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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Asatru Altar for Sumbel and Blot

This photo is my altar for a holiday sumbel and blot, such as Yule. Sumbel is the toasting and blot is the blessing.

Altars for different purposes will have different things on them. This one is a portable altar used for community ritual. A permanent altar dedicated to a god or ancestor or to the gods generally, also called a shrine, would generally have fewer working tools and more symbols, and would probably include representations of the gods or other beings to whom it is dedicated, such as statues or pictures, and possibly sacrifices to them. Some Asatruars keep shrines and some don't, but any Asatru community ritual includes a sumbel, and most include a blot.

The altar for a sumbel has to include something to drink since sumbel is a toasting ritual. Asatru uses a drinking horn for this ritual. We use a cow's horn to honor Audhumla, the sacred cow who was the first self-aware being. Our mythology says that before time began or the World Tree grew, Audhumla licked the gods and the giants out of the ice and nurtured them on her milk. So a cow's horn represents the Great Mother.

There are two bottles and two horns on the altar in this picture because one bottle and horn set is for alcohol and one is for a non-alcoholic beverage. This altar also contains a bottle opener. This isn't a dedicated holy bottle opener, just the normal one from my kitchen, but being used for ritual means this opener is going to have a bit of specialness about it even after being returned to normal use. It is traditional to toast with mead, but other beverages work, too.

The altar for blot almost always contains all the things for sumbel as well because sumbel usually comes first and then blot. In the old days, the blot bowl caught the blood of a sacrificed animal, keeping the blood from touching the ground, and then the blood was sprinkled over the participants to bless them. In modern times, the bowl is partially filled with water, and then the dregs of the horn are poured in the bowl after the sumbel, and the mead / water mixture is sprinkled over the participants to bless them.

The pine branch on the altar is the asperger, which is used to sprinkle the water onto the participants. This pine branch is from a sacred pine tree I maintain at my home for this purpose. Before the main ritual, I ritually cut the asperger from the tree with this ritual knife. The knife can then go on the altar, on my belt, or can be put away.

This basic altar contains only the things necessary for the ritual. It can also be decorated with seasonally appropriate decorations, symbols of the gods, and anything meaningful to the godhi or gythia (the conductor of the ritual) or to the ritual participants.

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Fireverse 5: When Loki Told Me NOT to Go Spread Anarchy

On Friday April 18, 2014, there was a barbecue at the Bundy Ranch. I was being pressured to go by my political friends who had been my campaign volunteers when I ran for office the previous year. The woman who had been my campaign manager called me and asked me to come out and lead everyone in singing Bring It Down, the Leslie Fish anarchist ballad, which we had sung at a New Years' Even party after the end of my campaign. 


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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    Loki appears as a goddess in the Anime "Is it wrong to try and pick up girls in a dungeon" which can be seen on an
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Thanks! Several of my friends are also writing about Loki and Ragnarok. We all seem to be on the same wavelength.

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Fireverse 4: Lodhur

I had a mystical experience that gave me insight into the god Lodhur. In heathen mythology, the brothers Odin, Honir, and Lodhur sculpted both the world and humankind. They each gave different gifts to humanity. One of Odin's gifts was breath.

One day, a friend took me to a restaurant inside one of the local casinos, which was very smoky. I had an asthma attack and had to go outside to get some air.

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Las Vegas Pagan Pride Day 2015 at the Temple of Sekhmet

This was the first year we've held Pagan Pride Day at the Temple of Sekhmet, which is a couple of miles north of Indian Springs. There were a few metaphoric bumps in the road, but I think we'll flatten them out next time. PPD was a wonderful, exhausting, fulfilling experience of great community, great ritual, great entertainment, and all around awesomeness.

I picked up my old friend Prudence Priest at the airport the Thursday before PPD. She and Tom N. and I had a lot of fun in Vegas and in my home in Henderson. Saturday morning I headed into the desert with my truck loaded with a tent, tables, ice chest, books, and other stuff for our booth. Prudence sold her Lithuanian amber jewelry and my books, Asatru For Beginners, American Celebration, and No Horns On These Helmets. Because I'm still dealing with my knee injury, I could not have managed setup without the help of the wonderful volunteers. After putting down a rebellion by my body, I managed to get my energy together to teach my drum circle workshop, which was well attended and a lot of fun. The drum circle was the highlight of my day, but I also really enjoyed watching the fire dancers, Flameology (pictured) and having a fry bread taco for lunch. Our exclusive hot food vendor was the Western Shoshone Tribe.

