Categotry Archives: germanic

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Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland – Magnús Rafnsson

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Categories: folk, germanic, grimoire, runes, witchcraft

Angurgapi coverIn 2002, Strandagaldur, also known as the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík, Iceland, hosted the Exhibition of Sorcery and Witchcraft, which one assumes evolved into or contributed to the museum’s permanent exhibition. Shortly after the opening it became evident that there was a need for a short book on Icelandic sorcery and witchcraft, one that reflected the questions asked of museum staff by visitors Icelandic and foreign; especially given the dearth of texts on the subject outside of academia. Angurgapi: The Witch-hunts in Iceland is exactly that. It is by no means a survey of the museum’s collection, for which there is now a catalogue, and instead gives a pithy and concise survey of Icelandic witchcraft, using the framing device of witch-hunts to delve a little deeper in places.

It is, though, the witch-hunts in Iceland that the book devotes much of its space to, beginning with a summary of several notable early cases. What immediately becomes clear is that contrary to the continental stereotype, it was men who received the most convictions for sorcery in Iceland, and not just any men but men of the cloth. In many cases, accusations of witchcraft seems to have gone hand in hand with clerical infidelity, with Rafnsson presenting several examples of priests who were accused of witchcraft as well as fathering children or engaging in adultery or sexual assault. Even Gottskálk Nikulásson, the last Catholic Bishop of Hólar from 1496 to 1520 (who had multiple mistresses and sired at least three children), was thought to be a sorcerer, and the author of an infamous grimoire called Rauðskinna.

One exception to this template, indeed its polar opposite, was Jón Guðmundsson the Learned, who, as his name suggests, was something of a 16th-century Icelandic Renaissance man, being a writer, artist, sculptor, and an observer and documenter of nature. He ran afoul of the authorities when he criticised the murder of a group of Basque whalers in the Westfjords, and this ultimately led to accusations of witchcraft when a book he had written was used as evidence of diabolism. Jón admitted to writing the now lost volume and defended it as a book of healing without any evil purpose. While the image of Jón as a polymath with inclinations towards natural philosophy would seemingly make authorship of a grimoire unlikely, a listing of the book’s sections preserved in court documents reveals not herbal cures, but spells of the type found in other black books: charms against elves, madness and fire, or spells for providing victory in war or against storms at sea, amongst others.

Spread including pages from Lbs. 1235, 8vo written by Jón Guðmundsson the Learned

It is these types of grimoires and their attendant spells and charms that figure largely in the Icelandic accounts of witchcraft, rather than the transvection, sabbats and other diabolical congregations of their continental colleagues. As Rafnsson notes, almost a third of the Icelandic witchcraft trials centre on the possession of grimoires and other examples of rendered magical staves, charms or sigils. While many of these have been destroyed (with court records documenting two instances of a punishment in which the guilty party was made to inhale the smoke of the burning pages), what has survived presents various interesting themes: a juxtaposition in references to pagan and Christian deities, the combination of continental influences with entirely indigenous elements such as magical staves, and the role played by copying in transmitting this information down through the years.

Spread with image of the codex Lbs. 143 8vo

What comes through clearly in the various accounts of witch trials is the sense of paranoia and fear prevalent at the time, where accusations of witchcraft often appear to be acts of self-preservation, where the accuser, even sheriffs and priests, could themselves easily become the accused. There is also a sense of disproportionate punishment, where admission of knowing and using a simple non-malicious charm could lead to exile or death. With some relief for the reader, Rafnsson does document the change in beliefs and values as society progressed, past cases were reassessed and found wanting (though small comfort to those who had been executed), and, as happened elsewhere, those who made accusations of witchcraft were increasingly more likely to be convicted for wasting the court’s time, rather than seeing their neighbours pilloried.

After a heart felt memoriam noting the loss of life and humiliation experienced by those accused of witchcraft, Angurgapi concludes with a little travelogue of the Icelandic witch-hunts, devoting four pages to various notable locations, each presented with a photo and a brief explanation. These help provide context to some of the accounts that have preceded it.

