Zingeving In Het Westen * Peter van Abspoel (2016)

I do not often buy books spontaneously, but when my eye fell on a cover with an image of the Berserkr of the Lewis chessboard together with the words “zingeving” (literally: ‘giving meaning’) and “strijdersethos” (‘warrior ethics’) my attention was caught. It quickly became clear that this is not my ‘usual literature’, but it appeared that the author has something to say about the importance of tradition and the loss of it. I decided to take it home.

The author is an anthropologist who spent much time in Africa. The subject of his investigations started to move more towards the West and Van Abspoel is of the opinion that he has such different view on certain developments in Western society, that he needed to write a book about it.

The book is divided in three parts, “tradition”, “warrior ethos” and “Christianity”.
In the first, the author explains what he means with the term “tradition” and what is it in his opinion. This part is interesting. Van Abspoel’s approach is somewhat ‘technical’ which brings another way of looking at the subject. There is a “non-reflexive” way of knowing that has to be transferred to the next generation in order to keep the world in sync with universal harmony.

Then it comes. Based on a few quotes of Georges Dumézil, Van Abspoel says that Germanic society did not have a ‘first function’ and the entire society revolved around passion and blood-lust. The warrior class worked themselves up and became the “first function” in the scheme of Dumézil, the second were the farmers, the third the slaves. Odin, Tyr and Thor were warrior Gods and even the afterlife was all about fighting.
Apparently Van Abspoel missed Odin’s role as a seeker of wisdom and that of magician. Even in the books of Dumézil the author could have found that Tyr and Odin are the Teutonic couple of sovereignty.
Still, the author is of the opinion that the adventure seeking Germans were the reason that the West grew to be anti-traditional. The thesis and the way Van Abspoel supports it are interesting, but I cannot get my head around the fact that a substantial part of the book is based on a badly founded theory.
Rather than saying that Dumézil denied the existence of a sovereign “function” in Teutonic religion, Van Abspoel could have used Dumézil’s remark that the Teutonic pantheon ‘dropped half a function’ and that in society there was (indeed) a big role for the warriors, and worked from there. Now I do not believe Teutonic society was as bloody and anti-egalitarian as Van Abspoel describes it, but I may have been less annoyed by the founding of his theory based on half-read Dumézil.

That said, the ‘furor Teutonicus’ (according to the author) made Germanic tribes disregard tradition, because tradition is about harmony, which would hold back the adventurous Teutons. This way of looking at life, resulted in our hasty society with little regard of the past and the constant rat-race modern man is part of.

With the dawn of Christianity there initially was a return to a traditional way of looking at things (up until the Reformation). Van Abspoel describes how Jesus Christ did not so much try to do away with everything there was and replace it with a new religion, but rather how Christianity gave new color to certain traditions.

Van Abspoel is a fairly ‘technical’ writer. Perhaps his book is meant for a scholarly audience rather than the general public. He founds his theories with many details and there are many repetitions and cross-references in the book. With an approach that was new to me and a theory that I cannot entirely follow, this makes the book quite a touch read here and there.
The most interesting thing of the book, to me, is the way Van Abspoel approaches tradition and explains its importance, even in our own day and age.

As you can judge from the title, the book is written in Dutch, so the audience will be somewhat limited. Perhaps this is a title that Dutch-speaking readers of this website may put somewhere on a ‘future reading list’. It is perhaps too scholarly and little ‘practical’, but one that may make you reconsider some of your own ideas and that is always a good thing.

2016 Vantilt, isbn 9789460042713

De Pansofie Van Comenius * Henk Woldring (2016)

Early 2015 I somehow heard that professor H.E.S. Woldring would present his first book about Jan Amos Comenius with a lecture at the university where he used to lecture. That first book was a biography of Comenius. Two years later the author presents a book about Comenius’ “pansophy” as he called it himself.

The book is only 200 pages and relatively expensive, but like the first book it is a good-looking hardcover. In a large number of short chapters Woldring analyses Comenius’ philosophy and how it developed. He starts with some general remarks about the man Jan Amos Comenius and about his ‘project’. Then follow, roughly chronologically, analyses about Comenius’ philosophy and the books he wrote in different periods. Woldring also uses Comenius’ own “syncritical” method on his own ideas.

Especially towards the end Woldring compares Comenius to contemporaries. The last chapters are inquiries about Comenius’ “style of thinking” and then those of René Descartes and Baruch de Spinoza.

“The Pansophy of Comenius” is an alright read. It is a bit of a guide through Comenius’ books and a reference work to his developing ideas, but it is probably mostly (just) an introduction to the man’s thinking. As the title suggests, the book is written in Dutch.

