Mimir: Journal of North European Traditions (Review)
By James WF Roberts
“Ere long I bare fruit, and throve full well, I grew and waxed in wisdom; word following word, I found me words, deed following deed, I wrought deeds”
– Hávamál, The Words of Odin the High One
It seems so odd to me, that while we are living in a technological age, where the greatest minds, greatest ideas, the very best of human endeavours are only at our finger tips, my generation (born after 1980 and before 2000); maybe one of the last, if not the last generation to seek out traditional wisdom. We are witnessing the death, by our own hands, of so much of the past, just to live in a safe, cold, plastic, compartmentalised, compatible, computerized world. We see it all the time, universities ending Liberal Arts, History, Science courses, in favour of money-spinning, flavour of the month courses. But, this post isn’t and shouldn’t be about me sprouting my anger at the world, like a burst water-main. That is why I am so happy to talk about a recent book I have had the pleasure and honour of reading. Independent and under-ground publishers seem to be flourishing at the moment, in some ways, and in others of course they are dwindling and the writer who thinks they can get a major best-seller with one book and no time and energy, really doesn’t know how the industry works. Numen Books is a place where wisdom, art, philosophy, spirituality and good writing comes alive. What they want to do is to provide content which can enlighten, mentally stimulate and encourage a dialogue, by the means of knowledge, art and understanding.
They want to create an atmosphere of change. Not a new world order, but a world of new found respect for traditional ideas, ideologies, mythology, customs and rituals.
They strive to produce high quality original works that are severely under-represented in niche and mainstream markets the world over and aim to produce high quality literature, for the above average reader.
This is their highly anticipated sequel, to their first book, Northern Traditions. It offers a unique combination of both academic research and cultural/artistic content. The level of scholarship and research in this anthology is masterful and fairly high. None of it is written from a purely academic or technical philosophical view point. It is easy to read, educational and very entertaining. Even, though their primary direction in this book, was for educated practitioners of the Northern Traditions. There are new discoveries to be made on every page for the new and for the returning visitor to these Nordic worlds. New translations of ancient texts, original art work and poetry, enough to ensure that it is neither too dense or too dry for the non-academic reader to lose complete interest in it all together. Even though it is designed for readers who identify themselves as a follower, or believer in Northern faiths— whether it be Asatru, Teutonic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon or any other faith which is indigenous to Northern Europe, do not believe for a moment that is an instructional manual for Pagan worship, Wiccans or Satanists. What is at the heart of this anthology is a deep love and cherished respect for Northern Traditions and Northern Peoples of ages past. Though, I must admit from the point of view of a writer, or world-makers, as there are many now in the Liberal Arts world, this is certainly a book that shows you how endurable legends, myths and beliefs are. In a world of spiritual and moral decay, where lust and greed and overt sexualisation. This book is a reminder of the sacred and the beautiful, the sensual, that is not pornographic.
Norse mythology which is a prominent feature, obviously of this collection, talks a lot about the fall, the decay. A lot of people over the years have said that Hellenic/Classical mythology celebrates life where as Norse and Nordic traditions mourn life. Maybe, it’s all that snow and winter? But there is more to it than that, I think. Maybe the best to illustrate that fatalism in Nordic traditions, the idea of decaying culture, spiritual abyss, will be to quote the same passage and expand, as Gwendoyln Von Taunton, Editor of Mimir, begins this amazing anthology with a quote, from the Parable of the Madman:
“How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto….”
If we expand a little bit further with this quote, “here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars — and yet they have done it themselves.
It has been related further that on the same day the madman forced his way into several churches and there struck up his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said always to have replied nothing but: “What after all are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchres of God?”
[Source: Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (1882, 1887) para. 125; Walter Kaufmann ed. (New York: Vintage, 1974), pp.181-82.]
Gwendoyln, then goes on to say in her fabulous introduction (On Contemporary Idolatry); ‘the world is changing quickly and it is apparent that we now approach an important turning point in history. We are entering a transition period, where one way of life is perishing and another is born a new. But will this terminate with an explosion, or a wistful sigh? At the moment the Occident is struggling with mounting debt, wastefulness, poor health and corrupt or ineffectual leadership, pollution, social problems and an obsession with the superficial. We, the modern heirs to Europe have committed proverbial suicide through greed—stripping our culture of all that was once high and noble, we have put gold upon a pedestal and worshipped Mammon. We scorned Frey and Frigg and replaced the Goddess with an illusion of women that never existed whose bodies are Frankenstein monsters, more plastic (or should I say silicon?) than flesh. We no longer admire beauty; only the skill of the make-up artist and the precision of the surgeon. Where is Thor? And where is Odin? What of Tyr? These gods too were banished, first replaced by Christ, and then supplanted by the cult of popularity and the media…”
I could go on, but I don’t want to let any more of the cat out of the bag.
I don’t want to mislead you and think that this anthology is preaching and trying to indoctrinate you. So many times throughout my several readings of this collection I almost wept. For the beauty of the imagery of the cultures that have been lost. And for the fact that they were lost, by the sheer act of vandalism. As a person of Irish, Anglo and Germanic descent, reading this anthology almost made me understand the Indigenous sense of loss better than I have ever understood it before. How many Native Americans, Indigenous Australians, European Gypsies etc have lost their identity, their souls, their way of life through the sheer wanton vandalism and destruction of their culture by an invading, empire building, dominant culture, and religio-cultural pathology for dominance and iconoclasm as our own dominate Anglo-Christian culture has proven time and time again. We may have inherited the lust and the greed for power and dominion from Rome but we have certainly made it our own over the last two-three hundred years.
I guess in so many ways the myth, the legend of the Tree, of Asgard the home of the Nordic Gods and Heroes fits both our own messy times and this anthology like a hand in a glove.
“I find no comfort in the shade
Under the branch of the Great Ash.
I remember the mist
of our ancient past.
As I speak to you in the present,
My ancient eyes
see the terrible future.
“Do you not see what I see?
Do you not hear
“The mournful cry of Giallr-horn
shall shatter the peace
And shake the foundation of heaven.
“Raise up your banner
And gather your noble company
from your great hall,
Father of the Slains.
For you shall go to your destiny.
“No knowledge can save you,
And no magic will save you.
For you will end up in Fenrir’s belly,
While heaven and earth will burn
in Surt’s unholy fire.”
— Doom of Odin,
from the Book of Heroes.
This anthology is more anthropological and archaeological, than it is preachy and cultish.
As I have stated earlier, this is a very useful book for poets and artists as well as enthusiasts of Nordic culture and customs; as well as the usual suspects (Tolkienians and Dungeons and Dragons, may get a lot out of this book). With the subjects as varied and meaty as: Amor Fati: The Nornir and the Concept of Fate, The Vinland Voyages: Pre-Columbian Norse Exploration of North America, Gunnlaug the Worm-Tongue and Raven the Skald, The Significance of the Chronicion Lethrense to Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum, Traditionalistic Asatru: Esoteric Heath, Ritual and Initiation in the Poetic Edda, Runes, Magic, and Divination, Quest Mythology as for a Model for Intentionality in the Northern Tradition, Hidden Beginning—a look at the Uthark Theory, The Power of the Celtic Warrior Goddesses, The Primal Law, Of Wolves and Men: The Berserker and the Vrātya, Halfdan, Son of Thor, in Saxo Grammaticus’ History of the Danes and so much more. Do your self a favour and buy this book. It is an unparalleled delight and quite fulfilling meal for the mind and the heart.