Rafnsson writes throughout Angurgapi in a clear, no-nonsense manner that is an effortless joy to read. Without much adornment, the facts are presented in a matter of fact but sympathetic manner that is surprisingly engaging. As such, Angurgapi achieves what it set out to do, providing a brief but by no means superficial survey of a topic for which there is still little thorough documentation of.

Spread including an image of AM 434d, 12mo, a grimoire measuring only 8x8.5cm

Angurgapi runs to a mere 85 pages but feels weightier due to the hardcover binding and wrap-around glossy cover (went a little overboard on the old Photoshop Texture filter there, folks). Inside, the pages are also glossy and colour images abound. These include beautiful scans of original manuscripts, principally spreads from grimoires, sourced from the National Library in Reykjavík. Text is formatted cleanly and confidently, albeit in nothing but humble Times, and there are little nice touches, like the overly large page numbers rendered in an uncial face. There is one reservation with the layout though, with the text alternating between three styling choices: body, block text and image captions. The block text, usually an addendum to something in the main text, are set in a grey box and styled at the same point size as the body, but with less, rather than more, of an indent. In some cases running to several pages long, they often awkwardly interrupt the main body and aren’t successfully identified as secondary in hierarchy. The same is true of image captions, which are rendered in an italicised face only a few point sizes smaller than the body, meaning that despite being centred and placed in relation to their respective image, the eye often reads them as if they are a continuation of the main text.

Since the release of Angurgapi in 2002, Strandagaldur have expanded their publishing, releasing the aforementioned catalogue, as well as various archival publications of grimoires: Tvær galdraskræður, a bilingual bringing together of two manuscripts, Lbs 2413 8vo and Lbs 764 8vo (aka Leyniletursskræðan); Lbs. 143,8vo (aka Galdrakver) as a two book boxset featuring a facsimile in one and translation in multiple languages in the other; and a complete facsimile edition of the galdrabók Rún with translation. All thoroughly recommended.

Published by Strandagaldur

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The Edda as Key to the Coming Age – Peryt Shou, translated by Stephen E. Flowers

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Categories: esotericism, germanic, runes, Tags:

The Edda as Key to the Coming Age coverOriginally published in 1920 and presented here in a 2004 translation from Rûna Raven Press, The Edda as Key to the Coming Age by Peryt Shou is something of a classic of early 20th century German rune magic. As Flower’s notes in his introduction, Shou’s book provides context to some of his own work as presented in Rune Might: Secret Practices of the German Rune Magicians published by Llewellyn in 1989. In this, he provided a survey of the various strains of last century German runo-mysticism, including that of Shou as well as the contributions of Guido von List, Friedrich Marby, and of course Karl Maria Wiligut. In Rune Might, the influence of Shou on Flowers was clear, and the publication of this source text puts flesh on those bones.

Shou’s cosmology as presented here represents a syncretism of rune mysticism with esoteric Christianity, seeing the cosmic Christ as an analogue of Wuotan, who he describes as the prehistoric Christ of the German folk. Shou is certainly not unique in this concept, as evidenced by far older precedents like the runestone from Jelling, Denmark, in which Christ appears not crucified but hung, entwined with foliage on a tree, in an echo of Odin’s hanging from the World Tree. Indeed, Shou takes this idea of a Germanification of Christianity as mythically central to his system, describing a stark break between the Christianity of Roman Catholicism and a vigorous Germanic Christianity; a break that occurred at the very point of the crucifixion. For him, Christ’s death marked the end of Catholic Christianity as a valid system, at which point Germanic Christianity began and Christ awoke on the World Tree, descending alive as Wuotan.

Central to this cosmology is the idea of Need, which seems to occupy positions both negative, comparable to desire in Buddhism and therefore the cause of suffering, and positive, as a force of will that provides the operations and indeed the whole system, with its impetus and energy. This concept of Need naturally relates to the rune Nauthiz, but Shou takes this further, seeing it encoded within the ‘N’ in the INRI acronym placed above the crucified Christ, and therefore a key to understanding that moment where Christ proper transformed into Christ-Wuotan. Shou associates this moment with Odin’s hanging on the World Tree as recorded in Hávamál, drawing attention to the idea that on the ninth night, screaming, he grasped the runes with Need.

