Guest Editorial: The Extra Burden of Honor

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  April 5, 2013 — 81 Comments

[The following is a guest editorial from Cara Schulz. Cara Schulz is the Managing Editor of the Pagan Newswire Collective and the Chair of Pagan Coming Out Day.  She lives in Minneapolis with her husband, enjoys attending festivals, and has no tattoos.]

Let me first state that all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. That said, things look grim for Councilman Dan Halloran (R), Queens, although he maintains his innocence.  He, and five others, were arrested on charges of accepting bribes and attempting to rig an election.  Halloran was specifically accused of setting up meetings with three other elected officials and handling bribes totaling thousands of dollars.  The details, and guilt and innocence of each person, will come out in trial and I have no interest trying the case here.I’m also not naïve enough to think bribery and corruption aren’t rampant in all levels of our government.

Cara Schulz

Cara Schulz

It may be as blatant as what the FBI claims Halloran engaged in or it may be more subtle and pervasive.  How many of our politicians leave office poorer than when they were first elected?

Dan Halloran wasn’t just any politician, though.  While we’ve had, and will have, other Pagans and Heathens in elected office, none were as prominent as Halloran.  None had been so publicly and brutally outed during their campaign, and yet still won, as Halloran.  And none, once mocked and derided for their religion, had either of the two major parties stand by him as steadfastly as the Republican Party stood by Halloran.  For the first time, mocking one of our religions not only didn’t work, it backfired.  People of all, and no, religious persuasions said bigotry was not a winning campaign strategy and they voted Halloran into office.

Which is why his election as a New York City Councilman was a watershed moment for our religious communities.  We could now point to his election, and the circumstances around it, and say, “This is now possible.”  It was something many Pagan and Heathens didn’t think they would see in their lifetimes.

His election to office was something we could take pride in, although many Pagans and Heathens wouldn’t vote for a Republican even if the other choice was Prince Joffrey.  And many in the Heathen community disliked Halloran personally and by reputation and were vocal in opposition to his candidacy.  We don’t always get the trailblazer we desire, but in order to blaze a trail, the person has to succeed in gaining the position.  Halloran ran a tough campaign during an even tougher election when all the momentum was for his opponent.

Which brings us to this week.

pagancomingoutdaySome of you may know me from my work with Pagan Coming Out Day (May 2nd).  I’m the founder and Chair of this organization, which works to achieve greater acceptance and equality for Pagans at home, at work, and in every community.  We help those who feel they are ready to come out, in some way, in some portion of their lives.  This is important not just for the well-being of the individual, but for the community.  The more people that come out, the safer and more accepted we will all be.

Yet there are responsibilities when a person comes out.  For many people you are the only Pagan they know.  They will judge all Pagans by your behavior.  That may not be fair, but who said life is fair?  When you are a prominent person in your city or in your career field, the responsibility to be an ambassador for other Pagans is greater.  When you are the first Pagan in an area or at a certain level, such as a CEO of a major company or a New York City Councilman, the responsibility jumps even higher.

No matter Halloran’s eventual verdict in a court of law, it’s clear he either didn’t understand or refused to acknowledge he carried that extra burden of honor.  To act according to the highest of ethical standards so others, when given the opportunity to vote for a Pagan or Heathen candidate, could look at his example and feel reassured we are as moral a people as any other religious group.  Because we are.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • NoBodE

    Well said.

  • http://www.facebook.com/greg.currie Greg Currie

    The extra burden of responsibility is because there will be people who will now point to him and say, “Ah ha! I told you! Pagans/heathens can’t be trusted!” :/

    • thehouseofvines

      Nope. Pagans are people and that makes them untrustworthy in my book.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    Excellent commentary – thank you. There have been times when someone annoyed me and I started to respond nastily, only to remember I was wearing a Pagan t-shirt. I bit my tongue. It isn’t fair, but it is, and we have to deal with it. I’m sorry Dan Halloran didn’t.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Should you bite your tongue, though? To be Pagan doesn’t mean to be all tolerance and acceptance.

