Book Review: Travels Through Middle Earth by Alaric Albertsson

Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path Of A Saxon Pagan by Alaric Albertsson

Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path Of A Saxon Pagan by Alaric Albertsson

Travels Through Middle Earth: The Path Of A Saxon Pagan by Alaric Albertsson is an introductory look at who the Saxons were as a people, and how their culture has been kept alive through what Albertsson refers to as a “living religion.”

The content of Travels Through Middle Earth provides a brief overview of the many elements of Saxon Paganism necessary for a someone new to its concepts. This book is not designed as an in-depth history lesson, but rather equips the reader with the basics needed to begin their own practices, should they desire, or as a starting off point for further studies. For one such as myself, who is interested in the Saxons from a cultural inheritance standpoint, it provided me with what I found was a sound basis.

Albertsson starts by discussing who exactly the Saxon’s were, with a focus on historical fact contrasted with his own opinions and experiences. He then takes the reader through an overview of the Gods worshiped by Saxons, along with their relationships to the different worlds and how sovereignty is assigned and awarded through action. We are introduced to the Elves and Dwarves, as well as the Ettins and Wans. Albertsson then gives great attention to the Wéofod, the Saxon shrine, and how piety and daily worship translates to a way of life beyond study and understanding. The most complex aspect of Saxon Paganism is their honor system; how our actions and those connected to us affect our orlay. Through Albertsson’s clear and thoughtful writing, this truly complex notion was easily digestible and sparked a lot of afterthought on my part.

Albertsson rounds the book off by giving examples of rites, rituals, and how the inhíred works. He offers a Saxon take on the High Days (called Holy Tides.) He even includes a chapter on mead making and the relevance of this historic drink.

Albertsson’s conversational style of writing makes the deep, layered history easily digestible and, maybe more importantly, relatable. I went into this book with very little knowledge of who the Saxons were, mainly because my focus has always been on the Celts, and I was surprised at how many misconceptions I had about a culture that is not only important genealogically to myself, but to the entire English-speaking world. (It may also surprise readers how much they do already know about Saxon culture.)

By sharing the etymological roots of ancient Saxon words, Albertsson gives readers a context with which to begin. For one such as myself, who is a student of English literature as well as a life-long lover of Tolkien’s work, the connections Albertsson makes between the two was (I admit) exciting; there were countless moments of titillation as more parallels were drawn. Albertsson also provided careful descriptions and pronunciations that were well placed, leaving the reader feeling informed and not like a complete outsider.

On a personal note

Personal responsibility is a notion consistent through most Neo-Pagan organizations.  While I’ve found that many organizations adhere to this idea with a vague flexibility, Saxon Paganism doesn’t view this concept as negotiable. Albertsson’s discussion on orlay was inspiring. The idea of being personally accountable, not only to those in your immediate surroundings, but to everyone past and present is something we should all spend a little more time reflecting on. The way orlay was introduced, especially in relation to personal wyrd and to the Well of Wyrd, forced me to put the book down and consider my own life. I think, whether you’re an identified Saxon Pagan or just one who has an interest in Saxon culture and history, Eormensyl (the tree connecting the seven worlds) is an important thing to consider. If our own personal deeds and actions contributes to the Well of Wyrd, and thus sustains Eormensyl, then surly this is at least partly responsible for the state of our planet. If I’m interpreting Albertsson’s work correctly, our collective actions and deeds are cosmically connected, and that must make for a very sick Well of Wyrd.

Finally, I was surprised at the kinship I felt with the Gods and Goddesses of Saxon Paganism. In the past, whenever I’ve approached Pagan pantheons not of my own hearth, I’ve always strongly felt that I was reading a book on mythology. Without personal connection, reading about Gods and Goddesses not of your own belief can very easily feel like fiction. I think the Saxon belief that deities are physical beings coupled with Albertsson’s approachable writing made the availability of that connection undeniable; it was such a pleasure to experience this hearth culture through his eyes.

Eira Silversage
April 2013

Advertisements

Further Down The Path (Week 1)

It’s no secret that the older you get, the faster time seems to move. I don’t know about you, but I can barely remember the details of what I did last Friday, let alone last Monday. Weeks blur together and leave me with a feeling; good, bad, mediocre, painful, joyous, anxious, etc. Or, if any of you are as empathetic and emotional as I am, you may also feel all those emotions on a daily basis. This is why I journal, so my life doesn’t pass me by without being able to take pause and really remember how much beauty was in a certain sunset, or why I felt so rotten/happy/angry on a particular day.

I realized shortly after joining ADF that I’d need to reevaluate how I organize my life. Not to say that I was previously “wrong” in how I was living, but more so because my priorities shifted, and religious practices and pursuits are now at the forefront. Essentially, I was no longer meditating to only gain a little mental stillness; I was meditating to meet my deities. I was no longer wandering the forest trails and having moments of undeniable connection with the hidden groves and sacred trees of my land, I was communing with nature and interacting with the Spirits. Perhaps I was doing the latter all along, and only now have the knowledge to give such moments a name.

For the week of April 7th – 14th.

