Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Review of New Translation of Poetic Edda

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The Poetic Edda is one of the basic texts of The Lore, the collectively decided cannon of Asatru and related Heathen sects. Thorstein Mayfield has made a new translation, with extensive footnotes. It was sent to Witches and Pagans Magazine for review.

This new translation of the Poetic Edda is subtitled A Heathen Study Edition: Mythological Poems. Author Thorstein Mayfield holds a Master’s in Literature from the University of Houston at Clear Lake. He is a founding member of Woden’s Folk Kindred in Texas, the organization that owns the publishing company which published this book.

This book was provided to me to review by the magazine, which received the book from the publisher Woden’s Folk Press, which is owned by Woden’s Folk Kindred. Because the name Woden’s Folk was a red flag, I began my review process by looking up the publisher, which is based in the USA, and looking at their website. Their website has a non-discrimination statement. I contacted their public relations person, who assured me they are not associated with the Woden’s Folk in the UK nor with Wotan’s Volk in the USA. I was reassured that the heathen organization which published this book does not promote racism or other such -isms.

The book’s Preface says it was written because “academics don’t get it.” Mayfield decided a translation for heathens by a heathen was needed.

The book’s Introduction explains cultural and linguistic issues with translations. After that, each story in the Poetic Edda gets its own chapter with its own introduction.

Despite the author’s stated reason for writing this edition, it does not seem substantially different from other translations. It is written in a more modern style than older translations which are in the public domain, but there are other modern translations. The brief introductions before each chapter and the extensive footnotes could have provided a lot of context necessary for stripping off the influence of Christianity, the politics of the time, and personal biases of the historical collection maker and of previous translators and academics, but instead they are fairly standard. The book does not break new ground, nor does it appear to take any of the current groundbreaking scholarship into account. For example, the name Gullveig is glossed as “greed,” and no mention of any other interpretation is made, despite the recently published scholarship by Maria Kvilhaug in her book Seeds of Yggdrasil.

I compared several key passages with other translations, including the story of how Odin and his brothers shaped the first humans, and the story of Odin’s initiation on the Tree. The modern language used by Mayfield is probably easier for the average reader to understand than the archaic wording used in older translations, but the meanings are mostly the same. Disappointingly, the prose addition on the end of the poem Loki’s Flyting which just cries out for some explanatory context from a heathen point of view was presented without reference to any of the modern interpretations of it nor indeed any of the political context of the time in which it was written.

The footnotes take up more room on the page than the text in some places in the book, so they could be intimidating to readers who do not usually read college level academic works. This book was intended as a study guide and it may be suitable for that purpose but it is definitely not for beginners. The modern language of the translations of the texts themselves might be easier for the general non-academic reader than older translations or translations that try to preserve more of the poetry, but the extensive footnoting makes this a college level read.  

The footnotes contain both factual information and speculation or interpretation. I might quibble with some of the interpretations, but most of them seem correct, and it is usually clear when the author is stating a fact and when he is giving his opinion. The opinions the author presents are fundamentally the same as the older scholarship. This is not a new take on this material, nor are the any of the really groundbreaking new takes even referenced. It is as good as other translations, but no better, and does not seem substantially more heathen. I can recommend it as a translation in modern language for college study. I can’t recommend it as a heathen correction to older interpretations, because it is just not that different.

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


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