I was born on February 20th, 1943, in Detroit, Michigan, but I count the true beginning of my life from our move west when I was three. I grew up in Pacific Palisades on the coast of southern California, and as I was an only child, I spent a lot of time roaming the (still wild) hills, figuring out how to make things (pots from the local clay, yarn from dog hair, miniature houses thatched with grass clippings), and drawing horses. But my favorite occupation was reading anything I could get my hands on, from old copies of Readers’ Digest to my father’s science fiction collection, mythology and archaeology. I spent most of my summers at Camp Trinity in the far north of California, which became the setting for the first novel about Westria. In junior high school, my heroes were Sherlock Holmes, Andy Burnett, Horatio Hornblower and D’Artagnan. But the book that impressed me the most was Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword, my introduction to what C.S. Lewis called “Northerness”, and the first book I had read that gave me a sense of what it would be like to live with a completely different world view.
Despite having gone through much of my earlier schooling with a novel in my lap and a textbook on the desk, I was accepted at Mills College in Oakland. Once I arrived in northern California I realized this was my spiritual home, and settled here for good. At Mills, I majored in English literature and minored in Art and French, and was inspired by Dr. Elizabeth Pope, head of the English Department and herself the author of a Newbery Award novel, The Perilous Gard, who became my mentor and eventually one of my first fans. It was Dr. Pope who introduced me to Tolkien’s works in 1963, when to have read The Lord of the Rings was like joining a secret cult. I graduated in 1964 and moved on to the University of California at Berkeley just in time for the Free Speech Movement. I had intended to major in English, but the Comparative Literature department offered me Old French and a seminar on the Grail legend and I was hooked. In 1966 I received a M.A. degree in Comparative Literature (specializing in medieval literature) and a Secondary Teaching Credential.
In 1965, a fellow grad student introduced me to science fiction fandom. When I saw some of the guys from the local science fiction fan group working out with sword and shield, it occurred to me that other fans and students of the Middle Ages would love to see what it was really like, and I got the bright idea of throwing a tournament in my back yard in Berkeley on the first of May, 1966. This first tournament became the germ of the Society for Creative Anachronism. Several of the people who were present at that first event became the group that worked together to develop the idea into an organization that is still going strong today. I served on the Board of Directors of the SCA for the first ten years, and was also the first Mistress of Arts.
During the 70s I worked at Far West Laboratory in San Francisco developing educational materials. We had several projects doing a Career Education program for Native American students for which I visited a number of reservations. I also worked on materials for Environmental Education. During the same period I was gradually becoming a pagan. Darkmoon Circle started up in 1978. From then on I found myself becoming a leader in the emerging pagan community. In 1982, I was ordained as a priestess, and in 1986 founded the Fellowship of the Spiral Path. From 1990-91 I served as First Officer of the Covenant of the Goddess.
In 1988 I began an intensive study of the runes and started a rune class for which I developed the materials that became Taking up the Runes. The next year I began work on recovering the ancient oracular practice of Scandinavia, and started a group that could present such rituals at festivals. The story of this work appears in The Way of the Oracle. The Seidh group split off from its parent group, which became Hrafnar kindred. In 1992 I joined the Troth, an international heathen organization, and was made an Elder in 1993. Since then the Troth has become an important part of my life. I have served in many roles, including Steerswoman, Board member, and Clergy Coordinator, and continue to edit Idunna, the Troth’s journal.
I began serious work on writing in 1971, and sold my first short stories in 1976. My first novel was published by Pocket Books in 1981-82 in two parts, Lady of Light and Lady of Darkness. Since then I have made my living as a writer, most notably with the Chronicles of Westria and a series of historical fantasy novels based on legends such as the stories of Tristan and Iseult, King Lear, Siegfried, and King Arthur (for a complete list, see the “Complete, Comprehensive, Chronological List of Works Written by Diana L. Paxson“). Since the mid-80’s, I have taught classes and been a regular speaker at conferences and festivals. In 2005 my first non-fiction book, Taking up the Runes, appeared, followed by Essential Asatru, Trance-Portation, The Way of the Oracle and the forthcoming Essential Guide to Possession, Depossession, and Divine Relationships.