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[The following is a guest post by Zay Eleanor Watersong. Zay Eleanor Watersong is a teacher in the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft, community organizer, and law student.  She got her start in Reclaiming with the Ithaca Reclaiming Collective and the Pagan Cluster, sharing priestessing roles in Pagan circles internationally and Reclaiming circles nationwide since 2003.]

“Anthro-arrogance is not an option,” stated one of the law student organizers for the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the University of Oregon in Eugene as they opened the conference on February 27.  “This conference, this planet, expects action.”

PIELC-Website-Banner-1024x332

University of Oregon students took this to heart and continued a long history of protest at the conference with a 100-person walkout shortly thereafter during one of the keynote addresses, protesting the speaker’s anti-transgender stance.  It was an interesting echo of the controversy at PantheaCon in 2012.  Hopefully PIELC too will learn from the experience.

photo (1)This conference, now in its 32nd year, has a long history of bringing together legal scholars, lawyers, activists and organizers to discuss the pressing issues of the day and weave synergistic relationships to address them. It brings together so many who are working at the leading edge, whether in blockades or in the courtroom, to protect the earth which we hold sacred.  There is a deep magic in being able to see the web of laws and policies that hold the current system in place, and seeing the points where if we push just a little bit, things can shift.  Practicing law and practicing spellwork are not that different.

This year’s theme was “Running In to Running Out”.  It could be easy to come away depressed by power of the oil and gas industry, which is extracting resources as fast as it can and using more and more extreme ways to do so, with absolutely no consideration for the impacts on the environment, and very little reigning in by the government.  In fact, it turns out this industry is exempt from most of our environmental laws. And as former NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen explained, if the oil and gas industry is allowed to extract and burn all that they wish to, we are looking at a 6° C increase in global temperature, blowing past the 2* C limit that scientists and governments worldwide have agreed is the absolute upper limit to prevent catastrophic climate change.  What was that we were saying about anthro-arrogance?

There is no doubt we are already feeling the impacts of climate change. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, put the current situation into perspective with a baseball analogy: “A player taking steroids increases the chances of more and bigger home runs.  You can’t point to any one home run as caused by steroids but overall, you know where the credit lies.  The climate is on steroids now.”  The weather is getting more extreme, more frequently.

"Outlaw party" during PIELC.

“Outlaw party” during PIELC.

Yet, the conference was a testament to the deep hope and commitment to action of the environmental movement.  The camaraderie and energy was palpable at the “Outlaw Party” thrown on the outskirts of Eugene by the Cascadia Forest Defense, where anarchists, organizers, and lawyers alike danced our love of the earth in the mud and rain to excellent bluegrass and let our primal nature run free around a rather spectacular effigy.  As the Pagan Cluster and Free Cascadia Witchcamp know, a little bit of ritual goes a long way towards feeding the soul and avoiding activist burnout.  These direct action activists -such as the 398 arrested at the White House on Saturday protesting the Keystone XL pipeline- who put their bodies and freedom on the line to make a statement about the failure of the administrative process deserve our thanks, and our spiritual support.

Just as important are the lawyers, advocates, and citizens that watchdog the bureaucracy, read and digest long tomes of environmental impact statements, and spend their days paperwrenching with public comments and lawsuits.  Theirs is an effort of endurance, particularly when environmental laws no longer protect the environment.

Mary Christina Wood

Mary Christina Wood

“At every level, agencies have turned environmental law inside out,” explained Mary Christina Wood, professor at the University of Oregon and author of the new book Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age.  Her keynote address Saturday evening followed Dr. Hansen’s dire predictions and painted a visionary method for the profound legal paradigm shift needs to happen.

“We’ve been running around putting out all these fires,” Wood explained, “but what if we can stop the pyromaniac?”  Wood is one of many legal scholars around the country re-invigorating an ancient judicial concept known as the Public Trust Doctrine.