      There does come a point when you should be ready to stand and say “No more!”

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

        It was an annoyance, not an injustice. Not worth making a big deal over, although I’ve done it many times. Just not when I’m identifiable as a Pagan.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Who said anything about injustice?

          • Northern_Light_27

            I think what John Beckett is saying is that when you’re an identifiable minority, you’re under a much bigger microscope than when you’re not. If you’re the only member of $group that most majority-group people may see this year, whatever impression they formed of you will be a very lasting one (and singular negative impressions are often more highlighted and enduring than single positive ones just as a matter of psychology– ask any corporate customer relations specialist, they’ll tell you that a person who comes into a store and has a good-to-neutral experience *may* talk about that with other people, but if a customer has a bad experience? They’ll tell everyone they know, including Yelp). A guy in a Pagan shirt perceived as rude will be “Pagans are a-holes– I remember I was in the grocery store and there was this Pagan guy, and he said…”; the same guy without the identifier is barely going to be noteworthy beyond the frustrations of the day.

            When we wear our symbols, we may become de facto spokespeople for all of Pagandom through our actions. It’s not fair, but it’s what is. It’s not about turning the other cheek or being all tolerance and acceptance, it’s just PR for minorities 101.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’m not after being liked. I’m just interested in having the same rights. Not so interested in lying about who I am to get them, either.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

    Very well said.

  • Mike

    The extra burden of responsibility is there when you are out as a Pagan and take a prominent role in society….. It’s a burden and an honor….the honor bit is important, because it SHOULD make one more aware of the need for honorable behaviour. I’m So in agreement with you on this.

  • AQ

    As I have said before and will say again:

    Dan Halloran ceased being Heathen the day he wrote “I believe in God”, and did not make clear *which* god he was referring to, leaving it to the reader to infer that he was talking about the Christian god rather than, say, Tyr (who he claims to be an adherent of).

    He threw Heathenry under the bus to get elected, so if he gets convicted in a court of law, it will be proof to me of his just reward for violating his oaths to the Gods.

    • cernowain greenman

      But that didn’t stop the Village from showing a cartoon of Halloran dressed in ritual robes in their recent article. That piece thoroughly trashed Halloran as well as the groups he led, ridiculing Heathenry and Paganism very pointedly. You can disown him, but no one can deny that he was once one of your theodsman. And that is enough for the sensationalist news outlets.

      • http://www.facebook.com/KveldulfThorsFreyrssonStormcloudWormwood Gary P Golden Jr

        there are those in certain social media outlets claiming, and I quote:

        “Dan is still Theodish, and still Lord of a very prosperous and healthy
        tribe. He will get his day in court and either prove his innocence or
        accept his consequences. I suspect the media is playing this one a bit
        but only time and facts will make it clearer. As his friend of over 30
        years and founding member of that tribe, I believe that there is a lot
        more to this than has been published, and I await the “unfolding
        details” … All I ask is that we stand by the Germanic custom of a man
        getting his chance to speak at thing (or in this case court) before he
        is condemned.”

      • Northern_Light_27

        I may be alone in this, but I didn’t think that article was that bad. It tagged Halloran on flip-flopping on both his religion and his politics, and I do think his religious flip-flopping is newsworthy because it shows a pattern. The cartoon was also based on an actual photo with Halloran in garb and a runic cloak– it’s not like it’s putting him there when he never wore anything but street clothes. It does call theodish Heathenry a “tiny group”, which is true. You can call the Voice on making that image the focal point when it knew its readers would find it funny, and there’s something to that– but the photo was publicly available.

    • Naali

      I completely agree. Through his misleading response he denounced the gods. Adherent of Tyr? HA! If Tyr is watching, he’ll have the book thrown at him in court for failing to uphold his vows and responsibilities.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        If, of course, he is actually guilty of the charges.

