asatru / heathen

Nightside Of The Runes – Thomas Karlsson (2019)

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Karlsson’s books have the habit of going out of print and becoming very expensive. His first book from 2002 Uthark, Nightside Of The Runes is one such work. The German translation Uthark, Schattenreich der Runen from 2004 is more affordable, but it appears that the author wanted to make the English text available again. This makes the first part of this book.

The second part is Karlsson’s book about Johannes Bureus which has been published in Swedish (2005), German (2007) and Italian (2007). Now finally, this book has been made available for people who do not master these languages. That also means that this is the most extensive information available about Bureus in English.

“Uthark” refers to the theories of Sigurd Agrell (1881-1937) who theorized that there was an exoteric and an esoteric rune row. The first stats with the F-rune, in the second, this F-rune is placed at the end. To this he connected numerological and esoteric explanations that Karlsson finds convincing enough to create a magical handbook based on the system. This has a bit too much of a ‘Flowers-feeling’ to me.

Then we continue to the part about Bureus, his “Adulruna” and “Gothicism” before and after Bureus. I have spoken about that in my review of the German translation of the book.

Karlsson’s latest makes a nice read. There is a bit too much of Runegild / Dragon Rouge contemporary magic in it for my liking, but it is great that there is finally descent information in English on the esoteric rune systems of two little-known Swedes. Also Karlsson shows Bureus’ path as an individual path of progress and describes the initiatory system of the Manhemsförbundet, so you get ‘old an new’ practical Runosophy.

2019 Inner Traditions, isbn 1620557746

Doors Of Valhalla – Vincent Ongkowidjojo (2017)

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I found this book because it has an introduction by Maria Kvilhaug (a title of herself I have yet to read). The author does not have a very Norse-sounding name and yet it did not ring a bell. This is even more strange, because the author seems to live not too far from where I live, just across the Belgian border.

The book is subtitled “an esoteric interpretation of Norse myth” and it is soon clear that this ‘esoteric leaning’ is a Theosophical one. This brings the book in line with The Masks of Odin and Between Wodan and Widar the latter being a more Anthroposophical (and better!) interpretation.

Initially Ongkowidjojo’s book appears to have the flaws of Titchenell’s, being too easy with his sources. He names Frigg a Vane for example and drops names that do not ring a bell and cannot even be found in Simek, even though this is one of the sources.
It is also obvious that the author knows his sources and has an eye for detail. Perhaps for forgets to double check sometimes.
Besides Theosophy there is also a thick layer of psychology in the book and the author uses magical sources such as the books of Aleister Crowley.

As expected, Ongkowidjojo’s approach is not mine. This does not matter though, because, as with Between Wodan and Widar the sometimes radically different interpretation forces me to look at things another way. What is more, the author makes his own translations (having an appendix with both the old texts and his translations) which are sometimes so different that I found myself checking other books, which is a positive thing.

On to the book. Maria Kvilhaug opens with an interesting text about the worlds (“Heimr”). As in her own book that I reviewed earlier, I do not always agree (but more often than with Ongkowidjojo I do), but also here this does not really matter. This introduction certainly worth reading.
As with Thorsson’s Nine Doors of Midgard, Ongkowidjojo names his chapters “doors”. There are parts about a range of worlds, going over in texts about seven “rays”, an apparently Theosophical concept that he does not really explain.
Then follows a more psychological part, different ages, different functions of Gods, “an exegesis of Voluspa” (a similar approach to Taunton) and the Lokasenna, a comparison between myths about Thor and those about Hercules and more.

Yes, this is quite a book. Almost 530 pages, densely packed with information, theories and thoughts. The author refers to many other authors, ranging from Theosophical, to more scholarly authors and even Farwerck (extra points!). This brings a potpourri different approaches, but Ongkowidjojo seems to have found his own red thread.

Unfortunately he is very loose with his sources. There are no notes or clear references, in spite of the impressive (but chaotic) bibliography. “The Bailey texts” is an example of the way the author refers to his sources. This is pretty annoying, especially when I am unsure if his reference is actually correct.

Theories and ideas that are sometime thought-provoking, but which sometimes elude me, alternated with meditation or magical exercises and a wide range of subjects more or less having to do with Northern mythology. Indeed, this is not my ‘usual literature’. The book was a sometimes tiring read, sometimes very enjoyable. It certainly gave me a few things to ponder about.

