Friday, April 14, 2017

Where are the 400 level books?

Every once in a while, I come across a blog post or a comment someplace bemoaning the fact that the vast majority of Asatru books are beginner-level books. What those in the "ed biz" might call 100-level books, because in American universities, a class that is numbered between 1 and 199 is aimed at first-year students. That's where we get the "101 = beginner" idea. The 101 level courses are what Freshmen take in their first semester.

And it's a fair observation. We are replete with 101-level introductory "What is Asatru?" types of books in print today:

And there are many more that I didn't include here.

Now, this isn't to say that such books aren't valuable, and don't have a place. They absolutely do. Newcomers to Asatru need to know about the basics of the Gods, the myths, the rituals, and the ethics of Asatru. But what seems to be missing, largely, are the "next step" books.

Specifically, what I mean here are books that deal with particular topics relating to Asatru in depth. There are a few examples out there of what I mean:

But on the whole, once you get past the introductory material, there's precious little to chew on. (I am deliberately not listing books on runes and magic, which I feel is a completely different discussion, and basics of lore, like the Eddas and Sagas, which are pretty cut-and-dried source material.)

Asatru could certainly use some more books on the 200-300 level. Books that explore a particular facet of life from an Asatru perspective. Books that talk about a topic exhaustively, such as death, or honor, or love, or feminism, or modernity, or land-wights, or marriage counseling, or grief counseling, or child-rearing, or house-spirits, or the logistics of kindred-building, or a particular holiday, or whatever. Brian Wilton has a series of books that cover some of these sorts of topics, and it's a great start, but he's only one guy, and a robust intellectual tradition requires more than that. It might be said that Asatru will truly come of age in an intellectual sense when we have entire books being written as responses to other books that are written by Asatru scholars, challenging their conclusions, and engaging in an intellectual dialog spanning years.

I think there's a huge market for those sorts of books. More on that in a later post, methinks.

But that still leaves us with the problem of the yet-higher-level works. And therein lies an essential conundrum.

People keep saying they want high-level Asatru books. Because everyone is way more advanced than those proles who need beginner books, dontchaknow.

I submit that 400 or 500 level books are downright impossible, outside of possibly an initiatory tradition that has books for ever-higher-levels of initiates, and limits access to them, sort of like the Temple of Set or Rune Gild.

If you want the truly high-level stuff, what I've come to call "Deep Asatru", you're not going to find that in a book. That's only going to come with time and practice. Years and years of time, and hundreds of hours of practice. There are things at that level that you just can't learn from a book. There comes a time when books are only going to hone the edges that you've already got.

The 300 level stuff will still be useful, because it's going to do a deep-dive into a particular corner of Asatru that you might not be familiar with yet, but the really deep stuff, that's not coming from any written works. That's learned through direct experience, mouth to ear, from someone who has spent the years delving into that aspect of things. And once you get to the point where you start really being ready for this sort of thing, you'll know it, and you'll know that Amazon and the used bookstore down the street aren't going to get you where you need to go.

That's when the Deep Asatru starts. In practice, not in pages. Not everyone is going to go there. Not everyone Needs to, or even should. That doesn't sit well with a lot of people, because everyone is inclined to think they're special, and they're the ones that can really handle it, and have the skills to do so, and Need to do so. But it's true nonetheless.


  1. I agree, I do think the 400 level knowledge is something that is probably something that would be locked behind initiation traditions, at least in some areas.

    I think there's also the problem when you get to that level (and even in the 300 level) where...reading about it doesn't teach anything anymore. It's a bit like martial arts. Sure, you can read a bit and get the basics, but without actually sparring/fighting there's things you just cannot understand until you live them.

    No amount of books will teach what it truly means to uphold honor, even at the cost of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, etc. No amount of books will teach you what it means to want to defend your honor, much less actually do so in the way our ancestors did. No amount of books can truly educate about the weregeld, why it was used, and why one must accept it, and what to do when it is not given. No amount of books will teach what the rites were like, when nine of every animal were sacrificed to Odin in a frenzy of drums, mead, faith, etc.

  2. An excellent and thought-provoking piece. What I find is missing in Asatru (but prevalent in so many other fields and subjects) is an academic-style journal. It is here that (using the terminology of your article) Asatru 300-level topics would be explored. Generally advanced topics appear first as articles in such journals before their expansion and publication in book form. So I ask, Where are the Asatru Journals and the writers to write them?

  3. Where do the heavily academic books such as Culture of the Teutons or Road to Hel fall? I noticed Wodening's "We are our Deeds" wasn't included as well. It's one of the Seminal books in Heathenry, or so I've been told.

    1. Obviously I couldn't include references to everything out there, although as far as I know "We Are Our Deeds" is out of print. I wanted to stick to in-print titles.

      As for Culture of the Teutons, it falls outside the current discussion because it's not aimed at a primarily Asatru audience. Although it has insights, it doesn't speak to the unique issues attendant to practicing a living religion. In that category I would put Pollington's The Mead-hall top of the list. Useful, but I see the need for a specifically Asatru-oriented work on the same subject.