REVIEW: Midsommar (2019)

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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

Sketch: The Allfather

Did this a few months ago – I haven’t sketched in a loooong time – I used to do it all of the time, so much so that teenage me was seen as somebody destined to try to get into art professionally. Due to personal reasons, I was more-or-less pushed out of it and made to feel depressed by doing it, so I stopped one day. Days became weeks, weeks became months, and months became years. I really should have kept it up, but what’s done is done. I’ve been inspired to dip my toe back into it lately, not for any sort of reason other than that it makes me feel good to be creative.

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