Interview with Thor Halvorsen, Activist for the Rights of Deaf Pagans

Having being visited by what I later can only describe as Odin, when I was four years old, I learned that there was more to existence than what I was being shown. I was about four and I woke up seeing an electric blue shape of a bird pecking at my left wrist. I woke up a little more and noticed I could see through it. I then felt/saw what I can only describe as a chuckle from a similarly-hued figure that was leaning on the dresser and had a much brighter right eye (but this light was more like a spark inside of a socket as opposed to the very sharp eye that was looking at me from the left eye). I basically grew scared and thrust the covers over my head. I felt something like a pat on the head (almost paternal) and then I noticed I had to use the restroom. So I peeked and the figure was gone. I had no idea who that figure was until I heard some of the old stories my Norwegian family members were telling about the Gods and Goddesses of Norse mythology.

Then having later met my Wiccan teacher, I discovered I liked what Wicca was about (such as self-responsibility, and respect for the world, and balance). I also liked the fact that I, for once, felt the spirituality of things and places, just like I did when I was a kid playing in the grass, having butterflies land on my open hand—which marveled my dad quite a bit; he still tells stories about that. I also felt more than ever that I was on the right path, with my heart directing me where to go. I've always felt that if a Goddess or God had a mission for you, She or He would make it known to you, yourself, first of all.

You know you are on the right path when communication happens, and you find all the skills you've picked up along the way are finally being utilized and expanded upon.

I think that communication you're talking about is the dearest, most precious part of any faith. It's what keeps it alive; what drives it. That's the fuel for the spiritual ardor that is so fundamental toward learning to love and serve the Gods well. Anyway, can you tell me a little bit about the work that you're doing now for Deaf Pagans and Heathens.

Right now I am working to establish both awareness and a working lexicon within the community, from the community itself; I'm working to formulate a working vernacular for Deaf Pagans that emphasizes and expresses the world-view of Pagans, and at the same time is both religiously and culturally relevant but also reflects the Deaf world view.  I am also working to do work in the greater Pagan community to play a role, albeit a small one, in contributing to the present and future of Paganism, to leave it a little bit better than I found it. 

Why is this work so crucial?

This work is crucial because to discuss other religious views outside of Christianity, and to cultivate an understanding of other religions from their perspective and to simply know about other religions, you need to be able to have a way to talk about them and also have means to describe concepts that are outside the experience of those coming from different religious backgrounds. You need a vernacular to build knowledge about other religions and the religious experience itself. From this education comes tolerance and the freedom to choose your own religious path. 

If you don't want a given population to have other religions, you create an erasure effect, by not acknowledging the existence and validity of that religion in the language itself. If there is no concept or vocabulary for that religion, then well, it doesn't exist within conversations and eventually it doesn't even exist within the realm of thought itself! I cannot tell you how often I am asked how come ASL doesn't have signs for stuff relating to Paganism. I get asked this all the time by people who are even yet surprised that Deaf people have signs for sexuality and sexual concepts, but nothing about say Paganism, Buddhism, etc. To me, the situation is far from satisfactory. ASL is a valid, complete language, and the concepts can be signed via ASL, but congruency and representation of the concepts into the whole "consciousness" of the language is what is absent—the erasure and lack of awareness.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

When you factor in the erasure effect, whereby lots of folks equate the religious experience for Deaf as being limited to Christianity, well, folks like me are like aliens out of left field. There isn't a concept in their world-view for Deaf Pagans, or even Deaf people who aren't Christian. It is assumed that if you go to a Deaf religious service, it is at a Deaf Christian church. So, I have the uphill battle of first clarifying that (a) there are religions outside of Christianity, (b) then I have to explain why I chose not to be Christian, then (c) I have to explain why I am not a Satanist, and finally (d) what Paganism really is, and that it is not make-believe...sadly, often in that order. But truth be known, many Deaf folks go to Deaf churches to socialize, and many do not even have true religious experiences outside of that identification and socialization.

2/25/2011 5:00:00 AM
  • Pagan
  • Highway to Hel
  • American Sign Language
  • Disabilities
  • Deaf
  • Language
  • Paganism
  • Galina Krasskova
    About Galina Krasskova
    The author of several books on the Northern Tradition, Galina Krasskova is a Heathen priest, shaman, and devotee of Odin. She blogs at Gangleri's Grove.