asatru / heathen

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

How Thor Lost His Thunder – Declan Taggart (2018)

This book has been on my wish list for a while. It was an expensive academic publication though. The hardback is still around $ 150,-. A while ago I noticed that there is a Kindle version (Amazon ebook) for $ 37,-. Still expensive and I did not have a Kindle. By the time I got myself one, Amazon also started selling a paperback for the same price as the digital version. Weird, how the book market can act!

Taggard had published articles about the subject of his PhD and the publication for this PhD is worked into this book.

Taggart’s book is both dull and fascinating. Dull, because the author meticulously investigates all ancient written sources about the God Thor. Page after page about some literary expression or another detail. On the other hand, this is fascinating too. Seldom do I see such thorough scholarship, weighing arguments, comparing interpretations. Of course the book is stuffed with references to texts that we know, but also lesser known sources. It does help if you know your sources, as Taggart does not always provide context to the details he presents.

As the title suggests, the main thesis of Taggart is showing that the often repeated connection of Thor to thunder and lightning is not entirely corroborated by the sources. Much (the book is 228 pages) is presented to investigate this. Taggart describes the sources, looks for original meanings for names and words, investigates landscape and climate of the regions where the sources were written down, takes a critical look to the interpretatio Romano and the other way around and then starts investigating different sources and elements thereof.

So where is Thor actually connected with thunder, not in translation, but in the original texts? What do words in these texts mean in another context? These are the things you will read about in Taggarts book.

There are also subject such as, what does “Thor vigi” actually mean? Is every symbol that looks like a hammer a reference to Thor and what could these symbols, pendants, etc. have been for?

Taggard is critical, but positively so. He is more positive to Snorri than some other authors for example. He explains in detail why he refutes or corroborates interpretations or when he simply cannot be entirely sure.

Indeed, How Thor Lost His Thunder is an interesting read. Perhaps too detailed for some, but it are investigations like these that really polish the way we look at the old texts.

2018 Routledge, isbn 0367889021 (of the 2019 paperback version)

The Odin Brotherhood – Mark Mirabello (2014)

When I ordered the book I knew it was controversial. I was curious! The Odin Brotherhood is a secret society of highly developed people naturally adhering the ancient religion of Northern Europe.

The book was originally published in 1992.

Mirabello keeps stressing that he is not a member, let alone a representative, but that I got acquainted with the brotherhood during his scholarly investigations into secret societies. He keeps stressing his objective / scholarly approach. Mirabello supposedly interviewed members of the brotherhood. The interviews are worked into a Q&A which fill the first part of the book.

I find the Q&A quite annoying. Mirabello asks questions to a know-it-all who uses interesting-sounding words and names and keeps referring to “legend”. The Poetic Edda is called Edaic verses. A rite which “in the legends” is called “sojourn-of-the-brave” begins with “the-meeting-of-dreams”. The latter, by-the-way, is a vision in which somebody know (s)he is called to join the brotherhood after which a self-initiation takes place.

The brotherhood, quite like the “unknown superiors” of some esoteric societies, are just men and women with normal lives, but whom also work for the benefit of mankind.

The book has some unusual takes on elements of heathen ‘lore’. Sometimes an interesting light on some text or God(dess), but also ideas that appeal to me less.

After the interview the book continues with a completely unnecessary part about secret societies, mostly violent ones. I fail to see how this helps to put the Odin Brotherhood in good light. At the end the author added some sort of essay which in style and wording reminds a lot of the interview.

A strange little book that is even less interesting than I expected.

2014 Mandrake, isbn 1906958637

Heidens Jaarboek 13 (2019)

“Yearbook” became a relative term, since the previous edition was published in 2015, but better quality than speed, right?

As we got used to, the Heathen Yearbook is a well printed book of a descent size (134 pages) for a low price (below € 10,-) with a variety of texts.

The book opens with a text about the wolf that has returned to the Netherlands. The history of sightings and settling.

Gerard wrote about the ancient symbol of the zigzag line which can be found on the oldest of archaeological findings, in many cultures and is still in use. Being a symbol for water it became a symbol for the sky (where the rain / water comes from) and lightning (accompanying the rain). The line with variations is followed through time.

