Tag Archives: review

Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman is a retelling of a sequence of stories from the overall Norse corpus. There’s an arc, but it’s not a smoothly contiguous novelized story. But, the collection of stories are a good series, and well written. I also read this in conjunction with the Norse Mythology audiobook, read by Neil Gaiman himself. So, I had the author’s own voice to reinforce the rhythm and tone of the writing.

The brightest points were those where the alliteration and poetry arose in the writing and the reading. If this is your first approach to this material, I strongly recommend following up with the pure poetry of the poetic Edda and other source material. If you’re coming to this work already familiar with the source material, these bright points of alliteration and poetry will strongly strike you with memories of what you have already read. But, those moments feel a bit random in the whole, and not in places of the strongest action or in places that seem intentional for the story. They come and pass almost like a surprise for no reason other than, perhaps, they were inspired by such moments in the source material; though I didn’t try to go back and compare.

All in all, a good gift for someone new to the stories, and a welcome reminder for those already familiar with them. Also, having the whole read aloud by the author was a delight.

I made 70 highlights.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Norse Mythology

Mud and Horn, Sword and Sparrow

Mud and Horn, Sword and Sparrow by Brandish Gilhelm is the first book by the creator of Index Card RPG and host of the Drunken & Dungeons channel on YouTube.

This was a good, short story. There’s a unique narrative voice and a compelling swords and sorcery adventure. It’s worthy on its own merits, and does not require any knowledge of ICRPG, even though the setting Alfheim is used as a world in the game. The narrative feels deeper and more engaging than the short length would suggest, and it’s actually pretty darned epic.

However, I cannot recommend the ebook edition on Kindle as it is in awful shape from poor conversion. I made 358 highlights as I painfully read through this, and the vast majority of those were about sometimes egregious formatting errors. There were a few other errors, and a couple regular highlights, in the mix, but the formatting issues are overwhelming. So, pick up the print edition, or wait for the electronic text to get updated at some point.

Because of the sheer number of highlights about formatting issues and only having made a handful of non-issue highlights, I’m not making any of them public; but I did send them all to the author directly. (If I hadn’t been making notes to send to the author, I would have given up reading halfway through.) So, I hope a future update will make this good story possible to read for those buying the electronic version.

Originally posted on my personal blog at Mud and Horn, Sword and Sparrow

I Can Explain

I’ll be honest. I picked up Mockingbird Vol. 1: I Can Explain by Chelsea Cain, & al., because I saw the kerfuffle about the cover for the second volume, and grabbed both to support the series. It then languished in my to-read stack for a long time, but I got around to this and devoured it in one sitting.

This is freakin’ hilarious, and smart. The arc in this collection has a modern storyline with a cool narrative structure. It reminded me of Archer and Deadpool in various ways. The dialogue is witty and sharp, there’s tons of easter eggs in the panels to find, and fun cameos, not the least of which is Howard the Duck! And, it’s a female protagonist who’s the smartest person in the room, in charge, and unapologetic about any of that.

Great stuff I definitely recommend.

Originally posted on my personal blog at I Can Explain

A Nation Under Our Feet Vol 1

Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet Vol. 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates, & al., is narratively deep and visually impressive. There’s social, political, and economic allegorical levels to the story, which are welcome complexity to the overall genre. The inter-, intra-, and extra-, relationships that T’Challa must navigate and learn from are well developed and interesting to see explored. The art style is a nifty syncretic of many influences, both pan-african and including the futurism of Jack Kirby’s technological schematic visual lexicon.

This first collection starts out a little slow as it tries to deal with a bunch of previous narrative threads, but quickly picks up and builds a good foundation on which the following volumes can continue to construct. On the other hand, the apparently slow start also did give me a quick primer on the Black Panther series, which I am not familiar with, as this is the first I’ve read of any of them. These previous events are also the collective source of the current state of unrest and turmoil that is core to the developing story for both individuals and the collective groups involved. In that sense, I’ve just completely talked myself out of this being a problem and into it being a strength.

The last part of this volume includes a reprint of the very first appearance of Black Panther, in the pages of Fantastic Four, which is a nice bonus, and provides interesting comparison and parallax to the current artwork and writing, as well as being a bit of history to include.

I’ve already picked up the next 2 collected volumes, and am looking forward to the rest of the story.

Originally posted on my personal blog at A Nation Under Our Feet Vol 1

Genetic Bomb

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Genetic Bomb by Andrew Offutt and D Bruce Berry.

