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.

A Look at Stonehenge: Spirit and Science of Place

Photo by Samuel Wölfl on Pexels.com

Maybe one day I’ll get to visit Stonehenge, I’ve always wanted to ever since getting into books about mysterious phenomenon when I was a kid – you know those large In Serach of knockoff coffee table books from the 80’s and 90’s full of articles on Bigfoot, aliens, The Bermuda Triangle, and of course Stonehenge. I lived for stuff like that – of course these books were largely silly on how they talked about the popular Neolithic stone circle (It’s obviously aliens Ya’ll!) For right now, though, going to Stonehenge is not really in the cards – So I was VERY excited to do the next best thing this summer in Kansas City – a new traveling museum exhibition full of artifacts from the chalky hills of The Salisbury Plain.

This exhibit was held at a large train station / exhibition hall in Downtown Kansas City called Union Station – at any given time, about 2-3 times a year, they host traveling exhibits such as Pompeii, Titanic, or King Tut that draw large crowds. I actually brought members of the previous Kindred I was a member of in as a group at a discounted price, this was awesome, as paying basically half-price made everyone very happy.

‘Mysterious’, ‘awe-inspiring’, ‘magical’, ‘sacred’ and ‘eternal’ are some of the words used to describe Stonehenge. Scholars and visitors alike have puzzled over this unique prehistoric monument for centuries. After years of excavation and thanks to ground-breaking advances in science and archaeology we are closer than ever to understanding Stonehenge.

Stonehenge: Spirit and Science of Place looks to over 400 original artifacts and the latest cutting-edge scientific research to answer questions about this iconic, mysterious World Heritage Site. The exhibition tracks the development of Stonehenge as a special place in the landscape, and explains the origins of the monument while illuminating the lives of the people behind it.

Visitors will leave the exhibition with new revelations into what Stonehenge meant to the people who built it … and what it means to the world today.

The exhibition is a cooperation with the UCL Institute of Archaeology, Wiltshire Museum, the Salisbury Museum, English Heritage and The National Trust and was curated by Prof. Mike Parker Pearson and Dr. Beatrijs de Groot from the UCL, London.

– From the exhibit’s webpage

Upon Entering the exhibition area, visitors were greeted with a brief introduction video laying out what we were about to see. Large “stone columns” lifted up and we were ushered into the huge multimedia exhibit hall consisting of videos from the contributing scientists that curated the exhibit, artifacts including rocks and bone fragments (just to mention a few), and items such as mannequins that showed what the people that built Stonehenge could have looked like. One particular highlight of mine was a film in which an actress portrayed one of the builders discussing her reasons for helping, and spiritual significance she felt in the process. This video was VERY powerful, and really set the tone of the exhibit – a look at the people behind Stonehenge Vs The stones themselves.

It was interesting to note that the main theory presented by the curators was that the Stones were a place of worship, and aided with ancestor worship as well as being a calendar and burial ground. I was surprised that this was seen as a “new take” on what the stones were, and makes me want to really read some other scholarship on the site to see what the consensus generally is.

Here are some photos of the exhibit:

Perhaps, my only quibble with the exhibit was that the possible spiritual significance of the site was not elaborated much on, which was one of the things I was fairly interested to see their take on. Granted, with no records left behind, anything is pure speculation. I’m just glad they didn’t talk about aliens the whole time!

Museum Partner has a number of other traveling exhibitions that might be of interest to fellow Heathens – 3 of which are Viking related and another Celtic. Let us all hope / Pray that one of them come to Kansas City (for me because I’m selfish!) or a place you live near!

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.