GRAND OL' PAGAN: What Does the Republican 'Heathen' Running for New York's City Council Actually Believe?
In a photograph from New Normandy's website, Dan Halloran leads a heathen ritual.
Conservative. Republican. Pagan?
It was an odd news story that briefly upended what should have been a sleepy City Council race in Bayside: the Queens Tribune reported that a conservative Republican was running a strong race in the 19th district and had a chance to win in the overwhelmingly Democratic city. But this was a conservative Republican with a difference: Dan Halloran is the spiritual leader of a local pagan group that worships Norse gods.
Although the Tribune's story had no hint of derision for Halloran's religious affiliation, the newspaper was immediately attacked for its perceived ties to Halloran's Democratic opponent. Other publications were quick to defend the Republican lawyer, some sounding offended that a candidate's religion, however unusual, should become a news story during an election.
But Halloran's beliefs are newsworthy. As far as we can tell, he has a chance to become the first pagan elected to political office in the country's history. (He is certainly the first major party candidate approaching an election with his pagan beliefs already made public.) And while pagans have been growing in numbers for decades, the word "pagan" usually conjures nature-worshippers with interests in faeries and magick. What is a conservative Republican doing with the goddess crowd?
In fact, Halloran and his fellow travelers are more properly thought of as "heathens," not pagans, and the tribal customs they ascribe to are heavy on hierarchy and tradition.
As the Tribune first pointed out, Halloran is "First Atheling," or prince, of a Germanic neo-heathenist "theod" or tribe. State records show that he incorporated the group in 2002 with the official name of "New Normannii Reik of Theodish Belief."
Colloquially, Halloran's followers refer to their tribe as "New Normandy," with a territory that incorporates New York City and parts of New Jersey (some of Halloran's Pennsylvania tribesmen recently broke away -- with his blessing -- to form their own group, which they call "Arfstoll Thjod").
After talking with several members of the local theods and looking at what Halloran and others have written, the Germanic neo-heathenism of New Normandy appears to be an inclusive, family-friendly pursuit. Local members enjoy researching history, dressing up, and trying as much as possible to live within the customs and beliefs that one might find in 12th century pagan Denmark while actually living and working in 21st century New York.
But there's also a darker side to the heathenism movement in America. Festering in the country's prisons, white supremacists who call themselves heathens and Odinists (after the chief Norse deity Odin), have for decades preached hate and carried out violence in the name of Norse and Germanic mythic figures -- who also inspired Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler. Hate watchdogs like the Southern Poverty Law Center have long warned about the rise of heathen prison gangs.
Halloran's friends repeatedly assured the Voice that New Normandy has no ties to the white supremacists who practice Odinism.
Halloran himself turned down numerous requests to talk about his beliefs or the group that he leads.