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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Of college, cats, poetry, and Odin

Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path, my spiritual experiences in college continued both my newfound heathen path and the experiences with animal totems I had been taught as a child. The first day I moved into UC-Santa Cruz, I saw my spirit animal watching over me.

 The quotes in this post are quotes from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts, which covers my first 30 years on the Earth. (I'm now 45.)

      “I had never ridden a [city] bus before.  I was afraid I wouldn’t recognize my stop, and would end up down in the city of Santa Cruz, wondering what to do in the big scary city.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a cat out in the field, but when I turned to look there was nothing there.  “A cat spirit,” I thought.  “There’s a cat spirit watching over me.” 

 I started having past life memories. Two of the three of them were in Russia, and I started to think that maybe it had not been purely the coincidence of seeing that someone was studying some exotic and challenging language at the point in high school where I was expected to start learning a foreign language that had led me to learn Russian and to go on to study Soviet Political Analysis at UCSC.

     “I had three images in my head that seemed more real than dreams, but belonged to the wrong context to have been this life.  I cast them in poetry.  Memories from Nowhere #1, “I stand in a reddened room./ Gold stone glitters on the wall/ Lacquered sandstone lying lies/ Of wealth no one has ever known.”  I danced in this desert temple to the music of “the pipe gourds of peasants/ and shaking metal sheaves.”  In #2 “I am the root woman, the old witch of the woods” in the far south of old Russia, by the look of the house and the weather; such a wooden peasant cot with its painted shutters could have been built in the 9th century or the 19th.  In the third vision I am some type of wanderer, also in old Russia by my felt boots, searching the Steppes for evidence of the second lifetime, and finding the old stone foundations of a village fallen into ruin for 300 years.  “Stone and pottery, beads of glass/ Were yielding to the growing grass.”

Poetry and writing were the way I related my dreams and visions to others, and they were also the way I worked through how I thought and felt for myself. Most of my poetry and writing were hard work using my skills, but sometimes I felt my poetry was inspired. It was a special feeling, and I can only describe it as a state which is part meditative trance and part compulsion, with a splash of religious ecstasy. Because I primarily related to my heathen path through poetic inspiration and rune magic, which are both powers of Odin, I felt closest to Odin. I also related to him in his warrior aspect, since I had grown up in a martial arts school. I still practiced both the physical forms and the meditations I had learned in kung fu, and I was comfortable with the idea of a god who was both warrior and wizard. 

I was sure that he was the god who would become my patron. I was both wrong and right, but I would not know that until thirty more years had passed. I'll tell both the story of how wrong I was and the story of how right I was, when I get to those parts of my tale. Taking my story in chronological order, my next post will be about my spiritual experiences when I spent the summer of 1987 studying in England. 

Since I've been talking about writing poetry and the fall equinox is coming up, I'd like to conclude this post by sharing a short poem. This was first published in The Sonoma Index-Tribune in the early 90s and reprinted in my poetry chapbook Renaissance Woman.

Fall Equinox

Light goes before dark and follows after,
And now suspended from a rafter
In the great barn which covers Earth
Is a lamp of Death and a lamp of Birth.
The farmer opens the barn door wide,
And in walks springtime's loving bride,
Grown old and wise and full and fat,
And on the Birth-lamp hangs her hat.

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A Message from Thor to Humanity: Stop Poisoning the Earth

The message is simple: "Stop poisoning the Earth."

How I received this message is also fairly simple, although it took me 28 years from when I decided the heathen path was my path until I heard this message. What to do about the message is a little more complicated.

I've been telling the story of my personal journey on my heathen path, and I'll resume the story in my next post. Since there is so much story to tell, and this message needs to get out to humankind, I'm pausing the story in order to post this message. The reason I decided to write this blog was so that I could get the gods' messages out to humanity.

The short version of how I received this message is this: I've always been a writer, since I was a little kid. I started writing poetry, songs, and fiction very early. I was already "hearing" characters talking in my head as a child, as many authors do. Last year, I started writing a novel based on heathen mythology. I "heard" characters talking to each other, or saw them in my mind's eye, and sometimes just sat down at the computer to write and scenes just flowed out my hands. This is the normal way I write. When I started "hearing" the gods this way while writing Some Say Fire, I did not think they were really the gods at first. I thought I was just writing a novel. When I reach that part of my personal story, I'll share all the ways I found out that sometimes it was really them talking. Most of the time it's my subconscious talking when I write. But sometimes, perhaps a few minutes of gnosis experiences out of thousands of hours of writing time, I've received what I believe to be messages from the gods to humanity. I need to get these messages out to my fellow humans, not leave them locked in an unpublished and possibly unpublishable novel.

