Review – Asatru for Beginners by Erin Lale
Last night, in my daily google report for new Asatru links, a book came up on scribd. Asatru for Beginners. Most of the links I get notified about I don’t bother to open, but this one peaked my interest.
Now everybody and their mother has written an introduction to Asatru book, from well respected authors (like Thorrson and Paxson) to leaders of kindreds (such as Lew Stead’s Ravenbok). They all have their on color on things, with some being more dogmatic (Havamal thumping) and others being more flexible about practice. You also have the more racist tomes mixed in as well.
As I opened up this book (An impressive 157 printed pages) to find that Ms. Lale, the author, started off by defining a few basic terms like pagan, Asatru, etc. This really was a book designed for someone that had no exposure to the pagan religions. She did an excellent analysis of the Universalist vs. Folkish analysis, and didn’t judge either side.
The opening of the book starts using a Question and Answer approach. She answers questions like “Is Asatru a nature religion?” and “What is it like in Valhalla?” Then she moves on to the Asatru creation myth. She moves on to an explanation of the development of the Northern european religions (It’s similar to what’s found in Our Troth, by the ring of Troth, but more approachable). She talks briefly about Asatru ethics, but doesn’t go into a lot of specifics (I kind of wish she had at this point, since I consider ethics the driving force, rather than the gods themselves), and also talks about Magic briefly.
there was one phrase I particularly liked:
Asatru is a religion of action, not faith
She moves on to address the “hijacking” of the symbolism of the Northern European religions by Hitler, and addresses discrimination against Asatruar in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. She then jumps to the 1970’s with the resurgence of Asatru and discusses the various branches of Northern European belief, such as Odinism, Theodism, etc.
All and all its an excellent analysis of both the creation myth, and the history of the religion. I was disappointed that it wasn’t documented better, but having read a great amount of material (modern and historical), she’s pretty much on target.
She moves onto a discuss the gods, and has an incredibly comprehensive list (Micki Tracy, who follows the Stav tradition, has a more complete list, but its the only larger one I found). She moves on to some other “terms” that one must wrap one’s head around like Haminja, house spirits, land vaettir, Valkyries, etc.
Its at this point she moves on to beliefs and and morality. I there was any complaint I had at all was I would have moved this forward in the book. I’ve always been of the belief that while Asatru is certainly about following the gods and goddesses, what distinguishes it from other pagan religions is Asatru’s belief and morality system, and its largely the driving force for many Asatruar. She spends a lot of time talking about beliefs and the afterlife first, and then moves onto morality, both in the Havamal, and the Nine Noble Virtues. I would have reversed the order, but that’s just me. She didn’t give credit for the Nine Noble Virtues (them came from the Odinic Right She cin the 1970’s) but her list largely matched mine (she had steadfastness, instead of perseverence). She kind of discounts the nine noble virtues and moves onto a discussion on the concepts of good vs. evil.
After this beliefs discussion, the book moves onto more practical matters, such as traditions, clothing, facial hair, hair length etc. She points out that there are many traditions, but does a good job of describing “what practices have been.” From there the book moves to a series of political topics such as animal rights, environmentalism, and drug testing. While I personally largely agreed with much of her interpretation, I felt it should have been documented more. Some of her statements (such as beliefs on homosexuality) are inconsistent with many other Asatruars, and she should have spent some time documenting sources, or developing a stronger argument on her points.
The next section is on Rituals. She covers blot and sumbel (the two core documented rituals) and gives good examples. She moves onto things like weddings, funerals, etc. I would have caveated these sections indicating that some of these are not universal in terms of Asatru belief. I also wish she’d gone more in depth on the nine fold blot (Something I learned from fellow Asatruar).
The final section was on magic. I was a little disappointed by this section. Now for the majority of Asatruar they don’t practice any of the magical traditions so this typically wouldn’t be a problem. However, from my particular practice, while she started out well (talking about types of magic) I felt that she “stretched” into areas that are really not part of most Asatru traditions, including Runic yoga. I found it interesting she included Runic yoga, but didn’t include Runic Reiki (Called Runevaldr). I’ve studied a bit on both, realizing that they aren’t part of the classic traditions, but felt them worthy of study.
She also suggests adopting magical practices from other traditions, and I personally wasn’t entirely comfortable with that concept.
And as with the majority of books centered around Asatru, she lists a series of resources at the end of her book. She includes some good ones, but also some that I feel promote the racial/genetic issues that I personally think are a detriment to our religion, and doesn’t do well to distinguish these as being “controversial.”
All and all, and excellent work, and one that is now in my library as reference. For anyone that is new to paganism, it certainly would be one reference (along with others) that I’d point them at.