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The Marklander Bookshelf
By Lavrans Reimer-Møller
( 1996)

When we meet new people, one of the first topics of conversation is about reading material. What books should they try to acquire for further study? We often reply with a copy of a “suggested reading list”, which hopefully will guide the inquirer in the right direction. This article is in response to requests for an in-depth annotated listing of essential reading materials. It is by no means complete and comprehensive, and does not include those many good books which have unfortunately gone Out Of Print.

First and foremost is the official book of the Ring of Troth, “Our Troth”. It was assembled and edited by Kveldulf Gundarsson and is primarily taken from articles originally published in the RoT's quarterly journal Idunna by the very cream of Asatru academe. This is a ‘journal’ in the academic sense of that term, and articles are usually referenced and footnoted in the standard academic style, albeit not the APA style now in use in most such publications.

The initial printing of O.T. is almost gone; the hardcover has run out, but a few copies of the softcover remain. It costs $25 for nonmembers of the Troth, $15 for members, plus $2.50 s&h, check or m.o. payable to the Ring of Troth; send to: Lavrans Reimer-Møller, Wordsmith, PO Box 390472, Cambridge MA 02139-0006. We are now trying to make arrangements for another printing, but it is going slowly.

Regarding the Thorsson Runic books, whatever opinion folks may have about him regarding his other activities, no own else has yet to come up with a comprehensive analysis of the Runes in terms of the modern Asatru revival that even comes close to matching his scholarship and knowledge. The first of the ‘trilogy’ is “Futhark”, a study of the Runes from religious or theurgical point of view. In addition to the history and background, Edred also explains Asatru as a complete religious belief system in which the Runes are fully integrated. The second book, “Runelore” explores the Runes in a somewhat different manner, as a means of obtaining personal spiritual growth and understanding. It is a book which invites a very personal and internal meditative approach. The 3rd book, “At the Well of Wyrd” emphasizes the use of the Runes as a method of divination. It is by comparison more magickal or thaumaturgical, but then all three books contain religious, spiritual and magickal concepts of Asatru well integrated into the presentation of Edred’s ideas.

Other runic books worth considering include “Runes” by R.I. Page, (U of Cal), a slim volume packed with useful historical information and a lot of good illustrations and photos. “Using the Runes” by D. Jason Cooper is in many ways a better book than his more recent “Esoteric Rune Magic”. In “Using the Runes”, he outlines a method of Runecasting which, while quite complicated, might work for many. He uses the 24 rune Germanic Futhark, but with Anglo-saxon names. His latter effort has been criticized for errors in trying to associate the gods and goddesses with specific runes.

“The Elements of the Runes” by Bernard King (Element books, Rockport MA) is a fairly straightforward treatment, with references to both Freya Aswynn and Nigel Pennick. If you don’t agree with these two sources, then you may want to pass.

“Leaves of Yggdrasil” by Freya Aswynn ((Llewellyn) is on many Asatru bookshelves. She writes in a very colorful style and is fun to read. This book is only problematic in that she doesn’t make enough of a real distinction between Asatru and other unrelated systems, including the always unpleasant Aleister Crowley. Many of us are waiting for her next book- and waiting, and waiting...

Speaking of Pennick, many of his books are treasure houses of lore. Unfortunately, he doesn’t always verify his sources, and tends occasionally get a bit too inventive. His “Rune Magic” (Aquarian) is worth having around, as is “Practical Magic in the Northern Tradition”.

Osborn and Longland’s “Rune Games” is recommended by most credible authors, yet I find little it in of use. It is yet another failed attempt to combine elements of kaballism with the Northern tradition. If you are building a complete bookshelf, and know what to avoid or disregard, you still might want to have this around for some of the ideas which do work.

Another book with similar problems is the popular “Helrunar” by Jan Fries ((Mandrake of Oxford). Any book that opens with the thelemic motto: “Do what thou wilt” instantly puts me off. However, I found it worthwhile to get past that initial response and read on. His historical data and insights are worth reading, and his style and drawings make the book worthwhile. If only he would lose the Crowley influence...

