Archives For Thor’s Hammer

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

Now then, on to the top ten…

Dan Halloran

Dan Halloran

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

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

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court

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

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

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

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

Listing of BISAC codes.

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

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

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

Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and members of Ásatrúarfélagið.

Ásatrúarfélagið.

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

Olivia Robertson

Olivia Robertson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starhawk. Photo by Matt Fitt, Santa Cruz IMC.

Starhawk, noted activist and author of “The Spiral Dance,” took to Facebook to speak out on the verdict in the Trayvon Martin murder trial, and to also speak more broadly about race, and “stand your ground” laws. She initially posted: “I’m enraged and heartsick at the injustice of the Zimmerman verdict. I stand with the black leadership and their allies calling for a Department of Justice investigation, for an end to racial profiling, and the end of the dangerous laws that encourage vigilantes to target anyone they consider ‘other’ with impunity! So much work to do!” Then, followed up to expand on her previous statement. Quote: “I am indeed heartsick and enraged at how many young women are given long sentences for fighting back against their abusers. But people, both those cases underline one of the core ways racism and patriarchy work–by defining who gets to use violence and who does not [...] I advocate nonviolence. But nonviolence is not passivity. It calls us to actively acknowledge that racism and patriarchy are deep, inherent, endemic forms of perpetual violence that infuse our society deeply, and will take much thought and work and courage to transform.” She finished by addressing critics who would rather she focus on “spiritual stuff” rather than her activist work by noting that “this IS my spiritual stuff.”

pent-o-clockA new Pagan-themed community television program and videocast has launched, with a mission of serving Pagans in Oregon while also covering national and international Pagan news. Called “The Pent O’Clock News” the 30-minute program will air on Salem’s CCTV Channel 23 and Corvallis’ CCAT 29 television stations. Quote: The monthly show includes stories on the national and international level that impact our Pagan Community. The focus of the show is on news about the Pagan Community in Oregon. Hosted by Oregon Pagans Carl Neal and Michelle Hawkins [...] The show is an opportunity not only to more deeply connect Oregon’s Pagan Community, but it is also an opportunity to introduce ourselves to our non-Pagan neighbors. Understanding begins with knowledge and it is hoped that both Magick Moment and The Pent O’Clock News can help to provide that knowledge.” The Pent O’Clock News joins other Pagan-themed community television programs like Keepers of the Flame in Connecticut, along with several ongoing Pagan videocasts

a2514629697_2Pagan singer-songwriter Sharon Knight has released her new album “Neofolk Romantique.” Quote: “A collection of Celtic traditional and original songs ranging from romantic and fanciful to dark and brooding. Faery lore, lively jigs, and haunting ballads of pirates, murder, love, death, and the quest for poetic inspiration, sung by a feisty redhead. Comes with a 21-page booklet of lyrics and song notes.” This is Knight’s first solo album since 2005′s “Song of the Sea,” though she’s hasn’t been idle in those intervening years, releasing an album with her band Pandemonaeon in 2010, and two album of chants with T. Thorn Coyle in 2008 and 2009. Sharon Knight will be hitting the road to promote her new album at the end of July, which includes a stop at the Faerieworlds Festival in Eugene, Oregon, where she’ll be sharing a stage with Pagan-friendly artists like Omnia and S.J. Tucker. In a recent interview Knight said that she’s already working on her next album, a collaboration with her husband Winter. Quote: “I am finishing up my next album with my husband Winter. He is my main collaborator and a fantastic musician [...] over the years we have developed such an outstanding rapport, we practically read each others’ minds in the studio, it is such a great working relationship, I can’t imagine doing this without him.”

