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asatru / heathen

Polemos II: Pagan Perspectives – Askr Svarte (2021)

So, Polemos was initially a 1000-page book written in Russian by an author born in 1991. First published in 2016, at the age of 25! Also the translator, Jafe Arnold, is a young author and the man behind the Prav publishing house. I also ran into his name in an academic Traditionalistic work.

Part II is another massive work, over 500 pages. The ‘pagan perspectives’ are sometimes not that obvious. There are lengthy chapters are subjects such as the “creationism” of Abrahamic religions, the left hand path, dualism, more or less obscure currents within Eastern religions or within Islam. Sometimes interesting, sometimes a bit too ‘off path’ with only here and there references to “pagan traditionalism”. Often quoted is Evola, but Svarte also refers to less known authors such as Troy Southgate. Obviously, politically Svarte is not in the corner of the masses, but he is critical to both ‘left’ and ‘right’. He is also critical towards Traditionalists such as René Guénon.

The red thread of this volume is:

Paganism is opposed by the creationism in the face of the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as well as their offspring – Modernity and Postmodernity.

and:

For a full-blooded revival of the true pagan worldview in modern conditions, the philosophy of Traditionalism is a categorical necessity.

To make that point, Svarte goes at great lengths displaying his extraordinary well-readness. Also he frequently manages to shortly explain some difficult writings or authors, so he not only read it all, he understands it as well.

Interesting, thought-provoking, but not very much to-the-point. You can read both Polemos volumes for an introduction into modern Traditionalism, the Russian and foreign pagan ‘scenes’, the woes of modernity and the Abrahamic religions. The second volume is even more theoretic than the first one.

2021 Prav Publishing, isbn 1952671167

The Freemasons In The Viking Age – Arvid Ystad (2023)

In 2016 Frimurerne i Vikingtiden was published. It took me some effort to get the book and even more to read it in Norwegian! Since that time the author had been trying to have it published in English. Finally he succeeded. Where the first book was published nicely as a hardcover by a Norwegian publishing house, the English edition is self published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing and it comes as a paperback (so far at least). The book has not only been translated, it has also been updated.

About Ystad’s theories, I have written elsewhere (here and here). In short, Ystad is one of the few authors who looks for the origins of Masonic symbolism in the pre Christian past of Northern Europe. In Ystad’s case, he thinks that the Viking rituals of initiations to Freyja, Odin and Thor are the basis for the three degrees of Freemasonry. During the Viking settlement on the British isles, these rituals were introduced the cradle of Freemasonry.

In English, the information that Ystad presents is of course much easier to follow than in Norwegian. The updates in the new edition can be found in more cosmological interpretations of Norse myths.

What makes the book interesting to people who have not necessarily have an interest in the Masonic side of the story, but more in heathenry in general, is that Ystad refers to many Scandinavian publications and that he uses recent archaeological findings. These have been updated for the new edition too. The reader will also be introduced to investigations and findings that are probably unknown outside Scandinavian specialists.

Even though the author refers to Georges Dumézil he came to other conclusions regarding the “functions”. As we saw, the rites of Odin supposedly became the second degree of Freemasonry. Those of Thor the third degree. Also Ystad sees Thor as one half of the “divine twins”, while in Dumézil’s scheme the first and second “function” are ‘doubly occupied’ while the second (where he places Thor) not. The other half of the twin, according to Ystad, may originally have been Loki.

Since 2016 Ystad has been telling that his next book will be about these twins. Now this book has a name: The Myth That Shaped Our Culture.

According to Ystad Vikings founded the city of Jorvik which later became York. For his Masonic information he mostly leans on the famous (and easy to obtain) Duncan’s Masonic Ritual and Monitor (1866) which is the “York rite”. It is but one of many Masonic rituals. As Duncan’s book has been publicly available for many years, Ystad does not shy to quote it in detail. Hence: the book is full of ‘Masonic spoilers’. There are also references to the “Swedish Rite” in which the author worked for three decades. In both cases you can see conclusions based on the peculiarities of these rituals.

This is one of the problems of the book. Fairly disparate elements are compared to also disparate elements of Norse culture (different cultures, different times). This is interesting in a way, but with such an approach you have to present a lot of similarities to make the underlying hypothesis likely. Also there are a lot of “could it be?” type questions and some conclusions of the author would not have been my own.

Indeed, an investigation on shaky ground with many holes and ‘convenient conclusions’. Then again, it is never going to be so easy that we find ritual texts, new versions of which we can trace through time until the dawn of Freemasonry. Speculation will always be involved. Ystad made a brave attempt to present a little-known theory. His attempt even costs him his membership of his mother lodge!

