Title: What Does Heathenry Mean?
Publisher/Author: Garman Lord
This book has two main halves, the first half in which the author attempts to define religion itself and divides religions into various types, and the second half in which he talks about his own religion and his own personal religious experiences. If one skips the first half, one may be left scratching one’s head when the author uses terms like pre-Axial in the second half of the book, but if one is interested only in his stories about Theod and not in Garman’s attempt to set it within the broad sweep of history, it is possible to just read the parts about heathenry.
The book is structured so that it begins with Religious Impulse, which is about Western religions in general. It goes into tribal and monotheistic religions and how they relate to the societies in which they arise. The second half is Millenial Heathenry, which begins with a chapter on Asatru and then goes into Theod and Garman’s personal experiences.
The Religious Impulse section is ambitious. It tries to answer the questions: Are the gods real? Is God real? How can we tell?
I’m not the right reviewer to comment on how accurately Garman portrays the shift from tribal to monotheistic religions, or how well-accepted his opinions are among modern academic religious scholars. I almost skipped reviewing this book entirely because so much of it is outside my area of expertise. However, I changed my mind when I got to the second half.
The chapter on Asatru is a competent retelling of the history of the heathen revival. It was a surprisingly pleasant read given that the author does not consider himself an expert on Asatru.
By far the best part of this book is the part on Theod, where Garman tells personal stories about his experiences, even though I’d heard most of these stories before. The story of the witch war with Moody Hill is largely about people, and the stories of gnosis with various gods is of course largely about gods, although secondarily also about the author. Both kinds of tales are riveting. They are great stories in and of themselves, but they are also windows into the mind and life of the founder of a religion, presented fresh and in first person by the living founder himself, without layers of commentary and interpretation added by devotees in later centuries, and so these stories are not only fun to read but also provide an opportunity to see directly into the mind of a religious visionary in a way we rarely get to see.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of Theod specifically or the history of modern heathenry generally. I also recommend this book for anyone interested in the life story and the inner life experiences of the founder of a religion. The stories of personal gnosis will be of interest to pagans and polytheists interested in the heathen gods or in gnosis experiences in general. This book will also be of great interest to scholars of religion interested in Theod, heathenry, founders of religions, and religious gnosis experiences.
[Reviewed by Erin Lale.]