2016 Damon, isbn 9463400109

The Poetic Edda * Maria Kvilhaug (2016)

I have known the name of the Norwegian Maria Kvilhaug (1975-) for some time, but never got to read anything of her. The apparently most interesting title The Seeds Of Yggdrasil (2012) is very expensive and then my eye fell on this very recent (November 2016) little book with “Six Cosmology Poems” that Kvilhaug had translated herself. What is more, she put the original text and her translations side-by-side and added notes to explain why she made the translations the way she did.

There is a need for these explanations, because Kvilhaug does not shy to come up with wholly different translations from what we are used to. The texts the author translated are the Voluspa, Vafthrudnismal, Grimnismal, Grottasongr, Allvismal and Hyndluliod.
These texts she says are from “creative poets who composed poetry of their own. The Edda poems contain a lot of ancient themes and profoundly Heathen material, but they have also been composed by poets who had an agenda: To convey wisdom through the art of metaphors.” (p. ii)
In the introduction Kvilhaug explains her position further.

The author also sees the symbolism of names and therefor decided to translate most names. The reason is that she thinks the names were not chosen at random, or because they sounded good. Leaving the names untranslated would bereave the reader with some of the depths of the poems. And so Heimdallr becomes “Great World”, Valfadr “Choice-father”, Verdandi “Is About To Happen” and Hoenir… “chicken”.
I will add some parts to the quotes section.

Kvilhaug also plunges into the deep explaning elements of the texts, such as the “I”, “me”, “her”, etc. in the Voluspa. This, with her reflections on the choice of translations, surely does shed a different light on the texts. I do not always find Kvilhaug’s reasoning sound, but often enough her interpretation forces me to think over a stanza again. This in itself, makes the little book (100 pages) a suggested reading.
Also, I had been looking for a while for a book with the original texts together with translations. The lay-out used for this is not the way I would have presented it, but at least I now have such a book. Hopefully Kvilhaug will continue with the remaining texts.

2016 CreateSpace, isbn 1507620926

Vikingen * Luit van der Tuuk (2015)

My father in law bought this book and figured I might want to read it. “Vikingen, Noormannen in de Lage Landen” (‘Vikings, Normans in the Low Countries’) is a revised and expanded version of the same book that the author published in 2008. Van der Tuuk is conservator in the Dorestad museum (and in that capacity I once had a guided tour from him). Dorestad was the most famous Dutch trading town that was sacked and burned down by Viking raiders several times.

It is exactly the image of ravaging barbarians that the author aims to revise. Most information we have about the period of the Viking raids comes from Christian authors who depicted the situation worse than it actually was. Of course they also benefited from depicting the heathens as barbarians.

The book is an enormous summing up of historical events which Van der Tuuk unraveled. He uses writings from different sources and archaeological findings to weave a detailed story of Norse presence in what are nowadays the Netherlands and Belgium.

Some background information about certain events is about as much history as I can ‘handle’, but 336 pages of historical details such as years, dates, names, lineage and the like is a bit too much for me. I guess this is a book for walking historical encyclopedia such as my father in law, but of course if you want a reference book about the age of the Viking raids, this is the one to get.

2015 Omniboek, isbn 9789401906838

The Secret History Of Twin Peaks * Mark Frost (2016)

The brilliant series of Twin Peaks are usually connected to director David Lynch. Lynch was only one of the creators though, Mark Frost being the other. In all the fuss around ’25 year later’, again all attention seems to go to Lynch. And there we have Mark Frost himself publishing a Twin Peaks book just before the launch of the third series. Frost even did an “AMA” (‘ask me anything’) on Reddit a little while back.

So is Frost’s book going to give all the answers about Twin Peaks’ mysteries? The title suggests it does not. “A Novel” it says on the cover. Actually, it is not really a novel either. The book is presented as a found dossier about Twin Peaks, its surroundings, its inhabitants and -indeed- its mysteries.

Let me start by saying that the book is not about the events of the series! It is not even about the same time in which the events of the series take place. The book starts way earlier and ends somewhat later. The book is hardly about characters from the series, but some of them are included. Sometimes it are rather the parents of characters of the series that have a role in the book, or people who are featured in the series marginally are the most important characters of the book.

Like I said, the book is not a story, it is a dossier. An “archivist” got the files from his predecessor and commented on them. Again later an FBI agent gets the files and again commented on them. The files can be anything from notes from personal diaries to top secret files from shady government organisations, field notes of investigations, newspaper clippings and what not.

