You know, sometimes I KNOW it would be better to just leave something alone, but criminently, my dander gets up and I just can’t. So…ranting by Jax.

I haven’t been to journalism school or anything, but I have a few basic ideas about journalistic standards, and as a writer with an English degree, I have a whole lot of ideas about communication. While we here at The Pagan Princesses may not always be fair and balanced (*wink*), we strive to be accurate and coherent. We also try to be very mindful of our audience and how they will receive the things we say and the images we post. Above all we try not to negligently insult people – not that we never have anything negative to say, but we are cognizant of it and try to present our critiques responsibly.

So when the Village Voice ran an article with the title “America’s Top Heathen” and this as its featured image:

Artist Michael Marsicano depicts us as drunken men in badly researched costumes setting fire to dead animals. Yeah... that's SO me.

…to put it mildly, I was less than impressed with their journalism.

The image depicts Dan Halloran, a City Councilman in NYC and a practicing Heathen. As I’m not from from anywhere near NYC, I’ve never met the guy, but word on the Heathen grapevine intimates he’s not the most beloved Heathen of us all, at least not since he got into politics a couple years ago.

But whether or not Halloran is the oath-breaking scumbag the Village Voice’s article makes him out to be (they are clearly not fans at the VV) is not the point I’m tackling here. The point I’m tackling here is that it was irresponsible of the Village Voice to use Halloran’s religion to tear him down. What’s even crazier is that people who bother to read the article* will find it’s full of quotes from Halloran’s old Theod (church) talking about what a bad example of a Heathen he is. So according to the article, he’s the Heathen equivalent of that guy who walks out of a Christian church and starts yelling at a homeless guy to get a job while all the other congregants slap their brows in shame… and yet the paper chose a title that makes it sounds like the rest of us are behind him and an image that makes Halloran the Heathen look like a creepy Ren-Faire reject who sacrifices goats.

Jason Pitzl-Waters over at The Wild Hunt also wrote about this, and he compared it to an image of Michele Bachman which appeared in Rolling Stone. Jason asked if we were pissed about Halloran’s image if we should also be pissed at this image by Victor Juhasz:

I had to think about that question. Obviously, I’m going to have a more visceral reaction to artwork depicting elements of my faith than I would artwork with elements from other faiths – we all do. But I try very hard to not let personal reaction interfere with fair assessments. And I do believe there is a very vital difference here in what the two artists are doing.

In Halloran’s picture, the artist used basic Heathen accouterments (most of which is inaccurate) for his critique, as opposed to the Bachman piece in which the artist used a particular time in history that everybody already knows was bat-guano-crazy for his critique.** Bachman’s piece says, “Bachman is crazy like the Spanish Inquisition!” And Halloran’s says, “Halloran is crazy like a Heathen!” as if merely being Heathen is enough to make you a nutter. Plus the Bachman piece stands alone. I don’t have to read the Rolling Stone article to know exactly what that artist is saying. But without context (and in the era of the Internet, whatever images you put out there are going to be seen without context) the Halloran piece just looks like a scary guy in a robe sacrificing a goat. Oh, and he’s wearing runes, so he’s a Heathen. The Halloran image would work just as well slapped on some incendiary tract trying to scare people into believing Heathens are Satanists (or some other anti-Pagan, anti-witchcraft, anti-Heathen nonsense). That’s irresponsible journalism.

Heathens don’t sacrifice goats (and it’s horribly lazy on the part of the artist to stereotype all minority faiths as goat-sacrificers). We don’t carry tiki torches, and we usually use horns instead of chalices (chalices are more Celtic Recon). Most of us don’t dress in Medieval garb, but some groups do create special attire for their gothi (say go-thee; a Heathen priest, named for the old Norse word for priest or cheiftan) that often is inspired by traditional Scandinavian garb, much like any other church has robes and stoles and what-have-you worn by their clergy. The artist did little to no research and instead relied on stereotypes and a photo of Halloran*** found on the Internet to create an image that made Halloran’s Heathen-ness appear scary and nonsensical – when there’s nothing scary or nonsensical about what we do or what we believe.

We’re such a small and often misunderstood faith, I get frustrated when I feel misrepresented. What do you think, realm? Irresponsible journalism or worthy image?


* And most people, statistically speaking, won’t read the article, but will be left with only the lovely impression of “America’s Top Heathen” as a creeptastic, goat-sacrificing psycho.

** I suppose if you’re pro burning people at the stake and butchering people with swords in the name of your deity, then the Michelle Bachman piece could offend you, but my tolerance for alternative viewpoints only goes so far. If you think I should be set on fire, we’re not friends. Just sayin’.

*** The Post talks about how Halloran is Theodish, a small denomination of Heathenry that’s organized into tightly knit communities (the article calls them tribes). I don’t practice it so I don’t really understand it, but what the Post is describing about a “first aethling” (aethling is an Anglo-Saxon word often translated as “prince”) and whatnot is a Theodish thing and not typical of what most Heathens do. Basically, Theodish groups take Reconstructionism way beyond the rest of us.

Goats in Apenheul Zoo, Netherlands, by Frank Wouters [Goat sez: He drew what? No. Nah-uh. You ain’t sacrificing me! I will knock your butt down the mountain!]