REVIEW: Icelandic Magic: Aims, tools and techniques of the Icelandic sorcerers (2016)

A Book by Christopher Alan Smith

Reading this book was the result of another dive into my Kindle Unlimited library looking for books on heathenry. I initially wasn’t sure about this book due to past experiences with similar titles. When looking for books on Galdrastafir (Icelandic rune magic), usually one comes into contact with hordes and heaps of information on homemade, modern sigils that folks have created that, and I’m making an assumption here, have been created with little to no knowledge on how and why these exist and as to what the actual purpose for many were. There’s also a tendency to try to tie them into the Viking age, when these are more-or-less tied directly to 17th century Christianity in Iceland.

There’s largely nothing wrong with this, as modern heathenry is a re-constructionist religion for the most part, and we’re not sure exactly what was going on with these sigils, but I try to avoid heathen books with a lot of historical mis-information and new-age sensibilities in them if I can.

Image result for Galdrastafir
An example of a number of known Galdrastafir

What I enjoyed the most about Icelandic Magic: Aims, tools and techniques of the Icelandic sorcerers is that Mr. Smith has treated this book as a companion of sorts that one would use in conjunction with or as a forward to a reading of one of the various Icelandic Grimoires one can find a translation of. Chapters are split up in groups that explain and give examples of common motifs, such as sigils to cause harm, or sigils to cause wealth etc. with annotations on where these numerous spells can be found and what they entail.

This is interesting because we have some books that are wildly different than others on some of the most common spells. An example being that there is no monolithic consensus on what the popular Ægishjálmr (The helm of awe) is, what it does, or what it even looks like. Some books have duplicate entries, and others have ridiculous spells that very few would even be able to afford, much less attempt (For example). This shows that many sorcerers likely traded spells with others.

One thing I think many newbie heathens can take away from this book is answering what Galdrastafir actually are, and setting straight the notion that vikings used these and that they are part of a historical pagan religion in any way. Yes, some of them do invoke the Norse pantheon, but these a few and far between, and they are usually sprinkled in with mentions of Jesus and various saints of Christendom. I will admit, I have a bunch of everyday merch emblazoned with runes mixed with vegvísirs and such, but I wear it knowing perfectly well that it’s a historical anachronism is just about every way.

Vegvisir Viking symbol permanent vinyl decal/ Available in various colors and sizes

Perhaps on downside to the structure of the book is that in being a “companion book” there isn’t a lot of information on the various grimoires themselves, granted we largely don’t who anything about who wrote them and why due to witch hunts, but perhaps a bit more on the big ones would have been cool. I do plan to read the Galdrabók pretty soon, so this did it’s job about making me interested in reading more.

All-in all VERY solid book that I will highly recommend. While not the most fully-fleshed out book on Galdrastafir, its a great companion and list of other books to possibly look into for further research.

If you would like a copy of this book for yourself, click the following LINK

REVIEW: Fate and the Twilight of the Gods: The Norns and an Exegesis of Voluspa (2018)

A book by Gwendolyn Taunton

Fate and the Twilight of the Gods: The Norns and an Exegesis of Voluspa (2018) is an interesting little book that is comprised of two scholarly essays by the author Gwendolyn Taunton. I used this as a quick refresher between two much larger books I was reading; a palate cleanser of sorts. The book is comprised of two Essays that are about 50 pages each – one concerning the Nornir of North European mythology, where they came from and what they symbolize; the other was a look at the Ragnarok material found in The Volupsa. Both halves are very well researched, and the book is heavily footnoted and referenced. I’ve read other essays by the author in a Journal that I purchased a while back, so seeing more by her was a nice treat.

Fate and the Twilight of the Gods: The Norns and an Exegesis of Voluspa contains two sections, the first of which elaborates on the Norns (Nornir) and the concept of fate. […] The second half of the book examines Ragnarok, and provides an exegesis of Voluspa – the prophecy which outlines the inevitable destruction of the world, and the ‘Twilight of the Gods’.

– Amazon Sales Page for the book

The first half of the book is very interesting considering the author’s attempts to fill the gaps in from the void of historical references to the Norns left after the ancient Christians attempted to erase their existence (as well as everything else not Christian). For example, The three principle Norns of Urd, Verdandi and Skuld are referenced quite a lot in various scriptures, sagas, and poems. There are, however, other norns that are mentioned in texts that seem to be more general that not much information is known about specifically.

To hopefully flesh them out, the author does this extrapolation by referencing similar ideas found in Hindu scriptures and relating them to the Teutonic pantheon as well as talking briefly about the Fates of Greek and Roman mythology. This makes sense as Germanic religions likely came from the same proto-religion as Hinduism.