By and far the longest text is by Boppo Grimmsma who wrote about the Frisian God Thuner and in extenso Thor / Donar. There are Frisian sceattas (very small, silver coins) with a face on it that most investigators call “Wodan”. Grimmsma argues that this is actually Thuner. He has several arguments for his assumption. First he shows that the coins are made in Frisia and not in Denmark and shows how the time in which the coins are made, make it likely that a ‘defence against Christianity’ statement would be made. Then we get lengthy investigations of Thor / Donar to prove that the head is indeed not that of Odin / Wodan. Grimmsma uses recent publications and findings which makes that his text brings you up-to-date with Thor investigations with, of course, stress on his Frisian counterpart.

After this follows a book review, translated parts of De Vries’ Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte, which are about the sacred (“hailag”) and related topics, three of the stories from the Midwinter story contest and there are three poems by Hella.

Cheap, varied, with limited availability and (of course) in Dutch. Do not wait too long to get your copy. Click on the cover for more information.

2019 Nederlands Heidendom

Heidense Heiligdommen – Judith Schuyf (2019)

In 1995 Schuyf published the little book Heidens Nederland (‘heathen Netherlands’) with as subtitle Zichtbare overblijfselen van een niet-christelijk verleden (‘Visible remains of a non-christian past’). I do not remember with certainty how I found that book. Did I hear from it and look it up or did I just run into it? My memory claims option two.

Schuyf writes about a variety of subjects, but history, prehistory and Medieval archeology are what she studied in her days. That she did not loose her interest in this particular subject proved about a decade ago when she was invited to speak for a Dutch heathen group and she accepted. She would return and mentioned that she was working on a reworked version of the book.

The new title is Heidense Heiligdommen (‘Heathen sanctuaries’) and the subtitle Zichtbare sporen van een verloren verleden (‘Visible remains of a lost past’). The new book was made available last May.

As in the first book, there is a long introduction to the subject. What do we know about the prechristian religion of these parts, what happened when Christianity came, what remains do we have? Concerning the latter, Schuyf mostly focusses on scenic remains, but often connected to cultural remains.

In the Netherlands not too much was created in buildings or writings, before the Romans came and around the same time, Christianity started to spread to the region too. Much of what is described are actually things that remained in (early) Christian times. Fertility usuages became processions, a sacred well was dedicated to a saint, thanks for a healing moved inside chapels and churches. Many of these heathen remains were only wiped out during the Reformation.

So here we have a book with places that are (either or not correctly) seen as ancient places of offering, such as well, (artificial) hills, deepenings, etc. Strange Christian habbits are explained in a prechristian context such as scrapings of church-walls to provide powder to heal.

Schuyf mostly tries to asses the validity of the claims to antiquity for which she uses a variety of sources. These include very recent investigations and publications, so the reader will be quite up-to-date with the state of investigations after reading this book.

The book mentions dozens and dozens of places that are worth a visit, but just as in the previous book, the directions are seldom specific enough to just use this book as ‘heathen tourist guide’. There are many (colour) photos that help.

To close off, Schuyf mentions several cases of ‘invented traditions’ showing that just one mention of some author about a supposed history of a place does not automatically mean that this is so. Judging the impressive bibliography the author did her best to prove or debunk claims as best as possible.

The book could have used an index of places and findings and as you can see above, many of the subjects in the book are ‘folk-Christian’ rather than ‘purely heathen’. This is mostly likely is the largest collection of such traces of a lost past and it includes things that I had not yet heard of, so the interested reader can find out that there are many places of interest in the Netherlands too.

2019 Omniboek, isbn 9789401914338 

The Trickster And The Thundergod – Maria Kvilhaug (2018)

Without knowing I bought the companion to, or second part of, The Poetic Edda. In both books Kvilhaug made her own translations of the famous texts. In the previous book “Six Cosmology Poems”, the current title is (obviously) about Loki and Thor.

The texts are from the Gylfaginning, Skaldskaparmál, Haustlöng, Harbarðsljód, Þrimskviða and Þhórsdrápa.

As in the previous book, Kvilhaug translates most names, sometimes her translations in general are different from what you are used to, but what I really appreciate is that in the notes you can often see the reason of the particular translation and often Kvilhaug notes the subtleties of the original words. I would have preferred to keep the Original names and give translations in the notes, but that is just a choice the translator

The Trickster and the Thundergod makes a nice read. Of course you will probably know all the texts, but a critical translation could very well raise some thoughts.

2018 CreateSpace, isbn 1983994650