When you are going to hunt Pictish stones in Scotland, first be sure to lay your hands on the tiny, but very helpfull Wee Guide to the Picts. This little book gives general information and is most helpfull because it gives clues where to find the stones. These postal codes for the stones also form one of the appendices of Symbols and Pictures: the Pictish Legacy in Stone. That is not so much a stone hunters’ book, but more a book to read when you want to learn more about the Picts and their symbol stones.
Mack wrote the book as if he is thinking out loud. I would have preferred him being more to the point. The biggest merit of the book is that the author compares different theories and puts them to the test. I bought this book in the little Meigle museum, mostly because my eye fell on the chapter about the oghams on some stones and hoped that the book says what the oghams say.
Mack proves himself to be a dry and practical thinker. There are wild theories about the Pictish stones and Mack often quickly shoves some of them aside with sound logic. ‘The oghams have to be added later, since they are from the 8th century’ which makes Mack wonder how it is possible that the other carvings on the some left a perfect spot to the oghams to be added centuries later. Similar approaches Mack offers for the spreading of the stone (where are many “class I” or many “class II” stones, etc.), to guess the (original) purpose of the stones (many where found on or near church-yards or “commemorating places” so they were probably erected to commemorate persons) or to connect certain symbols (for example the mirror-and-comb) to certain people (in this case: women).
This approach works up to a certain level. I am no fond of wild theories backed up with half evidence, but the problem is no theory proves to be unshakable. For example, many stones were not found near church-yards, etc., not every mirror-and-comb can be connected to women.
The author shows different theories to explain the symbols. Some people say that thet are markers of property or at least refer to persons. A symbol could be that person’s name, that person’s first or last name or the name of the commemorated person or the person who had the stone erected. Some of these connections seem likely when combined with the transliterations of ogham texts, but things are not completely convincing.
Yes, them oghams. The funny thing is that oghams seem to be of Celtic origin and the Celtic origin of the Picts is not undisputed. We can read Celtic oghams, but apparently we can not read Pictish oghams! The oghams are transliterated the way we know the Celtic oghams to, but this makes undecipherable strings of letters. This lead some investigators to conclude that the Picts spoke a non-Indo-European language! At least one investigator (amusingly to Mack) is able to find Scandinavian texts in every line of oghams (the Viking have visited Scotland a lot), but the sollution does not seem to be there either, but even Mack does not seem to have thought of the option that the characters that look like ogham, may stand for different letters altogether.
What remains is the suggestion that many symbols come in pairs, are not easy to date (the “class I” and “class II” periods overlap) and some suggestions are raised for explanations, none of them convincing. “The best may again be to wigh the evidence oneself – and then decide for oneself! the book ends. Strange, 257 pages of theories only to conclude that the Pictish stones remain an enigma. On the other hand, I think I prefer this to authors who think they have found the sollution and manipulate the evidence to back up their theories.
Mack’s book ends with a range of appendices that are very helpfull for other investigators. Stones with findspots and current locations; stones arranged by (combinations of) symbols; statistics with symbols; etc.
No answers, but a lot of information!
2007 The Pinkfoot Press, isbn 9781874012481
In 2002 Tyr was announced to be an annual journal. Obviously the editors have chosen quality over quantity, because the journals have been made available in 2002, 2004, 2008 and 2014. (If this continues, we do not have to expect Tyr 5 before 2022!). Issue 4 was worth the wait.
We already got used to 400+ pages with a variety of essays, usually of quite some length. Also the same as before are a range of book reviews towards the end (some quite lenghty too) and a handfull of music reviews. The approach seems to be more contemporary pagan than “radical traditionalist” this time. That is to say, after the too long “What is religion?” of Alain de Benoist, things get ‘more pagan’. Collin Cleary, for example, wonders “What is Odinism?” and this leads to quite a different story than (probably) of many people calling themselves “Odinists”. Cleary goes more in the left hand path direction of Edred Flowers.
Next up is a very nice article about a subject I might have never read about “Traditional time-telling in old England, and modern” from the hand of Nigel Pennick. The first half of the article is the more interesting to me and lives up to the title better than the last part about heathen calendars.
