Archives For Dan Halloran

Former New York City Councilman Dan Halloran was convicted Tuesday on corruption and bribery charges. The jury deliberated for just under an hour and a half to return a guilty verdict on all five counts. Halloran was the highest elected official in the US who is openly an adherent of a Pagan or Heathen religion.

In September 2012, Halloran, along with state Democratic Senate majority leader Malcolm Smith and ex-Queens Republican Party leader Vincent Tabone, was the focus of an FBI sting operation. He was recorded taking payoffs to facilitate a plot to get Smith, a Democrat, on the GOP line for the 2013 New York City mayoral race. Halloran testified during his trial that he expected Smith to appoint him as first deputy mayor.

Halloran says he was trying to uncover corruption when he took the bribes and would have turned evidence over to authorities for investigation. He also said he thought a second bribe was a legal retainer fee for his services to broker meetings with GOP officials.

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

Halloran faced a tough campaign in the 2009 election when local press, allegedly instigated by his opponent, outed his religion. 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. Halloran was at one time a prominent member of the Théodish belief system, a faith that seeks to practice Germanic pre-Christian religion.

Dan Halloran leading a Theodish ritual.

Dan Halloran leading a Theodish ritual.

See Nick Ritter on Theodish Belief
See Nick Ritter on on Dan Halloran’s History Within Theodism

Despite rumors to the contrary, the GOP and Tea Party groups stood by Halloran after his religion was mocked in the press. While he never lied about being a Heathen, Halloran’s initial response to the attention was to downplay his Theodish faith and stress his Catholic heritage in an open letter titled I Believe In God.

I took comfort in my family’s history and our heritage, yet through all of this pain and hardship, I never lost faith in God. Last week, I was attacked for my faith in the Queens Tribune. These attacks happened on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish people. Having been raised in a Catholic household that shares its religious roots with the Jewish faith, I was deeply offended that religion would be used for political gain. [...]I am a man of faith– and now my faith is under attack by a newspaper working for my opponent. I call on my opponent to disavow the Queens Tribune’s attack on religion. I am running a campaign on the issues.

The tactic, and a possible backlash against Halloran’s opponent for allegedly attacking his religion, worked and Halloran was elected as Queen’s representative on the New York City Council. He went on to a failed bid to the US House of Representatives in November 2012. Just five months later, on April 2, 2013, Halloran was arrested for bribery and corruption. A month later he announced he would not stand for re-election for his City Council seat.

Democratic Senate majority leader Smith and ex-Queens GOP leader Vincent Tabone, alleged co-conspirators with Halloran, face trial in January. Halloran remains out on a $250,000 bond pending his sentencing scheduled for December 12. He faces 45 years in prison.

Follow all Wild Hunt coverage of Halloran here.

 

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!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Pagan Radio Network

Pagan Radio Network

After 13 years of operation The Pagan Radio Network, one of the most prominent outlets for Pagan and Pagan-friendly music, shut down suddenly on July 21st. Owner Lew Wirt gave the following explanation for the sudden closure: “Not enough time, money, or energy to keep it up. I won’t bore you with a long-winded explanation, except to say that I attend college and raise a special-needs child. This leaves very little time or money to devote to my hobby of Internet broadcasting (as enjoyable as it was). Thank you for tuning in for nearly 13 years.” While there are other worthy streaming Pagan-oriented stations, few rivaled PRN’s size and scope, showcasing an amazing breadth of music. Currently, the domain names and IP are being auctioned off, and Wirt is recommending alternatives (plus new stations are popping up). As someone who had a show hosted on PRN, I’m saddened to see this essential resource go, and I wish Lew all the best in his future endeavors. Whether this is an isolated and personal development, or something that augurs a larger discussion on money and support within our communities is, I think, something that is still up in the air.

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

PaganSquare, the blogging portal hosted by Witches & Pagans Magazine, has added a new writer: Dan Halloran (who is going by Dan O’Halloran). Halloran, currently serving on the New York City Council, has been indicted in a massive political bribery scandal, and is facing trial sometime in 2014. While the matter of his guilt or innocence awaits due process, Halloran seems to be publicly re-embracing his Heathen beliefs (and the wider Pagan/Heathen community) by writing about Germanic polytheism. Quote: “Now it’s my turn to kick back in life after politics and discuss the things that matter to me from an academic and philosophical perspective. It may stir up some controversy… but that’s half the battle of ordeal, the crucible process of Wyrd. I’m looking forward to the journey….” I questioned editor Anne Newkirk Niven about bringing Halloran on board and she said that she was aware of his history, and was not looking to make any political statement by having him write for PaganSquare. That Halloran “just seemed to fill a gap in our PaganStudies section.” It should be interesting to see how Halloran’s new engagement with the Pagan community is received. You can read all of The Wild Hunt’s coverage of Dan Halloran, here.

Omnia performing at Faerieworlds.

Omnia performing at Faerieworlds.