        • Naali

          True enough. I’m a little skeptical based on what I’ve heard, but I have to admit it’s possible someone could have set him up. That too happens in politics sometimes.

  • Dana

    I’m thinking back here – memories become foggy and I can’t find the relevant article: Was Dan Halloran the man who refused Thrall back in the 80s, eventually leading to a fracturing of the Asatru?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002086502589 Kira BlueStar

      Not quite. Here is the WH article you’re probably thinking of:
      http://wildhunt.org/2012/06/guest-post-nick-ritter-on-dan-hallorans-history-within-theodism.html

    • LaurelhurstLiberal

      In fairness, early Theodism was highly fractious, and many, many people got expelled from Garman’s variety of Theodism for a variety of reasons. I think that flavor of sacral kingship was extremely difficult to realize in modern America and created big organizational problems. Theodism has evolved a lot since then, I understand.

  • N. H.

    I don’t know, I might vote for Joffrey against Stannis. /totally irrelevant comment

    It saddens me that stories like this (and the one last year*) involve leaders of pagan communities that claim to value honor and integrity above all else. I think it may be time for Heathens (and anyone else who includes integrity, honor and truth in their list of values) to examine and see whether these things are truly being taught and upheld in the community, or whether they are, really, just words and concepts to make people feel good.

  • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

    Personally, I wouldn’t vote for Prince Joffrey, but I might write in Stannis/ Melisandre for the night is dark and full or terrors.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      Why vote for any of them when Winter is coming?

      • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

        Because the Realm needs a strong leader to stand against the White Walkers!

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I’d agree with that, but do any of them really know anything of Winter?

          …I think we’d better let this go. Politics is bad enough when real. Can’t be arguing fantasy politics. :p

          • http://www.forgingthesampo.com/ Kauko

            I bet Daenerys’ dragons- when they’re full grown- would be pretty handy in a fight with the White Walkers.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Is Dan currently claiming adherence to a specific path or tradition?

    If so, is he acting according to the tenets of that system?

    If so, he has honour. Even if others dislike what he is doing.

    • Christine

      Most of the those in that tradition are saying that he has not acted within the tenets of that system, particularly if these recent most accusations prove to true.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I did not write the above message. We have a system glitch or a forger/

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        As I said, is he still claiming adherence to Theodism/Þéodisc Geléafa or any other form of Heathenry/Paganism?

        That is the key point. It seems somewhat ambiguous to this outside observer.

        • Nick Ritter

          If you see Gary Golden’s response to Cernowain above, it looks like a member of Dan’s theod is claiming that:

          “Dan is still Theodish, and still Lord of a very prosperous and healthy tribe.”

          While it isn’t a statement from Dan himself, I think I know who did make that statement, and I doubt he would lie.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Fair enough.

            In which case, I hope that his tribe are looking into this as well.

          • Kenneth

            A man who will only take ownership of his core beliefs through back channel anonymous social media leaks deserves little benefit of doubt. A “Lord” who only claims the title through rumor? I’m not Theodish, but the little work I’ve done with Germanic gods tells me they’re not real big on guys who weasel and lead from behind.

  • cernowain greenman

    I appreciate your positive comments at a time like this. Still, the negative aspects of this event need to be stated as well: This is not the way to be as Pagan. If these charges prove to be true, Mr Halloran will serve to be an example of how NOT to behave as a Pagan in public office.

    Or, as a de-motivational poster puts it: “It could be that the purpose of your life is to simply serve as a warning to others”.

    And I cannot help but feel that Mr Halloran’s escapade here may have the affect of setting Pagan/Heathen public relations in New York City back ten years. Which means we are going to have to work harder to redeem our movement.

    • thehouseofvines

      I’m bothered by his prevaricating about the gods. I could care less if he accepted bribes in exchange for votes. That’s simply how things are done in the world of politics (especially now that corporations are people) and only the clumsy and stupid are ever caught.