Then follow two articles of the French author Claude Lecouteux who writes about “Garden dwarves and house spirits” and about “…the furious army”. The texts are alright, but I could suggest better non-English texts should the editors want to.
Again an original subject is Steve Harris’ “On barbaric suffering”. A subject that might sound Christian in basis, but Harris shows that the pre-Christians had ideas about this subject too.
A shorter text is “Germanic art in the first millenium”. Stephen Pollington shows his thoughs on Germanic and Celtic weaving pattern and other symbols that might not immediately appear to be such in ancient art.
Michael Moynihan teaches us a thing or two about the artist Rockwell Kent who had some Germanic interests. Moynihan did not get me overly enthousiastic about Kent, but interests are there to differ, right?
Christian Rätsch investigated “The mead of inspiration”. This text is mostly interesting because it breaks with hip contemporary heathen ideas about mead and what is really was and what it was used for. Rather than just a eerily sweet drink made from fermented honey, Rätsch argues that the real mead was more something between beer and what we call mead today.
Then we go psychedelic with Carl Abrahamsson and Joshua Buckly who took a look at Ralph Metzner and his scientific experimentations with psychedelics.
After this we get two lengthy interviews. The first is with Sequentia foreman Benjamin Bagby who tells us about scholarly approaches to ancient music and his own. The other interviews is with Sean Ragon of Cult of Youth (who has a shop in NYC, so next time I am there…!)
A few music reviews follow, more metal this time, but many a page is dedicated to the musical outlets of the recently deceased Jonas Trinkunas (of the Lithuanian heathen movement Romuva) to whom this volume is dedicated.
Joscelyn Godwin is again present in this volume. He made a lengthy review of Evola’s Path of Cinnabar by comparing it to the lives of René Guénon and Carl Gustav Jung. Godwin makes some interesting observations. In the second part of the review Godwin shows that he does not necessarily follow the appraisal of Evola when he reviews a new Italian biography that shows some things about the man that avid followers probably would have rather seen under the carpet.
Other reviewed books are about John Mitchell, Western esotericism (actually by Godwin, Gnosticism, Germanic folklore in America and the like.
As always Tyr makes a good read on a variety of subjects and I can recommend this title to contemporary heathens and “radical traditionalists” alike.
I know Cleary from the Tyr journal (of which I am actually reading the fourth volume now) and indeed, that is where many texts from this collection of essays are first printed. Other texts are from the Rûna journal, the Counter Currents website or unpublished.
The collection of texts are varried. Cleary gives his very original and thought-provoking views on modern heathenry in the first three texts. Gods for contemporary man and a view on the ideas of Alain de Benoist. Cleary suggests creating an ‘opening’ within ourselves to allow the Gods to reach us, but his Gods are not those of many contemporary pagans. I do not follow Cleary all the way, but he sure makes some points to ponder about, also at reading again after several years.
The next texts are also about “Nordic paganism”, but more… ‘experimental’ so to say.
In the last two texts, Cleary portrays his views on our end-time in reviewing the Prisoner series and the work of Alejandro Jodorowsky.
Cleary’s ideas show elements of Traditionalism, more precisely the “radical” variant that the Tyr journal. Further Cleary is heavily influened by, but at times also critical about, Edred Flowers/Thorsson. Cleary is a member of the Rune-Gild, so this is not really strange. I am not a big Thorsson fan myself, but I have not read all that much of him, but the texts with the thickest Thorsson sauce in Cleary’s book (such as the “Philosophical Notes on the Runes” are the least interesting to me. Also Cleary uses a lot of philosophy and makes many references to philosophers.
The book has a little under 200 pages. Within these you will find an original thinker who is not afraid to step on some toes and to touch unpopular subjects. A good read for contemporary pagans and non-pagans alike.
