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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Witches' Tower, San Diego, California

This pentagram is built into a small tower in Presidio Park in San Diego, California. The pentagram is on the tower roof, open to the air, which is reached by climbing a staircase.

The official name of the Witches' Tower is the Pattie Memorial, commemorating the first American to die to California. It is supposed to be built close to where a historical guardhouse and jail used to be. The Pattie Memorial is a storage building. Presidio Park is very convenient to the hotels on Hotel Circle. Multiple layers of candle wax on the pentagram attest to its ritual use.

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Celebrating With a Series of Local Groups

Sunnasfolk, Silverhof, Hammarheim, etc.

I had been trying to find a local festival or a group that put on public rituals since I had arrived in the Las Vegas area in 1995. The closest heathen festival I could find was the Thing in Arizona, which I went to once. I still wanted something local. If I couldn't find a local festival or other public ritual in which to participate, then I was ready to try a kindred again, despite my disastrous first experience with kindred membership, because I had been informally involved with enough different groups to know that the unsafe one I happened to join was the exception, not the rule, and because after that experience I would know what to watch out for to make sure I would be safe. I tried to find a ritual group to join, and could not find one. I held sort of half heathen, half American style holiday celebrations in my old apartment, but as it was almost exclusively my non-heathen friends who attended, it wasn't completely what I was looking for. I eventually gave up on that and resumed looking for a festival to attend or group to join, but didn't find either in my local area until after I moved from a more urban part of the Vegas valley to a more suburban part at the end of 2001.

After moving from my apartment to our house, I thought, "Now that I have a real house and feel a permanent tie to the land, you know what, I'm going to do it myself."

I have been a gythia of Freya continuously since my dedication to her in 1989. Sometimes I am also the gythia of a kindred. I was gythia of Sunnasfolk, and now I am gythia of the group of heathens who celebrate at my home, which does not yet have a name.

This article explains the multiple definitions of godhi and gythia:

http://www.bubblews.com/news/9864781-what-a-godhi-or-gythia-is

One of the first things I did when I moved from my old apartment to our house was to plant a pine tree that I had grown from seed, which had been living in a pot on my balcony. As gythia of Sunnasfolk, that was my sacred tree which supplied the aspergers used in blot. It's a big tree now, and now it supplies the aspergers for the rituals for my current group.

As with my American style holiday celebrations, most of the people who came to Sunnasfolk holidays were my friends and family who were not necessarily heathen, such as Etta the One Crone Band. She played the accordion and had automated drums, and provided German folk music for waltzing and other traditional dances for the party and feast time after ritual. She's a distant relative I discovered after moving to Henderson. There were actual heathens, too, but they were younger people who all dropped out over the years, mostly because of moving away from the area. College students graduated and moved. College age non-students joined the military and were deployed. Young brides had babies and apparently dropped off the face of the Earth. Sunnasfolk ended when all the other heathen members went away. That was over a decade ago now.

After Sunnasfolk Kindred, I belonged to Silverhof Kindred. Its leader, Eric Hammers, moved away and gave me my carved bone Thorshammar, and I assumed leadership of the group and tried to keep it going, but without Eric, the other members drifted away. After that, I found that several old members of Silverhof were members of Hammarheim, which had a core group of heathens but also a large group of non-heathen re-enactors and was focused on Renfaire and re-enactment events. I was not really that interested in belonging to a Renfaire guild, even though I enjoy the local faire and go every year, I didn't particularly want to spend all my weekends doing faire related things, and had neither the time nor the money to devote to that. I still wanted to be part of a local ritual group, though, so I participated in some of their Renfaire activities, in addition to their holiday celebrations. (The King credits me with saving him one night when he fell into a firepit.) Then Hammarheim sort of spun off into several other groups, all quite large, all with core groups of heathens and larger groups of non-heathens, all centered on our local Renfaire. I've participated in some holiday and other activities with one of them (the one headed by Hammarheim's old King) and visit the others at faire every year. In addition, I have celebrated both heathen and Wiccan holiday rituals at, or sponsored by, local store Well of the Moon, which closed last year.

