Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hail To Egil And Uncle Thor!


I promise that I will get back to my article on shock rock in a timely manner. For right now though, I must take the time to speak about my spiritual beliefs, as well as review of some great books I've recently purchased.

As anyone who knows me knows, over the past 5 years or so I have become increasingly interested in the study of my native spirituality. When I say "native spirituality" I mean the religions my ancestors practiced. In my case that would be almost a 50/ 50 split of Gaulish Celts on my father's side, and Anglo Saxons on my mother's. When looking at my family tree, I can throw a handful of Italian, Irish and Scottish names and quite a few Native American ancestors into the mix as well. Still though, my predominant genealogy is French and English.

So, after doing the research I presumed that prior to Europe's forced conversion to Christianity my ancestors were mainly practitioners of the Celtic and Germanic religions. I am intuitively a very spiritual person anyway, but up until 2003 I mainly investigated more eastern paths such as Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism, ultimately spending the most time on the study of Hinduism. For as much as I love the ancient Hindu legends (particularly the Vedas) I can honestly say I never really "got" Hinduism. It seems to be steeped in revisionist pacifist beliefs, not to mention a lot of Indian nationalism. Both of those aesthetics gave off a pretty heavy "locals only" vibe to me, as I attempted to become more involved in the Hindu community in my home town.

I actually did look into my Celtic roots quite a bit in the early 1990's, but was left feeling quite unimpressed as there just doesn't seem to be much credible information out there as to how the ancient Celts practiced their religion. This is most likely due to the fact that the Celtic priest class (the Druids) didn't record any of their rituals or beliefs. Add to that the fact that Celtic paganism seems to have become the official property of Wiccans, and their G rated revisionist version of my native spirituality just doesn't add up. If the ancient Celts were truly the passive tree huggers that many modern pagans attempt to recreate them as, they wouldn't have even made it into the history books! You have to remember that back in ancient times EVERY culture you hear about now had to have been a warrior culture. The ones that weren't must have surely been conquered and enslaved by the ones who were, thus erasing their place in history forever.

So after experimenting mainly with Celtic and Hindu spirituality, I figured that my most viable option was the old Germanic tradition. I had actually had a very intense desire to explore this path for many years, but had resisted it due to the fact that it seemed to be the official property of white supremacists. In lieu of the fact that almost every moron skinhead I'd had an altercation with back in my punk rock days was wearing a Thor's hammer and/ or displaying algiz, sig or othala runes, I was convinced that Germanic heathenry went hand- in- hand with violent, racist behavior. By 2004 though, I'd finally figured out that the Germanic tradition was indeed not inherently racist, and was in fact, just as rich, complex and deep as any of the Asian religions I had previously explored.

The transition from being a casual observer to jumping headlong into the study of this spirituality was somewhat accidental, as I was mainly introduced to it by an old roommate. He'd given me a copy of Snorri Sturlson's The Saga's Of The Icelanders, which included Egil's Saga, claiming that the book was "really boring". Well, one night when I was a bit bored myself, I figured I'd give the book a chance, so I picked it up and began reading it. It began with Egil's Saga, and that particular saga really spoke to me on an intrinsic level. I think this was mainly due to the fact that the character of Egil is indeed, a real character. He was simultaneously a fierce warrior and a skilled poet. In many passages of this saga, Egil will recite some lines of poetry before he hacks his adversary to death. This reminded me of old Dolomite movies where he essentially did the same thing.

Although I suspect a great amount of allegory and exaggeration were used by the author, Egil's Saga was actually based on historical facts. Egil Skallagrimsson was in fact, actually a real Icelander born in the year 910 AD. In his saga Egil is portrayed as a hard drinking, short tempered berserker- meets- skald, capable of killing 20 armed men at a time. The theory about his amazing fighting prowess is based on remains found that were believed to be his. These remains were grossly deformed, and it is thought that he suffered from a condition known as Pagets disease. Paget's disease is the severe enlargement and deformation of the bones, and this might explain Egil's legendary large size, ugly appearance, and ability to absorb huge amounts of punishment.

I dove headlong into this story and became transformed. I simply couldn't put the book down, and found myself dreaming about the story regularly. This is something that is rare for me, as I seldom remember my dreams. I'm not even sure why I liked it so much, as nothing about Egil's personality really registered with me. He came across as quite an arrogant, unstable jerk for the most part. I guess in a lot of ways it was because he was such a character in his time and would be completely out of place here in the modern world. Either that or because he was such a complex person. Either way, the story is very entertaining to say the least.

