Info-gathering Tips for Heathens

Getting your hands on good information for Heathenry is difficult, for a few reasons.

The problem with a lot of easily-accessible sources is that they are heavily peppered with subjective interpretations and put together by people who aren’t, at minimum, well-read. You don’t need a doctorate to know what you’re talking about, but you do need to know how to collect, sort and interpret information. (Which, incidentally, are the skills that get you degrees.) Anyone who doesn’t have those skills is a questionable source.

But resources put together by people with these skills tend to be locked behind paywalls or out of print. So what are your options?

Know What To Look For

My favorite tool for evaluating a source is the CRAAP test. CRAAP stands for:

  1. Currency
  2. Relevance
  3. Authority
  4. Accuracy
  5. Purpose

In other words, while you’re inspecting a source, you’re asking questions like:

Is the information up to date? Has it been disproven by more recent work and research? Has out of date or disproven information been corrected?

Does this source actually cover the topic I’m researching?

Is this source written by someone with training or education on the topic? Has it been reviewed by someone with that background? Was it published through a respectable and reliable website, publication or institution? Can the author of this source prove what they are trying to claim? Does it contradict information that is considered accurate and reliable by those with a background in the field?

Does the author of this source have an agenda?

That last one, especially when it comes to research for Heathenry, is immensely important to consider. You don’t want to be citing a racist basket case or someone on a power trip dressed up in mysticism. Or both. There’s a worrying amount of overlap in those two categories.

Look Online

Yes, I literally just finished ranting about how easy resources like the internet tend to be awful. But the internet has a lot of decent tertiary sources, which are compilations of primary and secondary sources. They’re not great as a direct source of information. In fact, they often are totally useless for providing workable information in and of themselves, but they help you know where to look. This blog post, for example, is a tertiary source.

Wikipedia is a tertiary source, too. Everyone who’s had to do a research project for school in the past 15 years has been told not to use Wikipedia, but I think Wikipedia is actually great if you’re just starting to look into a subject, or you need to refresh your memory. I use it when I’m trying to identify which source I need to focus on, if I remember a detail but not the whole thing. I often forget the names of specific tales but remember the plot, so it’s a roundabout way to find the title and locate a more direct source to check. This is especially useful if you’re sifting through the Prose Edda, because the stories are “chapters” within long stretches of text. You can also comb through an article’s sources to find more in-depth information by people with more robust background on the subject. This was one of the uses of Wikipedia that was actually encouraged beyond quick fact-checks when I was still in school.

There’s also a handful of quality secondary sources online. Experts hang out on the internet just like everyone else. My favorite secondary (and sometimes tertiary) sources to recommend are:

The Viking Society for Northern Research is a tertiary source, with a broad selection of translations (which are primary sources) available at no cost. It is worthwhile to get as many translations of the primary sources as you can get your hands on, and then compare and contrast. (Here’s my post with note-taking tips while studying the Eddas.) You can also get translations from The Norse Mythology Blog’s Online Library. I no longer support or endorse The Norse Mythology Blog. There are better resources. Seigfried isn’t one of them.

It’s woefully inefficient, but if you’re willing to spend hours sifting through open sites like Academia.edu, you can also find some good secondary sources. (Remember CRAAP while you do this.) Many have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and are uploaded by the authors for further review or open access. It’s far from being the most practical option because of the time commitment and filtering required, but it’s there. I’m also putting together a post of Academia.edu articles that are genuinely useful.

Phone a Friend

Someone you know may have a copy of a useful source. In turn, you may have a copy of a source they want to look at, too. I’ve managed to get my hands on a scan of The Problem of Loki, solely because I had a scan of a similar source someone else wanted to trade for.

If you have a friend with access to online academic libraries, see if you can ask them nicely to grab something for you. If you have access to such a library, and personal use is compliant with the terms of service, milk it for all it’s worth.

This applies to hard copies of books, too. I only have one volume of Ursula Dronke’s translation. There are three, but the locally accessible copies are in a university library that I don’t have access to. Fortunately, I have an acquaintance who does, and has offered to grab the other volumes for me.

Non-academic libraries are also seriously underrated. Even if a public library doesn’t have a specific book you’re looking for, you can still access any book you want through inter-library loans. (Having a friend phone a friend, basically.) Going to public libraries also keeps them open and helps them enrich their communities, so you’re doing good while doing well.

Online groups geared towards Heathens will often compile resources for their members. If you’re in any Heathen groups on Facebook, check the Files box on the group page (usually under the description, marked “Recent Files”) and click through to see what you can find. In the Urglaawe group I’m in, for example, there’s an abundance of information on Pennsylvania German culture, so that members are able to build up useful background knowledge.

I’ve also seen info hoards on Tumblr, Discord (courtesy of Goat Laufeyarson) and independently hosted on their own web pages. People have all kinds of things in their info hoards that they’re happy to share, and all you need to do is ask–if that.

There are also Heathens who have book giveaways, sponsored or otherwise. This is a really great way to get a hold of a book that you desperately want, but which you might not have the budget to buy.

Throw Everything at The Wall and See what Sticks

This is the easiest approach as far as access.

Read anything and everything related to Norse mythology that you can get your hands on, and see which things consistently pop up. Sometimes that means picking up a lot of other people’s UPG, but the end result leaves you with some academically sound info, too. Remember to subject what you’re picking through to the CRAAP test as you go.

That is by far my least favorite approach. For about five years, I picked up the vast majority of what I knew just reading what people posted on Tumblr, and I bought into a lot of things that were just…not supported by any evidence. You will most likely fare better if you stick to the first two methods. But if you’re hurting for options, that’s one.

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Falkabarn

A drunk-bucking sparkle pony from Philly. Works with Loki.

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