Tag Archives: germanic

Non-binary Mysteries: 2-Solar and Lunar Symbolism

Prompt 2 of the non-binary mysteries roundtable involves Solar and Lunar Symbolism. Which is an incredible coincidence because I was just thinking about my own (probably strange) understanding of the Sun and Moon the other day, and how to write about it in the series of god posts that I’m creating to elaborate on my pantheon (you can find the first one here, that style is what I’m planning to write about each god/wiht with).

Some of the original prompts are not shown here due to not applying in my particular case.

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 Who are the sun/moon deities that make most sense to you? Are they even from your tradition?

The concepts that make the most sense to me is the Female Sun/Male Moon concept, along with no gender associations at all. However, that’s for the actual celestial objects, the literal Sun and Moon. The sun’s part in photosynthesis and being essentially a source of life energy, along with being the center of the solar system and source of Earth (well, kinda, it’s a lot more complicated in actual astronomical theory but hopefully you get what I mean), gives the Sun more of a motherly feel in my mind. I sometimes consider her more specifically like a Grandmother, since she “gave birth” to the Earth and the Earth “gave birth” to everything else, including us. But, in general, the Sun feels female. Hence, I keep to the Germanic side of things and call her Sunna.

The moon feels male. The reason for this will probably not make sense to some, or even be offensive, but it is what it is for my particular situation. My family is mostly female, and has always been centered around the women, particularly the mothers. The women run the house, keep things in order, and are the primary authority on things (i.e. “go ask your mother” was what the fathers usually said). The men are more external (all the women are biological relatives, while only a few of the men are) and more transient. Likewise, the moon is also more external and aloof, drifting in and out of different phases and exerting an indirect effect on existing life rather than directly producing it (I’m aware that this isn’t the most scientific of generalizations, but I’m not intending it to be such in the first place). Therefore the moon is Mano.

While Sunna and Mano are Germanic gods and therefore are a part of my tradition, my imagination was heavily influenced by a friend’s stories of their gods, namely the solar goddess Karijiana and the lunar god D’miezak’r.  They’re both an excellent writer and artist, so for several years I would read and see beautiful stories and depictions of those two and it’s stuck in my mind to this day, even if some of the stories and attributes aren’t relatable to my tradition. But their stories were my first introduction to the concept of a female Sun and male Moon in a time when all I ever heard were people worshiping a female Moon and male Sun. Reading about Karijiana and D’miezak’r made something click for me and from then on I became more comfortable with the idea of understanding the Sun and Moon as deities.

Now to make matters a bit more confusing. I also have a male Solar deity and a female Lunar deity in my pantheon that are associated with the sun and moon, but it’s not certain if they’re literally the sun and moon. Napkirály and Hold Anya are (as far as I can tell) the Magyar versions of sun and moon deities. Yet, when trying to research how they were historically understood, I could only find snippets that were mostly focused on Napkirály and none of those snippets depicted him as being the literal sun. Hold Anya was worse, as I only had her name. Presumably she was not the literal moon as well, because other snippets suggested that the Sun and Moon were regarded as gender-neutral balls floating high in the sky in old Hungarian sources. I’m hoping to find more, but for now most of my understanding of the two deities are UPG. Basically, Napkirály and Hold Anya are cultural associations to what the sun and moon are observed doing, where Napkirály will fly over the Earth, keeping an eye on everything that’s happening and Hold Anya being associated with the tides and menstrual cycles.

To be quite honest though, cultural stories aside, for the most part these deity names are just names and the Sun and Moon are essentially celestial bodies/forces of nature to me, rather than humanistic gods with personalities and stories. They are impersonal beings that create cycles by which humans make calendars and the natural world changes. They influence all of life as we know it, and will be here practically forever (relative to human lifespans).

What bugs you most about the way solar/lunar symbology is constructed or described?

I really do not like patriarchal male sun gods and the associations with order and authority. Just rankles me for some reason (but then again that’s probably due to my irrational dislike for Greek and Roman mythology that was brought upon by my schools and by Neopaganism).

