Heathen Germanic Heroes
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“Germanic Heroes: Past, Present, and Future”
(published May 2004 in The Troth's journal, "Idunna")
Greatly inspired by Vol. V of The Road to Bifrost by Thor and Audrey Sheil, back in print at:
The concept of heroes and heroines is an integral part of Germanic culture and religion which has carried over into contemporary Heathenism. A number of pivotal works of contemporary Heathenism give space to honor the mighty men and women of our heroic past by retelling and celebrating their stories. Their mynne (memory) is drunk at sumbel, and contemporary writers, some of them Heathen or Heathen-friendly, have brought the mighty deeds of our ancient heroes to a broad contemporary audience. In addition, most of us can identify some of our living Heathen peers whom we hold to possess the same heroic virtues today.
As individuals will very naturally understand heroism and heroes in slightly different ways, it is worthwhile before proceeding further to make sure that readers have clearly fixed in mind the definitions of “hero” in use in modern culture. When I need such information, I almost always turn to The Oxford Universal Dictionary, which is the closest thing the English language is ever likely to have to an official guide to its usage. It defines “hero” as follows: 1. A name given to men of superhuman strength, courage, or ability, favoured by the gods; regarded later as demigods, and immortal. 2. One who does brave or noble deeds; an illustrious warrior. 3. A man who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness or greatness of soul, in connexion with any pursuit, work, or enterprise; a man admired and venerated for his achievements and noble qualities. 4. The man who forms the subject of an epic; the chief male personage in a poem, play or story” (Little, 895). A heroine, or course, would be a woman exhibiting these qualities.
Please note that the above definitions do not include such concepts as “perfect,” “sinless,” etc. Just within the Germanic heroic tradition (parallels occur in other traditions as well), I am reminded of Volundr’s lameness and Sigurðr’s inadvertent incest. I am especially reminded of Eirik the Red. Hero and father of heroes? Most certainly he was. But he also couldn’t (or wouldn’t) control his temper, and as a result ended up being run out of two countries and living out his days on a frozen rock at the edge of the known world! The Germanic worldview is a commonsensical one: no one and no thing is perfect, but we strive despite (or perhaps because of) this to learn, grow, evolve, and where possible to help others to do likewise. In fact, heroes are depicted in more than one culture as having some sort of “tragic flaw,” which if it does not directly contribute to their heroism, at least makes them recognizably human and thus figures with whom we can all identify, a facet or function of heroism which I will discuss later in this work.
The heroes of the Germanic peoples have always occupied a place very near to the Gods. Heroes, like kings, were often of divine descent (Grimm, 343). While in Greco-Roman mythology the hero was often the son of a God or Goddess (more often than not Zeus) and a usually ill-fated mortal, in our own myths the divine ancestor is usually a bit more distant. Nevertheless, the line between Gods and heroes was often blurred in the earlier stage of the tales. Some early chieftains were evidently raised to the rank of Gods after their death (Turville-Petre, 196). Many Heathens speculate, not without reason, that Bragi the God and Bragi the Old, an early skald were the same individual (Gundarsson, 73-74).
The situation becomes more complex due to the fact that much of our lore has been garbled to a greater or lesser degree by Christian influences during its transmission. The legend of Froði comes to mind. Many see him as being Freyr himself and thus see his legend as a variant on Freyr’s myth (Sheil, 93). This could be due to euhemerization (changing Gods into powerful people, as Snorri Sturluson did, possibly as a safety precaution, when writing his Prose Edda) or perhaps Froði was a Freyr-hero all along. We will probably never know for sure!
The link between Gods and heroes goes back into our oldest literature. The poems today compiled together as the Poetic Edda have as their primary theme Gods and heroes (Borges, 115). The “Heroic Lays” immediately follow the “Mythological Lays” in which the Gods are the leading characters. This combination of divine and heroic lore is also seen in India’s Vedas and the Homeric poems of Greece (Hollander, ix). Although the order in which the poems of the Poetic Edda are arranged is relatively modern, it is fitting that the mythological immediately precedes and is closely intertwined with the heroic, for myth is ultimately what makes heroism possible (Greenway, 175).