The reason that I heard of the first book, was that it had been picked up by the major German journal Der Spiegel and their publication caused a little stir online. Let us hope that this revised and enlarged edition will also cause a little stir so that this too-little-heard-of theory will reach a larger audience. Ystad’s book is not the ultimate explanation of the origins of Freemasonry, but in 400+ page he certainly shoots enough similarities and theories at you, to make you wonder if Northern Europe [was] one of the sources of Masonic symbolism as Franz Farwerck named one of his books.

2023 Two Pillars Publishing, isbn 8269333700

Male Mysteries And The Secret Of The Mannerbund – Wulf Grimsson (2011)

I probably ran into his name before, but I ran into Grimsson in the book of Askr Svarte as a pagan Traditionalist, so I decided to try one of his books.

The book is about the “Mannerbund”, as Grimsson writes is. More specifically, it is about the “Mannerbund” as an “Androphile Mystery Cult”.

When we read of the Germanic tribes the initiatory eros of their practises is little discussed.

Grimsson describes the men-bonds of old (and the present day) as groups of men with ‘special friendship’. In a way this is a daring theory. Warrior-bonds are usually associated with ‘manly men’ and male-male love is not. Of course this is the perception of our own time. I get the idea that when a bond of man have a closer connection than just membership of the group, they will more easily risk their own lives for their brothers.

That is an approach that perhaps could have been described in a fraction of the book. There are also lengthy decline of our own time (here Grimsson has some ‘Traditionalistic traits’), but also “Androphilia” in literature and in movements of the past. A bit too much of related subjects to my liking. The parts about “sexual fluidity” in Norse myths are more interesting.

The author refers to Jan de Vries and “Frans Farwerck” (!) which is something that does not often happen in English literature. I believe he himself is from Australia.

A mildly interesting book with a ‘wildly’ different approach to the subject.

2011 Lulu.com

Polemos: The Dawn of Pagan Traditionalism – Askr Svarte (2020)

I found this book when I was browsing the Kindle store to see what Traditionalist books are available. So there are more writers writing about Traditionalistic paganism. Svarte does it a lot better than I did, though, and way more lengthy. The book is over 400 pages! Moreover, Svarte refers to other Traditionalistic pagan authors.

Oddly enough, the author (whose name is an pseudonym of Evgeny Nechkasov (1991-)) is a Russian. For some reason Russia and Russian thinkers gravitate towards me recently.

It seems that Svarte has published extensively in Russian and now English versions of both Polemos books have appeared (as there is a second part). The present title was first published in 2016.

The book goes from Guénon, Evola, Dumézil and Eliade to different kinds of paganism. Svarte proves to be very well acquainted with paganism in his own country, but also abroad. The book sets off wonderfully with Traditionalism, comparative mythology, initiation, etc. Things get a bit less interesting when he continues with endless descriptions of the woes of modernity, currents that Svarte calls “pseudo paganism”, “counter initiations”, etc. Quite like some books of Guénon actually. In these parts Svarte can display his wide knowledge of groups and thinkers all over the globe. Of course there are many references to groups and thinkers in Russia, so you can learn a thing or two about the Russian heathen and Traditionalistic scene(s) too and he even sheds some light on the events in the Serebrov books that I am reading.

We have defined polemos as the nerve of being, as that which according to the myths and teachings of traditions creates and orders the world.

Especially the first part of the book is good. I may not agree with each and every statement of the author makes, but is not necessary. Even though Svarte is about as strict a Traditionalist as Guénon, he (like myself) has to bend things a little in order to (for example) disapprove of Northern European paganism in Northern America while he is a Northern European heathen in Russia. The overly intellectual second half is a bit tiring at times, but overal this first part makes a descent read. The second volume is even larger, but I will give it a try too.

2020 Prav Publishing, isbn 1952671000

Preparing For The End: A Narrative Study Of Vafþrúðnismál – Andrew McGillivray (2015)

It does not happen often that I review an unpublished work. I ran into this dissertation on Academia.edu (click on the cover). It is a 200+ page work “towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy”. An interesting read!

McGillivray gives a detailed overview of the sources we have of Norse mythology. Manuscripts, prints, their editions, differences, etc. The reason is to paint the picture of which Vafþrúðnismál is part. After this, the author is going to slice the text, making cross-references to other sources, giving context and explanation of each of the verses, alternatives to translations, etc.

For his analyses, McGillivray uses the works of Paul Ricœur (1913-2005), Aron Gurevich (1924-2006) and Mircea Eliade (1907-1986). Quite different authors you may think. Of Ricœur the author uses the method to break stories into segments, Gurevich provides “categories of medieval culture” and Eliade the “myth of eternal return”.

