BookMusings: (Re)Discovering Pagan Literature
A lively discussion of ancient and modern Pagan literature -- including children's books, graphic novels, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries -- along with interviews, author highlights, and profiles of Pagan publishers.
On Norse Goddesses
While my spiritual path is Hellenic and I primarily honor Greek Deities, I nonetheless am fascinated by the many, many different traditions out there that fall within the large Pagan tent (or set up camp right next to it). As a result, I have a pretty sizable personal library of books on other-than-Hellenic traditions.
Northern Traditions, and especially the Goddesses honored by those traditions, are a particular favorite subject.* I am always on the lookout for new books on Frigga or Freyja or Epona or Skadhi or Medeine.**
HR Ellis Davidson is a well-respected scholar of Northern mythology and religion, and her Roles of the Northern Goddess is at the top of my list. Though a bit dry in places -- and obviously not written with polytheists or Pagans in mind -- it is still an informative and wide-ranging study. This is one of the few texts I have been able to find in English which does include information on Eastern European Goddesses.
One of the most comprehensive books I have found on the subject which is aimed at polytheists is Alice Karlsdottir's Magic of the Norse Goddesses: Mythology, Ritual, Tranceworking. This is the only text I have found which devotes individual chapters each to Frigga and all of her Handmaidens: Eir, Saga, Gna, Gefjon, Snotra, Lofn, Sjofn, Var, Fulla, Hlin, Syn and Vor. It is very difficult to find information on the Handmaidens. The chapters on trancework -- filled with commonsense advice -- are also very helpful; the techniques laid out here can be easily adapted to other traditions.
While Frigga is little-known outside the Northern Traditions, most Pagans have at least a passing knowledge of Freyja. Emphasis on "passing knowledge." For many Pagans, she is either the Sex Goddess (tm) or the fluffy-headed Goddess of Looove. Freyja, like all Goddesses, is so much more than that. She is a multi-faceted Deity. One book that goes a long way towards dispelling the bad information about her is Freyja, Lady, Vanadis: An Introduction to the Goddess by Patricia M Lafayllve. While the book has its flaws (it's a bit repetitive), it is well-researched, with extensive endnotes. If you are at all interested in Freyja, this is a good place to start.
Another excellent resource is Visions of Vanaheim (which sadly seems to have fallen out of print). Edited by Svartesol, this Vanir-focused text pays homage to the nature- and fertility-oriented Deities of the Norse path. In addition to Freyja, there are long chapters devoted to the Goddesses Nerthus, Gullveig, Holda, Sif, and Idunna, among others. If you are at all interested in Vanatru, and you find a copy of this book, snatch it up.
Like the Handmaidens, Nerthus is a Goddess who gets little press, even within Northern Tradition circles. Nicanthiel Hrafnhild's Boar, Birch and Bog: Prayers to Nerthus is the only text I have found devoted exclusively to her. The essays, rituals and poems contained therein celebrate Nerthus as Lady of Valor, Lady of Fertility and Renewal, and Lady of Holiness and Sacrifice. Hrafnhild's love for his Goddess shines through on every page.
Another Goddess who gets short shrift is Skadhi -- and there is actually some debate within the Heathen community as to whether or not she should even be honored as a Goddess. The Huntress Within: Finding Skadhi, edited by Isa Frostdottir, collects the poems, prayers and personal experiences of those who do so honor her.
While Loki is something of a controversial figure in Heathenry (soooo the topic for another time), I have never seen anyone express a negative or even ambivalent opinion about his wife. Galina Krasskova's Sigyn: Our Lady of the Staying Power: A Devotional to the Norse Goddess of Constancy explores why her modern-day devotees are so passionate about, even enamoured with, that Goddess. If I had been drawn to Heathenry, rather than Hellenismos, I could definitely see myself among their company.
Krasskova is also the editor of two other devotionals in honor of lesser-known Goddesses: Skalded Apples: A Devotional for Iduna and Bragi; and Day Star and Whirling Wheel: A Devotional to Sunna Goddess of the Sun and Mani God of the Moon. (Full disclosure: I have a couple of poems in each book.) Iduna is a joyful Goddess best-known as the caretaker of the Apples of Immortality, while Sunna is .. well ... the sun. But, as is the case with any Deity, there is much more to both than there first appears, and that complexity is explored in these anthologies.
Along with the wife of Loki, there is also a devotional in honor of his daughter. Dagian Madir's Wholly: A Devotional for Hela is -- again -- the only text I know of focused solely on that Goddess. And just as there are misconceptions about Freyja, there are a whole host of misconceptions about Hela. Filled with wrenching personal experiences and passionate poetry, Madir's book takes those misunderstandings head-on and demolishes them.
Finally, there is Andrew Gyll's Shadow Gods and Black Fire. With inky illustrations by Abby Helasdottir, this is one of the most beautiful collections of modern Pagan poetry that I have ever read. It is alternately fierce, tender, frightening, and deeply moving, with most of the poems in honor of Hel herself.
The above is just a small sampling of the many books currently available on the Goddesses of the Northern Traditions. If I missed your favorite, please let me know. I can always find room for another good book on my shelves.
*If anyone can point me in the direction of some English-language texts on Romuva, Dievturība, Mausk, and Maavalla Koda, I would be very grateful.
** For the record, I have found only short sections in longer works on Epona or Medeine, not full-length books. Will someone please write one already?
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