The summer monsoon came to the Mojave Desert a couple of months ago, and a huge thunderstorm cracked the night over my house. I asked if Thor had a message for humanity. He did. "Stop poisoning the Earth." It was the same message Sif had given me the previous fall, when I first started writing Some Say Fire. In the first post I made in this blog, I quoted the scene I was given in the novel, and then interpreted it as a message against the GMO grain crops that are designed to be resistant to herbicides so that more herbicides can be used. Sif's message was specific, but Thor's was more general. That leaves it open to personal interpretation.

It makes sense that Thor cares about the Earth. Not only is he the god who gives rain to us so we can grow crops, including the kind of grain crops that are the major sphere of power of his wife Sif, he is also the son of the Earth Mother. Jord means Earth. Jord is also known as Fjorgynn, a name linguistically relating to names of Indo-European rain and thunder gods like Thor. Thor's father Odin is a sky god, so in terms of the archetypal story of the union of the Sky Father and the Earth Mother, Thor and Sif are one such pair and so are Thor's parents. Poisoning the Earth is hurting his mother. His literal mother.

What exactly does "stop poisoning the Earth" mean?

Does it mean buy organic food, so as to vote with my wallet for less pesticides and herbicides on plants, and less antibiotics and hormones given to animals? Buy certified Non GMO Project foods when they're available? I've become convinced that is one of the things I must do, even though it's difficult with a tight budget. Before, if the organic version of a producet was unaffordable, I would buy the non organic choice. Now I just don't buy the item at all. I'm losing weight, because I can't afford as much food. So, that's a plus, because that's good for my beauty and social acceptability, and not eating poison must surely be good for my health. 

I grew close to Thor in the first place because in this desert ecosystem, rain is such a rare blessing, and of course I can't grow my garden without it, I'm always utterly delighted when his storm arrives and it starts raining. It's my habit to raise a joyful toast in thanks each time.

I grow organic food in my garden, but I still have to buy food too. I don't have a farm, just a normal sized yard. I grow traditional crops of the desert southwest adapted to desert conditions, supplied by Native Seed Search. I compost my yard waste and kitchen scraps, which I have ritualized as Presents for the Gnome, making a sacrifice of kitchen scraps to the garden gnome. The gnome is a total vegan and a freetarian. The more I give to the gnome, the more the gnome gives back to me, in the form of rich black compost soil to add to the garden beds. Although he is represented by a garden gnome statue, the landwight is actually a being of vast power. The gnomic blessing of the compost soil grows healthy and delicious foods, and beautiful and lusciously scented flowers to attract the bees and the hummingbirds.

I save rainwater to water my garden. I'm thankful that's not illegal here like it is some other places in the USA. I have a bucket positioned under the drip from the air conditioner, which only condenses water when the air is humid. Condensed water is the purest I have access to, so that goes on food crops. I also manually save household greywater from the kitchen and bathrooms to water my garden. There is a bucket or pitcher next to every faucet and shower nozzle. The water I use to wash herbs doesn't go down the drain, it goes back into the herb beds. My yard has an automated watering system, but most of the year it's only legal to use it on certain days, plus, that water both costs money and is drawn from Lake Mead, which is also where our local power comes from (Hoover Dam.) Municipal drinking water has all kinds of additives that are not good for plants, like flouride and chlorine; rainwater is superior for gardening. Vegetables such as tomatoes have to have even water every day. So I hand-water a lot with buckets. In the summer, I hook up the "redneck shower" outside -- a sun-heated garden hose with a shower nozzle -- and my greywater falls directly on the yard.

