#Norsevember Comics!

Posted in Book Review on November 5, 2020 by Occult Detective

Yesterday was comic book day and I picked up a slew of new books, including, apropos of #Norsevember, the second issue of the P. Craig Russell (and friends) adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology and issue 9 (Legacy # 735) of the latest take on Marvel’s Thor.

Both were solid entertainment, with compelling art and good storytelling.

Donny Cates’ run on Thor has breathed new life into the character, and while I’ve been quite critical of Marvel’s mishandling of their properties these past couple of decades, Cates has taken what Marvel has offered and made something special so far. Not an easy task considering the mess the studio has allowed to fester, largely due to editorial mismanagement from the top down.

Or maybe I’m just growing long of tooth…

I quite enjoyed Gaiman’s retelling of Norse Mythology, and Russell and Company are doing a beautiful adaptation that is representative of Russell’s long history of magically illustrated works, such as his adaptation of the Ring Cycle.

All of this got me to thinking of comics that I have enjoyed over the years that have addressed Norse Myth & Culture. There have been plenty in recent years, such as Brian Wood’s Northlanders and Sword Daughter, or Cullen Bunn’s Helheim. Walt Simonson’s Ragnarok has been a lot of fun (and an interesting take, to be sure).

There have been terrific European series, like the classic Thorgal, or Hammerfall, which I absolutely adored.

But then you have The Ring of the Nibelungs, adapted by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane for DC, and by P. Craig Russell for Dark Horse. Both are simply amazing.

Of course, The Mighty Thor deserves accolades beyond measure. Easily in my Top 10 favorite mainstream comics, with illustrations by the likes of Kirby, Buscema, and Simonson, Thor was a huge part of my childhood. Yes, it’s nowhere near historically accurate, but is was a catalyst in my youth, to be sure.

Though, probably the very first comic that made me aware of Norse Culture was Prince Valiant, which I read in the Sunday Comics religiously beginning in the early seventies. Again, what it lacked in historical accuracy was tempered by Hal Foster’s unbridled imagination. It certainly fueled mine.

These a just a few of the titles that spring to mind, there are many more to be sure. That’s the thing about Norse heritage — it is rich, noble, imaginative, and colorful… and tailor-made for adaptation in comics.

Revisiting Beyond the North Wind: The Fall and Rise of the Mystic North by Christopher McIntosh / #Norsevember

Posted in Book Review on November 4, 2020 by Occult Detective
north wind

I first heard the Call of the North when I was 8 years old.

I was raised in a Church of Christ, a faith born of the American Restoration Movement given life in the frontier during the late 1770s, but it never spoke to me. I never considered myself “Christian” though I did enjoy bible classes and singing. Ours was an a cappella / total immersive baptism / right-leaning congregation.

As a child, I came across a reference to the conversion of the Celts and Norse, often by the sword, and I came to realize that my ancestors had their faith taken from them. I knew my family was predominately English, Scots, and Irish so I looked into their histories as best I could, using encyclopedias and other reference books available in both my school and public library. I read of the Celts and Anglo-Saxons, of the Germanic tribes, and of the raiders from the North.

ChildrenofOdin001

All of that led me to The Children of Odin by Padraic Colum, with illustrations by Willy Pogany. These were the tales of my ancestors’ gods. It was to these mythical beings that my forefathers prayed to. I was, in a word, captivated, and I pledged myself to Odin, then and there, placing Thor and Sif in the role of God and Goddess akin to the books on witchcraft I had been studying as well.

So, when I read Christopher McIntosh’s introduction in Beyond the North Wind: The Fall and Rise of the Mystic North and his recounting of C.S. Lewis’ “Come to Balder” moment, I knew that I had been blessed with a similar calling. It was that same ‘Call of the North‘ that I answered as a small child. I had a feeling this book that I was now reading, with its call backs to my own childhood, was to be something special.

I was not wrong on that accord.

While it does have its faults, Christopher McIntosh has delivered a wonderful treatise on the stirring of the Northern Spirit, delving into the ancient mysteries and showing their influence on modern culture.

It is not lost on me that in the midst of a very vocal minority seeking to redefine itself through identity politics, shame culture, and newthink activism, and an equally bankrupt minority obsessing on the false tenants of white supremacy, you have a resurgence of the Norse Current that sings of a deeper truth and meaning to those with ears to hear it.

christopher mcintosh_web

McIntosh is a talented author, able to succinctly get his point across with both a dramatic flair and an erudite cadence. He speaks of the past with reverence, but in such a way that pulls it from that distant memory to make it seem present and alive.

