[This issue, we sit down with Larisa Hunter. Public Relations head for Immanion Press/Megalithica, Hunter is also the author of the just-released Fulltrui. Here, she discusses patron/matron relations in Heathenry, the controversy surrounding jotun patronage, and how to use Twitter to spread the good word.]
Eternal Haunted Summer: If you could correct one common misconception about Heathenry, what would it be?
Larisa Hunter: I think for me the biggest misconception is that all of us worship the same, come to heathenry the same way, or view the gods the same way. I think there are a number of misconceptions made about people that are very unfounded; just because they may not agree with everyone else’s opinion does not mean they are not heathen. There are a number of roads to heathenry; each one is different and we should not attempt to make the road so ridged.
EHS: How did you come to Heathenry? Was your path fairly straight forward or roundabout?
LH: Sometimes when I have a calm moment to contemplate life, I wonder to myself how in the world did I end up here. For me it was not at all planned or expected. I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness and for those who don’t know about them, they are very insular in their teachings. They don’t allow for individuality nor for personal self-expression; you are to conform or get out. For me, my life was pretty good; my parents both were pretty flexible and had a great deal of interest in music, art, history and culture. My mom often made all kinds of different ethnic foods for us to try and my dad often talked about his love of ancient civilizations. All in all, it was not that bad of a childhood, but as I grew older, I came to find out that the ‘plans’ that I wanted to pursue became pushed aside as it was more common for women to serve in the ministry or get married than it was to pursue an education. I was excommunicated or disfellowshipped at 18 and I never looked back. It was hard a first, to acclimate to a world I knew little about, but I managed to find my way.
I ended up in a bad relationship which I remained in on and off for a number of years. During one of my off years, I met and moved in with a woman who was attending the Wiccan Church of Canada. She introduced me to a few people and despite my initial trepidation, I found that the Wiccans, at least, were not about dogma but instead about self-expression. I feel during my two years with them, I learned a lot! I came out of my shell and embraced my freedom, doing things that I would have never done before, including getting a tattoo and body piercing. I know that seems small to some people, but for me this was such a freeing experience.
When I was with the WCC (Wiccan Church of Canada) my priestess was very nice and gave me a lot of resources. She was a follower of the Egyptian gods and was quite knowledgeable so I learned quite a bit. After a while she asked me to write a ritual. This was my first time, but I dove in — but instead of coming up with an Egyptian themed one, what came out was a Norse ritual. This was the first step. After that it just seemed that every time I took a step there was another ‘sign’ that this was my path. I met people at some Pagan events who were heathen, and just kept finding myself again and again meeting up with people who knew of heathenry, or Odin or something Norse. Still, I did not get it and it took something much bigger to convince me. I had a spiritual experience that changed me forever: it was the first time I ever saw a god.
I did not plan for this to happen but it did. I came face to face with Odin. This one event changed me and I look back on it and think how lucky I was to come to this path that way. Instead of having preconceptions about what it was, I learned *after* meeting the gods, and I think this allowed me to have a different view. My road to heathenry brought me my husband and daughter, so, for me, however bumpy it was, it was worth every hardship.
EHS: You recently released the devotional Fulltrui. Why that particular title?
LH: Thinking back on it, I wish I had picked a more universal title because the word fulltrui is common in heathenry. It means ‘fully trusted one’ but it is not as common in other faiths. But basically I picked it because I wanted to talk about that concept in particular. The concept of a fully trusted deity is not that common, and I wanted to explore what that was. The original title was actually a lot longer, but we shortened it to fit onto the cover. Today I look at and think I should have just called it Working With The Gods, but I don’t regret the name, as it does convey what I meant it to.
EHS: Why did you decide to write a book on patron/matron relationships in Heathenry?
LH: I wrote it because I myself could not find anything on the subject. There were hints at things, stories and such, but to find concrete help other than running for the hills was not as forthcoming. I think heathens today don’t provide a lot of information about gods in a form that can be used to help create relationships or expand on already existing relationships. There is little in the way of personal accounts to help navigate through what is going on when it comes to the gods even talking to you, and I felt that there was a need for a book to do that. I wanted to know if there were others like me, and in writing I found out there were a lot more than I initially thought there would be. In a way, writing openly was somewhat liberating and it allowed me to meet people, some whom I am happy to say are still in communication with me and still consider me a friend.
EHS: What kind of research went into writing Fulltrui? Which primary sources (ancient and contemporary) did you consult?