If my obvious prejudice against Kaballism, the Golden Dawn and Crowley seem a bit intended, it is based on nearly 20 years of having been deeply immersed in these ideas. I got rid of all my old books, purged myself and have embraced the pure Northern tradition in its place. If one wants to follow Crowley, or wicca or any of these non-germanic Kaballistic ideas, then of course, feel free to do so. But I am to be counted among those who insist that Asatru is entirely self-contained and that we don’t need to corrupt our practice by going elsewhere for ideas.

There are a number of other more esoteric books on the Runes which may interest the student, but be aware that any of the works by Ralph Blum are usually shunned by serious followers of Asatru. His rearrangement of the runic sequence and addition of the useless and meaningless ‘blank’ rune are more than enough good cause to consign his stuff to the kindling stack. He is alleged to have devised his interpretation while meditating on the I Ching; his deck of cards defeats one of the main attractions of the runes by drawing pretty New Age pictures, instead of using the pure Runic symbols to trigger the imagination. Nuff said.

Donald Tyson’s books are often sold in a package with other runic tools such as a set of runes, rune cards and rune dice. As it is probably best to make your own runic tools, these may of little use to you. Upon studying his “Rune Magic” (Llewellyn), you will probably be disturbed by his penchant for mixing in the kaballah, even to the point of placing runes in Pentagrams!

There are other books by Edred Thorsson on Asatru and related topics which may be of use. “The 9 Doors of Midgard”, “A Book of Troth”, “Rune Might”{Llewellyn} are all worth collecting. “9 Doors” is a curriculum for study which need not be taken in order in its entirety, but one which certainly contains many useful ideas. The “Book of Troth” is the original handbook for the Ring of Troth, and while a lot of it has changed and evolved since it was published, it is still a good reference. “Rune Might” goes well with the rest of his work and explores magickal ideas in the German tradition. (It is rumored that his Llewellyn books are not going to be continued; if you want these, get them now. You can call Llewellyn at 1-800- THE MOON) Published under his real name Stephen Flowers, his “The Secret of the Runes” (Destiny) is still the authoritative work on Von List and his Armanen system; approach it with a bit of caution, as you should also approach his “Fire and Ice”, the dark side of German occultism.

In addition to Kveldulf Gundarsson’s magnificent retelling of the Nibelungen saga, (published under his real name Stephan Grundy) “Rhinegold” (Bantam), you should also own his 2 books on Asatru, “Teutonic Religion” and “Teutonic Magic” (Llewellyn). Both are very well written and an essential part of any Asatruar’s Bookshelf. Kveldulf is currently living in Ireland and working on a number of new projects, but one would hope that his writings, which have been published in practically every journal and newsletter extant, might be collected into an anthology.

More of the names which are noted as not recommended include Atwater, Fitch and Conway, all of whom have written not just useless but offensive attempts at mixing in wicca and every other system and method under the sun. And now there have been more. Two more recent books on the Runes from a feminist perspective, “Runes for Today’s Woman” by Cassandra Eason (Foulshan, GB) and “Lady of the Northern Light” by Susan Gitlin-Emmer, (Crossing Press, CA ) have been dismissed as inappropriately attempting to force a PC agenda onto a belief system where one must assume that isn't necessary.

The version of the elder or poetic Edda that still seems to be the mostly widely read as well as readily available is the translation by Lee Hollander (U of Texas Press). Until somebody else comes up with another more readable translation, this will probably continue to be at the center of your bookshelf.

A discovery of mine, the version of the Edda by Olive Bray, was originally done nearly a hundred years ago for the Viking Society. It is a deluxe hardcover edition of the mythological poems, excluding the Volsunga material. It is beautifully illustrated, and is a facing page translation with both Old Norse and English. A close examination will show some missing verses that have been filled in elsewhere by Hollander and others, but the overall effect is stunning, and is as close to a “bible” as we can get. It can be ordered directly from AMS press in New York by calling (212) 777 4700. It costs $49 plus s&h, but is worth it.

The Prose Edda, Sturluson’s guide to the rules of Old Norse poetry, is equally valuable for its insight and background; the most often referred to translation by Jean Young has been supplanted by a newer and more complete version by Anthony Faulkes; the latter contains all three sections as compared to the Young version, and is available from Everyman Press.

