REVIEW: TYR – Hel (2019)

Official album artwork

It had been quite a while (nearly six years) since TYR blessed our ears with their critically acclaimed album Valkyrja (2013) – but in 2019 they triumphantly returned, with their newest and eighth overall studio album – Hel (2019). This was somewhat of a re-introduction to the band for me, as I think I last purchased The Lay of Thrym (2011), and sort of lost track of the band (I have rectified this since). The long pause for the band could be chalked up to many reasons: Touring schedules as Metalblade Records works its bands pretty hard, a few roster shake-ups with two drummer changes, and a bit of a scandal wherein the band was falsely accused of being white nationalists because they use Runes, which is easily one of the stupidest instances of cancel culture I’ve seen. So how is Hel, was it worth the wait?

For, me very much yes. I know I am in the minority here, but I feel some of TYR’s more popular older songs come across almost like folky Dream Theater songs – not necessarily a bad thing, but not my cup of tea. This usually resulted in long drawn-out and overproduced albums like How Far to Asgard. This got better in the 2000’s when the band settled on the sound that they currently still more-or-less use. Hel, isn’t really a concept album any more than any other album they’ve done, considering all of the TYR albums deal with Norse Lore, but the songs all do have an overlying theme of dealing with heroes deaths, Hel and the underworld.

Hel | Týr

Perhaps there isn’t one BIG classic song like Hold the Heathen Hammer High on this album, but this album is not a one-hit wonder like others – its a competent work from beginning to end. I honestly couldn’t pick one song to say it was “the worst”, and more than one song went into my permanent rotation. Gates of Hel, and Empire of the North are two of my favorites, but I also quite enjoyed the handful of more folky songs sung in Faroese such as Álvur kongur and Ragnars kvæði are awesome, and show how this band surpasses other similar bands of their kind whilst avoiding pretention.

  1. Gates of Hel 06:42
  2. All Heroes Fall 05:16
  3. Ragnars kvæði 04:08
  4. Garmr 04:53
  5. Sunset Shore 04:42
  6. Downhill Drunk 04:27
  7. Empire of the North 05:11
  8. Far from the Worries of the World 05:35
  9. King of Time 04:57
  10. Fire and Flame 05:39
  11. Against the Gods 05:43
  12. Songs of War 05:16
  13. Álvur kongur 07:24

I know the lead singer, Heri Joensen, is a divisive figure for these types of bands. He has come across in interviews, at times, seemingly saying he dismissed some heathens as being “re-enactors” which confused and hurt some of the band’s audience, but that said TYR delivers Pagan music to Pagan fans no matter if they want to do that or not. I believe Heri, is at least, an atheist and he has every right to feel the way he does and it doesn’t detract from the music in any way whatsoever.

If you have yet to purchase this album, please give it a shot, there are few bands that exist to make purely “Viking” music that are as prolific as TYR, and few can continuously make quality music without seeming like they are simply “painting by numbers”. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait a further seven years for the next album, my fingers are crossed that a break in touring may result in some work being done.

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 13 “Learning”

Book, Asia, Children, Boys, Education, Girl, Indonesian
Public Domain Via Pixabay

Question:

What’s on your agenda to learn more about? What topics are interesting you lately?

Answer:

This is actually something I try to do a lot, Ever since I left school, I have vowed to never stop learning – to gather as much information and experiences that I can to better myself, and hopefully help enrich the lives of others as I impart some of my knowledge to them. I need to organize this better TBH, but I can come up with a rough list of five topics I am currently into and am actively trying to find out more on…

Image

I am trying to learn Norwegian – I am truthfully not certain where my Scandinavian portion of my ancestry is from – I did not know my father, but I know he was from Wisconsin at one time, so he likely was either part Swedish or Norwegian. This largely wasn’t why I started this, but I felt like it helped me along the path to choosing a new language to try to learn. I could have done German, but it seemed too hard LOL! A few months ago, I decided to dive into Duolingo’s Norwegian class, and it has been pretty fun. I’ve heard its one of the easier languages for English speakers to learn, and can help with understanding Danish and Swedish as well, so I figured it would be beneficial.

I had, at one point, wanted to get back into Spanish as I had taken two years of it in High School, but honestly its really hard, and its been too long so I would have to start from scratch more-or-less. My ultimate goal for this is to read some Historical books from Scandinavia that may not be translated over here, and perhaps travel there one day.


Stonehenge, Monument, Prehistoric, Salisbury, Britain
Public Domain via Pixabay

I am currently really into learning about the Neolithic and Bronze Age – I chalk this up to me seeing a Stonehenge exhibit last year in Kansas City, reading a book about it, and playing Farcry Primal on PS4 all at around the same time.