LH: I used the Prose and Poetic Edda of various translations, Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology volumes one through four and V. Rydberg’s Teutonic Mythology volumes one through three for my academic research, as well as a few thesis papers that were sent to me. It is amazing the number of times our mythology becomes the work of a student thesis! I also used contemporary authors such as F. Aswynn, D. Paxson, E. Thorsson, and B. Linzie, as well as books like The Troth, Teutonic Mythology and Teutonic Religion by K. Gundersson, as well as controversial writers like Galina Krasskova and Raven Kaldera. I think most surprising was the content in Lotte Motz’s work on giants and S. McGrath’s book Asyniur: Women’s Mysteries in the Northern Tradition. Those two really provided a lot of detailed information. But, a lot of my information was also gleamed from contemporary folktales, from researching different kinds of heathenry, and [from studying] the views of people in Iceland were in comparison. It was interesting to me to find out how many differences there were in not only the sources, but also the interpretation of these sources. I wanted to show a good cross section of material, as well as some personal gnosis.
EHS: In addition to the Aesir and the Vanir, you also include the Jotun as potential patrons. This is considered controversial in the Heathen community. Could you explain why, and also why you think it important to include the Jotun as potential patrons?
LH: I wish I understood fully the controversy over the giants, I am still very confused by it all. I cannot figure out if it’s the giants or the people out there supporting the giants that is causing so much controversy, but for me I never really considered [jotun patronage] a big deal.
I view the giants as similar to wights: they exist as part of the world tree, they are the natural elements, and without them we would not have the gods. I think people misunderstand my view on them, because it is not that easy to explain. I feel that as the ancestors of the gods they deserve my respect despite what they are perceived as doing or have done; they are the ‘grandparents’ of the gods and there should be a certain level of respect paid to them. I think people that end up with them as patrons are going to have a hard time with it, but I also think there is nothing necessarily wrong with it. If you look at the sources, Thor and Odin are giants too. Does that mean we cannot have any patrons if the rule of no giant is applied? Than in my opinion you cannot include any god whom you consider as ‘giant’.
I don’t think anyone can make a list of with whom it is/is not okay to have a relationship. I think in all honesty it’s not always up to the person as to who calls to them, and if they are a giant or dwarf or whatever why is it anyone else’s business!
What bothers me most is that people in heathenry take all this so personally, as if they have a right to decide for everyone else, but in my opinion people don’t have that right. We all came to heathenry because of its freedom and independence. We all have a right to decide for ourselves what we feel comfortable with and I don’t think we need a “deity police force” condemning people for choosing or being chosen by a particular god/goddess, giant, wight, dwarf, whatever.
I feel, as a priest, that I have a duty to nurture all those who come to me for help and guidance regardless of who or what their patron is. However, I also think its important for both sides (pro-giant/anti-giant) to avoid preaching to each other about who is right. I think the best we can hope for is that ‘we agree to disagree’ and leave it at that.
EHS: In Fulltrui, you describe several different kinds of patron relationships. How can a devotee figure out what kind of relationship s/he needs, or currently is in with a Deity?
LH: I think if you are in a relationship you probably already know where you are with a god/goddess. It does not take that long to figure out, as they are pretty darn straightforward about what their expectations of you are.
The question of what is needed though is far more complex. In the book, I made sure to mention that it’s not always what you need, but more what they think you need. People often hope and pray for a particular god, but that is not always who shows up! Sometimes there are not so straight roads to a god and sometimes you may have to do some work to prove your worth.
The book has a lot of tips for finding out what your relationship is and perhaps figuring out what you might need to do in order to further this relationship. My best advice is to read through the book, think on it, meditate, and then decide for yourself. I believe that the gods give you a lot of hints, signs, and inklings that will help you figure out the current status of your relationship with them and if not, do some research on the gods, find ones that appeal to you, don’t be afraid to approach them, and ask! They are very approachable and do answer questions, often quickly and clearly.
EHS: In your book, you describe a shamanic journey “up” Yggdrasil to the realms of the Gods to be the most common kind, while a journey “down” to Helhome is uncommon. Any advice for those who unexpectedly find themselves in the wrong place?
LH: Actually, what I said was that it is better to think up. It is common to find oneself all over the place in the world tree, and often it’s somewhere you shouldn’t be. It is important to remember not to panic, remain calm, and find your way back to some neutral location. If you cannot do that, it’s best to know how to wake yourself up. You can end your journey at any time, but personally I think people should just go with it. Even now, despite that fact that I have worked on my fears, I still proceed with caution. I think a small dose of caution never hurt anyone, but in all honesty if you’re not welcome in an area of the world tree, you won’t get in. Despite what anyone else says, some of these realms have serious levels of security to get through in order to actually get anywhere close to inside … so there is really not much to be concerned over. The thing is that Hel is actually a nice place, and Hel herself a very nice hostess. So if you end up there, get through security and end up in her hall, don’t forget your manners and it will all work out in the end.
EHS: Fulltrui also contains a number of beautiful meditations and devotional poems. Did you seek out submissions by specific authors, or put out a general call?
LH: I was very fortunate to find a site called Odin’s Gift and the author Michalea Macha! Michaela and her hubby Michael have been so supportive of me that I am proud to call them family. It was her site that provided a lot of inspiration and contacts for the poetry. Most of them were from that site, and than it was a matter of contacting each author and getting permissions, which was harder than it sounds.
