The full title of this book is Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner; A Book of Prayer, Devotional Practice, and the Nine Worlds of Spirit. It was written by Galina Krasskova and Raven Kaldera (two of my favorite authors), is published by New Page Books and to get a new copy will cost you $15:99 (£10:53 at the time of writing).
One interesting thing this book does, as it explains in the introduction Solitary Spirit, is take it’s framework from Rev. Cannon’s Six Ways of Being Religious, the six ways being Sacred Rite, Right Action, Devotion, Shamanic Meditation, Mystical Quest and Reasoned Inquiry. As explained in the book, it doesn’t really go into the Way of Shamanic Meditation or Mystical Quest, as they’re kinda beyond the scope of the book – they’re intense subjects and the book would be huge if it were to cover them in much detail.
The first chapter is Tribe and Tradition: The Northern Tradition Landscape. It makes a brave if possibly doomed attempt to explain all the many denominations that exist within the Northern Tradition. It does take care to explain why this is a difficult job, because a lot of people don’t agree with one another about where the lines are drawn. It’s good to read, though – it covers areas of the faith I’d never read about anywhere else, like Urglaawe and Fyrnsidu, and gives you at least some idea of what people actually mean when they say ‘I’m a UPG-friendly Vanatru Universalist’. I don’t know how well this stands up outside of America, but it’s better than nothing, and at least gives you a place to start if you want to look into something further.
Defining Devotion: The Evolution of Practice is the next chapter, covering the Way of Devotion. It discusses what devotion actually *is*, which may seem obvious but sometimes it’s good to examine what we think we know. Like the other chapters, it highlights the pitfalls as well as the perks of this path – which I think is important, because sometimes it’s good to know any difficulties you should try to avoid. This is one of the chapters that I found to be very inspiring, and had a strong effect on my life.
Chapter three is Nine Worlds of Spirit: Core Cosmology. It begins with a prayer to Sunna the Goddess of the Sun and ends with a prayer to Mani the God of the Moon, which is nice. This chapter is great if you don’t already know the basic Asgard-to-Helheim cosmology of the Northern Tradition, but even if you do I’d say this chapter is worth a read. It also covers all the important basics like landvaettir, the elements, the three tribes of Gods (yes, they include the Jotnar as Deities – though they do discuss the fact that not everybody does) and Wyrd.
The fourth chapter is In Reverence: Meditation and Prayer. When I hit a point where I didn’t know how to pray any more, this chapter allowed me to learn again. I’ve read this chapter times, probably more than any other part of the book. It also contains some lovely prayers that you could use as they are or adapt fairly easily. Of course, this chapter also covers meditation. It doesn’t go into detail on different meditative techniques because that’s not really the point of the book, but it goes over some basics and also discusses utiseta.
The next, related chapter is Counting on Faith: Prayer Beads. Kinda does what it says on the tin, this chapter. I own prayer beads solely because I read this chapter (not that I’m easily influenced or anything…) It discusses their relevance, gives some good ideas for creating your own and includes several examples of prayers that people say.
The sixth chapter is Footsteps to the Gods: Solitary Rites. I’ve always struggled with ritual, but this chapter helped me to get some idea of why it can be a good thing. This is the only chapter where I wish they’d gone into more detail with their explanations, but then again I really do struggle when it comes to ritual. For a normal, well-adjusted person, there is probably plenty in this chapter to get you going. I really need some sort of Way of the Sacred Rite for Dummies type deal. The examples of rituals are really helpful.
Next we come to Sacred Images: Altar Work and God Posts. It goes into detail about what an altar actually is, in their view – I have read some very differing opinions about what altars are and what they’re for, but even if you find yourself disagreeing it’s good to make yourself think about something that’s so common in pagan practices that maybe we haven’t thought about it that much. There is a section on setting up your first altar, which I found helpful even though I had already set up an altar when I first read it (coincidentally, it was also nice to find out that I’m not the only person who carries around a portable altar. One nice thing about this book is that it includes segments written by different people about what they think and do, and as well as giving you good ideas you sometimes get to feel a little less alone!). It then goes on to explain what a God-post actually is – because they’re not exactly as well-known as altars. They’re not for everyone, but they’re a cool idea and it’s good to know about them. I’d totally make one if I had a garden. Well…I’d ask Wife to make one, anyway.
Next we have Right Action: Doing the Work. This is another chapter that’s really important to me personally. It touches on the problems in reconstructionist and reconstructionist-derived faiths about taking moral values from ancient cultures, which may well have been homophobic, sexist, pro-slavery or seen honor in actions that are now illegal (you know, like it being a good thing to kill someone if they call you gay). Of course, if you are non-reconstructionist like me, you can merrily laugh as the poor old reconstructionists struggle though their moral tangle. But I digress. This chapter gives some good grounding ideas for deciding what faith-inspired values could become important to you. It also has some great ideas about a modern understanding of wereguild, which I’d previously dismissed as just another outdated moral code that I could ignore.
The final chapter is Sacred Inquiry: The Conundrum of Words. Everyone has to do this, at least a little bit, though admittedly I’d never thought about it as Sacred Inquiry before. It talks about the problems of trying to learn about the past from biased or late sources as well as the issue of personal gnosis.
I like the epilogue; it made me think. The Appendix is also great; it goes through all the more popular Deities and provides associated colors, symbols, altar suggestions, ideas for food, drink and service offerings and anything which that Deity is very unlikely to be happy about. Definitely really useful!
One thing I like about this book is that it includes the views and experiences of many people. I feel like this gives it a good balance, stopping it from having a narrow viewpoint. It contains a lot of prayers, which is great. I also like that it doesn’t shy away from questions and the authors have really thought through everything they’ve written. You can feel their passion for their faith shining through, and it’s very inspiring. I’ve read this book times, and I’m sure I’ll be re-reading it for years to come.