asatru / heathen

Saksische Tradities * Dominick ten Holt (2011)

Apparently there are people in my country interested in and working with the prechristian religion of our area of whom I never heard. Somehow I ran into an announcement of a newly erected Irminsul (or if you cannot read Dutch, try this Google translation). I am not entirely sure what to think of this project, but when I started to look for more information about the people behind this project, I found a book called “Saksische Tradities”, five years old and I never heard of it.

The title page says that there are German and English versions of the book. I did find the German one, but not an English version. If there is somebody who can point me to this English edition, please do.

Dominick ten Holt stepped into his father’s footstep2 by investigating the traditions of the area where both grew up, the Achterhoek, an area in the Province of Gelderland of the Netherlands. The reasoning is that Saxons lived there and the Saxon area was, of course, much larger. In the Western part is the area where the author is from. To the North it reached the coastal area of the Frisians, then going all the way up to Denmark, the Hartz-area in Germany as the farthest East and the Southernmost part is as South as Köln/Cologne. And of course the Saxons crossed the North Sea to the British Isles.

Ten Holt set out to investigate the religion, folklore, customs, etc. of the entire Saxon area thus showing where elements that can be found in Great Britain came from. The chapters sometimes seem especially written for the book, sometimes they are articles that have been published before. They span a variety of subjects spanning from seasonal feasting customs, etymology, expressions of art, folklore, reports of visits of Saxon sites and areas and of course history. The author is fairly fierce towards Christianisation, particularly the role of Charle’magne’ which he dubbed Charles the Butcher (some call him the Saxon-slayer).

Inspite of the focus on Saxon history, the author (actually authors, since there are also texts of Jan ten Holt), there is quite a bit of use of Icelandic sources, sometimes a bit too easily too perhaps. This is, of course, inevitable, but I wonder if an uninformed reader will always be able to tell the source of the information.

However I laude the effort to give extra attention to the tradition of the particular area and even more so because it is placed in a larger context, but I do not find the book particularly good or convincing. It is mostly gathered information that I already ran into in other places and nothing is specific enough for ‘Achterhoek aha moments’. The book may only be a step up to a larger and better worked out project, but I have not heard of any follow ups of it.

A positive side is that the book mentions visit-worthy sites that I was so far unaware of. Some ‘neo’, like the authors own runestone and a stonecircle of a group called Athanor, but there is also information about interesting remains in areas that I sometimes visit, but was unaware of.

It looks like the first printing is starting to run out, but the book is not too hard to find second hand. Neither is it very expensive and it is nicely printed and comes in a hardcover with photos and about 270 pages of content.

A nice surprise.

2011 Uitgeverij Van de Berg, isbn 9789055123582

Voices of Modern American Asatru Women * Steffanie Snyder (2009)

This is Snyder’s dissertation for her Master’s degree at the Union Institute & University. She put it up on Lulu and you can buy it looking probably quite like what she handed over to her instructors. A ringed, 80 page, A4 booklet with space for all the authographs of approval and a lot of white between the lines. Oddly enough some typos are left. Also Snyder uses some strange transliterations, such as “Seith” (the word is not Seiþr, but Seiðr) and the author is very consequent in leaving away accents (so am I most of the time). Perhaps a word for the reasons would have been in order.

This paper is quite like the book of Jennifer Snook, but predates that investigation by six years. Snyder interviewed 15 women who adhere “the Asatru religion”. These interviews are woven into a story with here and there quotes from the interviews. The questions that the ladies got, are printed in the back, along with a glossary (other terms are explained in notes) with sometimes a bit too easy explanations. All the way in the back is a short bibliography which includes titles from Titchenell, Thorsson/Flowers and Gardell but also Strmiska.

The interviewees (including Diana Paxton of The Troth and Sheila McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly) were asked how they see their religion, how they perceive the role of women and how this relates to the Goddess movement, magic, ethnicity and how they see the future of Asatru.
Just as Snooks book shows, there is a lot of overlap between the different approaches to Asatru, but also many differences, also fundamental differences. Snyder approached women in a variety of approaches and says a few times that even though “Asatru” is a somewhat limiting term within the larger “pagan” movement, it still covers a variety of interpretations. These differences mostly show in the subjects of heathen clergy and ethnicity. It is also in these types of subjects that I (as a European) see much difference between European and American heathenry.

What is much different from Snooks book is that where Snook investigated obviously as an experienced insider, Snyder never says where she stands. Is she an interested outsider or, like Snook, an insider with academic aspirations?

