Archives For Nick Ritter

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 the second of two guest posts from Nick Ritter, a member of Axenthof Thiâd, and The Wild Hunt’s resident expert on all things Théodish. Given the rise of Dan Halloran, a Republican New York City Councilman, congressional candidate, and Théodish Heathen, I thought it best spotlight a truly informed voice on the subject of his religion. This post will specifically deal with why Dan Halloran is a controversial figure within Théodish belief. His first post, on what Théodism is, can be found here.]

With Dan Halloran cropping up so much in the news, Jason Pitzl-Waters asked me to write about why he is such a controversial figure in Théodism. In writing this, I am attempting to be as objective as possible: I am not writing this with the intention of bashing on Dan or spreading gossip. Objectivity is somewhat difficult in writing this though, because I was involved in much of the history I will be writing about. In my effort to remain objective, I will be referring to various Théodish documents, or “abannings,” that recorded the events shortly after they happened.

First it is important to outline the context in which this history begins. In the mid- to late-1990s, Théodish Belief was united in one organization, the Winland Ríce (“Kingdom of Vinland” in Anglo-Saxon), led by Gárman Lord as cyning (sacral king). The subdivisions within the Ríce were various théods (AS. þéoda “tribes”), which were semi-autonomous. After years of contact with – and membership in – various Ásatrú organizations including the Ring of Troth (nowadays just “The Troth”), the bitterness of our interactions with them, the near-continual arguments over everything including our right to exist as a distinct form of heathenry, had led us to question the value of interacting with them at all.

Dan Halloran leading a Theodish ritual.

Dan Halloran leading a Theodish ritual.

In the Spring of 1997, Gárman made the decision that we would cut all connections with Ásatrú, including all communication, so that we would no longer be involved in the issues and politics of that community. This would also mean breaking ties with friends we had made in the Ásatrú community. One such friend of Gárman’s was Dan Halloran, one of the leaders of a national Ásatru organization named Irminsul Ættir.

In June of that year, Gárman hosted a Midsummer gathering at his home in Watertown, NY. Dan was invited to that gathering, with the intention of this being a final farewell: no one outside of the Winland Ríce had been informed of the decision to sever ties with Ásatrú. The day after the ritual, a folkmoot was held in Gárman’s back yard, and Dan was informed of our impending separation from Ásatrú. The Witan had made the decision to offer Dan entry into the Ríce, and the details of this were discussed, including whether or not Dan would need to undergo thralldom for his entry into Théodish Belief. I was there, and I questioned how we could be assured that Dan would follow Théodish thew (custom, customary law) if he did not undergo thralldom – thralldom being the time that thew is inculcated into the prospective member of a théod. In the end, it was decided to bring Dan in with a relatively high rank, foregoing thralldom, and to make Dan Gárman’s fosterling. This meant that Dan would receive special training from Gárman, and would eventually be able to go and found an independent Ríce of his own, perhaps with himself as sacral king.

About six months later, during Yule, Dan was involved in an incident, and was accused of wrongdoing of a rather serious nature against someone. I will not go into the details of this, out of respect for the person affected. Word got out into the Ríce about what had happened, and just about everyone was shocked and angered by what they heard. Dan had acted unthewfully (i.e. contrary to our customary law and ethics), and this was considered a particularly serious offence for someone with pretentions of future leadership of his own Théodish group. Gárman informed him that he would have to be fostered under someone else, or else leave Théodism. Another high-ranking théodsman, Jason Thunawerd, agreed to take charge of Dan; however, as Jason was unable to find a suitable way for Dan to pay recompense for his wrongdoing, the matter was given to the Witan to decide.

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

Dan was summoned to the Midsummer 1998 gathering in Watertown, and Gárman told him he would face proceedings. When he arrived, he was given the choice of leaving Théodism outright, or facing judgement. He chose to face judgement, and he was given a punishment, a fine, and a trial by ordeal.

