Top Ten Pagan Stories of 2013

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 31, 2013 — 7 Comments

Every year, in retrospect, can seem impressive (condensing 12 months of articles into 10 highlights will do that). However, 2013 seemed like an especially notable year for stories involving or affecting modern Pagans. Here are the ten stories that I feel were the most relevant, the most impactful on our day-to-day lives. That said, I would encourage folks wanting to get a taste of where we were at in 2013 to read through my Pagan Community Notes and Pagan Voices archives to track the conversations and achievements that marked our community. I also want to quickly note that I’ve decided not to number the stories, or rank them in any order. They each hold their own importance, and this year I wanted to shy away from the idea that one took some precedence over another.

Now then, on to the top ten…

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

Heathen Politician Dan Halloran Arrested, Charged With Fraud and Bribery: “In a shocking turn of events this morning, New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, along with State Sen. Malcolm Smith, were arrested on charges of fraud and bribery in connection to an alleged plot to fix the mayoral race. The arrests came after an FBI-led investigation, one in which U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara claims Halloran “quarterbacked” the drive to find party officials willing to be bribed. In a meeting with an informant, Halloran allegedly expounded at length on what it takes to “grease the wheels” of New York City politics. [...] Halloran is the highest elected official in the United States who also happens to openly be an adherent of a Pagan/Heathen religion. Specifically, he was for a time a prominent (and eventually prominently controversial) member of the Théodish belief system, a faith that seeks to practice Germanic pre-Christian religion. Though Halloran never denied being a Théodish Heathen, he also wasn’t very transparent about it in the beginning, causing a great deal of havoc when he was “outed” by the local press during his city council run. His beliefs were often sensationalized by the press, including Village Voice cover art depicting Halloran with a dead sacrificed goat, ceremonial robe and runic cloak.” More on this story here.

maetreum sign largeMaetreum of Cybele Wins Tax Fight: “The Maetreum of Cybele, Magna Mater, which has been in an ongoing battle with the Town of Catskill, New York, over religious property tax exemptions, was today vindicated in their multi-year struggle when a State Supreme Court ruling against them on this issue was overturned on appeal. The decision, which was issued on Thursday by the New York Supreme Court’s Appellate Divsion, says the religious organization “satisfied the legal requirements in order to receive a real property tax exemption.” [...] This is a huge reversal of fortune for the Maetreum, which has been fought relentlessly by the Town of Catskill on this issue. By the Maetreum’s estimate, the town has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, and when the initial Supreme Court victory was handed down to them last year, their lawyer crowed to local press that he “does not expect much protest from pro-pagan groups now that a judge has carefully analyzed the evidence.” Even some Pagans were skeptical of the Maetreum’s chances after that decision, but the Maetreum of Cybele were determined to fight on, and with some fiscal help from the larger Pagan community, they moved forward with their appeal.” More on the Maetreum here.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

Town of Greece Prayer Case Heard Before the Supreme Court: Today’s the day. The Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in the case of Town of Greece v. Galloway, which centers on the role of prayer at government meetings, and could shape the legal landscape on this issue for decades to come. I have written extensively on this case, and you can find a round-up of my coverage here. [...] No matter what the decision, it will no doubt have a major effect on prayer policy. Repercussions that will deeply affect all religious minorities, including Pagans, who have played an outsize role in the development of this case.” For more, read “The Supreme Court Case With A Wiccan Angle.” Quote: “This case directly involves modern Pagans, specifically Wiccans, in the case and in the legal maneuvers that led to it. Something I’ve been harping on for some time, even to the point of chastising religion reporters for not picking up on it.”

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Approved for Use On Military Headstones and Grave Markers: “In 2007, after a decade-long struggle, Pagan and Wiccan organizations succeeded in getting the Pentacle approved for military veteran headstones and markers. After that victory, in July of 2007, a rally was held to start the push for two more symbols: the Druid Awen and the Heathen Thor’s Hammer. Two Heathen organizations, The Troth and the Asatru Folk Assembly, were represented at that rally, and from it a wider movement to get the Thor’s Hammer approved emerged. Now, after a six-year journey which included some inter-organizational tensions within the Heathen community and a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs rule change, it appears the symbol has finally been approved.” More on how this came about here. Quote: “We know that the listing went up on May 2nd, and thanks to a statement sent to The Wild Hunt from the Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth we now know the circumstances of the emblem’s approval.”