This intersection between the crucifixion of Christ and the hanging of Odin forms the basis of the main ritual Shou presents in this work, the Ritual of the Ninth Night. This ritual is a combination of special postures, visualisations and voice work that is redolent of the rune vibration and runic yoga of Shou’s contemporaries, and the core principles will be fairly familiar to anyone that has encountered occultism within the last century. In a series of procedures over several days or weeks, depending on one’s sense of progress, the practitioner gradually builds connections with cosmic energies, building an aethyric form that replicates the body of Christ-Wuotan. As the Tabernaculum Hermetis, this Adam Kadmon-like figure contains within it all the runes as vibratory symbols.

Tabernaculum Hermetis

The nomenclature Shou uses to describe his system has an endearing retro-futurist technological quality to it, making it, in retrospect, feel slightly cyberpunk or evocative of the technomages of Babylon Five. In the Ninth Night ritual, the practitioner imagines themselves as a cosmic antenna, drawing on radio waves from the divine, and even entreating these forces to awaken the network within; drawing an explicit analogy between this mystical proto-internet and the instruction made by Jesus to his disciples to cast their nets. In concert with this surprisingly contemporary terminology is a lexicon that feels much more of its Theosophy-inspired time, filled with ideas of planetary energies and ascended masters, such as the Hermes-Brotherhood who appear to literally live on the planet Mercury. In a particularly intriguing moment, Shou refers to another priesthood on Mercury called the Wolves of the Sun who are hostile to Wuotan, and who obviously provide the template for the idea of the predatory wolves Fenrir, Hati and Skoll. Combined, these two strains of language and paradigms make for an appealing modality, a little old fashioned, a little futuristic, a little pagan and a little Christian.

Ninth Night

One of the most interesting aspects of reading The Edda as Key to the Coming Age is considering its status as a historical and prophetic document, aided and abetted by the hindsight of nearly 100 years. With the book being written in the aftermath of the First World War and long before the rise of National Socialism (although part of the nationalist rebirth, and its sometimes problematic racism, from which it would draw), it is hard not to identify that most tumultuous period two decades then hence as the coming age Shou speaks of. This is certainly true when he says that the Germanic people are destined for destruction, something he ties to what he defines as an outdated definition of race, albeit to be reborn for the greater global good. Alternatively, it must be asked, is this still an age that is yet to come.

The Edda as Key to the Coming Age is a slim volume at only 57 pages. Shou, as translated by Flowers, writes with enthusiasm but also with the unchecked anthropology of yesteryear, where the etymology is often wishful and there’s very little citing of academic sources with an often inescapable feeling that some things could be several steps removed from the original material. There’s also a certain degree of repetition, despite the low page count, with the basic premise of Christ-Odin/crucified-hung repeated in several variations as Shou attempts to make his point in a largely poetic way. As an archival document, this is an important resource, and despite the repetition, a genuine joy to read; something abetted by that little bit of crazy that are the cosmic, early 20th century occultism elements.

Published by Rûna Raven Press and since reprinted by Lodestar.


Review Soundtrack: Peryt Shou by Inade and Turbund Sturmwerk.

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Wholly: A Devotional for Hela – Dagian Madir

Categories: germanic, rökkr, Tags:

It’s full disclosure time once again: I created the cover art for this Hela devotional, and also contributed a few pieces of writing and some internal illustrations. So, proceed with due caution. With that out of the way, Wholly: A Devotional for Hela is, perhaps not surprisingly, a devotional for Hela, published by Asphodel Press and edited by Dagian Madir. It presents a combination of essays, poetry, prayers, rituals and artwork, compiling contributions from around the world.