I should take a few lines to explain what “ordeal” is in Théodish usage. In essence, it is divination by contest, a way of submitting a matter to the gods and determining their decision. In the ordeals used for more serious issues, the contest is ritualized combat, which can take different forms. On that day, at the gathering, Dan and I and a few others were trained in one of the forms of ritual combat, and then I was chosen to face Dan in the ordeal. The question to be settled by the ordeal was whether Dan would be allowed to have his own following and work towards founding his own independent Théodish organization: if he won, he would be allowed; if he lost, he would be forbidden. Dan lost, although the score was close; to the surprise of many, Gárman decided in Dan’s favor, and he was allowed, after a period of six months, to begin building his own following. At the next Midsummer gathering in 1999, a year and a day after the ordeal, Dan was declared free of debt, having paid the balance of the fine set against him. In the month after Midsummer, Gárman consulted with the Witan and declared that Dan was free of shild (AS. scyld), a word that encompasses both the concept of “debt” and “guilt.” In essence, Gárman declared that Dan had paid his debts and was exonerated.

On October 22, 20013, Dan and his Norman théod left the Winland Ríce to set up their own Théodish organization. From this point, Dan no longer owed fealty directly to Gárman, but was still held by an oath to uphold Théodism and Théodish thew. Over the next several months, Dan and Gárman wrangled back and forth on a document Dan had written, called the “Affirmation of Thew,” essentially a document defining what it meant to be Théodish, and what thews – customs, customary ethics and values – a group had to uphold in order to be considered properly Théodish. The intent of this was to bring the now disparate and autonomous Théodish groups under one overarching authority. Such a document went against Théodish thews to a certain extent, being something approaching a document of written law, something that Théodism has long avoided; thew, for us, is an unwritten, orally-transmitted body of custom and ethics. The body of thew – as well as individual thews – can be written about, but writing them down as a list of laws is antithetical to their flexible and evolving nature, and has long been considered in Théodish thought to be the first step to subverting the spirit of such customary ethics and values.

There were several central points in this document that Gárman and Dan differed on, with Gárman accusing Dan of attempting to democratize Théodish Belief as a ploy to gain control of it from Gárman, by using his Théodish organization as a voting bloc beholden only to himself. Shortly after this accusation, on May 22nd 2002, Dan wrote a document stating in essence that Dan’s organization was no longer “in thew” with Gárman and the Winland Ríce. This amounted to a declaration of schism: one is “in thew” with those in one’s greater religious community, even beyond the bonds of one’s own théod, and one is “out of thew” with everyone else. With this document, Dan declared that he and his were no longer of the same religious community as Gárman. Shortly thereafter, Gárman outlawed Dan from Théodism.

For the intervening years between 2002 and 2010, I don’t have much direct, documented information. I do know that Dan continued to refer to himself and his group as Théodish, and that he tried unsuccessfully to unite disparate Théodish groups under the “Affirmation of Thew”. Those Théodish groups rejected this attempt for many of the same reasons that Gárman did, as an attempt on Dan’s part to take over Théodism as a whole.

Overall, then, from Dan’s induction into Théodism in 1997 to his outlawry from Théodism in 2002, his Théodish career was marked by controversy, and to questions as to whether he had really ever learned or internalized our ethics and values; essentially, whether he had ever truly been Théodish in a deep sense. This is why Dan is a controversial figure in Théodism today.

References:
“Æt Bannung,” Théod Magazine Vol. IV No. 3, Lammas 1997
“Æt Bannung,” Théod Magazine Vol. V No. 3, Lammas 1998
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Normannii-Freonds/message/530
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Normannii-Freonds/message/602
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Normannii-Freonds/message/609

[The following is the first of two guest posts from Nick Ritter, a member of Axenthof Thiâd, and The Wild Hunt’s resident expert on all things Théodish. Given the rise of Dan Halloran, a Republican New York City Councilman, congressional candidate, and Théodish Heathen, I thought it best spotlight a truly informed voice on the subject of his religion. This post will deal with Théodish belief, while a second post, published tomorrow, will deal with Dan Halloran specifically.]

