I’m thrilled to have Karen here today. Not only is she a great lady to know, she’s a Rune sister. 

How would you describe your work/path/art to a beginner?

I describe myself as a humanistic heathen/pagan.  This is my path.  I believe in the energy and essence of the Norse pantheon of gods coupled with modern day scientific knowledge.  This path influences every aspect of my life in very clear ways, but the most important is that my gods and goddesses do not judge me; they walk with me, which I find far more empowering than the former idea.  The scientific influence is a bit harder to explain, but is equally important and, perhaps more specifically, refers to knowledge in general not just science.

I don’t have leanings toward one god or goddess over another in my pantheon, though many heathens choose Thor or Odin.  I do, however, connect strongly with Heimdall, Tyr, and Freyr on the gods’ side and, on the goddess’s side Idunn and Sif, and relationships with Sigyn, and Freyja that I am still working to understand.  Community has always been important to me, so maybe that is part of the reason why I relate so well to a community of gods and goddesses.  As Earth is the community that everything living on it shares, taking care of it and helping to pass on a healthy world to future generations is my driving force and the science knowledge plays a key role in this.

My art is writing, which centers primarily around two things – Norse Mythology/the Viking Age and taking care of and having appreciation for the planet.  This is what feels real and true for me.  Writing itself is one of the ways that I express my spiritual beliefs.

I will add that I was raised as a Catholic; even made my first communion in that religion, though the entire process was odd and uncomfortable to me.  I constantly got into trouble in catechism for questioning the things the nuns were teaching us.  I will explain more about that experience in my answers to the next questions, but if I could provide any insight to a beginner, someone searching for their true beliefs or questioning their current path, I would say, “Find and follow the path that feels right to you.  Don’t worry about what others say.  If they have a problem with it is theirs and not yours.  You do not have to solve that problem for them.”  I would also say that you do not need to wear your path/spirituality on your sleeve.  You can be proud of it without being confrontational.  That is probably the greatest peace I have found with my beliefs – I have nothing to prove.  They are mine and I don’t need to share them; I don’t need anyone else to believe the same thing that I do or express it in the same way.  I am just grateful that I found my path and embraced it, and that I can follow it in a way that works for me.

How did this work call you? At what life stage?
I think this calling reached out to me a couple of times, but it didn’t come together until I was in my 40s.  That may seem late, but I followed the path that I needed to to reach this point.  It was a long process, but one I had to go through.

After decades of questioning religion and deities, I began reading the Norse myths and the Runes.  Once these entered my life, there was no turning back.  These things felt so right immediately and I realized that I don’t care what other people think when I say that I believe in the Norse pantheon.  That lack of caring about what others though was my freedom and allowed me to open up and believe in and build a relationship with the gods and goddesses of that pantheon as it worked for me.  It was so empowering.

I think that much of my relationship to the essence of these gods and goddesses is communicated through the Runes.  When I spend time with the Runes, I feel calm and powerful at the same time and I use them to help me make sense of the world.  The Runes do not give you answers you don’t already have; they assure you of the ones you already know.  Although I do not identify with a single god or goddess, Jera is my Rune and, since I realized this, not only has this Rune helped me in many ways, but I also understand the other Runes better.

So, there it is.  My spirituality calls me through the Runes and, through this oracle, I have increased my understanding of my world and built relationships with my gods and goddesses.

Describe your experience of spirituality as a teen/young adult. Discuss your blessings and challenges of that era.

As I mentioned, the Catholic religion was odd and uncomfortable to me, even as a child of 7-8.  By the time I was 10, I was largely ignoring organized religion.  However, in high school I was friends with a girl who was a Mormon, so I gave that a try, because I had been conditioned to believe that I was supposed to believe in the Christian god.  That endeavor lasted just a few months, because I started having thoughts and feelings similar to the ones I had with Catholicism.  So, I dropped religion again.

