I’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.