A partial listing of BISAC codes in the Body, Mind & Spirit category (Image: Llewellyn.)

Listing of BISAC codes.

Wicca and Paganism Leaving the Occult Section, Heading For Religion: So the occult section (hence the “OCC” prefix code), which in time became known as the “New Age” section, and finally, the “Mind, Body, Spirit” section, will soon see an exodus of Wiccan and Pagan books to the religion section. For most of us who still visit brick-and-mortar stores that most likely means your local Barnes & Noble (or possibly Books-A-Million) will soon be seeing some changes. How quickly these changes will happen remains to be seen, and it may take some time as stock rotates in and out of the stores.” For more, read Elysia Gallo’s reporting. Quote: “Wicca, in the eyes of the book selling industry, is now a religion. It crossed over from OCC026000 Body, Mind & Spirit / Wicca and Witchcraft, to two separate BISAC codes. One remains in the occult section – OCC026000 is now simply Body, Mind & Spirit / Witchcraft. But Wicca itself is now REL118000, or Religion / Wicca. [...] there’s more. The BISAC code that used to be OCC036020 Body, Mind & Spirit / Spirituality / Paganism & Neo-Paganism (a relatively recent addition on its own) is also now listed in Religion, as REL117000, or Religion / Paganism & Neo-Paganism.”

The Warrior's CallUK Pagans Organize Against the Practice of ‘Fracking’: “We, as Pagans, believe that the natural world is profoundly sacred. In particular though, sites such as Chalice Well are our holy places. To have them desecrated is a direct attack upon our ways and upon us. Fracking will not alleviate fuel poverty, nor will it provide us with greater fuel security. Its long lasting destruction to land and water is neither needed nor wanted. There are many practical alternatives, yet they are being ignored (with catastrophic consequences) because of corruption and ideological extremism within the government. Corporations should not dictate state policy. Around the world on the 28th of September, rituals (both large and small) will be held to protect these sacred islands from harm. Although we all come from many different pagan paths, on that day we will speak with one voice. The Warrior’s Call is that unified voice. And it sings with the blessings of the Gods and Goddesses.” Warrior’s Call now has a website up and running, with resources for Pagan who want to fight the practice of “fracking.”

tempestmainpageTempest Smith Foundation Closes its Doors: “In February 2014, the Tempest Smith Foundation (TSF) will be holding its very last ConVocation fundraiser before permanently closing its doors. Annette Crossman, TSF’s current executive director and widow of founder Denessa Smith, says that it is “time for the torch to be passed on …and return to normal life.” For over ten years, TSF has been a voice for diversity tolerance in its Michigan community and an advocate of anti-bullying campaigns. Launched in 2003, The Tempest Smith Foundation was the brain-child of Denessa Smith, the mother of bullying-victim Tempest Smith. In February of 2001, Tempest committed suicide after enduring 6 years of persistent abuse in school.  Over the following two years Denessa was able to transform her grief into building a foundation that would advocate for tolerance – a foundation that might save other children from her daughter’s fate.” Follow-up article.

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and members of Ásatrúarfélagið.

Ásatrúarfélagið.

Asatru Added to Religion Stylebook: “Back in July, PRI’s The World did a story on the U.S. Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs approving the Thor’s Hammer emblem for veteran’s grave markers and headstones (here’s The Wild Hunt’s reporting on that story). The story didn’t interview any Heathens, was somewhat flippant towards the faith, and included a picture of someone dressed like the comic book/movie version of Thor. This led Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried of the Norse Mythology Blog to lodge a (entirely justified) complaint campaign, and it ultimately pushed PRI to do a somewhat more respectful follow-up to their original piece. Now, this incident has led to what might be an even bigger win for practitioners of Asatru, inclusion in the Religion Newswriters Association’s official Religion Stylebook. At the Norse Mythology Blog Dr. Seigfried, who wrote the stylebook entires, explains how this came about. The ten terms added to the stylebook include Æsir, Ásatrú, blót, Eddas, and goði, and are live on the stylebook’s site as we speak. Dr. Seigfried worked with Heathens in Iceland, Germany, and the United States to shape the definitions he would use.”

