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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Erin Lale

Erin Lale

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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When Guided Meditation Goes Wrong

I visualize so strongly that a guided meditation can get out of hand if I don’t discuss and plan what’s going to happen in advance. Artists, writers, and theoretical physicists are all types of people who visualize and dream in a fashion that feels real. It’s a sign of high intelligence, and it can be great when one is controlling one’s own visions, while trying to write a novel for example, but even a simple guided meditation intended for relaxation can go wrong if I’m picturing things from my own experience that are different to me than to the person leading the meditation. The following quote from my memoir was one such incident.

The woman leading the meditation had me picture a beach. To her, a beach probably meant some tropical vacation spot, but to me, having grown up in Sonoma on the north coast of California, a beach was a place where waves crashed three stories high against jagged black rocks.

The image at the top of this post is Stillwater Cove on the Sonoma coast. It doesn't look very still, does it? That is as still as it gets on the Sonoma coast.


Quote from Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:
 

     “You’re going to a peaceful, beautiful place, perhaps in the woods,” she said.

     I was transported to Elfland, the redwood forest of my initiation.  Light slanted between the boles of the great trees, illuminating the swimming dust motes.  The light dappled the tiny leaves of a hazel nut bush, swept across spiders’ webs and spotlighted the tunneled brush at the entrance to the rabbit run.  I smelled the redwood dust, and the tang of the sea on the wind.

     But Sandi had not finished her sentence.  “Or the beach.”

     I was wrenched away from the grove, catapulted through the air and deposited on a deserted section of beach.  The strong wind off the sea blew my hair into my face despite my braid, and the light cloth of my pants buzzed in the gale like the reed of a flute.  The crash of the surf, the sea wrack lying on the wet sand, the smell of salt and fish and seaweed, the white glare off the hot sand under my feet, the infinite blue of the unbroken horizon, the crying of the circling gulls, the V-patterns in the wet sand from the suck of the undertow.  So, the beach.  I liked the forest better, but the beach was alright, if cold.  I had never liked the way the wind off the ocean made the warmest day feel cold.

     “You wade out into the water,” said Sandi.

     In my vision, my feet moved of their own accord, taking me into the freezing water of the Pacific, gritty with churning sand.  The waves surged around my knees, and I dug my toes into the sand to keep my footing.

     “You will be cleansed in the pure water,” said Sandi.  “It’s up to your knees now.  Now your hands.  Now your hips.”

     Fear came over me.  One did not go out into the ocean without a wetsuit, not at any time of year.  Nobody but the surfers ever went in above the knees, and I was no surfer.  At pagan gatherings I had seen men… swim out into a bay stark naked to push the offering ship past the breakers, but I was no SEAL either.  I wanted out.  I wanted to get back on the dry sand and get out of these wet pants and warm myself in the sun as best I could.

     “Now your waist,” continued Sandi.  “Now it’s up to your chest.”

     I thought desperately at her, Sandi get me out of here.  Sandi get me out of here.  But I could not speak.  Fear silence was on me.

     “Now the pure, cleansing water is up to your neck.  We’ll go on when you’re ready.”

     I projected desperately at her, Sandi get me out of here, Sandi get me out of here, but I was never a particularly good projecting telepath, and my powers had deserted me when I became depressed, and anyway Sandi would have had to be a receiving telepath to hear me.  Clearly she was not.  I did not really expect her to hear me, actually; it was simply the only means of communication left to me as I sat rigid in the grip of the silence, a long shot though it was.

     “Are you ready to continue?” Sandi asked.

     I shook my head wildly.  It was all I could do.  I could not speak.

     But Sandi did not understand that I wanted to stop the whole thing.  She said, “We’ll wait until you’re ready.  The water will cleanse away your fear, wash it away from you, and you will be at peace.”

     I realized I was going to stand there neck deep in the surf until I agreed to go on.  There was no way out of this but forwards.  I was going to drown.  No, I could hold my breath.

     Sandi asked, “Are you ready to continue?”

     This time, defeated in my attempts to communicate, I nodded.

     “The water passes over your head.  It washes away your fear.  You are one with the peaceful water.”

     It was not washing away my fear.  I hoped Sandi would get me back out before I ran out of breath....

