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Asatru: A Native European Spirituality Paperback – May 28, 2015
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Asatru is a Native European spirituality and as such has far more in common with Native American religions or the Shintoism of the Japanese people than it does universalist religions such as Christianity. Navajo spirituality is primarily for Navajos . . . the spirituality and the ethnicity of the people who practice it are indivisible parts of a whole.The same holds true for Asatru. As such, it is at least as much about who we are as what we believe. This book is the literary distillation of more than four decades of experience and will be highly informative and inspirational to both newcomers and those who have been involved in Asatru for many years.There could be no better single book for the beginner on this path as all the aspects of Asatru are explained with great clarity. --Richard Rudgley, author of Pagan Resurrection: A Force for Evil or the Future of Western Spirituality?
Years in the making, this book represents the distillation of a lifetime of work by the most significant single figure in the history of the revival of the Norse Gods and Goddesses in modern America. Any and all who are interested in the tribal religion of our ancestors need to have this book in their libraries. --Edred Thorsson, author of ALU: An Advanced Guide to Operative Runology
Stephen McNallen is known to all followers of the Northern Tradition as a stalwart upholder of Asatru of many years standing. This book is his compelling vision of the ancient northern spiritual tradition, a fine introduction to Asatru for all followers of the old Gods and seekers after spiritual enlightenment. --Nigel Pennick, author of Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition: Customs, Rites, and Ceremonies
About the Author
Stephen A. McNallen has been a soldier, a journalist, and a schoolteacher. He has travelled the world, from Burma to Bosnia, in search of insight and adventure. In 1971, McNallen founded the Viking Brotherhood, the first legally recognized religious organization dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses of Northern Europe. Today, McNallen is the head of the Asatru Folk Assembly, the preeminent Asatru organization on the North American continent. A proud native Texan, Steve McNallen currently resides in Northern California with his wife, Sheila.
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The chapters covering the gods and goddesses tell, in short form, some of the best-known stories about the various deities – enough to give an idea of the character of the deities in question. These are not full retellings of the Norse myths, but the pertinent kernel of each story is extracted. A historical summary gives an overview of the Christianization of the Germanic people. The length and ferocity of this religious struggle shows how deep-rooted the ancestral folkway, with its attendant values, was amongst the northern Europeans. The conversions were not a matter of masses of people suddenly seeing the light of a superior belief system, but rather the result of a great deal of political and military force.
Perhaps most engaging is the account of the author’s own journey from being a tough young idealist who admired the Vikings, to being the leader of a major Asatru organization that has evolved and grown over the years. While Mr. McNallen is not just talking to his fellow Asatruar (followers of Asatru), neither is this a dispassionate dissertation from an ivory tower, but rather the statement of a man who has been at the forefront of reviving an ancient belief system.
In the chapters on the specifics of the belief system itself, explanations generally steer a middle ground where scholars are divided, or quietly summarize various viewpoints while not obscuring the main points of a topic. For example, of the confusing classification of elves and dwarves: “The light elves live in Light-Elf Home…. Sometimes the álfar are classed with the Vanir, and other times they are considered the male ancestors. Dark elves live in Dark-Elf Home. They are wise, and are skilled craftsmen. Snorri identifies the dark elves with the dwarves.” On some points of scholarly debate, Mr. McNallen simply gives a reasonable point of view, without undue digression; this is appropriate for a book of this scope. On some important points, he states that different interpretations are possible. For example, in discussing the Norns, he gives the background from the Eddas, then suggests non-dogmatically that the Norns “need not exist as beings independent from our own psycho-physical complex in order to carry out their task. However, this interpretation of the Norns (or the norns) is not a matter of required belief; Asatruar are free to think of them as external entities if that makes more sense to them.”
The author unashamedly and with dignity takes a few stands that are unpopular even amongst some heathens. Not everyone will agree with his “folkish” view, or his preference for maintaining true diversity of cultures in the world. But his positions are well stated and worthy of serious consideration by the larger Asatru community. His concerns about the future of our planet are worthy of serious consideration by the larger human community. Not everyone will feel that a spiritual approach to life and the problems facing mankind is best, but this is hardly a new idea. Mr. McNallen suggests a way of giving such an approach new vigor and relevance in our complex modern age.
After the sheen of the "Valhalla Cult" wears off, and one is ready to approach Asatru as a living religion, this composition will serve as the guide for a grand spiritual journey. The writing style is extremely comfortable and sincere, it feels as if I am having a conversation with the author rather than being lectured. The work is very well researched and is organized in a manner that flows very well for the beginner as well as the experienced heathen.
As someone who has been following the path of my Northern ancestors for many moons, this work has eloquently put to words theological and philosophical conclusions that I have come to over the years. Subjects such as the nature of the divine, the natural state of polytheism, and the importance of indigenous religion are discussed with tempered comprehension
Do not mistake this work simply as another primer or beginner's handbook, this an anchor point, a composition which has taken its place on my bookshelf beside "We Are Our Deeds" and "The Well And The Tree". Here is a well of wisdom where one can return draw the word-mead again and again to refresh and enrich one's spirit.
I'm not going to go into Stephen McNallen's history or that of his organization, the Asatru Folk Assembly (full disclosure, I'm a member of the AFA). There are some people who are biased against him, and nothing anyone says will change their minds. This review is not for those people.
The book's twenty-five chapters are divided into two parts; "A New-Old Religion", which covers a lot of the history and underlying philosophy of Asatru, and "Practicing Asatru", which, as might be guessed, offers somewhat more practical advice in terms of ritual, calendars, etc.
But even so, what distinguishes this book from many others is that it is both more philosophical and more practical at the same time. Even the chapters that describe the philosophical underpinings of Asatru go out of their way to explain how that philosophy can be expressed in the everyday world. I found this grounding of the history and philosophy in practical application to be refreshing and it turned the book up a notch or two in terms of applicability.
To be sure, the book has the usual descriptions of the Gods and Goddesses, ritual calendars, and outlines of the two main rituals of Asatru; blot and sumbel. But it deliberately does not include sample ritual scripts, or a Yule ritual, then an Ostara ritual, then a Midsummer ritual, and so on. He covers soul-lore and the afterlife, as well. There is a brief obligatory chapter on the runes, and the book closes with thoughts on the future of Asatru, including an intriguing suggestion regarding intentional communities.
While the book is definitely written from a folkish perspective, it is by no means obsessed with the subject. It explains the concept that the Gods are our ultimate ancestors, but there are no lengthy and tedious ramblings on metagenetics and the White Race and so forth; those expecting the stereotypes of who McNallen is will be sorely disappointed. The book simply takes for granted that Asatru is, as the subtitle says, a native European spirituality, and then moves on from there. There is definitely a lot of worth in these pages that even a non-folkish Asatruar will be able to use, if they can just get past the author's name.
On the whole, this is a wonderful book for Asatruar from all ends of the spectrum. It's certainly not perfect; there are a few things in there that I might quibble with, such as "days of remembrance" for Heathen heroes and martyrs and such, which I find both ahistorical and unnecessary. But the pluses outweigh the minuses by a huge margin, and the book is easily worth the modest price.
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In the tirade of quite a few people trying to drive this book down because of their personal opinions on the author or Asatru, an honest review is...Read more