Archives For Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

On Sunday, avowed white supremacist Frazier Glenn Cross (aka Glenn Miller) allegedly shot at two Jewish community centers in the Kansas City area, killing three people. Cross reportedly shouted “Heil Hitler!” during his arrest, and authorities have officially classified the shooting rampage as a hate crime. This shocking incident, which happened on the eve of the festival of Passover, has had individuals, and the press, digging for more information on the alleged shooter. Daniel Burke, co-editor at CNN’s Belief Blog, believes he has uncovered the religion angle to this story: Cross is not a Christian, but an Odinist.

Frazier Glenn Cross

Frazier Glenn Cross

“Frazier Glenn Cross is a white supremacist, an avowed anti-Semite and an accused killer. But he is not, as many think, a Christian. […] The 73-year-old has espoused anti-Semitism for decades. He also founded racist groups like a branch of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Both groups have deep ties to Christian white supremacists. But according to Cross’ 1999 biography, he is an adherent of Odinism, a neo-pagan religion that experts say has become one of the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.”

The article then quotes from an autobiography written by Cross in 1999.

“I’d love to see North America’s 100 million Aryan Christians convert to the religion invented by their own race and practiced for a thousand generations before the Jews thought up Christianity. Odinism! This was the religion for a strong heroic people, the Germanic people, from whose loins we all descended, be we German, English, Scott, Irish, or Scandinavian, in whole or in part.”

As this new information came to light, Heathen groups and individuals were quick to distance their faith from the racist strain of Germanic paganism practiced by Cross and those like him. These voices speaking out included members of The Troth, one of the largest mainstream Heathen organizations in North America, and the activist group Heathens United Against Racism.

“Asatru and the worship of Odin have no connection with white supremacy, no more so than Christianity has to do with white supremacists. And there are bigots and haters in all faith traditions. In The Troth, we embrace diversity and welcome all who are called to our Gods, and are working with our program, In-Reach, to offer an alternative to the racist material that is circulated in prisons by members of racist gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood. Crime such as what Frazier Cross is accused of, is abhorrent to us. Personally I extend my prayers to the Jewish community on this heinous crime committed during the high holy time of Passover.” – Lisa Morgenstern, member of the High Rede of The Troth, and Volunteer Chaplain at CSP-Los Angeles County for Heathens, Druids, and Wiccans.

Heathens United Against Racism

“Equating all of Heathenry to the beliefs of a racist Odinist is the equivalent of equating all the beliefs of Christianity to the beliefs of the Westboro Baptist Church. While Heathens are by nature a highly diverse and sometimes argumentative lot, those who are discovered to be white supremacists are quickly ostracized from the general Heathen community. Heathens United Against Racism tries to help expose those who would try and use our faith to promote hatred.” – Natalie River Smith, a member of Heathens United Against Racism.

Another HUAR member, Harrison Hall, added that “Cross’s actions are unforgivable, without question” while Steven T. Abell, Steersman for The Troth, says that he hopes for “swift and harsh judgment and punishment for the perpetrator.” Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried, who writes at The Norse Mythology Blog, called the shooting “heartbreaking” and “infuriating.”

“The disgusting violence in Kansas on Sunday is truly heartbreaking. I can’t begin to imagine the overwhelming pain of a family losing both a teenage son and his grandfather on the same day. The man accused of killing them seems to have been an ignorant racist maniac on a willful anti-Semitic rampage, which makes this horror not only tragic but infuriating. I find it personally abhorrent that the accused, at least at some point, claimed that his white supremacist delusions were rooted in his purported ancestors’ worship of Odin. I believe that there is no place for racism in heathenry. There is no place for anti-Semitism in heathenry. It is completely repellent to me that a violently disturbed individual tried to import his ideology of race-hatred into a contemporary religious tradition that focuses on wisdom, generosity and a balanced relationship with the world around us.”

