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.