This past weekend was the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon. As I said in my post this past Friday, it is a very Pagan and mythic event, and also boasted the first American performance for the Pagan-folk Netherlands band Omnia. On their official Facebook page, the band said they are “so very happy that the AMAZING audience here has such a strong reaction to our pure PaganFolk musick, seeing as it’s our first time here in the USA.” Meanwhile, featured workshop presenter T. Thorn Coyle said that she “had a grand time. Blessings of magic, mirth, and music to you.” Standout performances this year (aside from Omnia) included the mythic Pagan neo-folk of The Wicker Men, ethereal singer-songwriter Mariee Sioux, the transcendent world fusion of Stellamara, and a brief Kan’nal reunion featuring guitarist Tierro and singer Kurt Baumann. Also of note was the fact that American Pagan band Woodland officially released their new album “Secrets Told” and closed out the event on Sunday night. There’s a lot more to tell, and many more Pagans of note who participated (S.J. Tucker, for example, who, as always, was universally beloved), but suffice to say that this is an event that more Pagans should discover. Here’s the opening spiral dance for a small taste. Tons of photos at the official Faerieworlds page. [In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Faerieworlds, but I thought the festival was awesome even before I did.]

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

Esoteric Artists Gather for Exhibition in London: From May 19th through the 25th in London an international collection of esoteric artists will be on display in a special exhibition sponsored by Fulgur Esoterica, publisher of the Abraxas journal. Entitled “I:MAGE,” the show boasts a impressive lineup of artists, both classic and contemporary.

Jesse Bransford

Art by Jesse Bransford

“Fulgur Esoterica is pleased to present I:MAGE, a week-long exhibition showcasing the best international artists working in the emerging category of esoteric art. More than 16 artists will exhibit their work at Store Street Gallery, Bloomsbury, London, from Sunday 19 May to Saturday 25 May 2013. The week will culminate with the publication of a special issue of Abraxas titled, Charming Intentions: Occultism, Magic and the History of Art. Select Papers from the Cambridge University Conference, December 2012. The common thread between these artists is the internalisation of esoteric themes and the externalisation of the mythical, the magical and the mysterious in their many forms. Ranging from the post-1940 work of progressive women such as Ithell Colquhoun and Steffi Grant, to the contemporary dark symbolist wanderings of Agostino Arrivabene and Denis Forkas Kostromitin, and the exploratory audio-visual practices of NOKO, I:MAGE promises to be a landmark exhibition.”

In addition, famed London esoteric book store Treadwell’s will be hosting a range of talks, presentations, and discussions during the exhibition, and Abraxas will be publishing a special edition of its celebrated journal for the show. I’ve been in contact with Fulgur Esoterica, and hope to soon bring you an interview about the show. If you’re around London, I’d highly recommend attending this exhibition. I surely would if I could.

Llewellyn Titles Win Independent Publisher Awards: Llewellyn Worldwide has announced that four of their published titles have won an “IPPY,” from the Independent Publisher Book Awards. The four titles largely deal with various New Age topics (with one book being about sexuality), none are a the esoteric/Pagan titles the publisher is largely famous for.

“The 2013 Independent Publisher Awards (IPPYs) were revealed via an announcement on their website. The awards will be presented at a ceremony in New York on May 29. Our Llewellyn winners are below: Our Children Live On, by Elissa Al-Chokhachy (Bronze, Aging/Death & Dying), The Awakened Aura, by Kala Ambrose (Silver, New Age [Mind-Body-Spirit]), The Good Energy Book, by Tess Whitehurst (Bronze, New Age [Mind-Body-Spirit]), Great Sex Made Simple, by Mark A. Michaels & Patricia Johnson (Gold, Sexuality/Relationships). In addition, one book from Llewellyn’s Midnight Ink imprint was also a winner (Hide & Snake Murder, by Jessie Chandler took Gold in the Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Trans Fiction category).”

Congratulations to Llewellyn Worldwide and the authors on this recognition! You can find out more about the awards, here.

New Orleans Celebrates First Ever Pagan Pride Day: There are many Pagan Pride Day events each year, and while each brings its own local charm and significance to this movement, some firsts stand out. Such is the case with the first Pagan Pride Day being held this September in New Orleans, Louisiana. Being that this is a first for New Orleans, a place steeped in a history of cultures meeting and connecting, the event will include practitioners of Vodou, spiritism, and other syncretic traditions.

“While it is always a joy to to bring together the Pagan community with entertainment that appeals to their tastes, the over-arching goal of this day is to develop a dialogue between Pagans and non-Pagans in a city with deep (and overlooked) Pagan roots. It is also our great pleasure to include this city’s syncretic spiritual systems (i.e. Voudon, First Nation spiritism, Thelema, etc.) in our celebrations as well, so that we might bridge more gaps in New Orleans. Our theme of “spiritual gumbo” is meant to reflect our deep reverence for ALL the beliefs that make this city one of the most unique in the world.”

The event will feature Selena Fox, The Dragon Ritual Drummers, Edain McCoy, Christopher Penczak, and more. They are holding an IndieGoGo campaign to cover their festival’s ambitious first-year roster. So, if a New Orleans Pagan Pride festival is something you’d like to see happen, you should check it out, and add your support.

