Recommended Heathen Reading
(borrowing heavily from Gróa’s Top Nine Heathen Books)
The Poetic Edda (also called the Elder Edda or the Edda Sæmundar). Authors unknown.
The Poetic Edda is the name given to a collection of poems that, though they were probably written down after the conversion, were likely composed before that event. The Poetic Edda is one of our most important sources for the mythology of the Germanic peoples. There are many translations; some good ones that are relatively easy to find include the Bellows (a decent translation that has the advantage of being available for free online) and the Larrington (accessible language and fairly direct translation, though not without flaws). The Hollander translation attempts to keep a sense of the poetry but sacrifices some of the meaning to do so.
The Prose Edda (also called the Younger Edda) by Snorri Sturlusson.
Probably designed as a resource for the poets of Snorri’s age, the Prose Edda contains a number of myths. While there are many translations, few contain all the books of the Prose Edda (The Prologue, Gylfaginning, Skaldskaparmal, and Hattatal). One readily available translation that has all the books is by Anthony Faulkes (1995 Everyman Press). Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur’s 1916 translation, though it stops at Skaldskaparmal, is available online.
Beowulf. Author unknown.
An essential source for understanding Anglo-Saxon culture, including the heroic ideal and wyrd, Beowulf is available in a number of translations both in hard copy and online.
The Germania by Tacitus
Completed by Cornelius Tacitus in AD 98, the Germania is a compilation of second-hand at best (often the information passed through many people before reaching Tacitus) information about the geography, history, and culture of the Germanic people of his time. Because he lacked direct contact, and because he was trying to paint a “noble savage” picture of the Germanic people to contrast with Roman decadence, Tacitus’s account, though useful, cannot be uncritically accepted. Most translations combine the Agricola and the Germania in one volume; a readily accessible version is Harold Mattingly’s (revised by S.A. Handford in 1970, Penguin Books).
The Sagas. Authors usually unknown.
The Icelandic sagas are many and varied, but they often provide insight into how people living not long after the conversion viewed the beliefs and practices of their pre-conversion ancestors. Many are available online, and Penguin Books has a collection of nine sagas and six smaller tales entitled The Sagas of Icelanders that can often be found relatively inexpensively.
The Cambridge Introduction to the Old Norse-Icelandic Saga by Margaret Clunies Ross.
A well-researched overview of the sagas, Ross’s book is a great resource for individuals trying to gain a better understanding of the sagas; among other topics, it includes information about the development of the saga as a literary style, the different styles of sagas, and saga chronology.
Dictionary of Northern Mythology by Rudolf Simek.
An excellent, comprehensive resource with good etymologies and extensive bibliographies for most entries, the English version is translated by Angela Hall.
Gods and Myths of Northern Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson.
A decent survey of the pre-conversion myths of the Germanic people, especially Scandinavian, this book has also been published under the title Gods and Myths of the Viking Age. Davidson’s work is usually well-researched and well-written; other worthwhile books by her include The Road to Hel, Myths and Symbols in Pagan Europe, The Lost Beliefs of Northern Europe, and Roles of the Northern Goddess.
The Norse Myths (Pantheon Fairy Tale & Folklore Library) by Kevin Crossley-Holland.
Crossley-Holland’s retelling of the myths found in the Eddas is widely available and quite accessible. Though it is not a substitute for the Eddas themselves, it can be useful for gaining a basic understanding of the plot of many of the stories found in the Eddas.
Runes (Reading the Past) by R.I. Page.
Page’s book, while brief, is a scholarly, non-esoteric introduction to the different runic scripts and their history.
A World Full of Gods: An Inquiry into Polytheism by John Michael Greer
Though not specifically Heathen, Greer provides a concise basic overview of the logic of traditional (hard) polytheism.
I personally recommend against reading any books about Asatru or other forms of Heathenry or Paganism inspired by indigenous Germanic culture until one has a very solid foundation in the more primary sources and academic research. This is not because such books are bad; many are well-written and contain useful suggestions for practice that other sources may lack. However, many authors have agendas that are not as transparent as Tacitus’s, and all too often, they present UPG without informing the reader that it is, in fact, UPG. A good grounding in the basics helps guard against unwittingly absorbing someone else’s ideas about what Heathenry should and shouldn’t be.