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comparative mythology

Understanding Indo-European Cosmology, Theology, and Metaphysics – Zachary Gill (2022)

The Kindle edition of this book has “Hammer & Vajra Book 3” in the title, so I suppose I read the books in the ‘correct order’ after all.

After a more Eastern centered book, this time Gill takes the path that we got to know in the first book of the series. It is mostly centered around Germanic and Vedic myth and religion, but the research spreads across all Indo-European religions and beyond.

I hope that this book unveils a deeper understanding of our faith through an apologetic defence.

Gill writes early in the book. This volume is mostly built on earlier shorter texts about a variety of subjects. Some chapters are better than others. Gill picks up specific themes with such subjects of the Sky Father, giants, eschatology, “on magics”, werewolves, the Kali Yuga, the left hand path, etc., etc.

Just like the previous two books of the trilogy, an alright read.

2022 Hammer & Vajra, isbn 979-8367227499

Pathways To Bliss – Joseph Campbell (2018)

Another collection of lectures of Campbell. I thought this title would be how Campbell views the incorporation of myth in daily life. In a way it it.

The “remarkable storytelling” from the cover again works on my nerves a bit. Indeed, also this title reads like Campbell is talking by heart in front of a group, which in most cases is true.

Campbell talks about things I do agree with. “The necessity of rites”, the importance of mythology, etc. He makes valid points every so often. Quite soon he starts talking about Freud and Jung. Initially it is amusing how he compresses the ideas of Freud into a page and a half, but especially when it comes to Jung, Campbell’s psychological approach to his subjects annoyingly starts to surface. Way too many pages are spent on psychology instead of mythology. After a mildly interesting interlude, follow boring “dialogues” in which Campbell talks with a “man” and a “woman” talk about the difference men and women.

I think this will be the last title of Campbell that I read until I forget again that he is not really my author.

2018 New World Library, isbn 9781577314714

From Ritual To Romance – Jessie Weston (1920)

Campbell refers to this work in his Arthur lectures and when I saw Weston’s (1850-1928) work in the Kindle store for one dollar, I figured it would not hurt to read it. As the title suggests, Weston’s theory is that King Arhur romances are based on rituals. An interesting thesis.

My enthousiasm was tempered when it became clear that Weston was very enthousiastic about the recently published Golden Bough by James Frazer (1890 and expanded several times after). So you can guess that Weston sees “nature ritual” in the Arthur legends.

This fertility approach is not my cup of tea. Also the long diversions about the famous mysteries / initiations is somewhat interesting, but also here the aim is to demonstrate the fertility background.

What is a lot more interesting, is that Weston looks at and compares a wide range of various Arthur (related) stories. In chapters about the “Fisher King” or the “Perilous Chape”. Weston constantly refers to different texts, older, more recent, variations, deviations, etc. Also she investigates the possible author of the ‘original story’ which makes an interesting piece of history.

Because Westen sees initiations as a source for the stories, the book also contains information about sword dances and kindred subjects.

Weston’s book is interesting because it covers the whole wide area of Arthur and similar legends. The idea that originally rituals of initiation may have been a source for the stories is interesting, but that these initiations were supposedly fertility rituals interests me less.

It would have been nice if there was an overview with all the different stories and their datings at the end.

1920 / 2011 Dover Publications, isbn 0486296806

Romance of the Grail – Joseph Campbell (2022)

I have never been much fond of Joseph Campbell (1904-1987). In the Amazon Kindle Store (but you can also get this book as a soft- or hardcover or audio book) I ran into a stack (18 so far) of titles in a series of collected works. Since it never hurts to learn of other opinions and because the subject of the present title is interesting, I decided to read me another Campbell.

The collected works series are compilations of articles, essays, lectures, etc. of Campbell, given sometimes over the course of decades and then compiled and ordered per theme. Therefor it is not a work by Campbell, but a book edited, in this case by Evans Lansing Smith.

