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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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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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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