     Finally Sandi said, “Now the water is receding.  Past your neck, past your shoulders, past your waist, past your knees, past your ankles.  Now it is gone, taking your fears with it.  Open your eyes and wake up.”

     I opened my eyes.  I was surprised they were dry.  Did the silence even extend to preventing me from using tears as a signal?  I had been sure I was crying.”
 

During the guided meditation, I could not break away from it or say I wanted to stop because I was only given the opportunity to choose to pause or go forwards, not stop the scenario. The difference between guided meditation is hypnosis is a word and a license. Although Sandi called this guided meditation, she was actually a licensed therapist, so the word hypnosis could have applied also. (She has since retired and moved to another country.) People who are "high hypnotizers," that is, who drop into trance states easily, can be unable to get out of a situation like that without a safeword. I have yet to ever see a meditation leader, ritual leader, or hypnotist offer participants the opportunity to get out of a meditation or hypnosis session once it starts, so, after that experience, I only meditate alone.

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  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    Telepathy didn't work? Go figure.
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thank you! Yes, we did discuss it afterwards.
  • Greybeard
    Greybeard says #
    You are right, there are many ways that a guided meditation can go wrong. For us who sometimes guide meditations its easy to over

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The Red Rock Power Spot

Continuing my story of my personal journey, I found Red Rock Park to be a healing place. Red Rock Park near Las Vegas, Nevada, is a popular hiking, rock climbing, and picnicking destination where one can view petroglyphs. I often meditated in a shallow cave I named the Yoda Hole. The trailhead to the rock climbing area with many small caves is on the first overlook of the scenic road in the park.

The image that accompanies this post is a photo of the the Yoda Hole. It was pristine when I used to visit it for healing in the 90s, but had been defaced with graffiti at the time I took this picture. The circular design in the middle of the cave roof is natural, and I liked to position my head under it when I meditated. 

 A quote from my memoir:

     “When my feet touched the red rock I felt power go through me.  It was like plugging into a socket.  My energy level skyrocketed, and I found my pace quickening.  I walked right out onto the promontory of calico stone and sat down, my hands caressing the deep red stone.  At the same time that I realized this was the first stirring of psychic power I had felt in a long time, and I reveled in the feel of the power coursing through me from the rock, I also wondered what it was in the rock that set it apart and made it powerful.  Was the red color from iron, like rust?  If so, was what I felt as magical power actually a magnetic field?"

The red color is, in fact, from iron. Meditating in the Yoda Hole and hiking in the park improved my health. I became able to sense other minds again, including the gods. The gray lifted from me, and there was color in the world again.  

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Existentialism Part 2: Choosing Faith

I had been able to confidently say the gods are real because I could feel them as well as I felt other humans and animals. Then, suddenly, I couldn't feel them. Not the gods, and not other people. Not animals, not nature, nothing. This is how it happened:

Trigger warnings: physical health and mental health issues, mention of childhood abuse

It was 1997. I had a life-threatening medical problem, and was given a medicine which included in its listed side effects weight gain and depression. I gained 60 lbs. in 3 months, and I became depressed in an equally rapid and thorough manner. When I switched to a different medicine, I stopped gaining weight, but the weight I already had gained did not just disappear, it was still there. The same was true of the depression. It was still there, and I had to deal with it. 

For me, depression meant not being able to feel the presence of other minds, not the gods, and not other people. Nothing felt real. All the color leached out of the universe. Clear skies were gray, and sunsets were gray, and chocolate was ashes. I was cut off from sensation and physical pleasure.  I started having flashbacks to childhood experiences of sexual abuse. 

None of the medicines I tried got my medical problem under control, I was constantly in danger of death, was in constant pain, sometimes was too disabled to leave my house, I could not work, and had to close my bookstore.

I tried everything I could think of help with both the physical and mental issues, including magic. I called on the healer goddess Eir, not knowing at the time that calling on her would provoke a healing crisis. That meant things would seem to get worse before they got better.

My insurance company canceled my policy, and when I looked for help dealing with the depression and flashbacks, I was going bankrupt and could not access for-profit doctors and ended up having to seek help from the state mental health system, which treated me so badly that in addition to my original problems I developed additional ones. The state doctor prescribed an SSRI antidepressant, which relieved fatigue and gave me enough energy to get things done despite still being depressed, and still being physically ill as well. In that time period, SSRIs did not yet list suicidal ideation as a known side effect. Eventually I found better help; I talk about my healing journey in my memoir, so readers interested in the details are directed to that book. 