      • Northern_Light_27

        If he stayed tru to the gods, who cares about those pesky ethics? Couldn’t disagree more, both came from the same root. I don’t particularly care if that’s how “things are done”. As my mother oft said, the fact that all the other kids are jumping off a bridge doesn’t make it okay for you to jump off with them.

        • Artor

          Exactly. I’m less concerned about his prevarication; that is necessary sometimes, but as it turned out, he won his place even after he was outed. But if it’s true that he dishonored his office, then he also dishonored his gods, who expected him to be honorable, honest & ethical. If one of my ancestors had been caught taking gold to vote a certain way in the Althing, he would rightly have been outlawed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=574896155 Ryan Smith

    As a group of minority religions which draw our ideas from a very different base than conventional religious practice (want a good example of how big the difference is? Just look at how few pages Richard Dawkins spends on Polytheism, Animism, and Pantheism in The God Delusion) like all other minority groups in any society seeking to shatter the barriers imposed on us we will be facing greater scrutiny, suspicion, and distrust from the general community. It isn’t fair or right, it is what is and every other minority group in American history has faced similar obstacles, some worse than others. As such anyone who becomes a representative of our community in the public eye needs to be aware of this and, as a consequence, has to give 150% in the ethics and integrity department where most others can get away with only giving 75%.

    It’s a shame Halloran forgot this and the damage this will do to our community is going to take time to overcome. Regardless of the outcome of the trial this is going to be a big setback and Halloran’s previous groundless grandstanding on the snowplow issue doesn’t help the situation.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      “anyone who becomes a representative of our community in the public eye
      needs to be aware of this and, as a consequence, has to give 150% in the
      ethics and integrity department where most others can get away with
      only giving 75%.”
      But what if the Pagan ethics do not appear favourable to the (Christian dominated) non Pagans?

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Can you give a hypothetical example?

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Certainly.

          Hávamál 38.
          “Let a man never stir on his road a step without his weapons of war;
          for unsure is the knowing when need shall arise of a spear on the way without.”

          Or the entire practice of magic (present within most, if not all, Pagan and Heathen systems.)

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            Thank you for your reply!
            If one is bound by the first example one already has a problem in modern society whether or not one seeks public office. Sikhs have gotten some accommodation.
            The practice of magick is also present in Christian systems but they don’t like it when you call it that. Being open about being Pagan means being open about majick by implication, if not directly, and one cannot consistently conceal it. However, the worst that can happen to a public official is that s/he loses re-election as a result.
            Taking a step back from the particulars, the Halloran case is kind of encouraging, in that the Voice threw the kitchen sink at him about his Theodism and he still got elected. That didn’t used to be the case. We shall see if his mishaps produce regression in that area.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            For me, the Eddas (notably Hávamál) are my primary source for ethical guidance. I don’t agree with picking and choosing which bits to follow. Sometimes, this makes modern living… difficult. Not in the sense that I want to go live in a wattle and daub hut, but that sometimes I feel I must compromise my own ethics (be untrue to myself) in order to ‘not rock the boat’ in wider society.
            I certainly never leave the house without a blade.

            If he is found guilty, Best thing to do is acknowledge him as ‘one of us’ and then condemn his actions to the fullest measure.

            Then get another face out there as a representative as quickly as possible.

          • Northern_Light_27

            You don’t pick and choose even with the blatantly sexist bits?

            To me the Havamal is a great example of “sometimes our ancestors had wisdom that truly stands the test of time, and other times it’s nice to realize that we’ve actually spent all that time learning useful lessons”.

          • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

            I know I tend to try and separate some of the religious stuff from the cultural stuff, personally.

            Granted, I actually believe there should be an attempt to revive in my case pagan Irish culture to the greatest extent, but it was not a fixed culture and varied over time, so we don’t need to recreate it in replica. I’m certainly not about to keep slaves for instance.

          • Artor

            Likewise, I’ll honor my ancestors & my fast friends, but I don’t feel the need to take the heads of my foes, or steal my neighbor’s cattle, no matter what the legends of my people say is good & right. Reading ancient wisdom without interpretation is what gives us Xians who defend their bigotry by citing Leviticus.

          • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

            I dunno man, I could use some cattle. Some heroic cattle raids could really spice up life you know?

            But seriously, I agree. Plus I wouldn’t even know what to do with cattle.

          • Nick Ritter

            If you have land, the cattle pretty much look after themselves.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Ethics are not universal. Why should I put my bias on such things? If someone else looks at it and finds something they find distasteful that I agree with, who is more valid?

            Of course, interpretation does come into play, quite heavily.

          • Artor

            I won’t argue against your carrying of a blade, but I’d interpret the Havamal passage you quoted a little more liberally. One’s weapons of war might not literally be sword & spear, but could be other tools, physical or mental. I’d take that as an admonition to be prepared; I’m not likely to be attacked by wolves or bandits in the course of my day, but I should keep my wits about me and my handy multi-tool close by. If I need a weapon, nearly anything at hand can serve.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Wolves and bandits may be unlikely, but muggings and assaults are still pretty likely.

            There is a difference between a useful tool and a decent weapon.

      • thehouseofvines

        Then one’s obligation is to the gods, ancestors and sacred traditions. To forsake that in the hope of currying favor with the Christians is rankest cowardice.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I’d agree completely with that.

        • Genexs

          Very well said.

        • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

          I wish I could upvote this more than once.

          Coexistence does not mean we meekly submit.

        • Artor

          Yes! And cowardice is unethical. How can we be ethical if we sacrifice our ethics to appease people who many of us see as unethical?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=574896155 Ryan Smith

        Then we need to show we stand by our ethics 150% while explaining what those are and why. Acting with integrity is worth ten times as much as ambitious, craven pandering. People respect conviction and confidence even if they don’t agree with the reasons behind said convictions.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          That isn’t always trust, unfortunately. All too often I see conviction and confidence quashed.

          • Artor

            Generally by the unethical.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Or, at least, by the differently ethical.

      • Artor

        “But what if the Pagan ethics do not appear favourable to the (Christian dominated) non Pagans?”
        I say fuck ‘em. Xtian ethics to my eye are often indistinguishable from bigotry and hatred. I don’t ever judge my own actions by what Xians think. It is important to me that I act according to what I see as ethical myself. If someone claims I am unethical, I have strong moral & rational grounds to argue my case. Xians generally don’t.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          I agree with the sentiment, but this does have the potential to place one at odds with the laws of the state, as created by the Christian dominated types.

  • Auspicious Kitten

    When I “went pagan” I had no idea I might need to be in the closet about it since I was raised by an atheist family to think that all religions were the same… of course to them this meant “stupid.” The best thing to come out of Holloran’s going down in flames is that he is going down for the *same* reason so many other politicians have: greed and power. It is nothing to do with his religion, he did not organize an illegal Beltane on government property or use public funds to buy an awesome velvet cloak with which to score maiden babes. He became drunk with power, not absinthe. It is my hope that folks keep their focus on that.

  • thehouseofvines

    This all has played out like a proper Greek tragedy. Minus the incest and bloodshed, sadly, but there’s been enough hubris and fatal flaws to compensate for that and then some. Dan has perfectly exemplified through his career the maxim that if you forsake your ancestral gods to get power you’ll end up with neither. Kudos to him for that — I hope everyone takes this message to heart.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Nicely constructed exposition.

  • Charles Cosimano

    I can’t help it. It would be wonderful if the prosecutor suddenly turned into a toad.

    • LaurelhurstLiberal

      Being eaten by a giant wolf while fetching his mail is more like it.

  • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

    I felt like this guy was trouble the first time I read about him…

    He doesn’t represent me, but I guess the fun of being a minority is he is perceived to represent me, so I suppose we should all, collectively (since the Christians are too lazy to care about each faith/path) denounce him as failing his vows to the gods and the rules and laws of his office and country, and hope he goes away.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I think the only people that should be denouncing him are those on the same path as him who feel that his actions go against the tenets of their tradition.

