Make that Two Openly Pagan Elected Officials

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  November 23, 2009 — 29 Comments

While I was spending a lot of time covering the elections (and controversies) of Pagan candidates Dan Halloran and Alice Richmond, it seems I overlooked the fact that there was an already-elected openly-Pagan politician out there. However, thanks to Tony Mierzwicki’s interview with Jessica Orsini, Alderwoman, 3rd Ward, City of Centralia, Missouri, I’m up to speed.

“At 17, when I went off to college, my spirituality did as well. I finally came to realize that the connection I *had* forged, the voice I’d heard in the woods since I was a small child, was Artemis. I was introduced to paganism by a very soft-polytheistic Wiccan; from there, I ran through the usual assortment of Llewellyn publications and wound up with a sort of mish-mosh. I spent twenty years of wrangling through various efforts at implementation, trying somehow to fit my beliefs to Wicca. I tried this sort of “take the best from each” approach – the “many facets” concept that is so popular with a lot of pagans today. But it never really worked for me. I finally realized that my beliefs would never fit Wicca… and that there was this amazing old way that actually *did* fit. When it all boiled down, I needed the hard, deep roots of Hellenism. I needed Hesiod’s Theogeny, his Works and Days. I needed that cohesive pantheon, and the culturally complete approach it allows.”

In my defense I had certainly heard of Orsini, but for entirely different reasons.

“Advocates for transgender equality hail the public, albeit low-key, leadership role played by Orsini, who for the first three decades of her life was known as Jeff Orsini, an Air Force veteran and self-described computer nerd partial to role-playing war games. As one of just two openly transgender politicians to win elected office in this country — the other, Michelle Bruce, is a City Council member in Riverdale, Ga. — Orsini is a trailblazer, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality.”

So now we have a Hellenic transgender Democratic Alderwoman in Missouri, and a conservative Republican Theodsman on New York’s City Council. I find it very interesting that the two openly-Pagan elected American officials in this era are polytheistic reconstructionists. Just a twist of fate? Or is there something more there? Needless to say, from now on I’ll be watching the career of Alderwoman Orsini just as closely as I’m currently watching the career of Councilman Halloran.

PS – In an entirely unrelated note, I’ll be a guest tonight on the streaming Internet radio program “Pagans Tonight”. I’ll be discussing Pagan news, this blog, and other projects I have coming up. So tune in!

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • clint

    Not surprising that they're reconstructionists, to me. You tell someone you worship the old gods of Greece or some other easily identifiable culture and location, and usually there's curiosity and interest of some sort. You tell someone you're a pagan witch, well…see what I mean?

  • Reconstructionism weds actual scholarship and cultural history/tradition with religion. It shuns flashy talk about "magick" and other assorted catch-phrases that turn off any serious person instantly. It's only natural that reconstructionism will be easier to explain and sustain in the face of the world today. And that's good- I wish the public face of Paganism was only reconstructionist. We might actually get taken a touch more seriously!

    As for the rest of the article here, *HEADDESK*

    • Tea

      Re: the public face of Paganism
      Most mainstream Christian-ish folks are probably going to think that a "serious" attempt to reconstruct the religious practices of ancient Greece or Norway is just as bizarre as "flashy talk about magick".
      To them we're all just a bunch of weirdos. I really don't see the point of striving to attain the approval of people who have no frame of reference whatsoever for understanding our practices, nor the inclination/desire to do so. I mean, talk about *HEADDESK*…or *HEADWALL*.

      • I'm not striving to attain approval. I want people to understand, not approve.

        In a society devoted to liberty, which we theoretically have, groups and individuals aren't forced to approve of anyone they don't want to. But they MUST respect the liberty of others to live and believe as they see fit. That is what liberty demands. I can respect a person's liberty to be a fundy christian, a nasty fundy that I wouldn't urinate on if they caught fire, without approving of what he or she believes or how they live.

        In my experience, I've gotten further with people and their understanding by discussing the philosophical foundations for reconstructionism than I have talking about "magic". I think that the contentious subject of "magic"- whatever you believe it is- is innately difficult to talk about, or at least, if it were real, it SHOULD be- because it is a mysterious phenomenon, not one that was "mainstream" even back in Pagan times.

        I don't think, and have never thought, that such a non-mainstream historical phenomenon as "magic" should be the "front story" on a Pagan group. It comes off as lurid, childish, or as people living in a fantasy world, trying to attract equally-as-fanciful people who want to escape mundane reality into a magical wonderland. I do believe in "magic", and even though I don't use that term, I do things that, in the past, have been considered "sorcery", and I myself find it to be a useful, vital, and powerful thing which deserves to be preserved and promulgated. But I don't think it should be used in the public eye the way it is. It's more serious than that, more subtle.

      • Strangely enough, Robin is giving them wayyyyy too much credit.

        There are 2 distinct flavors of Christian bigotry that I've been encountering of late.

        1.) The standard, fundie line of, "YOU ARE A DEBBIL-WOSHIPER! YOU GO TO HELLLLL!" which is usually the product of the uneducated-"Lemme see dat dere Obamma birf sigh-tifercate! He's a galdarned MUSLIM!"- buffoon class…and

        2.) The new line of, "Whatever. You are just an Atheist trying to make a mockery of REAL religions like Christianity. Nobody would be so stupid as to believe in the…[snicker]…Greek Gods!" This tends to come from the Glenn Beck-"I pretend to have read Ayn Rand!"-crowd, who pretend to have some intellectual ability.

