For the second time in five years, Ft Hood, Texas is the site of a mass shooting by a lone gunman. For the second time in five years, military members, dependents, and area residents must deal with the emotional aftermath. Among them are members of the military’s first officially recognized Pagan congregation, the Ft. Hood Open Circle.
“We still have to go to work here every day. How do I help my congregation do that?” asks Ft. Hood Open Circle Designated Faith Group Leader, Michele Morris.
The Ft. Hood Open Circle is comprised of up to 100 active duty soldiers, dependents, and military retirees. They, like other military communities, have endured repeated overseas deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. For them, coming back to Ft Hood isn’t just coming back to a job. It’s coming home.
Designated Faith Group Leader (DFGL) Michele Morris understands how challenging recovering from this incident will be. “The most difficult aspect of this is that many soldiers have deployed, some several times. This is supposed to be home, where they’re safe, and can recover from the emotional stress of deployment. When something like this happens, you lose that feeling of being safe at home.”
Emotional, spiritual, and mental assistance for area Pagans dealing with the effects of April 2nd’s shooting, in which 4 soldiers were killed and 16 were injured, comes from several quarters. The military, DFGL Morris, Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, and a team of volunteer Pagan counselors are working to provide assistance for Ft. Hood Pagan community members.
DFGL Morris, ‘boots on the ground’ assistance
DFGL Morris, a civilian, describes herself as a “full time minister, a full time student, and a full time mother.” She’s been leading the Open Circle since February of 2009, just months before the earlier mass shooting where 13 people were killed and 30 injured. Her background is in mental health and she’s currently in college working toward a degree in social work. Normally her role at Ft. Hood primarily uses her skills as a High Priestess and ordained minister, but with last week’s shooting she’s using every tool she has to help her Circle.
Upon hearing the news last Wednesday that there was an active shooter, Morris got word out to those in the Open Circle to not come onto the post as Ft. Hood was in lock down. Then, using her phone and social media, she tracked down her congregation to make sure they were accounted for and safe. She quickly assessed her community’s immediate needs and offered her support. Thankfully no one in Ft. Hood’s Open Circle was physically injured. Her next move was to ensure that the planned Pagan retreat, scheduled to start on Friday, and last through the weekend, was still a go. It was.
DFGL Morris said the retreat allowed Open Circle members the chance to come together in privacy and begin to heal. The retreat was held in tents adjoining the grassy, outdoor worship area set aside for the Open Circle at Ft. Hood. They physically and spiritually rebuilt the stone circle surrounding their worship area. They purged themselves of grief and strengthened community bonds. “Through ritual, Ft Hood Pagans have a way to process grief that otherwise wouldn’t be available,” says Morris.
Morris was able to make something else available, a way to connect to Pagan counselors, organized by Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary. While the military offers extensive and caring counseling services, “The military resources are soldier specific. What Circle Sanctuary offers is Pagan specific,” says Morris.
Circle Sanctuary offers assistance
Just as she had five years ago, Rev. Selena Fox, immediately reached out to DFGL Morris and offered Circle Sanctuary’s help. Rev.Fox assembled a team of seven Circle Sanctuary ministers and ministers-in-training to be available to Ft. Hood Pagans through phone consultations. Confidentiality and anonymity is of paramount concern and Rev. Fox says all the counselors understand this.
Due to Rev. Fox and Circle Sanctuary’s long association with Ft. Hood Pagans in particular and military Pagans in general, Fox knows the complex dynamic specific to counseling military members, “Most people don’t understand the constant stress military deployments cause, then you add a trauma like this, and they still have to do their jobs. They do it without complaint and they don’t normally ask for help.”
Rev. Fox says providing support early is crucial, as it creates a solid framework for healing. Feeling alone and not connected complicates trauma.
In addition to standing ready to counsel Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, Rev. Fox has been offering support to Pagans who have family members stationed at FT. Hood or who formerly were stationed there.
How other Pagans can help
Rev. Fox says it’s important for Pagans to pray for the soldiers and their families. Another thing she stressed was the need for Pagan groups to discuss how they honor military Pagans, “Warriors in Native American cultures are both honored and visible. Pagans can look at their religious ancestors and find out how warriors were honored and bring those traditions and practices back.” She says too often Pagan warriors are invisible or feel they need to keep that part of their life private. Having community support, when honored or acknowledged, is what sticks in their minds and helps them heal from any trauma they may have experienced while serving their country.
A long road to recovery
Although the counselors haven’t yet received a call from Ft. Hood’s Pagan community, DFGL Morris says this isn’t unusual, “Some experience the stress right away, for others it takes a while for the shock to subside.”
Rev. Fox agrees, “Sometimes people need to talk in the first 24 to 48 hours, sometimes they don’t feel the need to talk for weeks after the event. Whenever they are ready to talk, we will be here for them.”
[Cara Schulz has joined The Wild Hunt team as a weekly staff writer.]
Note: An earlier version of the article said the retreat was held in cabins. This was incorrect. The retreat was held in tents.