REVIEW: Stonehenge (1999)

A Novel by Bernard Cornwell a.k.a Stonehenge 2000 BC

Last year I went on a bit of a Stonehenge kick around the same time I visited a museum exhibition devoted to it, and decided to pick a few books up to add to my “pile of shame”. That is, books that I hope to read but rarely get through – taunting me as they sit there. While I’ve slowed down a bit on this (considering that was a year ago) I have been forgoing my usual endless YouTube rabbit hole every night and have made progress on a few of these books. One of the first I decided to check out was this older novel by Bernard Cornwell called Stonehenge: A Novel, or alternatively Stonehenge 2000 BC as my copy says – I guess they decided to make it slightly more historically plausible as new information about the relic has come to light since this book was written. With Stonehenge being of such immense significance to many Pagans, especially druids, I figured why not branch out a bit on here?

“One summer’s day, a dying stranger carrying great wealth in gold comes to the settlement of Ratharryn. The three sons of Ratharryn’s chief each perceive the great gift in a different way. The eldest, Lengar, the warrior, harnesses his murderous ambition to be a ruler and take great power for his tribe. Camaban becomes a great visionary and feared wise man, and it is his vision that will force the youngest brother, Saban, to create the great temple on the green hill where the gods will appear on earth. Saban’ s love for Aurenna, the sun bride whose destiny is to die for the gods, finally brings the rivalries of the brothers to a head. But it is also his skills that will build the vast temple, a place for the gods, certainly, but also a place that will confirm for ever the supreme power of the tribe that built it.”

Book Description

The story in this book takes place in 2000 B.C./B.C.E. In the British Bronze age. Everything is centered in and around the site where Stonehenge stands today, with fictionalized names of various areas that correspond to real places. Sadly, unlike many of Cornwell’s books, there isn’t a handy map included, so the actual scope of these speculative Chiefdoms is somewhat vague. Hengall, the Chieftain of the Ratharryn tribe has three sons: Saban, the youngest, is perhaps the most level-headed of the three, and rumored to be eyed for the next Chieftain. His eldest brother Lengar is a manipulative hot-head with a passion for being a warlord. Finally, Camaban, the middle son that suffers from a disfigurement that makes him nothing more than refuse to his own people, but perhaps special for his Gods. We follow these three as they shape the story of why Stonehenge was eventually set in stone, so to speak.

Stonehenge Free Stock Photo - Public Domain Pictures
Public Domain

I was initially VERY worried about this book as it begins with Lengar being the primary character – Lengar is, quite an unlikeable character, to say the least. He spends the first few chapters basically bullying everyone around, threatening to rape everyone female, nearly kills both of his brothers at one point, and storms of in a tantrum after not getting his way. I was relieved when he turned out to be one of the primary antagonists. I would not have been surprised if Lengar had a bigger role, as this book does exist as a test to moral relativism; pretty much every single thing that happens is very problematic, if not outright disturbing. I’ve seen people on review sites say that they had to stop reading this for this very reason, due to depictions of frequent child sacrifice, sexual assault, and slavery. it’s tough, but immersing yourself in a plausible idea for what this time period could have been like is interesting.

I will say, this book was hard to get through for me, but for a different reason – the middle draaaaaaaaaaaaaags quite a bit. The beginning and the end are pretty exciting and entertaining, but there is a whole section where Stonehenge is actually being built that just seems to go on forever. There is also a false climax in the middle of the book, that makes the second half feel sort of strange, at least in my opinion. It doesn’t help that this reads like a George R.R. Martin book, in that basically nothing good happens in it – there might be glimpses of happiness to be found – only to have them crushed a few chapters later. The ending is very bittersweet, it is a perfect ending for what comes before, but boy was I hoping for some glimmer of happiness in the book. Most of the characters end up pretty messed up, without going into many spoilers.

That isn’t to say that this was a bad book or anything, it just dropped into being a book that I slowly read over the span of a year due to having to pace out the middle of the story, and the overall bleakness of the whole story. perhaps one of the highlights of the book are the descriptions of the religious practices of the various tribes we see in the story. With this being a Paganism blog, I figured I should touch on it just a tad! Ratharryn, the three boys’ original home originally had a temple to the Moon Goddess Lahanna, which appears to be the prevailing deity of the area, and especially in neighboring village of Cathallo. She has started falling out of favor for her “rival” a sun God named Slaol.

