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A Practical Guide to
Second Improved Edition
by James Allen Chisholm
Reviewed by Alfta Svanni Lothursdottir
Chisholm starts his book with a short introduction that outlines his goals for this book and I was immediately encouraged that the book I was about to read might just be one of great quality and a real and true representation of genuine Heathen tradition.
The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 is labeled The Household in the contents but is labeled Holy Powers in the text. Part 2 is Worship, Part 3 is Holy Steads and Part 4 is The Ring of Troth. Though this book purports to be an expansion of A Book of Troth, it is really nothing of the sort. It is a true representation of genuine Heathen ideals where A Book of Troth is little more than a using or our ways, tinged with the foreign ideals (not to be confused with methods) from ceremonial magic, for the purpose of promoting a social-political ideal. True Hearth, on the other hand, is a true representation of spiritual Heathenism. The two books, are as different as night and day. Though the first two chapters of True Hearth are only 6 pages long they cover more genuine Heathen ideals than A Book of Troth and most other books that purport to be about Heathen tradition do in all their pages. The following sentence alone is more important for Heathens to read than all the rest of those books combined:
Understanding is really won not by belief but by living action. (Chisholm, p.7)
Chapter 3 is an excellent chapter that (from which the quote above comes) that addresses some very important issues, though not all are addressed in ways that are Holy (i.e. healthy and natural) and one suspects foreign influences are to blame for these. I have to quote here once again because this next thought of Chisholm's is rarely considered today.
There are two factors to consider in seeking an answer to this inquiry. The first thing is whether an idea rings true whether you can intuitively relate it to your own experience, spiritual or otherwise. The other thing you might consider is whether it is traditional or not. This means that solid basis for the belief can be found in the record of past beliefs and practices of the folk in question. It is useless to invoke the traditions of Atlantis or Thule, or any other subjective creation in this regard. There is no traditional basis for these beliefs. (Chisholm, p.7-8)
One could easily and rightly say the same about the social-political ideals advanced by some groups such as metagenics and the folk soul.
Chisholm's insistence that in genuine Heathenism, ancestry (not to be confused with race) is a major feature, is spot on and something that all to often gets left out of other so-called expositions of Heathen tradition.
Chapter 4 deals with house and land wights which, again, is a very strong Heathen tradition that is seldom covered in other books. This is an excellent introduction to them though some of those foreign ideals poke their gnarled heads up again in the ideal that these wights are merely projections of the soul of the folk.
Part 2 (Worship) starts off un-promisingly with 'Book of Troth' inspired rituals but that quickly changes into more beneficial chapters dealing with feasts, dances, drama, games, daily holy workings and more. This is where Chisholm shines. When he is relating the true folk and spiritual customs of our ancestors (of which he obviously has very extensive knowledge) the real heart of what genuine Heathenism is, shines forth to be easily seen. This is not so in the sections of the book that are more influenced by the ceremonial magic tinged ritualism of the Book of Troth. Still these tinged ideals are thankfully few and the vast majority of the book is straight from the heart of genuine Heathenism.
Part 3 (Holy Steads) is a very concise and well written presentation of Heathen worship practices. The reader will find here, more gems of knowledge concerning Heathen religious practice than they are likely to find just about any where else.
Part 4 ends the book on somewhat of a sour note. Here you find more of those foreign ideals, such as If you say you are Heathen then are you Heathen. Ideals like this are the foundation of the luckless state that the majority of Heathenism now wallows in. One is no more Heathen if they simply say they are, than one would be a doctor by simply saying so. Just as it takes actions and deeds to be able to SERIOUSLY call oneself a doctor, so is it with being able to seriously claim oneself to be a Heathen. Chishlolm seems to acknowledge this, and by doing so, somewhat contradicts himself, when he says, Right now we are at a stage where practically everybody who sincerely wants to practice the way of the Troth has to study hard just to get the basics, and harder still to get at deeper meanings of the myths and rituals, or even to reconstruct the rituals. Still I do agree when he says that how a person honors the Regin is a personal matter. We, at Northvegr, have made it an unwritten law that no one has the right to say anything about how another person honors the Regin and that opinions on the lore are just that: opinions. However, there are standards. The ideal promoted by Chisholm here, that in affect promotes the running into the arms of chaos for fear of being accused of dogmatism, is at the heart of the lawless and luckless state of many Heathen groups and most of Heathenism as a whole. The reader should not misunderstand what is meant by lawlessness and would be well served to check out the Ostara 2003 issue of Leiðurstjarna for a more in depth view of genuine Heathen Law.
The book ends up with some good appendices that include instructions for making mead, a very good book list (for the most part) and a glossary.
In the final analysis it's not hard to see where the foreign influences on Chisholm come from. One can only hope he may shake himself free of them one day, for if he were to do that there would be few in the genuine Heathen community that could rival his work for its power and grounding in true spiritual Heathenism.
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