Once I have time to re-arrange my books (currently dealing with repairs due to water damage) I want to create a nice reading area in my downstairs area. Perhaps I can get back into my 1 book a week reading schedule that I once had. Some books I plan to read soon are above.


Halloween Countdown:Goddess Hel of Norse Mythology
Public Domain Via Pixabay

I am trying to study some lesser-known Gods –This one is tough if you want to read well-researched books and monographs that go in-depth with some of these figures. Sure you can jump on Amazon and find books on Deities like Hel, for example, but you have like a 50/50 chance that the book is a cheap, poorly researched mess by a racist.


Candle, Magick, Ritual, Magic, Ceremony, Pagan, Occult
Public Domain via Pixabay

I want to learn more practical Magical work – One thing I also need to implement more is magical work. This will come along as I start working more on my altar, and my goal is ultimately to have a daily practice that I do – something to focus energy on, and hopefully help sway the Gods towards me. Its hard to find things that have been settled on as “official” Norse Pagan rituals, as a lot of the magick we do is honestly Wiccan magic due to the almost complete loss of source material on what actually was practiced, but its a start.

and finally –

Via Previous review HERE

I am trying to seek out more Viking and Pagan comic books – One of my hobbies is comic books and graphic novels, so I have been trying my hardest to find ones that deal with the themes of ancient Pagan Europe or Paganism in General. Luckily with a renewed interest in Vikings (for better or worse) this has lead to more choices. I am trying to get to where I have a pretty good idea of Vikings in sequential art, maybe start blogging more about it – who knows.


So there we have it, that’s what I’m currently trying to learn and work on – what are some things my readers are learning about or working on? Please let me know in the comments!

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 1

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 2

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 3

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 4

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 5

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 6

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 7

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 8

30 days of Heathenry – Day 9

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 10

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 11

30 Days of Heathenry – Day 12

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.

SBS.com

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: 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…..no 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: 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.

REVIEW: The Handbook of Asatru: The Official Guide to Learning the Ancient Pagan Tradition (2017)

A book by R.C. Fordham

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Cover art for The Handbook of Asatru: The Official Guide to Learning the Ancient Pagan Tradition (2017)

I did a review sometime last year for R.C. Fordham’s book Iron Alchemy of the Gods that, while not a bad book, was an odd detour into a subculture of obsessive gym rat heathens that somehow believe that exercising will get you into Valhalla. The entire book was half a manifesto on male weakness and a criticism of what he sees as the effimization of manhood, and the latter half was a workout guide. I honestly read it out of confusion, but did come away with a few tidbits that I liked such as a before workout prayer idea.

Once I read this on Kindle Unlimited, I started getting recommendations for some of his other books including more that I assume are macho bravado such as a book on how to be a modern berserker, but then I saw this, The Handbook of Asatru: The Official Guide to Learning the Ancient Pagan Tradition, and was intrigued. What does Mr. Fordham believe the building blocks of Asatru are considering his predisposition to all things MANLY?

This book was written for those seeking answers to the Asatru tradition. It is a comprehensive guide that offers all the basics of the religion and much more. It is broken into 3 parts. Part I discusses the proper views of the Norse Religion and Cosmos. Part II details the cosmology of Asatru. It includes in detail, the descriptions of the gods and goddesses, as well as the realms of Yggdrasil. Part III then takes a look at the practices of modern Day Asatru as long as with advice on how to grow your spiritual life and connection with the gods and goddesses of our ancestors.

Amazon sales page

Surprisingly, this wasn’t the colossal trainwreck that I was both expecting and honestly hoping to see. You see folks, I’m a connoisseur of cringe, and I was eagerly chomping at the proverbial bit for some. What I did get was a competent, albeit basic overview of Asatru, and how one can start practicing it. It reminds me of all of the Wicca books geared towards teenagers I would see at the now-defunct bookstore I worked at many moons ago. While no means a classic of literature or scholarship, The Handbook of Asatru: The Official Guide to Learning the Ancient Pagan Tradition lays out a baseline set of views and practices that one could follow if they were just starting to dabble in the Northern Traditions. It isn’t bogged down with too many long Icelandic words or complex mythological descriptions, so it is a bit too basic for anyone that has actually been studying lore for a while.

Fordham does occasionally sneak a bit of his trademark philosophy in there, but its not too “in your face”, and honestly isn’t as bad as some of the stuff I’ve seen in more folkish publications.

So, can I really recommend this? Since its VERY cheap, possibly free, and isn’t a total trainwreck….sure? It depends on how well-versed in Norse Paganism you are. Its very possible you will leaf through this as if reading a Wikipedia article and gain no substance from it. If you are new to Asatru and want an idea of what certain terms mean, how to hold a Blót, how to do a prayer, and a list of Gods to pray to, this might be a good fit.

