This issue, we sit down with Dagian Madir, editor and primary contributor to Wholly: A Devotional for Hela (Asphodel Press). Here, Dagian discusses death, euthanasia, and his dedication to this much-maligned and misunderstood Goddess.
Eternal Haunted Summer: If you could correction a common misconception about ancient, and even modern, Heathenry, what would it be?
Dagian Madir:I think there is a very vocal contingent in modern heathenry that would have us believe ancient heathens were far more isolated and self-limiting spiritually than they actually were. I think they were, in actuality, extremely resourceful and pragmatic. They were survivors and as such they practiced a living faith based on that which worked for them spiritually at any given time. This is not to say that they were all-inclusive, but that they were not exclusionary.It’s incredibly important to remember that beliefs and practices varied widely among the peoples now lumped together under Germanic heathen domain. I sincerely doubt spiritual practice was uniform from household to household, never mind from country to country or region to region. There are certainly shared attributes, traditions, holidays, festivals, deities, etc, but that doesn’t mean that there was ever a dogmatic creed.It’s unfortunate that the mention of heathenry or Northern Tradition paganism among the greater pagan community often results in a sort of knee-jerk concern about xenophobia, judgmentalism, or dogmatic lore-thumping. I think that in any spiritually defined community there will always be vocal people who seek to limit the practice of the greater community based on their standards, beliefs and interpretations. Disturbingly, this often distorts the perspective of people outside of a particular tradition. It’s important that people representing different viewpoints are active spiritually in the greater community to dispel such preconceptions.
EHS: How would you describe your route to Heathenry? Was your path fairly straight or more roundabout?
DM: I think of my spiritual development more in terms of evolution and growth. The process has a very organic feel to it. That is not to say that it has always been gradual, smooth or progressive. I’ve experienced fits, starts, quantum leaps and tremendous upheaval in addition to steady linear and lateral progress. I really don’t even think of myself as heathen. I certainly did for a long time, mind you, but now I think of myself as having a profound spiritual practice. The practice itself is everything; the identity means nothing at all. It’s not about how I see myself, but what I do with myself and what I am and am becoming.
I’ve always been driven metaphysically. I was raised Catholic/Episcopalian, but I rejected it. I explored it very deeply and rejected it. This was a long, drawn out and incredibly discomfiting process. I found those faiths to be too limiting: not only to me, but in terms of the divine. My drive toward deity has always had an empathic resonance to it. I seek to understand the divine through this particular type of connection. The drive itself tends to have a mystic component I describe as empathic entrainment. Maybe the term “empathic” is too weak, but full “identification” is too strong. Additionally, neither term is completely accurate. This results in me working toward a practice and outlook and having it blown open again ad infinitum.
Ironically enough, I found my initial introduction to Norse themes and Asatru in Heilein’s Job: A Comedy of Justice. Being rather young and impressionable, it had a profound effect on me. It broke down certain barriers I didn’t even know I had. It also touched a place in me that was immediately taken, if not smitten, by Odin. He wasn’t even featured very heavily in the book, but the fascination was there. I could feel Him looking back at me with that eye of His and began to research Norse mythology. I wasn’t able to come up with much due to lack of resources at the time. I just found some basic and somewhat flawed descriptions of various deities and attributes. The libraries I had access to didn’t have much, and it was before the internet. Despite coming up against a wall the interest remained, burbling within me.
It wasn’t until many years later (and after many other spiritual twists, turns, revolutions, devastations, experiences and connections) that I came across a copy of Kveldulf Gundarsson’s Teutonic Religion. It rekindled that old sense of connection. I read, researched, imbibed runes, and began a basic Heathen practice that centered mostly around my Ancestors, the local Wights, The Norns, Odin and Thor. My practice has changed considerably since then.
EHS: How did you become a devotee of Hela?
DM: It was quite unintentional. Like most other people who are aware of Her, I was intimidated and frightened by Her. I didn’t seek Her attention. She chose to connect with me and in response I chose to face my fears and Her head on. For that She shared Her immense and profound Vision with me… and asked me to share in it with Her. She warned me the work would be difficult, painful, and grueling. She warned me that I would become fundamentally different both internally and in how others perceive me. She warned me that once I took it up I could never take it back. I couldn’t say no to Her; it’s not in my nature. I didn’t want to anyway, even in the face of the necessary sacrifices. I describe some of this in more detail in my essay “The Day I Became Hel’s” in Wholly.
