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
It is good that Amazon recommended me this book, because I do not recall having heard of it before they did. It becomes a bit blurry. Like the first Aristokratia, this journal is published by Manticore Press. Since it looks like the journals that are nowadays published under the name of Numen Books, I simply ‘tagged’ this book ‘Primordial Traditions’, the precursor of Numen Books. But, Numen Books will remain Numen Books and Primordial Traditions seems to come rising from its ashes, so I might have to divide them afterall.
In any case, “Aristokratia” forms the more political arm of Primordial Traditions. The journal comes with 320 pages consisting of 17 essays and 7 book reviews. Three articles are from the hand of Gwendolyn Taunton (another reason to see the link) who delivered some very nice texts. Especially her “Emperor Of The Sun” is an interesting read. Taunton takes the theories of Dumézil a step further and more practically (in contast to Dumézil’s theoretical approach) applies it to far Eastern polics in the past. In another article Taunton aims to portray Julius Evola’s actual ideas by going beyond the characterisations of supporters and opposers. Some other authors we know from the first volume of this journal. Like I said, “Aristokratia” is a more political journal and some essays not only describe the state of contemporary politics, but also offer new insights and ideas. Not all essays are political though. Some are more philosophical and/or tradionalistic.
The journal starts off wonderfully, but in the last third there are a couple of texts that I did not find too appealing and did not read them very attentively.
All in all another interesting journal though and a good addition to the ‘Primordial Traditions series’.
2014 Manticore Press, isbn 0987559834, Aristokratia website
Again a compilation of lectures and articles by René Guénon compiled in a book. Originally this book was published under the title Le Symbolisme De La Croix in 1931. The first English translation was published in 1962, but I have the fourth revised edition of 2001. I actually bought this thin book (150 pages) waiting for another book of Guénon that took longer to get. I liked the idea of a book by Guénon about symbolism rather than his more ‘philosophical’ works and that also makes this book a step up the other one that by now is in my possession as well.
It is quite amazing how deep the author went into the symbolism of the cross. The book is not just about the symbol, but Guénon writes about directions of space, opposites, states of being, the serpent and what not. You get the idea, this book is not about a sign made up of two stripes, but about a symbol. Especially in the first half of the book this is very intesting and in general Guénon sheds light on sides of the symbol that I would have never thought of. This is not a book to learn about Guénon, his ideas and Traditionalism, but it does form an aspect of the matter the man dealt with of course.
2001 Sophia Perennis, isbn 0900588659
Rama (1929-2006) was the son of Ananda (1877-1949) and however raised in his father’s tradition (Hinduism), Rama converted to Catholicism after his father died because he found that more fitting when living in the West. In the current book, Rama does not appear to be a Traditionalist like his father, but a traditionalist / fundamentalistic Catholic. Where his father sees One Source for all religions, Rama is exclusivistic. Now this is not strange when you think about the purpose of the book, but the author takes his stand so firmly that as I was reading the book I increasingly had the feeling that however much I understand the position, I have growing problems agreeing with it.
Basically the idea is simple, like with the position of the ‘Traditionalist School’ actually. The Catholic Church exists to represent the ideas and Church founded by Christ and his apostles, of course, unaltered since otherwise the Church would say Christ was wrong. Still the Church does alter the teachings and organisation of the original Church, especially during and after the second Vatican council of 1962 to 1965. The new Church thinks that Christianity has to be brought up to date thus incorporating ideas of progress, evolution, humanism, socialism, etc. exclusivisity is dropped and the Pope is not as infallible as he usd to be. I understand the position of the Church. When members leave and the minds of those that stay grow accustomed to Western ways of thinking, how would anyone stop the loosing of members? I also appreciate the author’s position which is completely logical, but often collides with the Western way I think myself. Moreover, the author is uncompromising, also in his language, so I think that his book will not appeal to the average Catholic, just to the (to use the word) fundamentalists. It is very interesting to read Coomaraswamy’s minituous account of changes made in the Doctrines, mass, etc. though and he forces me to continuously consider how much of a Traditionalist I really am. I can assure you that this is no easy or fun book to read. His examples are clear, his conclusions far-reaching. Perhaps you (too) can read the book of a test of ‘your Traditionalism’ and/or to learn about the orthodoxy of the current Church.
2006 World Wisdom, isbn 0941532984
The third book that the author sent me to review seems to be aimed at a different audience than the other two books. “Beyond The River’s Gate” is more a book for the new spiritual seeker, or at least, the seeker that has not yet found his path and can use a little help to find the right direction. The book is very general in the first parts. In a Q-and-A between a traveller and a master you can read about life and death, reincarnation, Karma, the spritual path, etc. Here and there the words used suggest that the book is written from a certain perspective. In easy descriptions and with examples, the author tells his readers about spirituality. The book tends to be somewhat repetitive and the Q-and-A-form is not entirely my thing. Lateron there are anecdotes, short stories, etc. and here the author is clear about the point that the starting point is the Sufi tradition of his master (that we can read about in Sufism For Western Seekers.
I think I am not the audience that Bitkoff aims for with this book, but if you are still searching or just curious about a man’s spiritual journey and how this stands in the life of a Westerner, you might just want to read Bitkoff’s latest book.
2014 Abandoned Ladder, isbn 0991577507
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