Many people worship the Gods differently in this book, for example Lengar takes to the Sun God, but re-interprets him as a war god based on his life outside of Ratharryn living with barbarians. This is used against him, as he is manipulated into helping build Stonehenge until his usefulness is lapsed. Most of the book discusses the “real” reason for Stonehenge, and that is very simple – Camaban, the middle brother, has deemed himself the true keeper of Slaol’s teachings and demands a new temple worthy of Slaol. If they build what we call Stonehenge, perhaps Slaol will create balance between himself and Lahanna, to eliminate winter and force a change in the circle of life.

Ancient Aliens Trailers & Videos | TV Guide
Public Domain

Cornwell takes care to show various rituals, the priest and shaman class for them, and how the everyday man feels about such things. In many books similar to this, especially fantasy books, none of this is ever elaborated on. When reading Conan, for example, you will see people worship the evil snake God Set, but we rarely see a nuanced discussion of the whys and how’s, it’s just there. This is where Cornwell definitely excels, and it’s VERY impressive here because he didn’t have any actual information to go off.

Since this book was written, new information has come to light that paints it somewhat less historically plausible than in 1999. For example, it is now believed that it was largely erected in 3000 B.C.E. rather than 4000 years ago, with parts like the chalk lines being even older. Also, nobody knows for sure, but we now know that the building of Stonehenge took a loooong time, perhaps most of the Neolithic age, in this book it’s presented as if the whole thing went down in one generation, for twenty years. Cornwell seemingly also overstates the level of technological prowess that was at hand during this time, but both of these were obviously done for narrative purposes.

All-in-all, I’m glad I read Bernard Cornwell’s Stonehenge, but it’s not one of his better books that I’ve read. while I felt the book dragged a lot, the descriptions of the everyday life of these people is interesting and takes us back to a period that is very hazy for many people.

“Yet the temple stands to this day, the names of its gods forgotten and the nature of its rituals a mystery, yet still a shrine for whatever aspirations we cannot answer by technology or human effort. Long may it remain.”

Bernard Cornwell

REVIEW: The Wife of Freyr – Chapter 2 – Freyja’s Revenge

A graphic novel by V. Fleckenstein

– Cover used on Kickstarter campaign

To read my review of the first half of this story, please CLICK HERE

Note: For the purposes of my review, I used a digital copy of the soon to be released “Collected Edition” of the entire story. When my psychical edition of this comes in, I plan to do another quick addendum-styled review of it.

One of my new favorite ways to enjoy pop culture works based on my Norse Pagan religious beliefs has been my foray into graphic novels and comics in that vein. Yes, there have been Marvel’s Thor comics for decades, but they are hardly representative of anything resembling actual Norse Pagan stories. I have quite enjoyed finding books that take the source material of ancient Germanic folklore and religion seriously. So far, one of my favorites has been a self-published horror/action book called The Wife of Freyr by V. Fleckenstein. Chapter 1 was released on Amazon last year and Chapter 2 appears to be exclusive to Kickstarter at the moment. A Facebook group for the author’s projects can be found HERE as well.

PLOT: AD 970. Gunnar Thangbrand, eager missionary of the Danish king Harald Bluetooth rages on the coasts of Norway. His goal is to convert the pagan Norwegians to Christianity, to make them faithful citizens of the Danish Empire. But the Norwegians resist bitterly and fight back the Danes. Gunnar, the only survivor of the danish mission, flees from the vengeful Norwegians to the east. To Sweden, Where the Prayers of the bloody Fertility God Yngvi-Freyr are living.

Kickstarter description

– An interior page

The author has billed this story as “The Wicker Man (1973) and Midsommar(2019) meets Vikings (2013)” which is pretty accurate considering the theme of “folk horror” that this chapter excels at. For those, not familiar with the term, folk horror usually casts Christians into the role of a wide-eyed innocent person that comes in contact with some of of Pagan or “Satanic” cult. I found a pretty solid definition of the “genre” from an Australian TV website of all places:

Folk horror generally – but not always – deals with rural, often British settings where the scares come not from an intrusive outsider, but the revelation that the location itself, stripped of its benign daytime face, holds horrors, often tied to pagan religions, witchcraft, ancient curses and what have you.