In the meantime, I had an experience that I was convinced should have killed me and that my body's sudden, odd resilience was uncanny.

A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts: My Triumph Over Dissociative Identity Disorder:

     "In the days that followed, as I thought about the strange happening, I realized that I had to decide to what I would attribute it:  failure or miracle.  I chose miracle.  I told myself, “Goddess won’t let me die.”

     I still could not feel her presence.  But I chose to believe she was there.  For the first time in my life, I had true faith."

That was a major turning point in my life, and on my heathen path. Eventually, my ability to sense the gods and other people returned, but not until I healed myself with the help of a therapist. I had to get rid of the depression, and the flashbacks, and the panic, and become whole, before I could advance any farther spiritually. When I started being able to feel the presence of the gods again, I felt them more clearly than ever before. But if I had not experienced that, I would never have developed faith, because faith is the choice to believe in the absence of evidence, and until then, I had always had the evidence of my senses.

How we interpret the events of our lives is a choice, just like the existential choice of choosing whether to believe other people, the gods, and our own sensory lived experiences are real. I consciously chose my personal narrative of these events, and I chose this: Freya saved my life.

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Existentialism Part 1: Perceived Reality

How do I know the gods are real? How do I know other people outside myself are real? How do I know I am real?

After experiencing the mysterium tremendum during my initiation and dedication to Freya in 1989, I could feel the presence of the gods. Until 1997, there was no question in my mind that the gods were as real as anyone else because I could feel them. I could feel the presence of their minds the same way I could feel the presence of the minds of other human beings. I chose to believe the evidence of my own senses. That which I perceive as having a mind that can press against mine is real: trees and the spirits of trees, animals and animal totems, humans and human ghosts, the sun and the goddess of the sun.

In today's science, it is possible to induce sensation, vision, and hearing by stimulating the brain-- and I know this because I read about it, which ultimately means I chose to believe what a news reporter wrote about a scientific study because, in the final equation, I believe that what my eye saw was in fact words written by another person and not something my brain invented because of false stimuli. I chose to believe that other people exist and that what I perceive is true.

Whether to believe in what I perceive is an existential question. I think that if I chose not to believe that the things I sense with all my senses are real, I could not function as a human being. I would just sit around disbelieving everything, until I starved to death from not eating the food I didn't believe in. I chose to believe that what I sense is real: that food is real, and I can eat it to sustain my body, which is also real. That when I see an object across the room, that object is real. That when I feel sunshine on my skin, that the sun is real, and my skin is real, and heat is real.  I chose to believe that when I sense someone's mind, what I am sensing is real, whether they are a human, animal, spirit, or god.

Where does one draw a line between "real" and "imaginary?" If one draws that line because of social pressure to disbelieve in gods, one must first believe that other people are real for their opinions to matter. If one senses the gods with one's senses, and disbelieves in them because other people do not sense them, that is putting a faith in other people ahead of one's perceived reality.

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I love Nevada!

Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path, in 1995 I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. I finally came home to the desert. Flying into Las Vegas, I passed through a layer of dark emotion, like a cloud over the city, which was being blown away by the wind. As I descended I saw that the negative emotions of the whole valley were being collected by a giant black pyramid and projected out from the city on a bright beam of light. On the valley floor, the city does not press on my mind like other big cities do. The pyramid bleeds off all the excess psychic energy, leaving the valley as clear as farmland. The Vegas valley is a spiritually comfortable place for me.

I opened an independent bookstore, The Science Fiction Store, which is no longer in business. A couple came to place merchandise in my store. A very pregnant woman held the door for her husband while he rolled in. When I shook her hand, I knew she was going to be my best friend. She still is. The little being who was inside her is now a stage manager. (Those who have been reading my life story on this blog and are wondering how I went from planning a career in intelligence to opening a bookstore, the short answer: the fall of the Soviet Union.) I sometimes get strong psychic impressions from touching things or people, including when I shake hands. That is a side effect of learning to read runes, because I trained myself to pick up impressions from my rune set by touching the individual stones.