There were, however, times I felt there was too many references to Indian Gods and religion. A counter to this would be a previous book I read called The Hanged God Óðinn Grímnir in which a similar task was done trying to piece together traditions of ritual hanging, but the author used items such as Arabic accounts of such rituals in Uppsala as well as Slavic traditions that were similar. I understand, this was likely impossible on something as specific as Nornir for this essay, but concentrating on India made this feel more like a comparison of Indian and Northern fate deities.

The second half of the book is a broad overview of the story of Ragnarok and how it relates to other apocalyptic fiction, as well as the causes and aftermath of such an event. This section is less exploratory than the one on the Nornir, but is a solid base for those that may have never read the Voluspa, and would like to know what the true story of Ragnarok entails.

The book itself is very small, just over 100 pages and can be easily read in an hour or two depending on your reading speed. For this, I quite enjoyed it, but I would actually have enjoyed a bit more substance for the price I paid – I see the book is currently starting to become rare with scalpers jumping onto the scene gouging the prices even further – be careful!

All-in-all, this was a solid read despite my quibbles, and even with the issues I will say it was VERY informative. For those looking on information on both Ragnarok and the Nornir, you really can’t get a better “starter resource” than a book like this – its full of footnotes and has a detailed bibliography for further reading. I will definitely have to check out more from this author in the future.

If you would like a copy of this for yourself, I have provided a purchase link HERE.

REVIEW: Iron Alchemy of the Gods: Feed Your Body With the Strength and Wisdom of Valhalla (2015)

A book by RC Fordham

BY FORGING A WILL AND BODY OF IRON WE MOLD OURSELVES
LIKE THE GODS WHO REIGN UP HIGH. THERE ODIN WILL GREET US AT THE GATES AS WORTHY OF HIS HALLS.

– RC Fordham yelling for some reason on the Amazon page

I mentioned in my last article, that I had purchased Kindle Unlimited and started using my Kindle as my primary reading set-up before I go to bed every night. Generally, this has been a good thing with some nice, quick, yet informative reads, however not all books can be winners! I have recently started a bit of light weight training for physical fitness and due to health reasons – I saw RC Fordham (who has a series of books in Kindle Unlimited’s Library) had a book on physical fitness with a pagan tinge to it, and figured – “why not?”

Somewhere in the world there are men training. They are training to kill you. They are training to be better than you. To over take you when the get they chance. They have not fallen for the lie that weakness is some kind of virtue to be admired.

Now the question stands… Are you prepared?

Preparation begins by becoming strong. The stronger you are the harder you are to kill. As we train to become the elite warriors of our gods, we are transforming ourselves into a living and breathing rune of strength. Our rune is Uruz. Our mission is to become it with no apologies or excuses.

– excerpt from Amazon sales page

Sadly, Iron Alchemy of the Gods: Feed Your Body With the Strength and Wisdom of Valhalla (2015) is not something I can recommend to pagans or even weightlifters for that matter. As you cans see above, the entire philosophical side of the book is presented in this weird alarmist manner that seems to be wanting you to be on edge and start furiously exercising as to not displease Odin by being too weak for Ragnarok. The majority of this section is basically trying to make the reader hate weakness, weak people, and left-leaning politics whilst striving to become a killing machine devoting the whole process to the Aesir. It’s honestly a bit much, and is not supported in any lore that I’ve read. I honestly don’t know what I was expecting, since we don’t really see anything like a Nordic weightlifting manual from 1000 AD anywhere, but it wasn’t this for sure.

This book, confusingly, also veers pretty heavily into this unnecessary anti-modern society viewpoint that I don’t wholly disagree with, but the way it’s presented is very much stilted in what I presume to be Mr. Fordham’s one-sided political beliefs, something I do not care about whatsoever.

I will not say that there was nothing in this book of worth, as I found the section on meditation very interesting and actually plan to use something from this book in my daily workout routine. Fordham basically outlines the importance of being strong in both mind and body and suggests meditation to help hone one’s skills. I won’t give away the entire thing on here, but he suggests envisioning the Rune Uruz, widely attributed to be the rune symbolizing “strength” before your workout to try to embody every virtue of the rune. This of course, has no basis in any historical practice in any way, but for most people that use rune magic, this is an interesting idea.

The rest of the book is basically a list of recommended exercises one can do at the gym with pictures to ensure proper form – I would say this amounts to about 60% of the content.

All-in-all reading this book was an interesting experience – Like stated before I was not a fan of the contents, but it is not all bad. The meditation ideas are very good, and something that I plan to try for myself. I have read a few more of Mr. Fordham’s books since starting this read-a-thon and most of them are better than this one.

