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Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path of a Saxon Pagan Paperback – June 8, 2009
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About the Author
Alaric Albertsson (Pennsylvania) is a founding member of Earendel Hearth, an Anglo-Saxon inhíred, and served as vice president and was on the Board of Directors of the Heartland Spiritual Alliance. He is currently a member of the Druidic organization Ár nDraíocht Féin and serves as the Anglo-Saxon Vice Chieftain for the ADF Germanic kin, Eldr ok Iss.
Albertsson first embraced polytheism in the summer of 1971. At this time he had the opportunity to talk with rural people in the Ozark Mountains about traditional moon lore, weather lore and folk beliefs and was strongly influenced by spiritist traditions. Over the past four decades, Albertsson's personal spiritual practice has developed as a synthesis of Anglo-Saxon tradition, country folklore, herbal studies and rune lore.
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Apart from actual Anglo-Saxon sources (such as “Beowulf” and Bede's writings – but note that “Beowulf” is about Scandinavia), Anglo-Saxon Neo-Paganism is heavily dependent on Norse mythology as explained in the Eddas, medieval English folklore and herblore (which had incorporated some ancient Greek elements), and traditions no older than the 17th or even 19th centuries. I wouldn't be surprised if Wicca is part of the brew, as well. Nothing wrong with any of this, per se. Spiritual traditions do change over time, and Albertsson is clever enough to acknowledge, even embrace, the evolving aspect of his religion. Besides, similarities undoubtedly existed between different Germanic or even Indo-European religions, so using Old Norse sources to fill in the Anglo-Saxon blanks isn't an entirely frivolous enterprise. To Albertsson, a spiritual tradition is true if it works, and as he points out, most people of Anglo-Saxon descent can relate to Anglo-Saxon Neo-Paganism since it's based on stories they heard already as children, or on notions coded into the English language. I admit that his modern synthesis *does* sound pretty authentic!
“Travels through Middle Earth” speaks for itself, but here are some of the highlights. Albertsson is unabashedly polytheistic, and he interprets the gods and goddesses as personal beings, not Jungian archetypes or some kind of metaphors. Woden (Odin), Tiw (Tyr) and Thunor (Thor) really do exist as separate powerful personages, and more or less resemble the descriptions found in the Norse legends, at least when they chose to visit Middle Earth. The author describes the various spiritual realms “above” and “below” Middle Earth (the material world) at some length. The most important ones are Osgeard (the Norse Asgard, home of the gods), Elfhame (the home of the elfs), Dwarfhame (the home of the dwarves) and Hel (the realm of the dead). The worlds of the Ettins and the Wans, respectively, are less important. The Seven Worlds are connected by the World Tree, here called Eormensyl. Cosmic harmony is threatened by the Thyrs, demonic creatures from the realms of ice and fire.
Albertsson isn't particularly interested in “salvation” in the Christian sense, neither “going to heaven” nor the apocalypse (which he explicitly denies). Rather, his religion is centered on kith and kin, personal honor and establishing a right relation to gods, spirits and ancestors through worship and sacrifice. The underlying point seems to be the upholding of cosmic balance. In this way, humans can influence their spiritual worth (orlay) and fate (wyrd), two concepts similar to karma.
A large part of the book deals with rituals, both community rituals and more solitary ditto at the home altar (wéofod). Magic is an important part of the author's path, including rune magic, but it's mostly dealt with in passing, Albertsson having written another book entirely devoted to “wyrdworking”. He also describes a shamanistic technique which can induce out-of-body experiences and astral travel. This is used for divination. Due to the emphasis on family and ancestry, Anglo-Saxon Neo-Pagans are strongly recommended to join an inhíred, the closest equivalent to a coven or congregation in this tradition. The inhíred isn't an organization in the strict sense, but rather a informal group of like-minded people, often connected through family ties, who try to create a traditional community life around seasonal rituals, social get-togethers and the like. Some inhírdas don't accept new members, while others are more open. “Real” organizations also exist within the Neo-Pagan milieu, for those so inclined, although most are ecumenical rather than strictly Anglo-Saxon.
The author emphasizes that his interpretation of the Saxon path isn't the only one around. A current known as Reconstructionists tries to recreate ancient Anglo-Saxon religion as it really was. Presumably, they would reject Albertsson's innovations. There are also different opinions within the Anglo-Saxon Neo-Pagan milieu on such issues as same-sex marriage, gender roles, ethnicity or animal sacrifice. Albertsson says relatively little about politics, though, and endeavors to sound non-political. He references John Michael Greer, and there does seem to be similarities between their respective approaches to many things. Tolkien is another matter entirely. Albertsson emphasizes the differences between Anglo-Saxon paganism and “The Lord of the Rings”, which leads me to suspect that many budding Neo-Pagans are drawn to the old ways through Tolkien's fantasy, but perhaps confuse the two.
And yes, an entire chapter of “Travels through Middle Earth” is devoted to discussing mead, including practical tips on how to brew it!
Parts of the book can be tedious for the general reader, who may not be that interested in detailed descriptions of Neo-Pagan rituals. Personally, I found the cosmological and “ethical” sections interesting, and since I grew up in Sweden, the Norse components were easiest relating to. The inclusion of shamanism was surprising. The LOTR connection, less so. In the end, I give this volume (also available as a Kindle e-book) three stars.
As the author points out, however, all of those of us who have been reared with English as a primary language, whether one’s ancestors were Saxons or not, have an inherent connection to the Saxon culture. That is if one accepts the premise that language tends to guide thought and perspective.
We wish this book had more of Saxon magic in it than it does, it is primarily about worship of the Saxon Gods (who are very like the Norse ones), but we found it quite illuminating anyway. And, it has a simple recipe for making Mead. How can you beat that?
The Silver Elves authors of theFaerie Unfolding: The Cosmic Expression of the Divine Magic.
I wanted to study the Norse Gods, so I've read books on Asatru, but the path didn't speak to me as deeply as this one. I feel like I've come home. Check out this book if you are interested in the Norse pantheon, but haven't felt a calling to Asatru.
If you're trying to figure out a path to follow, this book provides an excellent resource for you to determine if Saxon Paganism is for you. The impression I came away with is that individual groups (what Wiccans might call a coven or Druids a grove, etc) are more like "family units", "tribes", "clans" etc. They're not that different in concept I suppose, but this version just seems more family-like to me.
Albertsson is writing another text: "Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer" - I understand that this one will be more about the magical practices in a Saxon context. So, I am anxiously awaiting its publication.