Reviews & Interviews

Book Review – Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition: Customs, Rites and Ceremonies by Nigel Pennick

Book Review

Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition

Customs, Rites and Ceremonies

by Nigel Pennick

Publisher: Destiny Books

352 Pages

Publication Date: 5/21/2015



Like many of Nigel Pennick’s books, Pagan Magic of the Northern Traditions, is a scholarly survey of the cultural uses of magic in the everyday world of pre-Christian Northern Europe. It is not a “how-to” book. It’s better than a how-to book; Pennick explores the practices and customs that underlay our understanding of telling time, the powers and associations of the days of the week, the seasons and the year, household magic and protection, colors, planetary magic, and the power of sigils and objects, among other topics. The book is a survey. It starts with an introduction, a brief overview of northern magic and paganism and its influences. Pennick then provides a chapter on Wyrd, which connects everything in the ensouled world, and moves into a chapter on operative magic and its philosophy, discussing influences from the Greek and Egyptian worlds. Having laid the groundwork for the principles of northern magic, the Pennick then explores specific areas of everyday life in which ritual and custom were common: craftmanship of objects; places in the landscape and boundaries; wind, stars and weather; space and time; the craft and magic of buildings; protection against attack and illness; patterns and sigils; music and instruments (think – incantations and the music of the spheres!) and holy seasonal days. There is a glossary and an extensive bibliography for further reading and exploration.

Pagan Magic of the Northern Traditions contains a wealth of information about the magic that was woven into daily life of people from a number of Northern cultures: the Celts, the Germans, the Scandinavians, and the Slavs. It is rich with tradition and lore, especially for those who connect with a Northern ancestral tradition. I loved reading it because it describes the customs, tradition and worldview of pre-Christian traditions of people in my lineage. It is fascinating to see how these cultures embedded their magic – their recognition of the Wyrd – into every aspect of life. I found the amount of information that Pennick provides overwhelming; the book really needs several readings, or copious notetaking, to keep track of the sources and derivations of rituals and beliefs. I learned the sources of some of the customs we see still in use today, for example, a horseshoe hung over a doorway. We say it is for good luck, and point the ends of the shoe upwards so that luck does not run out the ends. Originally, horseshoes may have been nailed up to keep The Wild Horse or The Night Mare away. These beings attacked people while they slept and pinned them down; the victim could become ill or die. So the shoes were nailed to keep The Wild Horse out. Also fascinating is Pennick’s discussion of the direction of the North, considered sacred in pre-Christian times because the night sky appears to rotate around the “immoveable heavenly seat,” the axis of the earth. Later, it became associated by a Christian apologist, Origen, with the entry to Christian Hell. Origen also claimed that the Northern Lights signified that the Gates of Hell opened and sinners must beware. The Northern direction became associated with the Christian devil, so that any northern doors in early medieval churches were blocked, except during the rite of baptism, when they were opened so the exorcised demon could leave. Criminals, undeserving of full Christian burials, were buried on the North side of churches. I have left many tags and markers in my copy of Pagan Magic, for future reference and additional research!

I am a huge Nigel Pennick fan. I find his books to be well-researched and chock-full of usable information and lore. While they are not hands-on user’s manuals, they point us in the in the direction of understanding what lies beneath the magical customs and traditions that have come down to us through the ages. That connects our magic today to ancestral traditions and makes it more powerful. As Pennick says in the Postscript,

With everyday magic as well as customs, people who are alive now are performing their own interpretations of a tradition that is authentic, not because we are doing it by the book, but because we are doing it. Done properly, with respect…the magic is still implicit in the performance.”

Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition is well worth your time.

Nigel Pennick is an authority on ancient belief systems, traditions, runes, and geomancy and has traveled and lectured extensively in Europe and the United States. He is the author and illustrator of more than 50 books, including The Pagan Book of Days. The founder of the Institute of Geomantic Research and the Library of the European Tradition, he lives near Cambridge, England.


Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition: Customs, Rites, and Ceremonies on Amazon


About the Author:

Susan Rossi is a Practitioner and Teacher of Shamanic Arts. She is a long-time explorer of The Mysteries – the connections between mind, body, spirit and how to live in right relationship to all of the energies streaming through the cosmos. She works with clients as an astrologer, coach, ceremonialist and guide to the wisdom that each of us has the capacity to access. Her focus is on guiding clients to unblock and rediscover their inner wisdom. Art, exploration of the birth chart, ceremony, legacy writing, hypnotherapy, energetic healing practice and creation of sacred tools are integral pieces of her practice.


Susan trained in Soul Level Astrology with master astrologer Mark Borax. She delights in exploring with individuals the planetary pattern under which their soul choose to incarnate.

Susan Rossi

Open Channel Astrology

Flying to the Heart