Ryan Smith’s Spinning Wyrd: A Journey through the Nordic Mysteries provides an excellent and expansive introduction to the importance of Radical Heathenry, also known as Fire and Ice Heathenry through a thorough coverage of the five defining points which distinguish Fire and Ice Heathenry from traditional understanding of Heathenry: living tradition, inspired adaptation, modern relevance, inclusive practice, and active involvement. (p.2)
From the start of this book, Smith takes the reader on an intriguing and deep mystical journey that is attractive in its energy and its comprehensive coverage of Radical Heathenry. His honesty allows the reader to trust in Smith’s role as a guide. If Smith’s previous work, The Way of Fire and Ice: The Living Tradition of Norse Paganism began the journey, then Spinning Wyrd expands and takes this understanding to a new level.
Smith keeps explanations simple and inclusive. It engages the novice, as well as the experienced practitioner on purpose with the clearly stated goal appealing to anyone with an interest in an “inclusive, more directly relevant yet authentic form of Heathen practice.” (p. 3) His choice to focus on cosmology rather than the standard introductory polytheist direction makes this an excellent tool for addressing the less emphasized aspects of Heathenry in beginning texts.
One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is Smith’s choice to include “the practice of utiseta, one of the three forms of modern sei›r. Utiseta is a form of trance meditation where the practitioner uses this altered state for seeking guidance or finding answers.” (p. 4) One way to modernize and to maintain the relevance of any tradition is to find a method that connects the seeker or practitioner with the solace desired in finding guidance.
While no one book can hold every possible source, Smith demonstrates a careful consideration of his audience and their foundational needs in crafting the end of the book with two appendices, a realistic glossary, and a good bibliography. The bibliography successfully spans more than 50 years through integrating more recent academic and relevant non-academic sources with a few older sources. I found the detail provided in Appendix II: Source Materials an especially important assist for those coming to Heathenry with a deep background or with none.
Rites are used as the tools to assist the reader in acquiring a deeper understanding of Radical Heathenry. Smith’s instructions provide the anchor for those unfamiliar with using ritual at all. Invoking Fire and Ice (p.15) is an excellent start among the rituals listed. Smith brings this exploration full circle with the last exercise before the conclusion is Breathing Fire and Ice (p. 150).
The greatest overall strength of Spinning Wyrd is its accessibility and simplicity for the reader. I particularly enjoyed the translations of the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda throughout the book, as these are clear and engaging. Each chapter represents the essence of “Wyrd” as fate and as a mystery. The second chapter, “Wyrd” presents an overall view that allows the reader to experience the definition by using the exercises, which is helpful in creating a deeper understanding of Radical Heathenry. In fact, it is difficult to just read the work without immediately jumping into the exercises. Smith’s use of past exercises from his previous work, The Way of Fire and Ice, strengthens the overall impression created by Spinning Wyrd while making a connection for those whose journey into Radical Heathenry began with Smith’s earlier book.
Overall, I found Smith’s pattern of integrating five rites and seven of the eleven exercises with the pulse of the book from Utiseta journeywork to the wyrd to the four-part self to an understanding of the whole through the final chapter, “Cycles of Creation and Destruction” to be riveting. This work encourages the reader to strengthen their connection with the text by participating in the rites. Completion of the “Rite: Invoking Fire and Ice” (p. 15) with “Three Grounding Breaths” (p. 20) and “Breathing Fire and Ice” (p. 150) at a bare minimum gives a taste of the depth that Spinning Wyrd. In Chapter Seven, “Cycles of Creation and Destruction”, Smith juxtaposes the lack of a clear victor in his examination of Ragnarök as opposed to the Book of Revelation with its clear delineation between punishment for the enemy and reward for the pious. (pp. 144-155)
This book works for those who desire to explore a modern inclusive Heathenry that is aligned with Heathens United Against Racism during these turbulent times. Smith’s work brings a positive interpretation of Heathenry that is sorely needed by those new to its path and ways. His conclusion comes full circle in a personal manner by recalling the turmoil present when he began to write the book, the 2030 pandemic lockdowns and Black Lives Matter demonstrations, and the unrest stirring when he ended the book in the form of conflict with trans rights and abortion rights. In a manner of speaking, Smith wields this text as a tool that helps individuals and groups to make sense of the turbulence inherent in our present time through utilizing a creative method of experiential learning of the mysteries. Spinning Wyrd: A Journey through the Nordic Mysteries weaves a blanket of comfort much needed during these painful times.
~review by Clio Ajana
Author: Ryan Smith
Llewellyn Worldwide, 2023
link to our review of Fire and Ice