Larisa C. Hunter, also known as Mist, is the author of the book, FullTrui : Patrons in Asatru, and she is currently working on her second book, which I understand is in the editing stage. Larisa is the Godia of the Kenaz Kindred in Canada and has been practicing the Old Ways for the last ten years.
With The Help Of Our Gods
In many religions the word faith is perhaps more concretely understood, faith is something that is for them a given aspect of what they practice, however for those practicing paganism and heathenism the word faith is a bit more complex than that. In many ways, faith is not so easily defined, nor is the reliance on ‘gods’ to be part of our world. I think that in many ways those who do not practice pagan or heathen religion would perhaps consider us even having the complete opposite of faith.
And yet, many of us devote lifetimes to the understanding and perfection of our beliefs. It was our faith that kept us sane during the process of conception and birth, and it was through faith that we learned that the power of our gods is not a mere legend but is in actual fact something that exists and is constant in the lives of those devoted to them. There is a quote that our kindred uses, that I find gives me a reminder of my faith on a daily basis, and perhaps it reminds me of the lessons I learned along the road that brought me to a place of accepting the existence of faith.
“"Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation." - D. Elton Trueblood” To be fortunate to have learned this lesson was a blessing, however it was not taught with the most gentle of hand, and perhaps shows that sometimes the road to achieve our desires is but one that is not forged by ease but brutally executed by wit and will alone.
Before I met and married my partner, with whom I have found my solace, I was in a pace that I recall now was much like a prison. I was kept in a fortress of oppression and domestic abuse to which I was left experiencing a great deal of hardship. The relationship did not begin that way, in fact I recall moments of life with him as loving, and in fact thought that he was the one that I would marry. However, not having the gift of seeing the future perhaps limited me to see that there would be a way out of the situation that I found myself, and so I found a place deep inside myself to hide. I hid from the abuse, internalising it and formed a cocoon around myself that protected me from feeling any pain. I recall now, that in fact on many occasions I provoked the attacks, I have discovered once free, that the victims of abuse often do this, because for them it is a relief to be abused.
That is a strange thing for people to do, but apparently it happens, and I think that on numerous occasions I wanted to feel lower than dirt, it fit how I mentally saw myself after years of both physical and mental abuse. During these years, I think I would have done anything for a moment of solace, a moment of peace, a moment to feel alive and free. That moment came when a line was drawn as to what I should do about preventing pregnancy.
It was not a real decision or option but more of you do this or else moment and I decided to protect myself was the much easier and safer option. I went to my OBGYN and he told me that I could have a ‘simple’ procedure to clip my fallopian tubes. I had the operation mostly to save myself further risk of abuse, at least that is what I told myself, however this changed nothing, and I was left ‘void’ and alone and possibly childless for the rest of my life. I wish I could say that decision was smart, or in any way sensible, but it was not. I don’t think many except those in situations like this would understand what a person’s mind has to convince them to do.
I felt that I would never be free of my prison and never find a sense of love and belonging, but something happened one day that would change all of that. It is kind of ironic now looking back, and perhaps I should have seen it coming, but who can have such foresight into their own future. I had been given a set of runes from my ex, and one day I decided to do a reading for myself, now in all honestly I knew nothing about runes, and had to sit there with a rune book analysing each rune that feel and trying to make sense of a practice that was foreign to me. I don’t know why I decided to do that, nor do I really understand why this one singular act changed my life, but that is what it did.
I vividly remember that the reading indicated that I would meet my sexual and spiritual equal, and that this meeting would be soon, at first I sort of disregarded this reading, as who was I to grasp the meaning of stones that I barley had any education on, and frankly it seemed to close to those fortune tellers who love to tell you about the ‘tall dark stranger’ that will appear just when you least expect him too. I am very much a realist, and found that I did not take to heart what these little symbols said, and decided to resolve myself to the fact that my life in this hellish prison would be never-ending.
