A Beginners Guide to Polytheism, a Personal View (With Heathen/Odinist Reading list)

After much reluctance, laziness, and disillusionment, I realized that I was distributing the same information to complete strangers repetitively with only minor variations.  I knew it would be simpler to condense these small, online lectures into a single post…so, if I send you here first, do not be offended.  I will still answer questions anytime or direct you to whatever organization or group in your area is closest to your ideology, if you want a group, that is.

Anyway,  so it is becoming more apparent that the “Dark Ages” of our species directly coincided with a dark period of time religiously where the native Gods of Europe were suppressed by all four monotheistic religions (Christianity, Modern (monotheistic) Zoroastrianism, Islam, Judaism) and now many of us are finding ourselves openly admitting that our families were not Christian, despite the generalization of our WASPy-ness before the turn of the century.

Hopefully, the Marvel movie phase has passed and now we are entering into a new phase of Heathenry and Paganism where the current generation of Indigenous pagans, those who were raised with a European Polytheistic elder in the home, are starting to feel the pull to the religion of their parents and grandparents.  People who had the same positive aspects of their childhood I did: colorful religious upbringing, even if the rest of it may have been violent and rather shitty (hopefully, that is not a trait I share with you…but if it is, I am sorry).

People like us are appalled by the viking revivalist, feeling that a spectacle is being made out of traditions we know from our respective childhoods to be rather somber and monotonous:  a fine example is any Baltic who had to stand for hours in the freezing cold singing dirges in cemeteries surrounded by elderly immigrants who did not speak English may feel embarrassed and out of place in rituals with skyclad individuals when we recall being forced to wear formal attire.

Yes, there is a happy medium.  You do not need to choose between drunken sumbels of recently divorcees of Christianity and Wicca, nor the rigid institutions put in place by our secretive ancestors who hid our sacred holidays with the public name of Saints, seasons and ancient kings as “cultural holidays” (such as No Rouz and Jani) accompanied by forced smiles to spend time with people who dislike you as much as you dislike them.

The problem is discovering what it is you want to do after giving yourself a basic education via reading (or audiobook). The core of Heathenry is gaining wisdom;  which is why I have changed my stance dramatically over the years.  I am now of the belief that one should not decide to join any organization prior to reading the Eddas and some very basic books on their ancestral religions so they may know those who mis-attribute texts and are adding monotheistic bias as a recent convert as opposed to understanding our history with objectivity and the mental flexibility of the polytheist.

A true polytheist holds no grudges against the Gods of other faiths, if our Gods exist- there is nothing in any polytheistic belief set that denies the existence of other Gods. (as far as I have researched).  Therefore, despite the fact that a tiny, desert God with delusions of Grandeur may tell His followers that he is both “jealous” and “the only God”; as a polytheist it is not to you to say He does not exist, we mind to our own customs and traditions and do not persecute those who follow other pathways so long as they do not seek to harm us or prevent us from practicing true to our own traditions.

A polytheist should not seek to convert others, the gods themselves call who they will and draw them to their respective “homes”.   My best friend is a Hellenic man who worships Zagreus as a patron…but yet, each year he tries to take the time to make a trip to ancestral town of his family in Austria which shares his surname (which, ironically, is next door the town where my birth surname derived).  Despite finding deities in his ancient Greek roots- he still connects with the homeland of his people.  To me, that is more Heathen than trotting around wearing a hammer around the neck large enough to smash a clock on Flava Flav.   No one needs to “spread the word” on the hundreds of forms of polytheism except to keep our practice legal and accepted with all the same rights and privileges as other religious traditions.

Also, it must be understood that since each of us comes from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, each family and even each individual will have their own unique religious perspective both from upbringing and self-educations. There should not be a “unified” Orthodox Heathen organization that rules over us all and determines how and what worship- having several organizations of denominations is perfectly fine as long as they do not claim idealogical superiority over the others;  I would like to see MORE polytheistic organizations in the future, not less…  After reading the basic religious texts on your Gods as well as perhaps some academic textbooks as a cross reference, for some of you it may be wise to expose yourself to every organization in the area to see if your personal spiritual practice can be helped by community- or if remaining solitary or only discussing practices online, or even not at all, is the path to your own spiritual fulfillment.