This is flipped on it’s head in The Wife of Freyr – Chapter 2 – Freyja’s Revenge in a way since the “horror” is actually a lot the protagonists own cultural biases. The very things he sees as “evil” are pretty benign, his own action however are the true evil of the story, a point that comes back to haunt him later on.

Gunnar Thangbrand has successfully escaped the Norwegians hunting for his head, and is traveling with the Freyr cult that he infiltrated in chapter one. He has decided to take the mantle of Freyr himself, using it as a cover to hopefully get to the next port on his journey and create just that much more distance between freedom and his own execution.

The problem is, Gunnar has become far too comfortable in his new life. Partaking in the lifestyle of a God, he is presented with endless food, drink, and sex – something that makes him lazy, fat, and perpetually drunk. Gunnar snaps out of it, and returns to his old ways, but things don’t go exactly as planned as he tries to rid Sweden of the Pagans once more. I’ll avoid more spoilers, I’ll just say that the comeuppance I was hoping for in the first chapter is exquisite.

One of the strong points of Chapter two is easily the many depictions of Pagan rituals that we see the Swedish Cult of Freyr engage in. There are instances where we see things done in repetitions of nine, an ancient holy number, as well as sacrifices of both man and beast. With a lot of our ancient Pagan heritage in shambles due to a millennium of Christian destruction, seeing plausible rights and rituals is always a treat for me. I particularly enjoyed a point in the book when Gunnar posing as Freyr weds the priestess Freyja. She takes a ceremonial place as the human embodiment of the giantess Gerðr (Freyr’s wife) and rekindles their marriage once again in human form.

These rituals are, of course, horrific to Gunnar as he has been largely sheltered from his own heritage by a Christian upbringing. For every horse that is slaughtered, he drinks more and more to hide his mind from having to cope with beliefs that are not his own. Normally he’d destroy such people and practices, but he is forced to be VERY uncomfortable and it starts to unravel his mind. This shows shades of how many Pagans see Christians today, especially when Gunnar shows his true colors. Freyja poses a few very important questions to Gunnar: How can a man serving a supposed God of love be so cruel and hateful? And considering how many bad things have befallen Gunnar, how is his God not a god of losers? Ultimately, she settles on him being a hypocrite.

Mr. Fleckenstein once again does a great job building suspense in his story with his art, we see a mix of some great battle scenes, horror scenes, and scenes of pure titillation starring Freyja, The Priestess. As with the first book, there are sex scenes in this chapter, but they do not cross into the vulgar side of things that some books like this tend to go into. their purpose is not to be “porn”, but to show the practices of this Freyr Cult and how society worked in these times. Think how similar scenes are presented in Game of Thrones, as an example. That said, this book is definitely not for children as it contained language and imagery most parents would find objectionable.

All in all, I really enjoyed The Wife of Freyr – Chapter 2 – Freyja’s Revenge, It is a solid conclusion to this adaptation of the famous story, and is a very entertaining read. For me, chapter 2 was the superior half, everything that the author got right in part one was elevated in part two. Characters are fleshed out, backstories are told, and justice is served. Perhaps my only quibble were a few typos here and there in the script, but for the most part these were not distracting nor did they ruin the book itself. I would recommend trying to get a copy of the collected edition if you can if/when it is available outside of Kickstarter, the entire story is just under 70 pages and well worth it.

REVIEW: Centre of Excellence – Norse Mythology Diploma Course printed Materials (Part 2)

A few weeks ago, I posted a review for an online class that I had completed from a UK-based company called The Centre of Excellence. The class was a self-guided correspondence style class administered through printed text and short quizzes. When compared to more sophisticated classes (ones that use videos, for example) that are technically free through sites like Coursera and EDX, I felt that it fell a bit short considering the cost, but since I was able to get a steep discount through a coupon code it was alright. The class itself was VERY introductory, so I breezed through it, but as an introduction or even the basis for a High school or low-level college class, it would be great. Overall solid experience despite my hangups.

One thing that I did not discuss, due to it not being present for the review, was the fact that I also ordered a physical course material package when I ordered the class. This was fairly cheap, and even with shipping from the UK it was like $30.00 total. As you would imagine, this is literally just the material from the class edited into a book with a plastic spiral bound binder.

Everything is organized very well, and set up exactly like a number of college classes I have taken. You have your chapters to read, followed by a chapter test. Repeat that a dozen times, and that’s basically it.