It’s a basic idea: that there are certain natural resources that are so important for society as a whole that the government has a responsibility to protect those resources for everyone’s use.  The key case that brought this doctrine from ancient Roman law and English common law into U.S. Federal law is Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Illinois (1892), where the courts determined that the shoreline of Lake Michigan was held in public trust by the states and could not be given to a private railroad corporation.

A more recent case was Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (2013) where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined that legislation removing many regulatory hurdles for the fracking industry violated the public trust doctrine, which Pennsylvania voters amended into their constitution in 1971.

Wood and others are taking the public trust doctrine one step further, with atmospheric trust litigation, arguing that the atmosphere itself is one of those resources that must be maintained for us all.   Youth are filing lawsuits in every state, to hold the states and federal government responsible under the public trust doctrine for developing carbon recovery plans to meet the 6% annual reduction in carbon emissions that scientists agree is necessary to stabilize the atmosphere.  They’ve put together a wonderful video explaining the idea.

Is it a coincidence that so many of us have heard the call of Goddess at the same time that the earth, air, and waters that we honor are so threatened?  Gaia is calling us to action.  Our descendants are calling us to action.  What has been done in your state?  Does your state constitution include the public trust doctrine?  Do you have children who want to be part of the fight for their future?  When it seems like government at every level is failing us, and failing the climate, the positive action of the people working on atmospheric trust litigation is truly a breath of fresh air.

[The following is a guest post from Michelle Mueller. Michelle Mueller is a doctoral student researching polyamory in Pagan communities. She has integrated women's and gender studies throughout her study of religion, and thinks it's never a bad idea to think about representations of women in the media, as well as messages about queer culture and Pagans.]

As many of us in the Bay Area (and beyond) reintegrate into the “mundane world” after PantheaCon, it feels timely to turn an eye towards images of Witchcraft in pop culture. Some Wiccans were upset about Katy Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” at the Grammys three weeks ago, during which she invoked theatrical imagery to refer to “the Burning Times.” In her grand finale, she attached herself to a broom (basically stripper pole style); the pyrotechnics produced a blazing fire around her, a reference to witch-burning.

I missed the Grammys but my good friend, Assembly of the Sacred Wheel member, Shelly Graves brought the performance to my attention with a Facebook post the next morning, “Did anyone just see that performance by katy perry? Wtf was that? Not cool with the whole witch burning imagery at the end” (Jan. 26, 2014).

I watched the video and caught up on aggravated comments from Wiccans and critics. Intrigued by the strong response, I asked my other Facebook friends what they thought.

Selina Rifkin, Executive Assistant to the Director for Cherry Hill Seminary also enrolled in its masters program, offered:

“I think it depends on how sacred you hold the symbolism she was using. The color black, graveyards, broomsticks, some flames, however we hold these images, they are also part of the broader (yes largely Christian) cultural view of what is dark and dangerous. We aren’t going to change the fact that we are a minority religion, and it’s not reasonable to expect that someone like Katy Perry is going to be interested in anything but addressing the largest audience possible. She has no reason what so ever to accommodate a minority religion, assuming she even knows Wiccans -or any other Pagans – exist.

That being said, Wiccans in particular are working to reclaim some of that “negative” imagery and I don’t think it[’]s a big surprise that a pop star used it to suit herself. After all, if it’s “art,” pretty much anything goes.” (Facebook, Jan. 26, 2014)

Shelly clarified her criticism, “I think that her performance tarnished the message of unity the Grammy’s were trying to present. I was really surpr[i]sed that Katy Perry would do that. I guess people really can be clueless and not understand that The Burning Times were as horrible as any of the genocides that have taken place. People were killed for no good cause.”


For me, Perry’s performance of “Dark Horse” in the Grammys was refreshing compared to other things I’ve seen her do, which I will describe shortly. I didn’t mind the references to witch-burning because it seemed she was identifying with the motif of the martyr or the persecuted witch. I am in good company. Abel R. Gómez, graduate student at the University of Missouri and past contributor to the Wild Hunt, commented, “I liked it. I think it’s possible to read into it more, but to me, it’s just a performance.” Of course, others find the performance offensive because Perry may have been making light of atrocities towards women and healers.