Olivia Robertson

Olivia Robertson

The Passing of Olivia Robertson: “On Friday, the Fellowship of Isis announced the passing of their co-founder, 96-year-old Olivia Robertson. Robertson, along with brother Lawrence Durdin-Robertson, and his wife, Pamela, founded the Fellowship of Isis on the Vernal Equinox of 1976 with a goal of reintroducing Goddess worship into the world. This development came for the trio after working together since the early 1960s on metaphysical and spiritual projects, including the Huntington Castle Centre for Meditation and Study. Over the next 20 years the FOI grew a diverse international membership, and in 1993 Olivia Robertson was on-hand at the Parliament of the World’s Religions representing the Fellowship, and spoke at the opening plenary representing modern Goddess Religion. Part of a delegation of groups that introduced modern Pagan religions to the international interfaith community. In addition, Robertson was an accomplished artist, writer, and liturgist, who deeply shaped the organization she helped found with her creative vision. A legacy that will continue with the organization she helped found. You can find Robertson’s full official biography at the Fellowship of Isis website, here.” 

A procession of Pagans at the last Parliament of the World's Religions.

A procession of Pagans at the last Parliament of the World’s Religions.

Pagans Help Save the Parliament of the World’s Religions: “While final negotiations and discussions with lawyers are still underway, it appears that the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has successfully raised enough money by their deadline to save the organization from a sudden fiscal crisis. As the Religion News Service reports, modern Pagans played a large role in making that happen. ‘With the help of pagans, Jains and people of a range of other faiths, the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions has raised more than $144,000 in two weeks using a crowdsourcing campaign in a desperate bid to survive a financial crisis [...] Two pagan groups alone raised more than $16,000. A Jain board member raised $6,300. [...] As of Tuesday (April 16), the council had raised more than $144,000 of the $150,000 it needed, and had received permission from a donor to use additional funds from an operational grant, if necessary, to make the final debt repayment.’ While we didn’t single-handedly save the Parliament, we were instrumental in doing so, and now the world knows it. Notable Pagans from across the world spoke up to mobilize their communities, including Margot Adler, T. Thorn Coyle, Christopher Penczak, and representatives from Covenant of the Goddess, the Pagan Federation, Pagan Federation International, Pagan Pride Italia, and more, added their voices to a chorus of Pagans who realized the importance of this moment.”

Obviously, there are many more stories I could mention: The regulation of psychic services, Doreen Valiente’s commemorative plaque, Teo Bishop’s high-profile leave-taking from our community, and the With Love From Salem documentary, to name just a selection. But I feel these 10 stories will resonate beyond this year, and collectively shape us. Feel free to share what you thought were the biggest Pagan stories of 2013 in the comments. Now then, on to 2014!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • thelettuceman

    For one, I’m glad that Bishop’s leaving of the community wasn’t “big news”. Of personal importance to some? Yes. To the community? Hardly.

    The Halloran scandal still pisses me off. As much as we all individually resent having to represent our entire religious community, I feel that if one is the only face of a minority in politics, then one shouldn’t act like a complete tool. But what do you expect of such a man’s honor when he lacks the strength of his religious convictions in the face of scrutiny of his constituency?

    • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

      I agree that Teo’s temporary presence was not a top ten for me. His celebrity status as a former Mousketeer had no impact on me or most Pagans I personally know. Teo is a good blogger and if he had stayed on the Pagan path, he no doubt would have contributed much. But his coming-and-going shook up the Pagan blogosphere, but the Pagan community as a whole, not so much.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        I’d’ve been interested in Teo’s reception in the Christian world as a returnee with Pagan sensibilities. But I could follow that on Teo’s blog.

        • http://www.cernowain.com/ cernowain greenman

          On Teo’s new blog called “holy”, he states that he had a “superficial” relationship with Pagans that was nowhere as intimate as the ones he is forming with people in his home bible study. Maybe that’s true for him. Or maybe he is already distancing himself from his “Pagan” experience. He appears to be taking his Christian path seriously at least, and he is already shedding his Paganism… if it was in him to begin with?

          • Lēoht “Sceadusawol” Steren

            What a douche.

  • Daniel

    I may be Roman Catholic, but I find this very interesting and support the freedom of Pagan’s, you go guys!

    • Nick Ritter

      Thanks.