A large part of early Norse literature is of a heroic nature. Its subject matter is thus the lives of heroes who were supposed to have lived at various times and in various places in the past, although none were said to have lived after the settlement of Iceland (Turville-Petre, 196). For instance the “Atli” who appears in the Eddaic poems “The Lay of Atli” and “The Greenlandish Lay of Atli” was originally Attila the Hun, transplanted into a Germanic context (Borges, 115). Of course, a heroic story or poem may not be historically accurate, but that is not what heroic literature is about in the long run. Truths of other sorts are being explored.
Of what, then did the heroic consist of for the Germanic peoples and what was the purpose in expounding on and celebrating it in literature? One function was that the hero shows forth or even incarnates the ideals of his or her culture, as well as its ethical beliefs (Hollander, ix). On another level, the hero both embodies the human condition and transcends it by linking the human realm to that of the Gods (Grimm, 340). With that in mind, one could arguably be justified in capitalizing the word “Heroes” for the same reason that I along with many other Heathen writers do with the word “Gods.”
Germanic heroes can be seen as having a strong association with the Æsir and Vanir (Turville-Petre, 196, 200). The God most closely associated with the ancient heroes of our culture is Oðinn. Pagan Scandinavia devotes an entire section to “The Heroes of Odin” (Daniel, 124-132). This is not surprising in the light of his heroic deeds and his heroic sacrifices, all carried out in order to gain wisdom and might with which to postpone the Ragnarökr. Still, there are heroes with Vanic connections and/or overtones (Grimm, 347 and Turville-Petre, 217). A single hero, for instance Hadding, could even combine Odinic and Vanic traits (op. cit., 216). The whole of Chapter 10 of Myth and Religion of the North is dedicated to “The Divine Heroes” (op. cit., 196-220). Here Turville-Petre discusses many heroes at length and retells their stories. I suggest that this be one of the first things you read.
After reading that, Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology offers its own chapter on the heroes and their characteristics. He makes some comparisons with those of other cultures (Hercules and Ulysses are mentioned). This does not surprise me given that much of Germania was under Roman domination and numerous early Germans served in Rome’s legions. In addition to the commonly known heroes, Grimm mentions many who are very obscure or who have left very little evidence. His work, as usual, is incredibly detailed and exhaustive, and covers the entire Germanic world (Grimm, 340-395).
Another characteristic shared by Gods and heroes is that both can possess in their nature and in their myths certain characteristics which for want of a better term I will call “archetypal.” For instance, just as both Freyr and Balder have “Solar” characteristics (although I must state emphatically neither of them is a “Sun God”), so does the hero Svipdag (Sheil, 92).
There is no “canon” per se of heroes in Heathen belief. However, many of them have been honored in our midst since ancient times. To tell their stories, except for in some instances in the barest of outlines, is beyond the scope of this article but would make a fine Heathen book if someone feels so inclined. The information I have provided should be enough for you to begin to research and learn about the heroes and heroines of our faith and culture.
Among contemporary Heathens, I have only seen one online poll asking us to identify our favorite heroes. The sample was too small to be in any way scientific and in any case the poll is now closed, so I will not quote from it in detail. However, it is worth mentioning that the choices were: Sigurðr the Dragon Slayer, Helgi Hundingsbani, Helgi Hjorvardsson, Volund/Weyland, Beowulf, Hermann the Cheruscan, Leif Eiriksson, Eirik the Red, Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson (the only modern individual mentioned), Egil Skallagrimsson, Ragnar the Skald, and “other.” The biggest vote-getters were Sigurðr, Beowulf, Leif, and Egil. The number of votes received by “other” would suggest that many considered the list to be incomplete.
Many Heathen groups, along with their annual cycle of blótar to the Gods, also honor, usually by sumbel, the memory of a select group of heroic Heathens. Several of these were murdered by one or the other of the two conversion-era King Olafs for refusing baptism during the forced conversion of Norway. These “Lesser Feasts” and “Days of Remembrance” go back at least to Steve McNallen (McNallen, 4-5). McNallen suggests honoring (starting in January and in the following order): Raud the Strong (killed by being force-fed a poisonous snake); Eyvind Kinnrifi (slowly roasted to death); Olvir, who was murdered for performing the Spring sacrifices; Ragnar Lodbrok (sacked Paris, on Easter Sunday I believe); Guthroth (a local Uppland king mutilated for speaking out against the king and his forced Christianization policy); the Vikings of Lindisfarne, whose raid on the English monastery of that name opened the Viking Era; a celebration of the Battle of Stikklestad, where “Saint” Olaf got his just deserts; King Radbod of Frisia, who backed out of the baptismal font at the last instant when he was told his Heathen ancestors were in “hell”; and Eirik the Red.