But, the fates I think had a different idea of what my life would be. My sister came to visit one summer and she offered to take me to an event in Acton known as the Renascence Fair. It was an event that occurred every year, and I was excited to be able to go with my sister, for some reason my warden let me go, and for some reason he decided to stay home, I am not sure why that was, it was completely unprecedented for him to do that, but I was free and had my first taste of what it was like outside my cage.
My sister was great, and we spent time shopping and sightseeing, she had my little niece with her, so it was nice to be in the company of a little babe that I could hold and spend time with, despite the fact of deciding to do the surgery, I very much wanted to be a mother. From the time I was small, the thoughts of this one act consumed me and I remember that caring for my two younger sisters was actually something that I considered fun. I recall being a big help to my mother by feeding and rocking the babies in the house, and loved it.
So, to have this option taken from me did in many ways kill me inside. A piece of me was taken, and it was something that I to this day regret ever allowing someone to force upon me. During this outing we met up with some old friends of my sisters, and again the fates showed their hand, for the friends that she met with happened to be a couple that I recognized, it then occurred to me that the man in the relationship was in fact my high school friend. It was so wonderful to converse with someone who actually listened to me, and to be honest, yes I flirted a little. Okay, it was innocent flirting but flirting none the less, we reminisced about life in high school and did in fact exchange emails.
After a few one sided emails (from me) I kind of put thoughts of ever reconnecting with him. But, then one day out of the blue, I received an email that he was free for coffee, and during that I discovered that he had separated. We began meeting for coffee and talking, and I remember on one occasion having to sneak out of my prison to meet him, in many ways it was something out of a tawdry romance novel. We had to meet in secret being very careful where we met, because at the time having a friend was almost impossible let alone a male friend, if I had been discovered I would have surley been beaten even worse.
I don’t remember telling him much about the abuse, but I think he sensed that something was not right. Our meetings became more frequent and something in me began to see that I could have the chance for something that I thought only existed in dreams, that I could in fact have love. Our relationship was crossing lines and I began to feel that I loved him very much, and simultaneously began almost reviling the touch of my ex. I cannot say that this went unnoticed. There were times when I thought I would get caught, he even took my phone which was the only way of communicating with my new found love, and I began wondering how long I could keep this up.
One day, for whatever reason, I had something snap inside me. The night before I had been forced to have sex with Mr. ex and felt this sudden pang of guilt, I felt that I had betrayed my new love, this one switch in my brain helped me push myself to do what was needed. It was not at all simple to leave a life behind, but I found that I could not run faster if I tried. All my desires led with this new found man, I was drawn deeply to him, and I was bound and determined to escape my prison, and there I was at last, outside of my cage, unbound and free.
It was my new love who found me a place to live, and we began life together very quickly, I think that for most the quick leap into a new relationship after escaping the one I was in would seem unthinkable, but for some reason the memories of the prison quickly faded, as life in the free embrace of someone who loved me, quickly mended the broken spirit that I had been left with.
My new found relationship was something that to me is something that is hard to define. I loved and still love him more than anything I have ever loved (outside of our daughter, but I will get to her in a bit) and he was just to me at least, something that was so much part of me, that I could not imagine anything else more perfect, he is for me a part of my soul and could not have been created any more perfectly by the gods, it seemed that the rune reading had come true, and here was the love that I had almost given up hoping for.
I cannot say how long our relationship went before we discussed marriage, I actually did not believe in a conventional relationship and was content with living together. For me, marriage was not something that I sought after, but for him it was something he wanted, he wanted to be more than just common law, he wanted to be bonded together, and felt that marriage was just that, a bond between two. We were both identifying as pagan, of no particular group and or path, just floundering in the ether so to speak. We found ourselves in charge of a group of individuals whom also were seeking understanding and founded a little group of explorers that later identified themselves as Wiccan. We studied Wicca for some time and suddenly were thrust into the position of group officials.