I can’t think of strong issues with any lunar symbology, though I do find the Maiden/Mother/Crone association with Waxing/Full/Waning to be a little tiresome and completely useless for me, due to the whole uterus=woman implications there. At least the earth being a mother makes sense since there’s literal growth and birth going on, but the moon? Nah. Being associated with menstruation is one thing, but having all stages of female life being centered solely on the uterus is another thing entirely. Bringing the moon into it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Do you have sun/moon UPG that integrates your identity?

Kind of, but not intentionally. Like I mentioned before, I usually hold the literal Sun and Moon as being female and male, respectively. However, while the Sun feels very firmly female and I’m highly uncomfortable with seeing her as male, the Moon I find feels both male and female, shifting back and forth like the phases. This was something that I felt before understanding my own gender identity, so it’s probably just a coincidence. However, I always had a fondness for the Moon and the common associations, such as silver and nighttime. So maybe it’s not a coincidence after all.

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Being Heathen

It’s a term that can be seen throughout my posts, both in reference to myself and to the contemporary religious category. If you try to google it, you end up with a variety of definitions, ranging from the archaic to the racist, and many with conflicting viewpoints.

So what do I mean when I say I’m Heathen?

  • Worldview, traditions, and ideas are rooted in historical, archeological, folkloric, and linguistic evidence for pre-Christian cultures. Experimentation and UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) are individual, private, and secondary in “truthfulness”. Even then, the UPG should still be rooted in something factual rather than be completely made up or ripped from an unrelated topic or group.
  • Ancestor veneration is central to my personal practice, particularly of the female ones (known as the itis).
  • The home or hearth is the center of my universe so to speak, both in a literal and symbolic sense (the physical home and the friends/family symbolically allowed within it). Relative to the home are concentric circles extending outward from it; the further away one is from my “home” the less of a personal connection they have to me.
  • Deity veneration, with few exceptions, is a communal practice*, and patron deities are extremely rare. If one has a personal relationship with a deity, they are considered to be pledged to the deity, not patronized by them.
  • Local spirits can also venerated as gods and/or respected as neighbors and stewards (local meaning both those considered local to my ancestors as well as physically local to where I live).
  • Wihts (“beings”) have various levels of interactions and importance, with the general trend being the high gods at the top-level of importance (they are relevant to many people/rule over a large region/rule over a major function) and everything else is below (more localized to my area/my personal life). The high gods also have the least amount of interaction with me, while the lower tiers have more (i.e. the ancestors).
  • Celebrations are rooted in the seasons, holy days, and local community activities, rather than astronomical cycles.
  • World-accepting rather than world-rejecting. To put it bluntly, “what you see is what you get”, there is no guarantee of a pretty afterlife or chance of reincarnation to make up for this life, therefore I live as if they don’t exist at all.
  • Magic is the realm of certain few individuals and is meant to be practical in nature, rooted in the ancient drive to survive. It can be used to help or harm (often it can be both).
  • Actions make the person, and every action has consequences.
  • Luck is a serious matter, as it can be handed down unintentionally through generations and be modified by one’s own actions for better or for worse.

Keep in mind that this is a general framework based on Reconstructionist heathen ideas, and the generalities are only similarities I appear to share with other heathens. Where I deviate is my source material, as my personal heathen practice is rooted in the cultural traditions and beliefs from (primarily) Eastern Austria, Hungary, and (secondarily) Southern Poland (and their respective sources). Hence the reference to the Danube in the blog title/address and my uncommon mythological references (the Magyar gods instead of Scandinavian ones for example). The names for my “religion” can also be called ősi hit or firner situ (both translate into “old beliefs”/”old customs”).

*This is an ideal based on how it was done in the past; many heathens like myself are forced to go it alone and therefore unable to practice communal worship, even though we would like to.