The photo accompanying this post is me about to go parade with Hammarheim at my local Renfaire, in Viking costume, balancing my sword on my shoulder. I would have liked to post a group photo from one of the 3 kindreds I've belonged to, but not everyone is as totally out as me. (I know straw hats aren't very Viking; this is the Mojave Desert, and it's really hot in the sun. That's my Missouri farmer hat that I bought at PSG after wearing out the hat I brought with me.)

I participate in Pagan Pride Day-- my longed-for public ritual festival at last, even though heathenry is kind of a side event there and both the rituals and the workshops are dominated by Wicca and Wiccanate paganism. I've given talks on Asatru at PPD and one year sang in a band there. In 2014 I was an active member of the local PPD planning committee and led the drum circle.

Recently, I've been leading my own kindred again as a gythia of a group for modernist heathens who aren't interested in being part of a Renfaire guild, going largely with my American Celebration style in addition to blots and sumbels. Also, recently I've been attending local Asatru pubmoots, and may someday attend one of the rituals from that group. I've also attending rituals at the Temple of Sekhmet in Cactus Springs, although those are Egyptian-flavored Wiccan rituals rather than heathen ones. I was also a member, and sometimes the conductor, of the SageWomen Drum Circle, and later led the Unity Center Drum Circle. Also, during my book tour in 2010, I attended Pagan Spirit Gathering and participated in public rituals there. And in 2013, I attended PantheaCon and participated in rituals and led a public sumbel there.

So, in the 15 years I've lived in Henderson, I've formally belonged to 3 different kindreds, 2 of which I founded, and the other one I briefly ended up leading as it was winding down after its founder left. In those 15 years, I've also participated in rituals with 2 other kindreds, and in public rituals with both a nonprofit group and a for-profit store which has recently closed when its owner left the state. That's 7 different ritual groups and 1 permanent temple (not counting drum circles or out of state festivals. Also not counting the Dances of Universal Peace, almost forgot them. Mom and I used to attend with our next door neighbors. And not counting powwow dancing either, obviously, since that's a totally different tradition.) Groups come and go, but family, friends, and the gods remain. The land and the landwight remain. Both the local heathen and pagan community and the wider community on the net remain as well. The community is people, not institutions.

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New Book: No Horns On These Helmets

No Horns On These Helmets is a short story anthology with a theme of Vikings, heathen cultures, and Norse and Germanic mythology. I edited this collection of 20 stories by 20 authors, and also have one story in it myself. The genres included are fantasy, science fiction, historical, urban fantasy, and retold folktales.

I was asked to edit this anthology for two reasons: I write and edit in the science fiction and fantasy genres, and as the author of Asatru For Beginners, I know my heathen material. Right from the selection of the title, No Horns On These Helmets, the publisher (Sky Warrior Books) and I decided we wanted this anthology to have stories that got the historical details and the details of heathen mythology and culture right. There actually is one story in the anthology that has a character who wears a horned helmet, but that story is one of the humor pieces. I selected the stories first and foremost for authenticity. Some of the authors are heathen or pagan, and some are not, but they all know their history and mythology.

Link to the book:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00U3BF9GQ/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00U3BF9GQ&linkCode=as2&tag=skywarrishomepag&linkId=MU4FX5L2COQ32LIJ

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The Landwight

This land is home now. It's the place where the land spirit protects me, and where we exchange gifts and mutually grow stronger, and happier. It's the place where my neighbors' children swim in my pool and their dogs obey me. It's the place where I delight to see butterflies on the flowers with a simple joy that blots out all other thoughts. It's the place where I can go outside and harvest food and know that it's healthy and free of poisons and a product of my love of the land and the land's love for me. It's the place where my old cats are buried.