Nora Cedarwind Young

Nora Cedarwind Young

Back in March I reported that that Circle Sanctuary Priestess, Death Midwife, chaplain, and Green Burial advocate Nora Cedarwind Young is terminally ill, and wasn’t expected to live for much longer. However, Young has beaten the estimates and predictions, and is still with us. This happy news has created a financial crisis for Young and her family as they deal with ever-increasing medical bills and a fundraiser has been started to help them cover the costs. Quote: “One of Nora’s favorite adages, “The gift you give is the gift you get!” is the theme for our efforts here.  This amazing and beloved priestess has stayed with us much longer than anyone thought possible!  Nora has been somewhat stabilized with a strict routine of medicines and wound care, but the cost of such endeavors, as you can imagine, has been quite a burden on the couple, even though they have insurance. The intent of this fundraiser is to alleviate the extreme stress they have been under by providing some financial help for the non-covered costs that have accumulated, and cover additional treatments, like intravenous vitamin and mineral therapies, that Nora says really make a difference in how she feels.” If Nora Cedarwind Young has touched your life, please consider helping out.

In Other Pagan Community News:

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

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking [...] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s [...]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

On May 10th I reported that the Thor’s Hammer (aka Mjölnir) emblem was approved for veteran’s headstones and grave markers by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Since then, more details have been slowly emerging as to how the approval came about. We know that the listing went up on May 2nd, and thanks to a statement sent to The Wild Hunt from the Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth we now know the circumstances of the emblem’s approval.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

“Due to a number of inquires regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs approval of the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem as one of the “Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers” I have decided to write the following statement to try and answer everyone’s questions. Please note, that at the request of the Departed’s Family, I am withholding the last name and location of the grave markers.

The departed’s name is Shane, he was an Odinist and a Sargent in the United States Marine Corp. He was a Loyal Brother and Comrade to me personally for many years here in Midgard and although not a member of the OR, he was close with members of The Northern Winds Hearth and joined us in Blot and Sumbel on many occasions. Shane had passed from Midgard in August of 2012. After his Bael and Burial Ceremonies were held, I discussed with his Mother about the gravestone marker Emblems and how the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem was not on the approved list with the VA, even with the previous efforts made by others to get approved.

It was then that her quest began to submit a request to the VA to get the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem approved. She had written a lengthy heart felt letter to the VA with the request for the approval so her son may have an Emblem of Faith representative of his Beliefs on his gravestone. At this time she also requested that her Husband Mark’s headstone also bear the same Emblem for he practiced and lived by the same core teachings and virtues of Odinism, as their Son did. The VA required that she submit: (1) A three-inch diameter digitized black and white representation; (2) Free of copyright or trademark restrictions, or authorized by the owner for use and publication on the list of publicly available emblems; and (3) Reproducible in a production-line environment in stone or bronze without loss of graphic quality. At that time I enlisted the assistance of Comrades within the OR who were more then willing to assist her with this request.

After the VA accepted the image that was provided the waiting game began. She had made countless phone calls and sent numerous e-mails regarding the status of the request. Finally after all of her tireless efforts she received a letter from the VA dated May 2, 2013 advising her of the approval and that both Shane and Mark’s headstones that currently do not have any Emblem of Faith on them, would be replaced with new headstones inscribed with the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem. Although it is with sadness and a heavy heart that this came about, a great step forward has taken place for the Odinist and Asatru communities. From our loss a Great Victory has arisen that will positively affect us all for generations to come! Hail to the Fallen, Hail Shane and Mark! Hail to Shane’s Mother for Her Dedication and Perseverance! Hail to all of Our Service Men and Women! Past, Present, and Future!

FFF/HTR Haakon “Hawk” AOR Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth, AOR”

I’d like to thank Hawk for sending us this information, so that we can know the story, and who we have to thank for this advance for all Pagan and Heathen veterans. In addition, several groups like The Troth, Lady Liberty League, and the Open Halls Project have also released statements on this victory. I think this statement from the Heathen group Hrafnar sums up the general sentiments well.

“Today, Hrafnar stands with heathens across the US in pride as the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has approved the Thor’s Hammer as an emblem to put on the headstones of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. The greater acceptance of our faith anywhere is a victory for all of us, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

Today, Hrafnar also stands with heathens across the US in sorrow: such recognition can only be made after the death of one who has been sworn to that service. The death of one of us is a loss for us all, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

Hail the fallen! Hail the heathens!”