In the introduction we read how the editor as a student got acquainted with Campbell, first on an excursion later attending lectures at universities and other occasions. Campbell is presented as a story teller and that is exactly what he is in this book.

After a general introduction into the (pre)history of the Arthurian myths follows a long and detailed retelling of the Parzival story of Wolfram von Eschenbach, but in the words of Campbell. This is amusing here and there, but in general I find it too popularly. With the Tristan story things become more informative and part three even has a theme: “the waste land”.

The first appendix is Campbell’s dissertation and I prefer the (somewhat) more academic presentation over the previous parts. The text about the “dolorous stroke” is -in my opinion- also the most interesting part of the book, even though it is a text of a young Campbell.

Overall I can only repeat once more that Campbell’s approach often is not mine. Blunt statements such as “he was a sun god”, following Frazer in seeing “fertility gods” everywhere, the stress on the psychological approach, I prefer Campbell’s colleagues with other nuances.

But, the book shows that Campbell spent decades on the subject, returning to it, evolving in his thinking, mirroring it to new discoveries either or not from other cultures. He obviously had a wide interest and he seems to present all information and comparisons straight from his head. He also has many things that I do agree with. Overall, Romance of the Grail made an alright read.

2022 New World Library, isbn 1608688283

Patterns in Comparative Religion – Mircea Eliade (1949/1958/1996)

Eliade wrote so much, there that are still titles out that that I have not yet read. This is an early one. Initially published in French in 1949, translated to English in 1958 and having been available in print since. It is a large work of 480 pages.

The book is divided over chapters, but mostly the paragraphs that we got to know Eliade for. So any edition or any translation can simply refer to ‘paragraph 109’. The book seems to contain all subjects that Eliade would come back to later in his long writer career. The sacred and the profane, sky and sky-Gods, the sun and sun-worship, the moon, the waters, stones, earth, vegetation, agriculture, the centre of the world, sacred time and symbols. His paragraphs go from subsubject to subsubject constantly shooting examples at the reader from any place in the world to any time in history. Eliade was a walking encyclopedia!

Because many subjects and example are rather folklore than (for example) mythology, I started to get worn off by the constant rapid fire. It is highly interesting to read about all the comparisons and different examples, but often they are mentioned, not (deeply) explained. This makes Patterns perhaps more of a reference book. Indeed there is a descent index and an extensive table of contents.

every magico-religious object or event is either a kratophany, a hierophany or a theophany.

Not everything that Eliade stressed in the present title, got as much attention in his later works, but we sure can see the basis for his later works in Patterns and perhaps that is the main reason to read it.

1949 Traité d’histoire des religions, 1958 Patterns in Comparative Religion, my edition 1996 Bison Books, isbn 9780803267336

Images And Symbols – Mircea Eliade (1952/1991)

There are still works of Eliade that I have not read. This is good. Images and Symbols (original title Images et Symboles) reads a bit like a collection of essays, but it appears to have been written as a book.

In the preface Eliade writes about the rediscovery of symbolism. This rediscovery he mostly attributes to his friend and colleague Carl Jung (see Religion After Religion). This psychological approach is not for me and fortunately it is not everywhere that present. The (re)discovery is present among “laymen” who usually are presented with bad literature.

There are about “Symbolism Of The “Centre””, “Indian Symbolisms of Time and Eternity”, “The “God Who Binds” and the Symbolism of Knots”, “Observations on the Symbolism of Shells” and “Symbolism and History”.

Each chapter has a couple of shorter texts. As we know Eliade we go from Eastern religion to ancient mythology and back. Also Western religion and mythology are mentioned. Eliade apparently thought he had to be careful not to be mistaken. When mentioning elements of Christianity and Shamanism in the same sentence, he explains (over and again) that he does not intend to imply that there are Shamanic elements in Christianity.

Images and Symbols is a typical work of Eliade. It makes a great read. Most subjects can also be encountered in other works, but in the present title there is some more stress about his methodology.