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

I like to consider myself a pretty savvy guy when it comes to journalism. I’ve spoken to a range of local and national reporters about Paganism, I’ve been interviewed, and I’ve been used as a resource for reporters looking for sources. I’ve spent years of my life analyzing, and critiquing, journalism that covers our diverse faiths. Despite that savvy, or perhaps because of it, I allowed myself to get suckered by a sensationalist tabloid journalist looking for dirt.

M.L. Nestel

M.L. Nestel

I was contacted by a reporter from the New York Post who wanted to do a story about Republican City Councilman Dan Halloran, currently accused of fraud and bribery, and was looking for information about Halloran’s Theodish faith. I was justifiably skeptical, since I do know that the New York Post is a sensationalist rag, but after speaking to the reporter, a Matt Nestel, I agreed to put him in contact with a couple sources. Why did I do that? On the phone, he said the right things: He said he wasn’t out to do a hit job on our religions, he expressed how he wanted to learn about Theodism and modern Pagan/Heathen religions, he stressed how he had treated other minority religions sensitively, he even offered to let me vet the piece for accuracy before it went to print. So I put him in contact with Cara Schulz, Managing Editor of The Pagan Newswire Collective, who had interviewed Dan Halloran in 2010, and Nick Ritter, my trusted go-to source on Theodism, and someone who actually knew Dan’s religious history.

Needless to say, things didn’t work out so well…

“The city councilman who bungled his way into federal bribery charges is also a total bonehead in his kooky heathen religion — whose members wear medieval garb, make sacrifices to multiple gods and compete in combat games. Dan Halloran (R-Queens) — who was arrested Tuesday as the suspected bag man in state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s alleged plot to buy his way onto the mayoral ticket — has been publicly flogged and lost a spear-throwing contest as part of his Theodish punishments. Halloran converted in the 1980s from Catholicism to the pre-Christian Germanic religion, whose believers drink mead or whiskey from horns and dress like characters in a Renaissance fair.”

When I saw the article my stomach sank. I knew this was a tabloid, and I knew they’d be going after Dan Halloran, nothing could prevent that, but I thought that at the very least our faiths would be treated with some sensitivity since we had cooperated. How foolish I was. I got played. I never saw a draft, naturally, nor did I ever hear back from Mr. Nestel once he got what he wanted. That’s not entirely true, I did get a cryptic one-sentence reply when I expressed my disappointment at the published piece, but that was it. In an editorial published at PNC-Minnesota, Cara Schulz noted how much time was spent trying to provide good information to Mr. Nestel, only to have it thrown aside once a sensationalist scoop was found.

newyorkpost_screenshot

“To his credit, Nestel spent the better part of two days researching Theodism.  That’s a considerable amount of time in the news industry.  He asked intelligent questions, asked for more information on areas he still didn’t understand, and requested multiple sources to interview.  We spent just over 4 hour son the phone with him during the course of two days answering his questions.  We connected him to some really fantastic, knowledgeable people to interview.   Sources to read to learn more about the religion of Theodism.  Then we stepped back and hoped our assistance wasn’t in vain.  We can help, but we can’t write the article for the reporter.” 

Having settled on the “part of a kooky religion that whips people” angle, The New York Post’s piece quickly became fodder for a series of blog posts and like-minded tabloids across the pond.

  • “I’ve been following politics for 40 years and seen a lot of characters come and go who believed weird things, or acted in a bizarre manner. But Halloran’s beliefs and actions top the list. Not only is it bizarre, but kind of pathetic as well. He is obviously seeking something that he doesn’t get from mainstream Christianity. And hey! Who wouldn’t want to be a prince with their own cult?”Rick Moran, American Thinker
  • “And that’s what the Post gets down to today with an exclusive report on some of the more unsavory details about his religious beliefs. The most ‘juicy’ detail is that Halloran was once publicly flogged after he committed an undisclosed act against a female “thrall” (a follower). He was stripped to his waist, strapped to a tree and flogged with a belt 11 times. Meh, it’s not like he helped make Steve Guttenberg a star, or was shackled to a ‘stone of triumph.'”Ben Yakas, Gothamist
  • “But now he can be best remembered for something else: Halloran was voluntarily tied to a tree and flogged 11 times with a leather belt by the leaders of his pagan sect as punishment for an “undisclosed act” against a female “thrall” (probationary servant, in non-pagan-Religion-terms).”Peter Moskowitz, Gawker
  • “Formerly a Catholic, the First Atheling of New Normandy converted to Theodism in the 1980s. In those early days, Halloran was punished for committing an undisclosed act with one of his lady “thralls,” a probationary servant. He was stripped to his waist, tied to a tree, and flogged 11 times with a belt, a source told The Post.” – Sarah Rae Fruchtnicht, Opposing Views
  • “For Dan Halloran, being arrested was not the most memorable thing about him in the news this week. The Republican councilman in New York City was indicted Tuesday on bribery charges, which was newsworthy enough, until Friday’s New York Post revealed the bizarre rituals he engaged in while practicing the pagan faith of Theodism. According to the report, Halloran was once voluntarily flogged against a tree as punishment for unspecified acts against a female “thrall,” and participated in a spear-throwing duel with a religious rival, all while dressed like a Renaissance Faire employee. He remains innocent until proven guilty on the bribery charges, but the court of public opinion likely won’t be holding back on judging him for that spear-throwing duel.”msnNOW

The only clear-headed take on this was from The League of Ordinary Gentleman, who chided those engaged in merely mocking the Pagan, instead of sticking to the serious charges facing Halloran.