Some of the best people of German Heathenry I know have never joined any organization nor attended any sumbels; they now come out of the woodwork slowly and are sharing the stories of their families- making the patchwork quilt of religions more vibrant and colorful in doing so- not “corrupting the community”- we enrich it.  The Thalian worshipers of Denmark and the Rokkrs of Sweden do not exist as “Heathen Satanism”- they are honoring their local ancestral traditions which remained kept hidden inside of families and small villages until it was safe enough to be open once more.

Now, for the sake of simplicity I have created this guide for European Heathenry of what is commonly known as the Norse family of traditions including Odinism, Asatru, Urglaawe (Pa Dutch/Deitsch Heathenry), Teutonic/Germanic Polytheism, and Scandinavian Heathenry:

Essential Action:

Create your own set of runes by hand.  Even if you already own several sets of your own already, in creating a set of runes yourself and pulling one to three daily.  You will find Runes in nature or in day to day life- so, ideally one should make a concerted effort to be outside as much as possible.  For me, it took getting a large dog to encourage a closer relationship with nature.

To create your runes, the simplest way to make an enduring set is to find a sturdy fallen tree branch and to use a hacksaw, sandpaper, and either a knife, paint, or marker to create them.  As you create each one, look up the meaning of the rune and meditate on it individually.  The process is longer, but one gains greater understanding if they saw/sand/paint (or carve) each rune individually.

Most Heathens/Odinist rely on the “basic Futhark 24” but the runes we have here included an extra Aett (row) known as “Hel’s Aett”- which was excluded for some time by many Heathen communities but is regaining favor.  The Hel’s Aett actually includes my two favorite runes: Os- the rune of uncomfortable truth, and Gar- the rune of the protection by the Gods.

There are four books and one website I can recommend personally.

The Book of Runes By Ralph. H. Blum, is the book I first learned runes from as a child.  German teenagers from Upper Bucks between the years 1996 and 2002 passed a few copies of this around amongst ourselves.

The Runes Workbook by Leon D. Wild- was the first book my husband used for the runes. Considering he’s better with them than I am, it seems to work well.

Futhark: A Handbook on Rune Magic By Edred Thorsson is also very popular.  I have had several copies pass through my hands to be lent out never to be seen again.  I don’t recall it much, but it comes with great recommendations from other Heathens.

Taking Up the Runes, By Diana L. Paxton.   This book actually includes Hel’s Aett unlike most books on the market.  It is in-depth and accessible to most who feel bored by academic-type writings.

However, I also must admit that after reading so many rune-themed books over the years they all run together in my mind outside of the first one.

As far as websites go for those who do not have the time to read many books, I have found little fault with Raven Kaldera’s page: Northern Tradition Shamanism to introduce people to Hel’s Aett.  The other links on the page are informative as well.

If you ever plan on joining any Heathen community in the United States (or parts of Europe)  It would also be best if you familiarize yourself with the nine noble virtues.  The history to which are found in this link and the virtues themselves depicted in the following picture I lifted from pinterest:

Nine virtues

(Note: The history and current modifications of the virtues change almost weekly on wikipedia.)

Essential Reading:

The Poetic Edda:

.Pdf Link

The Prose Edda

.Pdf Link

It should be noted that the original transcriber of these texts was created by a Christian Monk by the name of Snorri Sturlusson.  Later interpretations of the texr verses archaeological finds of other interpretations of the events and stories within should be supplemented to understand how our ancestors worshiped without the dichromatic lens of monotheistic thought.  The links I posted for .pdf are not necessarily the most recent translations, I chose them for stability of their respective websites.  Guternberg.org and Sacred-texts.com have been pretty consistent.  If these links break, let me know and I will update with a new .pdf link.

