Book Review: Exploring the Northern Tradition by Galina Krasskova

Book Review: Exploring the Northern Tradition by Galina Krasskova August 3, 2010
Galina Krasskova, Exploring the Northern Tradition, New Page Books 2005. 220 pages. $14.99

A good, solid, human and engaging introductory text to a religion, particularly a minority religion, is worth its weight in gold. Crafting an introduction to a religious practice, mythos, cosmology and values is a bit like walking a tightrope: too far to one side creates a text that is inaccessibly esoteric and too far to the other side leaves you with a “dummies guide” that even the most ignorant novice will scoff. In Exploring the Northern Tradition Krasskova has created a beautifully balanced introduction to Modern Heathenry.

I will admit that I always check negative reviews of books first, particularly on Amazon. Despite having read her blog posts on Pantheon and found her to be a delightful and grounded person via e-mail, I did begin to read Exploring the Northern Tradition expecting it to be in the same vein as Welch’s Goddess of the North. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. While Krasskova has included UPG in certain sections of the book, especially when writing about the Gods and Goddesses, it was clear enough when something was from the lore and something was from her own personal spiritual practice, that the average reader should not find themselves confused.

From cosmology to personal devotions the book covers each subject thoroughly from a deep Heathen viewpoint. The flavor of the Heathen traditions permeates every sentence. Krasskova expresses the pride, strength, piety and deep community values that make the Heathen religious traditions so bewitching. Perhaps as a result of her Catholic background, the book has the warmth and emotional depth of female mystics, such as Julian of Norwich.

Krasskova illustrates a purpose and a drive to Heathen spirituality that is often missing from works by Pagan authors; this is perhaps due to the fact that Heathenry has an eschatology, or “end game”. Just as the Gods are ever maintaining frith and making preparations against Ragnarok , so humanity is ever holding out against decay and stagnation. Krasskova writes “I often think the process of spiritual emergence is an ongoing fight against entropy.” I think that is a statement that could be liberally applied to Pagan spirituality in general, not just the Heathen traditions.

If you are interested in the Heathen traditions this would be the first book I would recommend, along with a good copy of the Eddas. Reading through this a few times will give you a good solid foundation from which to explore the sagas, the Eddas and enter into dialogue with the Heathen community. The concepts of Heathenry and key points of lore are presented in an accessible and earthy manner.  Krasskova has respect for her readers and doesn’t exhaustively explain every term and concept that isn’t key to having a basic understanding of the Heathen concepts.  Even terms with which I was unfamiliar, the context made their meaning plain, and my interest in learning more was piqued.

My only disappointment in the book was that the glossary was not as exhaustive as I would have liked, but then in the age of Google perhaps the glossary isn’t as important as it used to be. In the same vein, there weren’t any illustrations or pictures, which someone who only has the barest understanding of Heathenry may find useful. Yet again, such resources are only a search engine away. These are small critiques compared to the real needs this book fulfills, and the footnotes and bibliography are a joy.

I would recommend Exploring the Northern Tradition to any Heathen, and any Pagan for that matter. We are seeing signs of how our communities and traditions are maturing, moving past the revival phase to look deeper, both inward and outward. This book is a good example of how Pagan traditions are moving into the future, and it seems the future is bright.

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  • Thank you for the review!

    Re. the glossary: I had maximum word count from the publisher and I was already somewhat over. I truncated the glossary (partly because we do, as you note, have access to the internet) and I also had to truncate the chapter on the holidays. I did not mind so much there because there is such great variation in practice that to do it justice would really have required its own text in and of itself!

    I do wish that the publisher had allowed for proper footnotes instead of end notes, but that is a small thing.

    again, thank you.

  • I may be a bit biased, but I do firmly believe this is a great book. It’s far less daunting than the Troth volumes, and unlike any other book out there that’s meant to be a 101 introduction, it explains the different types of denominations (for lack of a better term), and shows a holistic approach between this is what we know from surviving sources, this is what we believe and then has examples of things an individual can do to work with and connect with our Gods & Goddesses, the ancestors, the local vaettir, etc. :)

  • Laura Patsouris

    Excellent review, excellent book. Her books on Northern Trad for the solitary practitioner is also fantastic, as is her book on runes. Galina has the rare ability to combine professional academic scholarship with intense devotion and mysticism. Also, she’s a damn good writer who can make complex concepts accessible without any dumbing down. Her books are a good investment for any pagan…

  • David Kilby

    have most of Galina’s books. as a newbie a few years ago, she was the only person to take the time and act as my mentor. I have re-read this book at least 10 times!!! thanks, Galina