The Way of Wyrd. Brian Bates. Hay House, 2004 (Kindle edition).
I’ve been ill for the past week or so and I totally admit that every time I started reading this book, I ended up asleep. I haven’t decided if this is the book’s fault or general side effect of over the counter cold medicines. That being said, I’m not entirely sure I would recommend this book for general reading. I didn’t find the story especially compelling or well written however the philosophical and religious underpinnings were excellent. This book would be most useful to those especially interested in Anglo-Saxon magic, heathenry, and shamanism.
The story is based on historical evidence of Anglo-Saxon magic and shamanic traditions. The protagonist is Brand, a Christian missionary sent to Anglo-Saxon England to gather information about Pagan beliefs to convert the Pagans to Christianity. This sets up an interesting dynamic of dis-belief and shows a tension between Christian teachings and the shamanic beliefs. I am not sure how I feel about the reconciliation between the Pagan beliefs in the Wyrd and the Christianity at the end of the book. Brand says “I knew that I had experienced the world of our Lord as never before; … my personal mission in the forest of the pagans had brought me closer to the Almighty” of his spirit world journeys. As someone who believes in and works within the Wyrd, I do not believe these two systems are mutually exclusive so I agree with the sentiment. However, I am not sure that a this views accurately represents a Christian perspective – especially that of a Christian missionary. (Then again my gut feeling may be wrong on this since many Missionaries to Celtic lands adopted Christianity to fit into the pre-existing belief systems. This approach to conversion would later be frowned upon by the Roman Catholic Church.) The book’s story outlines many beliefs of Anglo-Saxon pagans and found within Anglo-Saxon magic including beliefs about elves, death, and a general way of life. These views expressed by Wulf the wizard sent to teach Brand about his beliefs. Wulf teaches Brand not only about the pagan belief system but also about the use of herbs in traditional Northern Shamanism. The book doesn’t go into great detail about many plants, but does impart some knowledge of beliefs about spiritual uses of a few plants. Also, the book gives rituals for gathering plants in the Anglo-Saxon tradition like the idea of leaving a sacrifice. The book outlines the uses of a few plants in the book in shamanic practices and ritual uses. While the book gives decent depictions of rituals and some knowledge of plant uses, for anyone interested in these plants further research will be necessary to effectively work with these plants.
The novel’s depiction of Anglo-Saxon shamanic beliefs and practices make this novel valuable for shamans and pagans. While the rituals and plants are clearly described, the most valuable information for me were the discussions between Wulf and Brand on journeying to the spirit world. The Underworld and journeying or hedge riding is often difficult to explain to others and this novel shows the reader as well as imparts shamanic teachings. The reader “experiences” Brands’ spiritual journeys in a way that allows the reader to understand the experiences of those who have had shamanic experiences. Bates’s background in psychology helps him translate traditional beliefs and spiritual experiences in easily read symbols and language. For anyone with a good understanding of Jungian psychology of the collective unconscious this book will offers a useful explanation of shamanic experiences. I would recommend that anyone interested in shamanism or preparing for their first shamanic journey to give this a read as a kind of preparation for the experience.