This little book may not bring a whole lot of new insights, but there are not that many investigations into contemporary heathenry and it is not very expensive, so it may make a nice in-between-read for you some time.

2009 Lulu.com

Idunna #100 (2014)

In 1987 The Ring Of Troth was one of the organisations coming forth from the Asatru Free Assembly (the other was the Asatru Alliance, which would later become the Asatru Folk Assembly). The Ring Of Troth was founded by Edred Thorsson and James Chisholm. The former left the organisation in 1995 due to controversies around his membership of the Temple Of Seth. Thorsson is of course nowadays more famous for running the Rune Gild and as an author on eoteric heathen topics.

The Troth came up with something smart. They digitalised their periodical Idunna which is now available from the self-publishing-on-demand company Lulu.com. You can pick an ebook or printed version. Each and every issue, from the first of 1988 to the 103th of Spring 2015 is available from Lulu. When I noticed this, I looked around which issue(s) to buy and I figured I would try the 100th issue (Summer 2014) because it is a ‘best of’ compilation. That should give a good idea of the development of the magazine.

#100 Opens with a recent and an old “Steersman”s introduction. Then follow two (relatively) famous (ex?) members, the earlier mentioned Thorsson and Eric Wodening who is nowadays better known as a major figure in the þheodism-movement (his brother Swain is also featured by the way). Now of course The Troth is an “inclusive” heathen organisation, so a þeodsman, Asatruar or whatever kind of heathen can still be a member, but those are not the first names I expected. Two people who I did expect are Kveldulf Gundarsson and Diana Paxson who are, of course, featured. Of Winifred Hodge a text about oathing is reprinted. Then follows a text is about Seiðr (by Jordsvin), a fairly odd (yet amusing) text about psychic ‘warfare’. There are texts about Alfar, hospitality, handicraft, cooking and there is poety and some humour. The best text (in my opinion) is Ben Waggoner’s “Some Thoughts on Evolution”, a heathen take on the creation of things of someone who is a teacher on the subject of evolution in his ‘normal life’.

The 100th Idunna is an A4-sized, magazine-styled, 50 page publication, quite like the normal issues I assume. They did not turn the celebration issue into a thick book or anything looking more festive than a regular issue. The upside of that is that also this issue costs only $ 6,- like any other issue. The lay-out looks a bit like somebody is still trying to find his/her way with DSP software (‘desktop publishing’). Some articles are printed in one column, other in two, yet other in three. Fortunately the fonts and font-size are the same throughout the publication, but the headings get all kinds of weird fonts. A matter of taste I asume.

I guess #100 gives a descent overview of almost three decades of Idunna with a variety of subjects and authors. I found it mostly just an amusing read with a couple of more interesting texts. An intention to buy and read all other issues did not really grow from this encounter, but I guess that when I will make some Lulu order in the future, I just might get myself one or two Idunnas again.

2014 Lulu.com

Rites And Religions Of The Anglo-Saxons * Gale R. Owen (1985)

It had been a while since I read a book like this. On a forum somebody asked about ASH sources (Anglo-Saxon Heathenry) and somebody recommended this book. It is available cheaply second hand, so that was a good inducement to read something ‘heathen’ again.

The persion inquiring about ASH sources might have had a book in mind solely about Anglo-Saxon heathenry. Owen continuously refers to Scandinavian heathenry. This is not unexpectedly, since however there certainly are Anglo-Saxon sources, the Eddas, etc. give a much more complete look at the world of Gods and spirits. Rites And Religions does give a good idea about what is available for Anglo-Saxon souces though. The cross-references are needed to put things in perspective and to explain things that are not available in Anglo-Saxon sources.

The most interesting chapter is the opening chapter “Gods and Legends”. It has quite a few images, quotes from tales and poems and general information about Gods and the like. A chapter about every day life is followed by a chapter about inhumation versus cremation. Both ways of disposing of the bodies of the deceased existed alongside eachother. The fourth chapter about ship burials starts interestingly, but soon becomes but an extremely detailed description of what was found where and when. Something similar happens in the chapter about “The Arrival of Christianity”. The chapter is overflooded with details about artifacts and the like. The last chapter about the Viking age has a few interesting points, but also here tends towards the very historic approach.

The book is good to get a general idea of Anglo-Saxon history, but I did not alway found it a great read. I suppose it works well as something to read as starters on the subject.

