The Sacrifice They Mock

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 6, 2011 — 34 Comments

Several folks have pointed out to me a photo from the May 3rd print edition of the Washington Post. It is a shot of Arlington National Cemetery headlining a section on the death of Osama bin Laden. It, perhaps inadvertently, makes very clear why the military, and all Americans, should take the needs and accommodation of modern Pagan faiths seriously.

“Look in the left foreground of the photo – you will see the Pentacle on VA marker for Wiccan soldier Charles Thomas Heinlein, Jr. at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed in action in Iraq. His grave is in section 60, where many US soldiers killed in wars in Iraq & Afghanistan are buried & honored.”Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

When crude editorials mock Pagan faiths and our equal treatment in the military, when pseudo-historians and Christian pundits claim non-Christians shouldn’t even have constitutional protections, they are, in part, talking about Wiccan soldiers like Charles Thomas Heinlein, Jr. or Sgt. Patrick Stewart. Men who gave their lives in service to the United States. Modern Pagans of all persuasions are part of our everyday society, our fabric of life. We are your coworkers, teachers, friends, and family. When we are “othered,” it has ramifications beyond the editorial page, it leads to rights being delayed, parents risking the loss of their children, and an unspoken tiered system of  religious rights and freedoms being created. Pagans ask for no “special rights” just the equal treatment we are all supposed to enjoy in America, the freedoms and rights our Pagan military personnel served, suffered, and died for.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Nicholas

    So what's the difference between the Washington Post and the Washington Times? Are they two separate publications or are they owned by the same company or what?

    • Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Completely different companies. They compete in the same market. I write for the Washington Post's "On Faith" section.

    • embreis

      The Times was founded in the early '80s by Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church apparently because he thought the Post and other major newspapers were too soft on Communism. It has always been aligned with the religious right, at least on its editorial page.

      • Ruadhan

        Ah, so Milo Bloom was right, and not just stirring up controversy, about Senator Bedfellow being a "Moonie".

  • Nicholas

    Okay, because some of your readers, I think, are getting the two mixed up especially after this last blog post.

    • Diotima

      Think of the New York Times and the New York Post. Two VERY different papers published in the same (big) town. Except, in Washington, DC, the Post is the one that is sort of a real newspaper (Watergate, Woodward and Bernstein, etc.) and the Times is way out in right field (as in founded by Su Myung Moon and his Unification Church).

  • badocelot

    I love how unintentional it looks. That's the kind of "no big deal" we're going for.

    • @Mjausson

      Yeah, it reminds me of the same sex wedding ring radio ads Shreve & Co aired in the Bay Area during the all-too-brief time that California enjoyed legal same-sex marriages. They simply had three different couples testimonials, one of each kind. The word "gay" did not appear. It was so low key, you'd have missed that they were in fact revolutionary unless you noticed the name pairings. I loved it. Totally agree — that's what we want.

      • Gwendolyn H. Barry

        Our “community” includes so many expressions of ‘faith’ and ‘spirituality’…. pagan is just one… and our community, whether identified as metaphysical, spiritual or new age, NOW more than ever really should be stepping into the community and world surrounding us to make a more positive difference. Start the conversation or bring the truth to the public awareness….
        We have to step beyond comfortable inside old boundaries and bring it out among all. People are ready to hear and understand.

  • Stasa

    Blessed be.

  • @Mjausson

    Can anybody see the photo credit? I'd like to know who to thank.

    • Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Bonnie Jo Mount.

      • @Mjausson

        Thanks Jason. Looks like she's the was at Arlington for the funeral of a Marine who died in Afghanistan a couple of days ago. Doesn't say anything about his religion, so he's probably Christian.

        • Sara E. Adrian

          I think too much of a deal is being made of this. The focus is the kids not the stones, and that was probably the best pose of them together… which happened to have a pagan marker in the shot. Cool that it was in there, but I'd put money down that it was a total accident.

          • elnigma

            yes, I think so, too.