There’s a bit of Graham Hancock in his musings, which I enjoy, though without the thoroughness and alternate-archaeological whimsy Hancock is known for.

The greatest weakness of Beyond the North Wind is that it seems to only just scratch the surface. I wanted more meat, but as an appetizer, it was a nourishing dish. The references to current pop culture trends was interesting, though unfulfilling. Where McIntosh really makes an impact is in his contemplations on Hyperborea and the Runes.

Beyond the North Wind is a book equally valid for learned scholars and those just embarking on their journey. It is a book I highly recommend.

Available now in a bookstore near you, Beyond the North Wind: The Fall and Rise of the Mystic North by Christopher R. McIntosh is a worthy read that will be well at home in your personal library.

My thoughts on Odin by Diana L. Paxson / #Norsevember

Posted in Book Review on November 3, 2020 by Occult Detective

odin

“I told you I would tell you my names. This is what they call me. I’m called Glad-of-War, Grim, Raider, and Third. I am One-Eyed. I am called Highest, and True-Guesser. I am Grimnir, and I am the Hooded One. I am All-Father, and I am Gondlir Wand-Bearer. I have as many names as there are winds, as many titles as there are ways to die. My ravens are Huginn and Muninn, Thought and Memory; my wolves are Freki and Geri; my horse is the gallows.”

— Neil Gaiman, American Gods

…I really like the faux-parchment cover with the rich chocolate coloured lettering. The iconic cover image itself is bold and traditional, though the ravens seem out-of-synch with the classic depiction of Odin astride Sleipnir.

The interior is clean and neat, with solid font choices throughout. A little too varied for my tastes, but nothing overtly inappropriate (which is something you find far too often these days with the advancements in desktop printing).

I like the interior illustrations, which evoke an old world, woodcut feel, lending an air of authenticity to the overall work.

The layout and design are not perfect*, but neither is it distracting. It’s an attractive enough book, but it’s the content that matters most, especially considering the subject matter.

As stated previously, I have a tremendous respect for Diana Paxson. She has such a lyrical quality to her writing and she is as knowledgeable and honest as one can hope to discover. Her words mean a lot to me and she does not disappoint here.

You can feel her forthright devotion on every page, and let’s face it, the Allfather is a complex character, not easy to dissect and codify. Paxson’s examination of Odin in all his guises is as comprehensive as you’re apt to find. Her scholarship is sound and she blends her erudition with an intuitive insight that further unlocks the mystery that surrounds Old One-Eye.

For those new to Odin and the gods of Northern Europe, this is a tremendous introduction. It straddles the fine line between what is known from historical sources with the modern evolution of Odinic worship.

In that regard, there will be points of contention with many within the greater Odinist community. I foresee many of my more folkish leaning peers to find some of her thoughts contrary to their own.

That’s okay. If it opens a meaningful and respectful dialogue, more’s the better. Odin wears many and contradictory hats. This book is an opportunity to bring Odin into the hearts and minds of the masses, and Diana Paxson is an honorable spokesperson for those who walk the northern path. She is a natural storyteller, through and through, and she writes with a clear sense of purpose and conviction.

This is an important work and one I am proud to recommend to those new to the Old Ways of our Northern European ancestors, but I also think there is plenty to be learned by those of us with many years on this path already.

Diana Paxson presents a dazzling and uncompromising portrait of the Hooded One. She brings Geirölnir to life on the page, not as a religious icon, but as a living, vibrant deity that is actively among us.

Odin: Ecstasy, Runes, & Norse Magic by Diana L. Paxson is available wherever books are sold, but I recommend without hesitation that one should buy directly from Red Wheel/Weiser. Why fill the coffers of middle men, when you can show your appreciation at the source, thus allowing them greater profit.

*There is one unfortunate typo that I must address. On page 275, the name of the band is Garmarna, not Gramarna.

My thoughts on The Wanderer’s Hávamál #Norsevember

Posted in Book Review on November 2, 2020 by Occult Detective

From the good folks at Spells & SpaceshipsNorsevember is a reading event in which we talk about, recommend, read and review Norse inspired books! Use the hashtag #Norsevember so others taking part can find your posts easier and we can include and retweet your stuff for the event!

How could I not take part in this? I’ve been assigned a longship, which I’ve entitled Alba Gu Brath, and I’m ready to set sail. Now… let’s get to raiding.