If you would like a copy of this book for Yourself, please click HERE

REVIEW: The Wife of Freyr – Chapter 1 – Yngvi-Freyr (2019)

The cover of The Wife of Freyr: Chapter 1: Yngvi-Freyr

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.

Amazon sales page

The Wife of Freyr: Chapter 1: Yngvi-Freyr (2019) Is an inexpensive historical comic you can find on Amazon that is based on an Icelandic þættir, or short story in the Sagas, called Ögmundar þáttr dytts ok Gunnars helmings which loosely translates to “Ögmundar’s death and Gunnar’s half” (or somesuch). This comic is based entirely on the second half involving the character of Gunnar Thangbrand. An English translation of this Icelandic Saga can be found here for free, if you would like to read it to compare.

In both this and the original story, Gunnar has been suspected of murder and has fled to Sweden, where pockets of paganism still persist, especially fertility cults devoted to Freyr. He has gone there to convert any Pagans he finds to the ways of Christianity for King Harald Bluetooth. Rumor has it, that the Swedes have appointed a young and beautiful woman to serve the fertility god, and Gunnar becomes “acquainted” with this young priestess. He helps her drive Freyr’s wagon with the god effigy in it which angers Freyr. Freyr attacks Gunnar and he has to make a promise to become Christian when he returns to Norway in order to fight against it. He is able to win, and decides to dress as Freyr since the battle had destroyed the wooden statue.

There is more to the story, but that is all that is covered in this chapter.

Internal page of The Wife of Freyr: Chapter 1: Yngvi-Freyr

The artwork in this book is pretty good, you can tell that the author, Volkmar Fleckenstein, is a pinup artist of some degree. I especially like the details he puts into facial expressions and emotions, seeing the various bits of character design is awesome. The comic is in a grayscale color palette, which is in no way bad, it almost gives it an old-school barbarian comic vibe ala Conan or Red Sonja. It’s done digitally, and has a bit of simplicity to the style, but the linework is crisp and dark, so it all fits together very well. The lettering is organized well, and everything is easy to read with no spelling or grammar issues that I noticed, granted I wasn’t scouring with a fine-toothed comb of nitpicking, but everything seemed above-board.

While I did enjoy this (quite a bit, actually), I felt as if the story is presented in a way that makes Gunnar Thangbrand easily one of the least likable protagonists I’ve ever read or seen. He basically runs around murdering anyone that isn’t a Christian at a breakneck pace for about half of the book. Limited to a small page count and a moral disconnect from how things were in past, one has to take a step back reading something like this because a person seen as a noble hero of the past, could easily be seen as a demonic monster by modern standards. Many of the Sagas are like this, for example it is very hard to find ANYONE in Njal’s Saga that isn’t pretty terrible by today’s modern standard.

Internal page of The Wife of Freyr: Chapter 1: Yngvi-Freyr

It would be wrong if I did not point out that this book has a bit of adult content inside. It is not, by any means, the focal point of the story, but once the Freyr fertility cult is shown you can imagine what is shown in the pages. For those wanting to see this as a pure historical item need to be careful – its not really suitable for kids.

While this can be seen, by pagans, as a story of one of the last vestiges of the old ways being trampled on by the Church, as a historical piece this is pretty cool. I really want Mr. Fleckenstein to do more of these if he ever gets the chance, as I would love to see more Saga literature getting translated and re-imagined like this.

As of this writing, Mr. Fleckenstein has posted a campaign for volume two of this story to Kickstarter as seen HERE. There is about a month left, so hopefully this happens!

REVIEW: Midsommar (2019)

Image result for midsommar film

WARNING: This contains spoilers.

Horror is a genre that rarely gets much, if any, recognition from Hollywood at all – usually most cinema-going people and executives treat the entire genre much like how many treat professional wrestling – a entertainment style that is assumed to be for only uncultured people to watch. Well, that was until recently, when we started seeing yearly Arthouse horror films getting all sorts of buzz from the staunchest Hollywood suit. Films like Jordan Peele’s Us, and Get Out as well as Ari Aster’s Hereditary seemed to prove that horror could be done in a way to almost make it into the award scene. I have enjoyed most of these films despite the relative over-hype in the media, so I was excited to see what was coming next.

I’m not going to lie, I was initially worried, of not annoyed by the original trailer for Midsommar, the newest film by the aforementioned Ari Aster. I even wrote an article based solely on the trailer and everyone’s reaction to it making me nervous. I feel very strongly that Pagans are the low hanging fruit of easy targets to demonize in films, ranked almost as high as Russian mobsters and Satanists.

