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.
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.
May You be honored.
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,
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.