The book starts around the time the first settlers come to live in the area and it is largely about UFOs. Many times the contents seem more fitting for the X-Files with presidents who know things, governments within governments, etc.

During the course of the book a different light from what we learned from the series is cast upon a few characters that we know. In this way we do learn a few things that the series left open (such as Major Briggs’ secret work) and the Black Lodge and Owl Cave get quite a different meaning, but it is not like you are going to be let in all open questions that the series series, just a few. I do wonder if these new angles will find their way into the new season.

What is a bit too bad is that Frost gave his pompous writing style to almost every person in the book, from Dr. Laurence Jacoby to a 16 year old Andrew Packard.

“The Secret History Of Twin Peaks” makes a fun read, especially when you know the names, but it is not much more than a fun read. You are not ‘missing out’ on the series when you do not read it, nor will the series make more sense when you do.

The book comes in a quite luxury edition with a ‘double cover’, two colour print and thick paper.

2016 Flatiron Books, isbn 1250075580

Frimurerne I Vikingtiden * Arvid Ystad (2016)

“Freemasonry In Viking Times” is a book written by the Norwegian Freemason Arvid Ystad, a civil engineer and layman historian. He chose a subject that you may have run into more often on this website: origins of Masonic symbolism that can be found in prechristian Northern Europe.

The book is written in Norwegian. I have not found a place to get it outside Norway and the publisher (where I ordered it) has no plans for an edition in another language. So I read the book in Norwegian and I wrote an article based on it from this exercise. You can find that article here.

Of course I do not master the language so I am not the right person to judge the book, but what I understand from it there are a few, somewhat thin, read threads, but also a wealth of interesting similarities, several of which were new to me.

I certainly hope the book will raise some attention and that the author will make an English version of it, so I (and other people) can get more to the bottom of Ystad’s information.

The book has some pretty detailed descriptions Masonic ritual and symbolism of “blue Freemasonry” as the author calls it (the first three degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason), so I may need to discourage reading the book to people who plan on joining a lodge, or who have not passed the three mentioned degrees.
The author does mostly refer to the York Rite and probably based his information on some old work(s) of exposure, but in some situations the information just might be a bit too detailed.

Extra points for being one of the few to write about this subject and for the fact that I ran into things new. To get a better idea of the book, read my article about it.

2016 Pax, isbn 9788253038438

Fight Your Own War * Jennifer Wallis (editor) (2016)

I have recently reviewed a few books about (extreme) industrial music and wondered why there is so little information about the German scene in them. To me it seems that German industrial culture has made (and still makes) a big mark on the industrial underground. Well, here we have a book with a title referring to Genocide Organ, so that is a good start.

Fight Your Own War: Power Electronics and Noise Culture is a collection of essays from a variety of authors and with a variety of subjects. After a foreword by Mike Dando (Con-Dom) and an introduction by the editor, we set of with The Genesis of power electronics in the UK. This is, of course, a historical view on early British power electronics with anecdotes. This is probably the better known part of the book, but we also get a similar insight in the Finish, Japanese and American scenes. In Japan noise seems to be experienced differently from Europe or America. There are essays more circling around one project or one person, but also one about the ‘zine culture.
The second part of the book is more focused on the experience of noise and power electronics. The texts here are about experiencing the music life, the shock tactics that are used, the making of these types of music, the development of the scene, etc.
The third part puts the stress on philosophy and ideas, or the lack of them, used many artists. Power electronics as comedy; but also texts more critical towards the scene such as the fiercely feminist text by Sonia Dietrich.

Fight Your Own War is informative, not specific to any part of noise music (not excluding noise rock for example) or a period in time (we go from the early days to 2015). There are reviews and reports of live events, but no interviews. The book is styled like a magazine of times past and makes a descent read. It seems to aim at a more academic level in approach. What stroke me as a bit odd, is the use the terms that appear to be established, but I never ran into them before. “HNW” (‘harsch noise walls’) and “ANW” (‘ambient noise walls’) to refer to certain styles of noise also written as “wall noise”. This appears to be a different style from what I calls “walls of noise”. I guess in Gangleri terminology “HNW”, and especially “ANW” would be “noisescapes” since both appear to be hardly changing sound collages.

Not every text is as interesting as the next, but it is nice to read how artists are either deliberately ambiguous or not at all, why some artists use the imaginary (on stage, in artwork, etc.) that they use, etc. the thought of the artist or the listener. It also becomes clear that listening to noise is something different from listening to ‘normal music’. Indeed you cannot say that you like noise because of the melodies or because of the interplay of the different instruments. You can even ask yourself if listening to noise is enjoyable. Is it a ‘pleasure received through pain’? Such notions are also dealt with in the book.