If you would like a copy of this book for yourself, follow this LINK

Review: Pagan Portals – Odin: Meeting the Norse Allfather (2018)

I have recently starting using a Kindle quite a bit for my daily reading, mostly because I tend to read before I go to bed, and wrangling a book light in such a way as to not wake my girlfriend up is pretty annoying. In my quest to read up on practical applications for Norse Paganism, I stumbled on a series of books called Pagan Portals by the publisher Moon Books. They are quite good for this light nighttime reading. They are quick 100+ page reads that most readers would be able to finish in 1-2 sittings, and aren’t very technical, so you don’t have to stress about details. The first book I checked out, Odin: Meeting the Norse Allfather by Morgan Daimler, is one of the better ones so far mostly because I’m more into Norse Paganism, and the publisher’s usual output is largely Celtic thematically.

“Known by many names and with a wide array of characteristics Odin is a God who many people believe is just as active in the world today as he was a thousand years ago and more. A god of poetry he inspires us to create. A god of magic he teaches us to find our own power. A god of wisdom he challenges us to learn all we can. In this book you will find some of Odin’s stories and history as well as anecdotes of what it can be like to honor him in the modern world. “

Amazon sales page for the book

Daimler goes into this book with two purposes, to give everyone an introduction to the Norse god Odin, and to share her autobiographical information on how she was drawn to him, and how you to could meet him for yourself. This is by no means a structured guide on how devoted Norse pagans, Asatru or Vanatru practitioners would worship Odin – this is more suited for those that dabble in eclectic paganism, or perhaps Witches or Wiccans that borrow from many pantheons. Daimler comes from a background of Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism, so her insights on Odin are that of someone who had no idea tat they were being drawn to a god from an unfamiliar pantheon, and how she dealt with it.

The Author, Morgan Daimler

The information on Odin here is nothing too detailed, and is similar in many ways to other books on the Norse pantheon I’ve read, but since this book is an introductory piece that is not perhaps aimed at those that may be advanced on their understanding of Norse lore, it serves it purpose. There are some of the basic details, as well as chapters about some of Odin’s misadventures and philosophy as seen in the Eddas of Hávamál.

Perhaps the best parts of the book involve Daimler’s personal work on Odin, as she imparts her path to contacting and forging a relationship with the Allfather, as well as examples of ways to go through a guided meditation to do so. There are passages on the sort of offerings one should make to Odin, and Poetry she has written to / about him. She does touch on some of the downfalls of pledging one’s self to Odin, such as the idea that one that does so could be perhaps on the path to living a shortened life. She gives examples of how her friends tried to talk her out of a Valknut tattoo she got placed over her heart as it can be seen as a “target for a spear”.

All-in-all, this book definitely serves it’s purpose as an introduction to Odin, and how one could bring his wisdom into your own life. If you are looking for a more detailed book on him, such as historical details and his appearance in many, if not all of the Teutonic religions, this is not really the right book. I’m not going to pretend this is some sort of literary classic, by any means, nor am I pretending that this book was not largely information I already knew, but if you are new to Norse Paganism, and need a general overview of everyone’s favorite wanderer god – check this out!

To get your own copy of this book, please follow this LINK, it is available in print form and Kindle for under 10 dollars.

The company behind the book, Moon Books can also be visited HERE.

REVIEW – The Hanged God: Óðinn Grímnir by Shani Oates

Cover

Who would have thought that a small Canadian occult book publisher would publish perhaps one of the most interesting books on Ancient Scandinavian religion and customs this year? This is exactly what has happened with Anathema Publishing’s newest book – The Hanged God: Óðinn Grímnir by Shani Oates. Oates is perhaps best known for her work promoting a strand of Witchcraft dubbed Cochrane’s Craft, which is also known as Cochranianism. This is a strand of traditional witchcraft founded in 1951 by the English witch Robert Cochrane, to which Oates is one of the leading members of at this moment. Anathema has previously published a few of her books on various subjects including The Devil’s Supper and Crafting the Arte of Tradition, both of which were solid reads. Oates does well to write her books in a solid scholarly way, staying clear of overt editorialization in favor of looking into topics such as anthropology and history of a given subject.

The theme of the book is an exploration of one particular passage of a large poetic codex called the Hávamál (sayings of the high one) particularly stanzas 138-141. This series of interconnected poems are set up in such a way as to be the spoken word of Óðinn himself, with this one particular section being one of the more puzzling parts to come to terms with for many scholars.

138 I know I hung on that windy tree Nine whole days and nights, Stabbed with a spear, offered to Óðinn, Myself to mine own self given, High on that tree which none hath heard From what roots it rises to heaven.   140 Nine mighty songs I learned from the great son of Bale-Thorn, Bestla’s sire; I drank a measure of the wondrous mead, With the soul stirrers drops I was showered
139 None refreshed me ever with food or drink, I peered right down in the deep, Crying aloud [screaming] I lifted the runes, Then back I fell from thence.   141 Ere long I bare fruit, and throve full well, I grew and waxed in wisdom; Word following word, I found me words, Dead following Dead, I wrought deeds.  