On the secondary level it is also hoped that from the formal analysis some conclusions can be drawn about the society for which these poems were important enough to write in manuscripts.

Thus we follow Odin traveling to meet a wise giants and challenge him to a duel of wisdom in order to become more wise himself. There are parallels in other known stories. Some of the information that is exchanged is more complete in these other sources or rather the contrary.

Because McGillivray takes his time to make his points, the work provides a wealth of information about Norse mythology, but also about the (older and more contemporary) scholarly investigations into this mythology. Preparing For The End is perhaps a bit dry and/or detailed for some, but certainly not as much as it could have been. I enjoyed reading this and wonder why the work has not been made available in print. Another work of the author is so maybe there is hope.

2015 University of Iceland

The Maiden With The Mead – Maria Kvilhaug (2009)

In 2004 Maria Kvilhaug presented her dissertation at the department of culture at the University of Oslo. The dissertation was published (I think) but I have never been able to lay my hands on it or it had that ‘academic publishers price’. In 2009 a slightly more affordable version was published. Slightly, since Amazon has the 168 page book listed for $ 95,- which is pretty steep.

As in her later publications Kvilhaug has a quite unique approach to elements in Northern mythology. In this book she investigates the image of “the maiden with the mead”.

Initially this may seem a small subject. We know of images of female figures with a drinking horn for example and in myths and sagas sometimes women are mentioned serving drinks, but in Kvilhaug’s book the subject is much bigger.

Kvilhaug sees initiation stories in these myths and sagas. With Eliade, she sees different kinds of initiations. The maiden is not only the initiator (the mead and her embrace are the goal of the initiation), but also represents its goal as the “Great Mother”. That this is not just a feminist explanation of details in the stories, Kvilhaug shows in detail. She compares different myths and sagas and shows how “the maiden story” is, often not too obviously, present in many stories that we are familiar with. The maidens may seem to be of different kinds, giants, goddesses, queens, but in Kvilhaug’s analysis there is a structure composed of different elements that she finds in the different sources. This gives an interesting approach to famous stories of, for example, Odin’s hanging on the windy tree, his stealing of the mead, but also the Sinfjötli werewolf story.

My main aim […] is not to decide what the hero is initiated into, but to prove that the pattern, the structure of themes, exists, and thus, a “Maiden mythology” reflecting initiation.

An approach I have not come across often even though the thesis is already 17 years old.

2009 VDM Verlag, isbn 9783639161359

The Northern Dawn – Stephen Edred Flowers (2017)

Flowers (aka Thorsson) (1953-) is a controversial writer. He is a graduate is Germanic and Celtic philology and has a Ph.D. in Germanic languages and medieval studies. Also he has decades of experience in the field, but studious and practical. That should make him very able to write a book like this, should he not?

Many people seem unable to see that apart from Flowers’ other interests. He follows the “left hand path”, is and has been involved in several organisations, some of which have eye-brow-raising elements. Part of his Germanic approach is rune-magic and does he lean towards a certain kind of politics?

In connection with the latter, I find the cover design unfortunate. Since I do not judge a book by the cover or the interests of the author outside the subject of the book, I was interested to see what Flowers would have to say about “A History of the Reawakening of the Germanic Spirit”.

Well, I have read some American publications about the Germanic past, but Flowers’ books is probably one of the better. Finally we have an author who can read German (and a host of other languages) and refers to classic works in this language about our subject. The book is even structured somewhat like the 1800’s books starting with an overview different approaches of investigation to continue with elements of the subject at hand.

Flowers’ book gives a fair idea of what is available on the subject from the last centuries and how his posits himself in the tradition of investigations. He is also clear about the fact that -even though part of one family- the pre-Christian tradition of ancient nowadays Germany is not exactly the same as that of Iceland. Also he shoves away some of the ever pertaining idea that there are no sources besides the Icelandic and he is not wholly negative about Christianity. As a matter of fact, the thesis is that Christianity was ‘Germanised’ by the Franks before it reached Northern Europe and then some more by the cultures it encountered. One of the ideas in the book is that thanks to Christianity, much of the old religion has been saved. Flowers even speaks of continuity.

The book is well written, it reads easily. The reawakening red threat is a bit too red here and there, but I find this book an excellent starting book for people interested in the subject, but unable to read other languages than English. (Much better than the Hasenfratz book that Michael Moyhnihan translated too.) You will get many references to older and newer other works, old and new theories to compare and a twist of the author. And no, the other subjects that Flowers writes about are no part of this book and why should they?

It is just a bit short. Just 200 pages.

2017 Arcana Europa, isbn 0972029281

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

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