I cannot say I know why it is some are driven to priesthood, but it seems that it has a lot to do with the ability they have to learn and also to teach. We spent a number of years doing that, and also at the same time finding ourselves drawn to various parts of our province, we moved at least four times in the first few years, including a move to the isolated North which meant we were cut off from the world so to speak. Here we had a chance to establish a new life, and had a few crisis along the way, including some results from doctors that indicated that I had fibromyalgia from the years of abuse.
Eventually, we found our way back to the greener and warmer climates of Central Ontario, and began to have more interest from others who wanted to study paganism with us; this eventually led in us taking a more active role in finding community. We attended a pagan festival in Hamilton, Ontario and here had our first real exposure to heathenry. I had heard about it before, and had some strange things happen to me that were leading me in the direction that Wiccan might not be for me. I had the appearance of gods on several occasions, in particular one with one eye. At the time, I really had no idea who that was, and kind of fluffed it off as no more than an odd occurrence.
But, upon meeting these heathens and talking with them, I decided to do some research. It was a bit daunting at first, especially walking up to a heathen priest and asking them about a dream you have, but they were exceptionally nice to me, and in fact gave me some tips where to go and what to look for. My research ended up revealing a god named Odin, and from that spiraled into a nine yearlong devotion to a group of gods that I would take as friends, companions and more. After much research and exploration, I found myself taking the final profession ritual to Asatru. For those not aware of heathenry, profession is the final ritual in which a person takes an oath of allegiance of sorts to the religion of Asatru and its gods. This started my path towards priesthood, to which I am proud to say to this day I am grateful for and continually learning. Our life as leaders of a kindred began as a road of uncertainty, but for some reason a number of people were drawn to us.
We were one of the few heathen practitioners in the area, and I think the novelty helped a lot. We presented at a number of different groups and at a number of festivals, it seemed as if the gods were telling us that we were on the right track. Then things in my dream life began to shift. I started to dream about children. But, things were not going to be that easy. We had a slight problem that would not be that easy to deal with.
Outside of our spiritual life, my life dealing with abuse was still ongoing, I had begun healing myself through counselling and was beginning to finally let go of the years of pain and anger that I felt. During our relationship I found out from my mother, about a special program in Ontario that helped compensate victims of crimes, she thought that this would help resolve things for me in the form of providing closure for everything. I went with hope in my heart; some closure could provide me a final way for me to let all this go. I had to retell the years of abuse, the things he did, the surgery, all of it, and relieving that was very difficult.
But, at the end of the day, it was worth it. I remember that the tribunal to which I sat in front of asked me if I would rather go to school or have the ability to have children, and I remember just saying I wanted some piece of myself back. I spent six months waiting for a response and then a few months later a wonderful letter arrived, not only was I given compensation for the years of abuse through a fund that would help me gain some semblance of life, but there was a special letter included that said, they would help pay for the restoration of my fertility. This letter was a gift that I would never be able to express the gratitude for. I found myself then searching for a clinic that would be able to reverse my tubal clips.
The dreams continued to plague me, a child kept coming into my mind, the gods even telling me that it would be a girl, and born on an Odin’s day. We began to wonder what these dreams meant and often thought of life as parents. I found a fertility clinic and went there with the highest of hopes. The tests on me were relatively painless and after a few blood tests and exams I was found to have perfectly working ovaries, this meant that getting the ability to conceive back might be a fairly uncomplicated one; however life again was to throw in another twist.
The surgery would be risky and possibly not achieve the desired results, but, we had little options, although the fertility clinic advised us that we would be better to use ‘IVF’ (Procedure, used to overcome infertility, in which eggs are removed from a woman, fertilized with sperm outside the body, and inserted into the uterus of the same or another woman. IVF includes extraction of eggs, collection of sperm, fertilization in culture, and introduction into the uterus at the eight-cell stage. In a successful procedure, the embryo is implanted in the uterine wall, and pregnancy begins)
We decided to go with the surgical option for a few reasons, one that we did not fully feel that IVF was right for us, having researched it and finding that IVF had a lot of potentially bad things that could happen, and in all honesty despite the fact that we had no reason to think this way, we felt that if our gods wanted us to have a child then they would help us find a way, that we did not have to put faith in science but instead with the spiritual. It is kind of funny that for heathens whom are vastly removed from any Christian thought that the option to put one’s fate in the hands of the gods was first in our hearts and minds. With all the hopes in the world, I prepared myself for surgery.
