The Village Voice Examines Halloran, Odinism, Conservative Pagans

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 27, 2009 — 6 Comments

Steven Thrasher at The Village Voice does a lengthy profile of Republican (and Libertarian, Independence, and Conservative) New York City Council candidate Dan Halloran, who has received quite a bit of attention for his adherence to the Theodish faith. Thrasher explores Halloran’s Theodism, talking with Theodsmen who know Halloran about such concepts as blots, sumbel, and thralldom.

“Newcomers to Halloran’s “reik” — an alternate spelling for “reich,” or territory — are considered “thralls.” The word literally translates as “slave,” and Sancio acknowledges that it’s an “unfortunate” word, and one he didn’t want to find himself defending. Sancio describes theodish thralldom as “a period of learning, and enculturation. It’s not abusive.” Bloch says that thralls “learn humility” and engage in “menial chores, like washing the dishes.” It’s a chance, Bloch says, for the newcomer to make sure the group is a good fit. Every thrall has a mentor, and Halloran was Sancio’s during his introduction to New Normandy. The strict hierarchy has theological consequences: the group believes that “luck” falls from the Gods to their representative, Halloran, who passes it on to those who have sworn oaths to him.”

Thrasher also interviews several Pagans for the story, including Selena Fox and Margot Adler, and he gets quotes from two politically conservative Pagans, Donald Meinshausen and Rob “Red Alerts” Taylor. Taylor, as always, has some nice things to say about Wiccans.

“Wiccans and re-constructionist pagan religions engage in infighting,” he says, charging “Wicca is just smearing the competition.” Taylor initially came to paganism as a teenager via Wicca, but the young Reaganite soon turned to Odinism. Odinism’s rules and order appealed to his conservative nature, while Wicca he now describes as a “fraud” and “a leftist thing — not just Democrat, but far left politically. Theodism and heathenism are more conservative.”

All-in-all it’s a well-executed and well-researched story (he even links to my blog), but there is one troubling element, which is Thrasher’s decision to interweave controversies about racist/racialist forms of Heathen religion into the narrative. The article at several points discusses the problem of racist Heathens/Odinists in prisons, mentions a violent racist killer, and describes the “trepidation” that non-Heathen Pagans have concerning “white nationalist elements” inside Asatru/Odinism/Heathenry. What he doesn’t do is convincingly justify examining this racist minority within the context of a story about Halloran’s faith and beliefs, especially when, at almost every turn, it is pointed out that you shouldn’t automatically connect Heathen symbols and religion with the racist elements who utilize the same symbols/beliefs.

“Frank Wilson, a retired Deputy of Intelligence for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, says that he watched out for new Odinist groups at institutions because most people trying to start them “were white supremacists, and were willing to use it for nefarious reasons.” Still, he cautions that Odinism does not necessarily denote white nationalist fervor. “You can’t point to a tattoo and say ‘you’re a white supremacist,’ or point to it and say ‘you’re an Odinist,'” he says.”

It would be like profiling a Christian candidate, while interweaving discussion about the Christian Identity Movement, even though everyone you interview repeats that such people are a isolated minority and don’t represent the mainstream of that faith. Thrasher’s own article dismisses any racism, real or imagined, on the part of Halloran, but the fact that so much of the piece explores these elements joins the two story threads together in the minds of voters. That is troubling. There is plenty to write about concerning Halloran, his candidacy, and his faith, without also mixing in outside controversies concerning the growth of racist Odinist groups.

Jason Pitzl-Waters