The book is certainly not an encyclopedia. Many projects are not mentioned and many just in passing. There are a whole lot of names that I never heard before though, nicely mentioned in the index at the end. I do not think that this is ‘the ultimate book about noise’, but it is certainly more varied in approach than other books that I read, so in that regard it may be the best so far if you want to get an idea not just about the music and its history, but also about the artists and the listeners.

2016 Headpress, isbn 1909394408

Germanisches (Neu-)Heidentum In Deutschland * René Gründer (2008)

I had been looking for information about contemporary heathenry in Germany without luck and then I ‘accidentally’ run into this book. I do not even remember how.

“Teutonic (Neo-)Heathenry In Germany” is a small book of 120 pages written with the distant view of an anthropologist and therewith not entirely what I hoped to have found. The book makes a nice read though with some information that I did hope to find.

The book is largely defining definitions and placing contemporary heathenry in a larger context. The author sees three phases for paganism in Germany that also represent three currents. From the 1900’s there are “Völkish” / “folkish” groups, often of an Ariosophic breed. From the 1970’ies there are ecological and New Age groups that grow into “eco-spiritual” and “tribal” groups. Again a few decades later, the “universal” groups start to emerge and the “folkish” elements start to be repressed in the larger heathen community.

Gründer mentions more groups in Germany than I knew, but following his scheme on page 92, I can give you in idea of the heathen landscape in Germany.
Gründer mentions seven groups that he names “ariosophisch”: the Armanen Orde that was founded in 1908 and refounded in 1976. The order currently has about 100 members. The Goden-Orden was founded in 1957 and has about 100 members. The Artgemeinschaft – GGG e.V. was founded in 1951 and has about 150 members. The Dorflinde e.V./ Mittgard-Orden was founded in 1992 and has 10 people involved. The author puts these four groups in the “dogmatic” section of his scheme. “Undogmatic” yet “Ariosophisch” are Arbeitsgemeinschaft naturreligiöser Stammesverbände Europas (ANSE) e.V. (‘working society natural-religious tribal unity from Europe’), number of members unknown. Deutsche Heidnische Front (‘German Heathen Front’) has existed from 1996 until 2005 with about 15 people involved. Arbeitskreiz Naudhiz e.V. was founded in 2000 and has about 20 members.

Gründer not only divides the groups in “dogmatic” and “undogmatic”, but also in “universalistic” and “Völkish”. The second group of “eco-spirituals and tribalists” are halfway universalistic and Völkish. These groups are Yggdrasil-Kreis e.V. (‘Yggdrasil circle’), founded in 1974 and with about 50 members. Germanische Glaubensgemeinschaft e.V. (‘Teutonic faith society’), founded in 1991; 150 donators, around 15 members. Verein für Germanisches Heidentum e.V. (‘Society for Teutonic heathenry’), the German part of the Odinic Rite, founded in 1995 with about 60 members. Those were the “dogmatic” “eco-spirituals”.
“Undogmatic” are the Heidnische Gemeinschaft Berlin e.V. (‘Heathen society Berlin’), founded in 1985; 150 donators, 15 members.

The last group are the “postmodern” and “anti-Völkische” groups with one “dogmatic” group called Nornirs Aett (1994, 18 people involved).
“Undogmatic” are Rabenclan (‘Raven clan’) (1994, 100 members). Eldaring – The Troth Deutschland e.V. (2001, 200 members) and Asatru-Ring-Frankfurt (2005, 20 people involved).

So there you have the ‘scope of heathenry’ in Germany with a tiny bit of history and magnitude. Of course the numbers are from 2008, but this is better than nothing.

There is, of course, more information in this book. Gründer also has a timeline and scholarly reflections which may (or may not) be a reason to get this book.

2008 Logos, isbn 3832521062

Spiritual Body And Celestial Earth * Henry Corbin (1977)

However in writing style, this book is a much easier read than the recently reviewed Swedenborg and Esoteric Islam, this new title proved to be quite a read. It is not like it is extremely big (372 pages a large part notes and biography) and I thought I knew a thing or two about Mazdeism and Shi’ite Islam, but this book constantly gave me a feeling of information overload with descriptions that I did not (immediately) understand or failed to see the connections aimed at. Still the book makes a nice read and some of the traditional texts that are published are beautiful, but it is not like I have a clear idea of what this book is actually about.