2011 Counter Currents Publishing, isbn 1935965220
The Bibliotheca Philsophica Hermetica (or Ritman Library) published a wonderfull book about “The Message of the Rosicrucian Manifestoes in the Visual Language of the Seventeenth Century”. The book has 168 pages, is beautifully put together and nicely informative. The first part is about the Rosicrucian manifestoes and their reception. The second part more lives up to the subtitle and highlights some works of the Renaissance and shows the reader (some of) the details of the images. Detailed information is given about works of Heinrich Khunrath, Daniel Mögling, Stephan Michelspacher, Robert Fludd and Michael Maier. The book is a bit larger than most books and however the images are printed in high quality, sometimes the details are too small to see what the authors write about. Fortunately this is not a problem in most cases. Also often details are taken out of the images and displayed separately.
The texts do not go into any depth I have not encountered yet, but I especially enjoyed the information about details in the images that have escaped my eye so far. Also the authors put details in larger contexts giving explanations that I would not have thought of myself.
A beautiful book to have on the shelf and a nice read if you are interested in the period of the Rosicrucian manifestoes.
2014 In De Pelikaan, isbn 9789071608339
For quite some time I had wanted to read this book, but for some reason I never got to it. Would the book make clear how Guénon looked at Freemasonry in earlier days (as one of the two genuine initiatic organisations (both in the title of the present work) of the West) and in later days (the chain has been broken)? Unfortunately, it does not. The book also does not say much about Guénon’s views on Freemasonry in general, nor explanations of its doctrines by a man who claimed to be a true initiate/esotericist.
As with most books of Guénon, “Studies In…” is a compilation of articles that he wrote in different journals. These publications span a period from 1910 to 1951 and are not presented chronologically. What shows the ambiguous relation of Guénon towards his subject, is that the essays published are from both pro- and anti-Masonic publications.
So what is in the book? The last part consists of book reviews, mostly of French titles. In these reviews Guénon often portrays his superior knowledge of the subject in comparison to the authors of the books. Here and there an interesting peak into the thought of Guénon is given, but I find the book reviews not overtly interesting. The same goes for a range of articles about Martines de Pasqually, his “Ordre de Chevaliers Maçons Élus Coëns de l’Univers” and related topics. Here and there Guénon shows why he thinks De Pasqually was an initiate of a lower order and how he sees the relation to higher initiates, but these essays are mostly about a group that was perhaps Masonically related, but not Freemasonry per se. Actually I can say about the same about most of the other articles. They are about 18/19th century Freemasonry and mostly about experiments on the occultic field and the like.
A few essays make a good read for current Freemasons and people interested in Guénon’s views, such as “Masonic orthodoxy”, “The Masonic high grades” (both written in 1910 when Guénon was 26!!) and “Feminine initiations and craft initiations” (1948) since these shed a completely different light on the questions post than the answers that you usually hear.
Not the ultimate sourcebook about Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage. The book even does not answer all questions about the relation and views of Guénon to and on the subject. Still it is an interesting book to read, since Guénon seems to be a bit ‘lighter’ than what we are used to of him and here and there he is remarkably open.
For Guénon’s real or alledges dealings with Freemasonry, there are a whole lot of theories to be found on the world wide web.
1964 Éditions Traditionelles, 2004 Sophia Perennis; isbn 0900588888
In spring 2014 I revisited the Karma Triyana Dharmacharkra monastery near Woodstock, NY (as a tourist) and of course visited the accomapying Namse Bangdzo Bookstore. The monastery is Tibetan Buddhistic, but my interest was caught by a small number of books about Bön, the pre-Buddhistic religion of Tibet. In two I thought to have found both some history, but also an ‘inside view’ of the religion itself. One of the books had a plus: it is not only about Bön! As you can see in the title of the book that is subject of this review, that is the one I brought home.
The book is massive in size (800+ pages) and content. Much of the information is new to me, so that makes the book extra overwhelming. There is no way I can sumerise the contents of this book, so I am only going to try to give you an idea of the content. A few things to start with. Me, and perhaps you too, thought that Bön is ‘the’ pre-Buddhistic religion of Tibet, but this is way too simply thought. There are many kinds of Bön springing from different periods and gurus. The author roughly divides these sorts of “prehistoric Bön”, “Yungdrung Bön”, “Bön Sarma” (or “new Bön”, a mix between Yungdrung Bön and Buddhism) and “mixed Bön” (which mixes all that came before with even other elements). The other term, Bө or Bө-Murgel, refers to the traditional religion of Siberia.
