no means worthless though! The focus on other than the obvious sources such as the Eddas, the Icelandic sagas, etc. is at least refreshing. The writer also seems to be well acquainted with most of the material available in English, including a great many sagas and several Anglo-Saxon texts (of course there is a lot of focus on Beowulf but there is more). Also valuable is the practical approach. Whatever you may think of “symbels” and “blóts” (terms I never heard in Europe), reconstructed seasonal rites and the like, Wodening gives you an idea of what you can do with your life in a pagan perspective. This goes from very practical “thews and virtues” to far-reaching ideas about modern tribalism, the family and the community. “Theodism” aims to be heathenry in modern times, but to be as authentic as possible; so authentic that the notion of artificiality sometimes shows, but the ideas in the book are consistent, underbuilt, weighted out and not completely unreachable. However I disagree with much of this ‘system’ (democracy is authentic?), 25 years of “being pagan” has made a writer who knows what he is talking about, with interesting ideas, refreshing insights and as it seems, quite a following. The book is mainly for the American audience, but for a European it is not bad to read some other ideas sometimes.

2003 Global Book Publisher isbn: 159457006X

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