What books should I read if I’m interested in Heathenry?
Heathenry is sometimes called “the religion with homework.” There’s a lot of book and we can’t possibly list them all here, but here are some of the most important:
Lee M. Hollander, transl. The Poetic Edda. 2nd ed. University of Texas Press, 1986. ISBN:
Carolyne Larrington, transl. The Poetic Edda. Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN: 0192839462.
The Poetic Edda (don’t ask what the word “Edda” means; no one seems to know) is a collection of poems written down in Iceland in the Old Norse language, preserving the lore of our Gods and heroes. Hollander tries to maintain as much as possible of the poetic flavor of the original as possible. He did this by using a lot of archaic vocabulary—it’s not always easy to figure out his infamous “Hollanderese”.
Carolyne Larrington’s translation is less poetic but more readable.
Snorri Sturluson, Edda, transl. Anthony Faulkes. Everyman's Library, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd,
1995. ISBN 0460871854.
Snorri Sturluson, The Prose Edda of Snorri Sturlusson, transl. Jean I. Young. University
of California Press, 2001. ISBN 0520012313.
Snorri Sturluson was a remarkable 13th-century Icelandic scholar and political figure. Although he himself was Christian, he respected the old Norse poetic tradition, and he worried that the old poems were becoming hard to understand as knowledge of the old myths was fading. So he wrote his Edda, a poetry textbook that happens to contain much information about Norse mythology. The Faulkes translation of the entire Edda includes a lot of technical detail on Old Norse poetics. For starters, you can use the partial translation by Jean Young, which only includes the mythological sections.
Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings. Pantheon, 1981. ISBN:
The original writings that tell the Norse myths and stories aren’t always easy to interpret. There are several retellings of the myths; this is easily the best one. It’s well-written and faithful to the sources, with plenty of footnotes if you feel like digging further into the details.
H.R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. Penguin, 1990. ISBN: 0140136274.
H. R. Ellis-Davidson is a leading scholar of Norse mythology, and her books convey a great deal of information in a clear, straightforward style. This book is a fine introduction to Norse religion.
Also look for her Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe (Routledge; ISBN: 0415049377) and Roles of the Northern Goddess (ISBN: 0415136113)
John Lindow. Norse Mythology: A Guide to the Gods, Heroes, Rituals, and Beliefs. Oxford
University Press, 2002. ISBN: 0195153820.
Another excellent compendium of Norse mythology (although Lindow is disdainful of modern Ásatrú). The highlight is a thorough A-Z dictionary of people, places and things from Norse mythology. There are also several essays, on topics such as the view of time in Norse thought, that are also excellent.
Heaney, Seamus, transl. Beowulf: A Norton Critical Edition. W. W. Norton & Company, 2001. ISBN: 0393975800.
You probably remember this from high school English class. This is the single finest epic poem that has survived from any Germanic culture. It’s available in a vast number of translations; we can’t list them all here. The Norton Critical Edition has a lot of excellent background material, and Heaney’s translation, while not the most literal, is a fine work of poetry in its own right.
The Saga of the Volsungs; Jesse Byock, trans. University of California Press, 2001. ISBN
The Saga of the Volsungs. Jesse Byock, transl. Penguin, 2000. ISBN: 0140447385.
The best-known of the “mythological sagas”. Like the Arthurian legends, the tale of the Volsungs may be distantly based on historical fact, but this history is shrouded in myth. Unlike the more or less historical “sagas of Icelanders”, this saga tells a much older legend, in which Odin figures as the shaper of events, and magic is ever afoot. . .
Smiley, Jane (ed.) The Sagas of Icelanders. Penguin, 2001. ISBN: 0141000031.
These tales of the Viking-era settlers of Iceland, written roughly 700 years ago, are entertaining, action-filled tales in their own right. They’re also packed with details on everyday life, war, trading, and pagan religion. This book is a selection of some of the best.
Penguin publishes many others; look for:
Njal’s Saga (ISBN: 0140447695),
Eyrbyggja Saga (ISBN 0140445307)
and the legendary
Hrolf Kraki’s Saga (ISBN 014043593X)
Roesdahl, Else. The Vikings. Revised edition. Penguin, 1999. ISBN: 0140252827.
A thorough history of the Viking-era Norse peoples from Byzantium to America, packed with a wealth of information. This author’s personal favorite “pocket-sized” history of the Vikings.
Tacitus, The Agricola and the Germania, H. Mattingly, transl. Penguin, 1971. ISBN: 0140442413.
Tacitus was a Roman historian who’d spent time on the German frontier. His short treatise Germania is a study of the tribes and cultures beyond the Roman border in the first century AD. This is the single best primary source for the beliefs of the early continental Germanic tribes.
Krasskova, Galina. Exploring The Northern Tradition. New Page Books, 2005. ISBN: 1564147916.
At this writing, this is the only mass-market book in print by a heathen author that deals directly with today’s Heathen religion. Features many beautifully written prayers to the gods and goddesses. The author reviews the lore on the deities, giving a number of her own personal understandings, which not everyone will agree with, but which are always thought-provoking.
Wodening, Eric. We Are Our Deeds. Theod, 1998.
Order from http://www.theod.net/index.asp
Deep thinking on ethics and morals from a heathen perspective, written by a highly respected author in the Heathen community.
R. I. Page. Runes. University of California Press, 1987. ISBN: 0520061144.
An excellent brief introduction to the history of runes (letters used by the Norse and Germanic peoples for both magical and mundane purposes), with lots of pictures of artifacts.
Paxson, Diana. Taking Up the Runes. Weiser, 2005. ISBN: 1578633257.
A compendious tome of rune-lore, presenting the fruits of years of study and personal experience with the runes.
Edred Thorsson. FUTHARK. Weiser, 1983. ISBN: 0877285489.
___. Runelore: A Handbook of Esoteric Runology. Weiser, 1987. ISBN: 0877286671.
Edred has been involved in Ásatrú and studying the runes since the early 1980s; he has a PhD from the University of Texas. He’s written many books on runes from a heathen standpoint; Runelore emphasizes academics and theology, and FUTHARK emphasizes magic.