Examples of this trend are The Wicker Man (Celtic Reconstructionists / possible Neopagans depicted as a human sacrifice cult). Halloween III (Same as The Wicker Man, but worse because it’s on a sacred Celtic festival). The Serpent and The Rainbow (multiple voodoo stereotypes all rolled into one). Pet Semetary (Druidic magic is only good for raising the dead to do your bidding). Drag Me to Hell (Romani people, or pejoratively Gypsies, are willing to feed people to demonic abominations if wronged). And that’s just a few films out of the hundreds like this.

Thankfully, I was wrong about Midsommar.

The film centers around an American couple, Christian and Dani, that seem to be having troubles in their relationship. Dani has just gone through a hash family trauma, and has little help from her boyfriend, who actively is seeking a way to end their relationship mostly due to his college friends trying to tempt him into leading a far more promiscuous lifestyle more to their needs. Hoping to get some relief, the pair decide to take an offer for a vacation in Sweden with their friends, Mark and Josh, hosted by a Swedish transplant named Pelle to a small village that is hosting a festival held once every 90 years. Unbeknownst to them, the festivities are not exactly within their cultural wheelhouse.

I spoke early about my fear of the demonization of the rural Swedish Pagan characters in the film, but they really aren’t the bad guys. If anything, Christian and his friends (especially Mark) are far worse, and most of the movie was spent, for me at least, was waiting for them to get their comeuppance.

We also are not 100% sure what the beliefs of the actual villagers are. Like most folk horror films, Midsommar borrows from here and there, and tries to keep it deliberately vague. We can make assumptions based on the fact that the number nine pops up a lot, and the use of Elder Futhark runes, that these people are the remnants of some sort of Norse Pagan group that somehow escaped Christianization or reverted back at some point. This is never really talked about in the film, as the events really don’t open up room for this sort of dialog. People well versed in the motifs of what we presume to be Viking religion can definitely pick up on “Easter Eggs”.

While I can assume that all of the deaths in the film would have likely happened anyway considering that the brothers Pelle and Ingemar were specifically told to bring back people to be sacrificed, I’m not sure it would have happened the way it did. For example, two characters tried to flee the compound vowing to “call the cops” after witnessing a cultural “rite of passage” wherein everyone that reaches the age of 72 commits ritual suicide. Mark spends the entire film lusting after women and urinates on an ancient tree that is seen to house the souls of all of the village’s ancestors. Josh is seen taking pictures of a sacred text from the group despite being specifically denied doing so. and Finally, Christian spends the entire film basically ignoring his girlfriend, and betrays Josh in order to work on his college thesis about the village despite knowing Josh was going to do so as well. These characters made themselves embody, greed, lust, and evil – all things anyone would abhor.

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The whole film is a study in coming face-to-face with cultural relativism. By judging the village’s actions that are seen as holy and traditional as being evil one could come away with a sense that the village are the villains, but the film handles the ambiguity so much better than films such as The Wicker Man, as it avoids the preachy modern know-it-all character that tells everyone off before getting covered in bees and burned alive ala the aforementioned film. I can’t really say none of the villagers acted in malice, as they did manipulate Dani to such an extreme that she seemingly suffers a psychotic break at the end of the film, but everyone that dies are bad people for various reasons. it’s a tough situation Aster has put the audience in – who’s the bad guy here?

For me, the film has a happy ending. In many ways Dani is the happiest that we know her to be at the end of the film. Her family was all killed in a shocking murder-suicide by her sister months before, so she’s not exactly on a level playing field going into the events. Pelle steps in to be the love interest that she needs, a man that is going out of his way to check on her and make sure she’s okay and can relate to her plight. She is accepted into the group, and allowed to be happy for the first time in her life. In the final thirty minutes of the film, she is crowned the May Queen of the festival and paraded around town like a living goddess – she is given purpose in life for the first time, feels accepted and loved. When she witnesses Christian cheating on her, albeit coerced, she is quick to choose him to be the final sacrifice of the nine to be given to the gods. At the end of the film, as everyone that wronged her is burning inside a wooden pyramid, she smiles. She is home. Her past life is dead.

The juxtaposition of the bright happy setting and the disturbing deaths is very off-putting and far more scary than what happens in many actual horror films. I can see why some horror fans would not like the film as it was presented as a hard horror movie, and its honestly more of a thriller or drama film with a VERY shocking final act. This isn’t too far from how Aster’s previous film, Hereditary, was viewed by many.

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I loved Midsommar despite my previous misgivings about my perceived reaction to the film. It is artistically a beautiful film, a VERY disorienting film, and just shocking enough to have power without being gratuitous like slasher films.

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.

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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.