It was great to see the replacement statue of Sekhmet. The old one was stolen last year and was never recovered. It was great to see so many old friends and meet new friends. Thanks to everyone who made this event happen.

The day after PPD was the Blood Moon Supermoon Eclipse. Prudence, Tom, and I tried to watch the onset from the viewing platform on top of the Stratosphere, but we only caught glimpses of it through the cloud cover. Prudence and I howled anyway, garnering a few odd looks from the young people with drinks who may have thought we were having a little too much fun even for Vegas. Then we went to my house in Henderson and had much better viewing as totality passed. Prudence and I and my mom and the neighbor dog all howled at the wolf to let the moon go. It must have worked, the moon came back (lol.)

Photo: a pic I snapped with my phone camera of the performance by Flameology.

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Time-Policing Our Holidays: Or, Why Americans on Social Media Are Hating On Pumpkin Spice

Pumpkin spice.

1. What is it?

A mix of spices used in autumn harvest celebration foods, including pumpkin pie, apple pie, apple pastry, apple crisp, squash pie, pear crisp, and things that are supposed to taste like them, for example, spiced cider, spiced hard cider, spiced coffee, spiced wine, spiced mead, and spiced ice cream.

The basic spices are:
(allspice, sometimes)
(cardamom, sometimes)

So, for those of you outside the USA, it's basically the same spices as Lebkuchengewürz except without the coriander and star anise. When one sees a Facebook meme mocking pumpkin spice that starts with "white girls be like" they are referring to the fact that this holiday spice mixture is similar to a German holiday spice mixture. The idea behind those memes is that only Germanic descended people go nuts over this flavor, but that's really not true. All kinds of Americans like pumpkin pie and apple pie.

2. Why is it a seasonal flavor?

It's used to flavor things made from seasonal produce like pumpkins and apples. The harvest seasons for pumpkins, squashes, apples, pears, and so forth in the USA extend from August to December, since different vegetables and fruits come on at different times and the USA is so large that it has many different climates with different dates of the onset of frost.

3. Why are people mocking it?

Americans have been conditioned to time-police our holidays by observing the practice of our large corporations to start selling holiday related merchandise while another holiday is still coming up (for example, putting out Christmas decorations before Halloween), and in the case of Christmas, the practice of piping holiday music into the stores starting so early that it is nearly universally acknowledged that it reaches homicidal levels of annoying by the time the actual holiday rolls around. Americans think September is too early to start selling harvest celebration flavors. The people are attempting to time-police our corporations over it and shame each other into not supporting the practice by purchasing the product too early. The purpose of this social shaming is to cause the public to wait to make holiday purchases until the correct holiday season, and thus to cause market pressure to influence corporations to wait to attempt to sell holiday products until the correct holiday season.

4. Why are people saying it's "too early"?

To understand why Americans think selling a harvest celebration flavor almost precisely on the date of the autumnal equinox is "too early" one must first realize that the USA has an official national holiday to celebrate harvest in November, Thanksgiving. It's not celebrated in other countries at all, but it's actually our biggest national holiday -- at least for adults. Kids get a week off for Christmas and Easter, but adults only get 1 day for those if they work at a place that closes for national holidays, or if they work at a place where they can request religious holidays off and have requested the Christian set of holidays, but we get two days for Thanksgiving, a Thursday and a Friday, making for a 4 day weekend for those who get weekends off. It's the only national holiday that's more than one day.

5. Where can I learn more?

To read more about the origin, functions, importance, and modern practices surrounding Thanksgiving, and other holidays celebrated in the USA, see my book American Celebration.

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    The local Barnes & Noble had pumpkin spice muffins this Saturday. They even had free samples to entice people to buy them. I had

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Fireverse 3: Books Are Magic

Continuing my story of receiving gnosis through fiction writing, it was always obvious to me which parts were inspired, because they felt different from everything else. That feeling would not be obvious to the reader, though. In thousands of hours of writing and being open to receive gnosis, over the course of a year and a half, I had perhaps a few minutes of messages for humanity. They occurred at unpredictable times. There are mediums who contact a god, dead person, or other being and relay questions and answers for someone else, but I’m not one of them. I'm a writer. I receive poetic inspiration.