I liked Katy Perry when she first debuted. I’m a Hello Kitty and Sailor Moon aficionado. I liked Katy Perry’s girly style, lollipops, and teenage dream.
I became concerned over lyrics of “Last Friday Night,” which glorify blacking out as meaning a terrific night, especially because of the number of girls listening to her music and the impact this message could have on them. I pivotally lost respect for Katy Perry when I saw this video of a live performance (Sydney, Australia, October 2013) in which she jumps rope in platform heels for 17 seconds before the finale of “Roar,” the song whose lyrics unmistakably refer to the women’s liberation movement: I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire/’Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.

I love instances of women affirming their sexuality, but I do not like women being reduced to boobs, which is what I felt this performance did. Her fans loved it. You can hear them singing Roar along wildly in the video. As with the Grammys performance, we will disagree about the intentions of an artist and the quality of their art.

In an interview, Perry herself said, “I hate working out, but I love jumping rope. I think it’s because it’s like dancing; there’s a rhythm….I’m a really good rope jumper. I can double jump, I can cross, I can do all of it. I look like Rocky when I jump rope!’” (Mail Online, Oct. 28, 2013) Somewhere some women may have found her message empowering, an example of choice, free expression, or fitness. I did not.

Two years ago, Katy Perry’s “Ur so gay” made it on the radio, which Elena Rose of Starr King Unitarian Universalist seminary brought my attention to. See link for Katy’s explanation and performance on MTV Unplugged (June 2012). Somehow this song had skipped my radar. Maybe others were offended and the radio stations and DJ’s held back from playing it with the strength of other Katy Perry singles. It’s one thing to be disappointed that your crush likes the opposite gender and not you, but these lyrics are downright hateful to gender non-conforming people:

“I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf
While jacking off listening to Mozart
You bitch and moan about LA
Wishing you were in the rain reading Hemingway
You don’t eat meat
And drive electrical cars
You’re so indie rock it’s almost an art
You need SPF 45 just to stay alive

“You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like boys
You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like…

“You’re so sad maybe you should buy a happy meal
You’re so skinny you should really Super Size the deal
Secretly you’re so amused
That nobody understands you
I’m so mean cause I cannot get you outta your head
I’m so angry cause you’d rather MySpace instead
I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than…”

In conclusion, many Witches are upset about “Dark Horse” at the Grammys. I find other things by Katy Perry more offensive. I found her Grammys performance creative while others found it triggering of genocidal history. I observe with patience and curiosity what in the next year will emerge from behind Katy Perry’s curtain. I hope to Goddess she develops into a more mature performer because I really would like to see her succeed as an artist. I had high hopes when she emerged (though I always felt “I Kissed a Girl” was a rip-off of Jill Sobule without credit.) I believe Perry can use her power and fame more constructively than with lyrics like “Ur so gay,” and I pray she chooses to.

Many have said Katy was tipping her hat to the wildly popular series American Horror Story: Coven. I hope to hear at a future date from Crystal Blanton about this series, as I know she has been following!

[The following is a guest post from Lonnie Murray. Lonnie Murray is a naturalist, local environmental activist and part-time politician. For many years, he was a leader of the NatureSpirit group at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church (Unitarian Universalist), and currently lives with his two daughters and wife in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.]

Lonnie Murray

Lonnie Murray

Beneath the concrete, steel and asphalt of our cities there are ghosts gurgling whispering and moving nameless beneath us. An anthropologist, Loren Eiseley once wrote that “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water”. Many people never stop to think what happens to the streams when a shopping center or housing complex is built, but the secret is beneath our feet in large pipes. This water flowing through man-made engineered stormwater systems is all that is left of places once rich with life like salamanders, crayfish, dragon flies and minnows.