The author starts with about 100 pages with his own introduction, descriptions, etc. The subject at hand seems to be the concept of two cities, Hurqalya and Jabalqa, which are part of what Corbin calls the Mundus Imaginalis or “Imaginal world”. Many speculations have been made about the nature of these cities and its inhabitants. After a few of these speculations, Corbin prints “selections from traditional texts” which make out the next 170 pages. The texts are from authors from the 12th to the 19th centuries. Of most of them I never heard, but a better-known author that seems Corbin’s favorite is Shihabuddin Yahya Suhrawardi.

I cannot tell you a whole lot about this book. Perhaps the audience that Corbin aimed at is better versed in near Eastern religion and philosophy than myself. As a layman I can say that the part that Corbin wrote himself is informative enough (but I do not remember much of it) and the traditional texts vary from very dry to more mystical texts, the latter of which I prefer to read.

1977/1989 Bollingen Series, isbn 0691018839

Elon Musk * Ashley Vance (2015)

Not my usual kind of literature. Heck, I do not even have a category for a biography. I read an article about Elon Musk (1971-) best known for owning the Tesla factories, and how this man thinks differently from most people. A friend had just read this biography and by way of variation in reading, I decided to give it a go as well. I did not exactly read Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future in one take. During holidays (after finishing other books that I brought) I read quite a part of the book, but after that it mostly acted as ‘time-fill-up-reading’. The book is not bad or boring or something, but not as groundbreaking as some suggest.

Elon Musk was born in South Africa in 1971. He had an adventurous father and an equally adventurous uncle. Also his youth was not too easy. Musk was a nerd and the whole school knew it, so he was picked upon often. Musk also was an avid reader. So badly even, that after he finished the entire local library, he just started to read encyclopedia. What is more, he remembers everything that he read. Also in his early days, Musk developed a perseverance that is almost unprecedented.

Having fallen in love with computers and his self-taught coding, Musk rolled into projects in the early days of the internet. Two of the most notable were his ideas to make some sort of online Yellow Pages with inbuilt navigation, the next was an online bank. Musk would oversee completion of neither project, but he did make a lot of money of them. (The banking project would become Paypal without Musk.) This money allowed Musk to pursue his much further-reaching ideas.

In a nutshell. In 2003 Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning started with Tesla, a year later Musk stepped in with his big bucks and his big ideas.
In 2006 Musk talked his nephews Peter and Lyndon Rive into starting a company making solar panels called SolarCity and became investor and board member.
In 2008 Musk gathered people and started a space company called SpaceX.
These are the three best-known of Musk’s companies. In the course of the book you will get many, many details about the ups and downs of each company and the way Musk leads this companies: (almost) tyrannically and with a long-term vision decades ahead of anybody else. Musk is both vilified and idolized and the book gives a good idea how. Here we have a man who sets out to try to save the world by making electric cars and solar energy affordable, but since he is not sure that we can make it, he already plans a way for human kind to survive on Mars. These plans span a period longer than his own life, but since there is no time to waste, not only renewable energy, but also space travelling should be affordable, stable and frequent in the near future.

The way Musk works towards these goals is exactly what this book is about. Indeed a look inside the head of a person ahead the rest of human kind in thinking. Somebody who has goals and goes to extremes to achieve them. Are we going to see a shortage in the production of batteries for electric cars in the near future? Build your own “mega factories”! How do you get many people on Mars? See that you can launch rockets multiple times a day instead of once a year. If these things cost Musk a couple of million of dollars of his personal wealth with the risk of loosing them? So be it.

Vance interviewed people close to Musk, people who used to be close to Musk and in the end, Musk decided to be interviewed himself. He will probably not always be overly happy with the book, since the author does not only highlight his good side, but I guess this biography is a fair overview of an extremely driven man; a man with a vision other than making a lot of money or selling gadgets, somebody who is prepared to go further to achieve goals that many governments seem to want to achieve as well. Perhaps we need more of people with a vision and the means to try to achieve them. Not that Musk has only brilliant ideas though, but you can read all about this in this book.

The author seems to have went from being an interested outsider to a ‘Musk-fan’ during the writing of this book. Sometimes the praise seems to be too easily given, but -like I said- Vance does not shy to describe the less-praiseworthy traits of Elon Musk.

A nice read.

2015 Ecco, isbn 0062301233

99 Degrees Of Freemasony * Henning Andreas Klövekorn (2006/2015)

A book about Freemasonry by a man who also writes about Asatru. That could be something for these pages, right? Henning Klövekorn was born in Germany in 1975, lived in South Africa, but now lives in Australia. Klövekorn joined an Austrial lodge in 1997 (age 22). Nine years later the first edition of this book was published. Both this edition and the reprint became so popular that high prices are asked for copies, so in 2015 the author decided to make a print-on-demand version to ensure its accessibility.

