Bragi’s Corner – Asatru A Native European Spirituality by Stephen McNallen
Based on the 2015 print version.
FIRST – this is not a review of Folkish vs Universalist. Besides the mention below, there is no sides taken here for/against Folkish or Universalist. If you take one and base your opinion on this book, that’s on you. My review of this book is based on what I believe this book can do/does for readers coming to Germanic heathenry and how it fails utterly.
Stephen McNallen. Probably the most recognizable figure in Asatru today, runs the AFA, the largest nationwide org for Asatru in America and it has it’s fingers in other countries in Europe and Central/South America. McNallen is a rabid folkish Asatruar, actually speaking of Universalist Asatru with disgust and disdain, yet he preaches anyone following the path in any manner they wish…
…wow this review is going well. I am not a professional and I am not paid for my reviews. I do not know McNallen personally, only from his written words so while it might seem ad hominem is all up in this review, please keep in mind, Im basing alot of this review on what Ive seen McNallen post on Facebook, blogs, other groups and other works.
McNallen’s “beginners” Asatru book was easily recognizable for what it was by chapter 4 (and chapters are 3-6 pages, large font and lacking in real information) – a paycheck book. He wrote a beginners book because beginners books are pretty popular now – especially Lafayllve’s book (which I review last week). If you seeking academic research into the gods, Germanic lifestyle or ritual – look elsewhere. This book offers so little, it actually hurts (I developed 3 headaches reading this book).
How to read this book…
Step 1 – Flip to Part Two: Practicing Asatru. Rip the book in half, and throw Part 1 away. I have no idea how McNallen, someone devoted to Odin, can give Odin less information than Loki, a god (Loki is ranked in the Aesir in Ásatrúarfélagið, so sorry McNallen) he bans from any AFA gatherings. He essentially speaks of less then a half dozen gods in any detail (which is horribly lacking). Notably Ullr gets a paragraph yet Skadhi gets a one line mention? Part Two of the book will offer you background on Sumbel and Blot, the runes and holidays/days of remembrance. The latter you can get in a book published LONG before this one called Our Troth Vol. 2 which is roughly the same price and 4x longer with much MUCH more academic background and information.
Step 2 – Put it on the shelf and never read it again.
I have actually no other praise for this book. McNallen’s breakdown of the soul complex is essentially bathe daily (really, he descibes Lyk – the Body as take a bath and your body is good) and Jung, Jung, Jung – who is not an authority or even approaches Asatru or Germanic heathenry. McNallen’s sources for this book are to be 75% Edred Thorsson, 20% Carl Jung and 5% Vine Deloria (A Lakota activist and writer who passed away, who McNallen exchanged letters with). Much of McNallen’s work is based on comparison to other cultures, while he constantly speaks of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism (his disdain of Universalist religions showing through).
Special note regarding McNallen’s comparison of Asatru to Native American paths (which is rather broad…) he quotes a story from someone who attends a pow wow and when it’s over, is escorted off the circle and grounds by a Lakota elder because it’s “Indians only”. McNallen goes on to say that outsiders cannot understand and should be removed from these gatherings and the Lakota get it because of this story.
Sorry, wrong. The man was removed because it was a pow wow. Anyone who pays $10 can goto one but that does not guarantee everyone can attend a tribal dance or gathering. This story is basically a non-point. It means NOTHING to Asatru and attempts (horribly) to crowbar people apart with a falsehood.
Loki…. McNallen states (with certainty) that our ancestors did not worship Loki because there are no place names for him. Let me just quote Carl Sagan – “absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” That’s it. No other proof of non-Loki worship, nothing. Do you want information on Germanic lifestyle, the gods, Asgard, the gods interacting with humans? Look elsewhere, it’s not here. McNallen does go onto to barely discuss the afterlife where he basically says Hel isnt bad, but if you’re weak or less of a person, you go to Hel. … WHAT?! McNallen spends more time telling us that a weak soul (because of people’s lack of experience and growth as a person) is why people go to Hel, he basically ignored all other afterlife discussions. Valhalla gets a mention and other halls (not by name) the gods have that people go to, but he doesnt expand on this – AT ALL. But apparently getting into Asgard means sticking to principles (The Six Fold Path and Nine Noble Virtues are given as tools to this). It basically ignores historical sources. Essentially, “Be a good, well rounded, traveled person who stands for something and you can get into Valhalla!”
The only other part of this book is the semi-biographical bits about the AFA and it’s formation, McNallen’s life creating the old AFA, it’s ending and the new AFA along with drops of his time in Burma, fight for Tibet and Native America experience.
McNallen’s book falls short of an Asatru beginners book. There’s little to no information about creation, the gods, interaction with the gods, Germanic/Heathen lifestyle/views, Asatru today. There are many better books out there, for less, written better with more sources than the Eddas, Tacitus, Saxo and Jung.
This book touches on some heathen principles other books either forget/avoid/remain mute about. Most especially the Soul Complex. I was excited to see so much page-space given on something Ive read about but always want more information about. But it fails… Jung, Jung, Jung. Im sorry, I need to mention it again that Lyk is bathe and stay clean for the body is important. Fletch/Fylgja seems jumbled/confused as I think McNallen didnt want to admit that Fylgja is similar to animal spirits/guides/totem.
Also lacking – Alfar, Disir, Dwarves, in depth realm talk, academic research, Saga information, Innagard/Utgard, any real information on frith/grith.
McNallen’s book sums upto this (because the first 4 chapters read like a Scientology introduction):
“What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Where do we go when we die? Asatru has the answers! The Ultimate Self-Help Book!” But doesn;t even answer these questions (like anyone can).
1/5 stars. And it gets that star ONLY for the rune chapter(s) and days for remembrances.