I have in the past included “The Masks of Odin” on my list, although it has been rightly pointed out that Else-Britt Tichenel is a Theosophist, and that her comments are slanted towards that point of view. I personally don’t have any large problem in integrating Eastern thought into my practice, so I am less bothered by this than some. But be advised.

The basic mythology set Includes H.R.E. Davidson’s “Gods and Myths of Northern Europe”, a fairly obtainable Penguin paperback, Her other works are harder to find but worth the search. “The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe” from Routledge is recommended; the book on the “Sword in Anglo Saxon England” was in the Barnes and Noble catalog (call 1-800 THE BOOK); get on their mailing list- I have also gotten Gwyn Jones “A History of the Vikings” and Francis Owen’s “History of the Germanic People” from them at very low prices!

Back to mythology: 2 more books which are readily available are Crossley-Holland’s “The Norse Myths”, (Pantheon books) and the Dover re-issue of H.A. Guerber’s “Myths of the Norsemen”. The Crossley-Holland is a fairly straightforward re-telling of the Eddic material in prose form, and is probably a good book for the youngsters to read. The Guerber is in late Victorian romantic style, but is a treasure in that she goes a little farther afield, and that the book is beautifully illustrated.

There are many more books on Mythology which are worth considering, but I don’t have room in this brief review to mention them all. I should mention that I have a database of over 200 titles which I compiled about 2 years ago which has publisher, ISBN numbers and more.

It goes without saying that all of the Penguin series of Norse sagas should be on your shelf. They too are readily available through most bookstores and have luckily been kept in print. In addition, you should also get at least one of the two versions of Heimskringla; the one I have is from Dover, a reprint of the 1932 edition translated by A.H. Smith, beautifully illustrated.

Lee Hollander’s translation of the “Jomsviking Saga” from U of Texas press is indispensable, as is Jesse Byock’s “Volsunga Saga” (U of Cal press) and A.T. Hatto’s “Nibelungenlied” (Penguin).

James Chisholm has put together fine volume of lore in his “True Hearth”, which is intended as a supplement to Thorsson’s “A Book of Troth”. Highly recommended; Runa-Raven Press, PO Box 575, Bastrop TX 78602.

In building your bookshelf, there are several things to keep in mind. Don't assume that a book which gets referred to regularly in articles is in print and available. Many of the scholarly types who have made great contributions to our lore have had access to libraries which many of us don’t have. I think the best book is the one I can buy and own, not one I can only peek at in a library. This problem is what motivated me to start researching books related to Asatru in the first place- to try to determine what is available and what isn’t.

The losses to our literature are staggering. Great stacks of books from the Scandinavian Foundation as well as Krause reproductions have gone out of print and are unavailable. One of the most often referred-to works,“The Well and the Tree” by Paul Bauschatz has gone out of print and the University of Massachusetts has no plans to reissue it. The great 4 volume set of Teutonic Mythology by Jacob Grimm is out of print, both in the hardcover from Peter Smith and the paperback from Dover.

The lesson is: if you see or hear of a book that you know would be a good edition for your library, get it now! If you’ve ever had the experience of spotting something great in a store and going back the next day to find it gone, then you know what I mean.

One of the advantages of the internet is that we can share book alerts and inform each other regarding the availability of books. When I found out the Bauschatz was going out of print, I put out the word and the last dozen were grabbed up over the phone within a week.

It is tempting to consider the possibility of trying to acquire the rights and bring out affordable paperback reissues of these lost treasures. But I am informed that the cost of acquiring copyrights is prohibitive, and the cost of printing and distributing is nothing to sneeze at either. The best hope is that an Asatru bibliophile will hit a lottery jackpot and set of a publishing company.

I’ll wrap this up by pointing out that my main source of information regarding books has been Books in Print, a resource that is in every public library as well as many bookstores. By looking up listings under Norse, Viking, Icelandic, Germanic, etc., I was able to collect most of the information that led to the building of the master booklist. You can do the same.

As one word leads to another word, let this deed lead to more deeds!


© Marklander 1996

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