When I first moved from my old apartment in Las Vegas to our house in Henderson, I wanted to do an Asatru land-taking ritual when I moved in. I wanted to walk the boundaries of our land and mark out our property line as an innangarth (inner yard.) But, while moving, I had attempted to carry a couch down the stairs from my old walk-up apartment and injured my knee. As I sat in my room thinking about how to walk the boundary when I couldn't walk, I looked out the window and saw my cat Shadow walking the boundary for me.

Shadow understood territory, because she was a cat. So, I started out on this land by working with nature via nature, in the form of a cat and her territorial instincts.

Gradually, I became aware of the being of this place, the genius loci. I decided to contact the land spirit and see if I could communicate and start a formal gifting relationship with it. In Asatru we call the land spirits landvaettir or landwights, and there are traditions about what a landwight might like, but those traditions were developed in Europe, dealing with the beings native to that land. Since this land is in the Nevada portion of the Mojave Desert, I thought the local landwight might be used to dealing with humans within the traditions of the local Native American tribes, so I approached it by offering corn. It liked the corn. But it turned out the landwight wasn't particular; he just wanted some of whatever we were having, only plant matter, and only what would otherwise go to waste. The landwight here is a vegan and a freetarian. I began offering to the landwight by putting things in the compost pile, and the landwight accepted these gifts and returned gifts of rich, dark soil. Yes, this is how compost normally works -- I see the magic of the return of a gift for a gift operating and simultaneously understand that this process can be explained by science, for that is what nature is for me. It is both the science and the magic, both the logic and the joy.

The photo at the top of this post is my front yard in October 2011. I designed this garden, and went through the approval process to get the local water department rebate for replacing lawn with xeriscape. I grew both the squash in the foreground and the mimosa tree on the side of the house from seed. I started the lavender bushes and Australian racer in the middle ground of the photo from cuttings; the lavender cuttings came from the back yard lavender bush, which originally came from High Country Gardens, and the racer from my grandmother's garden in Arizona. The squash seeds came from Native Seed Search, an organization for the preservation of heritage Southwest Native American food crop seeds. It's a Tohono O'odham Ha:I which I have nicknamed "the squash that ate Las Vegas" because it is rampant.

After some years living here, as my relationship with the local landwight deepened, he decided he wanted to be represented by a garden gnome statue. He does not actually look like a gnome; he is a vast power, and his true form awes me. My mom chose the gnome statue. I positioned it in the garden near where I give the landwight the "Presents for the Gnome." I distribute the gnomic blessings into the planting beds-- that is, I shovel compost-- and the garden flourishes. The garden nourishes me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It takes care of me, I take care of it, and the cycle continues. The the mimosa and pine trees that I started from seeds in little pots in my apartment are big trees now. Their roots go down deep into the ground, and so do my psychic roots. This is my home.

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Early Net Experiences Part 2: The Writing of Asatru For Beginners

I had only been a member of MSN ASATRU for a few months when suddenly one day I logged in and discovered I had been made the group's manager. The previous manager was nowhere to be found. There were no other managers, moderators, or admins. I was a still a near-total net newbie and I didn't know how to make a thread show me previous comments, let alone how to manage an internet forum. I had to learn how to use the back end controls of the time period. I had to learn some html programming so I could put text and graphics on the landing page and other pages, and create live links to photos hosted on host sites (yes, you had to known html to do that back then.)

When it came to actual content, though, I was on firm ground, having been heathen since 1986. I was always seeing newbies come on the group and ask for a beginner's book and people directing them to read the Eddas or academic papers, which can be intimidating even for adult readers, and a lot of the newbies were in their early teens, and just did not have the educational background to understand classical literature or college-level papers.

I started compiling a FAQ file on the group site. The FAQ page eventually became the first chapter of Asatru For Beginners.