At one time, the thinking was that the best way to deal with water and pollution was to get it out of cities as fast as possible. Under that thinking, streams were straightened or put in pipes. Other policies made by local governments and engineers paved most urban areas reducing them to a sea of concrete. We now know that each time it rains all the oil, fertilizer, trash and other pollution goes into the stormwater system, which then eventually makes its way to rivers.

I think a lot about water because I serve in Virginia as an elected official on the local Soil and Water Conservation District, and as an appointed member of several different boards and commissions related to the environment. For as long as I can remember, my environmental activism has been tangled up in my spirituality (but which one caused the other is impossible to say.) Like many modern pagans, I often find it hard to classify my spirituality with labels, but I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist church who follows animistic beliefs that see all living and natural things as having a spirit worthy of reverence. I led a UU-Pagan group for well over a decade and was active for a while in my local Reclaiming community. While I’m highly influenced by the Romantic and Transcendentalist thinkers of the 19th Century, I confess that I also take great inspiration from my favorite works of science fiction and fantasy.

A still from "Spirited Away."

A still from “Spirited Away.”

In one of my favorite animated films “Spirited Away”, by Hayao Miyazaki’, there is a scene where the main character, Chihiro, is forced to work in a Bath House for the Spirits. One day a “stink spirit” oozes its way to the bath house. While everyone else runs away in terror and disgust, she kindly bathes it and removes a bicycle lodged in its side. Upon being cleansed, the spirit’s true nature, a river spirit, is revealed. In interviews, Miyazaki has mentioned that this was inspired by a river cleanup in which he participated. During another scene Chihiro finds the true name of a river spirit that had been buried under a housing complex. This notion that a river has a spirit is impaired by our treatment of it, is consistent with Shinto and other animistic ways to view the universe. To anyone that has done a river cleanup, or seen a stream restored, there is indeed a presence you can feel beyond mere water flowing over rock.

Within modern Paganism, it is common to hear praise for trees, mountains or Nature, without any specific reference to a real place or specific living being. This is a stark contrast to many indigenous cultures that usually have specific sacred trees, rocks, streams or mountains that are essential to their faith. Indeed we hear the same sentiment in Judaism in the reverence accorded specific sites in the Holy Land. My ancestors in Scotland and Germany certainly had sacred places, streams and trees. I know the Monacan nation, who still live in my corner of the world, had sacred places, some of which we’ve now buried under concrete. Like many of us, being separated from the lands of my ancestors I have lost that direct connection to the spirits of place my ancestors certainly knew.

While restoring streams is good public policy, and I advocate for it on that basis, as an Animist, I feel too the spirit of place that is healed as we heal our streams. I also feel it as a spiritual wound when we fail to do the right thing by our sacred waters. In recent years, I’ve watched as two “nameless” tributaries of the Meadowcreek were buried under a new shopping center. Even though the public asked repeatedly what the large pipes were about, the only thing the public heard was that it had something to do with “stormwater”. I could not save these streams, but I was able to bear witness to what really happened there, by confronting local media organizations with the truth.

a typical bioswale at the University of Virginia using native grasses to filter stormwater.

A typical bioswale at the University of Virginia using native grasses to filter stormwater.

As localities have increasingly had to deal with the implications of the Clean Water Act, passing pollution downstream has ceased to be an option. Much of the cleanup of streams and rivers is wrapped in arcane acronyms and technical jargon like TMDL (or Total Maximum Daily Load). In my work, it is part of my responsibility to help localities deal with the challenges of meeting federal mandates to clean up streams. In particular, the Chesapeake Bay TMDL will require a complete reversal of the kinds of behaviors that paved the landscape and buried streams. Changing those attitudes, policies and ultimately the landscape itself is not easy.