The quality is pretty good, They could have easily just xeroxed a bunch of this and slapped it together, but it looks pretty professional and has a bit of color every once in a while. There are a few typos that were also in the original online class, but these aren’t too egregious nor do they ruin the experience.

All-in-all this is a good option for somebody that may not have access to their computer and would like to make progress with a class they are taking, or if they’d like to share what was learned to somebody else. The only issue is that, due to international shipping and Covid-19 slowdowns, I received this book WAYYYYY after I completed the class. Its a nice option to have, but its not wholly necessary or convenient.

REVIEW: HEL – The Sun Facing Goddess (2019)

A book by Bryan Wilton

Hel is perhaps one of the more unfortunately maligned deities in the entirety of the Germanic pantheon. Misunderstood due to her conflation with Christian ideas of “Hell” and what the afterlife is in general, a lot of people look at her the same way we look at Satan in the Christian myths – a malevolent punisher god. Nothing in any of the many accounts of the Gods really paint this picture aside from one part of the Eddas, and this is perhaps due to Snorri Sturluson writing the Eddas from a Christian viewpoint. Ancient Germanic peoples did not see their afterlife in this manner, so attributing Christian notions to them is careless, but sadly the norm. There has been a serious lack of scholarship (that I have found at least), whether it be detailed monographs or journal articles on Hel, so when I saw this book I got pretty excited. Was this the sort of piece I was looking for? Sadly… it was not.

This book starts out okay, Bryan Wilton lays out his thesis for the book – Hel is misunderstood, and maligned by Christians. Sounds good; this could be interesting – right? Problem is, I had to read the first few pages a few times because the grammar was hard to understand or was organized in a weird manner. I figured I was tired and had misread some paragraphs, but sadly it wasn’t me. It was as if Mr. Wilton had composed this book using a text-to-speech program, and did minimal editing to finish it. There are some sections worse than others, and it largely does make sense, but its hard to read.

This is an example:

Not so long ago I was enjoying a profound discussion with a good friend of mine. His analogy of all roads lead to Rome really meaning that all roads lead to the door of death has stuck with me. Largely because it means we are going to need to discuss an ancient Goddess. Hel. Who, as she is described in the lore is most difficult to understand. But it is entirely in line with what a Christian would need people to think. For it was the promise of Jesus that there would be life everlasting. The first thing you need to do is to vilify death and make it a scary place.

This book is an attempt to rectify that. One based upon that conversation, an understanding of the lore and one magnificent idea which will shake the foundations of the world In those gray areas of change, those areas where we have been taught to fear the chaos held at bay by the constructs of our minds, we will find the truth.

-First page

Maybe it’s just not a writing style I like and I’m in the minority, but something seems off. For example, you have a one word sentence up there, with the rest of the sentence left as some weird fragment. (Largely because it means we are going to need to discuss an ancient Goddess. Hel. Who, as she is described in the lore is most difficult to understand.) We see Some sentences that seem out of place and a spoonful of gratuitous self-congratulatory nonsense are all in one page – This is also the Amazon blurb chosen to represent the book. I should have looked closer when I downloaded this.

My biggest issue isn’t the grammar, I’m not a giant grammar Nazi and it’s at least readable. I’ve seen far worse things on Amazon sadly. However, what we do have meanders a LOT. The entire book is basically a rambling essay that stops talking about Hel, herself, pretty early on, detours into the author’s opinion of modern politics (THE DREADED SJWs OHHHH NOOOO), swooped into a large section on why Loki is a bad guy (rambling about Lokean Heathenism as well) while supposedly talking about the death of Baldr to half-ass talk about Hel again- it’s a really garbled mess of a book considering what the topic allegedly was.

I mention the political thing because that really is a bugbear of mine – when discussing historical Germanic religion, I have come across a ton of authors that feel the need to go on lengthy asides about how much they hate liberal politics, usually bringing up “SJWs” and talking about weakening of male roles or some-such. This is always shoe-horned into a book where it has no business being present, like a translation of the Eddas, to fit their agenda. These authors will constantly mention how much they feel that left-leaning politics has poisoned Heathenry, then inject an equal amount of right-leaning politics into whatever they write. While, I’m honestly not a liberal and I find this nauseating. One of the many reasons I left Christianity was its political aspect, I don’t need that here as well.