This is the gnosis I received about what happens to burned books. I sat down to write in my novel, and this came out of my fingers. 

What flowed out:

Loki was sitting on a marble bench reading a book. Odin sat down beside him. “Hello, Loki.”

Loki didn’t look up. “Hi.”

“What book is that?”

“Leaves of Grass. In German translation.”

“Is it any good?”


“Is it from my library?” Odin received many book sacrifices. Anytime a book was burned in the world, if it was not dedicated aloud to some other god, it always went to him. Sometimes there were whole piles of the same book all burned together. He had not gotten around to reading every title in his library yet. He was still working on all the ones burned together at Alexandria.


There was a long pause. “I’m going herb shopping in Midgard after lunch. Would you like to come with me?”


“Are you the father of Zisa’s new puppy?”


[redacted – unsuitable to print in a family newspaper]

“What?” Loki looked up, blinking in startlement. “Um, peeled, thank you.”

“Just checking to see if you were listening.”

What I think it means:

Unless specifically dedicated to someone else, burned books go to Odin. Books have an afterlife.

Further thoughts on this gnosis:

That was the original gnosis, the actual words which flowed from my fingers when Odin inspired me with this message. Later, I put in a scene in which burned books actually show up in his library. The talking scene was gnosis, and the scene in which a bonfire spontaneously shows up in the library, depositing a pile of books, came from my head based on that gnosis.

I haven’t heard of anyone else receiving the same gnosis, but it makes sense to me that books would have an afterlife. Heathenry is strongly infused with animism, and the wider culture in which we live treats books as objects of reverence. We are taught as children to respect books, and not to damage them. Authors sign books like artists sign artworks. The physical book has inherent worth in our culture, beyond the knowledge that is in it. In the US, the three guaranteed freedoms listed first in our Bill of Rights are speech, the press, and religion, of all which are related to books and knowledge. We have book temples; we love books and the knowledge within them so much we've had public libraries for centuries longer than we've had public health care. Our culture has elevated the importance of books above our own lives. Of course, with that much human energy directed at them, books aren't just inanimate objects.

When you read a book, you are a telepath who owns a time machine. You see into the mind of the author, even if the author is long dead. When you write a book, you speak to the whole world, and to the end of time. What an awesome creation writing is! Books are magic.

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Fireverse Part 2: When I Challenged Loki to a Duel

Why? Because apparently I possess the common sense the gods gave a honey badger.
I had just run for office for the second time. I was exhausted and disillusioned. I had seen how the political sausage was made and felt that the system was rigged. I read an essay on Popehat, “Burn the [expletive deleted] System to the Ground,” and agreed wholeheartedly. That opened me to Loki in his aspect as Breaker of Worlds. I didn’t realize that until much later, though.

In November 2013, I went to see Thor: The Dark World. I enjoyed it, but I left the theater thinking, “I could write a much more authentic story about the heathen gods than that!” That opened me to Loki, too, and to Odin, though I didn’t realize that until later, either.

“Yes, you could,” purred that voice. Loki appeared in my mind as a fictional character, talking and making story. I didn’t think it was really him, though. For one thing, I was used to hearing fictional characters talking in my head; it’s how I’ve been writing fiction for decades. Like many other authors, when I get an idea for a story and the characters start talking to each other, it always feels like the characters are banging on the inside of my head trying to get out. For another thing, he didn’t look like I remembered him. I had met Loki as a child, in a dream, without knowing who he was, but by the time he showed up again, I had identified the Lord of the Monsters as Loki (see my previous post Lord of the Monsters for that story.) Now he was coming around my mind cosplaying as Marvel-Loki. It took me a while to realize, “Duh, shapeshifter.” Of course he can look like anyone or anything he wants.

Scenes played in my head. I saw chemtrails create the Fimbulwinter, and the Well of Worlds on fire because it was full of fracking fluid, and Sif lying dead in her temple, poisoned by her own worshippers who accidentally sacrificed unlabeled GMO grain. I saw myself die in a zombie apocalypse with a Smith & Wesson Shield in my hand – weeks before I actually was given one for Yule – the dead rising because the Rainbow Bridge was out. I heard Heimdall say it broke under the weight of dead cats and dogs.

“Look, there is dialogue, there are scenes, write.” His horns of flame tickled the inside of my skull, giving me a headache.