In practice, improving the quality of stormwater can only be done by living systems, like special gardens made of native plants called biofilters that remove toxins from the water. I’ve had the exceptional opportunity to witness several stream daylighting projects, where streams are resurrected from the deep and returned to life on the surface of an urban landscape. I dare say it is hard not to feel the spiritual implications as you see butterflies, wildflowers and a splashing stream where there was once nothing but pavement. Also, once these streams are daylighted, they cease to be unnamed and start becoming places again like the Dell, a stream daylighting project in my area.

The Dell at the University of Virginia.

The Dell at the University of Virginia.

The importance of naming has a long history within the concept of magic, including the idea that a measure of power can be gained over anything if you learn its secret name. Indeed as Tolkien once said in On Fairy Stories, “Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.” Part of spell work in many traditions involves setting an intention and visualizing a change in the word. Like the Reclaiming tradition, I tend to follow Dion Fortune’s definition of magic, “the art of changing consciousness at will.” Public policy is a whole lot like that; you come up with an idea and then you advocate it by participating in public advisory groups. Over time, if you are lucky, you change consciousness (and policy) and it has a real lasting impact in the world.

Like those once nameless streams, I begin with no human names for the spirits of the landscape of my community; their true names were lost long ago, if ever they were known. While my work in the community of helping improve stream buffers, daylight streams, or promoting best management practices is inherently based on sound conservation science, it is also part of my spiritual work in the world. As a public official I serve the public, not my faith, but when I look out over a paved city or a construction site, it is faith that helps bring me to the table and inspires me to seek solutions. It is my way of giving a name to that which was lost. By speaking for those places that cannot speak for themselves, by caring for them as Chihiro did, I come closer to naming those spirits of place so they need not wander as ghosts in concrete beneath our feet anymore.

[The following is a guest-post from Joseph Merlin Nichter. Joseph Merlin Nichter is an author, blogger, ritualist, Freemason, Wiccan and co-founder of the Mill Creek Tradition and Seminary. As the first state-recognized Minority Faith Chaplain, Joseph provides Pagan religious services and assists with religious accommodations of minority faiths for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; he has also served the California Department of Mental Health as a religious program instructor. Joseph is the co-founder and current president of the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association. Joseph lives in Central California with his wife and four children, where he continues to actively serve his community.]

The odds are quite favorable that the average Wild Hunt reader has experienced religious discrimination which has manifested in either social, legal, or vocational arenas. We must consider the impact this type of discrimination can have on our spirituality and self-esteem. I would argue that this form of discrimination which occurs on a daily basis within a correctional-rehabilitative environment, is in direct conflict with their goals and purpose. Nonetheless, that has in fact been the unfortunate state of affairs for quite some time.

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

Joseph Merlin Nichter (aka WitchDoctorJoe)

In October of 2012 the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) issued an internal memorandum containing new directives pertaining to inmate personal religious property and religious grounds. Attached was a newly drafted list of proposed religious items that would be universally approved at every prison within the state of California. Referred to as the Religious Property Matrix (RPM), the list was developed on an effort to improve the current policy which the department itself recognized as “vague and inconsistent.”

Earlier this year the CDCR released its second draft of the property matrix which contained at least 24 alterations. Some of those changes involved simple terms, but important context; for example many of the items which were limited to a small list of allowable colors had been changed to “multicolored, excluding red or blue.” This has been viewed by many as an understandable change considering that Security Threat Groups (gangs) have proven to be an enduring epidemic and colors, such as red and blue, continue to be employed as a primary mode of recognition.

By March the department felt comfortable and confident with the new property matrix and released a notification of change to regulations. These changes will ratify and implement the new religious property matrix and will also include a change in verbiage. All religious objects previously referred to as “artifacts” is being changed to “items.” Perhaps more significant is the removal of the word “Bible” from list of examples included in the states definition of the term “Religious Artifact Item” located in the 3000 block of Title 15, Crime Prevention and Corrections.