2017 Mandrake, isbn 1906958726

The Nine Doors Of Midgard – Edred Thorsson (2016)

I have mixed feelings about the writings of Stephen Flowers / Edred Thorsson. Often they are wildly interesting. The subjects he finds and the way he works them out. At other times they are mildly interesting. The latter ‘category’ usually includes Thorsson’s ‘system’ and working for his Rune-Gild organisation.

The Nine Doors Of Midgard is a book that you have to work through and report on when you want to join the Rune-Gild. I guessed it would say a lot about the Rune-Gild system, symbolism, etc. and it sure does! The Nine Doors have been revised a couple of times and if I am not mistaken, the 2016 edition is the last one. The “doors” refer to sets of practices and exercises. These often involve meditation and visualization exercises, chanting, runic postures and the like. The book is supposed to form a path to allow the practitioner first to be able to join the organisation (after two or three doors) and later expand his/her magical abilities. The exercises mostly have to be performed for many days, which makes a period of several years to work through the entire book. The Rune-Gild certainly is for people with perseverance only!

As I know from other practical books of Thorsson that I read, his system is not for me. Pretty soon after starting the book, I started to quickly read through the exercises and see if the more theoretical parts would be of more interest. Here and there they are, but also in these parts, Thorsson is often not my kind of thinker.

Obviously the Rune-Gild is not for me, nor is Thorsson as an esoteric author. I guess I better stick to his more scholarly works. That said, if you are curious what the Rune-Gild is all about or are you in general interested in an esoteric take on the Norse way, just get yourself a copy of this book and see what you think of it. Should you enjoy the book, there are references to many, many other books to study next.

2016 Rune-Gild, isbn 9780971204485

Schamanismus Bei Den Germanen – Thomas Höffgen (2017)

I thought I heard of this book, but its publication is so recent (March 2017) that I doubt that it was this book. Its publisher also (re)published the Heidnische Jahrbücher (which are sold out), but there have been none since 2012, so that is not where I can have heard about the current title.

So, ‘Shamanism with the Teutons’. There is something that you hear about every now and then. According to the author, the subject has never been really well investigated and he aims at filling that gap. I am afraid I have to say that, in my opinion, he does so unconvincingly.

In the first pages of the book, the author says that the term “Shaman” is explained so generally, that much can fall under it. That is exactly my feeling about this book. Sure, Odin rides a horse, but is he therefor a shaman (and Sleipnir a drum)? Certainly, Berzerkr wear bear-skins, but does that make them shamans? I do not argue that when you list them all, quite a couple of elements of the Norse religion can be linked to shamanism, but I fail to see the use to do that as indiscriminately as the author does.

Völvas, people performing Utiseti (‘sitting outside’) or healing (wo)man undoubtedly have shaman elements or could be seen as shamans when you use that as a general term, but is an Ulfheðnar a shaman because he wears a wolf-skin and perhaps ate mushrooms before going to fight? Are their battles, ‘battles of the spirit’ then? And why make shamans of all the Gods, when a shaman is actually (at least in my opinion) a human being reaching for the world above? Why would a God need to be a shaman?

Höffgen mentions many of the known examples of drawings and references that we find in other books, only that he uses them to prove shamanism while author authors use them for other argumentations. This collecting of information does give the book some merit though. The author is a bit limited in sources. The name “De Vries” is mentioned once, but Jan de Vries is not in the bibliography. I also miss other authors in the field, even other authors that wrote in the German language.

An author that Höffgen does mention is Otto Höffler and his Kultische Geheimbünde der Germanen (‘Cultic secret societies of the Germans’) and this is the only occasion on which he presents another way of looking at the same information. Höffler wrote about esoteric initiation bonds rather than shamans. The two use (as I said) the same examples.

Shamanismus Bei Den Germanen is a little book (140 pages) that makes an alright read and there is not too much contemporary literature of this kind, but I simply cannot follow the author seeing shamanism in every animal cloth or possible reference to hallucinates.

2017 Edition Roter Drache, isbn 3946425208

Icelandic Magic – Stephen Flowers (2018)

Almost three decades after the first edition of his Galdrabók Flowers comes with a follow-up. That book ran out of print rapidly and became wildly expensive. A later reprint (that I reviewed) was pretty expensive as well, but later on the book was again reprinted and it is now well available and affordable. There is also an English and Icelandic edition.