These Heathen voices speak to the high value placed on honor, truth, and hospitality within their interconnected communities. Individuals, groups, and family units that abhor the racist appropriations that have blossomed on the fringes of society. That said, CNN’s assertion as to faith of the alleged shooter starts to get murky as the piece progresses. After quoting from the 1999 autobiography, we then learn Cross presented himself as a “traditional monotheist” when running for political office in 2008, and then, according to a religious studies professor who knew him, as an atheist.

“David Embree, a religious studies professor at Missouri State University, said Cross presented himself as a traditional monotheist when he ran for Congress in 2008. But when he spoke at Embree’s classroom in 2012, his views had apparently changed, the professor said. ‘He essentially self-identified as an atheist,’ Embree said.”

This section is inserted towards the end of the piece, and is then seemingly ignored in the closing (which again quotes the 1999 autobiography). So, what are the actual beliefs of Frazier Glenn Cross? Odinist? Generic monotheist? Atheist? If professor David Embree is to be believed, he hadn’t publicly identified as an Odinist for several years. Is there some source that Daniel Burke has tying Cross to Odinism recently that he isn’t quoting? As it stands, some Heathens are unhappy with the way this piece was reported, with Troth Steersman Steven T. Abell expressing the “hope that the reporter who wrote the CNN article will learn to do his job better.” Meanwhile, Dr. Seigfried notes that no Heathens were interviewed for the CNN Belief Blog article.

“Mr. Burke fails to quote a single actual follower of the Old Way. Maybe he made a heroic effort to contact heathen religious organizations, leaders, individuals and writers to gain their input, and no one responded. It would only be good journalistic practice to include the voice of at least one follower of a faith tradition you are covering, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, he was sure to get in a disclaimer distancing Christianity from white supremacist action: he quotes Jonathan White saying, “It’s hard to get a violent god out of Jesus.” Leaving aside the endless historical and contemporary examples that contradict this statement, wouldn’t it be nice to have had some heathen, any heathen, being asked by CNN to make a statement about their tradition?”

 The problem of Pagan and Heathen faiths being appropriated by racists is a real one, and it is necessary and right for our organizations to speak up on the subject when horrific and brutal incidents like this occur, but the headline “Frazier Glenn Cross’ racist religion: Odinism” seems misleading at best when the alleged shooter appeared uncertain if he believed in any higher power as recently as 2012. For this CNN article to travel beyond mere sensationalism, a solid source pointing towards what Cross believed recently should be added, and if such a source does not exist, the piece should be altered to reflect what we actually know. In the meantime, Heathens are currently organizing to raise money for the victims of the shooting.

ADDENDUM: Daniel Burke at CNN’s Belief Blog has updated the piece with commentary from Josh Rood, founder of Óðrœrir Heathen Journal, and an MA student in Norse Religion at the University of Iceland. He has also changed the headline to “The accused Kansas killer’s neo-pagan religion.”

“I want to say that Frazier Glenn Cross is a monster, and it cannot be denied that he’s not alone,” said Josh Rood, an expert on Asatru at the University of Iceland. “The prison systems, and the white separatist movements have been bastardizing Asatru beliefs, symbols, and myths for a long time.”

It should be noted that Dr. Seigfried’s quotation was written before Rood’s commentary was added to the CNN piece.

ADDENDUM II: Heathens United Against Racism have posted an official statement.

“We wish to make it clear that Cross, and any others, who invoke the names of our Gods, our traditions, or our symbols as justification for their bloody rampages are the lowest of the low in our eyes. We stand, as a community, against all who would try to co-opt and pervert our practices just as the Nazis once did to support racist, fascist, or otherwise bigoted agendas. Such people are unquestionably unwelcome in our community and any who give them aid, shelter, or otherwise enable their bigotry are equally unwelcome in our hearths, rites, and events.

We extend our most sincere and heartfelt condolences to the victims of this terrible crime and the community this honorless, cowardly individual sought to terrorize. We stand with you in this time of terrible tragedy and will do whatever we can to help heal the wounds inflicted yesterday by one hateful man. We hope that going forward we can build a respectful, genuine dialog between our communities and work together against all who would inflict their hatred on others.”

You can read the entire statement, here.

