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.
Early Net Experiences Part 2: The Writing of Asatru For Beginners

I had only been a member of MSN ASATRU for a few months when suddenly one day I logged in and discovered I had been made the group's manager. The previous manager was nowhere to be found. There were no other managers, moderators, or admins. I was a still a near-total net newbie and I didn't know how to make a thread show me previous comments, let alone how to manage an internet forum. I had to learn how to use the back end controls of the time period. I had to learn some html programming so I could put text and graphics on the landing page and other pages, and create live links to photos hosted on host sites (yes, you had to known html to do that back then.)

When it came to actual content, though, I was on firm ground, having been heathen since 1986. I was always seeing newbies come on the group and ask for a beginner's book and people directing them to read the Eddas or academic papers, which can be intimidating even for adult readers, and a lot of the newbies were in their early teens, and just did not have the educational background to understand classical literature or college-level papers.

I started compiling a FAQ file on the group site. The FAQ page eventually became the first chapter of Asatru For Beginners.

At the time, my mom was a public high school English teacher. Sometimes she had free reading time in her classroom, and she kept a rack of books and other reading material for the students. I asked her what the typical American 14 year old boy read for pleasure during free reading, and she said Motor Sports Magazine. That's the reader for whom I wrote my book.

I kept Asatru For Beginners down to 20,000 words because mom told me that many average level teen readers found books longer than that so intimidating that they would not even start them. I kept the book entirely free of footnotes and quotes from foreign languages, both of which were typically found in any given Asatru related paper of the time period, since almost everything available was written for an academic readership. I wrote in American Family Newspaper style, with which I was familiar because I had written for newspapers.  I also filled my book with handy lists, so that as the book's owners became more advanced, they would still find it useful. I made my book non-sectarian, which set it apart from any other beginner's books available at the time, the others having been produced by sectarian organizations.

Since I first wrote it, Asatru has experienced some generational change, and some change sparked by the changing technology of the internet.  I'm working on a new edition to reflect these generational changes, which I hope to publish in 2017 when the book's current contract runs out. In the meantime, I still think it's the best and the easiest to understand of the beginner's books on Asatru.

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Early Net Experiences Part 1: MSN ASATRU

In 2001, I moved to a house where I could get internet access at home. I had been using the net at the public library, but the time rationing system meant I never had time to learn much. Search engines like Google didn't exist yet, but there was a search capability within the MSN Groups website, and one of the first things I did with my home net connection was join MSN ASATRU.

It was exciting to be able to connect with other heathens, and for the first time I encountered other heathens who lived outside of the USA. An Icelandic Asatruar joined the group and told us we were using Icelandic words wrong and we sounded ridiculous. American Asatruars had been greeting each other with "hailsa" for as long as I'd known any other Asatruars, but now we learned it was grammatically incorrect. Although it was hard to break a habit of using a word I'd been using for over a decade, I started using terms in my own language instead, and adopted the traditional "hail and well met."

Among my other early internet experiences was encountering the word Vanatru for the first time. I considered using it myself because of my dedication to Freya, but ultimately decided to stick with the word Asatru to describe my path because I consider all the gods who live in Asgard to be my gods. I'm very happy with that decision, as since then Vanatru has become its own sect very different from Asatru, and I have broadened and deepened my relationships with the gods of Asgard and have remained firmly committed to Asatru.

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Goddess Art and Body Image

Images of large bodied goddess figures really helped me deal with sudden changes to my body that happened in 1997. I dealt with more pressing issues first, but eventually I dealt with suddenly being a fat person, a person society perceives as less hard working, less beautiful, having less willpower, less healthy, less strong-- just generally less. I made several artworks based on different goddesses of the ancient world, and it helped me process those issues.

This art is a sunprint, which is a contact photograph that yields a photonegative image of the printed object, in this case a paper cutout of a line drawing I made of the goddess of Laussel. This is an adaptation rather than a replica, so it isn't precisely like the statue. The curved line represents the icy cave entrance, with the warmth of the earth within.

Some don't call these images goddesses, but fertility fetishes. These types of Stone Age statuary are officially named Venuses, such as the Venus of Willendorf, and Venus of Laussel, but Venus is a goddess name and is culturally specific. If I said I was making fetish art, people would get the totally wrong idea. When I was looking for images like these to adapt to sunprint art, I found them in art books in the public library as Mother Goddess figures, so that's the idea I'm going with. I've been considering them goddesses since I first saw them and by now they have become part of my personal path, so to me they are goddesses.