My first stop is The Wanderer’s Havamal, newly translated by Old Norse Specialist and youtube phenom, Dr. Jackson Crawford.

From the Amazon description: The Wanderer’s Hávamál features Jackson Crawford’s complete, carefully revised English translation of the Old Norse poem Hávamál, newly annotated for this volume, together with facing original Old Norse text sourced directly from the Codex Regius manuscript.

Rounding out the volume are Crawford’s classic Cowboy Hávamál and translations of other related texts central to understanding the character, wisdom, and mysteries of Óðinn (Odin). Portable and reader-friendly, it makes an ideal companion for both lovers of Old Norse mythology and those new to the wisdom of this central Eddic poem wherever they may find themselves.

Hávamál, or ‘Words of the High One’, is certainly the most important work contained in the Poetic Edda. It represents a glimpse into the cultural mores of an ancient people whose way of life is largely lost to the annals of time.

Jackson Crawford has delivered a fresh translation that breathes new life into these matters of Norse ethics and ettiquette.

Let’s take a look. Here is the first stanza of Gestaþáttr:

Gattir allar,
aþr gangi fram,
vm scoðaz scyli,
vm scygnaz scyli;
þviat ouist er at vita,
hvar ovinir sitia
a fleti fyr

The Bellows translation of the first stanza reads:

Within the gates before a man shall go,
(Full warily let him watch,)
Full long let him look about him;
For little he knows where a foe may lurk,
And sit in the seats within.

Now, let’s compare that to Crawford:

At every doorway
before you enter,
you should look around,
you should take a good look around —
for you never know
where your enemies
might be seated within.

I believe that Crawford has delivered the definitive translation of the Hávamál, not only because of his linguistic skillset, but because of his understanding of poetry. The Norse were talented wordsmiths and Crawford admirably maintains the integrity of the verse throughout.

I am no linguist, but I do appreciate the rhythm of words and I find that The Wanderer’s Hávamál, which is marked with erudite commentary, is infused with the purest essence of the Northmens’ intent.

As for the book itself, Hackett has done the work proud. I purchased the hardcover edition, and the craftsmanship and design is flawless. It immediately became one of my most treasured books and I recommend it without question.

The Occult Detective’s Last Writes with… Matt Cowan

Posted in Last Writes with... on October 30, 2020 by Occult Detective

TODAY’S DEPARTING:

It’s Devil’s Night, Hallowe’en Eve, and who better to turn to when mischief, mayhem, and the macabre are in full bloom than the founder of Horror Delve, author Matt Cowan.

Matt is a skilled writer of the sort of fictions we crave all too much around here, and he is a connoisseur of classic horror stories and of the men and women who create them.

As soon as I decided to resurrect Last Writes, I had Matt in mind for our Hallowe’en Chapter. It is an honor to call him a friend and even more so to have him now share with us his Last Writes…

Last Meal

It would have to be a works pizza with extra cheese and mushrooms, an order of bread sticks with double cheese sauces (I really love cheese!) and a sangria to drink.

Last Book

This is extremely hard because because I love reading so much, but as I’m addicted to buying horror anthologies it would probably have to be one of those. I’m partial to haunted house stories, so it would need to have plenty of those in the mix, and considering Ramsey Campbell is my all-time favorite author, it would need to include a story or three by him as well.

Last Movie

This one is tough as well. The first Best of the Best movie is the one I’ve seen the most over my lifetime but that was largely when I was heavily into Tae Kwon Do back in the 90’s. If I were picking a horror film it would likely be either Insidious, The Legend of Hell House or The Mothman Prophecies. I also have a huge love for the Marvel Super-Hero films but for sheer mindless fun I’m going to go with Hawk the Slayer. I know it has many flaws and lots of haters, but I’ve loved it since I first saw it on television as a kid. It’s my favorite fantasy film and just manages to make me smile each time I watch it.

Last Song

I’m not a huge music person in general. I do tend to listen to Tori Amos, Seal and Sarah McLaughlin while writing as their music is often infused with a mournful eeriness I seek to convey in my stories. I guess I’ll go with Sarah’s haunting melody, Out of the Shadows. It has a haunting, life-slipping-away quality to it which seems appropriate for such an occasion.

First person I’d like to meet on the other side

I’ve been blessed in that I haven’t lost any members of my immediate family thus far. There’s my grandfather who I was close to as a child, or someone like Mark Justice who I never got to meet in person but whom I became friends with online. Ultimately, I think I’d go with someone I only ever spoke with once – my wife’s father. He died of Lymphoma back in her home state of Mississippi early on when she and I’d begun dating so I never got the chance to meet him. I talked to him once briefly when she handed me her phone to say hi. He joked with me a little before I gave the phone back. Our interaction was brief but his sense of humor came through and knowing how important he was to my wife makes me wish I’d better had the chance to know him.

