Theodish Thoughts

Musings on Theodism, religion, mythology, history, and contemporary Heathenry

Category: Books

New Book: Heathen Garb and Gear

Another new book alert from Ben Waggoner! This time he has given us Heathen Garb and Gear: Ritual Dress, Tools, and Art for the Practice of Germanic Heathenry.

The book includes sections on Heathen Dress (including an entire chapter on the Case Against Garb, and another on the Case for Garb); Jewelry, Amulets, Symbols, and Designs; Hair and Grooming; and Stall, Harrow, and Hof.

Especially as someone who comes down solidly on the pro-garb side of the argument, but who is also very interested in anything to do with the practicum of Asatru and Heathen practice, this should be a terrific book. Very much looking forward to reading it!

Sagas of Imagination

Hey all!

Just a quick announcement; Ben Waggoner’s latest translation of sagas — a collection titled Sagas of Imagination — is now available on Amazon.

It contains the following:

  • The Saga of King Half and his Warband
  • The Saga of Asmund Champions’-Bane
  • The Tale of Sorli
  • The Saga of the Apostle Bartholomew
  • The Saga of the Descent into Hell
  • Geography
  • The Physiologus and Related Texts

One might question the inclusion of Christian texts, but I find them very useful, especially when attempting to suss out Christian influences from genuine Heathen sources. By knowing how things were thought of in Christian works, we can more easily identify their impact on our own sagas and stories. In addition, the use of language is also instructive; by comparing Christian and Heathen use of words, we can gain more insight into their original meaning.

Definitely worth picking up!

Buy it here.

Where are the 400 level books?

Every once in a while, I come across a blog post or a comment someplace bemoaning the fact that the vast majority of Asatru books are beginner-level books. What those in the “ed biz” might call 100-level books, because in American universities, a class that is numbered between 1 and 199 is aimed at first-year students. That’s where we get the “101 = beginner” idea. The 101 level courses are what Freshmen take in their first semester.

And it’s a fair observation. We are replete with 101-level introductory “What is Asatru?” types of books in print today:



And there are many more that I didn’t include here.

Now, this isn’t to say that such books aren’t valuable, and don’t have a place. They absolutely do. Newcomers to Asatru need to know about the basics of the Gods, the myths, the rituals, and the ethics of Asatru. But what seems to be missing, largely, are the “next step” books.

Specifically, what I mean here are books that deal with particular topics relating to Asatru in depth. There are a few examples out there of what I mean:


But on the whole, once you get past the introductory material, there’s precious little to chew on. (I am deliberately not listing books on runes and magic, which I feel is a completely different discussion, and basics of lore, like the Eddas and Sagas, which are pretty cut-and-dried source material.)

Asatru could certainly use some more books on the 200-300 level. Books that explore a particular facet of life from an Asatru perspective. Books that talk about a topic exhaustively, such as death, or honor, or love, or feminism, or modernity, or land-wights, or marriage counseling, or grief counseling, or child-rearing, or house-spirits, or the logistics of kindred-building, or a particular holiday, or whatever. Brian Wilton has a series of books that cover some of these sorts of topics, and it’s a great start, but he’s only one guy, and a robust intellectual tradition requires more than that. It might be said that Asatru will truly come of age in an intellectual sense when we have entire books being written as responses to other books that are written by Asatru scholars, challenging their conclusions, and engaging in an intellectual dialog spanning years.

I think there’s a huge market for those sorts of books. More on that in a later post, methinks.

But that still leaves us with the problem of the yet-higher-level works. And therein lies an essential conundrum.

People keep saying they want high-level Asatru books. Because everyone is way more advanced than those proles who need beginner books, dontchaknow.

I submit that 400 or 500 level books are downright impossible, outside of possibly an initiatory tradition that has books for ever-higher-levels of initiates, and limits access to them, sort of like the Temple of Set or Rune Gild.

If you want the truly high-level stuff, what I’ve come to call “Deep Asatru”, you’re not going to find that in a book. That’s only going to come with time and practice. Years and years of time, and hundreds of hours of practice. There are things at that level that you just can’t learn from a book. There comes a time when books are only going to hone the edges that you’ve already got.

The 300 level stuff will still be useful, because it’s going to do a deep-dive into a particular corner of Asatru that you might not be familiar with yet, but the really deep stuff, that’s not coming from any written works. That’s learned through direct experience, mouth to ear, from someone who has spent the years delving into that aspect of things. And once you get to the point where you start really being ready for this sort of thing, you’ll know it, and you’ll know that Amazon and the used bookstore down the street aren’t going to get you where you need to go.