The surgery went very well and I recovered quickly. But this was not the end of our rough road. My husband had to go for his tests too. I have to say, although I am not male, it has to be the most impossible and awkward situation to have to donate sperm into a cup. I could not believe how many constraints were on the collection of this specimen. The clinic had very strict delivery times and thus gave him only one hour to give his specimen and drop it off for testing. Our follow up appointment was met with trepidation as we waited patiently in the waiting room to find out the results. The doctor came in, and with bated breath we waited to find out our results. The news was one of the most hearts breaking moments.
The doctor told us that we would have little to no chance at conceiving a child, and our best bet was IVF, we left the doctor’s office in a daze, I think we were both in shock. To go through all this for nothing, was the hardest thing in the world to hear. We drove home and found ourselves crying over the results. I remember feeling very angry at the gods; in fact I believe I even cursed at Odin several times in the car, I felt betrayed, angry and frankly almost felt like I had picked the wrong gods and religion.
I don’t know why my first inclination was to blame them, it certainly was no fault of the gods, but anger being an irrational moment does not always lead to the best of conditions nor the best mind. I remember feeling so hurt, that I was sick with pain. I went to bed that night with a fury of thoughts, and whom should show up but he to whom I was so ready to reject. Odin came that night, and taught me the most valuable of lessons, for he is both a god of compassion and yet of fear and rage. I recall that night as being one that is still pivotal in my life, for this too would drive me further into exploring my own religion and finding my future patron goddess, on this night I learned that those brave enough to voice rage to the gods, should in turn prepare for this rage to be returned upon themselves with words that will feel as painful as razors and as stinging as needles. He showed me and told me that I was but a peon in the world, and that I had no right to demand things from him. He told me quite frankly and in no uncertain terms, that things would happen when they decided and not me. Despite my own wishes or desires they would make things happen when they were supposed to and I would have little to say about when and where that would be.
I learned that putting ones faith in the gods is sometimes more difficult than it sounds, and perhaps becoming a priest (which I was doing) seemed to come with a series of challenges including the loss of ones ego, learning the difference between slavery and servitude and frankly even though most heathens out there don’t talk about these things as part of the religion of Ásatrú, they seem to be woven into every experience. I learned from this particular experience that I should always have faith that my gods will be there, and that I should trust that when they tell me something it will happen just not as quickly as I would like it.
The gods taught me that humility was essential and that IF I wanted them to bless my life and work with me that I would have to give something that I think most of us would resist giving, my entire trust, I would have to surrender my will and let them decide things for me. Of course, I would have a say in what happened to me, this was not completely a form of slavery but it was a balance of knowing when to let them take control and when for me too, and this time they would be the best and most knowledgeable about the timing and creation of this new being whom yet had been created.
After a few months, life began to creep in and take over and we left the child planning with the gods, until one ritual in which we were honouring Ingvi-Frey. Now, for those who don’t know much about the Ásatrú gods, Frey is known for his large and well erect phallus, although praised for his fertility as an agricultural deity and not exactly for conception, one would surmise that this depiction of him also represents the act of conception or at least of male potency. The ritual involved my husband asking Frey for his blessing, in fact the whole ritual that day seemed to involve some strange things, including the Ingwaz rune, again depicting male potency being drawn twice when my husband drew runes and I drew Berkano a rune that represents birth twice as well. The whole day seemed to be a very odd one. Still the feeling that a child would never be ours, lingered. In fact, I recall that my nightly visions changed from following Odin to following Frigga (his wife and patron of women and the home) in which she kept telling me the child would be conceived in the spring, in the spring.
