Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic

I first heard about Claude Lecouteux’s Encyclopedia of Norse and Germanic Folklore, Mythology, and Magic through Joseph Bloch’s review of it. I’ve purchased several of Lecouteux’s books before and always enjoyed them, though I often feel that his writing could use some reorganisation and better citation of primary and secondary sources.

One part of Bloch’s review especially caught my attention:

Where Lecouteux’s book distinguishes itself from those titles is both in its lack of focus on the Norse material and the Viking era (although it does not distance itself from either), as well as its inclusion of tons of folkloric references, rather than sticking to the same old themes found in Norse and/or Germanic mythology. And that in particular is where this work shines, since this is a focus that all too few such works, let alone Asatruar who endeavor to recreate the Germanic mindset, have.

That certainly tickles me in all the right ways, so I ordered the book forthwith.

I’m not impressed, I must admit. This is in my eyes the weakest of Lecouteux’s books that are in my possession. My very first issue is that Norse and Germanic are treated as separate categories, rather than the former being a subset of the latter. That’s been a pet peeve of mine for years now.

The handling of language is lacklustre. The book hops between languages often and inconsistently. Headwords are often in Old Norse, but are also in Anglicised Old Norse, Modern English, the occasional Old English, and German, even when the topic may be better served with a different language. For example, there’s no headword for Ēastre, which is attested well enough in Old English (and obviously later) as a word in itself, but there is one for Ostara, which is made up entirely of English sources.

Many things, such as epithets, are haphazardly translated. Some are dumped into the paragraph without translation, some are presented in English without the original, and some are correctly given in both the original and translation. It’s a bit frustrating.

The book is guilty of very poor citation. A fair number of entries is given a note underneath for further reading, often French or German tertiary sources, but this doesn’t help much. There isn’t a single footnote in the entire book. There is only the rarest of inline citations; this is often reserved for texts that come well after conversion occurred. More commonly known names, such as those from the Eddas, seem to be entirely uncited.

There are several times that non-Germanic topics are brought up without reason, such as Baltic deities. I am quite uncertain why this happens.

On far too many occasions assumptions are presented as facts, such as on page 224 regarding Phol:

A link has been sought between him and Volla with the idea that there could be a pair of gods, the masculine Phol/Fol and the feminine Folla/Volla, which would thus correspond to Freyr/Freyja.

Two sentences in particular ruined the book for me, both in regards to Óðinn. The very first thing said of him on page 213:

The principal deity of the Norse and Germanic pantheon is a cruel and spiteful god, a cynical and misogynistic double-dealer whom the Romans equated as being similar to Mercury.

I was so angry with that description that I put the book down for several minutes. It’s so painfully inaccurate, an issue that is seemingly only done to Óðinn.

On page 215 he writes:

Odin is omniscient[.]

This seems to be some misunderstanding of Hliðskjálf, which may mean something akin to “observation point, guard tower”, upon which Óðinn may see the entire world. Oddly, though, this very seat is mentioned only two paragraphs earlier and is accurately, if succinctly, described.

If there is one thing that this book does right, it’s the folkloric figures that are rarely mentioned anywhere. This is a delight in itself, but these are better handled in Lecouteux’s other books with greater detail.

I do not feel that this is a worthwhile book for the most part, especially if you own the author’s other works. If you’re just looking for an encyclopedia, I would recommend Rudolf Simek’s Dictionary of Northern Mythology. It contains most of the same content, but with excellent citation and more information.

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