The Troth has a rather similar list at http://www.thetroth.org/ourfaith/rites.html. It differs from McNallen in that it omits the Day of Remembrance for Olvir and the Lindisfarne celebration, but adds a Vali’s day (by folk etymology from Valentine’s Day); and days of remembrance for Haakon Sigurðsson, Sigurðr the Dragonslayer, Unn the Deep-Minded (a woman who was a great chieftain in Iceland during the settlement period), Hermann the Cheruscan, Leif Eiriksson (a Christian convert but a Hel of a Viking anyway), Queen Sigrid of Sweden (stood up to the preaching of Olaf Tryggvason and refused to marry him), Weyland Smith/Volundr (arguably a God or Elf rather than a man), and Egil Skallagrimsson. These two lists give a good idea as to who is considered a hero in the rather disparate “Folkish” and “Universalist” Heathen communities.
In the above lists, only one heroine is mentioned. Our heroines deserve their just due as well. Here the task becomes a bit more difficult. A frequently expressed ideal of Germanic, specifically Anglo-Saxon womanhood was essentially a passive, non-heroic one, that of peacemaker and mother (Chance, xiv). Nevertheless, women were also depicted in heroic terms in Anglo-Saxon, as well as other Germanic literatures. The term “ides ellenrof,” meaning “exceedingly brave or powerful woman” was applied to the (apocryphal) biblical heroine Judith (Chance, xiii). Remember that Anglo-Saxon literature was produced almost entirely post-conversion. Those familiar with her story (most ex-Protestant readers of this article probably won’t be, as her story is in one of the biblical books purged by the Reformers) will remember that she was indeed heroic and anything but passive! The term “ides” is normally reserved for noble women and “ellenrof” for heroes (Chance, xiii). I add that “ides” is cognate with continental Germanic “Idisi” and Norse “Dísir,” which are female ancestral spirits or even minor Goddesses.
Jenny Jochens in Old Norse Images of Women identifies many roles for women in Norse society. Many of these have definite heroic components. This can clearly be seen in its table of contents. These roles include the Dísir as guardian spirits, the Valkyries, Norns, Sibyls/Volur, and on the human level, warrior women such as Sigrdrífa/Brynhildr, Shield-Maidens such as Sigrún and Sváva, Maiden Warriors, Maiden Kings, avengers such as Guðrún and Signý, and “whetters” (women who work through manipulating other people, think of whetting a sword) such as Brynhildr and many others. Jochens also reminds us that Heathen Norse society was by no means free from misogyny.
Kveldulf Gundarsson points out that in the Mediterranean/Christian traditions, women could only be heroic by abandoning the female role and taking on a male one. I believe he is right. I remember reading a number of stories as a Spanish graduate student about women dressing as men, usually to go to war. In Germanic culture, however, women had a more active role to play. As “peace-weavers,” they helped hold together the social structure of what were often fractious societies. As “peace-pledges,” they married into and lived among enemy families. Coping with that situation must truly have called for ongoing heroism (Gundarsson, 130-133).
The heroism of women more often than not was of the quieter sort. The reward of their heroism was often the absence of war rather than victory in battle. In other ways as well, women showed great heroism. Think of the then horrific dangers of childbed and of women who chose to join their husbands in death rather than be taken as slaves. In addition to the heroines already mentioned, Gundarsson mentions Wealtheow from Beowulf, Freydís Eiríksdottir (daughter of Eirik the Red and sister of Leif Eiriksson), and Hervör, heroine of Hervör’s Saga, who lived as a man and “worked” as a highway robber and a pirate (which I would possibly interpret in the more heroic light of raider and Viking, the lines between such “careers” being more blurred back then) and who was married to the son of a Jotunn (Gundarsson, 130-133). If that man took after his dad’s side of the family, I should think that that in itself would require a heroic level of strength and bravery!
