Norse Goddess Magic by Alice Karlsdottir

Norse Goddess Magic: Trancework, Mythology, and Ritual
Alice Karlsdottir
Destiny, 2015

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Review by Shirl Sazynski.

It’s rare to find a beginner’s book on adept-level magic, let alone one that is well-organized, grounded, easily understood, and part of Heathenry. Norse Goddess Magic is exactly that, focusing on visionary and trance work, known to the Norse as seidhr and utiseta. It serves both as an introduction for those who have great difficulty entering trance, and provides a rare compendium of Norse goddess lore that’s useful even if you have no interest in trance work.

True to its title, this book explores the “Mother” Goddess Frigg and her twelve divine “friends” : Eir, Saga, Gna, Gefjon, Snotra, Lofyn, Sjofyn, Var, Fulla, Hlin, Syn and Vor. Karlsdottir invites personal experience with them as real people through guided journeys, invocations, and rituals. Since little is known from the Eddas about these twelve “minor” Goddesses, this book helps the reader fill in those gaps with their own experience. By exposure to — and comparison with — the trance experiences of others, it also helps in expanding upon the lore. The emphasis in this book on forging and strengthening relationships with the Gods is spot on.

This is a guide to beginning seidhr techniques, including a basic understanding of how to use myth and ritual structure to enhance entering trance, remain there, exit peacefully, and take good care of yourself afterward. The techniques covered open this oft-misunderstood realm of Asatru and Heathenry to anyone with the patience to still their mind. The structure of this book begins with how to understand mythology and its uses in ritual, ideas to open up the imagination for beginners, and a definition of trance work. Then, that work begins with basic (and fairly safe) techniques accompanied by a ritual format that provides some protection to the novice seidhr practitioner.

One caveat: trance work is never, by its nature, without danger. Norse Goddess Magic provides a compass in very unpredictable territory that should guide you to the door of the right person and send up some basic defenses. However, trance work with beings you’ve never met is exactly like wandering in a foreign country. Even a novice can stumble headlong into a profound, fate-altering experience the very first time they trance. The danger of dealing with spirits is routinely ignored in modern books on the subject, a major blind spot I wish this book had covered more fully.*

After continuing with a guided meditation, the author opens up about her own experiences in trance work. Then, a chapter is devoted to each Goddess in turn (other Goddesses mentioned briefly include Freyja, Nerthus, Frau Holle, Holda, Berchta and Brigid.) The Goddess chapters begin with lore, add interpretations by the author, continue with a guided trance journey, and close with a ritual and invocation for each Goddess.

The author’s cautious approach is very balanced. However, Alice Karlsdottir is a master in the Rune Gild, and has worked as priestess for several kindreds. I wish that she spoke with more confidence, but she is carefully circumspect that these are just her experiences.

Esoteric polytheism needs to move confidently past both this reticence from elders to pin down their own gnosis as real and valid and the fundamentalist tendency to over-humanize the Gods and their behavior based on stories laced with symbolism and meant to teach lessons (often humorously) about the consequences of certain actions within a society. Regardless of the outer path, when someone has mastered visionary work, common elements and beings occur. There are consistencies of places we arrive at, powers woven by the Gods, and elements of their appearance that do not always fit a translation of the Eddas but help signify a spirit or deity’s power and personality traits. Our ancestors certainly knew these common elements and passed on some of that knowledge. This is that shared gnosis of a living faith Karlsdottir is describing.

I can’t comment much on the use of rune lore in this book for chants and to open rituals, as it differs from the more visually-oriented methods I was taught. Other people may respond to these verbal methods more. Or the Goddesses may teach them completely different ways of working that suit their minds. (This book is certainly a good guide to seeking out that kind of knowledge directly.)

Norse Goddess Magic ends solidly with three intriguing fairy tales in the appendix, a glossary of terms, a visual guide to the runes and a bibliography jam-packed with good scholarship. Even if you’ve done seidhr for ages, this is still a very useful book to have on hand as a reference. Several times I found, in these pages, independent corroboration of details I’ve experienced in trance, leading me to believe that the author truly met with these Goddesses – whether or not we always share the same viewpoints about them.

This is a valuable contribution to a field with very little reliable guidance, especially in Heathenry. I highly recommend it.

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Njord and Skadi by Sheena McGrath

Njord and Skadi: A Myth Explored
Sheena McGrath
Avalonia, 2016

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Review by Erin Lale

Njord and Skadi is a good overview of the source material and the opinions of major scholars about these gods and their context. It also mentions some works of popular culture on the subject. The book is easy to read, and suitable for both general and academic readers.

The book has a lovely cover by Laura Daligan featuring the two title gods in a design reminiscent of a Yin and Yang sign, surrounded by a repeating Elder Futhark rune row with the variant Ingwaz and with the Dagaz and Othala in the variant reverse order.

The book starts off with a summary of the plot of the myth of Njord and Skadi’s marriage, including the prequel about Skadi’s father Thiazzi, which McGrath considers an essential part of the story. It goes into historical detail about the poem by which the myth was transmitted to us, and then quotes the poem, (in English translation) in its entirety, with explanations of the meanings of the kennings.

McGrath draws parallels between the plot of the poem and the story of Hrungnir. Then the author discusses the authenticity, dating, and interpretation of the myth of Njord and Skadi. McGrath goes into the question of whether Njord is Nerthus, examining evidence and various scholars’ opinions. She covers the origin and meaning of the name Skadi and Scandinavia. She writes about the other gods who appear in the two linked stories of Skadi and of her father.

The book strays into etymology, examines the theme of cooking in the story of Thiazzi and Idunna, and relates that to the apple motif in various Indo-European cultures. It also gives background information on the peoples and places in heathen mythology. Then McGrath tells about various interpretations of the meaning of this myth.

McGrath details the many words for giant and their connotations.This discussion relates to who Skadi is, since her father Thiazzi is a giant. A discussion of places named after Skadi follows, as well as description of historical worship of her. The author details historical evidence for giantess worship and proceeds to describe the nature of gods and giants, as well as the primal schism between them.

McGrath then presents the idea that Skadi represented a Saami woman. Skadi hunts on skis with a bow, like Saami women did. In the final few chapters, McGrath mops up some remaining questions, such as, “what is a hostage?”, and “how does that relate to Njord’s position in Asgard?”

This book strikes a good balance between providing detail for an academic reader and keeping a general reader from getting lost. The author presents a comprehensive roundup of the scholarship on the subject of this story. Recommended for pagan readers, especially for heathens and polytheists interested in Skadi, Njord, or giantesses.

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