Meditation and Trance Work

I have this routine; I wake up, do 20 minutes of sun salutation-style yoga, then sit down on my deck and meditate to welcome the new day. It’s a grounded and thoughtful way to start the day; when I’m forced to skip it, I get cranky. While I do understand and appreciate the religious qualities and intentions of yoga, this is not an area I’m focusing on currently (there is only so much I can fit in my brain at once.) But meditation, now that is skill I seriously need to cultivate.

I have a love/hate relationship with meditation. No, not hate; it’s frustration, pure and simple. I have this idea in my head that, for me, meditation is achieving serenity. So I settle myself in the lotus position, surrounded by the chirping songbirds and the smell of cool, dewy evergreens. It’s shortly after dawn, and even with eyes closed, my vision is flooded with warm sunlight. I still my mind and just breathe; in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4. I sometimes chant “as above, so below” in my mind as I breathe, as I feel it lulls any lingering outer-world distractions.

But this state lasts for about 5 minutes before a car door slams, my tummy rumbles, or my mind starts in on the day’s to-do list. After that initial state is broken, I can never seem to regain it. Once my brain shifts from a quiet state, I have to think too much to still it and all is lost. Our Own Druidry talks about practicing achieving the meditative state; that, like any skill, it needs to be nurtured in order to be improved upon. So while Passing the Mist is something I am deeply looking forward to, I know I am not ready yet. Any attempts I make right now to enter the other realms, to leave my earthly body, to go just a little bit deeper would only be the fantasies of a wannabe. So, for now, every morning and every evening, I will continue practicing. Even if I find myself sitting in front of my shrine going over my recipe for blueberry muffins.

Our Own Druidry

When I first joined ADF in late February, I read through Our Own Druidry – Dedicant Manual. This first pass was intended to familiarize myself with the lore and ritual of ADF; sort of like trying something on before buying it. Clearly, I bought it. And this past week I reread the manual, highlighter and page markers in hand, to really absorb the foundation of ADF. Spirituality aside, what really struck me was the frank honesty of the authors. Until now, so much of what I’ve read by Neo-Pagan organizations feels like a sort of posturing. People want their path to be the path, and in doing so seem to replace authenticity with either vanity or ego. So little attention is actually given to the heritage of Neo-Pagan beliefs, that it allows for people to ad lib an entire religion around themselves  (essentially forming a cult) or exist in the shallow waters of “OMGs I LOVED Practical Magic. Blessed Be, Dear Sister.”

Neither have any appeal to me. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I am embarrassed and offended when lumped together with such individuals. Which is essentially why Wicca ceased to appeal to me.

I’ve been searching for real Neo-Paganism; the kind that is rooted in history and lore, that focuses on a way of life and not an image or an after-thought. I want to create life-long bonds with the spirits of this land and with my Gods and Goddesses. I want to honor my ancestors. I want to develop friendships with those who walk this path, ones built on respect and kinship. I want to help build a community. Reading the Dedicant Manual for a second time made me flush with inspiration and, what I can only recognize as, commitment.

ADF Studies

This week I went through the Dedicant’s reading list and selected the books I want to read this year. My ever-supportive husband gave me the green light, and I bought all of them. Every last carefully selected one (8 in total.) They are now hurdling towards me in an Amazon.ca package, right into my outstretch grabby hands.

I admit, Hearth Cultures really had me stumped. I’ve always had a bit of trouble distinguishing between intellectual/scholarly interest and spiritual connection. I’ve studied Paganism long enough to know that what you necessarily like doesn’t equate with attunement and connection. I have been a worshiper of the Celtic pantheon since before I started official Pagan studies, and haven’t really ever considered other alternatives. I do, however, have a really strong interest in the Norse pantheon and have always wanted to know more about the Saxons. I figured this was an excellent time to invest in all three.

While I have no doubt the Celt’s are my Hearth Culture, I am incredibly interested in the practice some Grove’s have adopted which honor specific pantheons for specific High Days. One day, when I’m part of a Grove, I think I’d be open to this.

Well before I joined ADF I bought “Travels Through Middle Earth” by Alaric Albertsson, which happens to be on the reading list for Saxon Hearth Culture. I bought this book mainly because I’m a glutton for anything relating to the stories and lore of Middle Earth (both Tolkien’s Middle Earth and our own.) I started reading it last night, and so far it’s been incredibly enjoyable and informative. I love Albertsson’s sense of humor and his very approachable way of delivering the information. I won’t say much more for now, as it will all be in my eventual book report.

Nature Observations

Where I live, it’s hard not to observe the seasons. I’m lucky enough to be facing away from the city towards the mountains, so I see trees. Oh, so many trees! The new growth on the tips of the evergreens are bright and supple this week. The cherry trees are in full bloom, their soft-pink petals falling like snow when the wind stirs. In fact, it’s been hard to stay indoors these days, as the sunshine and the new growth are filling the landscape with energies that I seem to crave on some carnal level.

As For Next Week…

Next week I’m planning on making herbal incense, following the guide in Our Own Druidry with a few substitutions. I’m also going to begin planning for Beltainne, as I’d like it to be my first ADF High Day Ritual and there is lots to learn. I may also have to ditch work tomorrow, as it’s supposed to be sunny, and go read in the park beneath my favourite Rowan tree.

 

Young rowan, vibrant with new growth.

Young rowan, vibrant with new growth.