In Asyniur: Women’s Mysteries in the Northern Tradition, Sheena McGrath reminds us that “the heroines of the sagas and Edd(a)ic poems have contributed more to the idea of the strong, independent Norsewoman than any historian could do.” She then seeks to analyze these stories in more depth to ascertain whether “their strength and independence” was “admired, or were they simply male bogies the way the Amazons were for the Greeks?” She looks at the stories of four heroines, of which only Bergthora, wife of Njal in Njal’s Saga has not already been mentioned. Her conclusion is that the Norse, unlike the Greeks, did not condemn heroic women or portray them as unnatural (McGrath, 125-132).
As can be seen, heroes and heroines can be found in many places. Another place where they are known to congregate is Valhalla, where they fight each day in preparation for the Ragnarökr and then feast together amicably (Munch, 48). Some are said in surviving folklore to frequent prominent places in the natural or man-made landscape, including rocks, castles, halls, pillars (recalling the Irminsul of the Saxons), caverns, clefts in rocks, subterranean springs, and hills (whether natural or howes = burial mounds). Some are said to slumber in these latter places, perhaps as symbols of the grave and the realms of the Dead (Grimm, 952), until they are needed once more to bring deliverance to their land and its people. Many Christian heroes, such as Roland, and I am sad to report, Charlemagne later inherited in the popular imagination many of the characteristics and much of the folklore of the old Heathen heroes, and even of the Gods themselves, especially Oðinn (Grimm, 393-395, 951-956).
In addition to the ancient Heathen heroes, we can all think of heroic contemporary Heathens as well. The list that follows is admittedly and necessarily incomplete. Also please bear in mind that none of the folks I am about to mention is perfect, and some are felt by many of their fellow Heathens to have very real flaws. As previously mentioned, this does not detract from their heroism and may in some cases be part and parcel of it. I do feel that whether or not you like everyone I am about to mention, their efforts and accomplishments nevertheless partake of the Heroic.
The late Sveinbjorn Beinteinsson, first modern Alsherjargoði of Iceland, has already been mentioned. It took a great deal of courage to publicly revive our religion nearly one thousand years after his country’s conversion. May Oðinn feast him well! Steve McNallen and Else Christensen, both still living, also come to mind. Steve’s blótar have served as a model for many if not most of those in use among Anglophone Heathens today, and both he and Else, now past ninety, kept Heathen publications going for many, many years back when they were few and far between.
Prudence Priest of Freya’s Folk and the American Vinland Association has the oldest Heathen magazine still in continuous publication. Yggdrasil recently celebrated its 20th birthday. Even taking into account the publications of the far more numerous larger Pagan community, only Circle Network News and the British publication The Cauldron are older! I’m very proud that my Rune series was a regular in Yggdrasil for six years! Even a life-threatening illness and resultant surgery didn’t stop the presses, and Prudence has also built or is building a Hof. Gamlinginn and Gefjon of New Mexico are doing likewise, and Gamlinginn’s Ásatrú newsletter helped a lot of us cut our teeth in Heathenry back before the Internet took off.
Diana Paxson is among my favorite Heathen heroines. She, along with several others, spearheaded the modern revival of Seiðr and Spae-work. She also in my opinion pretty much saved The Troth in its darkest hour and continues to work both devotedly and heroically as Idunna’s Shope. In addition, for much of that time she was simultaneously The Troth’s Steerswoman, and even in charge of the clergy program!
