Book Review: Fire and Ice by Flowers
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Fire & Ice: The History, Structure, and Rituals of Germany’s Most Influential Modern Magical Order: The Brotherhood of Saturn by Dr. Stephen E. Flowers, Ph.D.
Reviewed by Jordsvin
I purchased this book eight or nine years ago when I had only been a Heathen for a year or two. Given the title (Fire & Ice, the two primordial elements of the Norse creation myth) and the author (Dr. Stephen Flowers/Edred Thorsson, one of the leading figures of the modern Heathen revival), I expected this work to have something to do with Heathenism. I was wrong.
The Brotherhood of Saturn was/is an occult lodge. It is still a going concern, and claims to date back into the late 17th century. I have my doubts about that. The period of its history covered in this book goes from 1926-1970.
Many influences came together to produce the Brotherhood of Saturn. Freemasonry and its derivatives is one of them. The Illuminati are another, as are the Theosophists. There are plenty of Kabalistic and ceremonial magic influences as well, and even bits and pieces of Arthurian lore. A gradually awakening desire of the German-speaking peoples to re-connect with their ancient heritage was also a factor. This desire gave rise to a philosophy called Ariosophy, meaning “wisdom of the Aryans.” This used to be a nice word, meaning “speaker of an Indo-European language,” until Herr Hitler and company got hold of it. Speaking of which, the Brotherhood of Saturn was not a part of the National Socialist movement. In fact, it was suppressed under the Third Reich. However, some of the same nasty Anti-Semitism was also present in the Brotherhood. It had a “no Jews” rule from the beginning. Whatever its successes in other fields, in terms of helping Germans/German speakers reconnect with their ancestral heritage the Brotherhood failed utterly.
The core beliefs of the Brotherhood, insofar as they can be said to have them, seeing how eclectic they are, are based on Gnostic Christianity. Lucifer is not the biblical Satan, but rather a Deity or Demiurge concerned with enlightenment. As with some ancient Gnostic sects, Yahweh/Jehovah is pretty much the “bad guy.” I won’t argue that particular point with the Brotherhood!
The Brotherhood has lots of initiatory orders (remember the Freemason influence) and they have Latin names, which should tell you something right there! It has numerous sacraments as well, roughly derived from and elaborated from Catholic Christianity. Sex magic is stressed as well, of a rather “kinky” sort. There are definite links with the ideas of the late Aleister Crowley. While the goal of the organization is to produce an enlightened Mage, it has its darker side too, including human sacrifice. This allegedly was and still is carried out by a gadget called a Tepaphone which supposedly allows a magician to use his/her will to kill a selected individual anywhere that person may be. I, for one, am not frightened at all!
What does any of this have to do with Germanic Heathen religion and its associated magical practices? As you have probably concluded by this point, not a whole lot! While the Brotherhood of Saturn was partly propelled into existence by the desire of late 19th and early 20th century German-speaking Europe to reconnect with its pre-Christian heritage, the only actual Heathen or Heathen-derived elements I was able to find were a belief in an “All-ruling Principle of Fate” called “Fuotan.” This is a combination of fatum, the Latin word for fate, with Wuotan/Wotan, which are old German dialectical forms of *Wodenaz (Odin). This was based on the belief, erroneous as far as I can tell, that fatum is cognate with *Wodenaz. My understanding is that far from being fate, or its closest Germanic counterpart, Wyrd, Odin is himself subject to the workings of Wyrd. Etymologically speaking, *Wodenaz is derived from a word meaning “fury,” not “fate,” and its closest Latin cognate is “ventus,” meaning “wind.”
The only other Heathen-derived element I was able to find was belief in and use of Guido von List’s Armanen Futhark and Rune work. However, these elements are but distorted drops of Heathen lore in a very diverse pool of ideas, and are not essential to its functioning. They could be removed from the Brotherhood of Saturn and it would remain essentially unchanged. The core of the Brotherhood lies in its lodge organization, initiatory degrees, and Gnostic-derived philosophy.
Why, then, should the Brotherhood of Saturn hold any interest or relevance for the reconstructionist or traditionalist Heathen? There are a number of reasons. One is that this sort of magical order is a product of the same longings by modern people for their ancient roots that has given rise to the Heathen Revival. The difference is that contemporary Heathenism is demonstrably related in its Gods, beliefs, and practices to the Heathenism of ancient times! Another reason is that some folks in the larger society lump all “occult” and “alternative religions” groups together. If we as Heathens have an adequate working knowledge of “what else” is out there, we can more effectively explain to outsiders both what we are and what we are not! The final reason is that whether we like it or not, ceremonial magic and occult lodges have in some ways affected the Heathen Revival. Those familiar with the works of Dr. Flowers/Edred will note that he has used some ceremonial magic practices in his reconstruction of Germanic magic, and that he has an active interest in ritual sex as well. He and his wife, Crystal Dawn, have a book in print on the Runa-Raven website called Carnal Alchemy: A Sado-Magical Exploration of Pleasure, Pain and Self-Transformation (Second Revised Edition), which deals with the spiritual aspects of sado-masochistic sex.
While I am not saying that any of this is bad, or a “contaminant” in a “pure” Germanic Heathenry (such a thing would be as impossible today as it was in the ancient past, due to contacts with other cultures and religions), it is essential to know what is solidly lore-based, what is better described as lore-feasible, and what has clearly been brought in from “outside.” With this knowledge base clearly understood, Heathen individuals, households, and groups can work to develop their own healthy and unique variants of Heathen faith. This was never a monolithic religion to begin with, and should not, indeed cannot be so now!
While falling almost entirely outside the Heathen pale, Fire & Ice is a well-researched and well-written work. It makes available a large amount of information, including actual Brotherhood of Saturn documents, which would otherwise be unavailable to anyone who does not read German. I found much of it intriguing. I knew very little about magical and occult lodges before reading this book. If this sort of thing interests you, I can virtually guarantee you a fascinating experience if you read this book!
Speaking of which, I was unable to find Fire & Ice on both the Runa-Raven and Llewellyn websites. It is currently out of print. I did however find one used copy on amazon.com for more than fifty-five dollars. At those prices, my advice is that unless occult lodges absolutely fascinate you, you should either read something else or try to borrow a copy via interlibrary loan at your public library. Another option would be to go to www.google.com and search “Brotherhood of Saturn.” A great deal of information can be found there.
last modified 11/27/2003