Representing Others: A Lesson From The Fall of Dan Halloran

HomerI’ve been debating on whether or not I should discuss the embarrassment to all Heathens that is the arrest of New York City Councilman Dan Halloran on fraud and bribery charges. If you read other blogs about Heathen or Pagan topics, as I suspect that you do, then you are likely already aware of the situation. If you are not, then the important detail is that he, along with state Sen. Malcolm Smith and four other, are in trouble for trying to rig the mayoral election in favor of Smith. For those who don’t know who Halloran is, he was the head of the Normannii Reik (now the Normannii Thíud), a Théodish group focusing on Normandy. Halloran was at one time a well-known leader within American Heathenry but has pretty much been held in disrepute since his run for office where he turned his back on the Normanii Reik and tried to bury his involvement with Ásatrú, Heathenry, and Théodism by trying to convince Tea Party voters to believe him to be a good Catholic. After his election he then went on to brag on Heathen email lists that he was the highest elected Heathen in America. That didn’t go over very well, as you might imagine. There’s a lot to be said on this subject and I’ll refer you to Swain Wodening’s post on his blog about some of that as Swain knew Halloran and has personal insight that I cannot offer.

I’m not going to go over the indictment of Halloran. That is a matter for the courts. Instead, I’d like to focus on is how this negatively impacts the Heathen and Pagan communities. In an effort to muckrake, Yellow Journalism sites like Gawker and The Village Voice have trotted out insulting depictions and mockery of Heathenry regarding Halloran, making this about his religion more than the charges against him. They do not, as you might expect, discuss the religion of any of the other men on the indictment. With regards to the charges against him, Halloran’s religion, whatever it might really be, is not relevant but that doesn’t stop it from being trotted out all the same. As members of a religious minority with beliefs and practices that are very different from the mainstream, it is very easy to target us, especially because there really isn’t a whole lot of reprisal we are capable of when such malignant and idiotic treatment is directed at us. We can run the risk of getting covered in the muck they are raking up by speaking out in the comments areas on sites that do this, but for the most part we know that it is either going to be ignored by others or just degenerate into a shit-slinging argument with some belligerent troll. This kind of muckraking and outrage is also the kind of link-bate that the sites try to generate (and is the reason I have not linked to their articles). Just mentioning their names is bad enough in the Age of Google.

It is this kind of situation that we all need to be aware of when we make our troth known to others. Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not pissing and moaning about how impotent we are and how we just don’t get any respect. No, I am not going to go into that sort of mewling diatribe. I only bring it up because it is important to understand the situation so that we can be better prepared to address it. There are not that many of us when compared to more “conventional” (read: better known) religious communities. This means that if you are open about your faith, then you are likely the only one of us that most of the people you know will know. You are an ambassador for all of Heathenry, be it Ásatrú, Théodism, Irminism, Forn Sed, etc., to those around you. Even to groups that are more receptive to us, there is a good chance that you might be the only Heathen in the group. The entirety of our troth is judged by your actions. That is a heavy burden to bear.

Many years ago, I was involved in several Neo-Pagan discussion groups in the Atlanta area. I was the only Ásatrúar to regularly attend these meetings. Once in a while someone else would show up, but that was rare. I can say that I learned a lot about what it means to be an ambassador for Heathenry because of those groups. I wasn’t nearly as calm a person then as I am now. While I tried to be respectful, courteous, and polite I wasn’t always able to do so. While I know that there are people who have a positive opinion of Heathenry because of what I presented to them in the way of lectures and presentations, there are also others that have a negative impression because I wasn’t always so kind, gentle, or understanding. Sometimes I was downright an asshole. There are people today who still have a bad opinion of Ásatrú because of me. This is not something I can correct with them but it is something I am much more aware of today and it influences the way I do things.

In the case of Dan Halloran, it doesn’t matter one bit if he is convicted or not. It doesn’t even matter if he’s Heathen or not any more. The association is there and the impression has been made in the minds of many due to unwarranted depiction of his previous involvement with Heathenry and that impression is not good. We might be able to educate some people by calmly discussing how the crimes he is accused of go against Heathen beliefs. It is an effort worth trying, even if the quagmire you have to wade in to is so repulsive. Whether or not you choose to comment somewhere on a story where Halloran’s involvement with Heathenry is mentioned it is advisable to always remember that you represent all of use to the people you meet. Your actions, your words, and even your appearance will set expectations and beliefs about who we are, what we believe, and what we are like.


Comments

Representing Others: A Lesson From The Fall of Dan Halloran — 13 Comments

  1. Admittedly, this situation has brought a lot of attention to Heathenry. But to me, this politician denounced our gods to gain his position, and so he is no Heathen at all, but an oath-breaker who exchanged his beliefs for power… and thus he is getting what he deserves.

    • I’m not disinclined towards this interpretation. In truth, I’m less concerned about what happens to Halloran than what we can all learn from this mess. Whether he has kept troth or not really doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that we should all be aware how our actions reflect upon the wider Heathen world. If we make asses and fools of ourselves then it is likely that we will permanently taint our community in the eyes of outsiders. It’s a matter of reputation and we all know that a good reputation is hard to get and harder to keep.

