Of Ghosts and Godpoles: Théodish Essays Pertaining to the Reconstruction of Saxon Heathen Belief, both Old and Anglo is sure to become a classic text among Heathens, and especially among Théodish Heathens. Comprising six essays, plus extensive appendices and fascinating footnotes, the book combines academic rigor with insight and creativity. Its arrival ought to cement its author’s reputation as a foremost authority in modern Heathenry.
This book is not for beginners; there is a fairly high level of assumed knowledge, as the author freely admits. However, for those who are comfortable with the tools of historical research—linguistics, archaeology, mythology, reportage, historiography, cross-cultural comparison, and aesthetics—it represents a tour de force, and really throws down the gauntlet for contemporary Heathen authors to ground themselves deeply in the historical record and its interpretation.
Reconstructionism—the view that contemporary Heathen praxis must be grounded on historical evidence as far as practicable—is often pigeon-holed as being stodgy, unimaginative, self-righteous, or gratuitously restrictive. In contrast, Of Ghosts and Godpoles shows just how inspiring and evocative the reconstructionist approach can be, and stands as a great demonstration of reconstructionisms’ ability to enrich our understanding of both historical and modern Heathenry. Mr. Línléah is a poet as well as an academic, and the poetic vision that guides his rigorous analyses is what makes all the difference and lifts his brand of Théodish reconstructionism into a heightened realm.
If Línléah’s poetic gifts are revealed in prose that is both beautiful and playful (and littered with alliteration and other signature elements of old Anglo-Saxon texts), his academic expertise is attested in his mastery of linguistics, dead languages, obscure primary sources, comparative studies, archaeology, and even climate science. The book is not only filled with fascinating tidbits of knowledge, but it weaves them through matrices of deduction and inference into inspiring webs of new meaning.
The book’s first essay, “Layers in the Well,” is a spirited history of the Saxon peoples, from the earliest records through to their long battle against Frankish Christian imperialism. This vigorous account of a peoples’ emergence, development, and subjugation (and their capacity for endless rebirth) creates a wonderful historical, cultural, and political context for the rest of the book. A vivid account of the travails of a lost culture, it unveils the tragic consequences of Christianity as a political force in Northern Europe.
For me at least, the cultural and physical genocide that the Christian Frankish kings visited on their Heathen Saxon neighbors invites comparison to the behavior of Christian, capitalist Europe towards many traditional cultures in more recent, colonialist, centuries. A tragic irony: the horrors visited on indigenous cultures worldwide, it seems, received an early formulation in the aggression of the Christian Franks against the Heathen Saxons.
Línléah then follows on with “Searching for Sahsnôt,” in which he investigates the possible identity of the enigmatic Saxon deity for whom that tribe seems to have been named. Línléah assassinates a number of flawed linguistic and mythic interpretations of this important deity’s identity, in particular the error of equating him with the Norse god Tyr. I won’t give away the answer that this essay supplies, for it is just a satisfying mystery tale as any I have ever read.
The third essay, “Poles, Pillars, and Trees,” inquires into the prominent place of godpoles in historical Heathen religious practice, with a particular emphasis on the much celebrated Irminsûl. The essay debunks the many specious—but widely and uncritically accepted—myths about the appearance and location of the Irminsûl, using some brilliant cross-cultural and aesthetic analyses to do so. A considered and detailed discussion of the sources then teases out a far more robust—and more interesting—characterization of the Irminsûl as history’s most well-remembered monument to Heathen deity.
If the first three essays focus more on the Old Saxon peoples, the second set of three expand their scope to the Anglo-Saxon culture and beyond. Essay four, “Betwixt Blood Spattered Benches,” dives deep into the task of revisioning critical events in the life of the Anglo-Saxon hero Hengest, specifically the two massacres for which his reputation has generally been tarnished. The essay explores with loving touch the dizzying Anglo-Saxon world of obligation, fealty, honor, debt, and the unfolding of wyrd, time’s causal matrix.
Línléah attempts—quite compellingly—to show how, when understood through the now distant and even alien thinking of the old Anglo-Saxon Heathens, Hengest’s violent deeds are less the sign of dishonorable character and more the best available outcomes of taxing moral dilemmas into which he was thrust. In attempting to redeem Hengest’s biography, Línléah draws on and deploys Campbellian “hero’s journey” concepts to useful effect, in the process highlighting both the value and limits of using theoretical frameworks to interpret historical events.
It bears emphasizing that the essay really does help us to appreciate just how alien the old Heathen worldview is to our modern, post-Christian vision of reality, a sobering insight that I nevertheless find inspires me to redouble my own efforts to steep myself in the old worldview and ways. Don’t forget to check the footnotes on this one: they tell yet another tale of myth and magic!
The fifth essay, “Dragons Among the Dead,” is the jewel in Of Ghosts and Godpoles’ crown. It analyses the themes of death, wyrd, magic, and serpents/dragons in Beowulf, opening up radical new visions of the significance of the events that unfold in that seminal Heathenish text. Indeed, in doing so it goes beyond the limits of Beowulf to offer startling visions of central themes in Heathen cosmology and mythology. Deeply inspiring—and drawing so many disparate threads into a rich new field of understanding—the essay is nothing short of a master class in the use of reconstructionist research to open thrilling new avenues for understanding and exploring the Heathen worldview.
The book’s final essay, “Lore and Landscape,” examines the impact of climate and climate change on Heathen history, culture, religion, migration, and war/politics. In doing so it challenges modern Heathens to consider whether we are allowing our contemporary climates to shape our practices and beliefs or not (it seems we certainly should be doing so). Where slavish replication of past forms threatens to disconnect us from Nature, Línléah seems to be implying that a more faithful Heathen praxis would allow the tides of climate, weather, and season to shape contemporary cultic practices, beliefs, and social organization at a fundamental level—just as it was for the original Heathen peoples.
This is, of course, most counter-intuitive for anyone born and raised in a modern, technological society, where climate and seasons are, at every turn, ruthlessly manipulated and dispelled from consciousness. We must ask ourselves: do our practices and beliefs place us in harmonic reciprocity with nature? If not, perhaps we are much less Heathen than we might like to think. Given the hastening impact of human-created climate change in current times, I suspect the implication of Línléah’s essay might be that we Heathens had better start engaging with the problem if we want to avoid being religious pretenders.
Thus, starting and ending with grand historical accounts, Línléah makes of his book a great serpent, biting its own tail (or perhaps giving birth to itself). In addition to the essays that form the book’s backbone, there are a wealth of appendices and notes included at the end, providing among other things a treasure trove of Línléah’s own primary source translations. The scope of the man’s learning is simply awesome, as is his generosity in sharing so many valuable historical materials. Intellectually challenging and poetically inspired, this book is simply essential reading for all Heathens—once they’ve worked up to it, at least—and Línléah is well on his way to earning a reputation as a learned and profound Heathen thinker.
Written by: Heimlich A. Laguz
Publisher: Heathengyld Books (United States)
Publication Date: November 16, 2014
File Under: Religion & Spirituality