So, I buy and grow organic food, and I save water. That's not enough, though. What else does "stop poisoning the Earth" mean, and what can I do about it? Drive less? I already combine trips and plan my route to save gas, because it's expensive. In fact, I do so many things to save money my friends urged me to write a book about it, which is why I wrote Skinflint Hints. Frugal living and green living have a lot of overlap. Money is a pretty good measure of how much of the Earth's resources one is using. So what else does the message mean? Buy fewer things? I already buy very few luxuries; if anything is really not necessarily I usually wait to be given it as a gift. If I have to buy something at all, buy the quality one so it won't wear out as fast and fewer things will end up in the landfill? Check. I do that already, too, when I can. Buy used instead of new? Check. Use less plastic packaging? Buy less plastic in general -- get the natural thing instead of the petroleum-based thing? Don't buy anything with plastic microbeads in it? Be careful what I throw away? Think about how easy something will be to recycle before I buy it? Think of how a thing or its packaging could be re-used into something else before I buy it? I do that anyway; it's just part of the country ways in which I was raised. Try to buy old stocks of old-fashioned, illegal non-mercury lightbulbs so as not to add more poison mercury to the trash? Use hand tools instead of power tools? Repair instead of replace? I was doing that already. I was doing most of these things already, because most ways to save resources also save money. The only thing I wasn't doing was buying more expensive organic food and looking for the rare and expensive certified non-GMO foods. Altering my behavior as a consumer is a good start, but is it enough?

What else should I be doing? Vote for less poisoning? Volunteer for a cause? Sign internet petitions? I'm not sure that even does anything except give away my email. March in the streets against corporations that poison the Earth?

Yes. All of it. Everything. That's only the beginning.

Get this message out to others? Yes. What I can do as an individual that could have the most impact is to do what I'm doing right now: pass this message to mankind on to other people. As one person, my choices as a consumer and in daily living may have a small impact, but when many people choose to help end the poisoning of the earth, there may be a much larger impact. Sharing the message is the single most important thing I can do.

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thank you! That sounds like a great thing to try.
  • Yvette Tillema
    Yvette Tillema says #
    I connected to your message and actually am bewildered as to what to do. I like you feel that I do really really try to not poison

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Rune Magic Brought Me to the Gods

Continuing my story of my personal journey on my heathen path, after I received the rune book for my 17th birthday in 1986, I started applying rune magic to other types of magic I was learning.

 A quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts:
     “Cynthia and another Wiccan lady went with Jay and the regular crowd to Cavedale Road one night.  She taught us to cast circles of protection to keep out evil entities.  “I will demonstrate,” she said, and to our attuned senses the circle she drew in the air glowed with white light.

     “That felt like moonlight,” someone said, and I had felt it too, exactly like moonlight:  soft white light with indistinct edges.

     “Now you try,” Cynthia directed, and we each cast our own circle in turn.  Jim the Goat’s was of granite, Juleh’s a thorny briar like barbed wire, and each in turn I felt them, saw them, all of us seeing the same thing.  When I cast mine, it was an electric blue glow with the twenty four runes written over it in red, repeating forever.  “That looks intricate,” Cynthia said.  For once even she could not identify the substance of a student’s circle.

     “It’s runes,” I said.  She smiled, a knowing and satisfied smile, I thought, as if remembering the book she had given me.”

The practice of rune magic led me to the gods. Here is another quote from my memoir. I've put in some additional remarks in [brackets] that were not in the quote but which the reader would have understood in the context of the book. 

     “I performed many rune readings for friends with my homemade set of painted river rocks.  Once Jim the Goat asked me for a magical stick that would turn him into a werewolf, so I researched an appropriate set of symbols and walked along the bike path with my bundle of tools, looking for a likely oak branch.  I spotted one, jumped and grabbed it and it snapped off in my hand cleanly, as if cut.  When I finished the “tine”—jargon for a stick with runes on it—I remarked on this to Jim and pointed out the moss which was still wet and green, and he believed it to hold great power.  Later he told me it had worked exactly as he had envisioned.  Personally I had my doubts Jim could actually turn into a wolfman, but I kept it to myself.

     “Doubt is my enemy,” I told myself often that summer.  [That summer = the summer between high school and college when I was 17.] The runes excited my curiosity about the culture and religion that had produced them, and I made numerous trips to Berkeley with Jay to buy obscure books. 