  2. It upsets me that he felt he needed to claim, or whatever, to be a Christian in order to run for public office. But on second thought you probably wouldn’t get elected if you were openly Heathen. It would be nice to see someone try.

    • There is a lot that is unfortunate about this whole thing. That’s why I’m hoping we can all learn something from this. There is a lot I want to say on this subject but so much of it might come off as bashing the man. I don’t know him. I don’t know the truth of a lot of things. That’s part of why I referred to Swain Wodening’s post on the matter. Instead of going on about “this is what you get when…” I would rather spend my time thinking about what we can learn and what this debacle means for all of us. I do believe that there will come a day when we can run for office and be open about our faith. Part of how we get there is by realizing that we all have to set good examples because each and every one of us, from the most experienced to the newest, pretty much speaks for everyone when dealing with people who didn’t even know we existed a few minutes before.

  3. I think the whole case with Halloran shows us just how important it is to remember our actions affect others as well as ourselves. Dan had the chance to use his running for office for the good of Heathenry. He could have been open and honest about his religion from the beginning, and calmly explained what his faith was and was not. Instead, while he did not hide it, he was not exactly open about it either. He did not build a good relationship with the press, and when he got outed as a Heathen, he tried to make it appear he was a good Catholic. That reflected badly on all of us. It makes it appear that any of us, when confronted with our religion, when ridiculed for it, will abandon it or make it appear to be something it is not. I think more than anything that has been what has gotten our faith ridiculed, the fact that Dan was so quick to throw it to the wayside. While Heathenry may have been portrayed in a bad light by some had Dan done the right thing and explained his faith in detail, I do not think it may have been nearly as bad.

    Now, I do not know about these latest accusations, whether he is guilty or not. That is for the courts to decide. But I do know about his behavior during his campaign for city councilman. And I also know how it could affect those of us that are Heathen and always will be. I think all we can do at this point is be steadfast, and explain to the best of our ability what our religion is and is not. That is the best we can do.

    • Thank you, Swain. You’re spot on about how he should have interacted with the media. That he threw everything away to get elected is disturbing. In the end, I think there is a lot we can learn from this and how our actions effect others. It’d be easy to heap scorn on Halloran but I think that if we do that then we miss the important lessons for us. His reputation is shot, regardless of guilt, so I prefer to think of this as a reminder about the value of a good reputation. I think the word in Anglo-Saxon is gefræge and commonly modernized to gefrain, and please correct me on that if I’m wrong. I learned it as the Old Norse frægr, meaning to be well known in a positive way. This is what I’d like everyone to take away from this whole mess. Our reputations, as individuals and as a community, requires us to be honest and forthright. When we live up to good values then we show others that we are good people and this is how we will work past any bias in society.

  4. I agree. I think we need to keep in mind that even the appearance of indiscretion can hurt Heathenry especially when we are running for a position like city councilman or hold an position of power like that. That means we should remain true to our faith, and try to portray it as best we can, and keep our own deeds above reproach. I have to agree with you,that when we live up to the values of Heathenry then others will see that, and it will help work past any bias others may have. I think had Halloran done that, and kept in mind how his own deeds might reflected on Heathenry, none of this would have happened. There would still have been scoffers, but Heathenry could have been seen in so much more of a positive light. Now, I fear many in NYC may see it more like a joke, something easily put aside by corrupt men when something better comes along. I hope I am wrong. Anyway, I am hoping this whole situation with Dan will be a lesson for those Heathens that choose to run for office on what not to do. Indeed, I think it can be a lesson for all of us. One’s gefræge or gefrain (you are right by the way on the terms) should always be above reproach. I know I wish I had heeded that myself in the past too.

    • There are things I wish I had done differently in the past, to be sure. I look back at the person I was a decade ago and am embarrassed by how easily provoked I was. I would love to tell that boy the things I’ve come to learn since then. Being married for almost 4 years now has helped that a lot too. I’ve had to learn to live up to our values even more than I thought because those values have made me into a better man and husband. When dealing with others, especially if they know I’m Heathen, I have to be mindful of the standard I set for others. I do not want someone I don’t even know, and may never know, to suffer indignity because of my stupidity. That would be a great shame and not one I am willing to bear.

      • I am the same way. There are far too many things in the past I regret. But I strived to change, and to become the Heathen I should have been all along. There comes a time when you have to walk the talk. Now, I try to be more thoughtful of others as well as lead a clean life. And I feel much better about myself for it. I have even tried to make amends for many of the things that I did in the past that hurt others which is not always easy.

    • Thank you for the correction. It is good to know that it didn’t completely disappear after all. I had the worst time finding any evidence of its continued existence. I realize the main problem with that was all the dead links and not the right search parameters. I would like to ask for clarification. Would it be accurate to say that the Normannii Reik was replaced by the Normannii Thiud or was it just an organizational name change? I will go ahead and make the correction.

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