Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious / spiritual experiences, modern life on a heathen path, community interaction, and general heathenry.

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Earliest Experiences

On this Gnosis Diary blog, I’m telling the story of my personal journey with religious experiences from the beginning. My first encounter with the cultural material that would lead me to a heathen path was in Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, which I read when I was 5. Runes, elves, dwarves, a dragon, a wizard that in later years I would come to see as an obvious Odinnic wanderer, and even a bersarkr (a shape shifter who takes the form of a bear) were all there. I only became a serious Tolkien fan when I read Lord of the Rings, which I read around age 10, and that set the stage for when I received a book on runes for my 17th birthday, and when I read it, I knew that was my path.

My earliest spiritual experiences were with Native American land spirits, animal totem spirits, and the spirits of trees and other beings inhabiting and embodying nature and the garden. Like all the memories of my earliest years, the memories I have of these experiences are fragmented images and vague feelings. I have no memories of any kind before age 5.


However, I grew up hearing stories about my early psychic abilities. My mom was and is an atheist, but she believed in my psychic abilities and is the one who remembered and relayed these experiences to me.

The following are quotes from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts: My Triumph Over Dissociative Identity Disorder, which covers my first 30 years.

Dr. Blackbag

“Mom told me that one time my parents were refinishing the garage as a family room and had hired a man to do some carpentry.  I answered the door, and there he stood in his jeans and workboots, without any bags or toolboxes, and I said, “Hello, Dr. Blackbag.”  His jaw dropped.  He told my parents he had been a medical corpsman in the Army during the war and had been stationed on a remote island where the natives called him Dr. Blackbag.  He hadn’t mentioned it to anyone in town.”

Mom told me it meant that I picked his favorite nickname out of his thoughts. I was a natural mind reader as a child. So how did I lose that ability? Like this.

Kindergarten

This is one of my earliest memories that are actually mine, not stories told to me by my parents. I did not relate this story to anyone until I was an adult. This is another quote from my memoir:

“There were too many kids for the teacher to deal with at once so she was in the habit of dividing the class in half, teaching one half in the classroom and sending the other half to the playground under the supervision of two eighth grade girls.  The pair didn’t want the children to play naturally but only at games the two of them invented.  We were their interactive dolls.

     One time, proximity to the unruly minds of the other children had gotten too much for me and I just wanted to be on the opposite end of the playground.  Their thoughts were a pressure to me at all times, despite the wall that went up around my telepathic abilities within hours of first encountering the massed minds of the classroom.  This day they were especially excited about something or other, perhaps the perfect weather.

     It was like a storm wind, that pressure, pushing me away despite the stillness of the air, the sun glinting on the iron monkeybars, the pleasant laughter and happy colored clothes of the other children.  “It’s time to listen to a story!” called the eighth grade girls.  The other children gathered around.  “Come ON!” they shouted, getting annoyed.  I could not approach.  The others were too numerous, too keyed up, projecting so strongly now the storm winds had become a blast furnace.

     The two girls flew into a rage.  I felt them turn dark, only driving me further away.  Their spoken words drowned in the projection of a black wind of anger.  They lined the other children up in front of the door to the classroom, a double line like a gauntlet, perhaps ten children on each side.  The pair grabbed me.  “You do what we say.  You always do what we say, like the teacher told you to.  Into the Spanking Machine!”  They pushed me in and I had no choice but to run the gauntlet as the other kindergarteners hit me, or I’d be hit more.  I screamed and wept as I ran.

     When I came out the other side, a much more subdued group of children trooped slowly back to the classroom.  It never occurred to me to tell the kindergarten teacher or anyone else what had happened.  I assumed this was normal and the adults must already know about it.

     Like the annealment of metal, my trip through the fire had hardened my telepathic shields so that now nothing could get through it, even if I tried.  Being in the presence of many people was bearable now, but I had lost something in the process.  I was no longer aware of others’ thoughts, so I was also no longer aware of them as thinking beings.  People, especially the people at school, became unreal to me.  It was not only people that seemed less real, less alive than before; I was not aware of frogs, sunshine, or blades of grass the way I had been when I could sense them.  There was less joy to be had in the world.  I knew only the five named senses now.”

Meditations My Father Taught Me

My dad noticed that my psychic abilities had been suppressed. He did not try to get me to take my shields down, but he did give me meditations to do and exercises designed to help me build a foundation for magic, spirituality, and using my natural psychic abilities. Dad was part Native, and his teaching about the Native land spirits and totem animals was part of the family tradition that went back to our Native roots, but the meditations he gave me were things he had learned in Japan as a young sailor when he was participating in the Occupation.

Another quote from my memoir:

“He taught me to meditate on the image of a stone, to turn it in my mind and see only the shiny black rock, its smoothed planes and curves, and to blot out all other awareness.

     When I had mastered the meditation of the stone, one day he came into my room, back when the wall was still painted white, and told me, “I want you to look at that wall and turn it colors.  Don’t come out until you do it.”

     I concentrated on the blank white wall for a long time, using all the focus I had learned from the stone.  Although my fairy child self was gone where I could not follow, I still had power and magic, as my father showed me.  I stared and focused, and suddenly the wall went yellow, then red, then blue, all in rapid sequence, and did not quite go completely white again.  A hint of moonlight blue remained.

     I ran into the living room shouting, “I did it! I did it!”

     Dad put down his newspaper and ruffled my curls.  “That’s great, honey.”  I was so proud.”

No Girl Scouting for Me

One of the defining experiences of my early life, that eventually led me to heathenry, was not spiritual but cultural. My mother’s family were immigrants from Austria. She was born in the USA in 1938, but the relatives older than her were all born in Austria, and spoke a dialect of German. The older relatives generally spoke German among themselves, and even in mom's generation, to this very day, when my aunt calls she's just as likely to speak German as English. So mom's family had Old-Country ways and values. Mom taught me the traditional Germanic value of the seriousness and importance of oaths.

Another quote from my memoir:

“It was time for me to advance with my agemates from Brownies to Girl Scouts, but to do that I would have to take the Girl Scout Oath, part of which was “I promise to serve God and my country.”

     My mother asked me, “Do you believe in God, Erin?”

     “No.”

     “Then you can’t promise to serve him.”

     “But I want to be a Scout!”

     “You can’t swear an oath to a God you don’t believe in.  Someday you’ll understand.”

 I do understand now. Thank you, mom.

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, American Celebration, and other books. She has been a sworn Priestess of Freya since 1989, and recently also formalized a relationship with the triple Odin. She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is the Acquisitions Editor at genre novel publishers Damnation Books and Eternal Press. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office as an out heathen.

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