At the time, my mom was a public high school English teacher. Sometimes she had free reading time in her classroom, and she kept a rack of books and other reading material for the students. I asked her what the typical American 14 year old boy read for pleasure during free reading, and she said Motor Sports Magazine. That's the reader for whom I wrote my book.

I kept Asatru For Beginners down to 20,000 words because mom told me that many average level teen readers found books longer than that so intimidating that they would not even start them. I kept the book entirely free of footnotes and quotes from foreign languages, both of which were typically found in any given Asatru related paper of the time period, since almost everything available was written for an academic readership. I wrote in American Family Newspaper style, with which I was familiar because I had written for newspapers.  I also filled my book with handy lists, so that as the book's owners became more advanced, they would still find it useful. I made my book non-sectarian, which set it apart from any other beginner's books available at the time, the others having been produced by sectarian organizations.

Since I first wrote it, Asatru has experienced some generational change, and some change sparked by the changing technology of the internet.  I'm working on a new edition to reflect these generational changes, which I hope to publish in 2017 when the book's current contract runs out. In the meantime, I still think it's the best and the easiest to understand of the beginner's books on Asatru.

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Early Net Experiences Part 1: MSN ASATRU

In 2001, I moved to a house where I could get internet access at home. I had been using the net at the public library, but the time rationing system meant I never had time to learn much. Search engines like Google didn't exist yet, but there was a search capability within the MSN Groups website, and one of the first things I did with my home net connection was join MSN ASATRU.

It was exciting to be able to connect with other heathens, and for the first time I encountered other heathens who lived outside of the USA. An Icelandic Asatruar joined the group and told us we were using Icelandic words wrong and we sounded ridiculous. American Asatruars had been greeting each other with "hailsa" for as long as I'd known any other Asatruars, but now we learned it was grammatically incorrect. Although it was hard to break a habit of using a word I'd been using for over a decade, I started using terms in my own language instead, and adopted the traditional "hail and well met."

Among my other early internet experiences was encountering the word Vanatru for the first time. I considered using it myself because of my dedication to Freya, but ultimately decided to stick with the word Asatru to describe my path because I consider all the gods who live in Asgard to be my gods. I'm very happy with that decision, as since then Vanatru has become its own sect very different from Asatru, and I have broadened and deepened my relationships with the gods of Asgard and have remained firmly committed to Asatru.

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Goddess Art and Body Image

Images of large bodied goddess figures really helped me deal with sudden changes to my body that happened in 1997. I dealt with more pressing issues first, but eventually I dealt with suddenly being a fat person, a person society perceives as less hard working, less beautiful, having less willpower, less healthy, less strong-- just generally less. I made several artworks based on different goddesses of the ancient world, and it helped me process those issues.

This art is a sunprint, which is a contact photograph that yields a photonegative image of the printed object, in this case a paper cutout of a line drawing I made of the goddess of Laussel. This is an adaptation rather than a replica, so it isn't precisely like the statue. The curved line represents the icy cave entrance, with the warmth of the earth within.

Some don't call these images goddesses, but fertility fetishes. These types of Stone Age statuary are officially named Venuses, such as the Venus of Willendorf, and Venus of Laussel, but Venus is a goddess name and is culturally specific. If I said I was making fetish art, people would get the totally wrong idea. When I was looking for images like these to adapt to sunprint art, I found them in art books in the public library as Mother Goddess figures, so that's the idea I'm going with. I've been considering them goddesses since I first saw them and by now they have become part of my personal path, so to me they are goddesses.

Given the age of the Willendorf and Laussel sculptures, between 20,000 to 25,000 years old, the people of that time and place would have been hunter-gatherers. Having a large body would have indicated abundance and prosperity, and fertility derived from same, all of which are positive things. None of  those are things I had at the time I was making this art, but re-imagining the social meaning of a large body from a negative to a positive still helped me pull out of negative thinking and depression. Identifying with these ancient body-positive images made a positive difference in my life.

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