Here’s a short, odd attempt at erotic science fiction from 1975. The protagonist is a successful high-status pimp in the severely libertarian “Freewill” global society of an indeterminate future. Humanity has populated Mars and some other worlds of the inner Solar System. Procreative partnerships are disparaged, and women who bear children are consigned to “mate slavery,” while children are raised in large communitarian creches insulated from interaction with adults. Most of the sexual episodes actually detailed in the book are interracial. There is a tolerant regard for homosexuality, although one passage involves a man’s rape of a lesbian, strangely “justified” by paranormal circumstances and “all’s well that ends well.”

Throughout the book, key characters have telepathic conversations and psychic premonitions and recollections amounting to full hallucinations. These are at first associated with artifacts called “star gems,” but later revealed to be a function of the human “genetic continuum” established by the original fostering of humanity by a survivor of the destroyed fifth planet. All of this is explained with only brief bursts of exposition in the context of a high-action plot involving threatened invasion by tentacular monstrosities from an alien dimension.

The whole book highlights a distinctively 1970s inflection of the neophilically-imagined future and could never be written today. It’s really not an admirable piece of literature, but it is sometimes amusing, and certainly distinctive. [via]

Black Sun

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Politics of Identity by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (1953-2012) was the author of The Occult Roots of Nazism (1985), which is perhaps still the foremost scholarly monograph on its topic. In his 2002 book Black Sun, he followed up by exploring the various religious and quasi-religious strains for whom Hitler is an age-defining hero or “avatar” and Nazi Germany is illud tempus, and who aspire to perpetuate or fulfill what they see as the resulting “Aryan” spiritual legacy. Unfortunately, this 15-year-old book is a timely read for Americans today.

The first two chapters detail the presence and development of avowed neo-Nazi political leaders and organizations in the Anglophone world in the twentieth century. These capable overviews primarily serve as a backdrop for later chapters. About a third of the book consists of examinations of individual figures — mostly non-Anglophone — who have acquired a teaching mystique in latter-day fascist circles. (As Goodrick-Clarke puts it, their writings have “become hot tips” among neo-Nazis.) These include Julius Evola, Savitri Devi, Wilhelm Landig, and Miguel Serrano. Each of these chapters is substantial and supplies a useful brief on both the biography and doctrines of the mystagogue in question.

Chapter 6, on “The Nazi Mysteries,” is a study and synopsis of the sort of “alternative history” and credulous conspiracy-mongering involved with the attribution of occult powers and motives to Hitler, Nazism, and the SS, which began in literature for popular audiences in the 1960s and became a cottage industry in the 70s and 80s. I imagine that this chapter was one of the most satisfying for Goodrick-Clarke to write, given that he was already in a sort of implicit dialogue with this literature from his doctoral dissertation onward, and that his most successful book has often been shelved alongside it. Here, he gets to confront and call out directly the falsifications and errors of such writers as Hermann Rauschning (Hitler Speaks), Pauwels and Bergier (The Morning of the Magicians), Trevor Ravenscroft (The Spear of Destiny), and others. This sort of study continues in Chapter 8, where the scope of the “mysteries” expands with the addition of UFOs and exotic Nazi redoubts in South America and Antarctica and on other planets.

The chapter on “White Noise and Black Metal” is a treatment of white supremacist and neo-Nazi ideologies in youth subcultures and music. Its information on skinhead organizing and pro-racist music labels is well considered and clear. The presentation of black metal is a bit muddled, though, implicitly suggesting more uniform Nazi sympathies in the international black metal scene than a more objective account might find. In his recounting of the Columbine High School massacre, Goodrick-Clarke propagates misinformation about the “Trenchcoat Mafia” that was common to the early reporting on the topic, thus falsely transmuting the Hitler fetish of Eric Harris into the preoccupation of a clique to which he did not even belong. (For corrections on this score, see Dave Cullen’s Columbine.)

There are similar strengths and weaknesses in the chapter on “Nazi Satanism and the New Aeon.” While reasonably noting Aleister Crowley’s writings as being readable for “authoritarian and illiberal doctrine” (213), Goodrick-Clarke actually misses the extent to which they supply the locus classicus of the phrase “New Aeon” in occultist discourse. He mentions Crowley’s membership in Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO), characterizing it as “a fringe Masonic organization in Germany,” but omits to observe that it (along with conventional Freemasonry) was banned by the Nazis, with OTO’s German leader of the time arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp for his association with Crowley. Goodrick-Clarke instances the enthusiastic Nazi partisanship of Crowley disciple Martha Künzel, but overlooks Crowley’s own occult activism against Germany during World War II.

