Next to my computer on my desk I keep a small selection of essential texts for my Chaos Heathen proclivities. These are the books that I find myself referring to in casual conversation about myth or history or nutrition or healing. I’m sure everyone has their favourite reference texts (and I’d love to hear what they are): here are mine.
First stop: nutrition and food. I am a huge aficionado of the traditional cuisine movement. Returning to traditional cuisine has almost totally cured my once utterly crippling allergies; it has also gone a long way to improving my fitness, mental health, and immune system. It has also taught me how to love food, to really savour it, to deeply appreciate the pleasure of eating in a way that all the production line rubbish I used to eat never did.
I haven’t talked about it for a while, but I remain convinced that if you are serious about spirituality, magic, growth, healing, Heathenry, or whatever…then you have to get serious about food: its history, its ecology, the experience of eating it, the nutritional science of it. NOT out of some punitive, sin-based body-hatred or pleasure-hatred (neither of which are a part of traditional cuisine); but out of the binary joys of gustatory sensuality and making oneself more whole, more powerful, more buoyant.
This isn’t to say that I always stick to my own culinary principles, of course, but mostly I do, and I’ve never been fitter or healthier or enjoyed cooking, eating, and even the washing up so much. All of these things help me integrate myself into the flow of the waters of life (Bil Linzie) that runs throughout the roots and branches of the World Tree.
If you give a stuff about the environment or the principle that what goes around comes around then traditional cuisine is even more important…and I’d like to think that anyone interested in Chaos Heathenism would be at least curious to know what they can do to preserve the precarious equilibrium of this fragile planet.
While personal gnosis is awesome, I believe that when we closely research historical belief and practice it often turns out to be far more subtle, inventive, and just plain fun than the half-baked ideas that modern folk turn out and pass off as spiritual or magical. This is no fault of ours: traditions that have had centuries to ferment, passed from hands to hands, are almost certainly going to outstrip our raw and hastily conceived insights.
Grimm’s Tales I use for divination purposes, as I’ve previously documented. It’s a font of endless free association and symbolic hilarity, often with blatant Heathen motifs and stories writhing just below a wafer-thin veneer (and just to upset the Heathen dogmatists out there [yeah, like those jerks would ever threaten their puny minds by reading Elhaz Ablaze articles]: the Christianly ones are good too).
The two Eddas are of course extremely valuable. Dipping randomly into the Poetic Edda is always fun and rewarding – not unlike the Bible, it’s actually a really weird collection of tales. When I read these texts I can’t help but think that once upon a time the only kind of Heathen around was the Chaos Heathen kind.
And finally, Simek. I bless a trillion times the day I bought this book. What an indispensable gem! Getting nastily out of date now, but still the ultimate starting place when you want to know anything about Northern mythology (and much more besides).
People think the Internet has made knowledge much more accessible, but only someone who doesn’t read books could possibly be convinced of this mediocrity-inducing illusion, which merely panders to our laziness and our vanity. If you are even marginally interested in anything even vaguely related to Heathenry…then go buy Simek right now.
Visual Magick is Jan’s first book, and I swear by it. It is so fun, inspiring, profound, playful, self-satirical…just what magic should be. It’s a slender volume, yet it contains ten to the power of infinity more wisdom and knowledge than just about any other book on magic ever written (I don’t know how he crammed it all in there, but he did). If you want to know about anything related to anything to do with the stuff we talk about on Elhaz Ablaze then this is the book.
That said…I actually like his Seidways even more, but it’s a little more specific; and his Helrunar is the best book on esoteric runes ever. No contest. I know lots of Heathens don’t like him because he isn’t Heathen, but that just underscores the point: this guy understands runes better than the best esoteric Heathen authorities and he isn’t even a Heathen. Sock that to the ideologues, dogmatists, and Master-of-the-Universe-type cult leader blow-hards.
Sweyn is of course part of the Elhaz Fellowship, so in celebrating his book I’m completely guilty of nepotism and all the rest. But the fact is, this is the best point of departure there is. His translations of the rune poems are absolutely perfect (much better, I must say, than Thorsson’s or Fries’), and the supporting documentation is extremely valuable for getting your brain sorted out before you do anything runic. Indispensable reference? Tick!
Many Westerners don’t know anything about Eastern religion except that “uh, isn’t it, like, life-denying?” No, actually it isn’t: if you bothered to actually pay attention you’d realise it is all about being radically present, and the otherworldly stuff circles back into that.
Take Buddhism, for example. What’s the highest deed you can do? Escape Samsara, achieve oneness…then become a Bodhisattva and come back to the physical world even though you don’t have to in order to help the healing of others. It’s easy to be world-affirming when your dogma doesn’t really give you a choice anyway, but these guys want to be here even once they’ve overcome the bloody place!
And when we all get to Nirvana? Holy cow, who even knows how hilarious that’ll be?! One thing is for sure, and this is presaged by some recent comments on other Elhaz posts: Woden is one of those utterly furious Bodhisattva types, I’m almost certain of it.
Uh, anyway, so yeah. Pema’s book is all about having the courage to do the things that scare you, to commit to your integrity, your spirit. It’s a great tonic and soul-nourisher. Enough said.
Everyday Tao is a book that has saved my brain many times. When I am stuck, blocked, down, whatever, I open it at a random page and invariably it blows away all fetters. Deng Ming-Dao is a genius. And there are patterns in the things I get; I can’t tell you how many times that book has told me in moments of self-doubt: “we have to stick to our perceptions and our feelings.” I dare you, go on, be stupid enough to call that sentiment life-denying.
So there you have it – the indispensable books I always keep in easy reach. What are yours?