Madir’s opening essay, The Day I Became Hel’s, sets the experiential tone for much of the content of Wholly. They describe how they first encountered Hela, in an experience that amounts to shamanic dismemberment, and then proceed to give a synopsis of Hela’s attributes, highlighting Her role as She who, in Her divided state, makes whole. Madir contributes several other essays throughout this volume, considering the role of death in the everyday, and of loving Hela as a form of devotional practice.

Other articles are provided by Fuensanta Plaza, who writes about euthanasia in The Good Death, and Gudrun Mimirsbrunnr, who rather wonderfully describes Hela as being found “in silence, in dust, in the workings of insects.”  Galina Krasskova, as someone who belongs to Odin, provides an interesting angle in describing her encounters with Hela, while Silence Maestas does likewise and writes of their sometimes turbulent relationship with Hela from the perspective of someone who primarily works with Loki. Raven Kaldera contributes two pieces, one a summary of Hela’s characteristics, and another, Mercy and Unmercy, a consideration of Hela in relation to the passage between life and death, particularly in cases of difficult transitions. The relationship between Hela and the dead is, naturally, an important one and other writers consider it too, with Lydia Helasdottir writing of ministering to the dying in a piece considering various ways of Working with Hela, while Silence Maestas discusses offerings of food to the dead.

Many of these articles are written from a personal perspective and come across as testimonials, almost as if they’re customer reviews on an auction website, describing the services Hela offers and whether they’d trade with Her again. Most say A++ seller, would trade again. Despite this rather pragmatic interpretation of this content, taken as whole, these articles do act as viable meditations on Hela. While these contributions contain little of the poetic or flowery language typical of devotional literature, a focused reading of them does prove to be an effective way of meditating on Hela’s nature.

The poetic language is largely reserved for the section of poetry that follows. This content is more obviously devotional in its intent, with some directly addressing Hela as invocations and others poetically exploring a narrative. Highlights include Talas Valravyn’s A Ritual For Hela, in which instructions for an impossible, unless metaphorical, ritual are rendered poetic, while one of the strongest pure invocations is Kaldera’s For Hela, In All Extremity. Here, Hela is called by successive verse in the names of darkness, decay, cold, silence, bones, loss, death and ultimately, regeneration.

Young Hela by Abby Helasdottir

While some of entries in the poetry section could be considered prayers, Wholly follows those with a separate section of prayers, all penned by Madir. These are probably the most intensely devotional of all the contents of this book, calling to mind Ramprasad Sen’s Shyama Sangeet hymns to Kali. These nine prayers have a rhapsodic, almost giddy and all-consuming quality, providing a profound address to Hela for everything from gratitude for daily bread to the need to let go of things.

The concluding section of Wholly provides a few rituals and meditations, with the slight contributor list consisting of Kaldera and Madir. There’s nothing wrong with that though, as it’s better to have a few solid rituals, rather than a lot of pointless fluff. Kaldera’s contribution is a reprint of his Hela ritual outline from the Pagan Book of Hours, while Madir gives a cemetery meditation and a corpse pose ritual. Both are good, solid guides that provide more than the usual unimaginative rigmarole from modern grimoires: cast this circle, visualise this sigil, hope stuff goes down.

One minor problem with Wholly is that it was a work long in the making and as a result, some of the material has a familiarity from being featured elsewhere. Kaldera’s Hela appeared in his Jotunbok, as did the pieces from Gudrun Mimirsbrunnr and Lydia Helasdottir, amongst others. I’m guilty of this too, as one of my contributions, the suite of planetary poems for Hela, has appeared previously in the Jotunbok and before that, on the Shadowlight website. In saying that, though, over half of the material is new and having both the old and new together in a single volume makes this an indispensable book for those with an interest in Hela specifically or the Rökkr in general. The range of contributors is wide and what is interesting is how, despite the geographical gulfs between them, there is a consistency in language and spirit, with Hela described and summarised in the same way despite so many different voices.

