Tag Archives: heathenry

Pagan and Spiritual Book Round-Up November 2015

 

greenmantle Greenmantle, Charles De Lint

I have to admit – the main reason I bought this book was because someone posted the cover art on a Pagan-related Facebook group, and I loved it. There’s something almost Miyazaki-esque about the colour, lighting and subject matter. That’s what prompted me to track down this fantasy novel. But you know what they say…never judge a book by its cover, and sadly, this book was a good example of this rule for the most part. Although the blurb describes it as a fantasy novel about magical forests and ancient gods, there’s rather little of this in the book. Most of it is focussed on a rather dull story of Mafia warfare and an equally dull family caught up in it all. The more fantastical parts of the novel are quite interesting, taking direct inspiration from Pagan ritual, worship of the Horned God and the concept of the resurrected Green Man but they are completely overshadowed by the aforementioned main plot. Disappointing, I’m afraid to say. Still, that cover though!

ExperiencingtheGreenManExperiencing the Green Man, Rob Hardy & Teresa Moorey

I bought this while getting Christmas presents at the fantastic Hedingham Fair online shop; I have a particular fondness for the Green Man but haven’t read books specific to him (apart from Greenmantle above). This is one of these books made by a small publishing house, and it feels it – it’s cheaply printed and bound and the text inside is amateurishly written, poorly edited and riddled with typos. Thankfully, there’s also something charming and nice about it – with its friendly tone and focus on local traditions, it feels very British. For such a little book, it’s also got a surprising amount of varied content on the subject of the Green Man, including legends, guides on local churches and landmarks where Green Men can be found, rituals for honouring the Green Man, craft ideas, and even the full script for a short Mummer’s play featuring the Green Man. I additionally liked the attention paid to the Green Man within Christianity – I much prefer it when Pagan texts emphasise the links between Paganism and Christianity rather than focussing solely on the differences. It may not be a slick product, but for lovers of the Green Man, this book would probably make a welcome addition to a collection of literature about this mysterious figure.

 

LookingForLostGods Looking for the Lost Gods of England, Kathleen Herbert 

This really more of a bound essay than a book – you can read it very easily in one sitting. Herbert investigates the beliefs of the Anglo-Saxons, drawing from the writings of Roman settlers, the Venerable Bede, and texts of the Anglo-Saxons themselves (runes and Old English a-plenty). It’s a very detailed, interesting and academic piece, but due its length I can’t help but think the general reader would find this more appealing as part of a larger collection of essays on Heathenry, rather than as a stand-alone essay.

DictionaryShinto A Popular Dictionary of Shinto, Brian Bocking

Exactly what it says in the title – an A-Z of Shinto-related, Japanese terminology. I flicked through the whole book, which was very interesting and meant I discovered a lot of new aspects of Shinto, such as obscure kami and practises. Generally, I thought the explanations were pretty good – clear and easy to understand. But there were two things I thought could have been added to improve it. Firstly, it could perhaps do with a few simple illustrations to help those unfamiliar with Shinto tools and architecture; this is pretty common in Japanese dictionaries. Secondly, there isn’t a single Japanese character in the whole book. I thought this was a considerable oversight – the kanji used to write Japanese words is very important, especially in matters pertaining to religion. Including kanji for each entry should have been an obvious thing to do, and would have greatly aided understanding for those who can read Japanese (and there’s a lot of non-Japanese people interested in Shinto who can).

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Reflections on “The Gospel of Loki,” Joanne M Harris

GospelLokiWhy did I choose to read this book?

Another charity shop find! Although Asatru is not a large part of my path, I do have an interest in Norse mythology, and especially Loki (like so many other fans of the Norse gods!). At first I was dubious – I’ve read a few modernised tales featuring Loki before and not found them fantastic – but then I noticed that this one is written by the best-selling author of Chocolat (another novel with some Pagan overtones), which reassured me enough to spend £1 on The Gospel of Loki

In a nutshell, what it is it about?

It’s very simply a collection of some of the most famous of the Norse legends from the Eddas, told from the perspective of Loki, the Trickster. Told through Loki’s witty, teasing narration, all the favourite stories are here, from the beginning of the Nine Worlds (and Loki’s “birth” from Chaos) to the golden days of Asgard, to its eventual downfall at Ragnarok.

What did I particularly like about it?

First and foremost, I loved how close the re-tellings of the stories are to their originals. There’s no wild deviations or attempts to gild the lily – Harris has retold the tales very faithfully, but also very appealingly, from the point of view of the Trickster God. She captures the real essence and emotion of the stories, including their epic scope and bawdy wit. Harris is at her strongest when dealing with the more humorous tales – some of episodes, and the characters’ reactions to turns of events, are laugh-out-loud funny. Harris polishes and displays the original tales of the Norse gods in such a way that their cleverness and excitement really shines through. I especially loved her account of the origin of the eight-legged horse Sleipnir and the adventures of Loki and Thor in Utgard – although I already knew the stories very well, I still enjoyed experiencing them again through Harris’ lively writing and looked forward to all their twists and turns.