Ermakov has both studied and lived both traditions and came to the conclusion that they sprang from the same source. A source which he calls: “the prehistoric Bön of Eurasia”. This “prehistic Bön of Eurasia” reminds a lot of what scholars of comparative religion call the Indo-European religion. This makes the book even more interesting than I expected!
Ermakov starts with a little bit of history; or ‘a little bit’… This part is about 120 pages and spans thousands of years. It is interesting to see the author, who is a Russian scholar of comparitive religion, keeps his scientific approach, but does not shy stories of magical warfare, shares his ritualistic experiences and touches on different subjects that the Westerner would have dismissed as nonsense.
After the historical part, things get more structured and a lot dryer. Ermakov will tell you about a whole range of elements of both religions, the worldview, rituals, clothing, instrumentation, etc. and compare them, making cross-references to other religions here and there as well. This goes very much in-depth, with much detail and mixed with personal encounters and quotes from his diaries. This is all interesting enough, but frequently these descriptions of the two shamanistic religions ring major bells with my Germanic background, even some of the very vague Germanic notions as those of certain souls, Heilagr and the like. I am going to try to find some noteworthy quotes for the quotes section.
The book ends with more history, the spread of Bön and Bө.
There is a very handy glossary and the index is nicely detailed. A great book with a very interesting approach to comparitive religion and instructive both about Bön (of which I knew little) and Bө (of which I knew nothing) and even Germanic heathenry and other Indo-European religions. Here and there Ermakov peaks ‘behind’ the Indo-European religion and sees common ground with for example the Mongol religion. That reeks a bit of Witzel, does it not?
A sidenote for the faint-hearted. However friendly the current Dalai Lama is, the conversion from the various sorts of Bön to Buddhism was not always a very friendly traject and you will learn a thing or two about this part of history too. Also about current forms of Tibetan Buddhism by the way, so if this has your interest, this book might be for you too.
2008 Vajra Publications, isbn 9789937506113
See here for quotes from this book.
I missed a couple of issues. Well, five actually. With the “Wende”s coming out twice a year, that makes a 2,5-year gap. Fortunately I ran into a couple of members last weekend who brought the latest issue and this latest issue certainly makes a good read.
The highlight of issue 15, to me, is the 23 paged (A4 format!) investigation of the Freyr/Gerd myth by Luc Cielen. Cielen compares some well-known Germanic stories to reconstruct and interpret the myth in which Freyr falls in love with Gerd, but has his servant sent out to win her for him. The story from the Skírnismá is laid aside the Skáldskaparmál, the Sturlaugs saga starfsanna, Völsungasaga, Fjölsvinnsmál, parts of the Gesta Danorum and elements of other myths and stories. It makes an interesting read. Even though I find the conclusion not too convincing, the way to it gives a very nice piece of comparative myth.
Another relatively large text is a report of a visit of three Hagal members to the European Congress of Ethnic Religions (ECER) in Vilnius, Lithuania, last spring.
There is an interview with Dutch investigators of language and shorter texts, all in all spanning 55 pages.
Get in contact with Hagal by clicking on the cover. The magazine is in Dutch of course.
2014 Werkgroep Hagal, issn 2034-3361
Inspite of the promising title, this “Handbook Of Contemporary Paganism” is not a really interesting book. First the title might just as well have been “Handbook of Wicca” since in 90% of the places where terms like “paganism” or “neo-paganism” is named, it refers to Wicca. Hence paganism is predominantly a women-thing (feminist even), politically progressive, eclectic, focus lays on “the Goddess”, etc. Furthermore, a large part of the book is about magic. It starts with “The Modern Magical Revival” and continues with the influence of Aleister Crowley on Gerard Gardner, sexual magic in paganism and similar subjects. When the approach goes from historical to sociological, the focus becomes ‘other-scholarly’ when charisma, numbers of heathens and certain pagan ideas are investigated. It is this (to me) unusual approach that does give the book some merit.