There are several versions of this book by the way, published by different publishing houses. I got the following:

1985 Dorset Press, isbn 0880290463

Godless Paganism * John Halstead (editor) (2016)

A while ago I was going around the web like I do not do very often and I ran into a ‘blog’ called “Humanistic Paganism“, a board for atheistic pagans. I never really saw such divisions within ‘the pagan sphere’, but here apparently are people who found it needed to team up and give themselves a voice for having ‘uncommon pagan ideas’. The ‘blog’ has a few entries that make a nice read, but I have not really tried to read up. Soon after I started following the ‘blog’ a book was announced and eventually this book was published in April 2016 Godless Paganism, voices on Non-Theistic Pagans.

I got the book to see what this would be about and soon also experienced why there are people giving “non-theistic pagans” a voice. On an Asatru forum mostly occupied by Americans somebody asked about atheism and Asatru so I said: “Did you know about this book?” After that I get torched for recommending a book by somebody who is not accepted by “the community” and who tries to bring rot to paganism from the inside. So what are these ideas that appear to be offensive to some?

The main point seems to be that there are pagans out there who have a very strict idea of what (mostly) Asatru should be like: a certain kind of polytheism in which the Gods are all separate entities. There are people (like myself I may add) who have other views. A simple example, the Gods are part of a ‘larger Divinity’. So came distinctions between “hard” and “soft” polytheism, because the second view does not deny the Gods, but does have another view on them. The book under review shoves a whole lot of views different from what they call “hard polytheism” under their title and the largest part of the authors of the essays in this books are certainly not anti- or even a-theistic; while others are. There are again nuances within the atheistic group. Also within the confines of this book are pantheists, panentheists, etc.

The book comes up with all kinds of paganisms that I never heard of. “Humanistic”, “naturalistic”, “atheopagans”, PaGaians and whatnot. The authors come from all kinds of backgrounds. There are Wiccas, ecclectics, Southern-European pagans, Northern-European pagans, etc. There are very short and rather lengthy texts. Some are quite scholarly, while other are short and very personal. We run into people seeing Gods as projections of their psyches, people seeing Gods as archetypes or forces. There are worhippers of Mother Earth as Nature (not super-natural). Some texts go into practice. Of course there is quite a bit about how and why somebody who does not believe in literal Gods practices ritual for example and is this with ‘theisitic pagans’ or not? How was this in the past?

There is not much that I did not encounter in some form just as a form of paganism, rather than a ‘branch’ of it. Apparently over time some sort of conformity (dogmatism?) has grown within the pagan community and it has become necessary to give people with ‘other views’ a voice and a platform again. I do not find a whole lot of books with personal and practical contemporary paganism, so there is a reason to get this book already. Do not expect an in-depth learned book about contemporary pagan theology. Rather expect a book with texts by contemporary pagans sharing their views on things. Some even admit that they are not sure about everything they come up with so far and there are some who do not care to fill in all the details of their worldview as practice is more important than theory.

The book is good to get a feel of what the minds of a variety of contemporary pagans keep occupied. A thing I always enjoys learning about. Lots of things I read here are pretty far from my own views. The ecclecticism and New Age-approach of some people are things I cannot symphatise with, but it never hurts to learn about other ways of looking at things. What I do find interesting is that there are a few people describing how they try to make ‘including rituals’ which should work for ‘theists’ and ‘non-theists’ alike; which should even work whether the practitioner is interested in Southern, Northern European or ‘Amerindian’ mythology. The message is: of course there are different ideas within the ‘pagan community’, but why would anyone tell somebody else to be wrong? Does everybody going to the same celebration have exactly the same ideas? Fortunately not, otherwise I would probably be a lonely heathen.

And since I always tend to take sides with the underdog: of course I recommend this book! No matter how far some of the ideas posed here stand from my own, everybody has to walk his/her own path, come to his/her own conclusions and if these are different from my own, that is actually a good thing. So, whether you consider yourself ‘theistic’ (like myself) or not and whether you are pagan or not (or of whatever kind) here we have a book to get a bit of a feel of other people’s ideas.

2016 lulu.com, isbn 1329943570

De Geestelijke Wereld Van De Germanen * Jan de Vries (1943/2016)

In 2004 members of the Dutch heathen group Nederlands Heidendom (‘Dutch heathenry’) started to translate a 1943 work of the famous Dutch ‘Germanist’ Jan de Vries (1890-1964) about ‘the spiritual world of the Germans’ into Dutch. There was a revised edition of De Vries’ book published in 1964 which formed the basis for this translation. Chapters that were finished were published in the “Heidense Jaarboeken” (‘heathen yearbooks’), but now they are bundled together and published with extensive introductions in a well-printed booklet. This booklet is only available for members of the Nederlands Heidendom forum, so if you are one of those and missed it, be quick, the edition is not large. When you are not a member of the forum, you know what to look for on the black market!

