[This issue, we sit down with author and editor, Erin Lale. Here, she discusses Heathenry, the Goddess Sigyn, and her work with the Heathen Visibility Project.]
Eternal Haunted Summer: As a Heathen, what do you wish more people understood about your faith?
Erin Lale: That it’s not just about warriors and Vikings, although Viking history is cool. Most people in the Viking Age were farmers and fishers, including most of the Vikings. There was a long span of time before the Viking Age that’s also part of heathen history. Modern heathens come from all walks of life, and there are more paths within heathenry than the warrior path.
EHS: You have a book coming out from Red Wheel/Weiser. Congratulations! Tell us about that.
EL: An updated, longer version of my book Asatru For Beginners will be published next year, to be titled Asatru: A Modern Guide to Heathenry. Asatru For Beginners was written just after the turn of the millenium, and there have been some new developments within heathenry since then. A modernist movement has swept the net and many young Asatruars no longer follow the same folkways that older heathens and established heathen groups do. There’s also been some more scholarship, and the new improved book includes more Gods.
EHS: You hope to release Novel Gnosis through Red Wheel/Weiser, an anthology which you spearheaded and edited. What was the impetus for this anthology?
EL: One day I was out muddin’ in the Borrego Desert with a fellow author. I mentioned that I was experiencing religious insights that came to me while writing fiction, and she said she had experienced that phenomenon, too. We decided that would be a great topic for a book of nonfiction essays. I contacted another heathen with whom I’d already been discussing gnosis from fiction writing. With three names onboard, I pitched the project to Caliburn Press, and they gave it the green light. I got a great selection of essays from various authors, but then Caliburn folded, and so the book was not published. I’m planning to send the manuscript to Red Wheel/Weiser as my next book when I’m done with whatever edits they request on Asatru.
EHS: Your essay on Bersarkrgangr appears in the latest issue of Enheduanna: A Pagan Literary Journal. Historically, who and what were the bersarkrgangr?
EL: Bersarkrs, meaning those who wear bear shirts, were elite warriors and shamans who embodied animal spirits. Bersarkrgangr, meaning going out wearing the bear shirt, was both their martial art and the act of doing their tradition, literally going ber sark. The modern bersarkr tradition includes those who embody other animals as well, although there are special words for the wolf brothers (Ulfhednar) and for the cat shifters (Chatti, which was also the historical name of a Germanic tribe).
EHS: What sort of research went into this essay? Were you surrounded by stacks of books?
EL: I published Berserkrgangr Magazine in the 1990s. I collected a lot of information on the bersarkr tradition while doing that, including a reader survey that collected information about the experiences and families of berserkers directly from berserkers. The raw data was published in the magazine, but this publication in Enheduanna is the first time the analysis of the data is in print. When I was writing the first draft of this paper, I did consult a lot of books and papers that were actually on paper, but when I polished the final draft with help from the journal’s editor I was working mostly online.
EHS: You also recently published an essay on the Goddess, Sigyn. What do you find so compelling about this Goddess?
EL: Sigyn is really important in my life right now as the goddess of caregiving, because I’m taking care of my mom. I’m also taking care of my companion’s home and personal business, although he has professional caregivers for his daily needs. I lean on Sigyn’s strength to give me patience to deal emotionally with performing these life management services. Whenever I see a butterfly in my garden, the sudden appearance of breathtaking beauty fills me with the awe of the presence of Sigyn.
EHS: What is your favorite bit of Sigyn lore?
EL: Her name is a big clue about her nature. Sig- means victory, and -yn is a typical female name ending which can be translated as woman. So she’s Victory Woman, and yet, she’s never depicted in any story wielding a sword or going to a battle like Freya and the Valkyries, or fighting with a spear or bow like Skadhi. She achieves victory without physically fighting a literal battle, using warrior virtues like endurance and loyalty in the cause of love. Her path is the way of the peaceful warrior.
EHS: How did the Heathen Visibility Project get started? And how can others become involved?
EL: I was searching for art for the second Heathen Calendar, and also searching for images to illustrate my heathen blog, and I noticed that there were not a lot of photos available of modern heathens doing heathen things or just doing regular life things wearing heathen symbols. For example, a search for Thor’s hammer brought up Marvel movie imagery and photos from white power marches. I figured that the search I did for an image of heathens with Thor’s hammer would be the same search that a news organization would do when trying to illustrate an article about Asatru, and I realized why I keep seeing newspaper articles about heathen religion illustrated with images of Marvel‘s Thor and neonazi demonstrations. I tried several related searches and every time, Nazi imagery and neonazi marches were in the first page of search returns. People think our symbols are about white supremacy because neonazis are so visible. We have to be more visible, to maintain our symbols for our own use. We must yield no cultural space to Nazis.
It’s easy to participate in #heathenvisibility — as easy as taking photos and using that hashtag, along with other suitable tags such as #heathen, #Asatru, #Thorshammer, #Valknut, #runes, et cetera. Take photos of people who want to participate, and tag them. Take photos of altars, hammers, rune readings, priest garb, et cetera, and tag them. Put them on stock photo sites, on social media, all over the net.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
EL: I admin the Asatru Facebook Forum along with a dozen Trollslayers. I’ve recently written an article based on the part of my Trollslayers’ Guide that’s about how to tell the difference between heathen symbols and hate symbols. I’ll announce it on my social media, forum, and blog when I have a firm publication date for it and have the go ahead from the publisher.
My blog is the Pagansquare blog Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen.
Since the Heathen Calendars aren’t being published anymore because they were through Caliburn Press, this year I’ve been putting calendar and holiday information on my blog, along with my usual stories about my life and other Asatru related topics.
EHS: Which book fairs, conventions, rites, or other events will you be attending in the near future?
EL: I’m planning to go to my local Pagan Pride Day and Renfaire as I do every year, and probably the local Halloween event put on by Haven Craft, a local store and community organization, as I did last year. I haven’t ramped up the marketing yet to schedule any book fairs or out of town festivals, but I will. The publisher’s marketing department will be working with me after the editing phase is done. I’d definitely like to go to PantheaCon again. I’d also definitely drive over to Phoenix again since it’s not too far. During my first book tour, my anchor stop was Pagan Spirit Gathering, the year it was held in Missouri, so I drove there across the southwest and back across the midwest and did stops at bookstores along the way, so I didn’t get to the East Coast at all, and next time I’d like to fly out to some events or bookstores in the east. I can’t do a month-long road trip again next time because when I’m gone I’ll need someone to cover for me with helping Mom, and if I’m gone more than a few days, with my companion as well, but I can take short nearby drives and fly elsewhere. This is going to be fun!