I also liked the ingenious way in which, by making Loki the focal point of the stories, Harris weaves all the various Norse tales into a continuous, flowing narrative – which really enhances the stories and stresses their epic nature. Rather than simply ending, the ending of one story will lead directly to the beginning of another, and the actions of one character will prove to be an important motivation for another character’s actions later. This also allows for a real shift of tone – we go from laughing during the heyday of the gods, to feeling genuinely sad when it all comes to an end.

Was there anything I didn’t like about it?

Surprisingly, I found the depiction of Loki a little derivative and perhaps not as interesting as he could have been. Loki is an archetypal bad boy, using (occasionally jarring) modern American slang to demonstrate his rebel nature (he even uses the phrase Your Humble Narrator just like Alex in A Clockwork Orange). There’s nothing really new and original to his character – we’ve all seen this Loki before in the Thor movies. That’s not to say that Harris’ Loki has no appeal – you’ll end up liking him regardless – but I was hoping for something perhaps a little more developed. On the other hand, the mysterious Odin, with his obscure motivations and complex relationship with Loki, is a very interesting character indeed. Perhaps Harris could have explored the Loki/Odin relationship a little more? Perhaps they could have had some final, revealing words during their last hours at Ragnarok? But perhaps Harris deliberately kept her characters symbol to be more in keeping with the spirit of the Eddas, and to avoid eclipsing the stories themselves.

How has it helped my spiritual development?

It certainly got me interested in reading up a little more about the Eddas and about Asatru in general, as well as filling in some of my knowledge gaps on Norse mythology. I feel after reading The Gospel of Loki, I understand the nature of the Norse Gods, the Nine Worlds and the magic of the runes a little more.

Would I recommend this book to others?

Definitely to those interested in Norse mythology! Veterans will really appreciate how close the stories are to the originals, while newcomers will enjoy The Gospel of Loki as an easy to read and highly entertaining introduction to some of the wittiest tales and appealing characters in the world of ancient mythology.

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Reflections on “To Walk a Pagan Path: Practical Spirituality for Every Day,” Alaric Albertsson

PaganPathThere are so many books on Paganism out there that it can be quite difficult for a beginner like me to choose which ones to read. But this one caught my attention a while back, and I’m so glad I bought it. This is one of my favourite books on Paganism that I’ve read so far, for a number of reasons:

1. This is a book about general Paganism, rather than Wicca, which is not always easy to find. In fact, Wicca is downplayed considerably here. The author follows an Anglo-Saxon path, which is fairly unusual in itself and makes for both an interesting a refreshing take on Paganism. What’s more, he talks about plenty of other forms of Paganism and most of what he writes about here could be applied to any Pagan path (including Wicca).

2. Relating to the point above, this book is far more about connecting to the deities and living a lifestyle that is compatible with the beliefs of Paganism than it is about magic and spells  – something that appealed to me greatly because magic is not a large part of my own practice. There is an emphasis on living a lifestyle that is eco-friendly; in fact, if you took out all the spiritual references, you would still have yourself quite a nice little handbook on green living.

3. The writing style is engaging, gentle and very easy. As with a lot of Pagan books out there that are written from a personal perspective, there is an undercurrent of humour that makes it warm and readable.

4. Many of the rituals and crafts suggested are pretty simple, and there’s so many ideas in here that, whether it be candle making or cooking or bee-keeping, there’s something here for everyone. In fact, this book did inspire me to go out and try a lot of the things suggested, such as growing a small herb garden and making more of an effort to get crafty and re-use household waste where possible.

5. Ultimately, this is a very down-to-earth book and I think all the suggestions in it would benefit most people out there, Pagan or not. But even so, spirituality permeates every practical tip suggested by  Albertsson – there’s even a ritual in there for presenting a pet as a “familiar” to one’s deity – making sure the gods are still given the biggest focus.

There’s only a few points I thought might bother a few readers:

1. This is a book about practical living, and as such Albertsson goes into quite a lot of depth on some of the topics. For example, on his section of keeping dogs, he details where best to acquire a dog, how to raise it as a puppy, what breeds to consider, what to feed it etc. etc. This is great if you are actually considering getting a dog, but probably not so helpful if the idea isn’t in your mind at all. I felt that perhaps it might have been better for Albertsson to cover more topics (suggestions for Pagans in the workplace, for example?) but in less depth, with a greater emphasis on the spiritual aspects – he could have suggested some good books or organisations to turn to for anyone who wanted more detailed information on the topic. There are plenty of sources on all these topics that cover the practical basics, after all. Nevertheless, I have to admit I found the topic on bee-keeping, even though I have no intention of keeping bees, really fascinating!

2. I get the feeling Albertsson isn’t keen on eclecticism – he makes lots of reference to clear-cut Pagan “types” (Anglo-Saxon, Roman, Kemetic etc.) and makes it clear that he doesn’t think one should try to connect with many deities, but stick to just a few. I’m not really sure if this is an accurate reflection on most Pagans – the majority of Pagans I’ve met tend towards eclecticism and worshipping lots of deities.

But overall, this is a fantastic book and a good place for beginners to start (I’d imagine there’s quite a bit in there for veterans too) – especially for those who are not so interested in magic or want to investigate paths other than Wicca.

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