          • grimmorrigan

            That is what most of us hope went on. Personally I'm happy the pagan marker happened to be there. It means we have a presence in Arlington and that the fight to get there was worth it. By just happeneing to be there we are no more important or worthy of comment in the general public that all the other markers which happen to be there.

  • Stephanie Selby

    Has anyone outside the Pagan community made comments about this photo? The article itself seems to be discussing the death toll around 9-11 and the Iraq war and not concerned with the differences of faith in the military. I wonder if it will stir up any controversy.

    I have to agree with badocelot here, I also love the casual attitude this photo conveys!

  • grimmorrigan

    Hail Charles Thomas Heinlein, Jr. I look forward to a day when no one thinks that little star is out of place in that field or anywhere else.

  • Ursyl

    Very nicely and eloquently stated.

  • Hecate

    It's nice of the WaPo to run that picture. Meanwhile, as I've noted at my blog, they're busy trying to screw their Pagan employees:
    "Not Christian? Too bad. The Post would eliminate an employees' right to substitute a traditional paid holiday, such as Christmas, for another recognized holiday of their choice."

    • McKenzie

      I can't tell if it's an accident or not. I would LOVE for it to be an accident, really I would. Just… "Oh, look, a normal picture of Arlington."

      • @Mjausson

        That composition is very much on purpose. We tend to "read" images from the top left to the bottom right. When you eye has traveled diagonally across the image, the stone on the bottom right leads the eye to continue across the bottom to the other stone on the left. You'll automatically compare the two and expect them to be more or less identical. When you notice that they're not identical in a small but meaningful way, you wonder if the photo was shot like that on purpose. Is this a secret that the photographer is sharing with you?

        As a pro, the photographer is composing the image to tell this story. On the other hand, we don't know what her thoughts behind it were. Did she even notice that the star on the left had 5 points rather than 6? To you and me the difference between 5 or 6 points is huge but it's quite common for Pagans who wear pentacles to be asked if they're Jewish.

        With the little girls holding hands in their colorful dress, it looks like it's meant to be an image that shows normality, innocence and trust. Is that the narrative that the photographer had in mind when thinking about Pagans in the military? Or was she thinking about Jewish people in the military?

        When we see a shot like this on the front page of the paper, we see it in isolation. But it was taken together with many other photos at the same occasion. Professional news photographers routinely take hundreds of photos a day. When professional photographers and photo editors look at photos for inclusion in a newspaper, they tend to look at them in terms of how successful they are at telling the story that they are meant to illustrate. It's a rather more abstract, conscious and rational way of relating to images than the average newspaper reader.

        But yeah, for me the big question is if the photographer noticed how many points the star had and if she knew what it meant.

        (I'm not repeating the photographer's name here because I don't want to attract the wrong kind of attention to her. My circumspection may be unnecessary but I don't want to find myself accidentally outing somebody.)

        • Hecate

          That's page A4 of WaPo, not the the front page. In DC, that makes a big difference. FP is displayed in every newspaper stand, vending machine, law firm waiting room etc. Page A4, not so much. I know this sounds weird to folks outside of DC, but most DC players never get to Page A4. They've got to move on to the London Times, the LA Times, the WSJ, etc.

          Meanwhile, I agree with your main points. The photographer may have been v unaware of the 5 points and the picture is meant to be read from left to right.

          And, beyond all that, this picture make me happy, weepy, proud, amazed.

          We've come a long way, baby, to get to where we've got to, today.

        • Bookhousegal

          Well, I'm not so sure it's so contrived: depending how much cooperation from the kids was involved: it looks like a crop from the left side of a wide-angle shot, the way the grave markers there seem to be showing some distortion (Appearing to lean) Looks like at least in part, a lucky grab, ..whatever the reason she happened to be by the pentacle marker in the first place, )

          It's good to see the sacrifices of our Pagan troops so recognized, but then again, I wouldn't mind if there wasn't too much need for more of those stones, for anyone. World as it is and all, though, it's good and important to see those there are.

      • Vermillion

        That picture breaks my heart.

      • Ruadhan

        I'd rather it be intentional — just to show that it's no big deal.

