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Barbarian Rites

The Spiritual World of the Vikings and the Germanic Tribes

Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

Discover the untamed paganism of the Vikings and the Germanic tribes prior to the complete Christianization of Europe

• Explores the different forms of magic practiced by these tribes, including runic magic, necromancy (death magic), soul-travel, and shape-shifting

• Examines their rites of passage and initiation rituals and their most important gods, such as Odin, Loki, and Thor

• Looks at barbarian magic in historical accounts, church and assembly records, and mythology as well as an eyewitness report from a 10th-century Muslim diplomat

• Reveals the use and abuse of this tradition’s myths and magic by the Nazis

Before the conversion of Europe to Christianity in the Middle Ages, Germanic tribes roamed the continent, plundering villages and waging battles to seek the favor of Odin, their god of war, ecstasy, and magic. Centuries later, predatory Viking raiders from Scandinavia carried on similar traditions. These wild “barbarians” had a system of social classes and familial clans with complex spiritual customs, from rites of passage for birth, death, and adulthood to black magic practices and shamanic ecstatic states, such as the infamous “berserker’s rage.”

Chronicling the original pagan tradition of free and wild Europe--and the use and abuse of its myths and magic by the Nazis--Hans-Peter Hasenfratz offers a concise history of the Germanic tribes of Europe and their spiritual, magical, and occult beliefs. Looking at historical accounts, church and assembly records, mythology, and folktales from Germany, Russia, Scandinavia, and Iceland as well as an eyewitness report of Viking customs and rituals from a 10th-century Muslim diplomat, Hasenfratz explores the different forms of magic--including charms, runic magic, necromancy, love magic, soul-travel, and shamanic shape-shifting--practiced by the Teutonic tribes and examines their interactions with and eventual adaptation to Christianity. Providing in-depth information on their social class and clan structure, rites of passage, and their most important gods and goddesses, such as Odin, Loki, Thor, and Freyja, Hasenfratz reveals how it is only through understanding our magical barbarian roots that we can see the remnants of their language, culture, and dynamic spirit that have carried through to modern times.


Society and Its Values (Sociography and Axiology)

The Stages of Life

The following sketch of the stages of life is drawn from a masculine and patriarchal perspective and reflects the nature of the sources, which were only marginally interested in portraying the lives of female members of society. And this is the case even though the sources attest to a significant social influence on the part of the female sex. The ancient sources mention the names of Germanic seeresses (sorceresses, priestesses) such as Albruna(?), Veleda, and Waluburg, of whom Veleda achieved fame through her political role at the Bataver uprising against the Romans on the Lower Rhine in the first century CE. Women certainly had an influential say in family matters. And some quarrels--which could have been reconciled among men with an atonement payment--were goaded on by women into bloody feuds that could carry on for generations. It also cannot be claimed that Germanic women particularly distinguished themselves as “peace weavers” (Kriemhild in the Nibelunglied comes to mind!). Women not only took on masculine values; they often took them too far. Presenting a portrait of life with “only” masculine values is also justified throughout the Germanic sphere because it reflects the dominance of male values among the various Germanic peoples.

The things stated here may serve for the description of Germanic societies, their values, and their religion on the whole.

With the negative attitude of Germanic peoples toward what we call “work” on the one hand, and with the positive attitude toward the advancement of arms and warfare on the other, we shouldn’t be surprised that children (boys) were then seen as especially promising if they were lazy do-nothings (“ash lads”) who didn’t lift a finger to help out around the house. Nor should we be surprised that a youth’s best claim to fame was if he had already slain one or more people (men) “at a tender age,” thus earning him the pride of his mother.

In Iceland a boy came of age at twelve and could ride with weapons to the Thing assembly.

Youth and Manhood

The mature and armed youth was now free to join the retinue of a king or to go “a-viking.” If he had wealthy parents they would outfit him with a ship for this purpose. The young man then spends some years out on sea voyages, either in the service of a king or on private Viking expeditions. In either case he lived as a warrior, organized in a Männerbund, and was sexually free.

Once a young man had amassed enough of a share of loot or goods from robbery and plunder, he returned to his father’s estate or acquired his own property and married. He could settle down because he now had an economic foundation that made him independent of a patriarchal inheritance. For as long as he felt himself to be sprightly and healthy, a farmer who had married and settled down would still continue to go on further Viking expeditions, which kept him away from his land for a certain amount of time.