That’s when the Deep Asatru starts. In practice, not in pages. Not everyone is going to go there. Not everyone Needs to, or even should. That doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, because everyone is inclined to think they’re special, and they’re the ones that can really handle it, and have the skills to do so, and Need to do so. But it’s true nonetheless.

Asatru Study Resources, Part One

Time to put that library of mine to work! A friend and tribe-mate of mine recently asked, in my capacity as goði, to recommend some resources, as she would like to start studying Heathenry again. She’s got a good grasp of the basics in my opinion, but she specifically asked me to treat her like a newcomer, so this is what I’ve come up with. I’m sharing it here, as I think others might find this sort of thing useful as well. Everything listed below is going to be in English; if you’re fortunate enough to know Old Norse, Anglo-Saxon, or modern Icelandic, you’ll have a leg up on those of us who aren’t fluent in those languages.

This is just a first pass at the fundamentals, and only scratches the surface of what’s available. More to come for more advanced and specialized information.

1. Mythology

A good grounding in the mythology of the folk is essential. My suggestion for those starting out is to begin with a modern, readable, retelling, and then go back and read the originals. You’re much more likely to retain and understand what you’re reading, if you’re broadly familiar with the story and characters to begin with.

The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland. An excellent modern retelling of the myths. He doesn’t take too many liberties, and will leave the student with a solid understanding which will serve them well as they tackle the originals. Available in hard copy. A far inferior retelling from 1859 by George Dasent is available for free online.

The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturluson. This is one of the foundational works that describe the mythology and our gods, and most of what is known as “the Norse myths” comes from this work. It was written a few hundred years after the conversion of Iceland to Christianity, but suffers from an attempt to systematize and rationalize the material, and an occasional misunderstanding by Snorri of what he was recording. Still, it’s essential, and you want to try to find a translation that includes the whole thing; most versions today omit certain sections. Available in hard copy or free online.

The Poetic Edda. Finding a decent translation can be a trial, but there are some out there. Generally speaking, the more modern the translation the more accurate, but you’ll also find a bunch of 19th century translations on the web for free. Be aware that almost all translations shuffle around some of the strophes to make them make more sense, which along with variations in the various original manuscripts, accounts for many of the discrepancies you might notice if you compare versions. Available in hard copy (Larrington has an excellent translation) or free online (not so great a translation, but has the advantage of being free; there are others out there, too).

History of the Danes by Saxo Grammaticus. Originally written in Latin, the first nine books of this work are generally viewed as being myths that have been euheremized (i.e., they treat the gods as if they were regular mortals). There are some great variations of the “regular” myths, including a completely different account of the death of Balder. Keep reading the rest of the work if you want to venture into more historical accounts. Available in hard copy (I like the Ellis-Davidson translation, even though she only covers the first nine books) or free online.

The Nibelungunleid. A continental German version of the story of Sigurd the dragon-slayer. While it is also found in the later poems of the Poetic Edda, it is not only useful to compare variations, but is also enjoyable in itself. Available in hard copy or free online.

Beowulf. Famous for torturing middle school English students across the western world, it gives great insight into Anglo-Saxon views of Germanic customs and beliefs. Available in hard copy (a terrific facing-page translation) or free online.

2. History

As an historian by training, it’s easy to go crazy suggesting a ton of modern books on the history of the Migration Era and the Viking Age. I have disciplined myself to only choose two of the most readable. I’m also including a few other primary works, which give a wonderful view of a fully-formed Heathen society at its height, through its conversion to Christianity.

The Early Germans by Malcolm Todd. A great survey of the Germanic tribes during the Migration Era, who caused the end of the western Roman Empire. Available in hard copy (used).

The Vikings: A History by Robert Ferguson. There are literally dozens of surveys of Viking-era history, but this is a particularly readable and comprehensive one. Available in hard copy.

The Sagas of Icelanders. Rather than list out a bunch of individual sagas, I’m going to point to this excellent collection. It’s not every saga, but it’s all the major ones and a good number of minor ones, and the translations are first-rate. Available in hard copy, but you can find a number of individual sagas online for free, but they’re mostly 19th century translations.

Heimskringla by Snorri Sturluson. A collection of many different sagas of Norwegian kings, the first (Ynglingasaga) could legitimately be listed under the mythology section for the same reason that Saxo’s work is; it describes a number of mythological events and beings as if they were mortal. Available in hard copy or free online.