“Whether Halloran is or is not guilty of corruption is one thing. That’s not what these articles are about. What is shameful is the point-and-laugh articles pretty much openly mocking Halloran for embracing a restated version of ancient Germanic polytheism. He worships the old gods. And that’s his right as an American citizen. It’s our obligation as a people to disregard the apparent silliness of his religious beliefs and judge the man on the content of his character. Let us focus on the moral and legal merits of the man’s case. He’s only interesting to anyone outside of New York because of the corruption accusation. Is he guilty or not? If he is guilty, ought what he did be deemed a crime at all? His religion is irrelevant to such inquiries.”

Sadly, voices of reason in this renewed feeding frenzy are few.

All I wanted was for good information to overcome bad information. That a reporter would be brave enough to be accurate and fair, even if they worked for a tabloid. I was wrong, I was too liberal in my trust, and I exposed people I care about to an industry that only cares about grabbing as many page-views as possible. I was foolish, and I am sorry. My hope is that this unfortunate incident can be a learning moment for me, and for the wider community. Consider the source, even if the reporter seems nice, even if they say the right things. If someone writes for the New York Post, or any tabloid, they don’t care about what’s fair, they only care about finding more dirt. Work only with reporters who have proven themselves to be fair, to avoid sensationalism when writing about our faiths. Don’t talk to the news simply because you can, remember that sometimes silence is better.

I was suckered by a tabloid, and I’ll try to not let it happen again. I have failed my community in this moment, even if it was not me who decided to write that piece. Mea culpa.

[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.

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.

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

“Halloran, meeting on Sept. 7 at a Manhattan restaurant with the government informant, allegedly made clear that it takes big bucks to bring government action in New York. ‘That’s politics, that’s politics, it’s all about how much,’ Halloran said, according to the criminal complaint. ‘Not about whether or will, it’s about how much, and that’s our politicians in New York, they’re all like that, all like that.’ Halloran allegedly added: ‘You can’t get anything without the f–king money.’ The meeting ended with Halloran receiving $7,500 cash bribe from the feds’ cooperating witness, according to the complaint.”

You can read the full complaint against Halloran, and the other implicated officials, here. On his arrest this morning, Halloran claimed to have no idea as to why he was being picked up by law enforcement, saying he was “sure the truth will come out once I have an opportunity to find out what’s going on.” That said, if even some of these allegations are true, Halloran most certainly will face jail time, and his colorful, sometimes unorthodox, political career is likely over.

For those not in the loop, the reason Dan Halloran’s arrest is being mentioned in a Pagan news blog is that 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.

Halloran’s initial response to the attention was to downplay the Heathen-ness of his faith (infuriating many of his co-religionists), and stress his Catholic heritage.

I took comfort in my family’s history and our heritage, yet through all of this pain and hardship, I never lost faith in God. Last week, I was attacked for my faith in the Queens Tribune.These attacks happened on the eve of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the holiest time of the year for the Jewish people. Having been raised in a Catholic household that shares its religious roots with the Jewish faith, I was deeply offended that religion would be used for political gain. [...] I am a man of faith – and now my faith is under attack by a newspaper working for my opponent. I call on my opponent to disavow the Queens Tribune’s attack on religion. I am running a campaign on the issues.”

From that point, Halloran has steered clear of talking explicitly about his faith, even when journalists dug up former co-religionists who made allegations relating to his leadership role within Theodism. In a 2010 interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective, Halloran reiterated that his faith is private, and “irrelevant” to any policy decision he might make.

“My service in the Council and advocacy for our neighborhoods has proven beyond a shadow of doubt that my religious faith is not only irrelevant to my public policy… but also a source of great personal strength for me which only inures to the benefit of my Community. I do occasionally hear that being a “Druid” explains why I am such an eco-conscious Republican.”

Still, his Heathen faith was a continual punch-line for critics, and already Gawker has posted an “epic poem” today in his honor. Halloran was a complex figure who could be charming and infuriating depending on who he was interacting with, and I can’t picture many politicians within Tea Party and Libertarian circles overcoming the obstacles he did, to the point of making a serious bid for congress. Halloran was living proof that being a Pagan wasn’t an impossible obstacle to modern political office, even if you were a conservative Republican in New York City. It is for this reason that these revelations are especially disheartening, because our collective history will now mark Halloran’s “firsts” with the asterisk of scandal and corruption.

