As some of you may know, I am a member of the Geferræden Fyrnsidu. I have recently been admitted to the Weofodþegn (clergy) program, a part of which entails two book reviews. The first review will be Branston’s The Lost Gods of England¹, a look into the gods and mythology of the Anglo-Saxon peoples.
Branston starts the book off with a meditation on the AS tribes, and what they mean for his own contemporaries, referencing the story of Völund (Wayland) as introduction to how one may come to know what the Old English may have believed. Of course, that needs defining, and he goes on to give archeo-historical background, including linguistic characteristics, of the Indo-Europeans, narrowing his focus to first the Germanics, and then the specific invading cultures. For the time period, his facts are decent, and well accompanied with many illustrations and photographs (reminiscent of Piggot’s work, The Druids, from the same publisher ). However, in the main text of the book, he falls short in many ways, at least from the perspective of a Heathen.
The major part of the book is broken up in sections focusing on the major themes that Branston follows in AS archeo-mythology: namely, the major deities of Tiw, Woden, Thunor, and Frige. His largest problem is the modernist tendency to first, identify a pantheon while ignoring the minor deities, and then, to conflate all other mythological personages and events as a part of not only the identified pantheon, but as imports from the Near East.
Branston’s version of this goes as follows:
There is Wyrd, the sovereign governing force in the universe. He draws comparisons to the Nornir, the Morai, and the Parcae, as well as the Weird Sisters from Macbeth.
There is the Sky Father, supreme above all, except Wyrd. He is the *Deiwos from which come Zeus, Dyaus, and Jove, as well as Tiwaz/Tiw.
There is then the Wizard, the god of storm, of death and of wisdom. He mentions the Wælcyrges (Valkyries), and does discuss their original seeming, before the traditional view from the Norse sources (that of civilized battle-maidens serving in Odin’s halls) took hold – wailing and vicious death-dealers; he also draws a comparison between them and the Erinyes (Furies), but interestingly, does not mention the Mórrígan at all, though all of his descriptions (including the paradox of three and one) fit them as well.
The Thunderer is next, which he insists is a borrowing from the Gallic Taranis, as he is beginning to set up his main theory at this point.
Frige, the Mother/Lover is his next topic, and it is here that the fatal flaws in his argument come to light. He spends most of the time discussing the Mediterranean/Near Eastern Great Mother cults, and propounds that the majority of the Heathen mythological corpus is a mutation of those cults, squeezing everyone from Frig to Frey to Balder and Nanna into that mold, and reducing them all to archetypical representations of the Great Mother and Her Son/Lover.
The next few chapters are devoted to the same topic, with different characters, i.e., Frey and Freya and Balder and Frig/Nanna. He even goes so far as to equate Balder with the Dying and Resurrected God model of Tammuz, Osiris, and Jesus, using the obscure, and highly vague, Dream of the Rood text as proof.
Overall, Branston starts off with many interesting and intruiging facts and opinions; however, his failure to avoid the endemic faults of modern mythologists detracts from the majority of his work. For a Heathen audience, the book seems hollow, and like every other work of its kind, condescending to our beliefs. Take it with a large salt-shaker.
2.5 lost gods out of five.
¹ Branston, Brian. The Lost Gods of England. Thames & Hudson, Ltd. London; 1957