While Théodish Belief has been “public” for about twenty years, it is still relatively unknown by most people in Paganism-at-large. For this reason, Jason has asked me to write an introductory post about Théodism and issues surrounding this religious movement, so as to better help the reader when Théodism comes up in the news.

First, though, I should introduce myself, and mention why I might know a thing or two about Théodism. I became Théodish in 1996, when I was inducted into Frêsena Thiâd. This was a Théodish group in the Upper Midwest, primarily Minnesota and Wisconsin, and led by Gerd Forsta. Gerd was a “fosterling” of Gárman, the founder and (at that time) leader of Théodish Belief; Gerd had entered into tutelage under Gárman with the understanding that he would eventually split off and found his own, independent Théodish organization. Over the next few years, our théod made trips about once a year to upstate New York, where Gárman lived. There, I was able to speak with Gárman, and train under him as a wéofodthegn (priest). I was certified as a wéofodthegn by Gárman, and also chosen to be his steward for a while. I also published a number of articles and two books through the Théodish press, was a member of the Thunor-gild (i.e. a Thunor cult), and founder of the scops’ gild (a guild of poets). I am currently a member of Axenthof Thiâd, serving under Gerd Forsta.

What is Théodish Belief?

Théodish Belief, or Théodism, is one of a number of approaches to the practice of pre-Christian Germanic religion. There have been individuals and groups attempting to practice this religion since at least the late 19th century, but such attempts really took off in the U.S. in the mid 1970s. Théodism got its start in 1976 in Watertown, New York, with a man known as Gárman Lord. This was about the same time that American versions of Ásatrú were getting their start in Texas, with folks such as Edred Thorsson and Stephen McNallen. Théodism started independently of Ásatrú, and there was not much interaction between the two until the late 1980s or early 1990s.

For some time during the early part of this interaction, much was made out of the ethnic distinction between Ásatrú and Théodism: Ásatrú was taken to be primarily Norse, and Théodism to be primarily Anglo-Saxon. While there are still Anglo-Saxon Théodish groups, the Théodish approach to religious reconstruction has branched out into the particular religious forms of the Frisians, the Continental Saxons, and the Goths. Scandinavian varieties of Théodism would be quite possible (as would other Continental forms), but no one has taken that project up just yet. The distinction between Théodism and other forms of heathenry is therefore not a matter of which people’s particular heathenry we’re trying to reconstruct, but rather a matter of approach and definition.

The differences between different approaches to Germanic religion such as Ásatrú, Forn Siðr / Forn Sed, Heiðni, Odinism, and Théodism, etc. grow out of differences in the definition of what constitutes Germanic religion, and what defines a successful practice of it. For instance, one approach might be that Germanic religion is simply the worship of the Germanic gods; therefore, to worship Germanic gods – in any way – is to practice Germanic religion. In Théodish Belief, Germanic religion is defined as the pre-Christian religion* of the Germanic peoples; as such, successfully practicing Germanic religion means practicing the religion as the pre-Christian Germanic peoples practiced it, to the best of our knowledge and ability. This means that we are continually trying to improve our knowledge and practice of Germanic religion. It also means, as Germanic religion was not really clearly separable from the rest of Germanic culture, that practicing Germanic religion also means, for us, adopting the culture of which it was a central part, specifically what might be called the ideological or mental component of culture; e.g. the worldview, ethos, etc. To do otherwise, we feel, would be to arbitrarily decide what is and is not “religious” about early Germanic cultures, and risk mutilating (or at least severely misunderstanding) the religion. The adoption of the early Germanic worldview has certain consequences in how we arrange and govern ourselves, as will be discussed below.

