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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Sonoma, California

Posted by on in Paths Blogs

Continuing the story of my early experiences that led me to my heathen path, when I was 9, my family moved from Ripon, California, “Almond Capitol of the World,” to Sonoma, California, the wine country. By then I had really connected with the desert and its natural ways, but I was happy to move to a place where one did not have to belong to a Christian church to have any friends at school. My Fifth Grade teacher was openly Buddhist, and that really impressed me. She wasn’t a Christian and they let her teach children!

When I was done with all my schoolwork, she let me read real books. My favorite was a version of Robin Hood. The other children were reading middle readers, and I was reading in Middle English. The public school system which segments children by age instead of ability was not serving me well, but being allowed to read real books instead of just stare out the window when I was done with the busywork was wonderful. Going to school in a rural area back then did have one big advantage over today’s modern, urban schools: I was allowed to fight back against bullies and it didn’t ruin my life.

One of the life experiences I had that was later used as evidence that I was born berserker and qualified to learn the martial art of Bersarkrgangr was a playground scuffle during my Fifth Grade year. The following is a quote from my autobiography, Greater Than the Sum of My Parts, which I wrote when I was 30 and later published in 2011.

I Fought a Bully

“I ignored him for a long time, Toad-silent, but then the fury exploded within me.  I whipped around and slapped him across the face with my open hand, and he flew back and hit the pavement hard.  He was out cold.”

The result of that fight was that I became popular with the other girls, who he had also been bullying. If that had happened today, I probably would not have been allowed to finish school.

Sho Shu Kung Fu Way of the Beast

My brother operated a martial arts school from the family home, Lale’s Kung Fu Academy. He taught me an exercise to see my spirit animal. Whether this was an actual Kung Fu exercise, or came from dad’s Native American traditions, or from the traditions of dad’s European bersarkr side, I don’t know. The following is another quote from my memoir.

“In one meditation exercise, the kung fu students were encouraged to see themselves as the beasts of martial arts:  tiger, crane, mantis, mongoose, snake, dragon, bear, and monkey.  We were told to look into a mirror in a dim room and visualize ourselves as a beast.  For the others, it was probably imagination.  But I really did “see” a cat when I looked into the mirror in this exercise, backed not by a dim bathroom but a swirling chaos of horrid shapes.

Once, when I looked into the dim mirror, expecting to see a cat, I saw a mantis.  There was a five foot tall BUG looking back at me from my mirror and I was terrified.  I never did the exercise again, but I knew the cat and the mantis were with me.

One time, Jay and I were practicing with shenai, bamboo swords.  It was daytime, and the open field at the end of the street was brightly lit and full of dry dormant grasses, so it must have been summer.  As I practiced the power stroke over and over, guiding with the right hand, supplying lever-strength with the left, instead of focus my awareness expanded to take in everything around me:  the texture of the carpet on the garage floor, the painted wooden yin-and-yang with the three abacus-style counters across its face which we used to keep track of points in sparring, the chart of the chi flows in Chinese medicine tacked up over the washing machine, the shelf full of padded gloves, foot and shin pads, padded nunchaku, and dulled knives, the corundum and diamond grinding belts piled next to Dad’s rock cutting machine, its hose connecting it to the gravity-fed water bucket which cooled and lubricated the mechanism, the candle in the cutout 7-Up can with old dop still sticking to it, various rocks attached to dopsticks ready for grinding, the feel of the breeze from the open garage door.  Again I brought the sword down in the power stroke, stretched to all my surroundings, and from out in the field I heard a lion roar.  I was so startled I felt like I was waking up.  I looked out the garage door at the weedy lot; there was nothing there.

"I heard a lion roar,” I said.

“Good,” said Jay.  “That’s your spirit animal you hear, the cat.”