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Book Review: The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation by James C. Russell

The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity: A Sociohistorical Approach to Religious Transformation by James C. Russell (ISBN 0-19-510466-8)

If the title didn’t already clue you in on this, this is a very dense book (here’s the google book excerpt to demonstrate). Which makes sense, as this is an expansion of the author’s doctoral dissertation. However, this density, among other aspects, means that a book like this can be highly appreciated by some, and greatly disappointing to others. My review is from the perspective of someone who is interested in European history/culture for both personal hobby and pagan religion/culture purposes.

The main purpose of the book is to show how Christianity, and the European cultures (primarily German tribes in the case studies selected) influenced and changed each other. As the title suggests, the author is in support of the idea that Christianity was modified to suit the Germanic tribes (and Celtic tribes too, it was hard to tell them apart back then), rather than the people adopting the Christian belief systems as it was initially.

As mentioned by Dr. Russell, the book is divided into two parts, with the first being used to set up and explain the players in the game of Christian history. There is a lot of discussion on the early Christian church’s interactions with Greece, Rome, and the rest of the Mediterranean world, which is used as a model to compare to later interactions. The second half of the book zooms in on the efforts to spread Christianity above the Alps through the Roman empire, and focuses heavily on the Germanic tribes and later Germanic or Germanized states.

In the first 2 chapters, the author provides an overview and some definitions to initiate the set-up of his religious transformation model. He starts with contemporary instances where Christianity is trying to convert people through missionaries (such as in Africa and East Asia), and why they are not successful. He touches upon aspects of these cultures that share traits with the old tribes of Europe, primarily the Germanic ones. The main aspect he finds is that lack of any need that Christianity could serve to fill, as stable societies and clans tend to not want to give up the good life in order to be saved and taken away to another, unknown world.

This eventually leads into his discussion of Greece and Rome in Chapter 3, and the nature of world-rejecting (the belief that existence occurs beyond the world or state of being we see; this includes Christianity, Islam, Wicca, and Buddhism) vs. world-accepting religions (basically, what we see is what we get; this is present in lots of traditional pagan cultures). A brief history of Classical Greece and Rome is utilized to explain how they went from their (supposedly) original Indo-European culture to the Mediterranean types. This is important because this sets them up to accept Eastern mystery religions that included newly formed Christianity into its ranks (thanks to Alexander the Great). This also shows how the early Churches came to incorporate philosophies, such as Plato’s and Aristotle’s that was not mentioned in their scriptures.There is a lot of philosophical and religious terminology that is defined in this chapter.

He ends his focus on Greece and Rome in Chapter 4, after describing how the spread of the empires and increased urbanization ultimately destabilized the societies (and therefore their political religions) and allowed Christianity to take root as a viable option to non-mainstreamers, with its initial focus on being a brother/sisterhood catering to the poor of society.

Chapter 5 starts the second half of his dissertation, discussing Germanic culture in greater detail than in his 1st chapter (particularly the warrior, king and kinship traditions). He essentially describes the Germanic tribes at the time of the Roman empire (some of which stayed officially true up to the Middle Ages) and what obstacles the newly organized Church had to deal with in order to incorporate the tribes into their empire.

Chapter 6 and 7 go in chronological order from 376 A.D. to 754 A.D. and describe in detail how the Church leaders managed to modify their ideologies in order to bring the lords and kings of the pagan tribes to their side. Conflicts and dramas galore, enough to fuel soap operas for years to come. Even after baptism occurred, the majority of the population in Europe, according to Russell’s sources, didn’t know (and probably didn’t care) about Christian orthodoxy, they simply followed the cult* patterns that were enforced by law to appease the bishops. Much of the religious life ended up being a syncreticism of Christianity and their cultural religion with a very pagan base. There is quite a heavy focus on the Franks (Merovingian and Carolingian kings) due to their long association with the Church, and some mention of the Gothic tribes that once ringed the Roman empire can be found.

