Thursday, January 04, 2007

Galdrbok (Review)

Nathan J. Johnson & Robert J. Wallis: Galdrbok. Practical Heathen Runecraft, Shamanism and Magic. 398 pages, Wykeham Press of London and Winchester, revised edition of a privately circulated work, 2005.

It's been a long time since anything new appeared regarding Nordic magick. I had almost assumed that Germanic paganism got stuck in the usual merry-go-round of group politics and hierarchy games. Then, out of the blue, appears a magnificent book on practical rune magick. The Galdrbok is a work of art. It blends high-quality scholarly research with the pragmatic approach required to make things work. Out of the union emerges something new. It could be you.

The Galdrbok is concerned with experience. It teaches rune lore, song, chanting, vision, journeys and several approaches to trance technique loosely symbolised by the Aesir, Vanir and Disir. The nine worlds model is explored in detail. Cosmogony is introduced as a ritual event and makes the myths manifest in experience. Your experience.

All of this is very much alive. It offers a pagan shamanism that can be explored by doing and enjoying it. For the authors, much takes the shape of inspired syncretism. Germanic magic, as you know, is far from complete. Its history is unknown, its lore fragmentary and regarding the training of its professionals, next to nothing has survived. What remains, in the Eddas, the writings of Roman literati, the handful of medieval spells and the odd bit of ancient folklore is not enough to reconstruct the fullness of what may have been, but it is sufficient to provide a foundation for something new and valuable. This step involves the introduction of new elements. Johnson and Wallis, both of them experienced mind-explorers, have dared to take this step and have combined rune sorcery with foreign elements, such as scrying in a crystal ball or the chanting of Tantric seed-mantras. Such methods may raise the scorn of a would-be traditionalists. Would-be, as it is pretty difficult to be a traditional purist when most of your tradition has long been lost or destroyed courtesy of the Christian church. When we wish to imbue a fragmentary tradition with new life we have to fill in the gaps to make it work. Johnson and Wallis have done so, and unlike many other writers, they give their sources and state in plain words when they add something. What emerges is a very thorough introduction to practical rune magic and Germanic paganism. The work is free of nationalism, sloppy research and the nutty lore of Guido List. It describes techniques you can use to find your own way to the runes. The format is highly practical, and the emphasis is on things you can do. Where theory is involved, it is of an excellent scholarly quality (meaning: you can read it) and presented in a relaxed, undogmatic way. There is an invaluable bibliography for those who intend to research further. The only point I am missing is a good index. I wish there were more books on pagan religion like this. - Jan Fries


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