We will continue to follow this story as it develops. The Wild Hunt will also be featuring an editorial this week from Cara Schulz, a Pagan who interviewed Halloran in 2010, and has followed his career over the years.

Last night, aside from a few hold-outs, a prevailing consensus formed about the election that won President Barack Obama a second term, and kept the Senate in Democratic control despite unfavorable odds: America’s demographics have shifted.

obama twitter1

President Barack Obama hugs wife Michelle on learning that he was re-elected for a second term in office.

“The white establishment is now the minority,” Bill O’Reilly, one of the network’s most famous personalities, said earlier this evening. “The demographics are changing: It’s not a traditional America anymore.” Minutes later, former Gov. Mike Huckabee would slam his own party for failing to reach out to non-white voters. “I think Republicans have done a pathetic job of reaching out to people of color,” Huckabee said during an appearance on Fox. “That’s something we’ve got to work on. It’s a group of people that frankly should be with us based on the real policy of conservatism.”

But the erosion of “traditional” America wasn’t simply about fewer white voters, it was also about women, and younger voters, who defied the ever-popular notion that they are politically apathetic. It was also about shifting religious demographics too.

“Romney has been winning in battleground states among white evangelicals, white Catholics, and weekly churchgoers. But it wasn’t enough to give him a victory. In Pennsylvania, for example, while Romney won white Catholics and white Protestants, Obama won among Catholics as a whole, the unaffiliated, and non-white voters. [...] A recent Pew survey found that there are now equal numbers of white evangelicals and unaffiliated voters, and a Public Religion Research Institute poll found similar results. I noted at the time of the PRRI survey that the bulk of Romney’s base was coming from white conservative evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and Catholics, while Obama’s ‘support comes from a more diverse group: 23% from the unaffiliated, 18% from black Protestants, 15% from white mainline Protestants, 14% from white Catholics, 8% from Latino Catholics, and 7% from non-Christians. Romney draws just 3% of his base from Latino Catholics, 2% from non-Christians, and an unmeasurable portion from black Protestants.'”

Did you catch that? The religiously unaffiliated are about the same size as white evangelicals, the demographic that politicians from both parties have wooed for decades now. During the run-up to the election I noted that both parties need to do a better job in reaching out to the very real pluralism and diversity that is religion in the United States.

“The problem is that both parties have been slow to embrace real pluralism and religious diversity in their one prime-time 3-day infomercial to the American people (and in certain senses, the world). This may not be a problem for this election cycle, but it is increasingly going to be an issue as that slow demographic shift keeps on shifting, and more states start to be evenly divided between Christians on one side, with “nones” and “others” on the other. The “unchurched” (non-Christian) vote is going to be a real thing in the years to come, and we’re a frustratingly diverse demographic. Asian-Americans are a key growth point for non-Abrahamic religions across the country, while a whopping 12% of state residents are adherents of a New Age, Pagan, or esoteric faiths in Colorado, with another 20% fitting into the “none” category. These are growing populations that can’t be ignored forever.”

The unaffiliated were a big chunk of Obama’s religious support, and a whopping 70% of “nones” and 74% of “others” (which would include us Pagans) voted for the President last night. For all the analysis focused on race or gender last night, it’s also disastrous for any candidate to so completely alienate non-Christian voters (it should be noted that Obama also garnered nearly 70% of the Jewish vote as well, despite efforts to undermine that support).  The more pluralistic and religiously diverse American becomes, the harder it will be to ignore non-Christian voices.

Sifting through the results from last night you can start to see the realignments. Hawaii sends the first Buddhist, Mazie Hirono, to the US Senate, and the first Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard, to the House.

TulsiMazie

Tulsi Gabbard & Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.

“Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a practicing Hindu of the Vaishnava tradition, campaigned on her experience as a former Honolulu City Councilwoman and Iraq war veteran. Her landslide win was expected after she became the Democratic party’s candidate following a primary victory in the state’s second district in July. She replaces Mazie Hirono, a Buddhist, who subsequently won Hawaii’s vacant Senate seat.  “Gabbard is an incredibly inspiring leader whose political rise is a testament to the greatest ideals of American pluralism,” said Aseem Shukla, co-founder and Board member of HAF.”Hindu American Foundation (HAF)

Meanwhile, New York’s 6th Congressional District was handily won by Democrat Grace Meng, beating out Dan Halloran, a conservative Republican, Tea Party politician, and Heathen.  While Halloran, himself a non-Christian, didn’t have an issue reaching out to non-Christians per se, he had an uphill demographic climb in the Democratic-leaning district, one where Asian Americans are increasingly seen as vital if you want to win (a demographic that accounts for much of the growth in non-Christian faiths in America). Meng becomes the first Asian-American to be elected to Congress from New York. The Halloran-Meng face-off itself is something of a harbinger of the future, where racial and religious minorities are a given in both parties, with both vying for votes in an ever-diverse electorate.

Last night was also a historic night for same-sex marriage rights.  Maine and Maryland both legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote, reversing an ongoing electoral trend that favored social conservatives. Now, this morning, it looks like Washington will join them, a race decided by the religiously unaffiliated majority in that state.