Finally, John and Monica Post have at enormous personal cost, including bankruptcy, continued to provide religious materials for and advocate on behalf of over eleven thousand incarcerated Heathens in North America alone. The passing of what is now the National Prison Kindred Alliance and its journal, The Saga into their hands seems to me to be something the High Ones themselves must have had a hand in! They have worked very hard to put better materials and a more positive attitude into prison system Heathenry, and their efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
Many contemporary writers have explored the world of Germanic mythology and heroic legend. A quick trip to my bookshelf (I collect fantasy novels with Germanic mythological and heroic themes but unfortunately seldom have time to actually read them) turned up quite a number. These include Poul Anderson, Elizabeth Boyer, Michael Crichton, John Dalmas, Lester Del Rey, Asa Drake, Alan Gardner, Thorarinn Gunnarsson, Harry Harrison, Jason Henderson, Tom Holt, Eric Nelson, Larry Niven, Diana Paxson, Mickey Zucker Reichert, John Maddox Roberts, Jane Smiley, Paul Edwin Zimmer, and of course J. R. R. Tolkien. Some of these authors are Heathen or Heathen-friendly, although Tolkien, a very good Catholic, is probably spinning in his grave over how many people he inadvertently helped set on the path to Heathenism! Browsing the science fiction/fantasy and historical fiction sections of both new and second-hand bookstores should turn up quite a selection. Also try searching the authors on www.amazon.com and be sure to look for them on a search engine as well. You should be able to uncover biographical information, plot summaries, and much more.
In addition, two very funny novels of relatively recent publication have been written by Heathens and to an extent for a Heathen audience. These are Worlds According to Loki by Vampyre Mike Kassel and Norse Mythology…According to Uncle Einar by Jane T. Sibley. These might be considered mock-heroic or even anti-heroic, although Loki just might squeak in under definition number four of “hero”! While I have not managed to finish them yet, I have found them very enjoyable, and do not take offense at the humorous depiction of the Gods. As the Eddaic poem “Lokasenna” clearly shows, the Gods can take a joke, and I suspect the heroes are no different.
Please note that each author approaches the old tales a different way, based on his or her unique perspective. Fiction writings have in some ways influenced the evolution of contemporary Heathenism. Despite the complaints of some purists, this is not always a bad thing. Any living religion does just that, i.e. lives and grows, and fictional writing can be a source of religious inspiration. I believe, as do others, that it was one of the ways our Gods and Goddesses were able to keep active and exert an influence in Midgard during those centuries where their worshippers were few, scattered, and secretive (I suspect that one way or another they have never completely lacked for worshippers).
One thing that can be seen from the active and ongoing interest in the ancient tales of our heroes, one so strong that the old stories are once again growing and evolving much like living things, is that we as children both of the Gods and of Ask and Embla still need the heroic in our lives.
In a very real sense, none of us lives very far from the heroic. It just keeps shining through in our lives when and where we least expect it. All of us can think of individuals, kin and not, who have been heroes to us in our own lives. It wouldn’t hurt to tell those folks while they are still living! Without even knowing it, we have probably served as heroes to others as one point or another.
Our lives may not always make much sense on the surface, but it is very important that we live them (and die them) as best we can. We will experience both joy and sorrow, victory and defeat, but when the latter comes into our lives, we as living creatures in general and self-aware beings in particular have the most remarkable capacity to get up and keep going. It is very hard for us to give up, and just like Hár, we continue forward, and rightly so. Oðinn knows what he is doing!
Yes, there are plenty of times we feel anything but heroic, but when I look back over my life so far I am awed at the moments when the heroic has touched me. Truly, in the words of “Hávamál”:
No man so flawless but some fault he has,
nor so wicked as to be of no worth.
[Both foul and fair are found among men,
blended within their breasts.] (Hollander, 34).
When we strive to help each other stand, go on, and fight for what we believe in, the heroic element in all our lives can grow further, hopefully at the expense of our more base and Jotunn-ish elements. This striving against fate or determinism, a more subtle sort of heroism than is present in many other cultures, is characteristic of the Norse (Greenway, 39) and we are particularly fortunate that it is well-suited to the everyday lives of modern men and women. Now, perhaps more than ever, we need community; simply put, we need each other. While our material needs are more easily met and we are safer from overt physical danger than in the “old days,” emotionally and spiritually we may well be at greater risk. The ancients understood well our need for each other’s presence and support:
Young I was once and went alone,
and wandering lost my way;
when a friend I found I felt me rich:
man is cheered by man. (Hollander, 21).
