I think I ran into this book in a note in Watkin’s How To Kill A Dragon. It is not a book that you just go out and buy. It is available secondhand, but not cheaply. The title also suggests that this book is about: “Time and Fate in Germanic Paganism” (hence the subtitle) and it is exactly for that reason that I wanted to read it. I was curious if this dissertation in the English language would bring anything new, since the subject used to be popular among German writers around the world wars, but did not get a whole lot of attention since. The good news is that Winterbourne apparently reads German and refers to several of the classic books on the subject (also see my own article).
At times I had quite a hard time to follow the author. It seems like he has a background in philosophy and frequently I have the idea that he is telling exactly the opposite of what he told before. It does not really help that several sections of the work are not too interesting. Perhaps the latter caused the former, but nonetheless I can tell you that, if you have interest in the subject, “When The Norns Have Spoken” is recommended reading. There are two red threads in the book. First, the author wants to prove that the ancient Germanic faith is a religion and not a cult without belief. Second, he poses an interesting view on the subject of fate itself, since: “The world is the way it is – irrevocably and unavoidably so – and is not changed as Fate turns, but actualized.” With this in mind, Winterbourne finds logic in the belief of fate, but not in the way we today think of fate.
Like I said, a book to read if you are interested in the subject. It is not very large, 187 pages, and it will at least bring you up to date again on contemporary investigations of the ancient faith of North-West Europe since kindred subjects also also dealt with.
2004 Fairleigh Dickinson, isbn 1611472962
I was looking what to read and had to think of Evola. After looking around a bit, I opted for the book that the translator has subtitled “an intellectual autobiography”. What a great book! I have read several books of this controversial author and many years ago I even wrote a biography of the man, but like the man says several times in his book: this is the ultimate guide to his ouevre.
Evola lived from 1898 to 1974. He wrote Il Cammino del Cinabro when he thought it was time to look back at his life and work, especially the latter. By the time Evola started to work on this autobiography, his popularity started to rise after a couple of decades of being almost totally ignored. Therefor he thought it high time to put his works in perspective and to create some sort of guidance for his new readership. Now, over 50 years later, The Path of Cinnabar is still very much fitted for that!
The book starts as a relatively normal biography. Evola did not want to write about himself, but about his ideas, but of course he has to add some personal notes here and there. Early in the book he writes about his Catholic upbringing, his break and the way he looked towards Catholicism afterwards. This is pretty much like my own story, but Evola articulates his story a lot better than I could have. From his anarchistic and artistic period, to his encounter with Eastern thought and occultism, Evola is very open about the development of his thinking. What is more, he is also very open about what he wrote at the time and how he looks at his ideas of the time when he wrote The Path of Cinnabar. This is particularly revealing when he comes to his political ideas and how these developped. Those parts also bring perspective to the most common objections agains Evola, but will also confirm some ideas of his enemies.
Regardless Evola the politician, I find the total overview of the development of his philosophy very interesting, particularly when he comes to his agreements and disagreements with René Guénon. Quite surprisingly on a couple of occasions I tend to prefer Evola’s approach to that of Guénon (but not always). Some parts (especially his philosophical phase) are not as interesting as the rest, but the larger part is great reading.
Indeed a work that cannot be missed by Evola’s followers and his enemies and it definately fullfills the function that it was written for: explaining and framing the works of Julius Evola that he produced in more than five decades. What makes the book even better: Evola proves himself a great writer and the translator turned his book into a wonderfull text in English.
1963/2010 Arktos Media, isbn 1907166025
This is something different! I have used the category “comparitive mythology”, but in fact this is “comparitive poetry”. The author uses the same texts as, let me say, Georges Dumézil, but where Dumézil compares what the texts say or imply, Watkins compares the texts themselves; the words, word-order, conjugations, etc. Watkins’ focus is the Indo-European realm and his aim is to show that Indo-European languages are comparable (and hence have a common source). Where investigators of myth and faerytale find “themes”, Watkins finds “formulas”; basic sentences that he finds in many different texts from many different parts of the world. One such formula is “HERO SLAY SERPENT”. Therefor Watkins compares dragon-slaying myths in many parts of his book.