Occult Detective Countdown Finale 20/20: John Constantine / #40DaysofHalloween

Posted in Occult Detectives on October 29, 2020 by Occult Detective

We’ve reached the end of our journey through our Occult Detective Countdown. There was no order, rhyme, or reason to the list. It was never a “best of” sort of thing, but I did save the best for last.

I came to the world of John Constantine a bit later than most, I suppose. I knew of him, of course, but it wasn’t until Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic that I got my first real dose of the character. I was immediately smitten. Constantine was a real  nasty piece of work. He’s been called a “working-class magician” and “con-man”. Yep, that sums it up rather nicely. He’s bitter, road-worn, and a chain smoking ne’er-do-well and I love him for it.

I read the Constantine monthly, Hellblazer, pretty consistently starting in the late 90s. I’ve read all the specials and crossovers and gone back and tracked the character’s progress from his first appearance in Moore’s Swamp Thing.

I watched the Keanu Reeves movie, the Matt Ryan series, and I’ve seen sporadic episodes of Legends of Tomorrow. I sat through the animated films and yes, I still pick up the comics…

I guess you’d call me a fan.

Hellblazer’s barking right up my proverbial tree, John being an occult detective through and through. Constantine and my own occult detective, Landon Connors (originally named Solomon Killingbeck), were born about the same time in the late 80s and I guess Moore and I were tapping into similar influences. Constantine is far more bitter than my guy, mind you. He’s far more jaded and had a tougher go of it. But they’re cut from a not dissimilar mold.

Where they’re different, I think, is that John’s real, or was made so. Chaos magick’s like that, you know. He’s has a rough go of it. DC’s not always been overly kind to him, saddling him with too many capes of late.

Constantine works best in his own little corner of the multiverse. Oh sure, Zatanna or Madame Xandadu are fine on occasion, even some of the other mystical blokes. But I cringe whenever I see the front and center DC proper about.

John doesn’t need to be rubbing shoulders with Batman. It makes him less… real.

Of course, as I type this, DC has cancelled John once again. His latest run, from Simon Spurrier and Aaron Campbell has been nothing short of brilliant, so of course it’s been axed. Comics are a dying medium. We can’t keep anything nice…

But that’s okay. John’s still out there, doing what we occult detectives do — stirring up trouble and getting by on a wing and a prayer, and through it all, giving the devil his due.

We’ll see you around, Constantine, in one form or another.

Occult Detective Countdown 19/20: Mulder & Scully / #40DaysofHalloween

Posted in Occult Detectives on October 28, 2020 by Occult Detective

I did not watch the The X-Files on a regular basis until Season 4 when it moved to Sunday nights. Originally airing in 1993 on Fridays, I was working as security for a night club at the time so only rarely caught an episode, though I knew it was right up my alley.

In time, thanks to video, I was able to catch up on the series and, though the narrative was strained over its 11 seasons, due in large part to the uneven leadership of its showrunners, X-Files captured the essence of what it meant to be a modern occult detective by exploring every conspiracy and urban legend imaginable. The X-Files had it all and then some, and Special Agents Mulder and Scully were the perfect expressions of the two types of investigators that dominate the field — the believer and the skeptic.

Fox Mulder, a celebrated criminal profiler, never met a conspiracy theory he wasn’t willing to purchase hook, line, and sinker. No rabbit hole was too deep. Relegated to the X-Files, Mulder was convinced of a mass government conspiracy to hide the truth about extraterrestrials, psychic phenomena, and all manner of oddities.

Dana Scully was a brilliant medical doctor and scientist brought in to be a skeptical observer to debunk Mulder’s wild theories. Over the course of the series, she becomes more open to the possibilities that these paranormal occurrences have some validity to them.

Over the course of 11 seasons there were some amazing episodes, highlighted by terrific acting, writing, and production values… and a willingness to go all in a genre that is near and dear to my heart.

A Note on the Occult Detective Countdown: As I make my way through a list of some of my favorite occult detectives, bear in mind, I am not recording them in any particular order. I thought it would be more fun to release them organically, narratively rather than in a simple “best to worse” format. I’ll let you decide for yourselves their pecking order.