One of the greatest reasons for the public Heathen revival and all things considered its remarkable overall success to date is the profound alienation that dulls much of the bright promises of contemporary industrialized societies. This is in part traceable to the loss of the mythological and interrelated heroic elements in contemporary culture. It is “in the interaction of the realities of the human world with the truths of the mythic universe that men define themselves (Greenway, 37). This alienation creates a deep unease in the hearts and minds of many, perhaps most people, whether or not they are consciously aware of it. When more dogmatic and exclusive myths were imposed upon and forced into the forefront of Germanic culture, the real loser was the idea of tolerance. We must strive to revive and live our mythical and heroic heritages so that the contemporary “negation of the transcendent does not allow the demonic to define the human world” (op. cit., 175). If we understand “demonic” as being the forces embodied in the Jotnar who stand against Ásgarðr, then we can understand our own struggles as aiding the cause of the Gods themselves.
Although we come into Miðgarðr alone, we don’t have to stay that way. Despite the often pointless and disturbing feuds among ourselves, time after time I have seen Heathen stand by Heathen. In this we lay down in the Well of Wyrd a bright Orlög both for us and for those who will walk the Heathen Way long after we have all been shod in our Hel-shoes.
Whatever theology or interpretation of Wyrd to which you may hold as a Heathen, it can still be argued that our ancestors chose to live as if the future were open, resisting the tide of chaos (those Jotnar again). In this defining of ourselves as still hoping, still striving, and still holding to what is most dear to us, we are walking in a very real sense in the footsteps of our Gods and Goddesses. In this way, death can, in the final analysis, give heroic stature (Greenway, 37-39).
We strive on, knowing that we must one day die, and that of all things, only the World Tree is truly deathless. Like Oðinn, good people can delay but not ultimately prevent final disaster (Greenway, 29-30). Within the space provided by human and divine action, we will create much that is of great beauty, and this makes the effort worthwhile. Yet even in the knowledge of human and even godly impermanence, there is comfort to be found, for not only must all we love pass away, although it may remain in existence in some form within Yggdrasil (for me, this is one aspect of the Mystery of Líf and Lífþrasir), but also all that we most loathe, all that is worst both within and outside of us, is equally impermanent. As the Anglo-Saxon poem “Deor” reminds us, “That went by; this may too” (Alexander, 14-15). What we do know endures, as Oðinn himself reminds us in “Hávamál,” in what is perhaps the heroic verse most beloved of Heathens today is that
“Cattle die and kinsmen die,
thyself eke soon wilt die;
but fair fame will fade never,
I ween, for him who wins it.” (Hollander, 25).
Heroes and heroines are thus in a very real sense Everyman and Everywoman (Fee, p. 117). This “Monomyth” which has appeared in so many cultures around the world and across time speaks most clearly to most of us from within the context of our own culture. This is the very best reason for listening to what the Germanic Hero may whisper to you from both within and without your own self. By doing so, you bring what is best of our Heathen Germanic culture from that-which-has-been into that-which-is, and from that point, it can journey on very naturally into that-which-is-becoming. May each of us in our own unique way strive to win bright and enduring fame, and continue to build thereby a solid foundation for future generations of Heathens. In a very real way, as children of the Gods and Heroes of old, we are all called to live heroically in our own lives!
Alexander, Michael, trans. The Earliest English Poems. London: Penguin Books, 1991. Contains Old English poems, both entire and in excerpt, including works by Caedmon and Bede and much more. The poems “Deor,” “Widsith,” “Beowulf and the fight at Finnsburg,” and “Waldere” have been given their own section entitled “Heroic Poems.” The poems “Brunanburh,” “The Battle of Maldon,” and even “The Dream of the Rood” also contain much of the Germanic heroic spirit.
Borges, Jorge L. and María E. Vázquez. Literaturas germánicas medievales. Buenos Aires: Falbo Librero Editor, 1965. A useful introduction in Spanish to the medieval literature of the Germanic peoples. Includes fairly detailed coverage of Beowulf, the Eddas, the Sagas, and the Siegfried/Sigurðr legends. Interest in Heathenism is growing in the Hispanic world. The folks there have never quite forgotten and look with pride upon their Visigothic forebears. This is a good one to recommend to Spanish and Portuguese-speakers (they can read Spanish easily).