1991 Princeton University Press, isbn 069102068X

Eternal Wisdom – Gwendolyn Taunton (2020)

In Amazon’s Kindle store my eye fell on two titles of Gwendolyn Taunton (formerly Toynton) that I did not know. The Primordial Tradition (2015) and the book presently under review.

That book is presented as an updated version of the publication that acquainted me with Taunton back in the days: Primordial Traditions Compendium (2009) which was a compendium of a periodical that Taunton edited before (2005-2008).

The 230+ page compendium contains texts by various authors. In the new 78 page version, there are only texts of what used to be the editor. New ones too it seems, so the connection between both publications is only the author.

Already in 2009 I concluded that Taunton’s explanation of the term “Primordial Tradition” is not mine. This is still the case. This is emphasized by the opening text about Carl Gustav Jung. What was also apparent over a decade ago is that Taunton appears to be of the opinion that “philosophia perennis” can be reached by study. It is even “an intellectual transmission” (emphasis mine). “Philosophia perennis” is presented as (the result of) the study of comparative myth and religion.

Even though she does refer to Guénon, Schuon and Coomaraswamy, Taunton’s approach is much different.

A prophet, therefor, does not require the bonds of filiation, which René Guénon believed to be the necessary requirement for belonging to tradition.

Guénon has a few things to say about prophets which is in a way similar, but also much different from that statement. Another point Guénon would certainly not agree with is:

Faith in the potency of any specific symbol relies upon the most basic human aspect of belief. Belief in a sentient God is not even required.

As with other publications, Taunton walks a similar mountain as myself, but another path (but closer as many). As usual she does have interesting things to say and diverting opinions force me to question my own. I do wonder about some chapters what the relevancy with the subject is, such as the chapter about the “science of omens”.

There is also a chapter about alchemy in which Taunton suggests that alchemy is a (proto-)Indo-European tradition which has spread with Indo-European culture. This would explain the spread and diversity of alchemy. This is an interesting notion that I do not think I encountered before.

The closing chapter is more political. Apparently some alt-right thinkers have started using the term “Traditionalism” and for that reason Taunton chose to no longer use the term as she wants to prevent being lumped together with such currents. It could be me, but this alt-right is hardly visible (especially possible ‘intellectual’ efforts have all passed by me) and just the fact that they try to hijack a term that has been in use for a century is not immediately a reason for me to start to look for a synonym.

As often with Manticore publications, interesting, somewhat different from my own ideas (which is good). Rather short though.

2020 Manticore Press, isbn 0648766055

Syncretic Indo-European Faith – Zachary Gill (2020)

I ran into this book in the Amazon Kindle store and thought that I had been too long since I read anything about comparative myth. Why not try a writer I do not know?

I suppose I expected a scholarly work. I am not sure if the author is an interested layman or if he has education of some sort, but Syncretic Indo-European Faith is not a scholarly work of comparative myth of religion, but rather a personal exposition of a man describing his path and studious efforts.

The book appears to come from the group “Hammer & Vajra” which just might be a one man group (or a man with followers). Gill does appear to put some effort in his project with a website, a webshop and now a book.

It is not unheard that modern-day heathens look at other religions in the Indo-European family for inspiration, to fill gaps or because of general interest. Gill goes a few steps further. He seriously investigations all Indo-European faiths of the present and the past, elements of which seep into his worldview. Hence the term “syncretic”. The result he calls “Vedic Heathenism”, not because the Vedas are the basis of his faith, but because they are the oldest known Indo-European texts. It is more of an approach than a system, as Gill recommends everybody to investigate the faith of their ancestors to be the basis of ones own faith and then look at ‘family religions’ for a deeper understanding.

This syncretic approach may be frowned upon by some contemporary heathens, even more so will Gill’s view of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. He sees Indo-European roots and/or elements in these Abrahamic faiths and suggests filtering these out to see what can be “salvaged”. Also he recommends possible readers of these faiths not to go over to another faith, but to study their own, see where the roots are and understand their own religions better.