Halloween Countdown:Goddess Hel of Norse Mythology

The only tidbit I thought was interesting was the challenging of the typical appearance of Hel that we see in most art (and the actual lore, but okay) in that she is represented with a face split in half, one side shown very beautiful and the other very grotesque, perhaps with bones protruding. Mr. Wilton proposes that her divide is actually in such a way that her entire face is beautiful so you are invited into Helheim by a fair motherly figure to comfort you. I presume her whole back is a skeleton or something? This isn’t elaborated on. While this theory is interesting, it seems to fly in the face of the actual source material completely, and is not backed up by any citations. Thus the whole thing sounds like the sort of philosophy you hear at a bar at 3 A.M. This is why the book is subtitled “The Sun Facing Goddess” and his idea is represented by the books cover. Really this is the only “challenge” to our perceptions of Hel in this entire book.

It was not until later that I realized Mr. Wilton was known to be allegedly somewhat racist, and was noteworthy in my area for being ran out of town, that it all came together. I try hard to stay away from material like this for many reasons, most notably because its almost always very poorly made, and exists solely to drive the above agenda. For me, I’m looking a historical look at a Norse Goddess not a sneaky way to malign a political ideology the author doesn’t believe in.

As a book alleging to “rectify the image of Hel for modern readers” it fails in almost every regard, this book is definitely not recommended.

To check this book out CLICK HERE If this hasn’t scared you off.

REVIEW: Centre of Excellence – Norse Mythology Diploma Course

For the last decade or so, I have been very keen on many online education providers such as EDX and Coursera, and firmly believe in the MOOC Revolution. MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses) are a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people. Their value really comes from their ability to deliver high quality higher learning classes for free to places that have no access to such a service. When EDX started, for instance, I was taking classes constantly – ones about epidemics, and space science – just all sorts of random topics.

I have used these platforms to broaden my horizons past what I learned during my university education. Rather than waste money, I tried not to venture to far out into my “comfort zone” when I was in school, and only took classes that pertained to my major or minor. To take a page from Odin’s playbook, I hunger for new knowledge and strive to better myself in any way that I can with new knowledge being my point of attention. Granted, I’m not sure I would sacrifice a body part for said knowledge, but who knows.

Sooooo. that brings us to today –

Last week I got a targeted Facebook ad for a UK-based company called Centre of Excellence, which is a for profit online course provider backed by professional accreditation from CMA:

Our courses are accredited by the CMA (Complementary Medical Association), which is internationally recognised as the elite force in professional, ethical complementary medicine by professional practitioners, doctors and, increasingly, by the general public. Upon completion of the course, you can gain membership to the CMA, which in addition to supplying a professional accreditation, offers a number of benefits. Our courses are also endorsed by the ABC Awards and Certa Awards Quality Licence Scheme.

COE Website, FAQ Page

I figured, what the heck – Normally, courses from COE cost upwards of $135.00-$150.00 USD, but I was able to use a coupon code to get the class for around $30.00. The price really isn’t that bad, and they run coupon codes constantly, I’d imagine its hard not to take a class at a large discount. Upon completion, this class comes with a few certificates – Granted, I took a humanities class, so I’m not sure how useful a certificate in this would be in the real world, but that really isn’t my concern. I wanted to test this new service out and see if I can recommend it to everyone.

Compared to the previous two companies I mentioned, Coursera and EDX, there is the fact that there is a giant pay wall around the content. The way those two work is that the material itself is free, but if one wants to get a certificate, a “donation” of sorts for $25-$50 dollars is required. and with EDX, you can only take tests if you have purchased the class. I prefer this method, because you could easily try to take a class way over your head and have to back out – not having wasted money would be a good thing.

Another key difference between those two and COE is that they usually contain video lectures from top teachers in their field, some that are renowned Harvard or MIT professors. This COE class is entirely text-based and reads like an old-school correspondence class. This isn’t a bad thing at all, the material was very well formatted, and just as good as a video, but it makes it come across more antiquated somehow.

Note: Some COE classes may have video content for all I know, this one did not.

This class was split into 12 modules, usually containing 4-5 lessons in each module. at the end, each had a short quiz to make sure you comprehended what you just read. The information contained and structure is reminiscent of a high-level high school, or Gen Ed college class about the same subject. There isn’t much in the way of in-depth analysis on any given topic, and everything is somewhat broad. This class could be used as an outline to further your studies.

