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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Experiencing Smoke and Silver

White daturas open gradually as the long summer evening deepens. Their scent blends with the scents of the perfume ritual. Gigantic sphinx moths hover like hummingbirds as they pollinate the humongous flowers. The perfumes take you on a journey, a journey to the Old West, as it exists in the dream plane where iconic figures like the Gunfighter come forth to guide you on a quest that is just as queer as it needs to be. 

A smell-o-story is a really original idea. Science fiction novels and movies have portrayed characters experiencing smell-o-vision movies, but they have not delivered the experience to the reader or viewer. Smoke and Silver by author / perfumer Derin Deschain of Cherry-Ka’s Trunk actually delivers that experience. 

The characters are a mix of familiar and new, transformed by their fragrances in the way that a key music theme for a character in a movie adds emotional depth to the story. The places in the story are similarly enlivened by the chapter fragrances. Everyday places are enhanced into the idea-sphere of Western landscapes that leap from old movies to inhabit the reader's imagination, interacting with the reader at a deep level of emotion, memory, and body. 

When I read one of the chapters, I was outside at night in my garden, and as I smelled the fragrance I had this feeling that there was something about this one that I could not quite pin down and identify. At the end of each chapter is a list of key notes in the chapter's fragrance, and when I read the list I understood. I couldn't identify it because it was all around me, like a fish not noticing water. The scent was datura, and I was sitting right next to it. I stood and went over to the datura in full bloom reaching its giant flowers to the half moon, and tested the air. Then I smelled the perfume again. Yes, that was the scent exactly. 

The packaging dispenses the scents in order, like unscrolling a scroll of scent story. The story and its characters unscroll similarly in each new chapter, with new depth developing for the major characters like a new tube of scent dispensing from the scroll, full of promise and delight. 


The reader not only experiences sensory information, but receiving the scent encourages deep breathing at specific times, like in meditation. The way each character and chapter has its own scent dispensed in order, combining senses together with story in a specific way and order, lends itself to a ritualized experience, since there are specific actions to perform at specific times, just like combining words, music, standing and movement, and light in a traditional orthodox service.

Indeed, the story is a ritual, or it could be one if one chooses. There are at least two different kinds of ritual it could be, or it could be both, if the reader decides to experience it that way. 

It is a ritual coming-of-age with a symbolic death and rebirth. Many traditional societies and many modern pagan and heathen groups mark the transition from childhood to adulthood with a ritual that includes a symbolic death and rebirth. If one wished to use this story as such a ritual, the end of the chapter right after the ritualized death, saving, survival, and escape would be the part where one would perform whatever ritual words or actions one would choose for that purpose, such as: announcing one’s intention to join a profession or trade, study, marry, travel, etc.; taking a new name or affirming one’s given name; putting on a new article of clothing; taking a new magical or symbolic object, etc. 

The main character in this story has already taken a new name and identity before the story starts, as seen by a few references to the character’s past, and by how the character uses clothing to present himself and his body in accordance with his identity. His near-death experience could be read as literal within the story, but when he is saved it is so perfectly in line with other stories that it becomes a ritualized experience even just by reading it, without even adding any other ritual elements.

Or, the story could be a ritual of Odinnic initiation, referencing Odin’s self-sacrifice on the Tree. If one wished to use the story for such a ritual, the ritualized hanging would be the place to pause the story to go inside one’s mind and connect with the wisdom known only to the dead, and to the shaman. Then, one is brought back to life and to the normal world by being saved and rescued. At the end of the chapter, as a reader who is coming of age might be taking a new self or affirming their old one, a reader who has initiated within will be reconnecting to outside world, and either taking a new identity as a shaman or affirming their old one. 

Either or both would be excellent rituals for a group like mine, American Celebration Kindred, which uses both modern American traditions and Heathen or Asatru ones, or for an individual who does both pagan and modern American ways. When a kindred member recently asked on social media how to do a coming of age ritual for a non-kindred member outside of a religious or traditional context (not her exact words, I am paraphrasing) I recommended Smoke and Silver as a Western based ritual. It was not possible to explain what I meant on a social media platform where I am limited to about one paragraph, so I’m writing my thoughts on that here.

The ritualized beats of a Western show with a train robbery, gunfight, and hanging are an excellent structure for a ritual that hooks into the familiar archetypes of the American West to create a uniquely American ritual. 

The final act of this play presents the main character, and thus the reader, a choice: to wear a gray hat or a black hat. This is the final moment of the ritual, and if one were performing this scent story as a ritual, the ritual participants would choose at the end to wear the gray or the black, good or evil, peace or violence. They would select a hat as a ritual souvenir and wear it as they too ride away from the valley and the ritual into the world and new life. 

This story would be a fun story even without the fragrances, but with them it is something entirely new, a completely new medium of entertainment. How rare it is to find something so different, and even rarer when an experimental art form engages so well with both the mind and the emotions. If the reader chooses, this story could be more than just a fun entertainment; it could be a ritual of the American West, transforming the reader along the way. I will be reading and experiencing the next books in this series for sure.


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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.


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