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NESP Reviews


The Rites of Odin
by Ed Fitch

Reviewed by Alfta Svanni Lothursdottir

        Before reading this book for the purpose of doing this review, I had never really went through the book completely. I had scanned it from time to time and every time I did I was convinced of its worthlessness, a worthlessness on the same par as D. J. Conway's book. I found that it was not quite that bad, though on the whole the book is bad. It is no surprise that Llewellyn Publications brings us this book. On the back cover it says, “The material is authentic and the presentation is poetic and powerful.” As to the presentation being poetic, perhaps. Authenitic? Well I'll comment on that at length. The cover was a type of art that always makes me laugh; gods with muscles bulging as if they were posing for the Mr. Universe competition. I did however like the artwork that graced the inside of the book.
        Any faith I might had that the majority of this book might actually be of some worth was pretty much shattered when reading the “Disclaimer” that precedes the Foreward. Here we find the same old tired claims that you see from people who know nothing at all about real the real Northern Way. For example,

“Also, I have made some ritual departures from the original. Primarily, the ancient Norse religion tended to be partriarchal, with three major gods, Odin, Thor, and Frey being most honored. The feminine aspect provides a much-needed balance to religious systems, especially so in this era, and hence the inclusion of Freya in lieu of her brother.
        Freya, as included here, is the goddess in her earlier, more all-encompassing female form. Scholars will note that as the generations proceeded the earlier, matronly “household” aspects of Freya were transferred over to Frigga. I have chosen in these rites to view Freya more in the three full meanings of Maiden, Mother, and Crone; perhaps as Jord or Erda would have been seen in yet earlier times.”

When I read such ridiculous rubbish presented by someone who claims to be presenting the true ways of the North, I never fail to be disgusted. Here we have the same tired old misconception of the Northern Way being patriarchal being forwarded and then we have Freya being presented as the “great goddess” a concept that most serious scholarship rejects as nothing more than the fantasy. Likewise there is no triple goddess aspect of any goddess in the Northern Tribe. Freyja is Freyja, not an aspect or two or three.
        Here again as in Freya Aswynn's books we have an author who wishes to present a system which combines the ritual technology of contemporary Neo-Paganism (read Wicca and/or Ceremonial Magic) with the “rich and powerful imagery of the northern tradition.” Here again we have an author doing what amounts to the raping of our tradition. Perhaps those are over-strong words but then again, perhaps not. The plain facts are that we have an author using our ways and perverting them by adding outside ideals and beliefs that do not belong with them. It seems all one has to do is read a few books on Neo-Paganism/Wicca and one becomes knowledgeable enough to write a book on a tradition. Actually it only allows them to become knowledgeable enough to abuse and use that tradition for their presentation of the latest flavor of Wicca. Make no mistake Ed Fitch's book is just such a book. Just another flavor of Wicca. And of course the Forward wastes no time in telling us just that; telling us that Fitch's book is a “tremendous contribution toward the unfolding of a real “Norse Wicca.” The author of the foreword goes on the present another of those tired ideas that has no basis in reality. Namely that Wicca is a descendent of the Vanic religion where Freyr and Freyja reigned as the Lord and Lady. No matter that there is no evidence that Freyr and Freyja were ever worshiped together and certainly never as Lord and Lady.
        Although I can in no way agree with Fitch's adding of New Age elements to the Northern Way, I can agree with him completely and strongly with what he views the Northern Way (or Odinism as he calls it) is. I would like to quote his closing remarks in his Preface.

“Existing Odinist groups tend sometimes to include a little toward a survivalist and warrior ethos though, while my own personal slant, and the one in this book, is more toward creating and maintaining close-knit mini-societies of friends and extended families.
        I think it can be said that I've tried to re-create Odinism somewhat as it might have been, though not necessarily as its enclaves exist today. I have instead re-created the Way of Valhalla as it should be – nurturing and strongly protective of the things that have always mattered, like children, family and friends, and oriented to using means that are physical, spiritual and magical to build success in this uncertain world of ours.
        There is magic and mystery here, but it is the echoing of like-spirited peoples from the past, the beauty and strangeness and awe of Nature, and the treasured love of those who are closest. It echoes the pragmatism of a farmstead in Virginia, in Jutland, in Free Ukrainia, or in Bohemia.”