I sometimes liken our approach in reconstructing Germanic religion and culture to experimental archaeology: we research Germanic religion and culture extensively, put in practice what we learn, observe how it works, and make changes as we learn more. Along the way, we hypothesize and experiment; some of these experiments work, and some don’t, but we keep what works until we find something better.

Pair of large drinking horns, found at Taplow, 6th century.

Pair of large drinking horns, found at Taplow, 6th century.

Our religious practice, developed from our research into pre-Christian Germanic religion, has certain characteristics. For one, ours is a votive religion, insofar as we make offerings to our gods in return for their continued help and friendship, and we seek to enter into a relationship of reciprocal gift-giving with them; these offerings are in the form of libations, valuables, food offerings, and animal sacrifice (which is also, in part, a food offering). Théodism emphasizes right action, including right ritual action, and lets people sort out the specifics of belief for themselves; the forms and rituals of Théodism are primarily those of public worship in a group, and the private religious practices of individual Théodish people are not something that we try to direct. Along with the emphasis on correct ritual action, there is an emphasis on the composition and performance of religious poetry, often hymns to the gods, and usually in an old Germanic language; to date, there have been Théodish religious poems composed in Anglo-Saxon, Old Frisian, Gothic, and Old Saxon.

Why is Théodish Belief Hierarchical?

One of the things that people find off-putting about Théodism is that it is unabashedly hierarchical in its arrangement, even elitist. Our reasons for adopting such a hierarchical social structure in Théodism – aside from such a social structure being evident in early Germanic cultures, and thus our adoption of it being in keeping with our adoption of early Germanic culture – are mainly twofold.

On the one hand, we have learned through experience and observation that groups function best when people have responsibilities and duties befitting their own qualities and character; we do not assume beforehand that everyone is the same, and so there is a process of testing and observing new people to see if they will fit in with the group, and where (more on this below). Also, our hierarchy is based on demonstrated merit, rewarding responsibility, intelligence, vision, hard work, and ethical uprightness with more social standing and influence, but also a higher degree of responsibilities to the group as a whole. The social structure is therefore aristocratic in the original sense, with power (Greek kratos) being given to those who have demonstrated themselves to be the best (Greek aristoi).

The other main reason for our adoption of a hierarchical social structure is based on our observations that a democratic, egalitarian social structure is the easiest kind to subvert; who is to blame if no one is in charge, if wrongs done were done by committee, and in the name of the group? Instead, we put individuals in power, state clearly what powers and concomitant responsibilities those individuals have, so that when wrong is done, it is clear who has done it and who carries the blame.

That said, certain decisions need to be made by the group as a whole, and this is where the thing – the tribal council – is used as a means of making decisions. In the thing, everyone has a say regardless of rank, and everyone has a chance to try and convince the group through argument and persuasion.

What is Sacral Kingship?

Along with a hierarchical and aristocratic social structure, another important element of Théodish social structure is the institution of sacral kingship. The king is someone selected from the highest level of a Théodish group to be both the leader and highest religious functionary of that group, and has religious functions distinct from – and complementary to – those of the priests. It is important to note that no current Théodish groups have kings; although we do believe that sacral kingship is a valuable role, it is not a role that can be filled by just anyone. It is also important to know that sacral kingship is not monarchical: the king is answerable, is held responsible, perhaps to a greater extent than anyone else.

When Gárman was king of the Winland Ríce (a Théodish organization comprising several théods), he accepted a few people as “fosterlings”, that is to say that he trained them to eventually go off and lead their own, independent Théodish organizations, perhaps eventually to become sacral kings in their own right. Two such fosterlings were Gerd Forsta and Dan Halloran.

What is Thralldom?

As mentioned above, people who want to join a Théodish group have to go through a process of being observed and their character tested before being allowed in as full members of the group. This process is called “thralldom,” and the would-be entrants “thralls,” terms that tend to put people off. This is intentional: the name is part of the test of one’s character. If one can submit to being called something unpleasant, to sacrificing the gratification of one’s ego in return for something better, that says something important about one’s worth. As in the military, as in traditional martial arts, as in traditional initiatory practices the world over, so in Théodism: one must be broken down a little bit so as to be built up into something better.