Besides being a Freemason Klövekorn is a successive businessman, philanthropist, diplomat and in spite of all this success, openly Asatruar. The book even features a photo of him with a square and compass with two runes in the middle instead of the usual letter G. So would this book fulfill the promise of Klövekorn’s “[w]ork on the Anglo-Saxon of the origins of Freemasonry”? In a way, but not really in depth.

Actually, the book is a fairly general introduction into Freemasonry. What is different about this book from most similar books, is that it is not limited to so-called “regular” Freemasonry. The author also sketches the the rise of ‘progressive’ forms of Freemasonry. Also he gives information about kindred organisations, such as “friendly societies”, other “fraternal societies” (other from Freemasonry), an idea of the wealth of exotic Rites and ‘high’ and ‘side’ degrees, developments within the world of Freemasonry, some history of course and a part of Freemasonry that usually gets less attention, the charitable side of especially Freemasonry in the USA and the UK. At the end there are a few words about Masonic symbolism in art and monuments of Freemasonry.

There are almost 30 chapters which are fairly short. The book touches on a lot of different subjects, but does never really go into any depth. The author’s ‘Anglo-Saxon thesis’ is only touched upon, so maybe the “about the author” refers to another book. What seems to be the basis of this approach is that Freemasonry not only came to the British isles by fleeing Knights Templar, but also by Norse settlers from France who brought with them memories of Northern European life. Also there is a chapter about very early (1250) Freemasonry in Germany.

I think that “regular” Freemasons may not always be too happy with this book, but this is all the better for the many ‘progressive’ kind of Freemasons in this world. I do find it a bit weird that the mixed gender order Le Droit Humain is listed in the chapter “Related and Rival orders” between the Thule Society and the Bavarian Illuminati, while there is also a chapter about women in Freemasonry and Le Droit Humain is a Masonic society.
Also strange, even though this is a third edition, there are some strange errors, such as an alinea that is printed twice and some information that has not been worked out too well so it can cause confusion.

Should you enjoy reading the long lists of elaborate names of high degrees, this book is for you too. The author also deals with the basic symbolism behind a list of degrees.

“99 Degrees of Freemasonry” makes a nice introduction into the subject, but it is not really more than an introduction. It touches upon elements of ‘Masonic myth’ such as Egyptian origins, Knights Templar, etc. Hopefully the book is meant as a step-up to a better foundation of the more ‘controversial’ elements that Klövekorn seems to try to get across. Also it is nice to run into a book that does not shy some less popular angles on the subject. Since it is not expensive (under $ 20,- when you get the printing on demand) this title might be added to your wishlist.

2015 CreateSpace, isbn 9781466467583

Saksische Tradities * Dominick ten Holt (2011)

Apparently there are people in my country interested in and working with the prechristian religion of our area of whom I never heard. Somehow I ran into an announcement of a newly erected Irminsul (or if you cannot read Dutch, try this Google translation). I am not entirely sure what to think of this project, but when I started to look for more information about the people behind this project, I found a book called “Saksische Tradities”, five years old and I never heard of it.

The title page says that there are German and English versions of the book. I did find the German one, but not an English version. If there is somebody who can point me to this English edition, please do.

Dominick ten Holt stepped into his father’s footstep2 by investigating the traditions of the area where both grew up, the Achterhoek, an area in the Province of Gelderland of the Netherlands. The reasoning is that Saxons lived there and the Saxon area was, of course, much larger. In the Western part is the area where the author is from. To the North it reached the coastal area of the Frisians, then going all the way up to Denmark, the Hartz-area in Germany as the farthest East and the Southernmost part is as South as Köln/Cologne. And of course the Saxons crossed the North Sea to the British Isles.

Ten Holt set out to investigate the religion, folklore, customs, etc. of the entire Saxon area thus showing where elements that can be found in Great Britain came from. The chapters sometimes seem especially written for the book, sometimes they are articles that have been published before. They span a variety of subjects spanning from seasonal feasting customs, etymology, expressions of art, folklore, reports of visits of Saxon sites and areas and of course history. The author is fairly fierce towards Christianisation, particularly the role of Charle’magne’ which he dubbed Charles the Butcher (some call him the Saxon-slayer).

Inspite of the focus on Saxon history, the author (actually authors, since there are also texts of Jan ten Holt), there is quite a bit of use of Icelandic sources, sometimes a bit too easily too perhaps. This is, of course, inevitable, but I wonder if an uninformed reader will always be able to tell the source of the information.