One thing of profound significance in Egil's Saga is a part where he stays at the home where the host's daughter is sick. Egil looks under her mattress and finds a whale bone with runes carved into it. These runes were previously carved to help heal the girl's sick grandmother, and when Egil saw this he became enraged. He quickly scratched the runes off and carved new ones which were more appropriate to the girl's ailment. The next day when she awoke she was on the road to recovery.

The runes have always fascinated me, particularly what is known as the "elder futhark" which are the original Icelandic runes. The name "futhark" was given to them as that is the phonetic value of the first six characters in the first of three eight character rune rows. One can just look at them and see that their elegance and simplicity is completely awe- inspiring. I used to think their only function was as a divining and fortune telling tool, but upon further study I have found out that they are FAR more complicated than I ever dreamed possible. The unfortunate thing about them is that the majority of books written about them are truly awful, with the most flagrant offender being any hucksters who advocate the use of the "blank rune of wyrd".

The story of the blank rune is when an author named Ralph Blum published a book with a rune set that included all 24 original runes, plus an additional blank rune. The reason why the extra blank rune was included is because whomever produced the rune sets had them die cut from tiles that were 5 small tiles across, equaling rune tiles 25 per set. Rather than pick the blank runes out, the manufacturer just packaged them with the additional blank rune included. Instead of explaining this mistake in his book or re package the rune sets himself, Ralph decided to be a disingenuous profiteer and invent his own system which included the use of the blank rune!

At any rate, decent, non biased information on the true ways of Germanic heathen worship is very difficult to come by. In order to find anything better than Edred Thorsson's Futhark book (another author who makes some rather dubious claims, although as a starter, this book is one of the better ones) it became apparent that I would have to dig a little deeper.

So dig I did, and I ended up stumbling across a rather obscure website known as thortrains.com. Although very basic and none too pretty, this webpage is chock full of information, as well as offering many books and monographs for sale (I still don't know how one differentiates between a book and a monograph.) I poked around the website for about an hour as there is a LOT of content, most of which I was quite pleased to be reading. The site is the property of a man who calls himself "Uncle Thor" and his wife Audrey. They also deal in the collecting and documenting of electric trains and toy soldiers, hence the name "thortrains" and have several shingles linked to their site where they talk about those hobbies. Trust me, it's all very entertaining, but I will focus on the heathen side of their page for now.

The Thortrains Network makes statements such as "Titles mean nothing, you are as good at this as you are", "We have no titles and recognize none" and "We answer to no one." I thought to myself that anyone who mouths off in the face of such an arrogant audience (aka the "heathen community") is a man after my own heart. Many people I've met in the heathen community are quite self- deluded, sociopathic, unstable and insecure, and many of these people really need to be brought down to earth. So when Thor and Audrey publish such statements I find them quite refreshing to hear, as I feel that many heathens out there would be wise to take their advice.

After reading these statements I felt for sure that the Thortrains Network would probably have some quality reading material for sale. You see, Uncle Thor eschews my sentiments on most heathens exactly, as my involvement with group heathen activities has not always been positive. I have met some great people, but I have also met some complete whackjobs. It's a toss up between the "So I was talking to Odin yesterday and he wanted me to give you a message" and the "Soon Northern Europeans all around the world will reawaken to the calling of the folksoul, and then we'll unite and conquer the evil Christians and re- affirm our former glory" types as far as whom I consider to be more insane.

Amusing as these claims may sound, associating with people who talk like this in complete seriousness ALL THE TIME soon becomes about as pleasant as a bumblebee enema. Ironically these stereotypes describe some of the more rational actors I've met in the heathen movement. If you want to find even weirder and more self destructive heathens who also espouse nazism, satanism, drug use, s & m and alcoholism, trust me you don't have to look very far. For as much as I love this spirituality I'm not going to lie and pretend that I like the majority of people I've met who also practice it. We are clearly not looking at it from the same angle, and anytime I feel like the most sane person in the room, that is NOT a good sign.

That is why I like the Thortrains books. They are written in plain, non- pretentious English and give you the information in a simple, factual manner. Any one of their 40 something page monographs actually contains MORE info than most of the mass- produced crap sold in mainstream bookstores. The Thortrains Network is also probably the ONLY outlet for advanced spellcraft and runecraft. This was important to me, as I'd ordered one too many "Heathenry 101" books which proclaimed themselves to have information that was different than all the other "Heathen/ Odinism/ Asatru 101" books out there, only to just regurgitate the same crap I'd already read five times in five other books.