The book is very technical and probably meant for fellow linguistics, so there are large parts that I just skipped through since I could not grasp what the author was talking about. More interesting to me are the many, many quotes from all kinds of Indo-European texts, expecially when the authors sets them side by side. Also interesting are the parts in which Watkins takes one ‘family’, such as German or Irish, and teaches his readers about that language by comparing it to others (especially the discussion of the Germanic word “bani” around page 420 and the “bone to bone, blood to blood, etc.” parts of the Mersebürger Zaubersprüche on page 523/4).
Quoting Eliot T. Bundy on page 116, Watkins summarizes his field of investigation:
‘What is required … is a thorough study of conventional themes, motives, and sequences … in short, a grammar of choral style … [reflecting] systems of shared symbols … ‘. these poems are ‘the products of poetic and rhetorical conventions whose meaning … is recoverable from comparitive study’. And in conclusion, ‘in this genre the choice involved in composition is mainly a choice of formulae, motives, themes, topics, and set sequences of these that have, by convention, meaning not always easily perceived from the surface denotations of the words themselves … we must … seek through carefull analysis of individual odes to the thematic and motivational grammar of choral compositions’.
Watkins is (fortunately for me) mostly interested in myth and ritual and quoting so many of them, he cannot always just focus on the words themselves, so here and there the book is more comparitive myth, like in the nice paragraph about apples that heal snakebites on page 427.
Something different indeed, but a field of investigation that might interest people who enjoy comparitive myth and similar fields. Watkins’ book makes a nice introduction.
1995 Oxford University Press, isbn 9780195144130
The 11th ‘heathen yearbook’ is again around a 100 pages, but to reach this, a large part is printed in a smaller font. This large part is a translation (into Dutch, the language of this publication) of several paragraphs of Jan de Vries’ Altgermanische Relgionsgeschichte. Indeed, not every Dutchman likes to read German. Besides, the books of De Vries are not easy to find (or expensive) and there are some Dutch heathens who like make translations. Their current project is the massive Altgermanische. The paragraphs printed are about giants, ghosts, goblins and the like.
The next text is a heavily illustrated investigation of the heart symbol by Gerard. He found the symbol in two forms all over the world and reaches some surprising conclusions.
Editor Boppo Grimmsma wrote a text called Runes In Frisia or ‘Frisian runes’. Not many rune-inscriptions have been found in Frisia, but Grimmsma argues that the Frisian ‘Futhorc’ is not entirely the same as the often compared Anglo-Saxon ‘Futhorc’. Some investigators even distinguish between the two and speak about Frisian runes found in the UK. Grimmsma tells us about the development of the runes and the differences between the two mentioned Futhorcs.
Now follow three very different stories of 999 words that were based on the same photo and read at the Friday-night of the 2012 Yule weekend.
A nice peek into the daily, heathen lives of previous king Gerard and (by now also previous) queen Weorþan is granted in the form of an interview with the two.
The last article is of Axnot van Fivelgo. He initially intended to write an article about his investigations into faerytales, but when he found out that most people have to background whatsoever in this subject, he turned his article into an introduction into this field of investigation. His nice text refers to authors and methods that I have come accross in the comparable field of comparitive myth. Lots has been catalogued and structured in both fields in the past century. The author also gives a few faerytales to illustrate his search, starting with a Dutch faerytale that is older than the books of the brothers Grimm.
As always the ‘heathen yearbook’ is a nice publication with scientific and lighter material. It comes nicely printed and is not expensive. The availability is limited though, so if you want your copy, click on the cover and order it rapidly.
Towards the end of his life, Eliade (1907-1986) decided to slightly rewrite and bundle a few essays that were initially intended to grow into larger works but never did and texts with not the most common subjects. From the description I understood that this work would be more on contemporary subjects which would be very interesting.
Indeed the book touches more upon Western subjects than most of Eliade’s works and there are references to relatively recent times, but it is not like this work is all about witchcraft and occultism in our present time. Yet, the first essays begins with the question: “what does a historian of religions have to say about his contemporary milieu?”; this essay investigates occultic influences in contemporary society (but not religious groups). It makes a nice read.
The second essays opens with a temporary anecdote, but continues to speak of the connection between building and the cosmos; this makes a ‘real Eliade’ piece with references to small tribes and history.
The following article is about mythologies and rites around death and then follows an interesting investigation of the rise of occultism in the late 19th century touching on Eliphas Levi, the Theosophical and similar societies and René Guénon. This is surely the most interesting essay of this collection.