The main Germanic tribes acknowledged are those on the Continent (particularly Gaul), rather than the modern UK or Scandinavia, and very little referencing the Iberian peninsula outside of the Visigoths. This is an excellent book to help get at the heart of what it meant to be pagan vs. Christian, or to have a pagan worldview in the European sense (it would be rude to assume that other academically pagan cultures in the world had the same cultural values as the European tribes). The references are numerous and heavy, with the majority of sources drawing upon old texts, letters, and laws to give insight into how people thought at the time. The way Russell presents the evidence allows for flexibility in interpretation as well, which means that his personal bias does not rigidly control the texts. He is not trying to hide or twist anything that may undermine his own hypothesis. Since this is a history dissertation that focuses mainly on the shifts and uses of political and social power, this is not a book to pick up if you want details on traditions and customs of the people themselves. There are only brief references to festivals that serve as an example of how the Church culture changed through Germanic influence. The main reference is to the Catholic liturgy adopting the agricultural seasons (Winter, Summer) into their originally Roman-based list of holy days.

If you love European history and want to know how the Western world came to be, this is a book to add to your collection. If you are trying to reconstruct European religions/cultures, then this is definitely a must-have to your collection. If you don’t enjoy having modern assumptions of religion and culture be smashed, then this is not the book for you. There is no dancing around bushes in this book, and details that may make some uncomfortable are stated quite plainly. Personally, I love history AND breaking misconceptions, so this book is a win-win for me.

5 ivory-tower scholars out of 5

*I am using the academic and correct form of “cult” in this statement, not the Hollywood/Sensationalist media version that turns the stupidity of drunken teenagers into news headlines. Essentially, most every religious group is a cult or has cults and it is not a derogatory term.

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Hungarian Paganism.

UPDATE 3/6/15: This post was made back in 2012, when I was just starting to explore Hungary’s past and long before I started piecing together a possible “pagan path” of Hungary’s culture and mythology. For more detailed (and better written) information use the Hungary, Magyar, 30 Days of Paganism, and Deities tags or search for those keywords to find my other posts about Hungarian paganism. I am in the process of compiling a link list for all the posts I make of that topic so that it’s all easier to find.

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Hello all, it’s hard to believe that it has already been half a year since my last post here, but I really was that busy. Thankfully my thesis is done and I can do a bit of personal stuff, like this blog.

Something that I have been wrestling with this past year is the title of this post, “Hungarian Paganism”, and the fight is far from over. People have been living in Central Europe since Neanderthal times, and the land has seen many tribes migrate through and/or settle on it over the ages. These people include at least some of my ancestors, as I have two known Great-grandparents that came from Hungary in the late 1800s/early 1900s. This includes a Budapest connection, which was a pretty cosmopolitan city back then.

So naturally, in my personal quest to form a “paganism” through my heritage, Hungary’s ancient past becomes relevant. The problem is the lack of English sources, as Hungarian does not translate as well as German does into English. On top of the fact that Hungarian myth and religion does not seem to excite a lot of scholars outside of Hungary itself, so as an American my options are extremely limited. What little I have found so far, I have to be wary of, in case it’s just 19th century Romanticism and other modern bullcrap that is made to fill in the holes.

Life is just so difficult sometimes.

Frustrating aspects aside, I’m slowly piecing together some sort of cosmology, deity list, and ideas of customs. There are things from English and a few Hungarian sources that are repeated often, and can be seen in collected folklore. One idea is the concept of a Tree of Life or a World Tree, which is depicted in various ways in folklore. Often it is a gigantic tree that seem to grow up into the heavens and carries the houses and special horses of various beings in the branches. These include the Sun, Moon, witches, dragons, trapped princesses, and stopping points for the táltos or tátos (a term that is roughly translated into English as “shaman”, because the role shares some characteristics with Mongolian shamans…however, “shaman” is misleading, so I will continue to use the Hungarian term instead). The tree may also have the Turul falcon roosting at the top, alongside the Sun and Moon being carried in the branches (rather than living in houses). Supposedly the world tree is divided into 3 sections or worlds, which is basically Upper world/Heaven, Middle World/Earth’s surface, and Underwold/Hell (Heaven and Hell are mentioned because the tree has been incorporated into folk Christianity over time). The entire tree is said to grow out of the skull of a horse or a deer (Wikipedia says a reindeer, which doesn’t make much sense given the geographic location of Reindeer).

