Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Erin Lale

Erin Lale

Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners. An updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path, is coming in 2020 from Red Wheel / Weiser. Erin was sworn to Freya as Priestess in 1989, given to Sigyn, and is a Bride of Odin and his brothers (Honir, Lodhur, Loki.). She has been a freelance writer for about 30 years, was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, is gythia of American Celebration Kindred, and admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office. She is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press for 5 years, created the Heathen Calendar 2017 and 2018, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.

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The Afterlife in Asatru

In Asatru, and many other sects of heathenry, we believe the soul has multiple parts, and that some of these parts can go on to an afterlife, while other parts can be reincarnated. The soul part that corresponds with the personality and memory can go either way, and it can also reach oblivion before being recycled / reincarnated. Other parts of the soul complex can go on, be reincarnated, or just stop. Actions one can take on Earth can affect this outcome. If one is going on to an afterlife, there are many possible afterlife destinations, some of which are here on Earth—which we call Midgard—and some of which are in other worlds / other dimensions.

Some people have been sharing a meme based on a Wikipedia page on one sect of heathenry, "Norse Paganism," thinking that it applies to all sects. It does not apply to Asatru. The page, and the meme, is divided into 4 sections, labeled Valhalla, Folkvangr, Helgafjell, and Helheim. The sections on Valhalla and Folkvangr are not bad. Those realms are the two places where the battle slain go, to Odin in Valhalla within Gladsheim and to Freya in Sessrumnir within Folkvangr.

The section on Hel gets Hel wrong. Hel is not a place of punishment. It's just the world of the dead. Christians used the word Hel to translate their word for the realm of the dead, just like they used the word godh (god) to translate their word for God. Both words ended up having Christian connotations in modern English, but the original heathen Hel had as much resemblance to the Christian Hell as original heathen god has to Christian God. Rather than a place of punishment, Hel or Helheim is the catch-all, or default realm. It is ruled by Hel, or Hela. Hel the goddess and Hel the place have the same name for the same reason that Normandy is the name of a land and a Duke.

Helgafjel is an obscure place name that most heathens don't even recognize. Is it a place within Hel, or a mountain on Earth? It can be argued that all grave mounds are simultaneously on this earth and in the realm of the dead. There is a real place in Iceland called Helgafell, meaning "holy mountain." The place spelled Helgafjel also means "holy mountain," but it may not have been the same place. It may have been in Norway, in which case, it is now named something else, since it no longer appears on any maps. Either way, Helgafjel was a real physical mountain, and the belief in Helgafjel was a local belief in a mountain in which the dead of a particular set of linked families or the dead of a particular locality went. The page is specific to a sect of heathenry where the people lived within sight of the mountain. The meme makers have mistaken it for a generalized belief across heathen cultures (that is, pagan cultures which worshipped the gods generally called the Norse gods.) As a physical place where the dead are said to reside, this then is a type of mound-dead belief, even though there is no evidence the mountain was actually used as a burial site. The dead in a specific mountain, mound, ship burial, graveyard, etc. are specific dead people with names, usually people who lived in the area.

Historically, the line between the mound-dead and the mound-elf was fuzzy. Freyr as king of Alfheim (elf home) may have had an aspect in which he was also king of the male dead ancestors. His sister Freya may have had an aspect as queen of the female dead ancestors, as indicated by her name Vanadis, goddess of the disir (female ancestral spirits.)

Other possible afterlife destinations include the home of Thor, who may have been considered to collect farmers in historical times, although the word used in the lore was a more general word for the non-warrior caste. The goddess Ran collects the drowned dead. Frigga (or Frau Holle) collects the souls of dead children; this is the meaning of Mother Night, when the Dark Mother rides the Wild Hunt. In an earlier time, when Tyr was king, his wife Zisa collected the dead in her war-boat. Gefjon, who may be an aspect of Freya, is said to collect the souls of unmarried women. Many if not most of the heathen pantheon have halls where they house the souls of dead humans.

In historical times, people who wanted to go to a specific god tried to live their lives in such a way that they would be likely to die doing the god’s special thing, such as sailing. Some heathens today also do this, although others believe that devotion to a god as a priest or other type of specialist opens the way to that god.

Naming customs also can affect the afterlife, but it affects the afterlife of the named person, although this is a bit complicated. The soul part in which talents reside is not the same as the soul part that contains memories, so when someone names a child after their grandfather hoping to gain grandfather’s musical talents, that does not necessarily draw the memory part; it is possible for grandfather to both be reborn in his line and stay with his god in the afterlife at the same time. On the other hand, if one names a child after a friend specifically to honor that friend who is still alive, no part of the still alive person’s soul is transferred at the ceremony, but it is possible for part of the soul to arrive later, upon the death of the other party, as the shared name opens the way between them.

Historical heathen cultures spanned a great deal of time over a great many places. Some heathens spoke languages that other heathens from other times and places would not understand. Modern heathens in America usually draw their heathenry from a wide variety of cultures, although some of them can be as local and specific as their European counterparts.