The Pagan Alliance and the House of Danu called for an Emergency Pagan Conclave to address and discuss these new changes. The conclave convened on Sunday of this past Beltane weekend in Oakland, California with several Pagan community leaders in attendance; including M. Mach Nightmare, Pantheacon organizer Glenn Turner, Sam Webster, Diana Paxson, and T. Thorn Coyle of the Solar Cross. The conclave commenced with an hour long presentation by Barbara McGraw, which was followed by narrative commentary on the religious property matrix by event organizer James Bianchi. The remainder of the event was dedicated to an open discussion forum which included a panel of experienced Pagan religious volunteers, including two primary officers from the National Pagan Correctional Chaplains Association.

Referred to as an “Orwellian list” (that which is not permitted is absolutely forbidden), the primary concern being expressed is that the list will place an unfair restriction on religious accommodations and related practices. But based on my own direct personal experiences, I’m inclined to embrace a more optimistic view. There has never been a consistent statewide policy or single unified list of universally approved items.

The fact is that the CDCR policies regarding personal religious items have been vague (no list) and inconsistent (no collective standard). So whenever an inmate, (for the purpose of this article, a Pagan inmate) wants a religious item such as a pentacle pendant, it must be approved by a state employed chaplain. While it may not be hard to imagine how difficult it might be to obtain such an item in such an environment, the challenge doesn’t end there. Most of the time such an item is not approved, but in the rare instances that it get approved, there is no guarantee that said inmate will be able to maintain possession of the item. If the inmate is transferred to another prison or just moved from one yard to another within the same prison, a difference in policy or social climate often results in the confiscation of such items.

The purpose of the Religious Property Matrix is to establish statewide standardization, resolve the inconsistency and facilitate the rights of inmates to practice their religion within the parameters of the correctional environment. The list will ensure all individuals, regardless of religion, will be guaranteed personal possession of fundamental items. At least eighteen of the twenty-four items listed are applicable to Pagan practices and several of the items listed are explicitly Pagan in nature such as the Wand, Tarot/Divination/Runecards, and Rune tiles. I personally view these items in particular as a significant improvement as they have been among the most difficult for me to get approved in the past.

The other concern that’s been expressed is that items which have been approved in the past, yet are not on the new property matrix will be seized. Although there will be a one year wear out period for all items not included on the new matrix, what this does mean is, yes, there are inmates that will lose some of the items they have been fortunate enough to obtain in the past. But this also means that there will be many inmates that will finally acquire items that they were never able or allowed to possess previously. There will be a loss for some and a gain for many others, but there will be state wide continuity and religious equality. Everyone everywhere will finally be granted and guaranteed basic religious items, without equivocation or discrimination. I for one consider that to be progress, for our incarcerated Pagan brothers and sisters, and for pluralism movement as a whole.

In speaking with department staff regarding the matter, they felt it is important to note that several suggestions received during the public comment period are already in the process of review and are expected to be added to the property matrix. In addition, the property matrix is not a static document. There is a process in place to continuously receive and review suggestions for improvement and the inclusion of additional items into the matrix on a regular basis. It is also important to make a clear distinction here between personal religious items and congregant items, which remain subject to approval at a facility level.

Perhaps it’s due to my own military background that I am sympathetic to the logistical, political, financial and social challenges the CDCR faces in the pursuit of its goals. But it is also due to that same background, having been discriminated against as a Pagan myself, that I am sympathetic to the religious rights and needs of the inmates. And while the department is not without its incarnations of ignorance and apathy, I have seen an encouraging trend of equality and acceptance emerging from a previously inhospitable atmosphere. Finally I’d like to take this rare opportunity to challenge the Pagan community to lend their attention and concern to an equally critical need within our circles and groves by previously incarcerated Pagans; reentry acceptance, assistance and support.

[This editorial from Joseph Merlin Nichter is part of a response to the new CDCR rule changes regarding items allowed to Pagan prisoners. I will also be reaching out to Pagan opponents of the proposed changes for their viewpoint. I'd like to thank Mr. Nichter for submitting his thoughts. As always, opinions expressed in guest editorials are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent The Wild Hunt, its editors, or staff.]

[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.