As for the future, we now clearly know how future Pagan symbols will be approved. Susan Granquist of Irminsul Ættir and the Our Freedom Coalition sent me this reminder for all Pagan veterans and their families.

“We, as an organization, recommend that veterans make sure that they include their desire to have that particular symbol on their headstones in their wills, and to make sure that their legal representatives have documentation and authority to make sure it is placed on the headstone.”

So if you are a Pagan, Heathen, or polytheist, who has served, or is serving, in the US military, please make arrangements now so that your preferred religious symbol can be approved for your gravestone or marker. If you need help, reach out to organizations like the Lady Liberty League, or your preferred national Pagan organization, to make sure everything is in order. Let’s ensure that all our fallen receive their proper honor.

In 2007, after a decade-long struggle, Pagan and Wiccan organizations succeeded in getting the Pentacle approved for military veteran headstones and markers. After that victory, in July of 2007, a rally was held to start the push for two more symbols: the Druid Awen and the Heathen Thor’s Hammer. Two Heathen organizations, The Troth and the Asatru Folk Assembly, were represented at that rally, and from it a wider movement to get the Thor’s Hammer approved emerged. Now, after a six-year journey which included some inter-organizational tensions within the Heathen community and a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs rule change, it appears the symbol has finally been approved.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

The updated emblems list is the only place where this addition is noted. There’s no media release, news story, or even blog post that I’ve been able to find about this development. So I have no way of knowing when, exactly, the official approval went through. I have sent a note to The Troth for an official statement on this victory.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders. Photo: Witchvox

Until we find out more, here’s a relevant quote from Diana Paxson, an Elder in The Troth, written in the wake of the Pentacle Quest and the 2007 July 4th rally.

“America has always been noted for creativity, in religion as in all else. Each new faith, whether immigrant or homegrown, enriches our culture. Today, when Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques may be found in many parts of the U.S., one might wonder why the VA denied a Wiccan veteran the right to have a pentacle on his headstone for ten years, and the Army has still not hired a Pagan chaplain. Paganism does not seek to replace other religions, but Pagan perspectives can revitalize the ways in which we relate to our history, our ancestors, and especially, in this time of climate crisis, to the environment. Rather than resisting, America should welcome the Pagan contribution to our cultural diversity.”

For now, congratulations to all Heathens and Asatruar on this amazing victory! Forward to the Awen! If you or a loved one are a Heathen veteran and want the Thor’s Hammer for a headstone or marker, you can find ordering information at the VA website.

ADDENDUM: The Troth has released the following statement.

“To our knowledge, current procedure to add an emblem of faith to a military headstone requires that the next of kin for a deceased Veteran request it. Josh Heath, of the Open Halls Project, has requested information in writing from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, but at this time we do not know who the Heathen service member was. In Heathen tradition, we greatly honor our slain warriors and offer Blóts and Fainings to them as the Einherjar, those warriors collected by Odin and Freya to take to their halls in Asgard. We are ever grateful to this fallen service member, both for their sacrifice to our country and for requesting Mjöllnir, or the Thor’s Hammer, for their headstone. We solemnly anticipate the time we can honor this newest of the Einherjar by name.”

As readers of this blog may know, there was a large Pagan rally in Washington D.C. on July 4th to celebrate the Veteran Pentacle Quest win, and to work towards true Pagan equality within the military.

“Help us voice a further agenda for Pagan Religious Rights: We want a Pagan chaplain in the U.S. Armed Forces. And we need to keep the focus on the Department of Veterans Affairs to accept Thor’s Hammer, religious emblem of the Asatruar, and the Druids’ Awen symbol … While we have won the quest for the Veterans’ Pentacle, the Pentacle is a single victory in the longer campaign for universal religious freedom. We need to hold a clear intent: we want to further the free expression of all religions, Pagan and otherwise. And we need to send that message now, while America still remembers that a department of the federal government systematically denied Wiccan soldiers their full rights.”

In the days that have followed there have been some reports from the event, news stories, and other media of interest to people following this new pan-Pagan effort. First off, Stars and Stripes ran a very nice article about a dedication ceremony for the first Pentacle-incribed headstone at Arlington National Cemetary.