Old Age
If a man’s days of vigor and fitness were over, and he became weak and unable to bear arms, he was no longer of value. The old man was shoved aside as useless and also even mocked for his weakness. The thirteenth-century Egil’s Saga reports how the famed skald and fearsome Viking Egil, who lived in the tenth century, having become weak in his old age, has to endure abuse from the women around him when he falls down due to his frailty (“You’re completely finished, Egil”). And similarly he must put up with being brusquely ordered by the cook (matselja), in other words by a servant, to get away from the fire where he keeps himself warm, because he is getting in the way of her work. The famed Danish legendary hero Starkather (Stark-h ðr “strong in battle”) prefers in his old age to be killed by a free man than to die in bed: “A young tree must be nourished, an ancient one hewn down. Whoever overthrows what is close to its fate and fells what cannot stand is an instrument of Nature.” So he allows himself voluntarily to have his head cut off by a blood avenger in order to avoid a death from old age and devoid of glory. Saxo (died 1216) provides us with a depiction of the scene. A “straw death,” or dying in bed, is considered shameful; Odin’s Valhalla was reached only by those who died from weapons and wounds. Even on one’s deathbed, a contemptible straw death could, however, be avoided if one allowed himself to be “spear-marked”--cut with a spear (the weapon of Odin).

The practice of killing the elderly, which is attested among the eastern and northern Germanic peoples, is probably connected to the idea of sparing “useless mouths” from the fate of a straw death. In the thirteenth-century Gautreks saga (Gautrek’s Saga), the elderly jump from a high cliff to their death in order to secure the survival of their descendents and in doing so believe they are faring forth to meet Odin.

About The Author

Hans-Peter Hasenfratz, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of the history of religion at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany. The author of numerous works in German on ancient cultures and religions, he lives in Bochum, Germany.

Product Details

Raves and Reviews

Barbarian Rites provides a wealth of facts free from ideological or interpretive overlay, yet does so in a prose that can be read for pleasure as well as instruction. One feels the secure weight of lifelong scholarship behind this book.”

– Joscelyn Godwin, author of Atlantis and the Cycles of Time

“Professor Hasenfratz presents both a solid introduction to the mysterious world of Germanic spirituality and something that goes well beyond the introductory as he demonstrates many deeper insights through his lively comparative and holistic approach.”

– Stephen E. Flowers, Ph.D., director of the Woodharrow Institute and author of The Secret of the Rune

“A number of books describe the pagan gods of the ancient Norsemen, but very few explain why pagan beliefs appealed to so many for so long. In this outstanding English translation of Barbarian Rites, Hasenfratz engages Germanic spiritual tradition seriously and empathetically. He provides an important and useful resource for students of northern European religions at all levels.”

– Stephen Harris, associate professor of German and Scandinavian Studies at the University of Massachu

“Do NOT pass this book by.”

– Michael Gleason, Independent Reviewer, August 2011

“Despite their barbarism, Hasenfratz situates the Vikings within Indo-European culture, and suggests that their view of the end of this world and the coming of a new age will resonate with today’s new age philosophy.”

– Publishers Weekly, September 2011

“An interesting read for those who are drawn to the ways of Thor, Odin and all their kin.”

– Nicholas Breeze Wood, Sacred Hoop Magazine, September 2011

“Far from being a dry academic text, this is a captivating book that will inform and entertain all levels.”

– Psychic Magic, Autumn 2011

“This is a must-read for Heathens and an essential text for scholars of ancient civilizations. A hearty “Well Done!.” to the author and translator for an unflinchingly honest look at this culture, and to Inner Traditions for publishing this singular text.”

– Elizabeth Hazel,, October 2011

Barbarian Rites presents the reader with a clean and delightful overview, a treasure hoard of information about the religious and spiritual world of the North. Its reach will satisfy the scholar who wants to make sure he has a complete overview from the creation Gap to Ragnarok, from Yggdrasil to the casting of runes. Moynihan’s translation is appealingly clear, and his etymological footnotes add to the reader’s enjoyment.”

– G. Ronald Murphy, SJ, Prof. of German, Georgetown University

“The book, which ends with scholarly notes, a bibliography, and an index, should be considered indispensable for all readers with an interest in the roots of Heathen culture.”

– Barbara Ardinger, Witches and Pagans Magazine

“An exploration of the early religious cultures of the Germanic tribes, Barbarian Rites offers a scholarly look at the history of this ancient culture. It begins by asking what constitutes a Germanic tribe, then proceeds to answer that question by offering in-depth analysis of their social structures, cosmography, pantheon and so on. A wonderful and dense book for anyone interested in the ritual practices of ancient cultures.”

– Witches' Almanac, December 2013

“A fascinating and easy read. . . . If you have ever been intrigued about the Vikings and their way of life, this book is a must. It will certainly be a keeper for my professional library for a long time to come.”

– Barbara-Lynn Freed, Transformational Times

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