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