He does not in any way mention the later survival of the magical orders actually headed by Aleister Crowley (OTO and A∴A∴), which is fitting, since these are vehicles of neither neo-Nazi nor esoteric white supremacist doctrine. Crowley in fact boasted himself to be “the leader of the Extreme Left in the Council-Chamber of the City of the Pyramids” (Magick Without Tears, Ch. 13). There has however been substantial posthumous misuse of Crowley’s work by neo-Nazis and their ilk, much of which is documented here by Goodrick-Clarke. With the heightened visibility of US far-right groups in the “Age of Trump,” it has become necessary for OTO to inoculate itself against misrepresentations on this score, with a public statement by relevant authorities to affirm the Order’s basic anti-racist philosophy, already reflected in administrative policy. (There were also remarks from the US Grand Master to this effect in 2015.)

After a brief, competent treatment of the early Church of Satan in the United States to accurately appraise their “experiments in exploiting the shock value of Nazism” (215), Goodrick-Clarke offers longer studies of the Order of the Nine Angles (ONA) and Order of the Jarls of Baelder (OJB) and their organizers. (He associates the “New Aeon” especially with the ONA.) For these relatively recent instances of “pagan-satanic movement[s] on the British far right,” as well as New Zealander Kerry Bolton’s comparable Ordo Sinistra Vivendi (OSV), Goodrick-Clarke’s accounts are the most detailed and credible that I have to hand. He concludes that while constituting “the most extreme example of the cultic revival of fascism,” these groups “actively embrace their own marginalization” through emphases on elitism and transgression (231).

Goodrick-Clarke’s survey continues by examining newer American white supremacist and Aryanist groups with attention to their religious doctrines. He provides a characterization and history of Christian Identity with its genealogy in British-Israelism, as well as a discussion of the World Church of the Creator and its anti-Christian racist tenets. He identifies these groups as potential “incubators” for a more widespread “white racial movement” (255-56), seeing them as thus comparable to the pre-Nazi Ariosophists he treated in The Occult Roots of Nazism. He also finds contemporary parallels to the formative culture of Nazism in right-wing Odinist neopaganism, exemplified by the Wotansfolk of David Lane and Ron McVan. (Goodrick-Clarke does note the diversity of Nordic neopaganism, with schisms attributable to differences regarding racism.)

“Conspiracy Beliefs and the New World Order” summarizes the conspiracy paranoia of the far-right militia movement in the 1990s. It also devotes a considerable amount of attention to the ways in which traditionally anti-Semitic and anti-“Illuminati” conspiracy theories have been propagated in New Age media and milieux, with examples such as David Icke. While admitting that “As yet, the New Age has little room for Hitler worship or Nazi UFOs,” Goodrick-Clarke considers the social pessimism of much turn-of-the-millennium post-New Age “alternative” culture to be akin to the “Manichean dualism” historically implicated in anti-Semitic movements. Again, he suggests parallels with pre-Nazi German culture.

Necessarily missing from this book are significant changes in white supremacist organizing in the US since the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Such groups were arguably instrumental in the election of Donald Trump, whose most visible political activity in the 21st century had been as a mouthpiece of the racist-nativist “birther” movement disputing Obama’s eligibility for the presidency. Researchers agree that there has been a tremendous upswing in American far-right and racist groups, with greater exposure for eliminationist rhetoric. I am not familiar with any investigations that would help evaluate Goodrick-Clarke’s prognostications about the influence of the groups in this book on that growth, but the knowledge he supplies may be important in assessing more recent developments.

For three hundred pages, I understood Black Sun to be detailing the perspectives and motivations of neo-Nazi cultists without advocating or apologizing for them. Alas, that perception was significantly eroded by Goodrick-Clarke’s four-page “Conclusion.” When mentioning institutional racism, he puts “institutional” in scare quotes, as if the concept were a figment of the liberal imagination. Correctly noting the perceived tension between popular notions of individual rights and efforts to remedy legacies of racism, he accepts racist framings with such declarations as: “The comparative high performance of Asian minorities in education and employment, and their underrepresentation in prison statistics, demonstrate the untenability of attributing black failure to white racism” (304). I hope readers will appreciate the extent to which the foregoing sentence serves to indict Goodrick-Clarke’s own racism, rather than to exonerate that of the subjects of his study. Nevertheless, the book is a valuable one with a wealth of information, and the author’s final worry about the resilience of modern multi-ethnic societies is not misplaced. [via]

Only One God?

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Only One God? Monotheism in Ancient Israel and the Veneration of the Goddess Asherah by Bob Becking, & al.

