Þórbeorht Línléah’s “Of Ghosts and Godpoles”

In November 2014 Þórbeorht Línléah published Of Ghosts and Godpoles through Lulu. The reviews were immediately glowing and it was well received in various corners of Heathendom. For example:

It is a fabulous work with great insight and wisdom regarding our Elder traditions. Challenging and thought provoking and destined to be a Classic, if not already.

Or another:

This is the best book to come out of modern Heathenry in a long time, possibly ever. Rather than another “101” book or dense academic wankery with no practical value to Heathen praxis, “Ghosts and Godpoles” presents obscure (to many) information in a learned yet enjoyably readable manner. It may be open to criticism on academic grounds, as other reviewers have said, and everyone should read everything critically, but Linleah makes it clear that his objective is not the elusive ghost of “academic objectivity;” he clearly states he is writing from a Heathen position for Heathen readers. I believe this book is not only important for the information it represents, some of which dispels many of the uncritically accepted modern myths of Heathenry, but as a challenge to Heathen writers to step out of the paradigm of Neo-Pagan publishing and focus on output that furthers the growth of Heathenry past simple rehashing of beginner’s instructional materials. With extensive annotation, bibliography, appendices, and the author’s own translations of hard-to-find texts, “Of Ghosts and Godpoles” belongs one very serious Heathen’s bookshelf, regardless of culture or focus.

Or this excerpt of a review from Heathen Harvest:

This book is not for beginners; there is a fairly high level of assumed knowledge, as the author freely admits. However, for those who are comfortable with the tools of historical research—linguistics, archaeology, mythology, reportage, historiography, cross-cultural comparison, and aesthetics—it represents a tour de force, and really throws down the gauntlet for contemporary Heathen authors to ground themselves deeply in the historical record and its interpretation.

Reconstructionism—the view that contemporary Heathen praxis must be grounded on historical evidence as far as practicable—is often pigeon-holed as being stodgy, unimaginative, self-righteous, or gratuitously restrictive. In contrast, Of Ghosts and Godpoles shows just how inspiring and evocative the reconstructionist approach can be, and stands as a great demonstration of reconstructionisms’ ability to enrich our understanding  of both historical and modern Heathenry. Mr. Línléah is a poet as well as an academic, and the poetic vision that guides his rigorous analyses is what makes all the difference and lifts his brand of Théodish reconstructionism into a heightened realm.

This is certainly high praise.

The book itself is 246 pages with a casewrap hardcover. It’s surprisingly sturdy and I see no issues with the binding, which is good. In theory the book should last for quite some time.

The contents are divided into an introduction, six essays (split across two sections), nine appendices, and a lengthy bibliography. The essays are largely unconnected and stand on their own; some were previously published. But it is this disconnectedness that hurts the book initially. The author rehashes arguments occasionally that were already covered in previous chapters. A thorough editing is desperately needed to bring the book together.

To be perfectly blunt, I’m not impressed. The author wanders off topic frequently and needs to reassert the essay’s subject every so often. He views this style as being thorough; I view it as being disorganised and in need of a dispassionate editor.

As is said by the Heather Harvest, he does certainly use “linguistics, archaeology, mythology, reportage, historiography, cross-cultural comparison” in his arguments. It’s important, however, that these tools be used correctly. On the linguistics front alone, he makes painfully wrong connections. He translates incorrectly, while also having a penchant for using archaic words that will themselves require translations for many readers.

Perhaps my favourite issue with words is in his mishandling of Muspilli. In the original:

doh uuanit des vilo ….. gotmanno
daz Elias in demo uuige    aruuartit uuerde
so daz Eliases pluot    in erda kitriufit

He translates this as:1Page 93

But weeneth many that [are] god-men
that Elias in the war slaineth will be.
So that Elias’ blood into the Earth dripeth

Ignoring his frequent, hilariously wrong usage of –eth, he fails to understand Old High German pluot “blood”. In his expert opinion, pluot is cognate with Old English blōt and Old Norse blót “sacrifice”. From here he builds a theory that this whole section is a reference to sacral kingship, upon which the remaining chapter rests by his own admission.2Page 94 But pluot is cognate with Old English blōd and Old Norse blóð “blood”, while the Old High German cognate of blōt and blót is plōz (or *pluoz). This mistake shows that he fails at basic dictionary usage and to understand the High German consonant shift.

A second striking issue is his essay on Seaxnēat.3Pages 29 – 44 This section alone has received more praise than anything else and was, indeed, my initial draw in buying the book. After a dry, unneeded forward for the essay, he launches into paragraph after paragraph of saying why others were wrong about Seaxnēat and why his pet theory is correct, but without the decency of even feigned neutrality.

His arguments require absolute acceptance of Dumézil’s trifunctional hypothesis, which I reject already. It is in his opinion that the statues of Þórr, Óðinn, and Freyr at Uppsala are indicative of all worship elsewhere, thus making Seaxnēat a southern byname of Freyr in the context of the Old Saxon baptismal vow. As supporting evidence, he brings up three other instances of the Norse trio being mentioned together.4Page 43 But his own, limited evidence also lists Njǫrðr twice and Freyja once. It’s hardly compelling. He could have renamed the essay “Dumézil and Turville-Petre Are Divinely Inspired and Grimm Is Wrong” and at least then you would know in advance that you were reading a hagiography instead of a supposedly scholarly work.

Irminsul as popularly depicted

The author did point out one useful thing in his essay, “Poles, Pillars, and Trees”. He showed how the common image of Irminsul is actually just a palm.5Pages 50 – 53 I had wondered where the ornate design had originated and never connected it to the Christian stonework at Externsteine. The original person to make the claim that the palm was Irminsul, Wilhelm Teudt, provided no actual evidence for the connection. It’s a pity that so many groups have taken up the imagery as a symbol for our cosmology.

Despite the useful bit on Irminsul, the book is overall a failure. It provides little of worth and is by no means a classic for the ages. The author is too willing to indulge in pan-Germanicism, even for things centuries and many kilometres apart. This issue extends into things where there isn’t the slightest bit of evidence, such as briefly mentioning the Vanir as being present outside the Norse. It goes so far that he makes up a word for them: the Uuani. For a group whose etymology is unknown and very existence as a distinct entity even among the Norse is up for debate6Simek, Rudolf. “The Vanir: An Obituary.” The Retrospective Methods Network Newsletter, December 2010, pp 10-19., I find this inexcusable.

I do not recommend this book. It is poor. Though it is rather cheap, especially with the author’s current sale and Lulu’s frequent discounts, a reader will not gain a serviceable addition to his library. If anything, it has caused people to have ahistorical reconstructions and incorrect beliefs of the past, which in turn hurts all of us in Heathendom.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Page 93
2. Page 94
3. Pages 29 – 44
4. Page 43
5. Pages 50 – 53
6. Simek, Rudolf. “The Vanir: An Obituary.” The Retrospective Methods Network Newsletter, December 2010, pp 10-19.

Leave a Reply