We at Northvegr have been saying this same thing for some time. We have never denied that the warrior ethic exists in the Northern Way. And it is indead a strong ethic in our ways. But it is not the whole. It is above all in support of one thing, as all other elements of our ways are. That one thing is family; kin. Everything in the Northern Way has its base in love of family and kin.
        The book starts with brief descriptions of the major deities which are somewhat accurate but that also include curious misconceptions. For instance Thorr is called Othinn's friend and never Othinn's son. Fitch says that Loki is Thorr's half brother. I have never seen anything in the lore that even remotely suggests this. Where Fitch arrived at this from is a mystery to me. He also throws in the old Wiccan ideologies of the triple goddess and the green man, comparing him to Baldr saying that he represents the seasons, where plant life dies each fall to be reborn the following spring. These ideals, I will say again, have no place in the Northern Way. He likewise gives far to much importance to the a being that only appears in Germanic Folk Tales saying she may be the mother or former wife of Othinn. Likewise his speculations that Hulda is referred to indirectly in the Eddas is completely and totally unfounded. He has her spinning threads of fate, a process that is not seen in Northern lore but instead a feature of Greek and Roman lore. The Norns weave but do not spin. One might think that a small difference but it is an important one. Fitch tries to make her out to be some kind of “mother to the gods” whose responsibilities were taken over by later goddesses some of whom include, Freyja, Frigg and Hel. This is completely unfounded. Only with the greatest allowances for speculation could anyone ever come to these opinions. Needless to say I think it completely ridiculous to take a character who only appears in German Folk-tales and elevate her to the status of mother of the gods. The descriptions of each deity continue in this way, spiced with curious unfounded comments and with Wiccan ideals, even going as far as to quote and recommend Robert Graves' book “The White Goddess.” Seeing some of the strange statements in this section it makes me wonder if Fitch uses the ever creative Geurber as his source. What follows for the rest of this section seems to be a collection of short essays that, like Freya Aswynn's book, are a mixture of authentic Northern ideals and New Age concepts.
        The vast majority of the book is taken up by instructions for rites and ceremonies. It seems that Fitch put much more thought and work into these instructions than he did actually learning the lore. In his list of items used in the rites, he gives a sword or dagger, which we know from various sources would not have been used at all because the ancestors considered the bringing of any weapon onto sacred ground as a great offense worthy of outlawry. This is one of the many obvious Wiccan additions that he makes. He makes it a point to give a corresponding “rune” for each rite and god or goddess. I use the word rune in a very loose sense here as most of them he gives seem to be nothing more than his own creation. His choice of holy nights also shows his lack of dedication in knowing the lore he teaches of. He includes Halloween which was not nor ever has been a rite observed by Northmen/women. This book was copyrighted in 1990, so I must assume that Fitch either did not care to do the research or that he had other motivations such as we normally see from books published by Llewellyn, that is, the watering down of genuine tradition so that it will appeal to the Wiccan/New Age crowd. Either way I can't have much respect for this work.
        One thing this book does have over others is instructions for rites. In fact he's got more rite instructions than you can shake a stick at (over 200 pages worth). The instructions in this section are much like the rest of the book. There is a mixture of genuine Northern tradition and Wiccan dross. Likewise there are curious descriptions that supposedly come from the lore. Where Fitch gets some of these I have no idea. For example he says that the mead of poetry (inspiration) came from the underworld where it was guarded by the dragon Nidhogg. Othinn supposedly took it and poured it out over all the land so that all might benefit from it. This is just an example of some of the curious information he relates.
       One curious rite called Maiden's Day is supposedly held on February 2nd is for the cleansing of ones soul and to ask that things that cause 'guilts' and 'harms' be taken away. In this rite Holda (taking the place of the Christian Mary perhaps) in affect, takes away the sins of the participants. This rite seems to be heavily influenced by Christian thinking and is not in the Northern ideal at all. Imagery of Freyja becoming a virgin again after having given birth make this a little to close to the virgin Mary, than I could ever be comfortable with. How Fitch sees this as anything close to the Northern Way is beyond me.
       One good suggestion I found was in the instructions for Winter Sunstead and Yule. Here he recommends decorating the Yule tree as if it where the world tree, Yggdrasill. But then his next suggestion I found laughable. He next suggested a manger scene with Frigg and her newborn Baldr taking the place of Mary and the infant Jesus, and Othinn, Thorr and Loki replaced the three wise men. Later instructions for this rite show easily that Fitch is taking the wrong-headed position of identifying Baldr with Jesus.