Well February 14th, 2008 came and on that day we decided to hell with it, let’s not uses protection and just ‘see’ what happens. Well I guess the gods must have been listening; I noticed that I was late and that was when I went out to get a pregnancy test. I was surprised to find out that I was in fact pregnant, I think it was the only time I have ever seen my partner look a bit ‘scared’ and yet I know inside we were both busting! I think I must have called everyone that day to tell them, and these calls were received with much excitement and anticipation.
We went back to the fertility clinic, with an in your face attitude and told them what happened, we decided that we would probably go with a doctor in town as our fertility doctor was over an hour and a half away, and that was a bit far if we were in labour! We returned home and began to dream. I began looking for doctors, to find out that our particular town had a backlog of patience waiting for OBGYN’s. I am in Canada, so our medical system is vastly different than most countries, and specialists like OBGYN’s are only available if you get ‘referred’ from your own doctor and if they are taking patience, sometimes if they are experience a high volume of patience it can take months. I decided that I would rather not wait, and found out that Canada just began allowing midwives to be the ‘primary’ care providers, which meant that they would pay for midwives to deliver your baby. In some countries I know that midwives are standard practice and in fact work with the doctors and nurses, in Canada we are just beginning to allow natural medicine into our health care system, so midwives were still considered (even though they were covered) as kind of untraditionally, somewhat hippy heath care.
Many of our family members in fact discouraged midwives as they seemed in the same boat as us, we did not really know enough about what they did to determine if they were a good choice. I think many of us are raised to think that babies are born in hospitals that this is normal practice and any other person than a doctor was not qualified. But, I decided not only because there was no other option but because I wanted to see what they would offer to go and at least check out the midwife clinic.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the midwives both had medical training in fact a lot of medical training that they were willing to allow us to have the birth the way we wanted, that they would not do anything medically unnecessary and took great care and consideration answering our questions. I was a bigger girl, being 5’6’ and about 280pounds at pregnancy and therefore considered ‘obese’ but the midwives never gave me any reason to be concerned about my size in fact commenting that the bigger girls can push better and have more ability to distribute the weight of a baby, I felt confident with them both and did become very close to our student midwife who even attended our house after completion of care to visit our baby.
For nine months I was cared for and in fact had many conversations about our wishes. One of the things we asked for was to wait nine days after birth in order to give our child a name; they were very compassionate about our religious requests and in fact had no problem with me using runes drawn on with washable marker or us having religious objects in the delivery room. It was nice to have one’s personal religious views considered in this way, and made us feel very secure with them as our caretakers.
We had some options when it came to where we would deliver our baby, at home or at the hospital. As it was our first and we had no experience with what labour would be like other than the usual horror stories that some moms seem to relay in graphic detail, and due to the fact that we had a dog and two cats that would have to go somewhere during labour, we opted for the hospital. In truth, we thought that this option would give us the best of both worlds, we would have our midwives present, but we would also be in a place that if a medical emergency occurred we would be able to have the needed help.
The whole pregnancy was actually pleasant, although close to the end, I would have done anything to get that baby out! We were about two weeks overdue and getting overly anxious, I remember that our midwives told me that if we went another week, we would have to look at having a C-section and that was just something that I wanted to avoid at all costs.
We went for a checkup at the hospital with the midwives and they asked me if I wanted to have a special drink, I don’t know what they put in it, but that day I noticed that my back hurt a lot. I think that when you read the whole what to expect during labour the descriptions of the signs of labour are vague at best, the whole description of period like cramps meant little to me, I was one of those women that either had period cramps or didn’t and to recall how and where it hurt during cramps when all you can think about is the baby coming, is not exactly brought to the forefront of one’s mind.
I remember that my husband frantically got into gear. The hospital bag was at the door, and a phone call was put into the midwives and to his employer. The first hours were a bit blurry for me; I remember that it went slowly! We began labour on the 18th of November 2008 and it had just started to snow, I remember climbing the three flights of stairs to the midwife clinic to be told that we could expect a long labour, as we were only a centimeter dilated. They told us to go for a walk and then meet them at the hospital for check in. So off we went, I remember walking up and down the block for half an hour before we got tired and cold.