Trying to make extra money, I briefly worked as a phone psychic. I did rune readings, and developed some charts that I later published in Idunna Magazine that made the readings easier to perform. Sometimes the callers were budding psychics, telepaths, and empaths who had no training, no access to advice, and nowhere else to turn. They were getting the same kinds of headaches and disorientation I got when I had tried to thin my shields to get my telepathy back when I was a teenager. I taught them how to shield. That was as much as I could do in the half hour before the calls self-terminated. I had to stop doing the phone readings because reading for people I couldn’t see, hundreds or thousands of miles away, exhausted my powers. They took a long time to recharge.

A local woman planned to lead tours to haunted spots and the UFO viewing at Area 51. I went with her on her scouting trip for the tours, and visited the haunted hotel in Goldfield. 

A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:

     “The haunted hotel looked like it could have been the set for a Western.  Everything was in simple, worn woods, except for red velvet carpeting and patterned velvet wallpaper.  The hotel’s manager took us up to the ghost room.  Renee knew I was sensitive psychically, and asked me if I could feel the ghost.

     I shook my head while I set up my tripod to take a shot of the ghost room.  “I don’t sense anything, but then I wouldn’t really expect to, with all these other people here.  There’s a half a dozen of us in this room.  The psychic emanations of the living are a hundred times more powerful than a spirit’s, unless it’s a naturally powerful spirit which was never human in the first place.  I would need to be alone here to detect anything.”

I love Nevada, but one thing I missed about living in California was having large pagan and heathen festivals within driving distance that I could go to just by buying a ticket. I heard a rumor that there was a heathen group in the area, but I didn't meet anyone who was in one. I was not really looking very hard, though. After the experience in which I learned the lessons I wrote about in the Good Knowledge, Bad Teacher posts, I did not really want to join another kindred, I just wanted to go to public ritual as a member of the public. I sometimes wished that I could just look up a conveniently located public ritual place in the phone book to go to, just like my Christian relatives could look up a convenient church in the phone book when they came to town. Instead, I started keeping the holidays as a solitary, or if the holiday I wanted to celebrate was an American holiday like Yule celebrated by non-heathens as well, I might have a holiday dinner party with my closest friends regardless of religious affiliation. I was not yet calling that American Celebration, as I titled it in my latest book, but that was the origin of it.

About the image that accompanies this post: This is a sunprint I made titled Las Vegas Skyline with UFO. The original is in the permanent collection of the Hammargren Home of Nevada History, a private museum.

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Good Knowledge, Bad Teacher: Part 3

 Lesson 3: Getting Help When You Have a Bad Teacher

 

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thank you!
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Thank you for your wise and courageous words. May spiritual mystery and manipulative/exploitive secrecy never be confused one for

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Good Knowledge, Bad Teacher: Part 2

Lesson 2: How to Recognize the Warning Signs of an Unsafe Group.

The intent of this post is to contribute to the discussion on how to have a safe community. 

Recently the pagan community has been discussing this topic as a result of publicity over the arrest of Kenny Klein, a news story summarized here: http://wildhunt.org/2014/03/allegations-emerge-after-pagan-author-charged-with-possessing-child-pornography.html 

Some posts by pagans and heathens either in reaction to the news or about how to have a safe community: 

Do I Have to Have Sex to Be a Witch? http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/thea-s-inbox/let-s-talk-about-sex.html
The Community Reacts to Kenny Klein http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-studies-blogs/witch-at-large/my-take-on-the-kenny-klein-affair.html 
Secrecy http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-studies-blogs/witch-at-large/the-tyranny-of-secrecy.html 
Evil Thrives on Secrecy http://www.witchesandpagans.com/pagan-culture-blogs/gael-ur/evil-thrives-on-secrecy.html 
Abuse creates spiritual taint (contains some foul language) http://krasskova.weebly.com/blog/a-conversation-with-kenaz-filan 

There are some legitimate traditions that have hierarchies, and there are some traditions that reserve certain secrets and mysteries for higher levels of the group. Because there are such traditions, it’s hard to tell from the point of view of a prospective student whether the existence of levels and secrets indicates an established tradition or a means of dangling a carrot in front of the student to get student to keep doing what Bad Teacher demands. If one of the things student is expected to keep secret is that Bad Teacher is getting sex from student, that’s a clue that things are not well. 

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