Review by Mike Gleason
Fulltrui: Patrons in Asatru by Mist © 2011 Megalithica Books
This is one of those books whose appeal will be severely limited, unfortunately. Its primary appeal will be to Asatruar, and not even all of them, as there are individuals who do not accept the idea of patrons within the cultural context. In fact there are those who deny the personal, physical existence of deity.
The concept of patrons used to be common within the Wiccan community (and still is in some segments), but it has fallen out of favor as the eclectic movement has gained ascendancy. Many eclectics seem to view the idea of patrons as giving away the power of the individual, and that is anathema to a great many people.
Mist spends a goodly amount of time introducing the concept of patrons; explaining the various aspects involved (the individual choosing or the deity/being doing the choosing being the most important in my opinion). Everything she says about the generalities involved applies to every neo-Pagan religion which has a worshipful orientation, and that SHOULD make this book more appealing to a larger potential readership. So I say, here-and-now, even if you are not interested in the Asatru faith, you will really find a reading of this book to be beneficial.
There are a number of concepts which do not resonate for me, but I discovered a long time ago that (unlikely as it may seem to me) others may have differing yet equally valid points-of-view, therefore I accept the fact that disagreement is a fact of life, and not worth losing sleep over. Mist presents Asatru as a living, evolving religion, with an emphasis on experience and inspiration as primary sources, while acknowledging that there is little information contained within the historical record. Some might see this as a disadvantage, but in reality human nature is constantly evolving so our religions (being one part of of our own existence) should also be expected to evolve.
UPG (Unverified Personal Gnosis) and PCPG (Peer-Corrorborated Personal Gnosis) are simply “new” names for what used to be termed “Divine Inspiration” (think “Prophets” of the Old Testament, or the Epistles of the New Testament for those of you from Christian background). They are, ultimately, the sources upon which much of Asatru is built. While they may be disagreed with, they cannot be refuted since each individual has their own perception (what is slate grey to one person may be charcoal to another).
I am sure that there are large numbers of readers who will dismiss Mist’s descriptions of the Nine Worlds, the various halls within them, and even the gods as either mere flights of fancy or as delusions. They are entitled to their own beliefs, and there is no way to objectively prove them wrong; subjectively is another matter entirely. Although I am not a follower of her system, I have done enough journeying through other levels of reality to recognize truth when I encounter it. And, although I haven’t encountered as of the Aesir or Vanir in my journeys, I have encountered enough deities to recognize the validity of her suggestions regarding how to relate to them.
When referring to the Vanir, Mist mentions that they previously required large numbers of animal sacrifices, but now seem to be heading in a “greener” direction. This is one area where I have to question whether it is the Vanir deciding to make this change or their followers. To be honest, most modern inhabitants of the Western world are not terribly comfortable with the concept of personally killing animals. Buying meat at a store is one thing, but butchering an animal is (to many folks) both disgusting and just plain hard work. Being semi-familiar with the rituals of the Santeria, and having attended the preparations for several Asientos, I can understand people’s reluctance. Still, if your deity is accustomed to being given offerings of beef and you try to convince him/her to accept a basket of wheat or vegetables in its place, I would not be surprised if you suffered some form of consequence as a result of your desire not to get blood on your hands. If the idea makes you uncomfortable or queasy, perhaps you need to be looking for a different pantheon.
UPG is something which, while not unique to Asatru, doesn’t receive as much acknowledgment among other religious philosophies. Even among the Pagan faiths there is more reliance placed on the “received lore” (mythology, history, etc.) to gain an understanding of the deities. Especially in some of the more traditional groups UPG is very much distrusted, if it is acknowledged at all. But then, Asatru has very little in the way of “received lore” to start with. Almost everything has come down through the filter of the Christian missionaries and monks who recorded the stories, after they sanitized it and altered it enough to make it conform to their perceptions of the world.
Unfortunately, this book is riddled with editing glitches. I have been impressed by the quality of the writings produced by this publisher and was tempted to just glide over this problem, but if this was your first exposure to their line, you might be put off by it, and that would be regrettable. You should overlook the editing problems simply because everyone has an occasional “off” production once in a while.
Mist makes a remark/suggestion on page 83 that causes the hair on my neck to raise up. I freely admit that this is the result of UPG on my part. She says: “For example, Frey required boars killed in offering. If you cannot find boar meat anywhere, you could substitute it with cow’s meat, or if you are vegan, you could offer him berries, herbs, or natural items from the woods.” Now, that MIGHT work. Then again, it might not. I would strongly suggest that if you are going to offer some unorthodox substitution (and boy, I think vegan offerings for Frey definitely qualify as unorthodox) it would be to your advantage to check with the deity beforehand. It may be unintentional, but I feel the possibility strongly exists that you might inadvertently offend the deity involved (and who needs a ticked off deity in their life? Not me!).
Mist provides guided meditations to introduce you to each of the major deities in the Asatru pantheon. Through these meditations you learn a little bit about each of them, their personalities, and their usual surroundings. For those who are unfamiliar with the Asatru, this is an invaluable resource in itself, and even for those who are semi-familiar it can serve to open up avenues of exploration.
Following the meditations are a series of articles, written by members of Mist’s kindred, regarding interaction with various gods. These offer a unique view of what each of the patrons mean to the individuals involved, although they should not be taken as “standards”. Each of us will relate in our own individual fashion.
In Chapter 9 Mist offers devotional poetry. Followers of any of the ancient deities are well aware they enjoy hearing their own stories retold; their praises sung, and other forms of flattery. It is necessary, however to remember the difference between flattery and b.s.
In the Appendix, Mist provides 25 pages of basic information concerning the Asatru deities and a little over a page of runic correspondences for the gods. The book is finished off with a bibliography and a list of helpful resources for your individual research and enlightenment. In my opinion, the only thing missing is a short glossary (although, since this book is primarily aimed at practitioners there isn’t a strong need for this.