Hel, or Hella, is the Norse Goddess of the Underworld who watches over and cares for all those souls who come to Her hall, Helheim, a peaceful realm where the dead are give a chance to rest and reunite with loved ones prior to possible reincarnation. The "Highway to Hel" is something that every person walks from the moment they're born. It is the care with which we cultivate our souls, and the gratitude and courage with which we live each day of our lives.
One of the things that I have been enjoying greatly during my hospitable sojourn with the Hellenic community is the way in which Deities little known within contemporary Paganisms are being given Their cultus again. There are many committed men and women who are devoted to certain Gods, beyond the twelve Olympians, who are doing what they can to restore the worship of those Gods. This has led to online shrines, a flurry of devotionals, and much intense and interesting discussion.
As a Heathen, also involved in restoring a sundered tradition, I find this fascinating and I also find it something from which I can learn. My own religion has numerous Deities of whom nothing more has come down to us than Their name and function: Deities like Arvolecia and Tamfana, whom we know of only by a single inscription on a memorial stone; or even well-known Deities like the healing Goddess Eir, for whom the only records we have are one-line descriptions of Her as "Divine physician." We even have a set of Divine twins: Narvi and Vali.
Filling in the blanks, so to speak, for these Deities involves courting the nebulous realm of personal gnosis—in other words seeking Them out directly—and so far, there's still something of an aversion to this process within mainstream Heathenry. We do like to have things written down after all and I get that; no one likes to travel without a good map, and our lore serves that function. Still, it's nice to see those with the courage to go beyond the boundaries of lore, and John Drury is one of those.
I was fortunate enough to interview John the week before Thanksgiving. I was delighted to find out that his forthcoming devotional to the Dioskouroi should be available in 2011.
I always like to begin by asking about people's journey into Paganism. I find that often it's filled with the most unexpected twists and turns. So how did you come to Hellenic Paganism?
Ha! There's an ironic story behind that. When I was in sixth grade at a small school, our library teacher decided to teach us some basic Greek history and mythology. On the day that our final grades were revealed, I got an F. I was shocked; I had no idea that I was doing so badly. The teacher, this kindly old woman, leaned over to me and said in a very condescending manner, "This subject isn't for everyone, and obviously it's not for you, dear.
Seven years later, in college, I became so enamored my freshman year with a class on Greek history that I made Greco-Roman history one of my majors. I graduated with a double major in History and Political Science, and a Minor in classical studies (though I was initially one Greek language class short of the Minor, which I later took after graduate school). I studied Greece from the time of the Minoans through the Ottoman Empire. Yeah, obviously that material wasn't for me. *snort*
Still, at that time the Gods didn't call to me. I spent the next twenty years or so listening for the Divine, not knowing that I wasn't listening in the right places or for the right things. Along the way I finished a Master's in International Business and learned Portuguese. This prompted me to go back and finish my studies in Homeric Greek so that I could get my Minor, and I studied bit of Latin. Then I did studies of Indo-European comparative mythology, a bit of Indo-European grammar and linguistics, and read various books about other Indo-European daughter cultures. Throughout this phase I had a fascination with the Dioskouroi, for reasons that I didn't know or understand.
Five years ago I found myself on a neo-Pagan path. Throughout those studies I kept getting a flash of a male face that would come to me in meditation. It wasn't until I received an oracle from Dionysos that I was able to put the two together. Suddenly it clicked, and suddenly I could hear the Divine. That was about three years ago and I've spent the last three years deepening my understanding of the Gods and learning to hear the messages that They tend to send.
Was this a difficult transition for you?
It dawned on me, about a year ago, that nearly my whole life has been preparing me for this time. I didn't even realize it until recently, but as I look back on my travels (I travel overseas frequently for work), my studies, my experiences, it all suddenly fell into place. It wasn't difficult at all; in fact it seems natural now.
Were there any tools and practices that you found most helpful in navigating your conversion?
First was the understanding that the Gods were not gone, and were real. Second was the sense of not being alone, having fellow followers and practitioners. As different as we all are and despite the arguments that we all have sometimes, it's incredibly comforting to know that there are others who also have had similar callings. Being able to practice, from time to time, with others also helps, though it's not always necessary.