“When I wrote my initial piece, I asserted that “if Cascadian nones are truly the New Age, nature religion, do-it-yourselfers that researchers assert, then this could be a preview for what a truly post-Christian pluralistic political struggle will look like.” So, with the clock ticking down on the November elections, where do we stand on this ballot initiative that would potentially stop gay marriage in Washington state?  A September 10th poll says that 56% of Washington voters support upholding legal same-sex marriage in their state, while only  38% favor eliminating equal marriage rights, 6% are undecided. This is remarkable data, even in a traditionally “liberal” state like Washington, as voter referendums on same-sex marriage have always favored limiting legal marriage rights to opposite sex couples.”

In that piece from September I said that: “it’s Washington that I’m most interested in because of the trends that point to the “nones” in the Pacific Northwest being more like “us” Pagans in inclination and spiritual orientation. If you want tea leaves to read over what a “Pagan” vote might look like, this might be our chance to witness it in action.” If you also factor in the vote to legalize marijuana, and the general “blue” trends in that state, I think my analysis holds up.

The good news didn’t end there. Minnesota also rejected a constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, a ballot strategy that has always worked for anti-gay groups in the past. For the many Pagans who affirm and bless same-sex unions this is a big step torward ending the hegemony of Christian morality dominating the conversation on issues like this.

There are many other instances I can pull up here, Colorado going blue (and legalizing pot), the influx of women senators, the overreach of social (Christian) conservatives, but I’ll simply end with this point: I think we’re going to see a lot more elections that look like this one. That doesn’t mean that Democrats automatically win all the time, or that Republicans are always doomed to lose, just that the playing field will never again be like it was in the 1980s or 1990s. The slowly shifting demographics have started to turn a corner, and savvy politicians, no matter what their political orientation, will adapt to these emerging realities. Yes, that means reaching out to racial minorities, and women, and younger voters, but it also means reaching out to the “nones” and the religious “others” instead of banking everything on the evangelical Christian vote (or the Catholic vote for that matter).

Welcome to the beginning of the post-Christian American future.

It’s election day here in the United States, and most Americans are glued to their news sources of choice to see who will guide this nation for the next four years. In addition, control of our Senate, and the outcome of several local ballot initiatives will decided this day, making for an exciting evening for those invested in our democratic republic. Many American Pagans, like every other group in this country, also find themselves deeply invested in our political process if my Facebook wall is any indicator, and so they should, as the very notions of democracy, of a republic, originated in pagan thought, in pre-Christian societies.  Thomas Jefferson, a key architect of America’s religious freedoms, was proud that our country, in principle, encompassed “the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.” 

So on this election day, as we wait for the results to roll in, let’s focus on some electoral/election stories of interest to, or involving, modern Pagans.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, shortly after voting this morning in Wisconsin.

  • The ever-politically active Starhawk shares some final thoughts on the election, making her endorsements, but also stressing the importance of voting in general. Quote: “Still need inspiration?  Consider the sixty years women struggled to get the right to vote.  Think of those suffragists on hunger strike, force-fed through tubes, lying in rat-infested prisons—they want you to vote!  Think of the civil rights workers in the South, risking their lives to register voters, think of the three who were murdered in 1964, Shwerner, Chaney and Goodman.  They want you to vote!”
  • A Witch-Doctor from the Kenyan village where Barack Obama’s father is buried says his reading predicts our current president will win in a landslide. Quote: “Mr Dimo, who claims to be 105, says that the mystical items dispute news that the election will be a close call.  Pointing to a white shell, he declared: ‘Obama is very far ahead and is definitely going to win.'” I’m sure Nate Silver won’t argue too much with that prediction.
  • AlterNet digs up some rather embarrassing assertions from Republican Massachusetts State Senate candidate  Sandi Martinez, including how popular children’s shows of the 1980s will turn you towards Witchcraft. Quote: “On her cable access show in 2004, Martinez warned that trick-or-treating, Harry Potter books, and the “new age images” presented in 1980s-era programming such as “The Smurfs” and “The Care Bears” could destigmatize the occult and leave children vulnerable to the lure of witchcraft.” Awesome. Well, good thing there aren’t any Witches in Massachusetts … oh, wait.
  • An activist is trying to engage the Buddhist-derived mindfulness movement in politics, and voting. Quote: “If meditation can calm hyperactive kids, ease the pain of drug addicts and tame the egos of Fortune 500 CEOs, it can surely help a stressed-out and polarized country choose a president, says the Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams. An artist and veteran activist from Berkeley, Williams is the force behind MindfulVOTES, a nonpartisan campaign that she believes is the first attempt to mobilize mindfulness meditators.” Here’s the MindfulVOTES website.
  • It looks very likely that Tulsi Gabbard, the Democrat running for Congress in Hawaii’s 2nd district, will win her race and become the first Hindu to serve in the United States Congress. Quote: “It is clear that there needs to be a closer working relationship between the United States and India. How can we have a close relationship if decision-makers in Washington know very little, if anything, about the religious beliefs, values, and practices of India’s 800 million Hindus?” How exciting!
  • Meanwhile, you do know there’s a Heathen running for Congress this election, right? New York’s Dan Halloran, a conservative, Republican, Tea Party politician, is facing off against Grace Meng in the newly drawn 6th Congressional District. There hasn’t been too much non-partisan polling for this race, so each are holding up their internal polls to claim the race is will be won by their campaign. Odds are long for Halloran in this Democratic-leaning district, but who knows for sure? You can read my pretty extensive coverage of Dan Halloran here.
  • Let’s not forget the same sex marriage-related initiatives being voted on today, and the role “nones” might play in how those races turn out. However, Saumya Arya Haas, a Hindu and Vodou priestess, reminds us that nobodies vote on gay marriage should matter. Quote: “American is not a religion; it is a nation. We claim to hold certain truths to be self-evident. That means some truths should be a given — not debated, not voted on. Given. By virtue of being a citizen of this country, each American should have access to the same rights. Instead, we have created, in America, in the year 2012, a priestly caste of people who believe that their interpretation of certain Scriptures should be used to decide others’ fate.”
  • Americans United is fed up with the IRS not enforcing the ban on partisan endorsements from the pulpit, exclaiming “enforce the law already!” Quote: “This is a critically important issue for our democracy. We already have serious problems with vast amounts of money being dropped into campaigns. Imagine how much more devastating it would be if every house of worship jumped into elections, too.”
  • Finally, Jason Mankey over at Patheos reminds everyone that voting is “ours.” Quote: “Voting is one of the great legacies of ancient paganism. All democracies have a bit of classical paganism in their DNA, even when they don’t want to admit it. Want to make your Evangelical uncle’s head explode today? Remind him that democracy began in a town dedicated to the Goddess Athena! Democracy and the vote are our legacy as Pagans!”