I’ve seen this World Tree concept be used as a bit of evidence for the Magyar-FinnoUgric connection theory in linguistics, because those cultures also seem to have a World Tree concept. I’m no professional in either linguistics or ancient history, so I don’t know how sturdy this theory is, but the tree does look similar to concepts usually seen in Central Asia.

This link has a translation and scanned images of some information about “Hungarian Shamanism” made in the 1800s, so it is necessary to keep a bag of salt nearby. However, there are some interesting details about the World tree and the táltos there. They have been recorded to exist up to the 20th century (and if any legit ones still exist today or realize what they are, I highly doubt they would mention it to anyone).

Deities/honored beings are a tougher area to figure out. So far the most commonly mentioned one, and the one that still maintains some relevancy to contemporary Hungary under a Catholic guise, is Boldogasszony. Apparently that name is really a title grouping 7 individuals together, and the mother of them all is called Nagy Boldogasszony. The roles ascribed to her, or them, includes common “Mother Goddess” ideas such as fertility (of family and land) and agriculture (which is basically another form of fertility concerns). She also seems to play a part in enforcing social taboos against women, such as what days to wash clothing on. Interestingly, that day is Tuesday, which is also a day linked to a being enforcing social taboos in German, Austrian, Polish, and other countries’ folklore. In a most creative fashion, these beings are called “Tuesday women”. Just something about Tuesdays I suppose, not sure why that is.

Nowadays [Nagy] Boldogasszony is another Virgin Mary, acting as the Queen of Hungary. It is unclear if this means that Mary corresponds greatly to traits that Boldogasszony already had back then, or if it is a superficial correspondence made through the two of them being (relatively) big deals in their respective cultures.

It is possible that the people of legend, such as Emeshe and Nimrod, were not humans at all but were actually the names of old deities or highly powerful ancestors. Nimrod in particular, since his name seems to suggest being a wind or storm person, but I have little evidence to support such a thing. There is a linguistics argument for Emeshe to be a reference to the magical stag of legend, as the stag is actually a horned doe in Hungarian origin stories. So perhaps a representation of another deity that once had an animalistic form, maybe like the Turul? I realize that’s grasping at straws though, given how difficult it is to understand how people viewed the world back then.

I am also not sure if the Sun and Moon would be considered deities in their own right, or just be some balls that move around in the sky. Personification does occur in folklore, but lots of things get personified in that without any deeper meaning behind the act.

The most frustrating deity discovery by far is that of Xatel-Ekwa, supposedly a sun goddess that travels across a sky by being pulled by horses. I cannot find a single scrap of information on such a being that is not a copy-pasted one-liner on personal websites. Though the horse thing I can believe, as horses were quite a big deal to the old nomads. Their economic importance is reflected in art and stories, and they may have been used in major sacrificial rites at one point. As much as filling in the blanks using cross-cultural analysis is a tricky thing to do, the prominence of horses in the lives of humans all over Eurasia (and eventually, all over the world) suggests to me that divine uses or origins of horses in Hungarian culture is not improbable.

Finally, there is a suggestion, through linguistics, that Ördög, the Devil in contemporary usage, was once a sort of underworld or death deity. Not much on that unfortunately, I don’t think there is much in the way of folklore or old texts to suggest such a thing.

Now, regarding old Hungarian/Magyar customs, I did find a few so far that seemed to have a unique purpose (i.e. not something built with later Westernized Christianity’s influence). As I mentioned before, Boldogasszony is considered to be the Virgin Mary, and so she’s taken on the church’s holidays for Mary as well. This includes a day in May (often considered Mary’s Month, as one of her titles is the Queen of May in association with the springtime), where the English translation means “fruit-grafting”. This is May 25th, a little later than the Catholic holiday for Mary that occurs in Chicago but still close. What we do here is a May crowning ceremony during the first week of May, and the specific date changes slightly each year. People would bring flowers and rosaries to be blessed, and this time of year is when planting for most food crops could occur (winter lasts until April around here). This probably isn’t unique to the city though, but I digress.

