In 1936, the psychologist C G Jung published an essay entitled "Wotan", in which he argued that the remarkable rise of National Socialism in Germany was due not to economic, political or social causes, but to the fact that the German psyche had been overwhelmed by the sudden awakening of the archetype of the ancient Norse god. Wotan, or, as Richard Rudgely prefers to call him, Odin, had slumbered for 1,000 years, put to rest by the rise of Christianity. Now, however, the northern god of frenzy and magic had returned, and would, Jung predicted, more than likely lead the German people into some cataclysmic event.
Nearly 30 years later, in 1960, in a letter to the Chilean diplomat and esotericist Miguel Serrano, Jung warned that once again, the west was poised for the god's return, and that we were "apt to undergo the risk of a further, world-wide, Wotanistic experiment". Jung died a few months later, little suspectingthat Serrano would become the prophet of a particularly odious Odinistic philosophy, "Esoteric Hitlerism".
In Pagan Resurrection, Rudgley, author of Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age and presenter of the Channel Four television series Pagans, takes Jung's warning to heart and explores the variety of ways in which our current "Wotanistic experiment" is taking shape. His scope is sometimes dizzying, ranging from the Wandervogel of pre-Hitler Germany, the Aryan militias of 21st-century America, Tolkien's Middle Earth and the 1960s, to the depraved crimes of serial killers like Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole. One part of the Odin myth is the belief in a mysterious land the Greeks called Hyperborea ("beyond the north wind"), a paradise that lay hidden by the arctic wastes. Rudgley's chapters dealing with this myth, which is linked to the idea of a subterranean world, in the fiction of Jules Verne and Lord Bulwer-Lytton, are fascinating.
Verne's classic Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Lytton's less well-known but equally remarkable The Coming Race can, Rudgely argues, be read not only as gripping Victorian science fiction, but also as essays in depth psychology and explorations of the Odin archetype; another novelist he cites is Hermann Hesse. Unavoidably, the Nazis loom large in his account, and Rudgley is at pains to separate the hokum surrounding such "occult Nazi" staples as the Thule Society (named after another hidden northern land) and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from the often more disturbing facts.
Yet fanatical racists aren't the whole of the Odin experiment, and Rudgely takes the reader on an enlightening exploration of northern Europe's own home-grown mystical philosophy, centred on the practice of "casting the runes". Although popularised by New Agers and pop occultists as a means of divination, Rudgely shows that the cosmology and psychology associated with the runes are formidable and on a par with those of better-known eastern imports like the Tao and I Ching. Little known is the fact that the shapes of the runes can be used to facilitate a northern European form of meditation.
What will appeal to most contemporary readers, however, is the idea that the runes are a link with the ancient notion of the "Web of Wyrd", the belief that humans, nature and the gods are all connected through an invisible but very real mesh of subtle forces and energies. The Odinistic polarities of Fire and Frost, Rudgely tells us, parallel the eastern ideas of yin and yang, and it is between these two that the strands of Wyrd flow. Other parallels are with recent notions of chaos theory in which the flutter of a butterfly can affect the "initial conditions" of a hurricane. The electronic web of information and communication we log on to every day has accustomed us to the idea that actions on one side of the world can effect changes on the other almost instantaneously. The northern Europeans who felt the Web of Wyrd, Rudgely tells us, knew something very similar a millennium ago.
The ecological and cultural aspects of the new paganism, Rudgely hopes, will promote a "global awareness", which is different from "globalisation", which he sees as the dark side of the web, threatening to reduce the world's complexity to a bland uniformity. The jury is still out on that, but if our second Odin experiment isn't to end like the first, then books like this will certainly be a help.
Gary Lachman's latest book is 'Into the Interior: Discovering Swedenborg' (Swedenborg Society £7.95)