[The following is the second of two guest posts from Nick Ritter, a member of Axenthof Thiâd, and The Wild Hunt’s resident expert on all things Théodish. Given the rise of Dan Halloran, a Republican New York City Councilman, congressional candidate, and Théodish Heathen, I thought it best spotlight a truly informed voice on the subject of his religion. This post will specifically deal with why Dan Halloran is a controversial figure within Théodish belief. His first post, on what Théodism is, can be found here.]
With Dan Halloran cropping up so much in the news, Jason Pitzl-Waters asked me to write about why he is such a controversial figure in Théodism. In writing this, I am attempting to be as objective as possible: I am not writing this with the intention of bashing on Dan or spreading gossip. Objectivity is somewhat difficult in writing this though, because I was involved in much of the history I will be writing about. In my effort to remain objective, I will be referring to various Théodish documents, or “abannings,” that recorded the events shortly after they happened.
First it is important to outline the context in which this history begins. In the mid- to late-1990s, Théodish Belief was united in one organization, the Winland Ríce (“Kingdom of Vinland” in Anglo-Saxon), led by Gárman Lord as cyning (sacral king). The subdivisions within the Ríce were various théods (AS. þéoda “tribes”), which were semi-autonomous. After years of contact with – and membership in – various Ásatrú organizations including the Ring of Troth (nowadays just “The Troth”), the bitterness of our interactions with them, the near-continual arguments over everything including our right to exist as a distinct form of heathenry, had led us to question the value of interacting with them at all.
In the Spring of 1997, Gárman made the decision that we would cut all connections with Ásatrú, including all communication, so that we would no longer be involved in the issues and politics of that community. This would also mean breaking ties with friends we had made in the Ásatrú community. One such friend of Gárman’s was Dan Halloran, one of the leaders of a national Ásatru organization named Irminsul Ættir.
In June of that year, Gárman hosted a Midsummer gathering at his home in Watertown, NY. Dan was invited to that gathering, with the intention of this being a final farewell: no one outside of the Winland Ríce had been informed of the decision to sever ties with Ásatrú. The day after the ritual, a folkmoot was held in Gárman’s back yard, and Dan was informed of our impending separation from Ásatrú. The Witan had made the decision to offer Dan entry into the Ríce, and the details of this were discussed, including whether or not Dan would need to undergo thralldom for his entry into Théodish Belief. I was there, and I questioned how we could be assured that Dan would follow Théodish thew (custom, customary law) if he did not undergo thralldom – thralldom being the time that thew is inculcated into the prospective member of a théod. In the end, it was decided to bring Dan in with a relatively high rank, foregoing thralldom, and to make Dan Gárman’s fosterling. This meant that Dan would receive special training from Gárman, and would eventually be able to go and found an independent Ríce of his own, perhaps with himself as sacral king.
About six months later, during Yule, Dan was involved in an incident, and was accused of wrongdoing of a rather serious nature against someone. I will not go into the details of this, out of respect for the person affected. Word got out into the Ríce about what had happened, and just about everyone was shocked and angered by what they heard. Dan had acted unthewfully (i.e. contrary to our customary law and ethics), and this was considered a particularly serious offence for someone with pretentions of future leadership of his own Théodish group. Gárman informed him that he would have to be fostered under someone else, or else leave Théodism. Another high-ranking théodsman, Jason Thunawerd, agreed to take charge of Dan; however, as Jason was unable to find a suitable way for Dan to pay recompense for his wrongdoing, the matter was given to the Witan to decide.
Dan was summoned to the Midsummer 1998 gathering in Watertown, and Gárman told him he would face proceedings. When he arrived, he was given the choice of leaving Théodism outright, or facing judgement. He chose to face judgement, and he was given a punishment, a fine, and a trial by ordeal.
I should take a few lines to explain what “ordeal” is in Théodish usage. In essence, it is divination by contest, a way of submitting a matter to the gods and determining their decision. In the ordeals used for more serious issues, the contest is ritualized combat, which can take different forms. On that day, at the gathering, Dan and I and a few others were trained in one of the forms of ritual combat, and then I was chosen to face Dan in the ordeal. The question to be settled by the ordeal was whether Dan would be allowed to have his own following and work towards founding his own independent Théodish organization: if he won, he would be allowed; if he lost, he would be forbidden. Dan lost, although the score was close; to the surprise of many, Gárman decided in Dan’s favor, and he was allowed, after a period of six months, to begin building his own following. At the next Midsummer gathering in 1999, a year and a day after the ordeal, Dan was declared free of debt, having paid the balance of the fine set against him. In the month after Midsummer, Gárman consulted with the Witan and declared that Dan was free of shild (AS. scyld), a word that encompasses both the concept of “debt” and “guilt.” In essence, Gárman declared that Dan had paid his debts and was exonerated.
On October 22, 20013, Dan and his Norman théod left the Winland Ríce to set up their own Théodish organization. From this point, Dan no longer owed fealty directly to Gárman, but was still held by an oath to uphold Théodism and Théodish thew. Over the next several months, Dan and Gárman wrangled back and forth on a document Dan had written, called the “Affirmation of Thew,” essentially a document defining what it meant to be Théodish, and what thews – customs, customary ethics and values – a group had to uphold in order to be considered properly Théodish. The intent of this was to bring the now disparate and autonomous Théodish groups under one overarching authority. Such a document went against Théodish thews to a certain extent, being something approaching a document of written law, something that Théodism has long avoided; thew, for us, is an unwritten, orally-transmitted body of custom and ethics. The body of thew – as well as individual thews – can be written about, but writing them down as a list of laws is antithetical to their flexible and evolving nature, and has long been considered in Théodish thought to be the first step to subverting the spirit of such customary ethics and values.
There were several central points in this document that Gárman and Dan differed on, with Gárman accusing Dan of attempting to democratize Théodish Belief as a ploy to gain control of it from Gárman, by using his Théodish organization as a voting bloc beholden only to himself. Shortly after this accusation, on May 22nd 2002, Dan wrote a document stating in essence that Dan’s organization was no longer “in thew” with Gárman and the Winland Ríce. This amounted to a declaration of schism: one is “in thew” with those in one’s greater religious community, even beyond the bonds of one’s own théod, and one is “out of thew” with everyone else. With this document, Dan declared that he and his were no longer of the same religious community as Gárman. Shortly thereafter, Gárman outlawed Dan from Théodism.
For the intervening years between 2002 and 2010, I don’t have much direct, documented information. I do know that Dan continued to refer to himself and his group as Théodish, and that he tried unsuccessfully to unite disparate Théodish groups under the “Affirmation of Thew”. Those Théodish groups rejected this attempt for many of the same reasons that Gárman did, as an attempt on Dan’s part to take over Théodism as a whole.
Overall, then, from Dan’s induction into Théodism in 1997 to his outlawry from Théodism in 2002, his Théodish career was marked by controversy, and to questions as to whether he had really ever learned or internalized our ethics and values; essentially, whether he had ever truly been Théodish in a deep sense. This is why Dan is a controversial figure in Théodism today.
“Æt Bannung,” Théod Magazine Vol. IV No. 3, Lammas 1997
“Æt Bannung,” Théod Magazine Vol. V No. 3, Lammas 1998