ADDENDUM III: Joshua Rood, who was added to the original CNN Belief Blog piece as noted in my first addendum, has written a guest column for CNN on Heathenism’s battle with white supremacists.

“All religions have been used by people to justify what they know is wrong. All myths are subject to bastardization. We’ve seen this throughout history. Ásatrú is no more immune to it than any other religion. Myths and symbols can’t defend themselves. In the case of Ásatrú and the gods and symbols of Northern Europe, they have been latched onto and used by individuals and movements trying to push racialist, nationalist and violent agendas. It must be understood that these movements didn‘t evolve out of Ásatrú. They evolved out of racial or white power movements that latched onto Ásatrú, because a religion that came from Northern Europe is a more useful tool to a “white nationalist” than one that originated elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, as this aspect of the story continues to develop, TIME Magazine’s article on Frazier Glenn Cross features a quote from Robert Jones, the imperial klaliff of the Loyal White Knights, who described Cross as a “good Christian man who spoke out for what he believes in.” A strange description for someone who purportedly was immersed in racist Odinism.

Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down rulings on United States v. Windsor, which challenged the constitutionality of DOMA, the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which centered on California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that banned legal same-sex marriages. In short, both rulings are seen as victories for proponents of marriage equality, and for clergy who perform same-sex marriages. The first ruling this morning from the Supreme Court was on the matter of DOMA, and it was ruled unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote. Here’s SCOTUSblog’s “Plain English” take on the ruling.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March.

Selena Fox and Washington DC Pagans performing a rite for freedom and justice in the DOMA decision back in March of this year.

“The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

The California Proposition 8 ruling was more complex, and hinges on issues of standing, but it is widely seen as clearing the way for legal same-sex marriages in the state.

“The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.”

As I’ve reported several times before at this site, this issue is both about the basic human rights of same sex couples, and the rights of clergy who officiate their unions. The banning of legal same-sex unions was seen by many as privileging the religious views of those opposed to legal recognition over those who supported it. Now, with this latest hurdle crossed, same sex unions performed in states where it is legal (soon to include California) will be federally recognized, and those couples will receive all the benefits currently granted to married couples by the government. Washington DC Pagan, and Human Rights Campaign employee David Salisbury, in reacting to the SCOTUS decisions, celebrated today as a “watershed moment.”

David Salisbury

David Salisbury

“Although we were hoping for a broader decision, this is still an incredible day to be working for equality and a watershed moment for this movement. I am so proud of my colleagues at the Human Rights Campaign for all the work we’ve done to encourage nationwide support and excitement around this issue. We still have a lot of work to do in this area and many others in the future, but we here in Washington DC will celebrate this momentous day at the Supreme Court with cheers from the rest of the nation behind us. It is also a proud time to be an American Pagan, which is a movement of people who have largely always supported equality for all.”

Kathryn Robinson Kyair, a Gythja in the Asatru faith who was legally married to her partner in California before Prop. 8 won passage in 2008, was initially in a state of shock over the news, but eventually realized the ramifications: “We are equal.”

“How long have we fought, tooth and nail, for this?  Every step along the way has been a fight.  And suddenly, this one makes our marriage equal.  WOW. Prop H8:  thrown back to CA.  Judge Walker’s ruling stands.  Prop H8 is unconstitutional…his words…and now marriage in CA can resume!  Wow! It all slowly sinks in.  It’s all good.  Yes, there are still details to fight, but, it’s good! Holy S***!  My wife, Jeani, and I are married!  REALLY married.  It DOES feel different.  It finally feels REAL!”

For decades, many within the modern Pagan movement have performed marriage rites for same sex couples, and welcomed them into their religious groups and communities. Ivo Dominguez, Jr., an Elder of the Assembly of The Sacred Wheel, noted the irony of being able to officiate federally recognized wedding without be able to obtain one himself.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

Ivo Dominguez Jr.