Théodish groups tend to be somewhat small and tightly-knit; they are real communities with a great deal of internal loyalty. As such, they are justifiably wary of new people coming in and upsetting things; thralldom has developed as the method of teaching and observing would-be entrants to make sure that they will fit in their new community, and that this will be beneficial both to them and to the Théodish group they are trying to enter. Théodish thralls have no responsibilities within Théodism other than to listen, observe, and learn, and to repay their teaching with work; thralls have no rights either, except for the right not to be abused, and the right to walk away from Théodism. To ensure that thralls are not abused, Théodish Belief has at times made use of ambihtsþylas (ombudsmen), a function I served in for a while. If a thrall walks away, no questions are asked, but that person will not be allowed to gain entry into a Théodish group again. Over the decades, there have been a few exceptions made, where people have been allowed in without having to undergo thralldom. In all but one case, this has proven disastrous. As a result, we are much more consistent now in the application of this custom.

Thew: Custom, Customary Ethic, Customary Law

Another important aspect of Théodism is thew, which means something like “custom” “ethos” “customary law.” We do not write down bylaws or rules to govern behavior, as we have observed that it is very easy to subvert a written rule, and hold to the letter of the law while breaking it in spirit. Instead, we govern ourselves by thews, customary laws that – as I have read about English Common Law – can be written about, but which can never be entirely and definitively formulated in writing. Thus, if one breaks a thew, the thew is broken: there is no hiding behind the written form. Learning how to behave in Théodish society is therefore more complicated than memorizing a list of rules: one must be immersed in it and learn by observing, asking, listening, and doing. This immersive learning is the institution of thralldom mentioned above. We find that people are less likely to break the customs of a culture that they have become immersively enculturated into than the laws of a group they happen to join without any real initiation.

The word “thew” carries with it the notion of both strength and flexibility. The thews of a théod are the bonds that bind the group together; strong bonds, but also flexible ones that develop organically over time.

Having given an overview of Théodism and its more salient outward features, my next post will be about Dan Halloran specifically, and why he is a controversial figure within Théodism. In that post, I will be referring back to some of the points covered in this one.

* This does not mean that elements of this religion did not survive the wholesale conversion of the Germanic peoples. We recognize these elements as part of Germanic religion, and include them in the definition and practice of our religion.

Ever since his religious affiliation was outed to the general public back in 2009, Republican Dan Halloran has tried to keep the subject off his adherence to Theodish Heathenism, and on day-to-day political matters. After his Heathen faith became an issue in the successful 2009 campaign for a seat on the New York City Council, he finally released a public statement entitled “I believe in God,” which downplayed his Pagan identity, and stressed Halloran’s Catholic heritage.

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

Dan Halloran (left) receiving the endorsement of the Queens County GOP. (Photo courtesy Queens County Republicans)

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.”

Not once in the statement does Halloran mention the terms “Heathen,” “Theodish,” or “Pagan.”  A fact that soured many in the Heathen community to Halloran, believing that they were “thrown under the bus” so he could win the election. 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.”

However, it now seems like Halloran may be willingly (if unwittingly) opening the “black box” of his religion by attacking one of his potential Democratic opponents in the upcoming congressional race. In an interview with the Jewish political blog Gestetner Updates, Halloran praises Assemblyman Rory Lancman as his toughest potential opponent, but also claims his voting record doesn’t reflect his personal faith.

“Unfortunately his voting record does not match his personal commitment to his faith,” he said. “He was on the opposite side of gay marriage; opposite side of abortion; and the opposite side on the issues of school vouchers, and tax credits and incentives for those who use private schools to educate our young children.”

