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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Growing Up Among Almond Trees

Almond Orchards

As a child in Ripon, California, I lived surrounded by almond orchards. The trees grew in neat, straight rows, in accordance with human desires rather than their own. The only time the trees were able to have a little freedom was during the annual Almond Blossom Festival, when they dropped pinkish-white petals all over the ground. Almond trees lined the main street of town, and the petals collected in drifts on the street, and blew through the air during the parade. I could sense the trees' exuberant happiness at that time of year.

The orchards were not just full of trees, though. They were also full of angry honeybees who lived to sting humans. I understood why. They were being kept as slaves, and forced to live a migrant lifestyle that did not suit them. Commercial beehives were moved around from one orchard to another, disorienting the bees. Although I could sense why they hated human beings, understanding them did not make me any less afraid of them. I was allergic and would pass out if I was stung, and they would chase humans, and they terrified me. 40 years later, I'm free of that fear, though the cost was too high-- I'll write about that when I catch up to the present day.

The Tradition of Hospitality

My mom's parents, who immigrated from Austria and were native speakers of Plattdeutsch, were nominally Christian but observed a number of traditional Germanic customs that no doubt originated in heathen times. Some of these customs had a coat of Christian paint on old heathen wood. There is an old tradition known among heathens today as Guestright. That is taking in transients, and goes back to the days when there was no such thing as a hotel, and back to a place where sleeping outdoors would surely mean freezing to death, so the custom had a practical function in society. It also had heathen religious overtones, because there were many stories of Odin wandering in disguise, and the traveler who came to the door might be Odin, and one had best not turn him away and anger him. My grandfather observed a custom of inviting a "bum" home for Christmas Eve every year. Although it was tied to a Christian holiday, that very holiday is also an old pagan and heathen holiday, Yule. The family claimed this tradition was about charity, but it was transparently really about honoring the wanderer. If it had been about charity, they could have invited a poor person from the local area, or made a donation. The custom was very clear that the person invited to the feast had to be an anonymous vagrant whose real name no one knew. Looking back, knowing what I know now about heathen stories and customs, it is quite obvious to me that was a survival of a folk custom meant to honor Odin. And it was still being practiced in the 1970s.

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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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