        Neither of these classes of bigots really care whether you practice magick or call yourself a Witch. For Pete's sake…most of them have the same opinion of Muslims as they do Pagans!

        I'm just hoping for the all-but-inevitable Hellenic surge following the release of the Percy Jackson and Clash of the Titans movies!

        • I … am not looking forward to the Percy Jackson interest surge. Remember all of those kids who, after watching The Craft, decided to form their own foursomes of Witches? I am fully expecting a bunch of teenagers to come in who make all kinds of ridiculous claims about their paternity and/or have no spine for the intense debates modern Hellenistai tend to have.

          However, I am planning on watching that movie on opening weekend. I need to do a blog review.

          • Yes, but remember too that it is largely because of those kids, and their enthusiasm about things like The Craft and Charmed, that Wicca and other forms of Paganism are now much more mainstream than ever.

            Besides, while many of them certainly became "fluffies" or merely flirted with Paganism…some of them stayed and became serious. And frankly, the majority of Christians are even less educated about their own religion than the average "Teen Witch."

            Civil rights are often, unfortunately, a numbers game.

        • Man, that "birf sigh-tifercate" thing was a masterpiece. I rolled the floor, and I will be using that again.

          As to the interest kindled in Hellenic Paganism after Clash of the Titans, I'll drink to that!

        • "Whatever. You are just an Atheist trying to make a mockery of REAL religions like Christianity. Nobody would be so stupid as to believe in the…[snicker]…Greek Gods!"

          oh, the irony. i'd ask them who they were thinking the atheist was, again? who was the one not believing in gods?

  • Calla

    Go Hellenion! *grin*

  • Sasha West

    …2 political offices closer to world domination…

    • Oh good, so we've advanced the Pagan Agenda a bit more….lemme see, what's next….::rustle rustle::…oh yeah, it's time for the coffee break now, then I think we have a plenary session…<g>

      • Pinky just called; he and the Brain will be in the conference room at 2:00 pm. I'll bring the donuts. ;0)

        • Sasha


  • Tomb

    SWEET. This is interesting and also inspiring to myself, reading the article I just suddenly became charged! Enfact at the mention of Artemis, enfact I am going to go and praise her and delve into her on the internet some because of this, it makes me quite happy.

    "Tony Mierzwicki: LOL! I don't think you have to be a party person to feel close to Dionysus."
    Yea, right there and then I could tell this interview by Witchvox was over a IM. LOL!

  • From my own experience, reconstructionist groups tend to have an older membership than eclectic groups (90% of my Grove's membership is over 35), and elected politicians tend to be older as well. No big shock about that correlation.

    • Tomb

      Well, I'm only 19.

  • Eva

    Jessica Orsini is an amazing person deeply concerned about her community and her spirituality, I'm glad to see she's getting some positive press here. I've known her for many years and have continually been impressed by her.

  • Foxcub

    Wicca is not atheist. It is polytheist, having many, many objects of worship, such as every leaf on every tree. What about real religions? Zoroastrianism? Buddhism? Or only the religions which have buildings in your neighbourhood? I am British and I think the Mormons are a joke.

  • Artor

    Just another note to add, Jason. The mayor of Silverton here in Oregon is openly transexual. I saw him/her at an event in the park there in a skirt & heels & bra & facial hair. A bit of a surprise for a small rural town in what you'd expect to be Redneck Central.

  • I just hope that gaining political ground/representation as Pagans doesn't involve dragging in the hard vs. soft polytheism false dilemma (dualism) which tends to supplant an ever necessary fierce focus on orthopraxy (correct practices, including but not limited to **functional** ethics, virtues, hospitality, and the multidisciplined ways of equality) with faith-based arguments that tend to paint anything else as unreliable, imbalanced, lacking credibility, or otherwise acting out the Dionysus portion of yet another false dilemma, Apollonian (wholeness, goodness) vs. Dionysian (undisciplined destructive myopic selfishness).


  • Pitch313

    I think that what's likely to be important in these and other possible elections is not so much that a particular candidate is "Pagan." so much as a particular candidate can address local issues and circumstances in relation to the local electorate. Many of these "national media" hot buttons–such as "Paganism"–may turn out to be a wash in a given locality. Where the "Pagan" candidate may also be a familiar local native or long time resident.

    I suspect that "outside" media and/or political intrusions–not local intolerance–is what's likely to push "Pagan" candidates out of local elections or local offices. This can turn an "eccentricity" quietly accepted by locals into a matter of national mockery that locals cannot accept.

    • lonespark

      Yes, I agree. There many pagans folks deeply involved in their communities as businesspeople, teachers, etc., etc. The local reputation and network is what generally makes the difference, but there's the potential for outside (or local) agitators to rile up folks who normally don't even care about local elections, through churches or the media…

  • Ananta Androscoggin

    Just think back to how San Francisco felt about one of its residents, back in the 19th century — the self-styled Emperor of the United States.

    Different kind of case, but certainly a matter of local community sentiment.

    • Tomb

      All Hail Emperor Norton!

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