Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reading lists

So, you want to get into heathenry, but aren't sure where to start.  I thought I'd recommend some of my favourite go-to sources for the benefit of the newbie.

Obviously, you should start with the Eddas.  What translation you use is up to you; I refer to quite a number of them.  Bear in mind that they are all sources written down long after Christianity, and the amount of impact this has on the telling of the stories is a matter of debate, doctoral dissertations and angry online forum discussions. 

L. Winifred Faraday has a two-part analysis of the Eddas that is available for free off Gutenberg Project.  I've only read some of it, but what I've seen is all right and it's popular. 

The Eddas are only a jumping off point, though.  After that it's time to hit the library and read anything by Hilda Ellis Davidson.  She has spent her entire academic career writing about northern religion, although she herself is an Anglican.  Start with her famous Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, then Roles of the Northern Goddess.  Roles in particular has become what I look for in books about Norse religion, tying together mythology and archaeology.  It's through archaeology that we get much of our confirmation of how the Norse viewed and worshiped the gods.

An older source that is fascinating to read is Benjamin Thorpe's Northern Mythology.  What happens with this book is that he recounts the legends as found in the Eddas, which by this point in your reading might be feeling a bit repetitive.  What makes this book neat, though, is that the rest of the book is a survey of folk practices, stories and proverbs that show how Norse lore carried through into beliefs in Scandinavia and northern Germany.  Trolls, elves, nissemen and other nature beings never left popular consciousness, which I find significant since the gods largely did.

If you just want to look up everything about a deity or figure from the lore, the encyclopedic resource I turn to is Norse Mythology by John Lindow.  He features not only gods and heroes but objects (weapons, animals and household items are often given names in the lore).  There is also a massive bibliography, which is where you can start taking notes on other books and journal articles to track down and read.

You should also bookmark The Norse Mythology Blog at  The author is a university professor, writer and teacher whose whole life is dedicated to promoting Norse myth and correct information about the Norse people.

I'm a little hesitant to promote the Temple of our Heathen Gods website (  Their founder and lead godhi recently was arrested, tried and made to pay reparations to his elderly mother after embezzling from her for some years.  This isn't libel because it's true.  The page, however, has a library of 100 useful books in PDF format and information on beginning a heathen life.

Finally, there are accounts of Norse religion as observed by others.  Ibn Fadlan, the Arab trader immortalized in "The 13th Warrior" is a necessary read.  Tacitus has some things to say, as do all the Christian missionaries horrified by heathen religious practices.  Whenever you come across a reference to the Vikings battling named historical figures such as Charlemagne, make a note to start reading about Charlemagne, why he wanted to conquer the Norse and what his peers thought about them and their practices.

If this seems like a lot of work, which it is, remember that this is the form of paganism referred to as "the religion with homework".  Learn to research, because it's through careful study and writing about the Norse and the lore that we keep advancing as a religion.