Something that could have made this class better would have been assigned readings. Often times, this class makes reference to various sections of the Havamal or Eddas and just gives a quote. Perhaps having guided readings would have given a further understanding of the material. Honestly, as it stands you could probably learn the same material as this course from reading a basic book or, in all honestly, the Wikipedia page for Norse Mythology.

That isn’t to say that this class was bad, I just feel that it was too basic for me, which I can’t really fault it on since this was an experiment, and it lacked the amount of content I am used to from other providers. For example, in my article Free Pagan Learning, I looked at a class on The Icelandic Sagas from the University of Iceland. This was akin to a higher level university course on the subject, and was full of videos, readings, interviews and much more. For the same price, I felt like I had a more complete experience.

One good thing I can say for COE is that they have a WIDE variety of classes that may interest readers of this very blog. A quick glance though their listing for the more metaphysical and religious classes yields courses on Wicca, Khemetic shamanism, and a few Viking classes. Due to this (assuming I can find a coupon lol) I will likely try these guys one more time to see how a second class would go.

In conclusion, this class is a solid introductory class for Norse Mythology, and while its not flashy, the information is sound. Honestly, if I had to pay full price I would have felt ripped off due to the structure and format of the course, but for $30.00 it was not a bad deal. Similar MOOCs are technically the same price, if not more, if you get the certificate. My only issue is the pay wall, I wish the info was free with an option to upgrade. If you are even somewhat well-read in Norse religion, you will feel like you way ahead of the class, so I would only get this if you want to perhaps teach your kids about the subject, or show a total novice what you are into etc.

Stay tuned for more educational posts on here, and perhaps I will revisit COE and see if they are worth your while.

ADDENDUM: Part two of this review HERE

REVIEW: Valhalla Awaits #1: A Journey Through the Viking Afterlife (2020)

A Comic by Phil Buckenham, Agnese Pozza, Justin Birch

The Cover, or at least one of them

Sometimes, when scrolling through Kickstarter, I go on little shopping sprees and snag a bunch of digital comics that people are trying to get off the ground. I’m a sucker for anything pro wrestling-related, as some of you may have gathered, and anything dealing with Viking history or Norse Paganism. The good news is that those topics are very hot with pop culture right now for whatever reason, making it much easier to find content! While I’ve had this comic for a little bit, I’ve only recently got this onto my kindle, I wanted to discuss one of these such comics –Valhalla Awaits #1: A Journey Through the Viking Afterlife

Valhalla Awaits is a comic series that draws heavily from the Poetic Edda and Viking and Norse mythological themes.

The story follows characters Hildr and Erik and their journey through the Viking afterlife, where they encounter Norse gods, and legendary creatures.

From the Kickstarter Page

This is a relatively short comic that serves a solid introduction to the story, this is fine because issue two isn’t too far on the horizon. The story follows a slavegirl named Hildr who is imbued with the power of Odin in a ritual to save her village from a sacking by Erik Bloodaxe. The raiders get to the house before the ritual is completed, so she is unable to fully gain these abilities. Erik, who we find out was there to find a Valkyrie to to prophecy, takes Hildr under his wing and teaches her the ways of a warrior. She grows very strong and begins to challenge his leadership – thus resulting in both taking an early trip to the afterlife.

Interior art sans any of the dialogue, from the Kickstarter page

The art inside this book is fantastic, lines are clean and expressive and the colors are top notch. some of the art is a bit anachronistic, if you are a stickler for authenticity, taking cues from the modern “pop-culture viking” aesthetic of brown leather, furs, and tribal eye make-up. You also see things with huge “Valknut” logos and other ahistorical additions. Many arguments can be made onto whether that’s akin to Wagnerian horned helmets, but I’ll leave that up to everyone else to bicker about. I’ve had my share of hundreds of posts of people mad at Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s art style this week to last me quite a bit. To me its fine, and it doesn’t detract from the story or art.

After the initial 32 page run there were some previews for a few other books from the same publisher. I bought this comic digitally, so I’m speaking specifically on that edition, so I’m not sure if this was in the print version. All-in-all I was very happy with my purchase, and I will definitely follow this project. Here’s hoping volume two delivers on more great action and we get to see some of the Gods show up.