Image: Valknut, fiber art by Erin Lale

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Toasting Ullr

We know our gods are getting mainstream attention when I find an Ullr brand schnapps in a big normal store with a prayer to Ullr printed right on the bottle. Of course it had to come home with me and be used for a sumbel toast. In this photo I'm pouring the Ullr peppermint cinnamon schnapps into mugs of hot cocoa.

Also on the altar are two candles. The blue one I found in Tom's house, where the ritual was held. As a former Strega practitioner, he has a lot of candles, which I'm trying to incorporate into our heathen rituals. He also has a lot of oils, but fewer of them now because we did a soap making workshop too and used a bunch of them up. The white candle is a souvenir from Pagan Spirit Gathering in 2010. Blue and white are winter themed colors, which is why I selected those two.

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Berserker Way

My paper on Bersarkrgangr recently published in Enheduanna Journal #3 was based on a lifetime of learning. It includes an analysis of the raw data from the reader survey I conducted via Bersarkrgangr Magazine. The raw data had been published in Bersarkrgangr Magazine in the 90s but the analysis had never been published before, so finally seeing it in print brought both excitement and relief.

I had a work in progress version of this paper on academia dot edu but it was not edited and did not have the citations. Enheduanna's editor helped me organize my paper, and greatly improved it thereby.

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Heathen Visibility Year in Review 2019

2019 has been a great year for the Heathen Visibility Project. Even before I gave my speech on the Project at my local Pagan Pride Day, there was already a lot of momentum building. Many people were joining in with tagging their pictures with the heathenvisibility hashtag. Participants created Instagram channels devoted specifically to heathen visibility, mostly featuring images of altars. My Deviantart gallery for the Heathen Visibility Project mostly featured photos of altars, too, especially at first, but as the Project got rolling I started including more pictures of people. I acquired some new-to-me camera equipment, joined Shutterstock, and got some heathen visibility photos approved for inclusion on their site. Then Pagan Pride Day really gave the Project a boost.

Both the featured major speakers from out of town took photos with the hashtag sign. Pictured above is Oberon Zell with me as I hold up the sign and he holds up a poster of the World Tree, Yggdrasil, which he had at his booth. Selena Fox was in the group photo with the sign after my speech, and she even got the group to yell "Hail the heathens!" for a short video for her Instagram. Having the Project featured on such a big name's Instagram really got the Project a lot of publicity. For a more complete report on Las Vegas Pagan Pride Day, including the group photo with Selena, see my prior post "A Great Time at Pagan Pride Day 2019" here: A Great Time at Pagan Pride Day 2019

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My New Asatru Book Has a Preorder Link!

Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path is the updated, longer version of my out-of-print book Asatru For Beginners. It's scheduled to be published next summer. It now has a preorder link for both Kindle and paperback editions.

New and improved! Now with more gods!

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December 2019 Heathen and Asatru Holidays

Moveable feasts in this time period include Krampuslauf, which is the weekend closest to Dec. 15th before Yule (Urglaawe.) Midwinterhoorn Blazen in the province of Overijssel Beginning of Advent until the Sunday following Epiphany (Netherlands.) Although Luciadagen is fixed on Dec. 13 elsewhere, it is 1 week before winter solstice among the Swedish minority in Finland.

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Sinterklaas (Holland),
Sinterklaas Avond (Netherlands)

6
Samichlaus Abend (Switzerland),
Neklosdag (Luxembourg)

9
Day of Egill Skallagrimson (American Asatru, American Odinist)

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Luciadagen (Norway),
Lusinatta (Sweden) 

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Krampuslauf begins (Urglaawe)

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Krampuslauf ends (Urglaawe)

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Mother Night (alternate date) (American Asatru),
Ærre-Geól begins (Theod),
Julfest begins (German), Juleaften (Denmark)   

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Yule (American Asatru, Theod),
Beginning of 12 Days of Yule (American Asatru, England),
High Feast of Yule (American Asatru),
Yuul begins (Urglaawe),
Yol (Icelandic Asatru),
Juledag (Denmark),
Midvinterblot (Swedish Forn Sed)

22 Mōdraniht (American Asatru)

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Twelfth Night (American Asatru, England, Urglaawe),
Berchtaslaaf (Urglaawe),
Silvesterabend (Switzerland),
Nytarsaften (Denmark) 



Image: closeup of the word "jol" (Yule) spelled out in Elder Futhark runes in pie crust on an apple pie, pie made by Erin Lale, photo by Erin Lale.

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A Great Time at Pagan Pride Day 2019

My speech on the Heathen Visibility Project was a great success! A lot of people were in the group photo, including Selena Fox. (One does not have to be a heathen to be in a group photo with heathens for the Heathen Visibility Project.) She even got everyone to shout “Hail to the heathens” together for her Instagram.

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