No matter who you vote for, don’t forget to vote, and honor the struggles, and origins, of our political system. We’ll check in post-Election Day to what the results might mean for modern Pagans.

Oh, and yes, I already voted. Oregon has a mail-in system that’s quite convenient.

Pagans and Obamacare

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 3, 2012 — 18 Comments

[The following is a post from The Wild Hunt archivesThe Wild Hunt is on hiatus through Labor Day weekend and will return with new posts on Tuesday, September 4th.]

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the constitutionality of the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act, a law that overhauls America’s health care system over the next decade, and includes a controversial health insurance mandate. While universal coverage is the norm in the majority of industrialized countries, here, we’ve created a hodge-podge predominantly market-driven system that all-too-often places profits and savings above the health of its citizens. Consequently, while access to health care is often an assumed given in countries like Britain, France, or Canada, here, it has become a decades-long moral and ethical struggle. Like all moral and ethical struggles, religious leaders and groups have taken various stands on access to health care, and on this law in particular. Once the decision came down that the law would survive, at least for now, Catholics, Evangelicals, Protestants, Jews, and large religious coalitions, all weighed in with their opinion. But what about our faith community, does our diverse movement speak with one voice on this issue? What do Pagans think about access to health care, and health care reform, in the United States?

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act into law.

Many of the leaders and prominent individuals within the modern Pagan movement I surveyed were happy that the Affordable Care Act was upheld, often with the caveat that they would prefer a single-payer system, as found in many European nations. Starhawk, co-founder of Reclaiming, and author of “The Empowerment Manual,” expressed that the ACA “is definitely an improvement over the callous and greed-ridden system we’ve got.” T. Thorn Coyle, co-founder of Solar Cross Temple, noted that “we currently live with such extreme social inequity that something like ACA does not go far enough. As long as the richest 10% of U.S. citizens control two-thirds of the wealth in the country, universal healthcare is a far better answer.” Perhaps the most succinct expression of this line of thought came from Phaedra Bonewits, a former board member of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, and widow of the popular Druid author and thinker Isaac Bonewits, who said that although she was happy with the decision, “I still wish it wasn’t about health insurance. I don’t believe we need universal health insurance, I believe we need universal health care.”

“Healthcare delivery in the USA needs to be simplified, more holistic, and more user friendly. More mental health services need to be covered as well as effective alternative therapies. There needs to be good quality, affordable healthcare for all. I hope the Affordable Care Act will help move the reform process forward but realize that it is not a panacea.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Digging deeper, what do modern Pagan faiths believe their religions teach them about heath care, and enshrining an affordable right to it? Often, there’s been a lazy slur that pre-Christian faiths, and their modern counterparts, have no conception of charity, or larger sense of obligation to their community. The most famous expression of this erroneous belief in recent history perhaps came from Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives under President Bush, who intimated disbelief that there was a Pagan group that cared for the poor, and that only “loving hearts” were drawn to such causes. Towey later walked back those comments, but they were emblematic of a belief that Judeo-Christian traditions were somehow unique in their concern for the less fortunate. The truth is that a significant number of Pagans I polled couched their support for the ACA within the context of their spiritual beliefs. For example, Cat Chapin-Bishop, a Pagan who also participates in Quaker spirituality, sees “a dense and complicated web of obligations and services” inherent in many forms of Paganism, and that “gods favor the generous. And a just society, in Pagan terms, absolutely does have the right to require us to be generous. To an observant Pagan, hospitality is mandatory, not optional.” Turning to Starhawk, she notes that Witchcraft traditions, which are centered in the belief of wise women and cunning men, healers, should “have a special interest in assuring access to health care for all.”