Back to holidays, there seems to be another holiday in Boldogasszony’s honor on December 26th, for families. This I find interesting, because within Germanic heathenry there is a practice called “Mothernight” (various spellings) that typically occurs on December 24th. This comes from Bede’s 8th century account of the pagans he lived with in what is now known as the UK. Many Germanic reconstructionists have adopted this practice, and it may have existed near Central Europe before Christinization occurred. So I wonder if this is one of many Germanic influences on the Magyars over time, or if it existed independently. I cannot say. I personally like the idea though, as that time of year seems to be heavily associated with ghosts and scary beasties (a la’ Wild Hunt stories).

In one origin legend, where the sons Hunor and Magor (founding fathers of the Huns and Magyars, respectively) chased the magical horned doe, they happened upon a group of women dancing in celebration of some sort of holiday. It is said that this was in celebration of the magical doe, but I’m sad to say that the date is completely unknown. This has piqued my interest though, and I will not stop searching out for this possible custom (mainly because I have a personal fondness for deer, having had many interesting interactions with our White-tailed deer when out in the fields).

That’s about it so far. If you have kept up with my ramblings then you definitely deserve a cookie. Since this is a recent attempt looking at only Hungarian/Magyar sources, I may be more fruitful later one with including other known ethnicities that may have contributed to Hungarian culture. Those like the Scythians, for one, as according to Heterodous they had a settlement in Central Europe. In addition, the Scythian stag from archeological remains found in Hungary also points to a cultural contribution (and perhaps a genetic one as well). There are also a number of journal articles regarding Hungarian culture that I have sitting around in my room unread, and there might be tidbits of info in them

I have hope that a sort of Hungarian paganism can be dug up and explored, however. It’s just a matter of being patient. There’s many sources to look into of course, but it’s the separation of Christian and outside influences from the “native” paganism (as native as possible at least) that takes a long time to do.

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References

“Hungarian Myth and Legend”  http://users.cwnet.com/millenia/legend.htm

“Orkneyjar- Helya’s Night” http://www.orkneyjar.com/tradition/yule/yule3.htm

“Hungary- Paganism and non-Christian religion” http://christianization.hist.cam.ac.uk/regions/hungary/hungary-pagan-non-christ.html

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Book Review: The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors and The Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux

I’ve been thinking of adding book reviews to this blog for a while, as there’s a lot of reading involved in this search. The following review is pretty much just my opinion, as I do not have any degrees or similar pieces of paper to suggest that I’m an expert reviewer.

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The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux (ISBN 1-59477-318-1)

The title of the book is a bit misleading. This is not a book that focuses on the “pagan” mind, but instead is almost exclusively focused on Germanic literature, traditions and folklore from the Viking era to the Middle Ages. Geographically, that means modern-day Scandinavia, Iceland, UK, and Northern-Middle Germany. Scattered throughout the book are bits and pieces of other locations and cultures, such as Ireland, Hungary, Bavaria, and France as comparisons to Germanic traditions. Something different from the usually Greek (and to a lesser extent, Roman), and Egyptian focuses on pagan concepts of death and the dead.

There are 12 chapters organized into 4 parts. Part I sets you up with an introduction to the Germanic view of death by first looking at the (mostly Christian) concepts that still exist today, and going back in time to where the syncretism originated. Part II goes into detail on the dead themselves, and going over the different folkloric forms the dead have taken. While doing this, he analyzes what is modern and/or Christian, vs. what was typical to the heathens. That’s why Part II is divided into the “True Revenants” and “False Revenants” chapters for comparison.

Part III takes what was discussed in Part II and analyzes the placement of the dead in the world. The concept of an afterlife (or the lack thereof), hauntings, souls, and the spirits/gods that are associated with all that are discussed here. Near the end of Part III the author starts segwaying back to modern-day via noting the changes the dead take on over time. He goes through the decline of ancestor worship and changes in the importance that the dead take in the lives of the living via the change in attitudes shown in the lore.