The Thortrains Network "runic package" was the first series I bought from them. They have their books grouped into categories and now have their webpage set up so that if you order a complete package you'll get a significant discount. Most packages contain five books, and they'll often throw in a free one as well. They average out to between $6 and $8 per book, which includes shipping in the US. I figured I'd take a chance and order their runic package in its entirety for $40 as that sounded like a good deal.

I'm not going to lie, when it finally arrived about a week after I ordered it, I opened it up and asked myself "What the hell is this!?" You see, the Thortrains Network produce their own books, so this was five copies of 1/2 sized xeroxed 8 1/2 x 11 comb bound books, most ranging from between 45 and 60 pages. I became a little skeptical of their content after seeing that, but knowing that the production of do it yourself literature is not cheap (unless you're using the copy machine at your work off hours, not that I've ever done that..... shhhhh.....) and seeing that they looked very professional and appeared to contain a LOT of info, I figured I would give them a shot. I figured I'd begin in order.

I'm not going to review each book separately, as I don't recommend buying just one of them. Although each one stands on its own as a complete work, I feel that it's a bit of a waste not to order the entire set. For $40 ppd it's a great deal, and will provide you with all the information you need to start working with runes. Of particular interest to me was book titled Old Norse Rune Mysteries And Rune Codes. This book is the first book I've seen which addresses the order of the futhark and the relationships between the different runes. I never realized just how complex and well ordered the futhark aettir (or order) really is!

After reading the rune package I was hooked, so I quickly ordered the "tradition" package. This included four books mainly dealing with the various Norse dieties and traditions. I didn't get as much out of these books as I am already quite familiar with the lore, but as usual, the writing was very entertaining. I also appreciated Thor's usual colorful explainations for things, and the section where they list various kennings of gods and goddesses was quite helpful.

The only thing I didn't like was that some of their ritual outlines don't resemble what I have come to learn as heathen rituals. They seemed more like Celtic pagan influenced, although keep in mind that many of these books were written in the early 1990's when Thor and Audrey were living in Staten Island NY. Living in such a locale would make indoor, solitary candle related rituals far more viable than outdoor, group heathen blots with a giant bonfire. Thor and Audrey have since relocated to New Jersey, so hopefully they've got a bit more room to move around at their new place of residence.

Again, I cannot stress the value of these books enough. If you want to learn real heathenry from real, unpretentious heathens who don't tow the line for some extremist political agenda, the Thortrains Network is the way to go. They seem like good people, and I am very happy to have discovered their awesome literature. They also refuse to call themselves Asatru, Odinists, Vanatru or any of those other terms and I was psyched to see that as well. I too, feel that none of those labels are appropriate for me. They actually call what they practice Hedenskap which is Norwegian for heathen. If I could use this term with their permission I'd be totally psyched, as "Asatru" and "Odinist" just don't cut it for me.

Much like myself, these Thortrains people are very down to earth and aren't completely one dimensional. They obviously have other interests besides heathenry, hence the links to all their other hobby webpages. This is quite refreshing as I have met FAR too many heathens who have absolutely no identity outside of being some kind of viking wannabe. People like that are lame in my opinion. The key here is to propel heathenry onward and upward into the modern world, not try and recreate the past and de-volve.

And finally, Uncle Thor possesses something that the heathen community is REALLY lacking- a sense of humor. That is why I put the ridiculous lego viking picture on here. Never in my life have I met so many dogmatic, stuck up, uptight and ultimately BORING people as I have since getting involved in heathenry. Seriously kids, Odin won't hate you for having a good time, and no, that doesn't mean swigging down all the ritual mead...

check out their webpage at

http://www.thortrains.com/UncleThors/






2 comments:

Sea Priestess said...

I'm lucky I've never come across the racist sort. At school in Sweden they taught us about our Heathen ancestors, and a lot of boys had Tor (no "th" in Swedish) as their first name, and wore Thor's hammer round their neck. It's such a shame England isn't as close to its roots. In history class I always wondered why the lessons started with the Tudors but never explained the Anglo-Saxons or anything before the Normans. I call that a conspiracy. And I am of a curious nature.

that wascally badger said...

It's a shame that more isn't known about Anglo Saxon heathenry, especially since it is the religion of my ancestors. Pretty much every book I've ever read on the subject makes many disclaimers such as "Since we do not know much about A-S lore, we must reference the Icelandic sagas for the missing information." Luckily many charms (although Christianized) and the wonderful work of Beowulf managed to survive. There are many Anglo Saxon reconstructionist groups here in the US, but again, they pretty much just use the Icelandic model. The only real difference is that they replace many Norse words with Old English ones!

Per your suggestion, I will definitely check out Brian Bates' books. All the reviews I've read so far have been positive, so he sounds like a must read!