“In the decades that I’ve been a Wiccan priest, I have officiated many federally recognized weddings. My lover and I will have been together 35 years next February. I have always noted the irony of being able to perform such a service without ever being able to be the recipient of the same. Today’s Supreme Court decision finally makes this possible, and we will soon be married. However I will remain vigilant because every step forward also brings out those who wish to drag us backwards. My religion views all love as sacred, but some other religions have different perspectives on this matter. Neither my religious views nor their religious views should matter in the eyes of the law. However my beliefs as a Wiccan will encourage me to make choices to defend my rights and the rights of others. I am overjoyed, and I am also prepared for this to be the beginning of yet more decades of work towards a nation that sees the intrinsic value of all love and all beings.”

Michael Lloyd, co-founder of the Between the Worlds Men’s Gathering and author of “Bull of Heaven: The Mythic Life of Eddie Buczynski and the Rise of the New York Pagan,” who has performed same-sex marriages as a Gay Pagan priest, noted the historic inequality between different religious views of same-sex relationships as this debate has evolved.

“As I look back on the debate that has surrounded the struggle for marriage equality in this country, I am struck by how much deference has been paid to the beliefs of religious institutions which have a long history of antipathy toward the gay community, while for the most part ignoring the beliefs – and the rights – of those institutions which have recognized the innate humanity of LGBT people who wish to form loving, supportive families. […] Leaders of these religious organizations certainly bear a responsibility for their own dogma and how they manipulate it to maintain control over their own followers. However, they have no right to impose those beliefs upon society as a whole. In matters of faith, we are each the master of our own soul. And for that reason, I am joyful that the SCOTUS has seen fit to allow those who have lawfully taken this most public of private steps to be recognized by their government. May we all be so free within my lifetime. So mote it be.”

This is just a sample of the flood of positive reactions from Pagan leaders, clergy, and activists on these rulings. Covenant of the Goddess (COG), released a statement saying that “today we celebrate with all of our LGBT members, their friends, families and communities as they take a huge step forward in their struggle for acceptance and freedom under the law.” Author and Priestess Crystal Blanton said that today’s decision “brought us all one step closer to true spirituality,” while Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary exclaimed: “May our society continue to work toward having Equality, Liberty, and Justice for All!” David Shorey, GLBT Liaison for the House of Danu, looked to the future saying that he celebrates the rulings today but knows “that Love knows no borders. I know that one day Gay and Lesbian couples will be able to declare their commitment and love in all 50 states.” For many Pagan clergy, the sentiments of Lisa Morgenstern seem to hold true.

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

Lisa Cowley Morgenstern

“As the former Public Information Officer for COG, back when the first CA court decision was rendered legalizing gay marriage,I am thrilled to see DOMA struck down, and Prop 8’s suit dismissed. COG clergy have been performing same gender marriages since the inception of the organization, in 1976, as their consciences permit.  As a member of The Troth who also performs Heathen weddings as well as Wiccan and Pagan ones, I believe that this step of legal recognition was long overdue. Right of survivorship is an important one, as well as the federal income tax benefit of filing jointly as a married couple. These benefits will apply to members of our military as well. The Troth does not discriminate against our gay members and never has. I have performed many same gender marriages and I look forward to resuming that joy in a legal capacity.”

Michele Morris, Distinctive Faith Group Leader for Fort Hood Open Circle, US Army Fort Hood, TX, noted how these decision will also affect same sex couples in a military setting, saying that for “most of the people that I work with it’s about the things that so many of us take for granted, like the right to be notified if your spouse is injured. To be able to be married in the faith and community of your choosing is something everyone should have access to and this decision will give pagan clergy the opportunity to grant that access to even more people.”

“Today’s Supreme Court rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8, while not as decisive and far-reaching as they could have been, are an important step in the decades-old movement to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples. Paganism has been at the forefront of that movement – many of us have performed religious marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples long before other religions started following suit. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but as of today, the writing on the wall is sharper and bolder than ever.”Andras Corban Arthen, The EarthSpirit Community

In the long run, what this is about, and why so many Pagans support marriage equality is simple. As Mage and Chiromancer Jim Barker puts it, “by allowing marriage between two people of the same gender, I can actually call my domestic partner “husband.”  When people ask if we are married, I can simply say, YES.  I don’t need all kinds of funny explanations.  And neither do my loved ones.  They can just say we’re married.” Our community embraces multiplicity, it embraces difference and all manifestations of love. “Our diversity is our wealth,” says Chris Moore, and he’s not wrong. 