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For a long time, many people have looked at the self-described self-immolation of Óðinn as a way for the writers of such literature to bring Óðinn into the same standing as the burgeoning Christianity by concocting a similar self-sacrifice as that of the Christian Messiah, Jesus Christ. The problem is, as Oates points out, there appears to be a complete missing meaning to these passages that is simply that first topic being – why did Óðinn hang himself? It’s not a sacrifice for his people like Jesus, so why waste the energy? If one looks at things such as similar traditions to reconstruct what ancient Scandinavian rituals might have been like before many traditions were wiped away by missionaries, an entirely different view of this passage comes to light.

Oates discusses multiple ancient cultures near and within Scandinavia showing that many, if not all of them had a similar idea – sacrificial hanging was VERY important. She talks a lot about the Ancient rituals at a site called Gamla Uppasala in Sweden, and how the tradition of the hanging tree was supposedly laid out. I say “supposedly”, because the only surviving descriptions of this are from Christian chroniclers, which are no doubt over-exaggerating this to show “how cruel these barbaric heathens are”.

“A general festival for all the provinces of Sweden is customarily held at Uppsala every nine years. Participation in this festival is required of everyone. Kings and their subjects, collectively and individually, send their gifts to Uppsala; – and – a thing more cruel than any punishment – those who have already adopted Christianity buy themselves off from these ceremonies. The sacrifice is as follows; of every kind of male creature, nine victims are offered. By the blood of these creatures it is the custom to appease the gods. Their bodies, moreover, are hanged in a grove which is adjacent to the temple. This grove is so sacred to the people that the separate trees in it are believed to be holy because of the death or putrefaction of the sacrificial victims. There even dogs and horses hang beside human beings. (A certain Christian told me that he had seen seventy-two of their bodies hanging up together.) The incantations, however, which are usually sung in the performance of a libation of this kind are numerous and disgraceful, and it is better not to speak of them. “

An example of interior art

She comes to a conclusion that Óðinn’s ritual suicide was that – a ritual – a way for him to have visions as many ancient shamans would do, or at the very least these were instructions for others to have similar experiences to gain true wisdom. Perhaps, this was in some way something akin to a Native American vision quest that Óðinn had performed – hanging in a tree for nine days without food and water, hallucinating towards the end. And when done, he found one of the most important things – the runes themselves!

 The Hanged God: Óðinn Grímnir is a very interesting book and solid read if you don’t mind something a bit scholarly (full of footnotes and the like). I’m VERY glad tis book did not follow a similar path to similar books I’ve read that seek to overturn long-held beliefs of various religions. For instance, I once read a book called The Sacred Mushroom and The Cross: A study of the nature and origins of Christianity within the fertility cults of the ancient Near East by John M. Allegro, where he postulated that the entirety of Christianity was once based on the cultivation and worship of red and white mushrooms for psychotropic reasons. While this book was interesting “food for thought” of the sort you hear on something like the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast, it was not scholarly, and suffered by being a huge list of various instances of confirmation bias.

Thankfully, Oates avoids this by giving tons of evidence with citations for her assertations, and yes some of it is speculation, but it never veers past something that you could see making sense. I’m sure some hardened historians would balk at many of the ideas presented in the book, but that’s the entire point honestly. The book sets out to overturn what they’ve been sitting on for decades.

Anathema is usually a company that releases small print run hardback editions on various esoteric topics, here they are dipping their toe into a paperback line dubbed the Octavo series. While having a paperback has pros and cons of course. I like collecting hardcover books, so I sort of wish this book was available in both formats as I would have likely spent a bit more to get a hardcover. One of the pros here is obviously the cost – this book is CONSIDERABLY cheaper than their other books, even with the insane shipping price it takes to get this over from the far reaches of Canada. The book itself is absolutely gorgeous, covered in luxurious golden foil embossing and striking art pieces on the interiors. Supposedly, Anathema is trying to establish overseas retailers such is an occult book store called Miskatonic books as an American seller, so my issue with the shipping prices might be neutralized soon.

All-in-all this is (so far) one of the better speculative books on this subject I’ve ever read and it is VERY thought provoking. Do I assume everything stated in the book is absolute truth? No. In fact, I thought the ultimate conclusion was sort of too vague too completely wrap everything up. But it’s just as plausible as the historical accounts seeped in Christian afterthought and the need to everything to fit into a modern worldview. Since I now own three books by Oates from Anathema, I honestly should try to check some of her self-published stuff out. While I do not practice witchcraft, the books should be, at least, an interesting read. 

Shani Oates

For more information, go to:

Anathema Publishing

or

Miskaatonic Books

MSRP: $33.00