The first (unnumbered) 60 pages contain four pieces of introduction from the hand of Boppo Grimmsma. He explains why the translations were started in the first place (even some Dutch find it difficult to read German), he made a biography of Jan de Vries, poses some theories about the lost manuscript of a Dutch version by Jan de Vries himself and then uses De Vries’ own ideas to see how objective the book is. This last part is more or less another biography, because it describes the man’s background and times and how these elements coloured his worldview and consquentally his work. Here you will also learn a thing or two about De Vries’ choices during the Second World War and how these choices polluted his name and fame when the war was over. These 60 pages are informative, well-written and entertaining, but contain some double information.

After these introductionary pages, 176 pages follow with the translation of the book of Jan de Vries. In seven chapters De Vries explains how the early inhabitents of North-Western Europe looked at the world. The subjects include honour; the sib/kindred and man’s place in ancient society; fate, heil, law, the soul; love and relationships; poetry and art (with well printed images); and in the last chapter, religion, cult and magic.

De Vries wrote this in an almost story-like style with many short references to a wide range of texts and sources. He touches upon etymology, comparitive myth, colleague investigators, archeology and what not. Still it remains a fairly easy-to-read book.

What is worth mentioning about this Dutch translation is that however the translation was made by six different people over the periode of about a decade, there are no big differences in writing style between the different chapters. Quite a feat! Even more of a feat is the current project, since members of Nederlands Heidendom started to translate De Vries’ major work of 1000 pages. The current title has “Raven-Reeks deel 1” (‘Raven series part 1’) on the back, so this suggests that more titles will follow. That might take a few more decades then I think.

So, when you have contacts with(in) the group of Nederlands Heidendom, make sure to get your very nicely-priced copy before it is too late.

2016 Nederlands Heidendom

The First Book of Urglaawe Myths * Robert Schreiwer (2014)

Not too long ago there was a buzz going around in ‘the heathen world’, something new… On American and Dutch fora I read about “Urglaawe”. Now what would that be? Some sort of þheodism perhaps?

Then I ran into this little book with “Urglaawe myths”, subtitled “Old Deitsch Tales for the Current Era”. Another new term “Deitsch”. I knew that the “Pensylvania Dutch” are not really of Dutch descent, but rather German. Descendents from those Germans are now called “Deitsch” as is the area they inhabit. These emigrants/immigrants apparently kept some of their language and folklore and the author has set out to write down some of those tales before they die out.

This book is full of German-sounding, but not quote German, words and sentences. “Braucherei” and “Hexerei” are forms of the old ways, a “Lumbemann” is a scarecrow, a “Butzemann” a “spiritually activated scarecrow”, a “Wassernix” a “watersprite”. A short sentenced that is used in this book appears to be some sort of Bavarian (from Bavaria in Southern Germany).

The 60 pages are mostly filled with retellings of tales which can be about the “Ewicher Yeeger” (‘eternal hunter’), friendly beavers or Til Eileschpiggel. Small stories about man interacting with nature and its spirits.

This little book makes a nice read of about an hour, but will not teach you much about this contemporary Urlaawe that the internet seems to be full of nowadays.

2014 Deitscherei.com, isbn 9781500790226

American Heathens * Jennifer Snook (2015)

“Jennifer Snook is an Instructional Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Mississippi”. Raised as “a college-bound army brat”, first in Germany, later in the USA, Snook became interested in “paganism” and later “heathenry”. When she started to study sociology, she wrote her dissertation on contemporary heathens. She remained both a practitionar and an observer ever since. 15 Years of fieldwork resulted in this 200+ page book on “American Heathens, the politics of identity in pagan religious movement”.

The author gives a very personal look into her personal path here and there, like on how she rolled into the pagan world (a term that she uses quite generally including various sorts of paganism) and later “heathenry” (which is more a specific German-centered kind, say “Asatru”, “Odinism”, “þheodism”, etc.). The book interweaves personal accounts of gatherings and rituals that Snook attented, interviews, musings of her own and of course her sociological considerations.

The author gives an idea of the history of American heathenry and writes about a couple of ‘big subjects’ at length. Identity, ethnicity, race, whiteness, ancestry as one group, gender roles as another subject. There have been quite some investigations linking heathenry to white power. However Snook shows herself as a very left-leaning thinker, she shows that these subjects are much less black-and-white as often portrayed. The same with conservatism and the role of women within heathenry. Snook makes it clear that she finds but a few allies in her particular line of thought within the heathen world, but at least breaks a lance to look at these subject in a more nuanced way than her predecessors often did.