[It was 1986 and the era of buying books off the internet had not yet arrived. Living in Sonoma, the closest place to access affordable used books of the type I wanted to read was Berkeley, which was a 45 mile trip each way via California's I-580, and I did not have a car. I tagged along with my older brother Jay when he visited Berkeley.]

I decided that this was the path for me, that I had finally found a system of belief that made sense, but though I tried I could not make myself actually believe in deities.  I could easily see the truth behind the myths, that the gods represented the forces that govern the universe, such as sun, earth, grain, communication, and so forth, but I could not see them as existing, only as symbolizing.

     I knew if I could harness the kind of faith that Jim the Goat had in my tine, I could do incredible things, as the masters of chi did when kung fu was of the Shaolin temple, as faith healers still did the world over.  I discarded Asimov’s definition of magic as any technology more advanced than one’s own, and accepted the definition that Wiccans and other pagans used, that magic was an act of will intended to affect reality.  Belief was a power that could unlock the potential of my mind.  I could go far beyond the simple pain suppression techniques I’d learned from the TV, and the enhanced athletic performance I’d sometimes managed in martial arts.  [When I wrote about pain suppression learned from TV, I was talking about Mr. Spock from Star Trek, my childhood hero. He used his mind to ignore pain.] The question was, how to get it?

     I struggled with doubts, as I’d once struggled to learn the Meditation on Nothing.  Just as suddenly as with new meditations, everything clicked into place.  I told myself, “I believe in myself.  I know I can use magic, I’ve seen it many times.  I therefore enspell myself with belief.  I believe because I will myself to believe!”  Then I laughed out loud with the inrush of possibility.”

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  • G. B. Harte
    G. B. Harte says #
    A runic circle or globular shield is an excellent idea. I need to think about how to do this. Gives me something to think upon
A Rune Magic Book Set Me On My Heathen Path

Continuing the story of my early experiences that led me to Asatru, I finally arrived at the trailhead of the heathen path at 17. In this quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts, my older brother’s girlfriend Cynthia gave me a gift that set me on the road of the runes:
     “On my 17th birthday, Cynthia gave me a slender book, Futhark:  A Handbook of Rune Magic, by Edred Thorsson.  Reading it felt more like recognition than discovery, and by the time I put it down I knew I had seen Truth.  As a devotee of Tolkien I knew that runes were ancient writing, and could be used for magic.  Now I saw infinite levels of meaning in the mysteries the runes symbolized.  What clinched the feeling of Truth for me was that, understood metaphorically, nothing in the eldritch rune lore contradicted what I knew of science.  In Norse legend, in the beginning was the void, and the first other thing to exist was the differentiation of fehu and isa, fire and ice, the primal energy and the primal pattern.  It was easy to read this as energy and matter, two sides of the same coin, or the same magically charged void, but also a realistic description of the first things to exist in the multiverse, particles / waves.  Only then came the multiverse, then the giants or old gods, then the new gods, then our world, and then us.  Human beings were shaped from trees, and then followed a succession of human types known as Great Grandmother and Great Grandfather, Grandmother and Grandfather, Mother and Father, and finally Noble—that’s us.  It was evolution writ large, gods included.

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Kung Fu, Chi, Magic, and Fear

In my teens, I lived in a martial arts school. My brother Jay was the Sifu of Lale's Kung Fu Academy. I did not become a black belt because I would never take the oaths that went with high rank. Something in me knew Kung Fu wasn't my path for life, even though I was so fully immersed in the world of martial arts that I identified myself as a Taoist at the time. I learned the entire system, though, even the secrets that were supposed to be reserved for the black belts, including the Poison Hand. As the Sifu's sister, I was always available and would always be part of the family tradition even without taking any oaths, so when Jay started developing his own system, evolving a proto-MMA, I was his sparring partner. Formally, our family style was known as  Shaolin Sho Shu Kung Fu Way of the Beast.

Long before Jay started teaching, I had already learned Eastern-style meditation from the same place Jay learned it, our father, who had learned it in Japan. I learned to meditate before I learned  to read. Eastern-style meditation has been the foundation on which I built all my magical practices, even the heathen and pagan ones, because mental discipline, the ability to visualize, the ability to quiet my mind, and the ability to feel and direct the flow of chi are applicable to any type of magic from any system.