In short, Halloran kinda implied that Lancman may be a bad Jew when it comes to these issues, echoing the criticisms of conservative New York Jews. That may seem like good politics when you’re trying to win over moderate and conservative Jews, but it also opens the “black box” of his own religion, making him fair game for similar questions and statements. Considering the fact that the Village Voice has already attacked Halloran for being a hypocrite, specifically on the question of abortion, it doesn’t seem wise to run on abortion and same-sex marriage.

“In early 2011, a legislative fight emerged in New York City over anti-abortion “pregnancy centers” advertising abortion counseling when they don’t actually offer abortions. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn introduced a bill that would force such organizations to advertise that they don’t perform abortions and to disclose if they have any medical staff on hand.  […] Quinn’s bill would eventually pass overwhelmingly in the council without Halloran’s vote. According to Little Neck Patch, Halloran “did not see the issue . . . as a part of the decades-old debate over abortion rights.” (Still, through a spokesman, he also noted “the Council member is pro-life.”) […] The episode infuriated some of Halloran’s former followers, who not only had known him to be pro-choice, but also to be “pro-abortion to nearly the point of endorsing infanticide,” as one put it.

The Voice piece quotes Halloran at length defending abortion within the context of his faith, and while I publicly criticized the piece for crossing the line, this new interview now partially undercuts my argument that “too much is made of his faith, and in improper contexts.”

I can only think of three possibilities for why Halloran has decided to bring up same-sex marriage and abortion in the context of a potential opponent’s religion: that it was a mistake, that he felt it was a calculated risk worth the potential blowback, or he’s hoping to preemptively make the religion question moot by muddying the waters now, instead of during the general election. Whatever the reason, it just seems risky to open yourself up for attack after you’ve spent years saying your religion isn’t an issue for public debate or commentary.

In the coming weeks I’ll be highlighting a two-part guest commentary from our resident Theodism expert Nick Ritter on what Theodism is and isn’t, and the political career and congressional candidacy of Dan Halloran from a Theodish perspective. I feel that as this campaign heats up, it will be important to talk to voices who can bring more light to the issues that will no doubt be raised regarding religion. In the meantime you can listen to my podcast featuring Nick Ritter and PNC-Minnesota reporter Cara Schulz on Halloran’s congressional run. I fear we’re going to be hearing a lot about Halloran’s faith in the mainstream media come November, and we should be prepared for what that might mean for the broader Pagan and Heathen communities.

Welcome to the latest installment of a new supplemental feature here at The Wild Hunt, The Wild Hunt Podcast (focus groups loved the name). This weekly podcast will take a deeper look at stories, links, and personalities that I feature in my daily updates. In this second episode of The Wild Hunt Podcast we chat with PNC Managing Editor Cara Schulz and resident Theodism expert Nick Ritter about the congressional candidacy of New York City Councilman Dan Halloran. Then, in the second segment, we interview folklorist and anthropologist Dr. Amy Hale about her recently-published paper “John Michell, Radical Traditionalism and the Emerging Politics of the Pagan New Right.” Finally, I speak briefly with Occupy Eugene activist Alley Valkyrie about separating your private life from the high-profile activism you’re known for.

Alley Valkyrie. Photo by Rob Sydor.

Alley Valkyrie. Photo by Rob Sydor.

You can listen to, and download, the episode at Archive.org.

Segment Listing:

  1. Intro
  2. “Psychopsis” by The Shroud from their album “In the Garden.”
  3. Talk with Nick Ritter and Cara Schulz about Dan Halloran’s candidacy.
  4. “I Can See Now (Live)” by Dead Can Dance from “Live Happenings IV.”
  5. Interview with Dr. Amy Hale about her Pomegranate article.
  6. “Beltane” by Seventh Harmonic from their album “Garden of Dilmun.”
  7. Interview with Occupy Eugene activist Alley Valkyrie.
  8. Outro

Relevant Links:

I hope you enjoy the show, stay tuned for next time where I’ll discuss chants, pilgrimages, and other journeys.