For a book with 229 pages of content, it is packed with sources. Unfortunately, some of them only get a vague sentence of reference, and the quoted sections are only a paragraph or two at the most of whichever saga or legend he translated to show a point. This is not a book to get if you’re looking for the stories and traditions themselves, nor is it going to sit well with you if you expect every argument the author makes to be with solid support. Additionally, most of the sources in the bibliography are not in English, so it will be difficult for some to access them for further information.

That’s not to say he does a bad job of backing himself up however. It’s one of those books that has different chapters supporting each other and intertwining. The author also assumes you’ve read the preceding chapters, because he builds upon each one with the next. It’s a book best read in order rather than flipping around.

Now the quality of the book really depends on your reading level, scholarly background, and your interest for obtaining this book to begin with. I’m used to (and prefer) reading dry, dense, academic books, and I already had a basic understanding of the lore beforehand, so this was not a difficult book to read. For those that are only used to the metaphysical section of the bookstore, or for those that hated history class in high school, are going to have problems. I’m also able to see where he is coming from when he presents his interpretations without direct citation and he’s often spot-on (though obviously don’t take my word on it).

My gripes with the book are minor and come from being a heathen that uses historical sources for her information and inspiration. He speaks from the modern, Christian-influenced worldview, so he sometimes slips into that during interpretating and labeling. That mostly shows up in the afterlife and soul sections, and it’s subtle, so for most other readers this is not going to be noticeable. He’s not necessarily WRONG, I feel that he is just not clear enough in his definitions of the afterlife, other realms, souls and spirits. He uses those terms in reference to heathen concepts, when they are words heavily associated with Christian ideas, so some readers may be mislead.

For example, he regularly translates the “landvaetter” (or land wights in english) as tutelary spirits or genius loci, which suggests a non-corporeal, supernatural, otherworldly form. From a modern perspective, that’s not a problem, but from an ancient, heathen perspective, that doesn’t fit. A landvaetter could be the tree, the bird in the tree, or even a human buried on that land. A corporeal being that can be touched, seen, and heard, in other words. The “other worlds” are not some far off place in the sky or space, or located in another dimension, they are here on Earth. For the Miyazaki fans out there, “Princess Mononoke” illustrates that perfectly. The guardian of the forest is not a ghostly spirit, it’s a solid being that can live and die, that resides in a physical forest on the Earth.

Otherwise, I enjoyed reading this. The style of writing is conversational (and you can’t even tell that it was translated from French), so it’s accessible to those that aren’t academia-oriented, and it also keeps the text from feeling dry. There is also no religious agenda or orientations to the text, it’s purely focused on intellectual understanding. From a historical perspective, this book offers a good introduction to the culture of death and provides a means in understanding why the heathens behaved and believed the way they did. There is a lack of accessible books that allow the reader to get into the old worldview, and “The Return of the Dead” is helpful for that (despite my earlier complaints).

For those that are looking at this book from a Neopagan perspective (rather than a historical/cultural interest), this can be both rich in material to work with, and disappointing. The gods don’t really care about you unless you’re a king or hero, there’s no peaceful or magnificent heaven-like realm to go to, Nature is not considered a peaceful, pretty place, and there’s little reincarnation occurring. That is what the book reveals about the heathen minds of old. For those that aren’t bothered, the stories and interpretations can lend a unique perspective on the “dark half of the year” (as that’s when the dead are most active, especially around Yule) and the idea of ancestor worship.

Reconstructionists, especially seasoned ones, aren’t going to get anything new out of this though. Those that are testing the water in the recon pool, however, may find this book a good place to start. The ancestors and the dead were a big part of the European’s (and much of the world’s) old worldviews, and had remained so for quite some time after Christianization. Up to the 18th and 19th centuries even in some places.

4 zombies out of 5.

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