Review: Sea, Sky, Soil: An Introduction to Waincraft

Sea, Sky, Soil: An Introduction to Waincraft is the first book in the Waincraft series by Nicanthiel Hrafnhild. Waincraft is a new, emerging tradition that is an offshoot of Vanatru. Waincraft draws it’s inspiration from various Eurasian mythologies, indigenous European cultures (Basque, Finn, and Saami cultures, among others), modern non-reconstructionist traditions (particularly Feri Witchcraft), ecological psychology and shamanism into a tradition that the author considers to be a form of Feral Paganism (see this essay on feral Druidry for more information).

This introductory text to this brand shiny new tradition contains information on the Five Cosmological Beings: deities (the “Great Powers”), Ancestral/Animal Tribes, The Fair Folk, Nature Spirits, and the Dead, information on the Three Worlds cosmology, a brief section on the Elements, and detailed appendices for the Great Powers, including deities arranged by category and quick correspondences (including offerings).

The material ranges from theoretical to practical. The sections about the Great Powers and the Tribes are a bit more theoretical/poetic, whereas the seasonal cycles (including solar, lunar, and general seasonal observances) are a bit more practical. The quick correspondences at the back are probably the most practical information in the book. My overall impression of this book is that it’s, well, an introduction, meant to give the reader a taste of the banquet that awaits them, or an appetizer before the main course (the rest of the books in the series being courses in the meal). I suppose a person could turn the appetizer into an entree with a bit of work, but as it is, it’s a nice introduction.

However, and I feel that it’s very important to get this across, this path is definitely not for everyone. If you think of “mainstream” Heathenry as highly lore-based and other traditions like Vanatru (or even Northern Tradition Paganism) as straddling the line between lore and inspiration (and, some would even say, moving to a tradition that is much less-focused on lore) Waincraft plants itself squarely on the side of the experiential, or, to put it another way: the Asatruar toasts the gods and wights with a horn, the Vanatruar goes wading in a pool to try and connect with the water-wights, and the Waincrafter goes for a Polar bear dip, that’s oversimplifying things a whole lot, but you get the idea. Suffice it to say that Waincraft is definitely not a “religion of the book” and you will hardly find any quoted sources in this text (and absolutely no bibliography. Remember a post or two ago where I talked about “fairy tale logic”? This is fairy tale logic, rooted more in experience and a little cross-cultural examination than study.

It’s not hard to see the influence of comparative mythology in Waincraft. The Great Powers aren’t known by individual names but by A-A-A-Archetypal (there, I said it) titles and epithets (The Lady of Night, The Shaman-Father, etc.) although a list of individual deities is provided in one of the appendices. The reason for this more archetypal model is explained by the author in this article, but here’s the relevant quote:

First, releasing the essence of the Powers from their prior European faces enables us, as worshipers, practitioners, and/or followers, to connect more deeply with the Powers that call us without much of the baggage that can often accompany prior associations. For example, though I originally encountered Her in the form and mask of Hertha/Nerthus, I found my relationship with and understanding of my Mother grew to a whole new level once I worked with her as simply Earth, because I could experience parts of Her that were not relevant to the Nerthus mask. Naming a thing gives it an identity, a place, a purpose, but it also limits that thing’s power, potentiality and relevance.

Right off the bat, I can tell that this more “soft polytheist” approach will probably tick off more than a few of my hard polytheist friends, as I said, it’s not for everyone (though the author does encourage the reader to relate to the Powers according to their own cultural context).

There are parts of the book that I found to be very intense “Too intense for me!” I thought, but then there are parts that I found absolutely intriguing, particularly the section on the Animal Tribes (the ones that “clicked” for me were Snake, Goose, Swan, Bee, and Fox, to a greater or lesser extent). I would very much like to explore this avenue further.

There are a couple of caveats, though, the first is that it seems as if you will get a lot more from this path via journeying than if you’re someone like me, with feet firmly planted on the ground on a permanent basis. This may not be the case, but it certainly seemed so at points to me. The second is that this tradition is extremely Eurocentric, which will probably come as no surprise, but I found there was a definite tendency to claim that the tradition was “Pan-European” while overwhelmingly focusing on the pantheons of Northern and Western Europe (and only certain pantheons in those areas, the Greeks and Romans hardly get a mention at all). One possibly problematic element is the advice given to those who are practicing Waincraft outside of  Europe, which is to view the (Western European) animals tribes as “Grandmothers and Grandfathers” which strikes me as odd considering that non-European practitioners might well be connecting to civilizations that are even older than European ones, but as I said, Eurocentric. Still, I suppose the upside to this is that they are at least trying to work within a European system instead of stealing from, say, Native peoples in North America (unlike some other movements I could name).

In sum, I’m not about to hang up my Vanatru label, but I am interested in this new path, and would like to see where it goes. To those who are interested, the other books in the series are as follows:

Walking the Wagon Ways: Mastering the Elements in Waincraft

Hearth and Home: Prayers, Myths, and Rituals for the Waincrafter

Fur, Feather, Scale, Skin: Working with the Tribes of Waincraft

Also check out the home of Waincraft on the web:

and especially watch out for their Pagan Blog Project:

If you are interested in a highly experiential path that is deeply rooted (lol pun) in the land and the Powers that live there and you can tolerate archetypal understandings of deity and a very Eurocentric worldview (though definitely not as culturally exclusive as “mainstream” Heathen groups tend to be), I’d recommend taking a look at this as you’ll probably get a lot out of it. Otherwise, well, I did say it’s not for everyone.