There’s so much more to say here, and we’ll be doing follow-up posts. For now, I want to leave you with the words of Pagan author and activist Lydia M. N. Crabtree.

Lydia M. Crabtree

Lydia M. Crabtree

“I am struck at how yesterday the idea that there is discrimination against minority voters was scoffed at by the Supreme Court and today that same Court embraced the idea that the United States is discriminating against same sex marriage. It is almost as if we as a society do not have an ability to hold in our minds the prejudice of two groups at the same time. In both cases, these fights have been sent back to the state level – upholding the view that state rights is paramount. As a Southerner this disturbs me. I am all too familiar with what happens when States have control of making and governing minority groups. Things here in Georgia are unlikely to change for my friends who wish to marry whom they love regardless of gender. Just as I suspect that more voting laws will be attempted making voting more difficult for minority groups and redrawing district lines to keep Georgia a red state for as long as possible, given the fact that these practices of voter suppression have been on going. I do not think the United States people should breathe a sigh of relief. This Court clearly shows the great imbalance between the will of the people and the people who hold power. A clear reflection of the disparity of power between the will of the people and the Senate and Congress. Now isn’t the time to celebrate, it is the time to recognize two important thing. 1. Any minority discrimination is too much discrimination, whether the issue is around same-sex marriage or voting rights. 2. If the states retain the right to restrict minority groups indirectly, we should understand the dangerous precedent and remember the historic cost of state rights throughout history.”

Today we have a victory, but our collective work for justice continues. Let’s all keep standing for love.

The First Pantheistic Center of the Antelope Valley features an article from Lisa Morgenstern about a new first for modern Pagans in the military: Edwards Air Force Base in California hosted a Wiccan service for the 20 Airmen fallen in 2013.

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

“The circle keened the names of the fallen in Celtic tradition, calling their names loudly. Amy, a member of Dragon’s Weyr Circle, a Covenant of the Goddess Member coven, stated, “Thursday night as I started to set up the sacred space the wind started to whirl around. The sky looked as if there was a storm brewing, The Celts would say that it was the Sidhe showing their knowledge of the events …..when the circle was done so was the whirling and swirling winds.” The altar held patches of all the squadrons of the men and women lost.

The circle members called in Badb, and the Horned God, and invited the fallen Airmen to join them and be honored. Then they raised healing energy “to send back through their threads of life/energy to help those which are a part of their tapestries of life.” Several traditional poems were read, and as Captain Victoria Ann Pinckney, the local Palmdale High School Graduate and pilot, was a WASP and a tanker pilot, the poem Vectors to the Tanker, along with a WASP memorial poem for female pilots. The Heathens in attendance spoke of the honor accorded to fallen warriors and that those slain in battle are collected by Freyja and Odin and brought to their halls, Sessrumir and Valhalla. They shared mead and lemon cookies on an altar with red roses. The lemon and red roses are military traditions when honoring those lost.”

Edwards Air Force Base has been hosting regular Wiccan services since April, when Elder Priestess Amy Watson, a Covenant of the Goddess member, and wife of an Air Force Captain, first approached the Wing Chaplain.

“When I approached the Wing Chaplain to have services scheduled, he insisted that we schedule weekly services,” said Watson, “just like all the other denominations have.”

With all the talk lately about proselytizing in the military, and the influence of conservative Christianity, I think it’s important to note when important and largely unheralded forward steps are taken. This first, along with other Pagan services on military bases, and the recent approval of the Thor’s Hammer for veteran headstones and grave markers, points to a slow but building new reality within military culture. A pluralistic and multi-religious “post-Christian” future in which a balance must be struck so that all may find within America’s armed forces. I send out my congratulations to Priestess Amy Watson, and to the Pagans and Wiccans at Edwards Air Force Base. I have no doubt the gods heard you in your honoring of the fallen Airmen.