There is still a traditional school in California teaching the system of 7 Beasts Sho Shu Kung Fu as my brother learned it from Master Al Moore before Jay dreamed up his proto- Mixed Martial Arts style. I learned both the original system and the new system, and also saw every point along the way as Jay worked on it. The traditional seven beasts are Bear, Cobra, Crane, Dragon, Mantis, Mongoose, and Tiger. The three beasts I favored were Bear, Mantis, and Tiger, and those later became my three "skins" in the Bersarkrgangr martial arts system as well.

Having grown up with Kung Fu, my life has been shaped in many positive ways. Because of Kung Fu, I carry myself in a way that projects physical confidence, such that I've only experienced a handful of sexual attacks by strangers, all of which I escaped from physically unscathed, and I am hardly ever subject to harassment on the street or at a convention, no matter what I'm wearing (even a hobbit costume with a corset), which I'm given to understand is not the usual experience of women. Kung Fu provided me friends, physical exercise, the development of mind and body, the opportunity to enter organized competitions, and an outlook on life and self-discipline that has stayed with me even after I discovered that heathenry is my path. By the time I encountered other magical systems, I already possessed the basics for learning advanced magics. By the time I encountered the martial art of Bersarkrgangr, I already possessed fighting techniques to which I could apply to Bersarkrgangr, which is an entirely internal form and has no actual fighting moves of its own, so its practitioners must know other arts first.

Hanging on the wall of my family home / martial arts school when I was in high school was a quote that has been a touchstone in my life, and which I still live by today. It has been variously ascribed to Lao Tzu, Confucius, and Buddha. I have pushed myself to live up to this ideal all my life, and I believe it is completely compatible with a heathen outlook on life despite its Eastern origin. That quote is:

"He who conquers fear, conquers himself. He who conquers himself is the greatest of warriors. Never again walk in fear."

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Lord of the Monsters

Continuing my story of my early experiences that led me to my heathen path, I encountered a heathen god in my childhood, but I did not know who he was. I’m not sure what age I was at the time, but in my dream, I saw the town outside my window as having almond orchards like Ripon, California, where I lived until age 9.

The following is a quote from my memoir, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts: My Triumph Over Dissociative Identity Disorder. DID is a defense mechanism developed by children who were sexually abused before age 7, according to the latest edition of the DSM. My memoir is about how I recovered from that. This is relevant because it’s the reason I was more afraid of my father and brother than the goblins of the dreamtime when I encountered the monsters.

“One night, I saw goblins, small dark shapes coming up through the heat vent in the floor.  I saw their outlines distinctly, as if I were wearing my glasses, though of course I took them off to sleep.  I spoke to them in my mind, thinking at them as I had thought at the boy at school. 

“There’s no sport here.  I glad you came, though.  Let’s go out and have some fun.  Let’s make some mischief.” 

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  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thank you!
  • Brenda Caudill
    Brenda Caudill says #
    You are beautiful and I am glad you had Loki to help you.
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thank you!
  • wayne bates
    wayne bates says #
    You are a example of courage that we should applaud , not mock . If they have choosen to do so where you cannot see it , it just
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thank you! I've gotten secondhand reports of internet trolls mocking me in groups I'm not a member of where I can't see them, bu

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Sonoma, California

Continuing the story of my early experiences that led me to my heathen path, when I was 9, my family moved from Ripon, California, “Almond Capitol of the World,” to Sonoma, California, the wine country. By then I had really connected with the desert and its natural ways, but I was happy to move to a place where one did not have to belong to a Christian church to have any friends at school. My Fifth Grade teacher was openly Buddhist, and that really impressed me. She wasn’t a Christian and they let her teach children!

When I was done with all my schoolwork, she let me read real books. My favorite was a version of Robin Hood. The other children were reading middle readers, and I was reading in Middle English. The public school system which segments children by age instead of ability was not serving me well, but being allowed to read real books instead of just stare out the window when I was done with the busywork was wonderful. Going to school in a rural area back then did have one big advantage over today’s modern, urban schools: I was allowed to fight back against bullies and it didn’t ruin my life.

One of the life experiences I had that was later used as evidence that I was born berserker and qualified to learn the martial art of Bersarkrgangr was a playground scuffle during my Fifth Grade year. The following is a quote from my autobiography, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts, which I wrote when I was 30 and later published in 2011.

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