Religious and Pro-Choice

Also see Star Foster‘s and K.C. Hulsman’s posts on abortion.

We’ve just passed the anniversary of Roe v Wade and I am filled with dismay. In the forty years since this landmark decision was made, abortion rights have been chipped away little by little each year rendering it an empty victory. This saddens and angers me. I wasn’t initially planning on writing anything today. Certainly I wasn’t planning on commenting on this anniversary, but I strongly feel that at least one religious voice needs to be raised in favor of a woman’s right to choose.  So let me say right from the start: I am a priest, a shaman, a woman of devout faith and I am also adamantly pro-choice. I have helped more than one woman secure an abortion. I would do so again. In one case, many years ago, I sat with a friend while she had her abortion. I counseled her before and sat with her during the process and I was humbled by her honesty and her courage. That room was holy ground. It isn’t only life that is sacred after all; death holds its own share of the holy too.

Within Heathenry there is no ‘party line’ concerning abortion. This is what we would term a ‘roof-tree issue,’ meaning that it’s a private matter, of concern only to each individual person (and in some cases household). In fact, if we look at the lore, one could frame abortion as a courageous act, one that might strengthen the individual, the family, and the community. In the time of our ancestors, after all, birth control wasn’t anywhere nearly as reliable as it is now (and even now, there’s a failure rate) and resources much more scarce. Sometimes women had to make hard choices to ensure that their families would survive and thrive. Sometimes women had to make hard choices to ensure that they would survive and thrive. To that, I say “Brava.” May we learn from their wisdom; because sometimes women still have to make hard choices today.

While there’s no authorized position toward abortion within Heathenry, there’s also no moral onus or prohibition. It is not a ‘sin’ as in other religions. It is, simply, a choice and as wyrd teaches us all choices have consequences. The issue for us with abortion isn’t whether or not it is killing. Of course it is. The issue is whether it is the correct choice to make in a given circumstance and that is something only each individual woman can determine for herself. I personally believe this is a woman’s issue and I think that resistance to freedom of choice has far more to do with forced gender compliance and outright misogyny than it does with any true commitment to life. In my opinion, true commitment to life means that sometimes we say “No, not now.” Sometimes it might mean we say ‘no, not ever.’ There is no one true way. There is discernment, choice, and wyrd. This is my position. I do not claim to speak for every Heathen out there. That is not the way our religion works; we battle these questions out with ourselves and our Gods every day. That is our religion’s beauty and its power. Of course, it is also one of its greatest challenges.

Some of us do believe that in the Northern Tradition we have a Goddess who understands the complicated and delicate issue of both birth and abortion. We even have a Goddess who sanctions such hard choices, and provides consolation not only before-during-and after an abortion, but also when the body makes that choice for a woman all on its own against her will (i.e. miscarriage). That Goddess is Gerda and ironically She is the wife of Frey, our God of fertility and abundance. She is the shadow to His light, the quiet to His song, the taking away to His giving forth. She is a Goddess of boundaries, solitude, and self-possession. She’s a Goddess of loss. She is also a Goddess of choice.

I have known many a Heathen woman to call upon Her not only for help in coping with a miscarriage, but also for support after having decided to have an abortion. I have also known those who have found Her a tremendous comfort in the face of infertility. She is “silent contemplation, the Holder of all things secret. She is the loss not seen, the holder of life that is not born.” (1) Those of us in the Northern Tradition are blessed by knowing that one of our Holy Powers cares enough to walk with us through such difficult moments. She is a Goddess who preserves the self. Her name means sacred “enclosure.” She is about boundaries and learning how to honor one’s own boundaries, including those of one’s body. Sometimes She is about coming to terms with those boundaries we cannot change, like infertility. At other times, She can grant the emotional and moral fortitude to make the necessary decision to abort a child, or to heal from one’s loss. It is Her wisdom women can look to when contemplating these questions.

That is all I’m going to say on the matter. It is amazing to me that such a simple word like ‘choice’ could cause so much vitriol and condemnation on both sides. My purpose in writing this was to say loudly and clearly that one can love one’s Gods, one can be a spiritually devout person, and as part of that equation support the right to choose. I believe in the freedom of choice: whether that is the choice to carry a child to term or a choice to abort. I very strongly believe that to be forced to carry a child against one’s will is tantamount to slavery. No one should be forced into any life-changing decision against their will by any human agency, particularly one that so compromises the body itself.  If you don’t support abortion, if you think it is wrong the choice is simple: don’t have one.

In the meantime, there is Gerda and a thousand other Holy Powers. There are our ancestors and their collective wisdom. Regardless of the choice one makes, rest assured you’re not the only person in your family line to have faced those self-same circumstances and to have made those same choices. Know that you’re not alone. Know that there are those who honor your courage in doing what is right, even when it means saying no to life.

Hail Gerda,

May You be honored.