 

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk at Occupy Santa Cruz. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

“I believe the core value in Pagan ethics is the understanding that we are interconnected and interdependent. On that basis, health care is an important right and everyone should have access to it. My personal health is not separate from your well-being. Health is partly a matter of personal responsibility, but all of us are subject to forces beyond our control. If we suffer illness or injury or sheer bad luck, we shouldn’t be left alone to suffer the consequences unaided. We live in a more and more toxic environment, and the constant assaults on our health from pollutants and radiation and the degradation of our food supply are our collective responsibility. No one should be left alone to bear the consequences of our collective failure to protect the life-support systems around us. Rather, it is to all of our benefit to share a public responsibility for our mutual well being, because every single one of us, at some point in life, will need that help. No one gets through life unscathed, and in the end we die. If we truly accept death as part of life, with its attendant break-downs of the body and the many sorts of mischance that befall us along the way, then we do well to offer one another solidarity and succor.”Starhawk

Further, T. Thorn Coyle shared that “as a Pagan, compassion, generosity, and honor are very important to me. I want to build culture that strengthens us, but acknowledge that we need a minimum level of care built in to our social structures so that each person can contribute her best.” Christopher Penczak, co-founder of the Temple of Witchcraft, while acknowledging that there is no singular Pagan viewpoint on this issue, seemed to support this ethos of obligation and support laid out by the others, noting that his temple “looked into the possibility of purchasing a group health insurance plan for various members of the Temple of Witchcraft who expressed need.”

While a number of Pagans are vocally supportive of the ACA, there are voices of concern and dissent from this view. Since Paganism is a movement, an umbrella term for a number of distinct faiths, there is no total consensus on this issue. Some, like Lady Yeshe Rabbit, head of the Bloodroot Honey Tribe, expressed support for the aid the new law will give to the underserved, while admitting she remains “wary of anything that potentially gives the federal government more authority over my physical body, especially with the current alarming trend toward limitation of information and quality care around reproductive freedom for women that we are seeing at state and local levels.” Lady Miraselena, a Wiccan Priestess within the Temple of the Rising Phoenix in Atlanta, also supported some of the law’s provisions, while rejecting the individual mandate as a “very dangerous precedent.”

“The more power we give to one institution, the government or otherwise, the more we sacrifice our own freedom. Pagan spirituality is about journeying along a difficult personal path with both triumphs and failures. Pagan spirituality removes that single dogmatic entity; freeing us from the shackles that seek to confine us with the promise of protection. Pagan spirituality gives us the right to soar as high as we are willing to work and to fall as low as we might. Without that spiritual incentive, we are just plodding through life without really living; without the creativity of existence. For me, this wisdom informs everything.”Lady Miraselena

Perhaps most the notable Pagan opposition to the Affordable Care Acts comes from Republican congressional candidate and New York City Councilman Dan Halloran, a Theodish Heathen, who blasted the ruling saying it has given the government “the last thing they need – encouragement to add more laws, taxes and rules that make health care so expensive in the first place.”

One source I spoke to for this piece, Dr. Barbara A. McGraw, a lawyer and academic scholar who writes on the American founding, disputes the idea that the ACA and the mandate in particular is oppressive or anti-liberty, asserting that “making healthcare available to everyone, even with a supposedly freedom-limiting insurance mandate, is more conducive to the American founders’ ideal of liberty for all than a health care system run by an unrestrained insurance industry in a Darwinian “free-for-all” healthcare market that results in domination by a few at the expense of the many and people dying because of lack of care.” Still, even with those Pagans who had reservations, or idealogical/theological problems with the new law, their opposition was for the most part distinctly qualified. Their opposition mainly couched within a libertarian “high-choice” ethos, rather than from a standard partisan position, often supporting some of the most popular sections of the new law.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, striking a balance between the different positions on this new law, says that “regardless of what one’s viewpoints are on the Affordable Care Act, it is my hope that we all can find ways to innovate, communicate, and collaborate on bringing about a better healthcare system in this country.” All of the Pagans I spoke to expressed a desire for a better health care system, though there may have been disagreement on how exactly to bring that about. It is asking the question posed to us by Thorn Coyle: “What do we really value and how are these values reflected in the society we have built?” It’s clear that a great number of Pagans value a system where health care is accessible and affordable, and that we care not only about our fellow Pagans, but about the health of our fellow human beings, and the interconnected web of life on this planet. It is also clear that Pagans have a voice in the larger debates over health care, a unique and important perspective that should not be lost when society or the mainstream media searches for religious perspectives.

Source material used for this article: