Runic reading list recommendations

Discussion on literature other than by the Star of Azazel.
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Heith
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Runic reading list recommendations

Postby Heith » Tue Nov 01, 2016 2:26 pm

This is a list put together by our members in hopes of aiding others into finding books on the subject. This list used to be on our members only-section, but there is no reason to not share it with anyone interested. Many thanks to frater Jiva for being largely responsible for the material here.


Introduction

This list is intended to present some sources that would provide good introductions to Old Norse mythology. However, the makers of this list have no academic education regarding Old Norse mythology and society and simply study it as a hobby, as we assume everyone else here does. Therefore, although we’re obviously attempting to be as helpful as possible, this list should be taken with a pinch of salt.



Contents

Primary:

Snorri Sturluson’s Eddas
Sagas

Secondary (Academic):
Established General Background
Recent General Background
Edited Collections and Dictionaries
Specific Gods/Goddesses and Mythological Beings
Women
Sexuality

Secondary (Esoteric, Occult etc.):

Modern
Historic



Primary


Snorri Sturluson’s Eddas:

These are the primary original source for Old Norse mythology and religious belief, recorded by Snorri Sturluson a 12th-13th century Icelandic statesman, historian and poet. The Poetic Edda is a collection of anonymous poems while The Prose Edda is Snorri’s own work. Despite The Prose Edda using the Poetic as a source on numerous occasions, there are occasionally differences between the two which can be explained by the euhemeristic approach Snorri favoured.

The Poetic Edda:
• There are various translations and commentaries available, but the best is Ursula Dronke’s three-volume translation. She attempted to mediate between an accurate academic translation while retaining the artistic poetry of the original poems, something which the majority of people think she managed incredibly well. There are a huge amount of excellent notes as part of the commentary along with articles examining the themes of the various poems. The only issue is the incredibly expensive price for all three volumes.

The Prose Edda:
• There are numerous translations available. This is rarely published with particularly detailed notes or commentary because these are often covered in The Poetic Edda’s source material, or otherwise for the basis for articles and books due to their importance and scope.


Sagas:


There are four main forms of sagas which typically concentrate on a single hero or a family lineage. The higher mythology of the Eddas isn’t really explored much, but practical magic is occasionally mentioned. However, said references to magic are made with the assumption that the audience have prior understanding of the basic concepts and can therefore be difficult to interpret. Many are semi-historical, in that some characters definitely existed and hold similar positions in the sagas that correspond to their actual lives, but of course things get distorted due to political, temporal and narrative reasons.

The Sagas of Icelanders:
• These are primarily available in English on the internet – for example, at the Icelandic Saga Database – yet Leifur Eriksson Publishing have released a five volume professionally translated compilation which includes maps, a glossary of important terms, explanations of kennings and other poetic language and a cross-reference of the various characters who pop up in more than one saga. However, once again, as an academic work it’s quite expensive, but once again is well worth the expense.

Landnámabók:
• A semi-historical record of the first Scandinavian settlers of Iceland. The people listed in this book often have genealogies, various stories or tiny details about their lives which can add some character to their similarly semi-historical characterisations in the various Icelandic sagas.

The Sagas of Norwegians (i.e. The Kings’ Sagas)
• Unfortunately these have never been published in English in a single book or volume. However, as with the Sagas of Icelanders, many can be found online, the most well-known of which is undoubtedly Snorri’s Heimskringla.



Secondary (Academic)

Established General Background:


Hilda Roderick Ellis Davidson – Davidson is probably the most prolific academic author specialising in Old Norse mythology and more than anyone else has helped shape the modern discipline with her writings from the 1940s to the 2000s. Accordingly, many of her publications are accessible for those introducing themselves to Old Norse mythology and are also used by many other academics as a base. Luckily most of her books have self-explanatory titles which include:
• Gods and Myths of the Viking Age
• The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe
• Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe: Early Scandinavian and Celtic Religions
• The Road to Hel: A Study of the Conception of the Dead in Old Norse Literature
• Roles of the Northern Goddess


Edward Turville-Petre:
Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia – Similar to Davidson, this book serves as a basic mainstay for Old Norse mythology. There are sections that go into detail regarding Old Norse cosmology, the Aesir/Vanir war, Ragnarok, the various individual groups of gods including individual sections of Loki and Heimdallr. Perhaps uniquely, Turville-Petre devotes a section to the “godless”, that is, people who refused to sacrifice to any god and rely on themselves. The only downsides are that it’s a little dated and quite expensive.

Ursula Dronke:
Myth and Fiction in Early Norse Lands – A collection of all of Dronke’s published academic articles. For the little she actually published academically, Dronke is the best analyst in my opinion as her work is incredibly perceptive. However, as these are academic articles they are very specifically focussed and may not be of interest to someone seeking a very general background.

Georges Dumézil:
Gods of the Ancient Northmen – A legend of Indo-European scholarship, this book compiles a few of Dumézil’s articles on Old Norse mythology and is his only book in English that is primarily focuses on the subject. His article concerning Heimdallr and his role in the Old Norse universe is particularly useful.

