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!