Here’s additional information on Volume 2, which is supposed to ship very soon. If you know of any other great pagan comics that I should read, drop me a line! I’d love to see them.

WWE: An Unlikely Place for Positive Pagan Visibility

The wedding of WWE wrestlers Sarah Logan and Raymond Rowe

Introduction – The Importance of Visibility in Media

What they (media) exercise is the power to represent the world in certain definite ways. And because there are many different and conflicting ways in which the meaning about the world can be constructed, it matters profoundly what and who gets represented, who and what regularly and routinely gets left out; and how things, people, events, relationships are represented. What we know of society depends on how things are represented to us and that knowledge in turn informs what we do and what policies we are prepared to accept.

Miller, David 2002. ‘Promotion and Power.’ Pp. 41–52 in Introduction to Media (2nd edn), edited by Adam Briggs and Paul Cobley. London: Longman.

Paganism has recently started to escape the shadows and become far more visible to the general public as pagans have become more open in their beliefs and practices. This seems to be a newer trend as many old-school pagan branches used to adopt a silent, secretive nature in regards to their beliefs as a direct result of hundreds of generations of persecution from Abrahamic religions.

Last summer, I attended an event somewhat near my house called Kansas City Pagan Pride Day, to which I assumed would be met with Christian protesters and be disrupted in some way. I’ve seen protectors at Planet Comicon, of all places, so I figured a religious celebration for something seen as “evil” to the less intelligent folks out there would be expected. Thankfully, this was not the case, and the event had a fun, family-friendly vibe that I was not expecting, I am a relative newbie of being “out of the pagan closet” as it were and honestly I figured everyone would be in defensive mode. These public events are popping up all over the country, and are an attempt to show a more visible presence of a wide swath of religions that are usually taught in history classes as dead mythology or spoken about as evil in some way in the church pulpit.

One thing we, however, need more of is a positive media presence – something that usually does not happen. I spoke a bit about this in my review of the popular film, Midsommar, where pagans are the convenient whipping boy for film and TV – need a villain? – here’s an ignorant take on a Witch Coven that eats babies! Need a way to look down on a politician? – talk about their past dabbling in Witchcraft! Now you can see my apprehension on how the public would treat such beliefs. But, you know what? There has been one TV medium in which this has not been the case, and its surprising – World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), the largest professional wrestling company in the United States.

WWE? What are you smoking?!

It honestly wasn’t that long ago that professional wrestling was full of heel (bad guy) gimmicks designed to anger southern protestant sensibilities. Every promotion had a scary Satanic guy, an effeminate homosexual man, and an overdressed wealthy northerner that thought everyone in the crowd were stupid rednecks. This works great for smaller events and it especially worked in the past – but a lot of these tropes did not move the the medium of nation-wide Television very well. There have been decades of questionable wrestling gimmicks that, if portrayed in just about any other media, would cause boycotts and protests. An example that immediately comes to mind is a match between WWE legends Virgil and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart in which the latter came to the ring dressed as a Klansman, and hung the former (a black man) by the neck with a rope – good quality family entertainment folks!

To relate this to the spirit of this blog, I’m not touching on racism in wrestling, I just wanted to point out how bad wrestling can be when its at its worst; I wanted to touch on their takes on paganism in the past and present. Take John Nord a.k.a. The Viking, The Berserker, or Nord the barbarian up there. In a time for little nuance, his character lumbered out to the ring yelling “Huss! Huss! Huss!” donning a horned helmet and shield. This was basically a take on the overwhelmingly racist trope of “look at this man we found in deepest (Borneo/Uganda/Fiji! etc)” gimmick, made nonsensical by using a Viking Template.

Something like this may have worked in the 1970’s with Superfly Jimmy Snuka simply because of the inherent ignorance of Fiji and how people live there, but nobody has thee same reservations for Northern Michigan last time I checked. Sure, there might be some Norse Pagans up there, perhaps some living off the grid – but a lost clan of historical Vikings? Ones that Mr. Fuji just happened to come across and convince one to wrestle under his tutelage? Riiiiiight.

1992 was weird

At the risk of angering Christian right-wingers, this was also the time where the generic “Satanic evil guy” gimmick took off – toss somebody all in black, make them wear a robe to the ring and play scary music – BOOM – super heel. Guys like Kevin Sullivan and the Undertaker became household names scaring people from coast to coast.