       After the major holy day instructions, Fitch gives instructions for solitary versions of each one and the follows that up with Life-tide rites. It is here that Fitch presents some useful material. Life-tide rites are something that few writers pay attention to and Fitch's family focus (one of the things about this book that I like) makes it logical for him to include instructions for the rites of man-hood and woman-hood, marriage, death etc. I found the admonitions of the gothi and gythja to the parents of the child in the “Pledging of the Parents” section of the Rite of Pledging for a Child especially poignant. Even more poignant is the “Dedication as a Warrior” section of the same rite. What makes this right so good is that is reinforces the basic foundation of what the Northern Way is, that is, kinship and the protection and nurturing of kin.
       The rest of this section of the book is filled out with various rites, some of which would better suited for your average book on Wicca, such as the “Seid: Casting the Ball of Light” rite. Here I think that Fitch falls prey to the Llewellyn curse of dumbing down of traditions in order to appeal to the New Age Pagan crowd. It is my opinion that the Northern Way is not about magic nor it is a magical tradition despite that fact that there is a strong tradition of magic in the Northern Way. Seithr and galdr have long been disciplines that have been practiced by a few specialists. The scourge of the New Age movement has been that it presents the practicing of these potentially very dangerous specialties, that is, magic in general, as something on the par of a parlor game. Seithr and rune galdr are not something that you can pick up a Llewellyn book on and then just go right out and start “having fun with magic.” Seithr and galdr are very serious disciplines, the misuse of which (whether through inexperience or purposeful) can bring about dire consequences. This is attested to in our lore and I think that the New Age movement gives people in general the idea that magic is fun and mysterious when, in fact, it is like playing with dynamite. Seithr and galdr should be done only with proper training just as you would not want to mess with dynamite without proper training. Of course finding someone to train oneself in rune galdr and seithr is not easy to do so some may wish to experiment anyway. There are few books out there that give any good information on these disciplines and this book is no where near useful in that respect.
       The next section deals with the runes. Most of the runes, which Fitch uses in the larger sense as symbols, seem to be largely Fitch's creation including some very curious concepts I can find no basis for in the Northern Way.
       The next section of the book is perhaps the most useful. Here Fitch gives instructions for making your own drinking horn as well as for various other items, such as a torch and banners. He also gives some basic information on brewing mead. This small section alone possibly makes the book worth getting.
       The last section of the book is nearly useless and is on a par with D. J. Conway's books. Here Fitch takes the Northern Way and slaps it on some kind of ceremonial magic/New Age frame work. Here the influences of Thorsson, who wrote the foreword for the book become amply evident. Holda is promoted to a “pre-Asgardian goddess” whose realm is Heaven, Earth and Hel. The wrong-headed ideals of Robert Graves and his great god and goddess are pawned off here along with Thorsson's ceremonial magic inspired ideas. This section is complete trash for anyone who is interested in pursuing a genuine Northern Way world view. Fitch himself makes it clear as to what his aims are here when he says, “…at this point we will not strive for mythological accuracy, but utilize instead the conventional occult conceptions.” I would say that a large part of the book suffers from a lack of accuracy in the lore. He further depicts Holda as some kind of “pre-Aesirian” great goddess. This is, of course, completely unfounded and an obvious influence from a certain ceremonial magician who masquerades as a Northman.
       A few appendices follow of which the list of the major sagas is useful. But the list of “recommended” reading shows us just where Fitch is coming from when he recommends such Wiccan dross as The White Goddess and Ralph Blum's horrid book on runes.
       In the end this book is nearly worthless but there are aspects of it that are of worth. Fitch obviously cow-tows to the New Age Pagan and Wiccan crowd and freely adds in ideals and aspects from that belief system. His grasp of the lore is very inaccurate which is surprising considering the quality sources that are out there for those who wish to look for them. He obviously does not have any interest in presenting an accurate view of the Northern Way and instead opts to water it down with Wiccan and New Age ideals that is the hallmark of Llewellyn books.

        If you do decided to get this book, be prepared to spend a large amount of time filtering out Wiccan dross or just take the instructions for making torches, mead, etc and the life-tide rites and tear them out and throw the rest away. You'll get about the same benefit from the book either way.

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