Category Archives: Book reviews

The Militant Monotheistic Religions, Christianity and Islam, And How They Dealt With Paganism

A History of Pagan Europe by Prudence Jones and Nigel Pennick

Excerpt from Chapter 11 – Paganism Reaffirmed (p196)

The High Medieval period (950-1350) saw the militant monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, imposing their influence on the rulers of Europe, so that the official religions of the emerging kingdoms and empires became monotheistic and in practice androtheistic, referring to their supreme deity only in the masculine gender. 

We have also seen Pagan practices and beliefs continuing here and there, unnoticed by official sanctions, and also being incorporated into Christian practice as this developed. In that sense the Pagan outlook and deities remained, shaped in the form of Christian society which overlay them, and were available as a living tradition to be recognised and reclaimed by later investigators in an age of independent thought.

In Islamic areas of Europe, the situation was different. Islamic doctrine did not compromise with Pagan values (indeed, the famous Satanic Verses of the Koran were almost immediately repudiated by Mohammed as an attempt by the Devil to incorporate the three goddesses of Mecca in the celestial hierarchy), and Islam remained militantly anti-polytheist.

Get the book: 

http://astore.amazon.com/thenorgro-20/detail/0415158044

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My commentary:

Right on, this book tells it like it is! Yes, Christianity was militant… BUT it made a lot of accommodations for paganism that Islam did not. 

There is this myth that Islam was in a golden era during the Middle Ages while Christianity caused Europe to rot. This myth paints Islam as this beautiful, peaceful religion of enlightenment and tolerance, while Europe, saddled with Christianity, is depressing, ignorant, intolerant, and lost in a fog of darkness. It’s not that simple.

As many scholars in their papers, books, and documentaries are showing, there was a lot of intellectual work going on in Europe during the so called Dark Ages. Yes, Islam did preserve a lot of Greco-Roman knowledge and were especially good with mathematics. Bravo, Islam, you get a cookie. But they fervently attacked native neighboring religions with gusto from day one, and continue to do so now.

Was Christianity perfect? Nope. But if it’s a contest on which religion is the biggest asshole…. Islam wins hands down.  Don’t get me wrong, they were both assholes. But, Islam takes the cake.

No more false histories and misrepresentations, please. Stick with the truth, even if you have to play hardball. People cling to what they’ve been told and what they want to believe.

 

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The Sorceress – Film Review

ImageThis subtitled French film is about a “forest woman” in a remote rural medieval village. She uses her knowledge of plants to act as a healer. Villagers come to her for her knowledge of herbs to heal sickness.  She also has some “tricks” up her sleeve in terms of cures that are more for placebo affect.  So of course, when the Catholic Church sends a new priest to the village, he accuses her of witchcraft.

The priest is depicted fairly in this film. Rather than a purely evil figure, he does try to wrap his head around what’s going on. He’s from a more urban, and his mind a more forward thinking, town.  So these rural villagers and their folkways appear backwards and superstitious.  But, the priest sees practices that just do not jive with Church teachings and the forest woman finds herself in a prison cell.

The film is interesting because theories about pagan superstitions are explored through the dialogue between the accused witch and the priest. Also, many occurrences that are known to have happened are depicted, such as the priest ordering a sacred tree to be chopped down and destroyed (this is documented to have happened all over Europe, and even in Mediterranean areas).

I really enjoyed this film and highly recommend it. Anyone interested in Medieval history and pre-Christian folkways will enjoy this film. The entire film can be viewed online for free on YouTube!  We’ve also added the DVD to our shop 🙂

~ Aelfwynne ~

Witchdom of the True – Book Review

Review of Witchdom of the True by Edred Thorsson

Witchdom-of-the-True-Thorsson-Edred-9781885972125There is much less published on the Vanatru side of Germanic paganism than on Asatru. Whereas Asatru means true to the Aesir (Odin and the gods of Asgard), Vanatru means true to the Vanir (Freyr and Freya, and the gods of Vanaheimr).

The author studied both Germanic and Celtic philology at the graduate level and earned a Ph.D. in Germanic Languages and Medieval Studies.

Despite his impressive credentials, this book is incredibly accessible and written for a general audience. However, due to his credentials, this author is generally considered reliable with his presentation of history and expected to have done his research.

It is understood that Wicca is a contemporary religion influenced by ancient ideas  rather than actual representation of indigenous European religion.  Yet, Thorsson asserts that  Wicca actually may actually draw upon Vanic traditions. He postulates that Freyr and Freyja are the actual Wiccan Lord and Lady based on the etymology of their names (Freyr and Freyja literally do mean lord and lady).

