Norse Goddess Magic

karlsdottirTitle: Norse Goddess Magic: Trancework, Mythology, and Ritual
Publisher: Destiny Books/Inner Traditions
Author: Alice Karlsdottir
Pages: 256 pp
Price: $16.95 (paperback) / $10.95 (ebook)

Norse Goddess Magic is a new edition of Magic of the Norse Goddesses: Mythology, Ritual, Tranceworking. It was originally published by Runa-Raven Press, and this new edition is from Destiny Books, a division of Inner Traditions.

The original version of this book is the one that widely influenced modern heathen religions to look to gnosis to fill in the gaps left in the lore by the absence of information about the goddesses. This has largely become an accepted practice in modern heathenry, although the mere fact that it is primarily used by women about female deities has resulted in some groups and individuals dismissing religious experience itself as effeminate, and by contrast counting scholarship as manly, which is unfortunate but is more of a reflection on those who have that attitude than on this influential book.

I highly recommend this new edition for those interested in the worship of the heathen goddesses within a modern heathen context, who don’t have a copy of the original book. 

Karlsdottir starts the book by explaining why she felt the need to fill in the gaps in the lore. Then she goes on to explore society’s view of mythology through the social evolution of Western society, from abandonment in favor of reason in the Enlightenment age, to interpreting mythology as symbolic of nature, to interpreting mythology as archetypal of human psychology during the era of the invention of modern psychology, to today’s pagan revival. She goes into the relationship between mythology and ritual, and the purpose of symbolizing gods and goddesses in forms to which human beings can relate.

The author also offers an overview of the challenges of interpreting source material from different time periods, including original sources of heathen literature written down by Christians, and scholarly works written during times when particular theories were in fashion.

Karlsdottir follows this by discussing how to build on knowledge from the lore by using dreams, meditation, and extrapolation. These builds towards using tranceworking, also called pathworking or guided meditation, which she compares with astral projection. She references Harner’s foundational work on shamanism, and explains the heathen versions, e.g., seidhr, faring-forth, and sitting-out. All this leads up to a detailed chapter on exactly how to enter a trance, how to ensure one’s safety within it, and how to use trance to obtain information, and how to exit and recover from trance. There is also an example of a trance journey, a visit to Fensalir, the home of Frigga.

The next section has information about specific goddesses. Each chapter begins with the lore about the goddess, including the literature (both edda/saga era and folktale/fairytale era), place names, words related to the goddess and her functions, holidays and festivals and other customs, and possible alternate versions of the goddess, including alternate names from various places and times in heathen history.

Each of Frigga’s handmaidens has her own chapter. Frigga’s women are Eir the Doctor, Saga the Storyteller, Gna the Messenger, Gefjon the Worker, Snotra the Prudent One, Lofn the Champion, Sjofn the Peacemaker, Var the Hearer of Oaths, Fulla the Sister, Hlin the Protector, Syn the Guardian, and Vor the Wisewoman. T

he author explains why she glossed each goddess with those labels. Some of them are obvious, for example Eir being termed a Doctor is an obvious label because she traditionally teaches healing to her devotees. Some of them are less obvious, for example labeling Gefjon as Worker rather than Maiden makes perfect sense after the author’s explanation but is not the usual terminology.

Although the book details each of Frigga’s handmaidens separately, Karlsdottir acknowledges that some consider Frigga’s handmaidens to be hypostases of Frigga herself. Each goddess’s symbols and spheres of influence are examined in the context of the historical importance of that sphere to the livelihood of individuals and of society. For example, the section on Frigga discusses fiber crafts and butter, while the section on Eir discusses folk medicine. The chapter on each goddess concludes with a sample ritual. Each chapter is not only packed with information, but suggests a way to contact each goddess, so this book is not just to read once but to use many times.  In each chapter, the author describes a trance vision of each goddess, filling in details about the goddess through her gnosis.

The book concludes with appendices that contain some lesser-known stories, including a historical story of the Russian queen Olga, who exemplifies characteristics Karlsdottir compares with Frigga. There is a glossary, which is clear and uncontroversial. My review copy was an eARC and the index section was blank.

The only sour note in this otherwise excellent tome is that the title Allmother is repeatedly used for Frigga, including in the chapter titles and the back cover copy, but no lore is quoted to support the title having been used in historical times, nor is there any justification offered for its use based on either the author’s gnosis from trance visions or the legitimacy of popular entertainment as modern symbolic fairy tale, an argument which could be made in support of a title which originated in the pages of Marvel Comics. The title Allfather for Odin was used in the Eddas, in a passage that clearly meant to euhemerize him with the Christian God. The title Allmother was created in modern times, as a parallel title to Allfather. As this title is used so prominently in this book, I would have liked to see an explanation of the title’s origin and why it seems to be important to the author. The only explanation given is a functional one: that Frigga seems to mother the other gods.

Although I knew most of the information in the book already, there were a few nuggets that I didn’t know. It was delightful to learn that the word ‘adventure’ comes from the stories of Frau Aventiure and literally means ‘fairy tale.’ Some of the author’s personal gnosis from the trance visions she described also resonated with me, such as the descriptions of what the goddesses looked like and what they wore. It was a particularly nice surprise to find one of the goddesses keeping company with Loki in one of her visions. It added to the feeling that she was dropping into Asgard and finding things going on that had nothing to do with her or what she was seeking.

There were many small details about the goddesses that I didn’t know or had forgotten. Since I rarely work with any of the handmaidens except Eir, I didn’t have a clear picture about them in my mind until I read the descriptions in the trance journeys. The author makes it clear that the goddesses don’t necessarily really look like the way she saw them, but I found the descriptions useful to help me think about them, the way the description of a character in a novel helps me think about the character.

This book deepened my understanding of Frigga and her twelve handmaidens.
Despite the copious lore quotes, words in foreign languages, and so forth, this book is easier to read than the typical academic work. It is suitable for both the college level reader and the general reader who is passed the beginner stage in reading about heathenry.

[Erin Lale is the Acquisitions Editor at Eternal Press and Damnation Books. Her writing and publishing career began in 1985. She has an extensive list of published nonfiction, fiction, poetry, etc. In the print era she was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine and owned The Science Fiction Store, and she publishes the shared world Time Yarns.]