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.


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 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.


Rites And Religions Of The Anglo-Saxons * Gale R. Owen (1985)

It had been a while since I read a book like this. On a forum somebody asked about ASH sources (Anglo-Saxon Heathenry) and somebody recommended this book. It is available cheaply second hand, so that was a good inducement to read something ‘heathen’ again.

The persion inquiring about ASH sources might have had a book in mind solely about Anglo-Saxon heathenry. Owen continuously refers to Scandinavian heathenry. This is not unexpectedly, since however there certainly are Anglo-Saxon sources, the Eddas, etc. give a much more complete look at the world of Gods and spirits. Rites And Religions does give a good idea about what is available for Anglo-Saxon souces though. The cross-references are needed to put things in perspective and to explain things that are not available in Anglo-Saxon sources.

The most interesting chapter is the opening chapter “Gods and Legends”. It has quite a few images, quotes from tales and poems and general information about Gods and the like. A chapter about every day life is followed by a chapter about inhumation versus cremation. Both ways of disposing of the bodies of the deceased existed alongside eachother. The fourth chapter about ship burials starts interestingly, but soon becomes but an extremely detailed description of what was found where and when. Something similar happens in the chapter about “The Arrival of Christianity”. The chapter is overflooded with details about artifacts and the like. The last chapter about the Viking age has a few interesting points, but also here tends towards the very historic approach.

The book is good to get a general idea of Anglo-Saxon history, but I did not alway found it a great read. I suppose it works well as something to read as starters on the subject.

There are several versions of this book by the way, published by different publishing houses. I got the following:

1985 Dorset Press, isbn 0880290463

Noise/Music A History * Paul Hegarty (2007)

The author is “a Lecturer in Philosophy and Visual Culture” in Ireland. Also he has a label (Dot Dot Dot Music) and he “occasionally performs in the noise “bands” Safe, and Working With Children.” He writes books about music and about philosophy.

In the current title you will find many references to philosophers such as Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Georges Bataille and more. Also, the term “noise” is not used in the same way as I use it on this website, to refer to a specific kind of (industrial) music. For Hegarty “noise” can be anything from consciously playing with the listeners’ expectations, to intentional ‘mistakes’, to unruly ‘messages’ (or the lack of them) to sounds that are unpleasant. Therefor the book is not just about industrial music.

The book has chapters about early musical experimentations, jazz music, rock music, industrial music and hiphop and then more in depth about the scene in Japan and then Merzbow in particular. The last chapters are about sound-art and about sampling. The author knows a massive amount of bands and projects, largely unknown to me (except for in the chapters about industrial). He discusses the (possible) functions of noise in music and the different ways of making noise. Somewhat generally speaking, the book is about the history of experimental and avant-garde music. It is not always clear how one type of music ‘grew’ from another, but I can say that the book will teach you a bit about the context where much of the music reviewed on this website can be placed in.

2007/2015 Bloomsbury, isbn 0826417272

Swedenborg And Esoteric Islam * Henry Corbin (1995)

I had heard of the French author Henry Corbin (1903-1978) a couple of times and I thought it was time to read something of this author whom some regard as a Traditionalist, others certainly do not. He definately was a scholar in comparitive religion.

I set out for titles that are well available and potentially interesting. The thin (160 pages) “Swedenborg And Esoteric Islam” is one of the two books that I got.

The title of this book suggests that Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) had something to do with esoteric Islam, that the former was influenced by the latter or vice versa, but that is not what this book is about. Corbin taught Islamic studies at the Sorbonne University and he deeply studied Swedenborg. He certainly found resemblances, but that does not mean that there are direct links between the two subjects of this book.

The translator Leonard Fox says in his introduction that Corbin does not have an easy writing style. He sure is right about that! The book does not make an easy read. It is a bit like a mash of information not too well structured to easily make sense. Yet the book makes a good read. As for Islam, the author mostly focusses on Isma’ilism, a branch of Shi’ism (also: Shia Islam), but other forms of Islam are also written about.

There are chapters about the Hermeneutics of Swedenborg, that of Isma’ilism and of course there are comparisons between the two. Sometimes Corbin goes so deeply into a subject, that it is hard to figure out how this information fits into the whole of the book. The subjects that are dug out in both ‘systems’ mostly are the story of Noah and the flood and what Corbin called the “imagninal world”.

It is quite interesting to see much distinct philosophies used to explain each-other. This way of working brings some surprising comparisons and unexpected clarifications even when the book requires some effort to read.

1995 Swedenborg Foundation, isbn 9780887851837

England’s Hidden Reverse * David Keenan (2003/2016)

I knew about this book because it was (is?) high up the wish-list of a few friends. It has been out of print for ages and has long been up for a reprint. I was reminded about it because it is advertised in the back of “Industrial Evolution“. That book is about Cabaret Voltaire, but it also describes the foundation of SAF Publishing who published the first version of “England’s Hidden Reverse” in 2003. That print is now exchanging hands for preposterous prices. By the time I was reminded of the title, I had no problem of getting the Strange Attractor Press reprint for a descent price.

The book is subtitled “A Secret History of the Esoteric Underground” which suggests (to me at least) that the focus may not be entirely on music. That is not really the case though. You will learn something about the (developing) interests of the people described, but the focus is by far mostly the music.
Amazon lists a first-print hardcover with has “Coil-Current 93-Nurse with Wound” in the title. There -indeed- you have the main players of the book. The book is mostly built on inderviews with David Tibet (mostly known for Current 93), (ex-)members of Coil (John Balance, Drew McDowall, Ossian Brown, Peter Christopherson, Stephen Thrower) and people involved in Nurse With Wound (Steven Stapleton, Andrew Liles, Heman Pathak, John Fothergill). Also people like Genesis P-Orridge, William Bennett, Douglas Pearce and Rose McDowell have been interviewed along with (ex-)partners of the ‘main characters’.