Just as in his Galdrabók, Flowers mostly fills the pages of this new book with introductory information. This again is interesting. Flowers made me feel sorry for not having had the time to visit Strandagaldur, the museum of witchcraft and sorcery when I was in Iceland. The fact that this museum exists proves Flowers’ point that Galdrabekur (‘magic books’) have remained popular in Iceland for a very long time. They were influenced by similar books from the continent, from which many spells were taken, survived the coming of Christianity and (even though less popular) the Reformation. Practitioners copied books, added their own spells and sigils and thus created their own books. Quite a couple of them have found their way to the National Museum of Iceland where Flowers studied them.

In his lengthy introduction the author sketches the history of the books, gives an idea of the lives of some magicians (many Christians!), says a few things about the ‘light’ and ‘dark’ versions and towards the end has a “grey book” part with spells and signs. Flowers wanted to create a practical book of magic, so he explains how the sigils are built up, how you can use them and how you create your own. At the end some pages are left blank so you can add your own workings and create your very own “grey book” just as the Icelandic magicians did in the past (and present).

The introduction is again interesting. The “grey book” part does not contain many interesting or useful things (in my opinion), but in the appendices Flowers has Furtharks with short explanations, but also a couple of magical alphabets with rune-like symbols with their corresponding letters and explanations which could be a handy reference to decipher symbols or writings that are not (obviously) made of runes.

The author says that Icelandic magic is the easiest form of magic. It does not need elaborate preparations and lengthy texts. All spells and sign have been ‘tested’ and he encourages his readers to try them out. Having read the book, I do not really feel to the need to ‘leave the armchair’ though. The proposed workings do not at all appeal to me.

Each to his/her own! Flowers made a nice addition to an old publication shedding light on a curious part of Icelandic history.

2018 Inner Traditions, isbn 1620554054

Asatru – Henning Andreas Klövekorn (2013)

I actually do not know how it comes that it took me almost two years to get Klövekorn’s other book. Previously I reviewed his book about Freemasonry.

Like the later edition of the Freemasonry book, Asatru is available as a cheap print-on-demand book. The author surely does not want hindrances for people to obtain his writings.

Besides being a Freemason, Klövekorn is ‘Asatruar’, a “gothi” even. The author was born in Germany, lived in South Africa, but I think it was in Australia (where he still lives) that he started to pursue the path of Asatru. The little book of 226 pages makes a somewhat shallow introduction into the subject. As there are not many writings of contemporary heathens, this is good for people who are looking for first info, but less so for people who hoped for more in depth insides.

There are quite a couple of negative things to say about the book. Klövekorn uses the term “Asatru” as a very general term but I do not know if a new reader will know it is but an umbrella term. What always stings me a bit, is that Klövekorn uses the same term to refer to the religion of old. So people who lived centuries back, were also “Asatruars” while the term is only a few decades old. Even Stonehenge is an Asatru monument to Klövekorn, so the generalisation also crosses cultures.

Then there is the fact that the author is very loose with his retellings of myths and sagas. Odin made his spear Gungir himself from a branch of Yggdrasil. Eh? Also Odin was blown into the same tree by a strong wind and hung there for nine days head-down. Eh?
Oftentimes I have the idea that Klövekorn wrote the book by heart without cross-checking too much.

There is also an ‘American lean’. The author names Asatru festive days which includes commemorations of ‘heroes’. I know this happens in the USA, but I have never heard any group from Europe doing that.

Klövekorn seems to like to show himself too. There is a “Klövekorn rune alphabet” and there are “Klövekorn Asatru rituals” which include a poem of himself. Especially with the futhark that feels a bit weird. A few ritualistic guidelines may be helpful for people who are new to the field, so this is a good inclusion. I do not see any obvious Masonic influences in the rituals by the way.

My last remark, and then I will stop complaining, is that, just as in the other book, there are many typos, spelling errors and general miswritings. Here and there Klövekorn wants to show his German roots by, for example, naming Charlemagne “Karl der Grosse”, but there are also German words contain typos (and why not just write “Karl der Große”, but both spellings are correct, so…).

My hope was that the author would say something about the practicing of a ‘Northern hemisphere religion’ on the Southern hemisphere, but that is not the case. It looks like that Klövekorn” as his group practices Yule in the middle of summer, december, sticking to the ‘original dates’.

