This book is a collation of odds and ends relating to various customs of the Northern peoples, but the title gives a misleading impression of the content. It is a compendium of lifestyle practices and superstitions of various Northern peoples and only a limited amount of it can be integrated into contemporary pagan practices. This text targets people with scholarly interests about ancient local and regional polytheistic practices that persisted through the Christian-dominated Middle Ages. Some remnants of these customs remain while others are being revived.

The material is organized into chapters that present related information:
Ch 1: The Web of Wyrd and the Eldritch World
Ch 2: Traditional Operative Magic, Philosophy, and Theory
Ch 3: Place, Space, and Time
Ch 4: Astronomy and the Winds
Ch 5: Magical and Sacred Places in the Landscape
Ch 6: Boundaries and Liminal Spaces
Ch 7: Materials and Crafts
Ch 8: The Spirit of Craftsmanship
Ch 9: Natural Measure
Ch 10: Traditional Buildings and Practical Magic
Ch 11: The Craft and Magic of Buildings
Ch 12: Magical Protection against Supernatural and Physical Attack
Ch 13: Practical Magic: Patterns and Sigils
Ch 14: The Magic of Music
Ch 15: Northern Instruments
Ch 16: Keeping up the Day

To be clear, this is not a book offering descriptions of ceremonies, spells, or rituals for modern neo-pagans. Ancient Northern practices have sketchy documentation and rely on archeological finds, so the preponderance of the information is drawn from documentation of practices from the Middle Ages in Northern Europe (Germany, France, England, Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, Denmark, Iceland, Poland, Estonia, and Lithuania). This is a huge swath of territory with distinctive differences in practices from region to region. No map of Northern Europe is provided, so the geographically-challenged will have to get an atlas or find maps on the web.

Descriptions include place-related lore, construction practices applied to buildings and barns, lore about crossroads, farming traditions, threshold and hearth-stone protection rituals, and some localized seasonal traditions associated with the sabbats and holy-days. The book has many illustrations, both drawings and photographs. Unillustrated items (like some of the named bind runes) make the text somewhat frustrating. It's too bad that things that could be applied in modern neo-pagan crafting were omitted.

There's a huge assortment of rare words and terms culled from diverse research materials. The sections on boundaries (Ch 6), measurements (Ch 9), and calendrical options (Ch 16) are thoroughly packed with hard-to-find information. The end matter includes a glossary and bibliography.

The book's greatest strength and weakness is its wide scope. The first three chapters contain some misleading generalizations that seem to be the result of excessive ambition to cover too much territory. The relationship between cosmos and fate (wyrd) could occupy an entire book. The treatment of material swings from superficial to overly-detailed. Lecouteaux's book on Household Spirits is a better reference on house-building and domestic spirit practices; Pennick's previous text “The Book of Primal Signs” is a better source for sigils, symbols, and glyphs.

This is a useful general reference text for readers seeking a wide range of scholarly information on historic pagan practices in Northern Europe.

~review by Elizabeth Hazel

Author: Nigel Pennick
Destiny Books, 2015
343 pg, $19.95 pb

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