Next up are “Some observations of European Witchcraft”. The author investigates why witchcraft would have been so popular during the time of the witch-craze, but also who actually ‘invented’ witchcraft.
The last essay is about sex-rites in different times and cultures.
Unfortunately this book is only 158 with a large part reserved for the bibliography and index. The essays are relatively long, but some where out before I knew it. It was nice to read about the ideas of this famous author about subjects that I have experience with myself. The texts somehow seemed more ‘distant’ than some other of Eliade’s works, but however he does not say it directly, Eliade indeed seems to have admired Guénon.
A nice little book to read some time!
1978 University Of Chicago Press, isbn 0226203921
“Alchemical Traditions: From Antiquity to the Avant-Garde” is the most massive Numen Book to date. With 684 pages, “Alchemical Traditions” definately leaves the notions of being a journal. Also this latest volume seems more academic than its predecessors. The massive bibliography is bundled in the back and there are bios of the authors referring to their respective academic statuses. The subjects are not the most common though and most essays are readable and interesting.
This book opens with a general overview of alchemy over the world. The first texts are about the more famous forms of alchemy, the Egyptian and Greek. Soon we leave for the East with Taoistic, Hinduistic and Tibetan alchemy. Part II becomes more about alchemy; its processes and symbolism, but we also quickly move forward in time until we reach the previous century with modern-day alchemists, alchemy and modern art and horticulture. Indeed, with this book you will get all aspects of alchemy, with much stress on the non-material approaches.
I particularly found the articles about less-known alchemies, the Hindu and Tibetan, interesting to read and the highlight of “Alchemical Traditions” certainly was Hereward Tilton’s “Heinrich Khunrath’s and the making of the philosopher’s stone” in which the texts of this famous alchemist are combed through and cross referenced to other writings.
If I am not mistaken, the coming publication with be the next “Mimir”, or perhaps “The New Antaios” will see the light of day before that.
2013 Numen Books, isbn 0987559826
A promising subject for a book, a Traditionalist investigation of three ‘mystics’ from three different religions, the Hindu Shankara, the Muslim Ibn-Arabi and the Christian Eckhart. I thought to know the author of this book from the Luvah journal, but apparently I had ran into him somewhere else. In any case, Shah-Kazemi’s book proves to be one of those typical contemporary Traditionalistic works; overly academic with all kinds of new words and sentences such as: “The dualistic mystic, on the other hand, sees himself in existential subordination to the Lord in all but the unitive state; the ontological distinction between the two entities thus remains insuperable.”
The investigations of the three ‘mystics’ is much more academic or perhaps even philosophical from what I hoped to encounter. Especially in the three chapters entirely dedicated to one of the ‘mystics’ I frequently lose track in all the details and apparent sidesteps. When the three authors are compared lateron, things get more interesting. Ironically, towards the end Kazemi introduces a couple of philosophers (I am no big fan of philosopy) who wrote against mysticism and Kazemi uses the teachings of the three ‘mystics’ to parry the remarks and this part was nice to read. But the book goes on and on and only here and there catches my attention positively.
I guess this book is more interesting to people who are interested in Shankara, Ibn-Arabi and Meister Eckart than to people who are looking for a Traditionalistic approach to the trio.
2006 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532976
Around the time I started reading Witzel‘s book about the origin of mythology I ran into a book about that original spirituality. According to Witzel all of current humanity stems from the ‘African Eve’ whose descendants left Africa some 64.000 years ago. Of course not all descendants left Africa. In short, a family tree started with the African Eve, much of humanity forms the leaves of this tree, some direct descendants are closer to the trunk. One such direct descendant form the Bushmen of the Kalahari. These Bushmen fear that their way of living will extinct soon after 64.000 years of history (diamonds have been found in their parts) so they were happy to find a Westerner who, on his own, found their original spirituality and the Bushmen themselves. Now this is all tantalizing of course. Bushmen spiritualy is nothing like what we call spirituality. They laugh about books, people sitting still trying to reach God, people who think that knowledge is what we should be after. Quite the contrary. Bushmen spirituality is about fun, games, absurdity and most of all: N|om. That pipe is one of these Bushmen clicking sounds (do you know the film “The Gods Must Be Crazy”? That is the very tribe where the author found his spiritual home.) and supposedly sounds something like “tsk”. N|om is the “non-subtle universal life-force” that connects men to God. N|om makes a person shake to get N|om you have to sing and dance. All this is described abundantly by the author. By climbing “ropes” one can reach “classrooms”. The Bushmen spirituality has no masters and their path is available for anyone and Keeney and the Bushmen like to make fun of other paths, so often actually that the stressing of the one true way becomes weary after a while. Keeney describes pratices and experiences that do make me wonder if the Bushmen do indeed represent a spirituality that goes back to the time of the African Eve. On the other hand, if it is indeed 64.000 years old, would it still ‘work’ (for the whole of humanity).