Interesting are the editor’s essay about two (or three) generation pagans. How do pagan parents see their role? What place in the pagan society do children have? Also “Neo-pagan’s evolving relationship with popular media” (by Peg Aloi) has a few nice angles. There is even an article on the commerce of teen-pagan media (by Hannah E. Johnston). Rather irritating to think about, but very true.
Like I said, the book is mostly about Wicca (in various forms) and hardly touches upon other forms of contemporary paganism. When they are mentioned it comes in terms such as: “Among the former are a few sects of Norse Heathenry” (Sabina Magliocco on p. 236). Right… “Asatru” is usually only mentioned to say that there are different forms of paganism and then of course towards the end when we learn about “Racial-Ethnic Issues”. Ah yes, I had not missed the subject before I ran into it. Of course a subject not to be forgotten!
There is one article about “heathenry”, which is mostly about the Northern-European kind of paganism. In a nice article Jenny Blain and Robert J. Wallis speak about reconstructionism versus contemporary paganism, historical correctness versus applicability, and similar subjects that are indeed recognisable. There is a lot of focus on “Blót” and “Sumbel” which shows that the authors have mainly looked about American Asatru. Then there is again a whole part about magic (mostly “Seiðr”, but of course also runic divination) and it seems that they are not aware that this is not so common as they think.
Two essays worth mentioning are Dawne Sanson’s text about neo-Shamanism. Not so much because this subject interests me or even fits well within the book, but it deals well with ancient versus neo approaches, the view of the original practisioners, etc. Also a nice read is Robert J. Wallis and Jenny Blain’s article about “Pagan Engagements with Archaeology in Britain”.
To close off, an objection to the book is that all (or almost) of the writers are both scholar and practioner. Themselves they refer to their inside look, others see them as not independent. Personally I am not completely sure if I object or not, but I lean towards not. The very personal account of Susan Greenwood’s “Wild Hunt” experience was actually a nice read, however I find the ritual itself pretty silly.
All in all by and far not the ultimate book about contemporary paganism and definately not a “handbook”. Most essays are boring, some make nice reads. I do not know if the book is more interesting if you are interested in Wicca, but in that case you will have some 650 pages with history and interpretations.
2009 Brill, isbn 18746691
Rydberg’s book is old enough to be available in cheap reprints and for free on the world wide web. Well over 700 pages of “Teutonic mythology”. The book is actually called Undersökningar i germanisk mythologi (Investigations into Germanic Mythology) and is translated into German as Deutsche Mythology. Yet, Rasmus B. Anderson opted for Teutonic Mythology rather then Germanic Mythology. Of course the book has the merit of being one of the first of its kind, but reading it nowadays, I would say that there is not all that much mythology in it. As a matter of fact, Rydberg seems to try to lead back all mythology to historical events (following Snorri Sturluson and Saxy Grammaticus). This leads to rather annoying lengthy substantiations about why Gudmund is Mimer, who Odin and his Aesir were and where mythological places are to be found. Not really my cup of tea. The up-part of the book is that Rydberg meticulously investigates and compares myths and sagas coming with thoughtprovocing suggestions.
Conclusion: nowadays no longer groundbreaking, but a good book to read if you are interested in this line of investigation.
1891 / 2001 Adamant Media Corporation, isbn 1402193912
Well, this is a different kind of book of our Italian thinker. Quite like in the book of Koenraad Logghe (1997), we have here a Traditionalistic approach to the grail legends. Evola compares the grail stories to several mythologies, sometimes the same as Logghe. Evola also finds initiation symbolism in the stories, but he traces the sources further back. This comparitive method makes quite a nice read and however I cannot follow the author all the time, he makes some interesting points. Towards the end the grail stories start to make up less and less of the text and Evola passes through Hermeticism and Rosicrucians to Ghibellism, a subject that pops up in more of his works. He also sets out against Guénon and his ideas about Freemasonry and thus suddenly ends a book about the grail with a lot lot of different paths.
Overall the books make a nice read, but I have the idea that Evola lost structure and felt the need to tread different sidepaths all at the end of the book. He once more shows himself an interesting thinker, but in several opinions, Evola runs off wildly from my own ideas. No worries of course, Evola has more sides that I do not follow him with.
1996 Inner Traditions, isbn 0892815736