Be all that as it may. With a bit of a critical view, here at least we have a contemporary book on heathenry from a practicing Asatruar. There are too few of these. It is cheap, easy to get from Amazon, available for ereaders and makes a nice read. Just be sure it is not the only book on the subject you read.

2013 CreateSpace, isbn 1481947737

Im Namen Des Wolfs – Andreas Hebestreit (2013)

A German book about “rites des passages” focusing on the Celts. Would that be political correctness? Not really, since the author does not shy to refer to Jan de Vries and Otto Höffler and he even uses the term “Indogermanisch” rather than “Indo-European”, so it looks like he really wanted to focus on the Celts. Obviously it is hard to draw the line that firmly.

“In The Name Of The Wolf” is a relatively expensive book for its size (125 pages) and does not really seem to contain many new insights. It is good that after Kershaw there are still people conducting research to Männerbünde” and warrior initiations of times passed though. Hebestreit seems to be a well-read and multi-lingual author since he not only refers to titles written in German, but also titles written in French and even some Scandinavian titles. The largest part of the bibliography is in German though.

The author seems to like the term ‘rites de passage’. Since he quotes Eliade, I am sure he knows that a ‘rite de passage’ is not the same a an initiation into a warrior bond.

That said, Hebestreit tells a story in which Celtic warriors go down not so much a Wicker Man, but a wicker-wolfs-head during their initiation. He refers to Roman authors, Teutonic sources, a range of anthropologists and investigates the meaning of the wolf in ancient societies onwards to more recent one (after Christianisation).

I like to think that I read German, actually I frequently do, but somehow a text of a century old is easier to me than a recent one. Also in the little book of Hebestreit I have the feeling that I miss a lot of details and nuances and I feel incompetent to go into his theories in detail. Therefor I will refrain to informing you that there is another book about Medieval warrior initiations which may not bring much really new, but there sure are elements that were new to me.

2013 Lit Verlag, isbn 9783643801562

The Poetic Edda – Maria Kvilhaug (2016)

I have known the name of the Norwegian Maria Kvilhaug (1975-) for some time, but never got to read anything of her. The apparently most interesting title The Seeds Of Yggdrasil (2012) is very expensive and then my eye fell on this very recent (November 2016) little book with “Six Cosmology Poems” that Kvilhaug had translated herself. What is more, she put the original text and her translations side-by-side and added notes to explain why she made the translations the way she did.

There is a need for these explanations, because Kvilhaug does not shy to come up with wholly different translations from what we are used to. The texts the author translated are the Voluspa, Vafthrudnismal, Grimnismal, Grottasongr, Allvismal and Hyndluliod.
These texts she says are from “creative poets who composed poetry of their own. The Edda poems contain a lot of ancient themes and profoundly Heathen material, but they have also been composed by poets who had an agenda: To convey wisdom through the art of metaphors.” (p. ii)
In the introduction Kvilhaug explains her position further.

The author also sees the symbolism of names and therefor decided to translate most names. The reason is that she thinks the names were not chosen at random, or because they sounded good. Leaving the names untranslated would bereave the reader with some of the depths of the poems. And so Heimdallr becomes “Great World”, Valfadr “Choice-father”, Verdandi “Is About To Happen” and Hoenir… “chicken”.
I will add some parts to the quotes section.

Kvilhaug also plunges into the deep explaning elements of the texts, such as the “I”, “me”, “her”, etc. in the Voluspa. This, with her reflections on the choice of translations, surely does shed a different light on the texts. I do not always find Kvilhaug’s reasoning sound, but often enough her interpretation forces me to think over a stanza again. This in itself, makes the little book (100 pages) a suggested reading.
Also, I had been looking for a while for a book with the original texts together with translations. The lay-out used for this is not the way I would have presented it, but at least I now have such a book. Hopefully Kvilhaug will continue with the remaining texts.

2016 CreateSpace, isbn 1507620926

Frimurerne I Vikingtiden * Arvid Ystad (2016)

“Freemasonry In Viking Times” is a book written by the Norwegian Freemason Arvid Ystad, a civil engineer and layman historian. He chose a subject that you may have run into more often on this website: origins of Masonic symbolism that can be found in prechristian Northern Europe.