Then slowly, but surely something changed – Perhaps WWE was starting to acknowledge that using storytelling techniques more suited for a younger or (cough*or less educated*cough) audience just wasn’t cutting it anymore, or a genuine fear of running afoul of any number of protected groups that could possibly sue them or result in bad media attention. Accusations of using detrimental portrayals of homosexual characters in the past have led to massive condemnation and protests from rights groups such as GLAAD, so this would not be out of the ordinary. Or, honestly, this was seen as a marketing scheme – “let’s get these Goths, Wiccans, Pagans etc all on board!”

The Change

Rather than presenting someone of any background, other than Christian, as a binary “Satanic” villain, a wrestler named Aleister Black made his debut to NXT (WWE’s developmental show, think minor leagues) with slightly more depth. Aleister Black, Formerly known as Tommy End, is a Dutch martial artist and professional wrestler formerly of a group called “The Sumerian Death Squad”, one of the most successful tag teams in the European circuit during the early 2010s. After competing in a WWE sanctioned UK tournament in 2015, word got out that Black had indeed signed with WWE full-time. Vignettes began to air in March of 2016 showing Black sitting in a room full of candles meditating. Black spoke of how there is not any real good or evil in the world, and that we all carry sides of both in our hearts.

During his TV debut in May of the same year against Andrade “Cien” Almas, commentary did a fine job talking about his personal beliefs, stressing what it meant to be of the Left-Hand Path and talking about Thelema as a distinct philosophy that he practiced. The best part of this – If anything, Black was debuted as a “babyface” or good guy character – usually attacking others that did less than righteous things in the ring.

Aleister Black

This was incredible to me, not even a full decade prior, a popular character named The Undertaker was the defacto villain of a lot of the major storylines. While he was a fan favorite, the things he did were not family friendly and included things such as attempted murder, ritual sacrifice, brainwashing, and cartoonish magical powers, taking on cult members, crucifying a man in the ring, and even channeling Satan himself (who confusingly turned out to be the owner of WWE, Vince McMahon). But here we had a guy, a man who the fans jokingly called him a “Satanic Ninja Wizard” due to his martial arts prowess and philosophical leanings, openly talking about real religious beliefs, and not being used to scare small children. Granted, things never got “preachy”, it’s not like Mr. Black sat down and gave a TED talk about the history of Aleister Crowley or anything, but progress is progress.

Black does dabble in the darker side of his persona, In an interview with Colt Cabana, he revealed that his father grew up in a religious cult. In the same conversation, he credited this as the inspiration for a lot of his dark and occult-driven personas in professional wrestling.

Another example of the tides changing is the tag team The Viking Raiders (FKA The War Raiders, War Machine etc.) When they first appeared in NXT, they had a vague “guys that like the renaissance festival” aesthetic, but didn’t really have a clear cut gimmick to really show any personality. They were big dudes built like Mack Trucks, wearing shoulder pauldrons and headbanging. As they days and weeks went by it was revealed though promos that Raymond Rowe was likely some sort of Norse Pagan as they showed them doing rituals to psych out their opponents before a big PPV match. Later, the duo, would be flanked by a legion of fully-garbed viking re-enactors to the ring.

It was at this time that videos started to be posted to the WWE performance Center Youtube Channel showing that Rowe and his, at the time, fiance Sarah Logan (also a wrestler) were members of an organization that taught the ways of the ancient past through combat and lifestyle, and both were avid members. Those aforementioned vikings were their friends form that group. In all fairness, this was not on a national TV broadcast, this was obscure additional content that one had to look around to find, but it was there.

A far cry from the Berserker

This all culminated about a year ago, when they actually showed the wedding of Rowe and Logan, showing that they had opted to have a traditional viking wedding of sorts, complete with pagan rites, vows, and rituals clearly shown in the video. To me, this was incredible. Horns on helmets had been replaced with some semblance of actual respect to someone’s culture and beliefs.

Yeah, WWE is still very problematic at times. Vince McMahon (The owner) is very tight with President Donald Trump and likely shares many of his views. I doubt Mr. McMahon knows about these videos too much, much less cares about the positive portrayal of paganism in many forms, but its a start. In 2020 its a good feeling to see yourself represented on TV and not in a way where you are “the bad guy”, “evil”, or being ridiculed. Even if by accident, hats of to WWE for actually helping get a positive image of modern paganism out there.