Published by Asphodel Press. ISBN 978-1-938197-00-0

Mortal Fear by Abby Helasdottir

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Gullveigarbók – Vexior, 218

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Categories: anticosmic, germanic, rökkr, Tags:

Gullveigarbok coverPublished by Spanish press Fall of Man, Gullveigarbók is a seemingly little-known consideration of the Rökkr witch goddess Angrboda with, as the title implies, a preference for her name of Gullveig. Given the subject matter, one would expect that the author has come across my writings or those of Raven Kaldera (and other writers published by Asphodel Press), but other than one small passing reference to Kaldera, there is no indication of this. Instead, and as the author’s own name suggests, Gullveig is considered from something of a Temple of the Black Light perspective, with the writing sharing a language and tone similar to publications from that organisation. As a result, there is much talk of anti-cosmic Chaos-powers, with Odin identified as a demiurge of false light analogous to figures from Gnosticism and mythology, who is opposed by the Thursian forces that seek to return creation to the primal state of the void of Ginnungagap. For Vexior, Gullveig and Loki are seen as analogues of Lilith and Lucifer, with Lilith’s exile to the Red Sea being mirrored by Gullveig taking up residence in the liminal Iron Wood and with both goddesses sharing attributes of sexual and procreative independence. The relationship between Gullveig and Loki, as two shape (and gender) shifting male and female halves of a single being, is compared to that of Lilith and Samael, who appear in the Zohar as androgynous twins emerging from an emanation beneath the Throne of Glory.

Taking the theme of Gullveig’s three-fold burning as a pivotal moment, Vexior divides her into three aspects: the queen of the Iron Wood as Gullveig proper, as the witchcraft-working Heidr, and as Aurboða, the mother of Gerda. As this latter identification highlights, this book is heavily indebted to the work of Victor Rydberg, and anyone familiar with his oft-times torturous (but frequently intriguing) thematic and linguistics leaps will recognise much here. Following Rydberg’s lead, Gullveig is identified with Hyrrokin, and with Hljóð, the giant-born maiden of Frigga who was sent with an apple to Rerir, the father of the hero Volsung.

Gullveig, Heid and Aurboda

In addition to his consideration of Gullveig in all her guises, Vexior briefly explores Loki as well as the couple’s children, Hela, Fenrir and Jormungandr. Indeed, Vexior sees the three-fold burning of Gullveig as a process that not only divided her into three aspects but sequentially gave birth to this trio.

Following the more theoretical segments that make up the majority of the book, Gullveigarbók concludes with two sections, Fjølkyngi and Ljóð, containing practical exercises for interacting with Gullveig and poetry. Fjølkyngi includes an invocation to Gullveig, a discussion on utiseta as ritual praxis, and a series of sigils (both bind runes and designs more akin to medieval grimoires). Ljóð features poetry and rungaldr, with the poetry effectively illustrating many of the themes of the book in evocative, if frequently bleak, language.

This grim language is something that occurs throughout Gullveigarbók and is a style shared with other anti-Cosmic writings. This is perhaps inevitable given both the Temple of the Black Light and Vexior’s association with metal music, and any chance to use words like black, icy, destruction, wrathful, bestial and of course, anti-cosmic, is gleefully embraced. While many of these properties are, of course, central to this theme, and it would be disingenuous to downplay them, the enthusiastically misanthropic language does come across as, how you say, very metal. In addition to this stylistic quirk, Vexior writes in the first person, frequently giving his personal interpretation rather than employing a distant academic voice, but he quotes primary sources throughout and employs footnotes extensively. The footnotes are styled rather attractively on the side of the page, rather than as actual feet, although in one case, this means that a rather extensive foot, erm, sidenote takes up more space than the main body text as it vertically splits the page in half.

One of the most striking elements of Gullveigarbók are the full page, full-bleed illustrations by Helgorth of Babalon Graphics. Because Helgorth is primarily a designer of covers and logos for metal bands, his work has a quality that is refreshingly different from the post-Spare/Chumbley icon/stele style of artwork so prevalent in occult publications; of which I myself am guilty. Instead, the detailed pen and ink illustrations have a depth and power that captures the essence of Angrboda and certainly acts as a visual underlining of the tone and language that Vexior employs throughout. Particularly impressive is the foldout depiction of Heldrasil that ends the book, in which the three-fold roots of the World Tree are stylised as heads of Níðhöggr, upon whom Gullveig rides in a silhouetted form.