To keep this list up to date so I do not need to correct it in the future is simply to look up the textbooks being currently used by Universities leading in  Norse studies in English so one can research the syllabi and accompanying textbooks.  If you simply purchase older editions you will find that you can get an incredible Heathen library for very little money by buying used textbooks from disgruntled millennials who did not realize they held the equivalent of literary gold for a semester and sold it for pennies.  Their indifference to the subject is our gain as a community.

When I went to college, it was University of Michigan, but a quick google search on “Norse Mythology” turned up programs University of Colorado, UCI, Florida Tech, Harvard University, Cambridge University, and many others that offer classes in the topic.

The most recent textbook titles are good to keep up on.  The problem is, I can’t tell of my collection which is more or less recent- and considering I have two entire 10 foot tall bookshelves of Religion and Philosophy textbooks, for me to write out all of them with reviews would be a frustrating, full time endevour.

Use your best judgement; if the title and description appeal to you, read it;  if not, there are other books.

Other than this, My own personal bias as to what makes the penultimate Heathen text for myself is

The Odin Brotherhood by Mark Mirabello, a superior to its sequel text by Jack Wolfe, Mirabello’s work reflects the type of Odinism I personally ascribe to at this time.  The only online Heathen community by the same name is here The Odin Brotherhood Forums.  Do not attempt to join the forums without reading at least a .pdf of the book- it’s a fast read considering it is written in dialogue style and rapidly covers a wide breadth of topics.  Here is the PDF.

Furthermore, Read Beowulf

I have just provided you the pdf’s for all the texts I consider essential to Heathenry.  The first two being non-optional considering the oft-quoted Havamal is contained within the Poetic Edda.

It is best to read the Hamaval and Lokisenna within the context of the larger work unlike most people who cherry-pick out only these two sections of Heathen literature as the end-all, be all of Heathenry.  One thing I think can be agreed upon throughout all Heathen faiths and interpretations is the seeking of knowledge is paramount to personal understanding and communion with our Gods.  There is no such thing as “useless” knowledge, even if there are texts I or you do not agree with personally they are still important to read and understand to gain perspective on how other people base their lives and practices.

Universally Recommended Texts:

The following authors are popular in the Heathen community (Order in which I recall them):

Edred Thorsson
Eoghan Odinsson
Diana L. Paxton
Robert L. Schreier (for Urglaawe/Pa Deisch Odinism/Heathenry)
Raven Kaldera
Galina Krasskova
Stephen McNallen
Thor Sheil
Steven T. Abell
Gavin Chappell
Kari C. Tauring
Erin Lale
Kevin Crossley-Holland
Silver Ravenwolf (commonly known as a “WiccAtru” author)

The website links to the major American organizations I have later in this post all have links to their own libraries of .pdfs of sagas and their own list of Heathen, Asatru, and Odinist authors.

Other popular pagan authors that you may hear mentioned that are helpful for Neopagan contextual readings:

Scott Cunningham (Basic paganism/Wicca 101)
Raven Grimassi (Stregheri/Witchcraft)
Oberon and Morning glory Zell
Stuart and Janet Farrar (Witchcraft)
Gerald Gardinar (Gardinarian Witchcraft)
Laurie Cabot-Butler (Modern Witchcraft)
D.J Conway (New Age Totemism)
Starhawk (New age)
Ted Andrews (Totemist)
Andrew Steed (Celtic)
Murv Jacob (Cherokee)
Margot Addler (Wicca/Witchcraft)
Raymond Buckland (Wicca: Gardinarian)

There are dozens more- but these are the authors I have read personally and didn’t find completely appalling.  No author is perfect.  I feel the same way about Heathen authors mostly.

Personal Recommendations: Non-Universal

(Deemed controversial by the public communities)

The Jotunbok by Raven Kaldera.  Although this is a personal staple of my own library and on a “not to be lended out” status because it’s a pain in the ass to reorder, many of the public Heathens who are mostly converts from Christianity take issue with Loki and the Rokkr being given their due as Gods.  To see my stance on the subject, see the title of this blog.  Really, what did you expect?  Heathens and Odinists from Europe seem to have little to no hangup on Loki worship as seen here in the United States.

Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler.  If you are afraid of getting on a watch-list for reading a book, perhaps you are too cowardly to be a Heathen.  To be a Heathen is to be confronted time and again with accusations of being a Hitler loving nazi and having to explain yourself…and even further, if you venture out into the public community you will find that you will eventually meet those who claim to be “Neo Nazi”.  In reading this book, you inform yourself both on what the book ACTUALLY says, and more humorously, you will often find public figures both Heathen and non-Heathen quoting its text.  Few people bat an eyelash at those who read “The Prince” by Machiavelli as part of a diplomacy, philosophy or political science college curriculum, but Mein Kampf remains taboo even in the most open minded circles of academia and Heathenry.   Reading this book will no more make you into a Nazi enthusiast than standing in a garage makes you a car.

After I read it, it has become a game to me observing all National and International organizations- I have been amazed to find which organization leaders quote Hitler vs. those who do not.  The result was the exact opposite of what I anticipated:  the only way to figure out why this amuses me so much, read the book, see for yourself.  I read it on this pdf.

Since then,  this is what most modern political figures and some prominent Asatru people appear like to me from my view on the outside:

American Public Organizations:
I do not suggest considering joining any organization until you are confident of your own relationship with the Gods and are unable to be influenced by group-think and trends.
Any organization can be a great way to meet people- but they can also be a great source of stress as an inevitable side effect of direct contact with many people of differing points of view, some held more militantly than others.

A good rule of thumb:  The more people in your life, the more stress you will have.  Some people require the stresses of fellowship to feel whole, some are the opposite, and most exists somewhere in the middle.

The Asatru Alliance

The AFA (Asatru Folk Assembly)

The Odinic Rite

The Troth

I will offer no commentary at this time on any of the organizations above, instead, I have created links to their respective websites so you can see how they describe themselves.  We have met wonderful friends and allies from these organizations, but we have also seen our share of bullshit.

There are several regional public Heathen organizations and semi public organizations that hold ritual.  I know of most of them from Maryland and North as well as the Great Lakes region via friends in these regions.

International organizations and local independent organizations of which I am aware are numerous, post in the comments if you are in need of a list for your region and I will do my best.

I do not know close to all of them- but if I am completely in the dark, I will at very least know which organization exists in your region or country and how to contract the corresponding folkbuilder(s) and clergy.   If there are multiple options in your area, I would suggest reading the creeds of all of them AFTER you have already made yourself knowledgeable of the Edda’s and the runes as well as have read a couple of different books from different Heathen authors to sort out the well-read from the simply well-spoken.

I hope this list was comprehensive, unbiased as I could make it, and most of all useful to at least some of you now or in the future.  If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment (or nitpicky edit) below.

All authors, books, and organizations I have listed I do not necessarily endorse or agree with in entirety or even partially, and if there are prominent ones I have missed, please also add them in the comments and depending on if I only missed a few or many, will try to update this post (with credit due) where I can.  If there are too many I missed, just read the comments in a few days to see which Heathen books and authors readers of this blog have suggested.

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6 Responses to “A Beginners Guide to Polytheism, a Personal View (With Heathen/Odinist Reading list)”

  1. Per request, I would have included the first volume only of Our Troth, since while it fails at many things it does do a very good job of summarizing the early tribal interactions that we know about, and makes a decent case for diversity of practice not only now but then. I personally would also suggest Elves, Wights, and Trolls as one of the better guides to the wide variety of smaller spirits and their associated folklore. Both are written by Kveldulf Gundarsson. Neither of these qualify as a universal choice, but I think they make great introductions. I haven’t finished Cultures of the Teutons but I’d certainly recommend what I’ve read so far as being a drier and more scholarly history than Our Troth could ever be.

  2. If recommending Blum I would also highlight to people that there is no such thing as the Blank rune. This was made up by Blum and should not be promoted, also I think that most would recommend against Silver Ravenwolf. But that is just my opinion 🙂

    • I don’t agree with the views of many of these authors…but considering how many other people have read them, there is no harm in listing literally most of the ones that are commonly known.

      There is no shame in being well read, especially in views of topics one does not agree with. It makes for better discussions.

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