Hail Gerda,

May Your name be praised.

Let us seek You in the places that life has fled.

Let us look to the shadows, to the places of silence

where hope lies buried.

We shall pour out our hearts to You.

Let us honor Your ferocity,

Your wisdom, Your strength of purpose.

Let us honor You in the barren womb.

Let us honor You in the walled garden.

We shall bring offerings to You,

Great Lady, Beloved Bride of the Shining God.

Pennyroyal, cohosh, tansy, and rue.

These sacred herbs we lay upon Your altar.

Bless us with discernment, Great Lady.

Bless us with Your compassion.

Gerda, now and always,

Hail.

Notes:

1. “Exploring the Northern Tradition” by Galina Krasskova, (2005) New Page Books, p. 91.

Information on Gerda:

A Generic Ritual to Gerda: http://www.paganbookofhours.org/rituals/gerda.html

A contemporary UPG about Gerda’s marriage to Frey: http://www.northernshamanism.org/jotunbok/gerda.html

The “Skirnismal,” the Poetic Edda lay that tells the traditional story of Gerda’s wooing by Frey: http://www.cybersamurai.net/Mythology/nordic_gods/LegendsSagas/Edda/PoeticEdda/Skirnismol.htm

More about Gerda can be found in “Exploring the Northern Tradition” by Galina Krasskova and “Our Troth vol. 1 and 2” by Gundarsson. Both are available at amazon.com.

  • The Norse Alchemist

    Well spoken. I too think a woman has the right to control her body. But I do find myself wondering of the rights of the child, or the rights of the father in the case of where a woman wants an abortion but the father does not, and is willing to take full responsibility after the birth, with no burden on the woman. I think much of the issue isn’t the fact that its about a woman’s right, its about the right of potentially three or more people that the issue gets complicated. After all, if all life is equal, whose right is the imperative?

    Just my thought though

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      The problem of course is it’s the woman’s life at stake as well. Although less dangerous today carrying and giving birth to a child isn’t always safe.

      I totally hear you on leaving the fathers out of the picture. I have a friend who keeps track of how old his daughter would be today if she had been carried successfully to term.

    • Kerry W.

      It’s a tangled issue, for sure, but pregnancy is not a mere nine-month blip. It might seems that way for the people who walk around healthy and happy for it. For others, it can cause serious health problems and enormous burdens on one’s livelihood, up to and including death. But it’s really the up-to part that’s important. We like to brush off maternal death as a statistical blip (even though it isn’t for those touched by it), but the other burdens are much, much more common, pernicious, and can last well beyond the pregnancy. It is not a legal quibble to say that it’s a woman’s body (and health, and livelihood, and life) at stake.

  • The Norse Alchemist

    Well spoken. I too think a woman has the right to control her body. But I do find myself wondering of the rights of the child, or the rights of the father in the case of where a woman wants an abortion but the father does not, and is willing to take full responsibility after the birth, with no burden on the woman. I think much of the issue isn’t the fact that its about a woman’s right, its about the right of potentially three or more people that the issue gets complicated. After all, if all life is equal, whose right is the imperative?

    Just my thought though

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      The problem of course is it’s the woman’s life at stake as well. Although less dangerous today carrying and giving birth to a child isn’t always safe.

      I totally hear you on leaving the fathers out of the picture. I have a friend who keeps track of how old his daughter would be today if she had been carried successfully to term.

    • Kerry W.

      It’s a tangled issue, for sure, but pregnancy is not a mere nine-month blip. It might seems that way for the people who walk around healthy and happy for it. For others, it can cause serious health problems and enormous burdens on one’s livelihood, up to and including death. But it’s really the up-to part that’s important. We like to brush off maternal death as a statistical blip (even though it isn’t for those touched by it), but the other burdens are much, much more common, pernicious, and can last well beyond the pregnancy. It is not a legal quibble to say that it’s a woman’s body (and health, and livelihood, and life) at stake.

  • Galina Krasskova

    Norse Alchemist, I don’t think the father’s rights should override the woman’s. Carrying a child to term can be a burden on the mind and body. No one should be forced to it. (but neither do i think it right for a woman to get pregnant and expect the man to support her and the child if he’s stated clearly that he doesn’t want children). The imperative always rests with the one who’s body is going to be compromised, imo.

  • Galina Krasskova

    Norse Alchemist, I don’t think the father’s rights should override the woman’s. Carrying a child to term can be a burden on the mind and body. No one should be forced to it. (but neither do i think it right for a woman to get pregnant and expect the man to support her and the child if he’s stated clearly that he doesn’t want children). The imperative always rests with the one who’s body is going to be compromised, imo.

  • Galina Krasskova

    Star, if your friend is Pagan and open to ancestor work, he might consider honoring his daughter amongst his ancestors. I’ve known ancestor workers who have deep and fulfilling relationships with the children who would have been…sometimes the spirits linger. They can certainly be honored any way, up to and including naming.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      I’ll mention it to him.