EHS: Hela is a sadly misunderstood, even controversial, Goddess. Why do you think that is?
DM: Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? Not Hela. Seriously though, She is Death, Life, the Veil, and all fear Her even as they embrace Her. Her very comforts come iced in fear. It is involuntary. The living fear death and the dead fear reincarnation. All fear loss of memory. Odin fears Her, and this alone is reason enough for most heathens. Many heathens see Her as an adversary to be conquered, the opposing force at Ragnorak. The list goes on.
It’s really quite unfortunate. Ragnorak is a prophesy, not a guaranteed eventuality. Hela performs a necessary and moiling function and She does it with knife-like grace. She provides peace and respite. Her work is too often thankless and that is a travesty. I find it sad that many think they will end up in Valhalla when they don’t even know battle, never mind die of it. Most don’t even remember those populating Valhalla are second pickings.
EHS: You recently edited the anthology Wholly, in honor of Hela. Why that title?
DM: The words whole and holy are related etymologically. They derive from the Old English hāl. Wholly and holy sound virtually the same to the ear (I can hear slight differences in the way most people pronounce them) and as such are homophones. I don’t think that most people associate those two words with one another most of the time, but I wanted to bring that connection to the surface. Wholeness is of particular concern to Hela. She views our mental state as fractured. We compartmentalize things that we don’t want to deal with. It’s even interesting that we perceive Her that way, when in reality She is fully integrated. I thought it appropriate to name Her devotional after that most basic idea and that which She would like us to work on the most.
EHS: Did you solicit submissions from particular people, or put out an open call? Were you surprised by any of the submissions you received?
DM: Both, really. I did not circulate the call for submissions widely, though it was public. There were certain people I knew personally who had something special to contribute that I sought out specifically. None of the submissions were particularly surprising. I think they were all special and heart-felt and belong where they are.
EHS: Among the essays in Wholly is Fuensanta Plaza’s “The Good Death”, which addresses euthanasia. Is there a general consensus in the Heathen community about euthanasia? What is your personal feeling on the matter?
DM: I don’t think there’s much in the way of a consensus in the Heathen community about the colour blue, never mind consensus thought about a hugely controversial subject such as euthanasia. I would like to think that someday humankind at large can come to a more enlightened approach to the subject of euthanasia, but I don’t hold out much hope for that in terms of the immediate future. In the long term I think it is indeed inevitable. I think a more tenable goal presently is persistent engagement in dialog: preferably civil, compassionate and reasoned dialog.
Personally I am for euthanasia. It is not for everyone or every circumstance, and it is a complicated subject. The moral complexity and the difficulty of decision-making in this venue cannot be understated. It is far too broad a subject to adequately cover here.
It’s important to recognize that we (generalizing to all humankind) practice and have practiced euthanasia regularly for a very long time. It’s just that we have hangups regarding euthanasia for human beings. We regard animals as property (something which I am not questioning or debating here, mere stating as a point of fact) and as such are able to compartmentalize the subject on their behalf. It’s time we were all talking about this.
EHS: Where can curious readers find Wholly?
DM: It is available on lulu.com here.
EHS: What resources — books, journals, lore — would you recommend to those interested in Hela?
DM: There are a lot of resources interested parties can peruse: The Eddas, The Jotunbok by Raven Kaldera, Shadowlight, Northern Tradition Paganism, and, of course Wholly. What I really recommend is a personal practice aimed at developing a relationship with one’s ancestors and then with Her by extension. Those last are really the best resources of all.
EHS: What other projects are you working on?
DM: I’m currently writing a book with the working title The Lonely Road: Vocation, Clarity, Community and Survival. It’s intended for budding spirit workers, shamans, priests and mystics struggling with being spirit-taught, the lack of community consensus on how to deal with such things and the inherent schism between adhering to community standards and going through this type of spiritual emergence. It’s meant to provide a foundational guide and framework with which to integrate spirit-teachings into a functional, unique and productive practice. It will be the book I wish I had starting out.
EHS: Which book fairs, conventions or other events will you be attending in the foreseeable future?
DM: I have no such definite plans presently.