Gullveigarbók comes hardbound in maroon cloth, printed on 242 pages of high quality heavy paper, with red spot colour titles and headings throughout. A deluxe edition of 62 copies was also available. Both editions are now sold out from the publisher Fall of Man.

gullveig_blackice

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Shadow Gods and Black Fire – Andrew Gyll

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Categories: germanic, rökkr, Tags:

shadowgodsFirst the disclaimer and a qualifier: I was commissioned to design the cover art for this book and I am credited as the illustrator for the internal imagery too. So, while this could suggest that this may not be the most unbiased of reviews, I choose to use it as a, well, illustration of the virtues of this book. I wasn’t commissioned to make the internal illustrations, but upon receiving the manuscript for review, it was impossible to resist being inspired by the author’s words.

Shadow Gods and Black Fire is a collection of poems by Dorset-based poet, storyteller (and postman), Andrew Gyll, divided into two parts. As Gyll explains, the first half, Shadow Gods and Black Fire¸ is a personal exploration of Norse cosmology and of the Rökkr in particular, while the second part, The Dis, are a series of recollections of a female ancestor of the author.

Gyll’s style of writing is a simple, evocative one that has a remarkable ability, for me at least, to evoke something so familiar and known, as if he’s tapping into my own well of experience. In Magpie Woman, he sees Hela with the colours of the titular bird: She is transition; one black wing, one white, warm flesh, cold bone, describing Her as “life that has withered, the promise of beauty yet to come.” In Helheim, the subject is again Hela, with a meditation on Her as a spirit of compassion, as She who makes whole, because She, as the poem says, “knows the pain of separation and loves you for it.”

At the close of day
A lady waits,
wide are her lands,
fine are her halls.

It was the resonance that Gyll’s poems about Hela had for me that led me to create so many of the accompanying illustration. Like the best devotional literature, Gyll’s poetry provokes a physical as well as emotional response and that he achieves this with such brevity of words adds to the impact of the pieces. There is also a wonderful spirit of pragmatism infusing the work, so rare in the oft-times turgid and earnest realm of devotional and spiritual poetry. In Mordgud, an underworld explorer seems to be on his way into the depths of Hel when, having passed the usual liminal challenges, he encounters the guardian Mordgud and finds he cannot answer her question as to why he is actually venturing into the world of the dead. Pausing and nodding she matter-of-factly ends the poem by telling the explorer “Why don’t you go away and think about it.”

Elsewhere in the Shadow Gods and Black Fire section, Gyll explores both Rökkr and Aesir figures, including Odin, Frigga, Baldur, Surt, Angrboda, Loki and the World Serpent. Some are poetic retellings of contemporary UPG accounts of pivotal moments, such as The Old Queen and The New, which recounts the idea that, as a young girl, Hela replaced an older queen of Hel. Whether one accepts this UPG or not is another matter, but even if you don’t (as I find myself doing), it’s impossible to not be moved by the image of a small limping goddess child slowly moving through the underworld towards Her destiny as queen of the dead:

Every broken step
will I tread
every pain endure

For me, and me alone
the Gates will open

The poems of the second Dis section are much shorter than those in the first, being meditations of small parts of tribal life. As Gyll explains, these seem to be fragments from the life of an ancestor whose people were shamanic, nomadic and herders of reindeer. The voice of these poems is noticeably different from the one that appears in the first half of the book, though once again, Gyll’s sparse use of words (if they are his own) is able to create vivid images in the mind. Perhaps one of the most powerful of these poems is the final one in which the narrator tells of her own death and her encounter with the Hela-like goddess of death:

She knelt and her hair
fell about her shoulders;
I saw that at the end
of each black strand
was a finger’s width
of purest white.

She removed my hand
from its mitten,
held it, simply said –
‘Daughter…’

That is it;
I can say no more.

Published by Asphodel Press. ISBN 978-0-578-00653-6

Magpie Woman

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