The book has a bit of an odd style. It is divided into chapters, but within these chapters the different alinea can suddenly be about another person, so you are reading about the youth of David Tibet and the next thing you know you are reading about John Balance. The content is often very personal. The interviewees talk about their lives, dreams, drug experiments, addictions, relations and sex-lives. Of course you will also learn a lot about the musical development of the people involved. What and who influenced them? How did they get to know all the people they collaborated with?

The result shows a rather diffuse net (or “family”) of people who grow towards eachother and apart again, who live together and split up again and of course: who sometimes make music together. This “family” also consists of other kinds of artists such as writer William S. Burroughs or director Derek Jarman.

“England’s Hidden Reverse” makes a nice read with people with broad interests in all kinds of fields, whose personalities develop (like Tibet from a shadowy occultist to a Buddhist to a Chritian and who started making electronic (noisy) music and would shift towards a more folky sound). Especially numerous names of vague bands and projects are mentioned, forgotten releases and many, many albums of the mentioned projects that I never heard.

It would have been nice had the book lived up a bit more to my expectation based on the subtitle. Here and there you get a glimpse of the philosophy of some person, the weird rituals that they performed, the authors that they are interested in and the way they meet musicians because of a shared interest in (for example) Crowley. Speaking of Crowley, there are some odd family ties to him for more than one person in the book. These occult, esoteric, philosophical and religious sides of the people involved are usually just mentioned in passing and nowhere goes into any depth.

My conclusion would be that this book is mostly of interest of people curious about the musical (and to a certain extend personal) development of the members of “family” around Current 93, Coil and Nurse With Wound. For a peek into the ‘occult underground’ you may need to find another title.

2003 SAF Publishing, 2014 Strange Attractor Press, isbn 0946719403

“Freemasonry” And Ritual Work * Rudolf Steiner (2007)

I ran into this book when I was doing a little investigation into Steiner’s ‘Masonic adventure‘. Halfway the book I had enough information to write that article, but I finished the book before I wrote this review.

As you can see in the article, it is not really Freemasonry what this book is about. Steiner wanted to form a lineage for his esoteric school and opted for an irregular form of Freemasony: the Rite of Memphis-Misraim. Therefor one of the working titles for the group was “Misraim Dienst” or “Misraim Service” in the English translation.

The book contains a lengthy introduction of how Steiner came in contact with the Rite of Memphis Misraim, how the Antroposophical Society started and its Esoteric School. The English translation differs of the German introduction in view. Like most books of Rudolf Steiner, this book is a collection of lectures, notes, etc. that have been compiled and published after Steiner’s death. The current title also has notes of students, scans of drawings and sketches, etc.

The first part of the book is really about the Misraim Dienst itself, but about halfway the book switches to lectures that were not necessarily for the esoteric group, but can just as well just touch on a related subject. When the lectures do speak of the rituals or an element therefrom, they can still be lengthy exposes about what the earth and humans looked like in the time of Lemuria or Atlantis, things that Steiner claimed to know from “the Akasha chronicles”, clairvoyant investigations.

It is safe to say -therefor- that the current title is a relatively typical Antroposophical publication, but what is different from most Steiner titles is that this book clearly shows the esoteric side of Antroposophy and Rudolf Steiner. It is a book that is probably interesting for Freemasons because there are both similarities and big differences to Masonic rituals. People interested in Steiner and Antroposophy might enjoy reading lectures that were never meant to be public, but Steiner’s death changed that idea.
I find the first half interesting, the second half a bit ‘too much’ here and there.

2007 SteinerBooks, isbn 0880106123

The Essential Vedanta * Eliot Deutsch & Rohit Dalvi (editors) (2004)

For a long time I had wanted to read texts of the Advaita Vedanta and a while ago I ran into this title. The title is promising. The subtitle is too: “A New Source Book of Advaita Vedanta”. That sounds like some sort of ultimate collection of Vedantic texts. It is published by a Traditionalistic publishing house which was also a reason to purchase it.

The back cover quotes Richard Brooks saying: “[This book] is overall an excellent collection of Advaita philosophic literature”. Indeed it is “philosophic”. The book proves again that I do not have a whole lot of feeling for philosophy, whether Western or Eastern. I guess I expected more religious type of texts, but the texts are actually very much philosophical.

The best part of the book are the 80 page introduction and the short summery at the end. These texts are written by the editors, nicely to the point and well-structured. The rest of the book is filled with texts of Vedantic thinkers from many upto a few centures ago. The names are well-known and lesser-known (at least, to me), the most famous of course being Samkara. Especially in the first part of the translated texts, they are very long. Towards the end there are some shorter texts. There are translations that have been published before and translations that were not available until this book came out. The editors compiled the translations and did not make them themselves. Inspite of the number of different translators, the translations are nicely consistent in style and choice of words/terms. Perhaps the book costed quite some editing.

Like I said, the texts are very philosophical. Different views are combed through, other ways of thinking analysed and all that in (mostly) long stretched texts with many repetitions. I found it hard to keep my attention on more than a few occasions. I prefer to read more to the point texts or -like I said in the beginning- religious texts.

Perhaps this book is indeed the (or: an) ultimate book about Advaita Vedanta and I just had other expectations of the sort of texts that this ‘current’ produced and I should just get myself a translation of Vedas. When you are interested in Eastern philosophy, this book may be a good one to read up on Advaita Vedanta from very old to old.

2004 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532526

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