      • GearoidMacConfhiaclaigh

        Rightly or wrongly, he’ll be associated with me. The majority of the country and the media are too lazy to distinguish between the different faiths.

        If this was an internal thing I’d agree. But it’s not. If some stupid individual like him has the ability to harm perceptions of ALL of us, it’s no longer about other Theodish heathens. It’s about all of us.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Then be vocal about differentiating the various paths.

          Jews manage to avoid being tarred with the ‘Paedophile’ brush used against Catholic Priests, after all.

          • Nick Ritter

            “Then be vocal about differentiating the various paths.”

            I can understand the desire for other Pagans (and even other Heathens, really) to start stressing their distinction from Theodish Belief. For a while, there we Theodish people who were concentrating on how to define ourselves as Theodish without Dan. There was even a Theodish group that started claiming that they weren’t Theodish, but some other tradition indistinguishable from Theodism – all in an effort to distance themselves from Dan.

            Theodism is a distinct tradition: I had always hoped that that would be defined in a positive manner, though, rather than a negative one.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I would define it positively. The suspected actions of one individual do not represent the entirety of the religion.

            I would merely state something along the lines of not being able to have a valid comment of the situation as the individual in question is not with my tradition and that, if his actions are found to be at odds with the laws of his tradition, I hope that those who do count him as part of their tradition investigate the claims as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1006464595 Cathryn Bauer

    Perhaps because I work in a legal profession, it isn’t as clear to me that he has acted dishonorably. I agree that what we do know, as well as what we think we know, makes it look that way. But in the system where I work, someone is innocent until proven guilty. Halfway through a trial or other legal proceeding, the conclusion may seem foregone; but very often, this is not the situation, even in celebrated cases where there has been trial by media.

    I believe that our personal honor requires us to pull back here and remind ourselves of that maxim. Innocent until proven guilty. Okay?

    • Nick Ritter

      I think a distinction can be made between those who are unfamiliar with Dan and the situation surrounding him, and those who know him and have been affected by his actions in the past. The former may be best served by suspending judgement until all the facts are known. The latter, however, are tending to see this as the continuation of a long-standing pattern in Dan’s behavior, and may reasonably feel vindicated that Dan is facing criminal penalties this time.

    • http://www.facebook.com/KveldulfThorsFreyrssonStormcloudWormwood Gary P Golden Jr

      “Perhaps because I work in a legal profession,”

      so did he…in three different DA’s offices, the NYPD as well as his own private law firm.

      “I believe that our personal honor requires us to pull back here and
      remind ourselves of that maxim. Innocent until proven guilty. Okay?”

      And heathens believe your personal honor and luck are affected by those whom you mix it with, and even more important in this case the people in Dan’s theod…if it still even active…will have their luck take a big hit especially if they subscribe to the thought of him being responsible for theirs as their leader.

      so no, it is not “okay”

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.t.mainer John T Mainer

    This stands as one of the two best articles written about the entire affair (Swain Wodening’s blog being the other). I live in Canada, dipping my toes in the Pacific rather than the Atlantic, but still the alleged misdeeds of a minor New York politician affect me because he is perceived by others to be Heathen. On the other hand, it does not affect me at work or in my local community because I have been openly heathen since the declaring myself such in the military in 1988. The more regular people living openly heathen, and earning solid local reputations in their own community, the less one public bad apple will affect our collective luck and worth. The best answer to one failed trail blazer is a hundred successful ones. Perhaps few of us aim as high, seeking fame and public office, but in our own communities and job places we become the definition of Heathen to those we deal with every day.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KveldulfThorsFreyrssonStormcloudWormwood Gary P Golden Jr
    • Nick Ritter

      (sigh) Yep.

      For the record, my aim was damage-control.

      So, here’s the lesson I learned from that: always check out the paper a reporter works for before giving them an interview. I hope not to make that mistake again.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        That must smart.

        At least you won the spear throwing contest.