The turn of the millennium seems to have been a real high season for scholarship regarding ancient Hebrew religion and the goddess Asherah, for which important archaeological evidence had been amassing throughout the late twentieth century. The book Only One God? consists of a set of lectures originally given by faculty of (and at) the University of Utrecht, and was first published in Dutch. This English edition was issued in 2001. Of the four authors, Meindert Dijkstra is responsible for about half of the total content, while Bob Becking is the only other author to contribute more than one item, and he co-wrote the introduction and supplied the concluding paper. (The four are credited in alphabetical order.)

On the whole, the authors take a fairly conservative position relative to the historical validity of the relevant biblical texts. They are mostly concerned with the “Monarchical Period” from the ninth through sixth centuries B.C.E., but their few hypotheses about earlier history do not challenge the biblical account of the Davidic united kingdom, despite the paucity of archaeological evidence for it. While not alleging deliberate misrepresentation on the part of biblical authors and redactors, they do take into account authorial motives, and are alert for omissions as well as the facts that may have informed judgments in the biblical texts. They presume interested human authors, not an unobstructed divine one, for the Hebrew scriptures. The aggregate conclusion regarding the history of Hebrew religion in the Monarchical Period is that it was far more diverse (“pluriform”) than customary readings of the bible would suggest. Up until the period of the Babylonian Exile, a “pure” monotheistic Yahwism was the goal of a set of reformers grounded in the work of prophets, but it was not the only religion of the people or the governing elite.

Dijkstra’s chapters provide important context for this discussion throughout the book. In “I Have Blessed You by YHWH of Samaria and His Asherah,” the inscriptions from Kuntillet el-‘Arjud and Khirbet el-Qom are detailed and supplied with archaeological and historical situations. “El, the God of Israel–Israel the people of YHWH” is a discussion of the relationship between the Canaanite creator-god El and the Hebrew YHWH, which suggests that the latter initially developed from the former, and eventually (within the context of official Hebrew religion defined by the bible) subsumed the original deity. Since Asherah was originally the spouse of El, this series of developments is instrumental to understanding her likely role and status in ancient Israel. “Women and Religion in the Old Testament” is primarily concerned to tease out the “muted” evidence of Hebrew scripture regarding the participation of women in the public and private cult of the Monarchical Period. Dijkstra does not suggest women had anything like a parity with men in the public functions of religion, but that they had a more prominent one than in the Exilic and post-Exilic periods can be surmised from the pejorative way in which their religious work is treated by the scripture codified in that later era.

Vriezen’s “Archaeological Traces of Cult in Ancient Israel” is concerned with altars, figurines, and and other objects, and the extent to which any of these furnish evidence for religious practices regarding Asherah. There is a classification of three types of altars and four types of figurines and a discussion or relevant iconography. The lecture ends with an interesting discussion of the kawwanim or cakes offered to the Queen of Heaven, which survive only in textual reference, but nevertheless supply an important set of ideas about the worship of Asherah.

In “Asherah Outside Israel,” Korpel provides a survey of Asherah references in non-Hebrew societies of the ancient world, and then focuses on the identification between and confusion of Asherah and Ashtart in the biblical texts. In Ugaritic accounts, Ashtart is Asherah’s daughter. Korpel seems to have accepted on some level the biblical condemnation of Asherah, as evidenced by suggesting that Jezebel was responsible for the Asherah cult in Israel. In the light of other theses in this book and elsewhere, such a suggestion seems off the mark, both in attributing a novelty to Asherah for Monarchical Period Hebrews, and for stigmatizing Asherah as a foreign goddess (Jezebel having been a Philistine princess).

Becking’s “The Gods, in Whom They Trusted …” is focused on a very particular piece of historical evidence: the Sargon II Nimrud Prism IV:32, which describes the spoliation of the temple in Israel, with “the gods in whom they trusted” as part of the booty. Becking very thoroughly establishes the credibility of this text for demonstrating the use of divine images in the official cult of ancient Israel, and he capably eliminates the opposing hypotheses. In his concluding paper “Only One God?” he explores the possible theological consequences for the revised historical picture of the Monarchical Period found in this book. While dismissive of the prospect for a revived cult of Asherah, he proposes that the knowledge of ancient Hebrew goddess worship and veneration of images should undermine the extent to which monotheism can or should be taken as an axiomatic element of “religion” in the Abrahamic traditions.

Only One God? is a scholarly document, not a popularizing account of the modern discoveries regarding Asherah worship. It is worth the attention of those who are interested in the genuine evidence and serious arguments around the phenomenon. [via]