A book that makes me think for sure and it is interesting to see how the author goes from Louisiana black churches to the Kalahari to Japanese healers. Something different for sure.
2010 Atria Books, isbn 1582702578
So I like to drink whisky, not Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker Red Label, whisky. Also I have been to Scotland not too long ago. Therefor I was surprised to find a newly published book (september 2013) that combines these two subjects. Moreover, I know the author from years back. In any case, “Freedom and Whisky” gives a history of Scotland and where possible, the author presents a whisky bottle or label that is somehow linked with the subject. This can be a distillery that was inspired by the Picts for style (Balblair) or the bottle of one of their whiskies (Glenmorangie Signet), a distillery or whisky named after an historical character (many examples) or a whisky commemorating a historic event (also several examples). All in all a history of Scotland going from about 79 CE upto only a few decades ago. Also you get some 150 labels and bottles sometimes with lighted-up information. Of course, when the author reaches the time that whisky was distilled in Scotland, you will also learn a thing or two about the history of the ‘water of life’.
The book is not (yet) very well available, but you can get it from the author (click on the cover), the Dutch whisky magazine Whisky Passion and a growing number of book- and liquor shops. Hopefully regular bookshops will follow soon. The book is written in Dutch, I do not know if there are plans for an English version, but the author is an internationally known whisky author and organiser and he needed some of those international contacts to get all the labels that he wanted to use, so who knows…?
2013 Lord Of The Drams, isbn 9789082108002
A new approach in the field of comparative myth! Where Mircea Eliade created the discipline of comparative myth and Georges Dumézil structured Indo-European mythology, Witzel largely breaks with both these authors and takes several steps ahead and takes a path in which he stands alone so far and from which many things have yet to be worked out. A brave step in the conservative world of scholarship. Witzel uses different disciplines to come to his conclusions, most notably linguistics, genetics and comparative myth; an approach that he coined “historic comparative myth”. Along the lines of genetics, linguistics and archeology scholars know what peoples came from where and from what predecessors. Witzel uses these trails to compare the mythologies. Genetics has found out that all current humanity stems from one mother. Not that there was one couple at some point, it is just the descendants of other lines did not make it. Linguists are by now beyond groups such as Indo-European and Semitic and have found overarching language groups like Nostratic. Witzel takes his comparative mythology yet another step further (initially, and then a couple more) by reaching a family that he calls “Laurasian”. What is not Laurasian mythology today is “Gondwana” which is in fact the origin or Laurasian mythology. Our common female ancestor is called the “African Eve” and her descendants left Africa (the ‘out of Africa’ theory) some 65.000 years ago and then spread around the world. Along that path Laurasian mythology was developped, other peoples sticked to the Gondwana type. Witzel says to be fairly able to reconstruct the Laurasian “story line” and by comparing Laurasian myth to non-Laurasian, he even catches glimpses of Gondwana mythology. More even, what is common in both, will eventually be the ultimate source of all mythologies: “pan-Gaean”, into which the author gives a peek as well.
Witzel’s book is not a ‘comparative myth’ book, but a book in which Witzel explains and builds his theory. He also looks at (possible) counterarguments and deals with questions that are left. Indeed, his theory is a theory in childhood, but after 20 years of investigation, Witzel found it time to present it to the world and have his colleagues stab at it.
I suppose the book will raise quite some resistance. Linguistics say that reconstruction of language beyond a few thousand years is impossible and Witzel has to work with reconstructions based on reconstructions (of language and mythology) to go back tens of thousands of years. The book makes staggering jumps in time and, like I said, leaves little of the theories of Eliade and especially Dumézil, but it does confirm with my Traditionalistic outlook (in a way) that there is a common origin of everything. “The Origins Of The World’s Mythologies” makes an interesting read with tons of little facts and comparisons and a fresh, new theory to think about.
2012 Oxford University Press, isbn 9780199812851