  • Galina Krasskova

    Star, if your friend is Pagan and open to ancestor work, he might consider honoring his daughter amongst his ancestors. I’ve known ancestor workers who have deep and fulfilling relationships with the children who would have been…sometimes the spirits linger. They can certainly be honored any way, up to and including naming.

    • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

      I’ll mention it to him.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wendi-Wilkerson/563249337 Wendi Wilkerson

    Thank you for your eloquent and simple clarification.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wendi-Wilkerson/563249337 Wendi Wilkerson

    Thank you for your eloquent and simple clarification.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wendi-Wilkerson/563249337 Wendi Wilkerson

    One thing that amazes me about the current controversy is how people seem to think that abortion wasn’t practiced until the 20th century. It has been around for thousands of years. Until recently it was always a woman’s private concern, even if an institution, for example the Church, postulated doctrine about it. (BTW the Catholic position on abortion has [d]evolved tremendously over the last seveal centuries.)

    Biologically speaking, it’s easier, less dangerous, and more socioeconomicaly convenient for a man to father a child than it is for a woman to carry and birth one. IMO a man’s rights to a potential child are trumped by the mother’s rights to not have her health and socioeconomic well-being compromised because of an unwanted pregnancy. It is important to understand that a child is a living bond between two parents. Forcing a woman to have a child and thus ensure that bond against her will because the father is willing to take on the responsibility of having a child is tantamount to slavery. In speaking of a potential childs rights, I think it is fair to say that a potential child has the right to be loved and provided for by both of its parents, and to be well-card by a thoughtful mother-to-be during the gestation period. In the case of unwanted pregnancy, guaranteeing a potential child the right to life is very likely to violate those other rights.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wendi-Wilkerson/563249337 Wendi Wilkerson

    One thing that amazes me about the current controversy is how people seem to think that abortion wasn’t practiced until the 20th century. It has been around for thousands of years. Until recently it was always a woman’s private concern, even if an institution, for example the Church, postulated doctrine about it. (BTW the Catholic position on abortion has [d]evolved tremendously over the last seveal centuries.)

    Biologically speaking, it’s easier, less dangerous, and more socioeconomicaly convenient for a man to father a child than it is for a woman to carry and birth one. IMO a man’s rights to a potential child are trumped by the mother’s rights to not have her health and socioeconomic well-being compromised because of an unwanted pregnancy. It is important to understand that a child is a living bond between two parents. Forcing a woman to have a child and thus ensure that bond against her will because the father is willing to take on the responsibility of having a child is tantamount to slavery. In speaking of a potential childs rights, I think it is fair to say that a potential child has the right to be loved and provided for by both of its parents, and to be well-card by a thoughtful mother-to-be during the gestation period. In the case of unwanted pregnancy, guaranteeing a potential child the right to life is very likely to violate those other rights.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Good thoughts, Galina!

    I find it rather funny that the people who don’t like women to have the ability to choose also have classifications for whole groups of people that they believe have made the wrong choices–heretics. The Greek word from which “heresy” comes means “to choose.” Isn’t that interesting?

    So, hurrah for heresy!

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    Good thoughts, Galina!

    I find it rather funny that the people who don’t like women to have the ability to choose also have classifications for whole groups of people that they believe have made the wrong choices–heretics. The Greek word from which “heresy” comes means “to choose.” Isn’t that interesting?

    So, hurrah for heresy!

  • Khryseis_Astra

    Like Heathenry, my own path Hellenismos has no set stance on abortion, for or against, but I myself am strongly pro-choice. Like others have said, it is the woman’s life on the line, and therefore her decision. Even with modern medical advances, you still cannot guarantee a woman that she will survive her pregnancy, or not have her health severely compromised if she does.

    Beyond that, in a religious category where so many are open to some form of reincarnation, it’s not quite the “depriving the ‘child’ of it’s ‘one chance’ at life” scenario as other religions often paint it. IMO the soul of the *potential* child will simply be born somewhere/time else in the case of abortion or miscarriage. Nothing is “murdered” if it hasn’t first been born.

  • Khryseis_Astra

    Like Heathenry, my own path Hellenismos has no set stance on abortion, for or against, but I myself am strongly pro-choice. Like others have said, it is the woman’s life on the line, and therefore her decision. Even with modern medical advances, you still cannot guarantee a woman that she will survive her pregnancy, or not have her health severely compromised if she does.

    Beyond that, in a religious category where so many are open to some form of reincarnation, it’s not quite the “depriving the ‘child’ of it’s ‘one chance’ at life” scenario as other religions often paint it. IMO the soul of the *potential* child will simply be born somewhere/time else in the case of abortion or miscarriage. Nothing is “murdered” if it hasn’t first been born.


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