“The Rev. Selena Fox said Wednesday wasn’t the first time she visited a Wiccan’s grave site at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It was just the first time one was identified that way. “This is the first time the Christian cross and Wiccan pentacle have both been engraved on a tombstone here, and it’s great news for us,” said the senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, a Wisconsin Wiccan community. “It’s recognition we’ve fought for for so long.” On Wednesday Fox, members of her congregation and other pagans held a consecration ceremony at the grave site of Jan Deanna, a Wiccan minister who passed away more than two years ago.”

The Rev. Barry Lynn (executive director for Americans United) interviewed several participants in the July 4th rally for his radio show “Culture Shocks”. Guests included Diana Paxson, Rev. J. Michael Akins, Rev.Selena Fox and Caroline Kenner. You can download an Mp3 of the entire show at this link.

Finally, author and ritualist Diana Paxson has also written an initial post-mortem of the rally on her blog.

“I’m still pretty jazzed by how well the Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Lafayette Square Park (across from the White House!) came off. This was a real pagan interfaith operation, and provided an opportunity to do some extremely useful networking regarding heathen military work…”

She (and AFA head Steve McNallen) are now looking for a relative of a deceased Heathen veteran so they can start the process of applying for the Thor’s Hammer symbol for military headstones and markers.

“I also had the chance to talk to Steve McNallen. One thing we all agree on is that the Hammer should be added to the VA list of faith-symbols, however for that to happen, someone’s kin have to apply for a tombstone. Our gods have been taking very good care of our serving personnel, and I’d like that situation to continue, so what we need is to find the next-of-kin of a deceased veteran who served in an earlier war who is willing to petition the VA for a heathen tombstone. If anyone knows of such a person, I can put them in touch with those who will be able to tell them what to do next.”

So it looks like this rally has given an important start to further activism towards expanding the freedoms afforded modern Pagans within the military (and in general). As always, if you know of any pictures or reports from the rally please post about them in the comments.

David L. Hudson Jr. at the First Amendment Center reports on a recent legal case in which an imprisoned adherent to Asatru (Nordic Paganism) won the right to wear a Thor’s Hammer pendant. Even more remarkable is the fact that the prisoner, Forest Fisher, represented himself in court.

“Inmate Forest Fisher sued the Virginia Department of Corrections (VDOC) and various prison officials after they denied his request for Thor’s Hammer, while allowing inmates of other religions to wear various medallions. Fisher, who proceeded pro se – without an attorney – contended that these actions violated his First Amendment to freely exercise his religious faith, the federal law known as the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and his equal-protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The Virginia Department of Corrections’ case wasn’t helped by the fact that prison officials denied Fisher his legal due process in his applications to wear a Thor’s Hammer.

“However, in his May 25 ruling in Fisher v. Virginia, U.S. Magistrate Michael F. Urbanski took issue with the prison officials’ failure to follow their own procedure in submitting Fisher’s request to the Faith Review Committee … Urbanski stressed that the defendants’ arguments “flatly ignore the fact that Fisher submitted the appropriate paperwork to the appropriate institutional employee for FRC consideration, but that the employee failed to forward his request as required under the VDOC FRC procedures.” Because of this, Urbanski ruled that there were enough disputed factual issues to merit a trial on Fisher’s constitutional claims. He also denied the defendants’ request for qualified immunity, a doctrine that enables government officials to avoid liability for constitutional or statutory violations if they do not violate clearly established rights.”

It is cases like this (and the Veteran Pentacle Quest) that remind you that an unwilling bureaucracy can be just as efficient at denying constitutionally protected rights to its citizens as a tyrannical government. It is especially easy for such things to happen in the American prison system where punishment is emphasized (and often encouraged) over rehabilitation, and the public empathy runs low. If this one Asatruar hadn’t stepped up, the quiet banning of a legitimate religious symbol could have continued for years. If religious freedom doesn’t apply to all of us equally, then we don’t have religious freedom.