I did put CFSes out on Odin’s Gift, as well as every heathen Yahoo Group known to me to get more submissions. It is surprisingly difficult to find places to post CFSes, as there are not many well publicized places to do that.
The meditations were given by kindred members and I wrote a lot of them myself. I used inspiration from my own dreams about how I got to the god/goddess or imagined how the road would be and wrote it down. My kindred uses the same method. A lot of the meditations were considered by some to be dangerous, but we have done them a number of times and ended up just fine in the end. The thing about the Nine Worlds is that people have this perception that something really terrible can happen to you, and I am sure that there is that *potential* but frankly if the gods don’t want you somewhere, you’re not going to end up there.
EHS: Which resources (books, journals, websites, et cetera) would recommend to those interested in Heathenry and the northern Gods?
LH: There are a lot of resources out there! Not to overly promote us, but our kindred has gathered a lot of free .pdfs for people looking for both historical and contemporary information which can all be found on our kindred’s Virtual Library. Outside of our site, which has a lot of links to books and more, I personally like: Essential Asatru by D. Paxson as a good newcomer book, as well as the free .pdf from M. Smith on Ways of Asatru, which both give you some of the basics on heathenry and Asatru. I like HEX Magazine, which always has some amazing information in it and have begun reading a new magazine called Óðrœrir, which I am hopeful about, and HUGINN, which is an amazing magazine for alternative heathenry. It’s purely amazing to me that there is so much available now compared to when I first came to heathenry! I also find sources in unlikely places; for example, the book Northern Tradition for the Solitary Practitioner by G.Krasskova had some amazing items in there about the gods, as did A Year of Viking Ritual by Scott Mohnkern. Sometimes you have to think outside the box when looking for sources and information.
When people come to heathenry, do some searching! It is amazing how many webpages, blogs, newsletters, e-zines, and groups there are to help! You can find a wealth of information on mythology, heathenry, and runes on Google! It is amazing how many sources there are! I know that other kindreds, groups and organizations have treasure troves of links, resources and other items that people can look up. In Canada, I point a lot of people to Asatru.ca and Asatru U (International) because they both have a lot of resources, links and some good factual information to get you started.
If you’re looking for a kindred there are some amazing maps now, such as the Worldwide Map of Asatruars and Heathens.
The Worldwide Vanatru Locator and other such maps help people locate kindreds, groups, organizations and other individuals and sometimes these connections are essential in finding great resources. I myself found a number of them through connecting to individuals and organizations and eventually got pointed to free resources libraries. Today it is a lot easier!
EHS: Your “real job” is publicity representative for Immanion Press. How did you come to work for Immanion?
LH: I volunteered. When my book was released, I did a lot of my own press and marketing, which is pretty common when you’re an author. I often had the question presented to me as to why I was doing it myself. We did not really have a dedicated PR rep at the company and so I offered to do it!
My goal was simple: to bring Immanion Press better exposure. I am fortunate to be working with two amazing bosses who are very supportive and creative! With them behind me, I think Immanion Press will one day be as well-known as our competitors. I hope to make enough of a difference that our books find themselves on the shelves of both large and small book retailers and that more authors look at our press as an option when publishing. I know that we could use more good authors who are experts in their field of practice.
EHS: As publicity rep, what do your duties entail?
LH: Sometimes I think my duties are endless and also involve a lot of PA (personal assistant) work as well. I often joke that I am also the secretary of Storm, but I would be deeply honoured to have that job, too! My bosses — Storm Constantine the CEO and Taylor Ellwood our managing Non-Fiction Editor — are the best people to work with. Storm has an amazing wealth of knowledge when it comes to writing, and I am very lucky to be working so closely with her on certain projects. Taylor’s knowledge of social media came in quite handy when I had to be trained on twitter, which was pretty easy with his help. I think the three of us make an amazing team and I hope that it continues to be an amazing experience. I think I thank them on a daily basis for the opportunity and hope my future at Immanion will be a long one.
EHS: Where can curious readers find Fulltrui, and other books published by Immanion?
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
LH: I am currently working on my second book (title to be announced) with Immanion Press as well as a personal devotional to Frigga which will hopefully be finished sometime soon! I will be contributing to a few works from fellow authors and releasing some free e-books and articles on a wide range of topics. I hope to have a few projects released or finished this year depending on what I have time to accomplish.
EHS: Will you be attending any conventions, book fairs, or other events in the foreseeable future?
LH: I hope to start attending some writing festivals in Ontario next year. This year I am travelling around local places such as Family Time, where I will be presenting a lecture on writing. I am hoping to provide some workshops at local schools about writing and publishing. Our kindred is also hoping to provide some local events this year for heathens of like mind.