The book is written in Norwegian. I have not found a place to get it outside Norway and the publisher (where I ordered it) has no plans for an edition in another language. So I read the book in Norwegian and I wrote an article based on it from this exercise. You can find that article here.

Of course I do not master the language so I am not the right person to judge the book, but what I understand from it there are a few, somewhat thin, red threads, but also a wealth of interesting similarities, several of which were new to me.

I certainly hope the book will raise some attention and that the author will make an English version of it, so I (and other people) can get more to the bottom of Ystad’s information.

The book has some pretty detailed descriptions Masonic ritual and symbolism of “blue Freemasonry” as the author calls it (the first three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason), so I may need to discourage reading the book to people who plan on joining a lodge, or who have not passed the three mentioned degrees.
The author does mostly refer to the York Rite and probably based his information on some old work(s) of exposure, but in some situations the information just might be a bit too detailed.

Extra points for being one of the few to write about this subject and for the fact that I ran into things new. To get a better idea of the book, read my article about it.

2016 Pax, isbn 9788253038438

Germanisches (Neu-)Heidentum In Deutschland * René Gründer (2008)

I had been looking for information about contemporary heathenry in Germany without luck and then I ‘accidentally’ run into this book. I do not even remember how.

“Teutonic (Neo-)Heathenry In Germany” is a small book of 120 pages written with the distant view of an anthropologist and therewith not entirely what I hoped to find. The book makes a nice read though with some information that I did hope to find.

The book is largely defining definitions and placing contemporary heathenry in a larger context. The author sees three phases for paganism in Germany that also represent three currents. From the 1900’s there are “Völkish” / “folkish” groups, often of an Ariosophic breed. From the 1970’ies there are ecological and New Age groups that grow into “eco-spiritual” and “tribal” groups. Again a few decades later, the “universal” groups start to emerge and the “folkish” elements start to be repressed in the larger heathen community.

Gründer mentions more groups in Germany than I knew, but following his scheme on page 92, I can give you in idea of the heathen landscape in Germany.
Gründer mentions seven groups that he names “ariosophisch”: the Armanen Orde that was founded in 1908 and refounded in 1976. The order currently has about 100 members. The Goden-Orden was founded in 1957 and has about 100 members. The Artgemeinschaft – GGG e.V. was founded in 1951 and has about 150 members. The Dorflinde e.V./ Mittgard-Orden was founded in 1992 and has 10 people involved. The author puts these four groups in the “dogmatic” section of his scheme. “Undogmatic” yet “Ariosophisch” are Arbeitsgemeinschaft naturreligiöser Stammesverbände Europas (ANSE) e.V. (‘working society natural-religious tribal unity from Europe’), number of members unknown. Deutsche Heidnische Front (‘German Heathen Front’) has existed from 1996 until 2005 with about 15 people involved. Arbeitskreiz Naudhiz e.V. was founded in 2000 and has about 20 members.

Gründer not only divides the groups in “dogmatic” and “undogmatic”, but also in “universalistic” and “Völkish”. The second group of “eco-spirituals and tribalists” are halfway universalistic and Völkish. These groups are Yggdrasil-Kreis e.V. (‘Yggdrasil circle’), founded in 1974 and with about 50 members. Germanische Glaubensgemeinschaft e.V. (‘Teutonic faith society’), founded in 1991; 150 donators, around 15 members. Verein für Germanisches Heidentum e.V. (‘Society for Teutonic heathenry’), the German part of the Odinic Rite, founded in 1995 with about 60 members. Those were the “dogmatic” “eco-spirituals”.
“Undogmatic” are the Heidnische Gemeinschaft Berlin e.V. (‘Heathen society Berlin’), founded in 1985; 150 donators, 15 members.

The last group are the “postmodern” and “anti-Völkische” groups with one “dogmatic” group called Nornirs Aett (1994, 18 people involved).
“Undogmatic” are Rabenclan (‘Raven clan’) (1994, 100 members). Eldaring – The Troth Deutschland e.V. (2001, 200 members) and Asatru-Ring-Frankfurt (2005, 20 people involved).

So there you have the ‘scope of heathenry’ in Germany with a tiny bit of history and magnitude. Of course the numbers are from 2008, but this is better than nothing.

There is, of course, more information in this book. Gründer also has a timeline and scholarly reflections which may (or may not) be a reason to get this book.

2008 Logos, isbn 3832521062