As a teenager, I was largely clueless about the bigger picture, though pieces of who I would become lingered in the background.  Almost all I cared about was sports and boys, but I was a pretty good student and, much the way I tired of Christianity, I grew weary of American history classes and being force fed the patriotic version of history and the idea that nothing interesting happened prior to 1942.  To that end, I began looking for different sorts of history classes.  I took Latin, Medieval History, and Mythology classes.  I even learned a bit of history in my German classes.  I loved the medieval history class and learning about life in ancient Europe.  Yes, I know now it too had its short comings, but it was the first step to a different world.  The mythology class was far and away the most interesting, even though most of it focused on Greek and Roman gods and goddesses.  We did learn a bit about the Egyptian pantheon too.  However, the greatest impact was the two days we spent on Norse Mythology.  I was mesmerized by it and, after class on the third day, when my teacher switched from Norse to Egyptian, I approached him after class, disappointed, and asked why we couldn’t talk more about Thor and Odin and Freyr.  He assured me that we had covered all there was to know about them in those two days.  “They had no written language,” he said.  “We just don’t know much about them.”  Of course, I know now how wrong he was, but what’s more important is that, even though I dropped it back then and didn’t take the initiative I could have and done my own research on it, I never forgot those gods and goddesses.

By my early twenties, I had shifted away from any belief in the Christian god, but also away from spirituality.  However, it was stepping away from the latter that left a nagging sensation lingering in the back of my mind for another decade.  Still, I went about life calling myself an Atheist, not even agnostic.  I went straight into the ‘no god’ at all camp.

For many years, although I did not believe in a higher power of any sort, but especially a single higher power, I did believe (and still do) that there is energy, different kinds of energy, in the world; what I call free energy and it surrounds us constantly.  Stir a little scientific background/understanding into that idea and my spirituality was taking its basic form.  This idea morphed over several years, though I remained admittedly unspiritual.

To be honest, I didn’t become spiritual until I started studying the Norse gods in detail for my first novel.  I loved that they were flawed; it made them so much more relatable than the perfection associated with the Christian god.  Another truth is that I believe these gods not to be beings, rather energies or entities that represent the essence of ‘who’ they are.  This belief allows me to experience and feel the energy and essence of who they are in a way that fulfills me in a way that the Christian idea of god never did and never could.

My challenge on this path was twofold.  First, I had to find what I believed.  Second and more importantly, I had to embrace it and that is when I found the true blessing – experiencing a spirituality that is my own, that empowers me, and gives me comfort.

How does that experience speak through your work, today?
That acceptance, that realization changed my life on a very foundational level.  It reduced my stress, increased my comfort and confidence, and grounded me in a positive way.  All of a sudden, I had something that was my own, that worked for me, that I got to experience in my own way, and that is there always in non-judgment.

In many ways, the main character in my first novel is going through a similar process, but in a very different way.  I also write a weekly blog about the Runes for others who share a similar broad interest or belief in the Norse gods and goddesses.  That is how it affects my art.

However, it also affects the way I am in the world in everything from how I interact with others to the care and pride I take in planting and caring for my garden.  It has helped me focus and be consistent in my gratitude for and appreciation of thoughtful actions by others and Earth’s beauty.  Most importantly, it guides me forward and assures me that, if I begin to lose sight of the path I am on, I can find it again through the Runes.

Karen is an accomplished writer, speaker, and editor.  In June 2012, she published her first novel, The Son of Nine Sisters, and began the sequel.  She also started writing a series of young reader novels, called Grace Through Time, with her daughter.   Beyond creative writing, Karen has written numerous articles on sustainability and women’s issues and her writing has helped raise millions for environmental and social causes.

Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism by S. Kelley HarrellKaren also writes a weekly blog called The Wonder of Runes.  Through the blog, she offers readings and guidance using Runes as an oracle.

Available worldwide, Teen Spirit Guide to Modern Shamanism.