Viktor Rydberg:
Investigations into Germanic Mythology – Written at the end of the 19th century, this is obviously an older work and surpassed in some ways by modern authors who have actually rehabilitated some of his beliefs. For example, Rydberg was the first to propose a chronological order to Old Norse mythology – something Davidson rejected as fundamentalism – but now has substantial support. The book is comparative in nature and forges many links between Old Norse and Hindu mythology. However, Rydberg often misunderstands kennings and gets over-excited about tenuous links.


Recent General Background:


Neil Price:
The Viking Way: Religion and War in Late Iron Age Scandinavia – Unlike other authors on this list, Price is primarily an archaeologist. However, this allows him to approach mythology from a more practical level rather than from the lofty perch of the recorded word. Price focusses particularly on seiðr and shamanism – one of the more controversial areas of modern Old Norse debate – and argues that the former can be categorised as a type of the latter.

Clive Tolley:
Shamanism in Norse Myth and Magic – Despite this book ostensibly concerning shamanism to refute the above book by Price, it approaches this by summarising large swathes of Old Norse mythology before comparing it to generic shamanic practices and therefore simultaneously serves two purposes. As a student and editor of Dronke, Tolley could also be considered a representative of his under-published teacher. Unfortunately, Tolley is very dismissive of archaeological evidence when it doesn’t suit him but makes exceptions when it does. All in all though, a very useful book, especially the second volume which contains the relevant sections of the significant primary sources he uses. (N.B. For those interested in comparisons between Old Norse and wider Finnish shamanism, Tolley works at Turku University and his sources for the second-hand definitions of Finnish, Sami etc. religion are people such as Anna-Leena Siikala).


Edited Collections and Dictionaries:


Now that a generally accepted academic background of study has been established there are a few mythological dictionaries and compendia of short articles that are essentially invaluable. Due to this they are widely available and ironically quite cheap, so they’re all heavily recommended.

Stefan Brink & Neil Price eds.:
The Viking World – Contains over 700 pages of small articles (typically 10-20 pages each) on every topic imaginable, both mythological, archaeological and societal. Every article has a secondary reading list which, particularly for extremely niche topics, is very useful.

John Lindow:
Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs – This doesn’t contain as many definitions as Simek’s dictionary, but perhaps goes into slightly greater detail regarding the definitions it does feature. As Lindow compiled his dictionary years after Simek it is possible that this is intentional and that his dictionary is intended for newer explorers of Old Norse mythology and society. Regardless, Lindow’s and Simek’s dictionaries complement each other very well.

Rudolf Simek:
A Dictionary of Northern Mythology – Quite simply, this is the best quick resource for anything Old Norse and totally essential. An absurd amount of definitions are listed where each has a further reading list. Due to the nature of Old Norse and Indo-European study many of these further reading recommendations are in languages such as French, German, Swedish etc., which can either be a positive or a negative depending on the individual.


Specific Gods/Goddesses and Mythological Beings:

Kris Kershaw:
The One-Eyed God; Odin and the (Indo-) Germanic Männerbünde – Odin as the leader of a group of warriors is looked at from comparative etymological and mythological examples from various other Indo-European cultures. The book is therefore quite restrictive in scope and doesn’t mention the paradoxical nature of Odin’s difficult magical aspect. It goes into a lot of detail regarding analogues though that one feels it might’ve been better to analyse the Indo-European Männerbünde with Odin as a sub-category. However, if anyone is interested in Odin’s warrior credentials, this is a valuable book.

Britt-Mari Näsström:
Freyja, the Great Goddess of the North – This is to my knowledge the only work focusing mainly on Freyja. Näsström uses comparative analysis to produce a multi-faceted image of Freyja. The book is quite expensive, but worth the money if one needs to do extensive research into this particular goddess.

Karen Bek-Pedersen:
The Norns in Old Norse Mythology – This is the first detailed discussion of the norns to be published amongst literature dealing with Old Norse beliefs. The book is expensive and due to its academic approach will probably not serve a wide audience of readers.


Women:


Due to the masculine nature of the primary sources – where women are frequently simply omitted – and the historically masculine character of the discipline of history, women’s history was maligned for a long time. However, this has changed and there are notable works that attempt to look beyond the masculine omission or scapegoating of women in the primary sources.

Jóhanna Katrín Friðriksdóttir:
Women in Old Norse Literature: Bodies, Words, and Power – Friðriksdóttir primarily examines the roles and representation of women through the four genres of Icelandic sagas and the conversion to Christian belief. Power is the operative word in the title, and so the book focusses on women’s agency as a conflict with men’s. The male prejudices of previous historical works and the occasional excesses of the feminist movement of the 1970s are avoided to present what is essentially an excellent literary analysis that is balanced quite nicely.

Jenny Jochens:
Women in Old Norse Society – Unlike Friðriksdóttir, Jochens primarily focusses on legal and historical data, bolstered with references from the sagas, to analyse women’s role in Old Norse society. This often uses data of absences or active prohibitions of various behaviours to build a picture.