I told him, “Shut up in there or I’ll write a scene in which you get bitten by the Midgard Serpent.”

His eyes twinkled and he laughed at me, and—well, I wrote the scene. It is now in the book.

He was delighted. “You wrote something!”

Yes, I did, I wrote something. You win. Score one for Loki.

So, when I realized, “Holy *^(&^ it’s really Loki!” what did I do? I challenged him to a formal duel, using traditional Old Norse fighting words. I wrote a horrible little fanfic story in which the very worst thing that could ever happen to anyone happens – what I thought was the worst thing that had ever happened to me, that is. I wasn’t even aware that was what I was doing. It only became glaringly obvious in hindsight. At the time, I thought I was insulting him.

“Ha, ha! Look! You wrote more things about meeeeeee!”

He reacted as if I amused him, but months later, I realized that when I tried to insult him, what I was really doing was revealing my deepest unhealed trauma. Being a god, he saw right through me, and saw what I could not see myself. He resolved to help me heal it through writing, though I didn’t realize that at the time either.

I also realize now that reacting as if he was amused was the “laugh so you won’t cry or scream” phenomenon that I’ve seen so often before, particularly in myself. He deflected me with humor, and I didn’t realize just how very seriously he was taking my unconscious cry for help until much later. I also didn’t realize until much later that often the being who showed up to inspire my writing insisting that I call him Loki was really Odin, although I had a sneaking suspicion of it for months before it became really obvious.

Every night I dreamed of Ragnarok. Dreams in the twelve nights of Yule are supposed to be prophetic. I saw Thor’s head on a pike. Loki boiled tea from the flowers left at the graves of the dead, and held a tea dance. It was absurd and terrifying.

Finally I had my outline done and I started writing. The pressure eased. Dialogue poured out my fingers, into the keyboard, and when I saw it on the screen, I thought, “I just wrote WHAT about WHO?” I was afraid what I had written might offend Thor. When I went outside I expected a lightning bolt between the shoulder blades. I was mortally afraid to walk beneath the sky, until I raised a cup of coffee to the Thunderer and asked for a sign of approval if he wanted me to keep writing this story this way, and an out-of-season rainstorm arrived, a blessing from Thor.

On Yule 2013, I laid two fires, a bonfire for the ceremony and a barbecue fire for cooking the feast for after the ceremony. I lit both fires. The bonfire shed fire all around it and required much work to contain, and when I set the leaf-design iron lid aside to toss burning branches back into the fire, I burned my foot on the lid. I stood in the cold bucket of water. It was time to concede. It was time to admit that I could not win a duel against a god. Like the cup of coffee I had offered to Thor, I had to make some small gesture toward Loki. So I threw my hair-combings into the barbecue.

At once the fire popped and spat and threw off a great light in acceptance of my sacrifice. Not the fire I threw it into, but the great Yule bonfire, which suddenly stopped trying to get out of its metal confines and started burning merrily and throwing off a great white-yellow pyramid of herbal smoke straight up into the air. The rest of the ceremony went off perfectly, and the cooking did too.

That was when my head cracked open and I started hearing the rest of the gods, too. They inspired my writing. Loki’s laughter echoed down trunk of the World-Tree and shook dry rot from its heart. His voice moistened the dark between the stars, shivered through all the worlds and waited for me every night as I closed my eyes. I no longer heard it in dreams, but now, in that half awake, half asleep state as I drifted off to sleep. As I slipped into the state of consciousness called hypnogogia, I saw Loki standing in my room, and a large snake slithered into my bed. Nervously, I told Loki his snake was getting too close, but he laughed and told me it wasn’t his snake.

“That is my blood brother, Bolverkr, the mead of poetry in his mouth, here to help you birth a new world.”

Image credit: "Loke by C. E. Doepler" by Carl Emil Doepler (1824-1905) - Wägner, Wilhelm. 1882. Nordisch-germanische Götter und Helden. Otto Spamer, Leipzig & Berlin. Page 255.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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  • Anthony Gresham
    Anthony Gresham says #
    From reading "Our Gods Wear Spandex: The Secret History of Comic Book Heroes" by Chris Knowles I would say that many of the best c
  • Erin Lale
    Erin Lale says #
    Yes, it would be really cool if they let Sjofn and Lofn loose in the MCU. Maybe Marvel-Thor would finally get together with Sif!

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