Cavedale Road

Another quote from the memoir:

“We went to Cavedale Road only at night, a dozen teens sardined into Jay’s two-seater Mazda RX7.  The back cargo area was nicknamed “the munchkin hole” and was responsible for our mutual decision not to wear weapons on our Kung Fu uniforms, at least no large pokey ones.  Sometimes when we arrived at the open hills, we hiked through the manzanita bushes to a rock outcropping and looked at the town’s lights, listening for bobcats, silently watching the moon sweeping across the sky hour by hour.  Other times Jay led us in spirit sensing exercises.  Usually we carried no lights, but one time Jay briefly shone a blue-lensed flashlight beam across the roadside grasses, and said, “See, there!  There are the fairies.  Hundreds of them, can you see?” And we saw.  Another time, in the dark under the stars, he said, “The eaters of souls are here tonight.  They live here, in this magically charged place.  Can you feel them coming?”

We felt them, and were afraid.  We dove back into the munchkin hole and called to him, “Drive us to the safe spot!  Hurry!” and he tore down the dark road until we arrived at a wide place in the switchback.  We tumbled out and stood gasping in the moonlight, shuddering in relief.

In such moments we forgot the rational world of textbooks, daylight, and civilization.  We forgot even the framed motto on the garage wall of the studio, “He who conquers fear conquers himself.  He who conquers himself is the greatest of warriors.  Never again walk in fear.”  The Perez brothers, who had mapped out all the storm sewers of Sonoma, daring rats and filth, who planned to fight from beneath the streets against a hypothetical communist invasion, who complained bitterly when growth spurts made them too big to fit through the drains, they feared the horrors that lived on Cavedale Road.  Jim the Goat, who ate tree bark and shocked himself with a stungun every day to toughen himself until he could withstand it without flinching, who ran with a half telephone pole on the dirt paths of his home hillside for the sake of strength, he too was afraid.  Eric the explosives man, who would have long ago gone to prison for making bombs if he were an adult, he was afraid.  Kick-Ass Juleh, who’d seen war and revolution and had a chip on her shoulder as big as her homeland, which she insisted was called Persia, she was afraid.  And I—I who lived in the same house with the things I feared most, who sat down to dinner every night with child molesters and talked about Star Trek with them—I was afraid.

So many times we invited evil down on us and then fled for safety at sports car speed, until we could not only sense and fear but see and hear the darkness, until the slightest fast move by one of us sent us all running for the silvery sanctuary of the car, until I started to wonder why we were learning to call these things.”

Then my brother brought home a new girlfriend, Cynthia. She always wore long purple dresses.

“One night Cynthia came with us to Cavedale Road.  She gathered us in a circle and cast protections about us, teaching us to see and feel the lines she drew in the air.  She told us her name on the other worlds, and led us in meditation.  Eventually she would teach us to create our own protections. She was Wiccan, and she taught us how to cast a circle.

In the daylight I hardly ever thought about Cavedale, but I was aware that I was starting to be able to sense things as I had as a child.  I also knew, from stories my mom told me, that I had been telepathic when I was little, and I told Jay, “I want my telepathy back.”

He gave me exercises to try to pierce my own mental shields, but it didn’t work.  Here and there I caught snatches of things, but they were unreliable, no better than imagination.  When I talked to him about this, he suggested I try projection.  As he directed me, I stood in the stairwell of the main building at school, between the first and second floors, watching through the window as the other students left for the day.  I picked one person out of the crowd and tried to make her turn aside.  Just a simple command, turn right.  It didn’t work.  I tried and tried on a succession of strangers, but no one turned.  Then I decided that instead of issuing a command, I should try to figure out what might interest a person in the direction I wanted them to go.  I picked a boy out of the crowd and thought at him, “That building is interesting.  You want to look at the building.  You want to go over to the building.  There is something there that you want to look at more closely.”  He turned aside.  He turned like a military marcher, decisively and sharply, and walked over to the building.  When he got there he peered at the wall, trying to see if something interesting was there.  Of course there was not, and I was no longer projecting at him.  He looked up, puzzled.  I followed his gaze to a school bus pulling away from the curb.  I had made him miss his bus.  I felt no triumph at all. 

“This is wrong,” I said.  “I won’t do this again.”

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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 threefold 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 Caliburn Press. In 2010 and 2013, she ran for public office as an out heathen.


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