  • Makarios

    Jason wrote: 'When we are “othered,” it has ramifications beyond the editorial page, it leads to rights being delayed, parents risking the loss of their children, and an unspoken tiered system of religious rights and freedoms being created.'

    And that's exactly the sort of result that is desired by the bigots who write that sort of editorial, so scolding them won't have any effect. Neither will posting comments on the editorial or sending letters to the editor. How about organizing a boycott of the paper's three largest advertisers until they stop advertising in the Times? And then go after the next three. And the next. And the next. Hit the paper in the pocketbook. That's the only thing they'll listen to. That's how Spocko and Color of Change eventually got Fox to drop Beck. Check it out at the Lake:

    Could the PNC work with some other organizations to put together something like this?

  • Makarios

    A bit of nuance added to my comment immediately above: boycott if necessary, but not necessarily boycott. Other strategies may be preferable, depending on circumstances. See Spocko's comment at

  • Svardkell

    It would be very naive to think that this picture contained a pentagram-marked tombstone by accident. I think photographers are a bit more vain about their images than one might imagine- and far more image-aware than most people realize. I think it was chosen and perhaps staged for impact. A photographer with "pagan" sympathies? One looking for the strange kind of history we're creating these days? Who really cares?

    I like this image, for multiple reasons. I'd have preferred it be less symmetrical; however, to see children in graveyards brings to mind life and death in a way that is very blunt, if uncreative. But the most compelling feature is the image of the endless miles of tombstones- a stomach-turning visual of the tangible cost of the dark monotheistic and fanatical ideologies that inspire war and terror in every age that they have existed. Will those children ever walk on ground NOT filled with bodies? Urð the Mighty alone will tell, though I think she will say "no." Each of the people who lie below once walked just as those children do- and were as innocent of the evil that arose centuries ago, ultimately to end their lives in this day and age.

    Truly, we live menaced by a malevolence which is everywhere present, everywhere apparent, and yet invisible. What monsters might have been killed by the Warder of Man and World in ages before cannot compare to the subtle dragons of the mind that prey on man from within, wolves that disguise themselves in the blood-soaked clothing of friendly sheep. May the Aesir give us wisdom and sword-edge discrimination and strength. May the strength of Ancestors not fail us, now, when we need it the most.

    • Nick_Ritter

      Those monsters he killed in ages past, he is killing yet. This is the nature of myth. It is at once a primal past and an eternally recurring present. The monsters then are the same as the monsters now, I think.

      As for Urðr? "Wyrd gæþ á swá hío scel": Wyrd goeth ever as she shall. We always walk upon the bones of the dead, as others will surely walk upon our bones when we are dead. Things don't change as much as you might think, though thousands of years pass. This can be either terrifying or uplifting, depending on your perspective. Sometimes it's both.

  • Jade

    Reading Svardkell's post is the catalyst for this comment. When we will grow in spirit enough to recognize that EVERYTHING IS CONNECTED (!) and we stop using animals references for things we consider evil? Dragons don't "prey" on minds from within, wolves don't "disguise" themselves in blood-soaked clothing of "friendly sheep." Mother Earth is out of balance due to the pompous attitude of humans who have placed themselves ABOVE every other living, breathing creature or plant, as well as Gaia herself! Look around – animals don't kill for fun or boredom! WE HUMANS ARE THE PROBLEM – no menacing malevolence! It's time we all remember we are a PART of the web – we are not the top of the food chain and in charge of everything. We brag about how powerful we are – as a group, a nation, or country, but that's when Mother Nature says, "Honey, sit down in that chair right there and let me SHOW you what POWERFUL really is!" We're all connected, find the light in yourself and others, and love IS the answer! Blessed Be!

    • Nick_Ritter

      Feh. Svardkell was using traditional poetic imagery, mythological imagery, and this is your response? This hatred of humanity, that I read from you and a few others on this forum at times, strikes me as too intertwined with the doctrine of original sin.

  • Lori Dake

    I saw that pic a little bit ago. I wonder how many folks noticed that.