I remember that despite all my wishes to keep moving, I could not help but feel tired, like I wanted to sleep. But, we went and checked in and got all settled. We had arranged for a very good friend and kindred member to be with us at the hospital and she arrived within the first few hours. I remember that we had a very comfortable room at the hospital, and there was a ‘dad’ bed for hubby to sleep in. Our friend had to sleep in a very tight little cozy that was so small she had to sleep folded almost, I felt so bad for her, but she stuck with us to the end, and it was nice to actually have her with us.
I don’t really have many memories of what happened, it was all so fuzzy. We took a long time to get going and I remember the midwife coming to break my water after a few hours, and then still nothing, then the OBGYN on duty came in and broke more water, and still nothing. I remember that we had a notification of meconium present. We were told that intervention might be needed and recommended strongly that we have an epidural and prepare for a caesarian. I remember feeling so nervous! The doctors at hospitals seem to treat you strangely when you have midwives. We were told that the baby was over nine pounds and that it would be impossible to have a vaginal birth, but our midwives kept me strong, and assured me that women had given birth to far bigger babies and not to listen to them, if we had to have intervention we had time.
After twelve hours we were told that we would probably have to have an epidural. I was not in pain at all, but the doctors and midwives told me that they would like to give me Pitocin which brings on contractions and that without the epidural even the strongest of women would need some pain management. So, I reluctantly agreed! I felt it was best to do what was best for the baby and gave over to allowing whatever needed to happen, happen. We then were notified that because of the presence of meconium the neo-natal unit would be on call! There is nothing more frightening than being told there is something wrong with your delivery, that the baby might be at risk and to feel dread and fear! I also recall that the OBGYN on duty for the morning shift was the worst doctor I had ever had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting.
She told me as I was in labour that I was ridiculous to hope that I could birth this baby without a caesarian, that I should have had a diabetes test, and that my baby was big and I remember comments about my size as well, I am not a waif of a girl, but a stocky woman with curves! I actually think that my size made carrying a child easier and gave me extra muscles that could help push! But, having those midwives holding my hand the whole time I think kept me sane and calm. I remember that I slept for a while, although, the nurses kept turning me to monitor the baby and it was uncomfortable.
At nine am on the 19th, I remember being told that we were fully dilated and we should get ready to push! I remember falling asleep and then woke up at around ten am, and started to push, I don’t remember anything other than a drive to get that baby out.
Suddenly out she came, perfect and beautiful! I never in my wildest dreams knew that I could love something that much and it was a glorious experience to hold her and see her there at last. All my dreams and hopes in life, my faith in my gods had resulted in the gift of a lifetime, a beautiful baby girl. She was born on November 19th, 2008 at 10:03am and was a healthy 9pounds 1 ounce! She was the most precious and beautiful baby in the world (which is I am sure what all parents thingJ)
What started out uncertain and unknowing turned out to be an experience of a lifetime! It ended with the blessing of a child, who was named in a heathen ceremony. In Asatru we have a ritual known as the Vatni Ausa, it is performed on the ninth day of birth and this is when a baby gets their official name. “In the Vatni Ausa rite, a child is formally accepted by its father on its ninth night of life, and sprinkled with water made sacred by Blots, and given a name. Of course, in the modern day, most children will typically have "mainstream" names and a separate name by which they are known in the Asatru faith-community.” (Unknown, 2008)
For those who have not seen or read a blot like this, I thought I would share the ritual that we wrote. I hope that the ritual shows how much we love and honour our gods and how grateful we are for our daughter. All in all, this road for me has not ended, and every day that I look at our beautiful daughter I am reminded of the gift that has been given to me. She is to me the best parts of us, a shining reminder of how life is precious and a gift from the gods.
At her naming, our entire kindred was there including our friend who stayed with us during the labour, it was such a lovely experience to name her in our tradition and to this day we continue to teach her the ways of Asatru, in many ways she inspires me to continue my spiritual path, and reminds me of the power of the gods.
- Larisa C. Hunter