A Heathen Reading List

for Beginners

by Erich Campbell

        This list is comprised of sources fundamental to beginning one's Heathen studies. I have listed the versions of these materials that are most available and yet compromise not in quality. My opinions are reflected in this list, but I feel that it still serves well as a beginners' curriculum. I advise all beginners not to lose heart when looking at Ásatrú book lists for two reasons. First, the reading goes well if you are seriously inspired by the learning. Second, you don't have to know all of these things before you are Ásatrú (Though I certainly couldn't conceive of an Ásatrúar who hasn't read the Eddas) – we are always looking to increase our understanding, but there is no need to be an authority on all related subjects. I assure all that there is much more to Ásatrú than just reading and research.

I. Primary Source Material

A. The Eddas – It is imperative for any who are truly interested in Ásatrú and wish to learn about the gods and goddesses to read the Eddas. The Elder Edda is more important in my eyes, and is the most basic source for a Heathen to read. These two sources should be the first and foremost in your studies.

     a. The Poetic (Elder) Edda, sometimes referred to as the Edda Sæmundar--

Hollander, Lee M. The Poetic Edda
        Austin, University of Texas Press, 1994.

--Hollander's translation is probably the most available on the market, but I feel has sacrificed much of the direct meaning of the poems for the sake of recreating a modern English structure that is alike the Old Norse.

Larrington, Caroline. The Poetic Edda
        Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1996.

-- The Larrington translation is fairly new, but it is also very available. It takes a more direct approach to the translation, and though it hasn't the poetics of Hollander, the literal translation provides a clearer look at the Lore.

     b. The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturlusson often referred to as simply the Younger Edda

Young, Jean I. tr. The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology
        Berkeley, University of California Press, 1984.

--This edition only includes the Gylfaginning, and though that is where the stories and information of most mythological significance are located, the other sections of the Prose Edda are also very helpful in later Heathen life. It is probably the easiest to find.

Faulkes, Anthony tr., Sturluson, Snorri. Edda
        Vermont, Everyman Press, 1995.

--This is an excellent translation, available, containing all of the sections of Snorri's Edda and it is very inexpensive. I suggest the translation of the Prose Edda for overall value and usefulness.

B. Classical Writers

Mattingly, Harold tr. Tacitus. The Agricola and the Germania
        New York, Penguin Books, 1970.

-- The Germania is the most important source of this type. Tacitus, though he was never a first-hand observer, describes some of the beliefs and customs of the early Germanic tribes. As it is written by someone who never had contact with the tribes, it must be taken with a grain of salt, but it is well worth the read.

C. Sagas -- There are many sagas and some, such as the collection of the Heimskringla, are fairly expensive to obtain. If this is a problem, I suggest looking into your local university library, or visiting the OMACL (On-line Medieval and Classical Library) in order to download them in public domain versions.

Monsen, Erling tr. Snorre Sturlason. Heimskringla, or The Lives of the Norse Kings
New York, Dover Publications, Inc.

The most interesting sections from the heathen perspective are:

Ynglinga Saga: attributes the founding of nations to the gods, who
are portrayed as earthly kings whom the "ignorant" heathens
venerated as gods. Some of the depictions of the gods herein are worthy of thought.

Hacon the Good: Raised in England, Hacon comes to Norway a Christian, but his advisors guide him back to the heathen ways.

Hacon the Jarl: A great defender of Heathenry

Olaf Trygvason: aka Olaf the Traitor. Forced Christianity onto the Norwegians. The heathens are defeated, but there are some inspiring tales of fidelity to the old gods in the face of persecution and torture.
Also contains some intriguing descriptions of heathen customs Olaf wanted to suppress.

St. Olaf: Another conversionist with horrible means and ends. At least he is defeated in the Saga.

Further Sagas not in Heimskringla --

Eyrgyggja Saga: Includes the most complete surviving description of a Norse hof, which is maintained by a Thorsgoði (priest of Thor). I think that it is a very worthwhile read for a beginner.

Hrafnkel's Saga: The story of Hrafnkel, Freysgoði.

Njal's Saga: The greatest saga of them all. Iceland's decision to convert to Christianity is part of one of the major episodes.

Egil's Saga: One of my favorites – though he has great faults, much is to be learned from this poet, rune worker, and warrior.

The Saga of the Volsungs: The Norse version of the Siegfried myth.
Translated by Jesse Byock; published by the University of
California Press: Berkeley; ISBN 0-520-06904-8.

D. Anglo-Saxon sources.

Of course, one should read Beowulf. The Penguin translation is easy to find, but prosaic and
lifeless; a number of good, poetic translations are around. I still suggest picking up a copy of
the Everyman Library's Anglo-Saxon Poetry. Though it is in prose translation, it contains a comprehensive collection of Anglo-Saxon source material including "The Battle of Maldon" and "The Seafarer" which are interesting to Heathen readers.

II. Archaeological and historical works – Modern scholarship.

A. The Vikings and Norse Mythology

H.R. Ellis Davidson, Gods and Myths of the Viking Age; Bell
Publishing: New York; ISBN 0-517-336448. --Has also been published under the title Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. The best readily available book on modern academic views of Norse religion.

P.G. Foote and D.M. Wilson, The Viking Achievement; Sidgwick And Jackson: London; ISBN 0-283-97926-7. --The first and best book to focus on the whole of Viking culture (not just the raids and
mayhem). Comprehensive.

Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings; Oxford Univsersity Press: Oxford; ISBN 0-19-285139-X. --Focuses on the historical changes that occurred during the Viking period. Manages to be readable and scholarly, exhaustive and entertaining, all at once. A fine book.

R.I. Page, Norse Myths; University of Texas Press: Austin; ISBN 0-292-75546-5. --Short but useful introduction to Norse mythology. Page doesn't seem to like the Vikings much, yet he is fascinated by

B. The Anglo-Saxons.

Gale R. Owen, Rites and Religions of the Anglo-Saxons; Dorset
Press; ISBN 0-88029-046-3. --A good source of information about Anglo-Saxon heathenry, even though some of her interpretations are debatable.

David Wilson, The Anglo-Saxons; Pelican Books; ISBN 0-14-02.1229 9. --A good basic introduction to
Anglo-Saxon culture.

C. Runes.

Ralph W.V. Elliot, Runes: An Introduction; St. Martin's Press: NewYork; ISBN 0-312-03491-1. --A nice introduction to runic history and inscriptions by an academic scholar.

R.I. Page, Reading the Past: Runes; British Museum Press: London; ISBN 0-7141-8065-3. -- Another scholarly work, shorter and more skeptical than Elliot's.

III. Modern heathen writings.

Gundarsson, Kveldulf. Teutonic Religion: Folk Beliefs & Practices of the Northern Tradition.
St, Paul, MN ,Llewellyn Publications, Inc; ISBN 0-87542-260-8.

One of the best generally available books on practicing Asatru, though he tends on the heavily dramatic in his rituals.

Our Troth – this book comes from the Ring of Troth, and though some of it is not my personal inerpretation, it has some excellent material. The complete hard copy is impossible to find as it was published in a small and a one-time, independant run. However, it can be accessed at the Troth's website. I suggest reading and downloading the sections there.

Back to the Basics

Many thanks to Groa's reading list, from which I got some of the particulars included here. --E.C.