Given the age of the Willendorf and Laussel sculptures, between 20,000 to 25,000 years old, the people of that time and place would have been hunter-gatherers. Having a large body would have indicated abundance and prosperity, and fertility derived from same, all of which are positive things. None of  those are things I had at the time I was making this art, but re-imagining the social meaning of a large body from a negative to a positive still helped me pull out of negative thinking and depression. Identifying with these ancient body-positive images made a positive difference in my life.

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Holding a Heathen Ritual Upstairs

Continuing my story of my personal journey on my path, in the late 90s I started holding my own blots and sumbels in my apartment. My local area had neither festivals with public rituals nor any heathen groups I could find to join, so I started holding the holidays myself, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends. When I had non-heathen friends over for the holidays of the American holiday calendar, I did my holidays the American way. That eventually grew into my personal practice which I talk about in my book American Celebration. 

When I held specifically Asatru rituals, I usually held a sumbel (toasting ritual) but also sometimes held a blot (blessing) in addition. In preparing to hold a blot or sumbel for the first time, there was a practical consideration: Where do I pour out the blotbolli or horn? At the end of a heathen ritual, there is leftover liquid-- usually mead these days-- in a bowl (for a blot) or a horn (for a sumbel.) This liquid is supposed to be given to the landwights. I would have had to leave ritual space to access the ground, which was a common strip of lawn used by all the neighbors, down a flight of stairs. So I decided to pour the horn or bowl into my potted plants on the balcony, which I called "the hanging gardens of Las Vegas."

Offering through my plants connected my potted garden, in which I grew food, flowers, and small trees, with the land spirit. There is something very primal, very pagan, about gardening. It connected me with the land, the seasons, the weather, and all those gods and beings related to those things: spring maiden and harvest lord, sun and rain, and the spirits of nature.

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Celebrating Ostara

American Asatru has a major holiday that does not exist in Icelandic Asatru, which is Ostara. Ostara is the heathen and pagan Easter. Because Easter is a major cultural holiday in the USA, with many holiday traditions in which people of all faiths participate, it has also become a major holiday among many American pagans and heathens. Like many of the seemingly secular traditions surrounding Christian holidays, Easter has pagan roots. 

Ostara is the Germanic spelling of Eostre, the English goddess name that developed into the word Easter. A goddess of spring and dawn, Ostara's sphere of influence is the fertility of animals, as exemplified by the fertility symbols the bunny and the egg. The holiday of Ostara can be celebrated on the Spring Equinox, or for a few weeks after. The American secular holiday tradition of hiding dyed chicken eggs and then having the children hunt for them replicates the way real farmers hunt for the eggs of free range chickens. 

The Easter Egg symbol is used in different ways by different individual heathens and pagans and by different heathen and pagan groups. Some families do the traditional American Easter Egg Hunt for their children. Like other Americans and some Europeans, they might dye or decorate the eggs at home, a project in which children can participate. Others buy candies in the shape of eggs, chicks, and bunnies as substitutes for the real thing.

Some kindreds fill blown eggs with confetti and break them on each other's heads to bless each other. There was a group in California that had an annual Ostara campout at which eggs and nickels were placed in a replica Viking longship, and the boat was set on fire and launched into the Pacific Ocean as a sacrifice to the sea goddess, Ran. 

Find out more about American holidays in my book American Celebration: http://www.amazon.com/American-Celebration-Erin-Lale/dp/1304916138/ref=la_B004GLACQQ_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1425318146&sr=1-3

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The Light In My Heart

Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path, when I was 30 I was finally mentally and physically healthy.  When the goddess Freya had claimed me for her Priestess when I was 20, she had appeared in her solar aspect. In my mind's eye, she always appeared as the white-hot light of the sun. That Light is all-love and all-life. Until I became healthy enough to reach it again, I had only experienced that Light once, during my initiation in 1989. Ten years later, I was ready to bring it inside myself.

Through writing fiction, I came up with the idea of picturing the Light and bringing that Light into my heart. After a character in my story did it, I did it, too. I pictured my hand, reached into the Light, and pushed it into my heart.

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

     “I mentally reached out a hand into that shining consciousness of life-fire.  I reached.  I pulled. The light was within me.

     A grin spread over my face and I laughed out loud.  It worked!  The Light of my initiation all those years ago had been there all along.  I only needed a whole mind to reach it." 
 

That Light has been with me ever since. It is ecstatic. It's always there, pouring from my heart. Anytime I wish, I can temporarily fill my body with that light and experience the sun body, a state of religious ecstasy. Then I let the light go again, and Freya's Light radiates out to the world through me.

That’s the end of the story in my memoir; it ends with becoming healthy and whole and a vehicle for the light of my Goddess. But as with all stories that don’t end with death, life went on after the happily-ever-after. I've lived 16 more years since then, and I'll continue to share the story of my journey here in Gnosis Diary.

Freya is the Light in my heart.

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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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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • 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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