Now, whether Gerald Gardner, the founder of Wicca, had this in mind when he created his religion, we can’t say. This theory may seem suspect to some considering that mainstream Wiccans typically place emphasis on the Celtic pantheon.

The Wiccan emphasis on all things Celtic is dubious when one considers that the word Wicca is of Germanic origin.  One may also find it mysterious that Ostara, a goddess of the Germans on the continent was grafted into the Wiccan wheel of the year. Even her counterpart in the British Isles, Eostre, is an Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) goddess.  While some examples of the “Wheel of the Year” use the Irish Lughnasadh, others use Lammas.  Lammas was an Anglo-Saxon holiday. The Wiccan calendar also celebrates Yule for winter solstice, another Germanic holiday.  The Celtic winter solstice is Meán Geimhridh.

So, considering Wicca uses a Germanic name and has such precedent of inserting Germanic tradition into their religion, one might consider the Lord and Lady may have been meant to be Frey and Freyja in Gardner’s thought process.  Or it might simply be an alternative way of viewing the religion to make it more palatable to people who value historical precedent in their religious practice.

Anyway, this book is not about Wicca. It’s about interpreting the Vanir through the eyes of a former Wiccan who’s personal practice evolved as his knowledge of ancient history deepened.  This book will not tell you how to be a Wiccan. But for some Wiccans it may open the doorway of new insights and interpretations of paganism.

While this book is highly recommended for Wiccans looking to deeper their study, it is also recommended for other pagans and Heathens interested in the Vanic gods.  This book provides a foundation of understanding the history of the Vanir, and the connection between Vanir tradition and witchcraft.  It discusses underground survivals of witchcraft and its revival.  It also gives a rudimentary introduction for the Norse/Germanic practice of Seidr (spelled Seith by the author, the ð symbol can be translated as “th” or “d” and the “r” is often dropped in translation).

seidrI have to apologize to any of you reading this right now. I bought this book a few years ago, and as I’m finishing up this review, I’m realizing it has gone out of print.  I’ll leave it in our Amazon bookshop anyway in case some reasonably priced used copies turn up. At the least if you click on it in our store, Amazon should suggest similar titles and books by this author.  Or, maybe you can find it used with another bookseller!

Anyway, I quite enjoyed this title, and I hope some of you will be able to get your hands on it.

If you are interested in Seidr, we have added another book on it to our shop.  “Seidr; The Gate is Open” is a title I haven’t read personally, but it comes highly recommended by other readers.

~ review by Aelfwynne ~

Baltic Religion Today *Free ebook* – Book Review

Image

Stylized ‘World Tree’ or Austras Koks (Tree of Twilight). The most used symbol of Romuva

Some Background:

Baltic Religion Today is quite possibly the only book about Baltic indigenous religion available in English today. It is written by Jonas Trinkūnas, who is one of the founders of the Lithuanian traditional pagan revival movement, known as Romuva. The religion takes its name from an old pagan temple that existed in Old Prussia.  The temple was destroyed by conquering Christian Teutonic Knights (the conversion of Europe was discussed in our last blog).

The Prussians were neighbors to the Lithuanians, and each region of the Baltic have languages and traditions that differ slightly. But, they obviously share a strong cultural heritage.  Lithuanian Romuva is the Baltic tradition with the most information available in English (which is still very little!), and being that the Balts are nestled between the Germans, Norse, Finns, and Slavs, anybody with a serious interest in Northern European pre-Christian religion would do well to learn about the region and religion.

About the Book:

ImageThere is currently very little available in English about Romuva. The English language market for Baltic pagan studies is a veritable dearth when compared with other reconstructionist movements such as Asatru, or modern neo-pagan religions like Wicca. So this book is literally a must have for anyone interested in Lithuanian and Baltic paganism.

Baltic Religion Today explains everything a beginner needs to know about Romuva. Starting with a short overview and background on the history, to tenets of belief, overview of the Baltic Deities, holidays, and the concept of Darna (Harmony).

Romuva is a truly beautiful, nature based religion. It focuses on being in tune with nature and one’s own inner harmony. For that reason, this book is HIGHLY recommended for ALL pagans, not just those on the Baltic Path, as well as anyone with an interest in spirituality in general. The concepts expressed in Romuva will deepen anyone’s understanding of the Earth and our place in it. As well as help us on our personal journeys to establish our own inner harmony.

It appears that this book was meant to be freely available as it is available for free download from the official Romuva website, which I believe is run by the author.

Follow the links above or click on the image of the book to download it for free. Also I have added a section on the Baltic to our book shop. Happy reading!

~ Aelfwynne ~