Chance, Jane. Woman as Hero in Old English Literature. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986. The first chapter will hold the most interest for the Heathen reader, but subsequent chapters, though dealing with explicitly Christian themes, show Heathen heroic themes and elements coexisting with the imported and superimposed religious ideals.
Ellis Davidson, H. R. Pagan Scandinavia. New York: Frederick A. Praeger Publishers, 1967. Volume 58 in the series Ancient Peoples and Places, Dr. Glyn Daniel, General Editor. Dr. Ellis Davidson is one of the greatest scholars of Germanic Heathenry. Anything you can find by her, including The Road to Hel, published under her maiden name, Ellis, is well worth reading.
Fee, Christopher R. and David A. Leeming. Gods, Heroes, and Kings: The Battle for Mythic Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. A good introduction to or review of the mythologies of the Celtic and Germanic nations, and the later manifestations of their major mythological themes during the Christian period.
Greenway, John L. The Golden Horns: Mythic Imagination and the Nordic Past. Athens GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1977. This book contains a great deal of very deep analysis of and philosophizing on the nature of the Norse mythological Universe. Even the very limited time I was able to spend with it while researching this article has been amply repaid both in new insights and in deeper inspiration. Out of print, but there are plenty of used copies at good prices on www.amazon.com.
Grimm, Jacob. Trans. James Steven Stallybrass. Teutonic Mythology. New York: Dover Publications, 1966. An enormous classic work in four volumes, containing an almost unimaginable amount of lore collected by one of the Brothers Grimm of fairy-tale fame. Incredibly useful.
Gundarsson, KveldúlfR Hagan. Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs & Practices of the Northern Tradition. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1993. n.b.: this book is again in print as an e-book at http://www.aswynn.runeschool.org/recommended.html for US $12. This is one of the key books of the modern Heathen revival and a must-have.
Hollander, Lee M., trans. The Poetic Edda. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1962. Readily available and a translation familiar to most Anglophone Heathens.
Jochens, Jenny. Old Norse Images of Women. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996. Part of the University of Pennsylvania Middle Ages Series, Ruth Mazo Karras, General Editor. Explores in detail the many roles, often heroic, of women in Old Norse Society. Her Women in Old Norse Society is also recommended.
Little, William, ed. The Oxford Universal Dictionary on Historical Principles, 3rd ed. with addenda. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955. This is the big, black, one-volume dictionary I’ve used since my early teens. It has etymologies and even date of first recorded use and a brief example for entries.
McGrath, Sheena. Asyniur: Women’s Mysteries in the Northern Tradition. Freshfield (UK): Capall Bann Publishing, 1997. Gets mixed reviews from Heathens, perhaps due to her rewriting/reinterpreting some myths from a feminist viewpoint. Nevertheless, I found her chapter on heroines to the point and insightful.
McNallen, Stephen P. Rituals of Asatrú: Volume Two – Seasonal Festivals. Payson, AZ: World Tree Publications, 1992. A fine work by a contemporary Heathen pioneer. His blótar have had an enormous and ongoing influence on subsequent Heathen worship.
Munch, Peter Andreas. Ed. Magnus Olsen, trans. Sigurd Bernhard Hustvedt. Norse Mythology: Legends of Gods and Heroes. New York: The American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1926. Reissued in 1968 by Singing Tree Press. Old but still in print and still at least somewhat popular with Heathens. Compare carefully with the original Eddaic sources. A good way to look at how previous generations viewed our lore.
Sheil, Thor and Audrey. The Road to Bifrost Volume V: The Mysteries on Bifrost’s Path. New York: Trollwise Press, 1991. Practical and down-to-earth. The authors’ real, longstanding, ongoing, and deep relationship with our Gods and Goddesses shines through on every page. Occasionally opinionated.
Troth, The. Rites and Ways of The Troth. http://www.thetroth.org/ourfaith/rites.html. Includes a section on “Lesser Feasts: Days of Remembrance.” These are dedicated to Heathen heroes.
Turville-Petre, E. O. G. Myth and Religion of the North: The Religion of Ancient Scandinavia. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964. Still in print and something every Heathen who reads English should read more than once. Obscenely overpriced on amazon.com. I suggest interlibrary loan at your local public library.
last modified 08/14/2007