Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Review: A Book of Troth (2016)

The 1989 edition
When Edred Thorsson's A Book of Troth was first published in 1989, it was a watershed moment for American Heathenry. Here was a well-written, comprehensive book on Asatru, written by someone with a relevant PhD, published by the largest Pagan book publisher in the country, Llewellyn. In fact, the book kicked off a whole "Llewellyn Teutonic Magick Series" in the 1990's (including Kveldulf Gunarsson's "Teutonic Magic" and "Teutonic Religion"). Anyone who wanted to could buy books on Asatru in any chain or Pagan bookstore.

But, sadly, it was not to last. The Teutonic Magick series was cancelled in favor of more Goddess- and Wiccan oriented works, and A Book of Troth went out of print.

The 2003 edition
In 2003, there was a new edition of the book, updated to reflect certain organizational realities (Edred was no longer head of the Ring of Troth, after a bitter and public dispute) and published by Runa-Raven Press. Alas, it was plagued by few people knowing about the reprint, and then the dissolution of Runa-Raven in 2012. Once again, the first mainstream book on Asatru was unavailable, except second-hand at exorbitant prices.

Now, however, a new edition has been published by Runestone Press, and it certainly does the work justice. The work has been completely re-edited and laid out anew in a refreshingly modern typeface (it's a somewhat smaller typeface than the original edition, and the book is physically larger, which accounts for the difference in page counts between them). All of the illustrations have been redone in a more professional manner, or replaced with b&w photographs (as in the case of altar layouts).

There are two new pieces of additional material added to this edition; a forward by Asatru Folk Assembly Allsherjargodi Stephen McNallen, and an appendix with an essay by Thorsson; "The Idea of Integral Culture: a Model for Revolt Against the Modern World" that originally appeared in the journal Tyr in 2002. While the new edition differs drastically from the original 1989 edition, it takes its cue in this direction from the 2003 edition, which excised references to the Ring of Troth (now known simply as "The Troth") and replaced them in a few instances with rather unflattering references, or changed the Troth-as-an-organization-specific text to a more general application. But even then, the new edition has gone through a complete cycle of editing, and minor tweaks to the text to improve readability are evident throughout.

The 2016 edition
This is a book intended for newcomers to Asatru, and as such it covers all the basics one could ask for. There are chapters on the nature of the soul, the gods, holy tides and rites of passage, wyrd and ethics, including the Sixfold Goal and Nine Noble Virtues, as well as ritual scripts that can be used by groups or individuals. Naturally, there is much more here as well, but suffice to say that this book provides the beginner (or even an old-timer) with all they would need on a practical level. It is of course a product of its times, and the author's antipathy towards Christianity is evident throughout, as is his adherence to Dumézilian theory. I personally don't consider those to be flaws, per se, but they should be noted.

In this way, the choice of this book for Runestone Press' second outing is clear. It serves as a perfect complementary work to McNallen's Asatru: A Native European Spirituality (reviewed here), which was published last year. Where McNallen's book serves as a philosophical justification of, and even demand for, Asatru in the modern world, Thorsson's book serves as the toolkit by which that call can be fully implemented on a practical level, from ethics to metaphysical understanding to ritual work, and sets the stage for those who wish to undertake an even more intense investigation into the lore of the Germanic peoples.

Having this book back in print is something that has been sorely lacking in modern Asatru. It's wonderful to see it returned in such a well-produced way, that still manages, despite being a third edition, to bring substantive improvements to the work in such a way that those who own one or both of the previous versions will still find this one to be of great value. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

Chapter List: Troth; The Way; Elder History; The Newer History; The Shape of the World; Lore; The Way of Doing; Giving; The Holy Year; The Folk; The Gods and Goddesses; The Ladder of Being; The Truth of the Gods; The Earth and the World; In the Nights of Yore; The Edge of the Sword; The Soul; Rebirth; Wyrd; Holy Tokens; The Right Way; Into the Unknown; True Work; Tools and Setting; Ways of Working; Nightly Workings; Workings of the Life Tides; Kindred Workings; the Great, Greater, and Greatest Blessings of Troth; On Affiliating with a True Organization; On Becoming an Elder in the Lore; Glossary; Bibliography; and Appendix (as noted above).

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