3. Religion

Why have separate sections on mythology and religion? The former is the mythological base, while the latter is the practical application.

Asatru: A Native European Spirituality by Stephen McNallen. This provides the philosophical foundation for modern Asatru, answering the question, “why be Asatru?” Also see my review for a lot more commentary. Available in hard copy.

A Book of Troth by Edred Thorsson. A re-edition of the classic work from 1989, you can read my review for details. Where McNallen’s book answers the question “why?”, this book gives the “how?” (although it is a little dated, it’s still very valuable). Available in hard copy.

The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis-Davidson. I recommend anything by H.R. Ellis-Davidson, but unfortunately many of her books are out of print. The good news is they can often be found in used bookstores very reasonably.  This is one of the best. Available in hard copy (used).

4. Folklore

I firmly believe that folklore from Scandinavia, Germany, England, and Iceland is key to understanding the various wights of the land and home, which formed the basis of the everyday religion of our ancestors. They’ve been Christianized in many cases, but they are still invaluable in trying to recreate the beliefs and practices of our folk from pre-Christian days.

Scandinavian Folk-Lore by William Craigie. One of the better collections of folklore from the 19th century, when it was all the rage. Available in hard copy or free online.

Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend by Reimund Kvideland. A more modern version, available in most large bookstores, and a great introduction. Available in hard copy.

5. Reference

Some books aren’t meant to be read straight through, but are still recommended to supplement your studies.

Dictionary of Northern Mythology by Rudolf Simek. Terrific book with concise but informative entries on a variety of different subjects. Available in hard copy.

Review: Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic

I’ve always been a big fan of Claude Lecouteux’s work, and when I heard he was publishing a reference work relating to Germanic lore, I pre-ordered it at once. It finally arrived, and I’ve had a chance to look through it. And it is everything I had hoped it would be.

The obvious comparisons are going to be made between this work and other reference works on Germanic religion and mythology, such as Rudolf Simek’s Dictionary of Norse Mythology (probably the standard in the field, at least in English), Andy Orchard’s Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend, John Lindow’s Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs, and to a lesser extent John Haywood’s Encyclopaedia of the Viking Age.

Where Lecouteux’s book distinguishes itself from those titles is both in its lack of focus on the Norse material and the Viking era (although it does not distance itself from either), as well as its inclusion of tons of folkloric references, rather than sticking to the same old themes found in Norse and/or Germanic mythology. And that in particular is where this work shines, since this is a focus that all too few such works, let alone Asatruar who endeavor to recreate the Germanic mindset, have.

That the book was originally written in French (and, I presume, published in that language) gives the entries an international appeal that is so often denied to those of us without fluency in a variety of European languages. The sources span the gamut from Germany, France, Poland, Scandinavia, and even further afield. Just having access to condensed entries based on that broad range of material is a reason to get this book.

But to take a few of the more interesting entries as examples of the breadth and depth of the coverage, we have subjects as varied as Hernoss, a sort of idol that was still to be found in Norway in the 19th century, a brief discussion of changelings (children who are stolen from their parents and substituted with supernatural children), a lengthy discussion of Perchta, and Ourk, said to be the name of the leader of the Wild Hunt in a district in the Tyrol. This in addition to the standard entries on Norse gods and mythological themes that one would expect in a book of this type.

All in all, this is a fantastic book, and well worth it for the wealth of folkloric sources, as well as the conventional entries informed by folklore, that it brings to the table. I don’t think it replaces Simek’s Dictionary, but rather it accompanies it well, filling in all manner of gaps. It definitely stands as a worthy addition to any Asatruar’s library. Five stars out of five.

You can buy the book here.

Book-hoard porn

Over in my gaming circles, every once in a while people will take pictures of their game collections and post them as “game porn”. I thought it might be fun to do the same with my book-hoard. This isn’t everything Asatru-related (my Norrœna collection is boxed up, for instance, and my photocopies are not shown, along with some other bits and bobs), but it’s most of my Asatru-related collection. Not pictured are science fiction and fantasy, science, Roman history and religion, writing, gardening, games, world war II and related topic, my wife’s collection of Celtic and eclectic pagan and witchcraft topics, and miscellany. Click to embiggen.

Magic

More magic

Language and religion

History

Religion

Lore and magic

Lore and history

Lore

Lore

Overflow, waiting to be properly shelved

History

Later magic, history

Puttin’ ’em all together

How about you? Got any pictures of your book hoard?

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