However I laude the effort to give extra attention to the tradition of the particular area and even more so because it is placed in a larger context, but I do not find the book particularly good or convincing. It is mostly gathered information that I already ran into in other places and nothing is specific enough for ‘Achterhoek aha moments’. The book may only be a step up to a larger and better worked out project, but I have not heard of any follow ups of it.

A positive side is that the book mentions visit-worthy sites that I was so far unaware of. Some ‘neo’, like the authors own runestone and a stonecircle of a group called Athanor, but there is also information about interesting remains in areas that I sometimes visit, but was unaware of.

It looks like the first printing is starting to run out, but the book is not too easy to find second hand. Neither is it very expensive and it is nicely printed and comes in a hardcover with photos and about 270 pages of content.

A nice surprise.

2011 Uitgeverij Van de Berg, isbn 9789055123582

Philosophia Symbolica * Cis van Heertum (2005)

A decade and a half or so ago, I was very interested in Hermetism, (Christian) Kabbalah and the like. I travelled to the Amsterdam Bibliotheca Philosophica Hermetica (or Ritman Library) every once in a while. That has been quite a while. Some time ago I wondered if the library would have publications that I do not have yet and I noticed this book about Johannes Reuchlin (1455-1522). Wondering why I never came to get it (or why I did not visit the exhibition!) I got this well-printed book for only € 10,-. Actually it is an exhibition catalogue, but at the BPH, a catalogue is never just a dry summing up of the items on display.

The book is about A4 in size and counts just over 100 pages. As with other BPH exhibition catalogues, there is a lot of information in the book. From the book you can learn how Reuchlin was in contact with people such as Marcilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Trithemius and many more of the interesting people of his time. Pico acquainted Reuchlin with the Kabbalah and he had yet another branch to add to his quickly growing library. Hebrew books, and Kabbalistic books in particular, were very hard to find in these days.
There is quite a bit of focus on Reuchlin’s role in the situation of the forbidding of Jewish books. He had a standpoint that brought him quite a bit of trouble. He did not want all Jewish books destroyed.
You will also learn about Reuchlin’s library and what happened to the books after he passed (most were only destroyed during WWII!), what else he wrote about and how his works inspired people who came after him.
You will not learn too much about his Kabbalistic ideas though.

Like I said, the book is actually the catalogue of an exhibition that the BPH had on Reuchlin in 2005/6 to celebrate the 550th anniversary of his birth. The BPH has a massive collection of ancient esoteric books, many originals and first or early prints. Still they had some works come from other libraries for this exhibition. The items on display included works of Ficino, Pico, Eusebius, Pythagoras, Agrippa, Trithemius, Gikatilla, Khunrath, Böhme and Fludd. Of course many works of Reuchlin himself were displayed.
Each displayed item gets a shorter or longer explanation.

There are not a whole lot of images in the catalogue (too bad), but the catalogue makes a very nice read about an interesting person living in an interesting time.

2005 In De Pelikaan

Voices of Modern American Asatru Women * Steffanie Snyder (2009)

This is Snyder’s dissertation for her Master’s degree at the Union Institute & University. She put it up on Lulu and you can buy it looking probably quite like what she handed over to her instructors. A ringed, 80 page, A4 booklet with space for all the authographs of approval and a lot of white between the lines. Oddly enough some typos are left. Also Snyder uses some strange transliterations, such as “Seith” (the word is not Seiþr, but Seiðr) and the author is very consequent in leaving away accents (so am I most of the time). Perhaps a word for the reasons would have been in order.

This paper is quite like the book of Jennifer Snook, but predates that investigation by six years. Snyder interviewed 15 women who adhere “the Asatru religion”. These interviews are woven into a story with here and there quotes from the interviews. The questions that the ladies got, are printed in the back, along with a glossary (other terms are explained in notes) with sometimes a bit too easy explanations. All the way in the back is a short bibliography which includes titles from Titchenell, Thorsson/Flowers and Gardell but also Strmiska.

The interviewees (including Diana Paxton of The Troth and Sheila McNallen of the Asatru Folk Assembly) were asked how they see their religion, how they perceive the role of women and how this relates to the Goddess movement, magic, ethnicity and how they see the future of Asatru.
Just as Snooks book shows, there is a lot of overlap between the different approaches to Asatru, but also many differences, also fundamental differences. Snyder approached women in a variety of approaches and says a few times that even though “Asatru” is a somewhat limiting term within the larger “pagan” movement, it still covers a variety of interpretations. These differences mostly show in the subjects of heathen clergy and ethnicity. It is also in these types of subjects that I (as a European) see much difference between European and American heathenry.