Sexuality:

Carol Clover:
• ‘Regardless of Sex: Men, Women, and Power in Early Northern Europe’– One of the more important works regarding Old Nose conceptions of sexuality, Clover examines the concept of ergi and argr – which traditionally are seen to pertain to homosexuality – along the lines of dependency, something that came to be associated with womanhood. As seiðr was predominantly a female practice, Clover’s article has widespread ramifications. Regardless of whether Clover’s thesis is ultimately accepted, her article is almost always referenced when discussing the subject of Old Norse sexuality, due to its novel and perceptive approach.



Secondary (Esoteric, Occult etc.)

Modern:

All of the following authors hold at least a Master’s degree in a relevant subject which therefore typically lends an academic quality to their work. However, this should not be interpreted to mean their ultimate ideas are necessarily in line with any widespread academic theory, but rather that what they develop their conclusions from are academic.

Stephen Flowers (a.k.a. Edred Thorson):
Alu: An Advanced Guide to Operative Runology – A follow up to his first book, this presents an updated interpretation of the Futhark series from a largely Right Hand Path viewpoint. Flowers is obviously a good researcher and his interpretation of the runes is very interesting, albeit one constrained slightly by his rather traditional, conservative ideology.
Galdrabók – This is a translation of an Icelandic grimoire dated to c.a. 1600. It was been written by four different people over a period of time. The various spells and runic staves may be of interest for the more advanced student with a solid background on the basic workings of the Runes and mythology. More than that, the sigils are aesthetically pleasing and may work as a source of inspiration for designing one's own.

Thomas Karlsson:
Uthark: Nightside of the Runes – An exploration of Sigurd Agrell’s Uthark theory of the runes by the founder of Dragon Rouge. The book proposes the Uthark rune series as a compliment – regardless of its historical veracity – to the traditional Futhark series. The Left Hand Path in comparison to the traditional Right Hand Path, similar to the SoA’s Chalice if you will. As it is published by Dragon Rouge, Old Norse concepts are very loosely linked with Kabbalistic terms while the Uthark is given a Yoga exercise formulation.

Maria Kvilhaug (a.k.a. the Lady of the Labyrinth):
The Seed of Yggdrasill – A more New Age interpretation of Old Norse mythology and thus comes from a more Right Hand Path perspective. However, it does cover basically the entire major corpus of Old Norse mythology and explains things in an easy, but yet detailed way.

Ekortu (a.k.a. Vexior):
Gullveigarbók – Heavily influenced by Rydberg, this is by far the best and most coherent Left Hand Path interpretation of Old Norse mythology and as such is highly recommended. The majority of the book is an investigation into the character of Gullveig and her three incarnations in relation to the Old Norse cosmos. Despite being academically based, there are some times when it feels like Vexior tailors things to suit pre-conceived beliefs, but these occur in areas that ironically aren’t of the greatest importance.
Thursakyngi I: The Essence of Thursian Sorcery – Based on the above and with more self-awareness, but approaching Ekortu’s Left Hand Path figuration of Old Norse mythology from a practical point of view. Much of the mythological underpinning of the book is based on the work of previously mentioned authors e.g. Davidson, Simek, Tolley, yet these are interspersed with examples of rituals, meditative practices and so on. Once again there are suspicions of the interference of pre-conceived beliefs, but it is an interesting book nonetheless.


Historic:

Guido von List:
The Secret of the Runes (Das Geheimnis Der Runen) – It could be argued that Johannes Bureus began the European reclamation of the runes, yet von List was the first to publish anything suggesting there was a further Germanic morality lost upon the conversion to Christianity. Comparisons to Blavatsky are obvious based on his opinion of Christianity, theory of lost wisdom and his slight re-organising of traditional structures. Of course, von List also has the honour of having influenced various alternative Nazis völkisch practices and so is inevitably and inextricably linked to Nazi occultism.
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Silvaeon
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Re: Runic reading list recommendations

Postby Silvaeon » Fri Nov 04, 2016 5:56 pm

Thank you for sharing, Heith! There are obviously years worth of study here. I'm looking forward to digging in.
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Heith
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Joined: Fri May 31, 2013 12:54 pm

Re: Runic reading list recommendations

Postby Heith » Sat Nov 05, 2016 9:01 am

You're very welcome. I hope it's helpful to you and others.
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Re: Runic reading list recommendations

Postby Invitus » Wed Nov 09, 2016 3:09 pm

Been having huge "heathen" awakening lately. (Re-)reading anything from Kalevala to the beautiful Edda, and now getting into Flowers/Thorsson (and can't wait for that Klarsson Uthark book ;) ). Always had a intrest in all things pagan, a close relationship with shamanism, and have found sigil magick to be my tool of choice for "lower magicks". Thus this reading list has been a true help for me, thank you :)
I find the syncretic nature of the old and new religions melding into each other inspiring to my own practice. Trying to keep the feel of the old, while blending techniques of the new. Can't really add anything relevant to this particular list, but i found Jan Fries' "Visual Magick" to be an eyeopener considering some methods of shamanism (more seidr than galdr?), useful for activating runes/sigls etc.
"Ars est celare artem"

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