Occult Detective Countdown 18/20: Robert E. Howard’s Kirowan, Conrad, & O’Donnell / #40DaysofHalloween

Posted in Occult Detectives on October 27, 2020 by Occult Detective

Let me state this once more, with feeling, Robert E. Howard is my favorite author, bar none. Of course, it’s his Conan stories that are first in my heart, but his occult detectives are nipping at the Cimmerian’s heels, to be sure.

Edging ahead of Steve Harrison are three occult adventurers — John Kirowan, John Conrad, and John O’Donnell — whom find themselves in Howard’s Lovecraft Mythos yarns, and some of my favorite horror stories ever penned.

And yes, it is not lost on me that these three friends are all named John, though I don’t find it all that peculiar. Growing up, I often found myself in the company of two of my closest friends — Robert Brent Smith and Robert Dennison.

But I digress.

Kirowan was a reluctant occultist, shying away from the vast knowledge he had earned at a terrible price. Conrad was the more eager aspirant, and who tended draw Kirowan into his misadventures, while O’Donnell was closer akin to Conrad.

Of course, Howard scholars hotly debate these figures, sometimes declaring them different individuals, but I prefer to ere on the side of them all being part of a collective universe, with continuity errors being just that.

These tales have long fascinated me, as have the behind the scenes drama. Regardless of intent, I see these three companions as the very epitome of occult detectives and choose to accept them as being bound together as a cohesive series.

Stories include The Haunter of the Ring, The Children of the Night, The Dwellers Under the Tombs, and several others.

Occult Detective Countdown 17/20: Frank Black

Posted in Occult Detectives on October 26, 2020 by Occult Detective

Millennium was ahead of its time and deserved a much bigger audience than it generated in its three seasons of FOX. Season One was certainly the strongest, with the final two seasons being rather uneven, largely due to showrunner musical chairs, but despite this, Lance Henriksen’s Frank Black is a brilliant character and a quintessential occult detective.

Black, a former FBI Agent and criminal profiler, has minor psychic abilities, being able to see through the eyes of the criminals he pursues. Henriksen is the perfect actor for the role, bringing an intensity and vulnerability to the character.

While the series finale ended on a cliffhanger, closure was attempted in an episode of the X-Files and there was also a comic a few years back. Still, the creators, cast, and fans have clamored for a true endcap to the Millennium story and a movie would certainly be welcome.

In recent days, the series star, Lance Henriksen, has voiced interest, via twitter, in revisiting the character. With any luck we’ll see Frank Black return in a limited series or film on one of the many streaming services out there.

A Note on the Occult Detective Countdown: As I make my way through a list of some of my favorite occult detectives, bear in mind, I am not recording them in any particular order. I thought it would be more fun to release them organically, narratively rather than in a simple “best to worse” format. I’ll let you decide for yourselves their pecking order.

I will be posting to the countdown roughly every other day throughout our 40 Days of Hallowe’en adventure.

The Occult Detective’s Last Writes with… Paul Hodson

Posted in Last Writes with... on October 23, 2020 by Occult Detective

TODAY’S DEPARTING:

One of the best things about social media is making connections with people half a world away, blokes who, if you lived in the same time zone, would be lifelong friends.

Such is Dragon Prow Shadow author Paul Hodson of rural West Lancashire. We share a common fascination for archaeology, ancient history, and the sort of folk legends that keep one up at night.

I think you’ll find his Last Writes an interesting discourse, and as we share the same Last Movie, well, obviously we are kindred spirits.

Last Meal

I’m going to for the full hit here; potato and leek soup; roast potatoes, sweet corn (covered in butter and a dusting of black pepper), and my mum’s cheese and onion pie; a chocolate mousse with desiccated raspberry and raspberry couli. And because I can and was never fond of rules, a spot of trifle, not a sherry one, just plain old fashioned trifle, to fill in any gaps.

Last Book

I spent a lot of time thinking about Terry Pratchett books here, but in the end I have to go for American Gods – Neil Gaiman – it gives me hope.

Last Movie

John Boorman’s Excalibur – how the world should be. Could be.

Last Song

This is going to vary from which day you ask me, but today I think I’ll have to go with (again the rules) David Bowie – the triptych centre piece from Diamond Dogs – Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise) – which for me is one coherent track.

First person I’d like to meet on the other side

I’m going to bend the rules here (no surprise) – the first person I have known that I’d like to meet who I knew is my Auntie – she gave me many things when I thought there was nothing. First person in history – Nikola Tesla (might be different tomorrow)…

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