What is much different from Snooks book is that where Snook investigated obviously as an experienced insider, Snyder never says where she stands. Is she an interested outsider or, like Snook, an insider with academic aspirations?

This little book may not bring a whole lot of new insights, but there are not that many investigations into contemporary heathenry and it is not very expensive, so it may make a nice in-betwee-read for you some time.

2009 Lulu.com

Idunna #100 (2014)

In 1987 The Ring Of Troth was one of the organisations coming forth from the Asatru Free Assembly (the other was the Asatru Alliance, which would later become the Asatru Folk Assembly). The Ring Of Troth was founded by Edred Thorsson and James Chisholm. The former left the organisation in 1995 due to controversies around his membership of the Temple Of Seth. Thorsson is of course nowadays more famous for running the Rune Gild and as an author on eoteric heathen topics.

The Troth came up with something smart. They digitalised their periodical Idunna which is now available from the self-publishing-on-demand company Lulu.com. You can pick an ebook or printed version. Each and every issue, from the first of 1988 to the 103th of Spring 2015 is available from Lulu. When I noticed this, I looked around which issue(s) to buy and I figured I would try the 100th issue (Summer 2014) because it is a ‘best of’ compilation. That should give a good idea of the development of the magazine.

#100 Opens with a recent and an old “Steersman”s introduction. Then follow two (relatively) famous (ex?) members, the earlier mentioned Thorsson and Eric Wodening who is nowadays better known as a major figure in the þheodism-movement (his brother Swain is also featured by the way). Now of course The Troth is an “inclusive” heathen organisation, so a þeodsman, Asatruar or whatever kind of heathen can still be a member, but those are not the first names I expected. Two people who I did expect are Kveldulf Gundarsson and Diana Paxson who are, of course, featured. Of Winifred Hodge a text about oathing is reprinted. Then follows a text is about Seiðr (by Jordsvin), a fairly odd (yet amusing) text about psychic ‘warfare’. There are texts about Alfar, hospitality, handicraft, cooking and there is poety and some humour. The best text (in my opinion) is Ben Waggoner’s “Some Thoughts on Evolution”, a heathen take on the creation of things of someone who is a teacher on the subject of evolution in his ‘normal life’.

The 100th Idunna is an A4-sized, magazine-styled, 50 page publication, quite like the normal issues I assume. They did not turn the celebration issue into a thick book or anything looking more festive than a regular issue. The upside of that is that also this issue costs only $ 6,- like any other issue. The lay-out looks a bit like somebody is still trying to find his/her way with DSP software (‘desktop publishing’). Some articles are printed in one column, other in two, yet other in three. Fortunately the fonts and font-size are the same throughout the publication, but the headings get all kinds of weird fonts. A matter of taste I asume.

I guess #100 gives a descent overview of almost three decades of Idunna with a variety of subjects and authors. I found it mostly just an amusing read with a couple of more interesting texts. An intention to buy and read all other issues did not really grow from this encounter, but I guess that when I will make some Lulu order in the future, I just might get myself one or two Idunnas again.

2014 Lulu.com

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Last quotes

The Open Mouth

Gap Var Ginnungaga = “The Open Mouth of the Sacred Descendants was (existed)”. From gap = “open mouth” (indicating something ready to swallow something), var = “was”, “existed”, ginnr = “sacred” and unga = genitive plural of ungr = “descendant”, “child”, “lineage”.

Maria Kvilhaug in The Poetic Edda p. 6 (note 5)

In the beginning was the Wave

Ar var alda = “In the beginning was the Wave” is a very controversial interpretation that is not found in other translations. My interpretation is based in the understanding that ár is the ON adverb ór which means “in the beginning”. It follows that var (“was”) refer to the singular noun which was in the […]

Great World

Heimdallr = “Great World” from ON heimr = “world” and dallr = “splendid”, “awsome”, “great”, “dazzling”. An Aesir/Vanir deity.

Maria Kvilhaug in The Poetic Edda p. 5 (note 3)


The name “Chicken” (in plural) [Hoenir] is funny and mysterious on a character that actually bestows intelligence to human kind – perhaps the incessant clucking of chicken is a metaphor for how the thinking mind makes noise?

Maria Kvilhaug in The Poetic Edda p. 12 (note 21)

Spiritual grace

Certain Hindus of old blessed our epoch not because it is good but because, being bad, it includes by way of compensation spiritual grace that make easy what is in itself difficult, provided man is sincere, pure, humble, and persevering.

Frithjof Schuon in Prayer Fashions Man

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