[Today, we sit down for an interview with Heathen author, Erin Lale. Here, she discusses changes in heathenry over the last decades; Paganism in publishing; and her upcoming book on Asatru.]
ev0ke: Heathenry is a wide-ranging community with adherents scattered all over the world. If someone is interested in exploring heathenry, where would you suggest they start?
Erin Lale: With my book! That’s why I wrote it, to be a starting place. Back when I wrote the older version, which was titled Asatru For Beginners, there was not much beginner level material available for Asatru. I was managing the MSN Asatru Group and I kept seeing newbies ask what to read and people directing them to start with the Poetic Edda. That’s medieval poetry written in a way that would have been hard for the average person to decode even when it was written, because it’s full of kennings(that is, words that refer to things in a coded poetic fashion). Many of the newbies asking for reading material were high school students and I just did not think asking them to read a book that sounds like one hundred pages of “Odin at Tenagra His Arms Wide” was the best way to introduce people to Asatru. So I set out to write a book.
My new book is based on that one, but is updated with new developments within heathenry and new information uncovered by scholars since then.
ev0ke: As an active member of Heathenry over the last few decades, what positive developments have you seen in the faith? What negative developments concern you?
EL: Heathenry has developed a better understanding of the culture on which we’re based due to new discoveries and due to people getting widespread access to the net, which has connected us to each other and also allowed access to papers and original materials in academic collections and in Europe which we could not have accessed without the net. Heathen groups have become more visible and accessible to the public, too, which has both good and bad points. On the good side, that’s one of the reasons Asatru is growing so fast. On the negative side, it’s also the reason racists and neo-Nazis keep finding us and trying to get in, which means we have to gatekeep and be constantly vigilant against them.
ev0ke: New archaeological and literary discoveries are constantly adding to our pool of knowledge about ancient Heathenry. What new tidbit do you find the most interesting?
EL: My favorite newly discovered piece of heathen literature is Lokka Tattur, a Faroese poem in which the trinity of Odin, Honir, and Loki are each asked for help and it is Loki who is the hero of the story and permanently solves the problem.
ev0ke: You are also a committed needleworker and quilter. How does your crafting tie in with your spirituality?
EL: Fiber crafts were the main economic engine of international export trade in heathen times, and they were exclusively practiced by women. They were not only the source of women’s economic power, but were considered to be full of magical and religious power, as well. The Norns, the goddesses of fate or karma, were depicted as spinning and weaving the fabric of our lives. The goddess Frigga, queen of Asgard, was called Cloud Spinner and was shown in art pulling the stuff of life out of thin air to make into the material objects we see around us in our world. Human women in the stories in our lore worked battle magic and other magics while spinning. To work with fiber arts is to embody this spiritual heritage, and to honor Frigga.
ev0ke: You are re-releasing a new edition of your classic Asatru: A Beginner’s Guide to the Heathen Path through Red Wheel/Weiser. First, congratulations! Second, how did you go about publishing through that company? Did you submit the manuscript to them? Did they reach out to you?
EL: Thanks! I contacted them. I had deliberately allowed the old version of the book to go out of print when it went out of contract at its previous publisher because I wanted to create a new edition. Not only have we learned a lot more since I originally wrote it around the turn of the millenium, but a new modernist movement has arisen within Asatru, which made some of what was in the old version of my book incomplete, since it only dealt with the traditionalist Asatru that had existed up until the current generation. The new version includes both traditionalist and modernist views. I explained that and pitched a new, longer, updated version, and they agreed that it was needed and it was time.
ev0ke: You have extensive experience with self-publishing, small presses, and larger publishers. In your experience, how has self-publishing changed in the last ten years or so? What suggestions do you have for authors who are considering self-publishing?
EL: The only constant is change! The renaissance of self-publishing and small indie presses that started with Amazon offering a free sales platform stumbled when market changes came along, but I think the indie revolution is here to stay. Bigger publishers still have advantages as a way to reach a big audience, though, especially in placing physical books in physical stores, and I’m thrilled to be working with Weiser. The best advice I have for authors considering self-publishing is: understand that if you self-publish, you are the publisher, and you have to do everything an indie press would do, including buy professional cover art, editing, copyediting, book design, website design, ad design, and so forth. If you can do all of those things yourself to a professional level, great, but most writers will need to hire other professionals for that. Give your book its best shot by producing it to the same standard as a book from a publishing company.
ev0ke: There are very few explicitly Pagan/polytheist publishing houses, and there are some mainstream publishers who will publish Pagan-friendly material. What would you like to see publishers tackle in the future in terms of Pagan books? Topics? Visibility? Variety?
EL: Everything! lol. I realize that there is a smaller market for advanced level or specialized materials, so those might need to be published by smaller presses that can deal with smaller niche markets. Especially niche or especially long works might need to be ebooks only, and that’s OK. There is room on the net for everything.
One thing I’d really like to see more of is pagan science fiction. There are lots of pagan novels and short stories in fantasy, historical, and contemporary urban fantasy settings, but I’d like to see more depictions of pagans in the future.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
EL: As you know (since you’re a contributor), I have this completed nonfiction book Novel Gnosis, a collection of essays by various writers about religious insights received via fiction writing. I originally collected it after getting a green light from its original publisher, which went out of business before publishing it. My current publisher for my Asatru book declines to do multi-author anthologies at all unless all the authors are big names, so I’m currently seeking another publisher for it.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]