“American Heathens” shows well the difficulty of subjects such as that of (perceived) racism, subordination of women and the like by giving quotes from interviews and her own thoughts. Unfortunately Snook looks at a subject from so man different sides within just a page that it hard to figure out what way she exactly tries to lead her readers. Both her gender study and her chapters about racial exclusivity elude me frequently, especially when her (apparent) own ideas are bluntly stated as facts (the difference between man and woman is automatically oppressive for example). The concluding remarks fortunately make up for a few of these indistinctnesses.

What is interesting for a European is to see how some things in the USA are very recognisable while other developments are entirely alien to heathery in Europe. A little strange is Snook’s (apparent) idea that heathenry in Europe is imported from the USA though.

So, perhaps not “a standard text for scholars and teachers in the emerging field of Pagan studies” as Michael Strmiska states on the back, but likely the best in the field so far; interesting for scholars and heathen alike. It would be interesting if the investigation would go on to include Europe.

2015 Temple University Press, isbn 1439910979

The Love Of Destiny * Dan McCoy (2013)

Dan McCoy wrote a lengthy essay, or a little book, of about 100 pages about “the Sacred and the Profane in Germanic Polytheism”. The text contains a ‘contemporary heathen theology’ such as represented in The Journal of Contemporary Heathen Thought. It might have fitted in that journal, since McCoy’s text is about as academic as the texts in JOCHT.

McCoy mostly speaks about the difference between monotheism and polytheism. The terms get a very specific meaning in this book. Monotheism is not just the form of the three Abrahamistic religions, but the author also applies it to science which he calls the religion of our time. He spends a large part of his book (the first chapters) showing the flaws of monotheism, it duality and rigidity. The text gets a thick ‘monotheism is bad, polytheism is good’ tone and like the “French theologian” that McGoy refers to in the beginning (Alain de Benoist), the author spends more pages on showing what is wrong about ‘that other philosophy’ than elaborating his own.
Just as with the terms monotheism and polytheism, McCoy has very specific explanations of other terms, such as “myth”, which is anything ‘above human’ that ‘just is’. This can be just as well mythology as scientific hypothesis. Other terms (also Icelandic) get very simple explanations and translation.

It takes the author until the last chapter before he turns towards the “destiny” of his subtitle. This does not really concern more than a very free retelling of the Balder myth though.

The above sounds quite critical, I know. I do recommend this book for people interested in ‘contemporary heathen thought’, though. Like for reading the mentioned journal you should not be afraid of scholarly language and moderns ways of reasoning. There are not too many contemporary heathens not just trying to show how things were in the past, but writing about ‘heathen subjects’ from a contemporary viewpoint, hence describing a paganism for the world of today. Or the other way around, McCoy shows a contemporary heathen’s perspective on things.

There are things in this little book that I would have described differently and things that I simply do not agree with, but by reader other views I have to reconsider my own, so this is never a bad thing. Besides, I am happy to see another articulate comtemporary heathen writing about ‘heathen things’. That alone

2013 CreateSpace, isbn 1492761559

Heidens Jaarboek 2014

The ‘heathen yearbooks’ are actually planned to be published early in the year, but the twelfth edition took a bit longer to finish. This time no attempt was made to stay around 100 pages and the well-printed booklet reached up to 134 which make up for seven longer or shorter essays.

The yearbook starts with looking back at the past year in which a group split off of Nederlands Heidendom. Then follows the continuing translation of Jan de Vries’ famous Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte into the Dutch language. The chapters are about the soul(s) and (fittingly as we will see later) Fate.
Next up is Gerard who bought an old wood-carved plate and investigates its symbolism and function.
The two next articles are by Boppo Grimmsma. Both texts he earlier used during the group walk in the fall of 2014 through an area overlapping parts of the provinces Drenthe, Overijssel and Fryslân. These texts are mostly historical and explain some things that are still left to see in the area of what used to be seen there.
The most interesting text is of guest-author Frank Bosman who wrote a penetrating analyses of the Heliand. Bosman describes it as a perfect synthesis of Christian and prechristian religion. The author of the Heliand is both critical towards and full of praise about the new religion. He made some original adjustments in order to be able to give a story of a warlord Jesus rather than the Jesus from the Bible.
Next up is myself. I was asked to make a Dutch version of my 2012 text about the Primal Law which you can read in English by clicking the link.
At the end, three 999 word stories of the story-telling-competition are published.

As always a nice little publication for people who can read Dutch and are interested in history and the prechristian religion.