Book Review – The Northern Path
Douglas “Dag” Rossman
Seven Paws Press (June 30, 2005)
At first glance, Norse mythology can be a daunting dragon. Rough living, the world coming into being from a cow licking an ice man and humans starting as trees, enough names with Thor as a root you would need a spreadsheet to keep track of them, and then the world ends and no one can stop it and even the Gods die. Not only can it be depressing, but finding a good starting place isn’t always easy. I regularly see people new to Heathenry inquiring about good books to start with in order to become familiar with the lore. Douglas “Dag” Rossman has provided one which I think should be in the top five list of Things to Read First In Asatru with his book, The Northern Path: Norse Myths and Legends Retold…And What They Reveal.
The first section of the book is Rossman’s retelling of several tales from the Eddas along with his take on Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied. His tales focus heavily on those involving Old One Eye, including a take on the tale of Odhreorir very much in line with my fellowship’s view of the relationship between Odhinn and Gunnlod. “Beowulf” and the Ring cycle have both been greatly compressed, and are a much less intimidating introduction to both tales. Finally, Dag shares stories of Thor, the theft of Idunna’s apples, how Skadhi came to marry Njord, Loki’s binding, and Ragnarok. Each of the stories in the book show Dag’s own style, and not all follow what would be considered the canon of the lore. I don’t think this is a drawback; since there was certainly no written canon a thousand years ago, it is easy to think of different skalds varying stories based on region and their experiences.
Part two of the book covers Germanic cosmology and gives insight into the mindset of the people. Among the topics covered are the relevance of mythology, how he himself came to be a skald, an introduction to the Aesir, Vanir, elves, the enemies of the gods, the significance of Ragnarok, and how the lore has survived into modern times. I was very interested to read about his own experiences of creating an initiatory experience using the lore for young men attending Sons of Norway campouts. The idea of teen boys learning about their ancestry by participating in mock adventures and having to fare out alone at night combined with the mythology would make the Gods come alive for these young men. Truly, I am surprised that Rossman did not identify outright as Heathen, though he does mention people worshiping the Gods in modern times and his own implementation of an old Germanic mindset in his life.
One line that stuck out for me when I was reading was this section where he describes his idea that the battle between Thor and Jormundgand as allegory for order and chaos in the universe.
“In the scenario just described, it seems clear that Thor acts as a representative of Order, and the Midgard Serpent a representation of Chaos. Their first two encounters are standoffs, a reflection of the dynamic balance that exists between Order and Chaos, and which I believe lies at the heart of the orlog. So long as this balance is maintained, the Nine Worlds will continue to exist. Should Thor finally prevail over the Serpent of Chaos, nothing could ever change, stagnation would set in, and all possibilities for future creativity would cease. Should Thor be slain, Order would totally disintegrate, and the Nine Worlds with it. Alas, the Eddas tell us of yet a third possibility, a final confrontation between the two adversaries at Ragnarok (the Doom of the Gods) in which both will be slain …and the Nine Worlds consumed by fire and flood.” (p. 194-195)
I don’t agree with the honoring of giants who are depicted as outright enemies of the Gods, mind, but I thought this to be one of the simplest and clearest explanations as to why they might exist.
This is an excellent book for any Heathen library. Not only is it perfect to hand to someone to introduce them to the mythology and worldview without overwhelming them with names and unfamiliar terms, for those who are well versed in the lore it’s a very entertaining spin on the mythology. One can easily imagine a skald coming around the community a thousand years ago, with tales both familiar and new, all having his own special spin and perspective threaded throughout. Rossman’s work is truly inspired.
Five stars out of five.
Review ©2010 by Soli.
Edited by Sheta Kaey.