Gill says he is not in favour of mixing elements of different faiths (which he does do in a way) but I enjoy his open-minded approach. In some ways his approach is ‘folkish’, in other ways somewhat ‘universalistic’. It sure is an approach I have not ran into very often, In quite a few ways, the approach is like my own, in other ways not at all, but only agreement would be boring, would it not?

In his comparisons Gill is sometimes original, sometimes thought provoking, sometimes a bit too easy, but he sure made an effort to know a lot more about the different Indo-European and non-Indo-European religions and myths than many non specialists and practicing heathens. This makes a book a nice read. It is not that I learned a whole lot new, but it is interesting to read the thoughts of a contemporary heathen which interests similar to my own.

2020 Hammer & Vajra Project, isbn 1734766611

Brahman – Alexander Jacob (2012)

I recently reviewed a book of Jacob published by Manticore Press. In it, he frequently refers to two of his older works. I got myself a copy of Brahman, a study of the solar rituals of the Indo-Europeans.

Even though the book is published in a German row of scholarly works, it is in English.

The book that I previously reviewed is published on a ‘niche’ publishing house. In my review I say that Jacob sometimes seems to cut corners. Curious if he would make his points better in a scholarly publication I started reading Brahman. It was immediately clear that Jacob’s writing style is the same here.

In a book with short chapters, Jacob constantly bombards his reader with loads of information. He also seems to assume that his readership is as knowledgeable as himself. Just as in the other book he seems to say that God-names in different cultures are just that: different names for the same entity (for example: “Ymir is sacrificed by Wotan (Enlil/Ganesha) and his brothers” p. 139). In his lists he mentions Gods from different cultures asuming that you know them all. The same with books. In this-and-this book you can read… I know quite some holy and mythological works, but I do not always immediately know to what culture the author refers every time.

I will give you a (relatively easy) quote to give you an idea of Jacob’s writing style:

In the Germanic Edda, the First Man, or “giant”, Ymir is killed by his great-grandson Wotan, who is the counterpart of the Iranian Wata/Vayu. The macroanthropomorphic Ymir who develops in the Mid-region, Ginnunga-gap, is the counterpart of Prajapati/Brahman, while his female partner Shatarupa is represented in the form of the cow Audhumla, who feeds Ymir with her milk. Ymir and Audhumla are thus the Germanic form of the First Man, Gayomaretan, and the Bull of Heaven, of the Iranian Bundahishn. This cow also produces, by licking the “ice-blocks”, a man called Buri, whose grandson is said to be Odin (Wotan), the wind-god. We have seen that the Kassites called Vayu Burias (Boreas). So we may assume that the Germanic Buri is the name of the first form of the wind-god, Vayu, whereas Wotan/Wata is that of the same force that, much like Shu, later sustains our universe within the Mid-region between heaven and earth. (p.135)

The chapters are somewhat thematic, but almost the entire book the red thread (from the subtitle) completely eluded me. The book mostly reads as a display of information. Towards the end there either appeared, or I started to recognise it, some structure. Not that I can now summerize the book easily, but the thesis seems to be that once there were two main cultures. The Indo-European was the solar, fire worshipping culture that spread over the globe. Jacob describes a primal man from whom the universe was created. Also he interweaves a phallic basis for the myths (the World Tree is actually a phallus that connects heaven and earth, etc.)

The book is interesting, yet again Jacob’s approach is not my own, but as there is quite some stress on Mesopotamian and other mythologies from that region and time, it expands my ‘usual information’. An index would have been a welcome addition though.

2012 Georg Olms Verlag, isbn 3487147408

Indo-European Mythology And Religion – Alexander Jacob (2019)

A while ago I got myself three recent Manticore books. When I had just started reading the present title, the publisher contacted me to tell me about yet another new title. Manticore is hard to keep up with.

I know Jacob from another Manticore title. In my review I noted Jacob has a different approach from my own and that he can be quite pedantic. Now I may add that his conclusions sometimes seem extremely easy.

Read More »Indo-European Mythology And Religion – Alexander Jacob (2019)