Archives For Air Force

[The following is a guest post from Josh Heath. Josh Heath is the Co-Director of The Open Halls Project, a military Heathen outreach and advocacy program, with his wife Cat. Both are world travelers and highly invested in the Heathen community at large. Josh is a few weeks away from beginning a Master’s program in International Peace and Conflict resolution at American University in Washington, D.C.]

“He was a very moral man… but not what you’d call a spiritual person,” Master Sergeant (Msgt) Matt Walters said, referring to his father during our discussion about the additions of Asatru and Heathen to the religious preference list for the US Air Force. Msgt Walters and I talked for nearly an hour about his pathway to Heathenry, and the complex process he had to dredge through to update the Air Force system.

usaf-logo-2004According to Msgt Walters, the Air Force used to have an automated system to add new religious preferences through their Virtual Military Personnel File (the central online paperwork system for Airmen). However, at some point that system became defunct and no new system was put in place to make updates. Msgt Walters placement as a high ranking Non-Commissioned Officer in the Pacific Command for the Air Force meant he was perfectly located to help kickstart everything needed to recreate the system.

Msgt Walters grew up in a mixed Buddhist Vietnamese and German-American family. He joined the US Air Force 20 years ago this coming January. Describing himself, and his father as largely irreligious, Msgt Walters mentioned several key moments in their lives that helped bring him down the path toward Heathenry. On a trip traveling through Germany, his father looked over his shoulder to see the Black Forest at his side. His ancestors were standing there like a beacon letting him know that he would one day return to them, like a scene out of the Icelandic Sagas.

His father’s journey ended, or began depending on how you see it, with his death a few years ago. This former enlisted veteran from WWII and Vietnam was on his deathbed with his son by his side. Having waited for his son to arrive, Msgt Walter helped his father find his way to the halls of his ancestors. “I knew some day we’d share a glass of beer again,” he said. With that impetus, he began a journey to find a connection to his ancestors and found a faith that made sense to him, Heathenry.

open_halls_squareHis journey took him through several resources, including the Havamal, which he described as, “that’s my father, those are the kinds of things he would say.” He finally came upon the Norse Mythology blog written by Dr. Karl E.H. Seigfried. From there, he found an interview about The Open Halls Project and military Heathens between Seigfried and Cat . Msgt Walters quickly became a member of the OHP, and learned about the movement to have Asatru and Heathen added to the US Army’s Religious Preference list. As an aggressive and dedicated leader, he decided to see what he could do to add that preference to the Air Force lists as well.

Using the fact that Humanism was recently added to the combined list of DoD preferences via ACLU lawsuit, he focused on the hope that our request could be completed without needing such heavy handed tactics. He utilized allies throughout the Air Force command structure to recreate a process to have new preferences added. A graphic below describes the process.

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I don’t think it’s any surprise that this system is arcane. Even to the trained military eye it is hard to follow and elicits a quick response of, “Why is it this hard to do this;” especially considering that there are dozens, if not a few hundred individuals involved along the way for such a request to be completed. Msgt. Walters had to assist the Air Force in finding the applicable regulations to add religious preferences, which had been lost and forgotten. Once the system was in place once more, the request was made, and finally, approved on July 29th 2014.

“This is an awesome victory for us, and one that has required a lot of awareness raising and a lot of paperwork. We want to officially thank Msgt Walters for making this happen for the Air Force. Now all our Airmen need to go change their Religious Preference!!!”The Open Halls Project

The fight is not over, the Army still does not recognize Asatru or Heathen as religious preferences officially. Nor does the Navy, the Marines, or even the Coast Guard. However, requests are nearing completion in the Army as this is being written and a request will soon be prepared for the Navy and the Marines. The Open Halls Project was started to help military Heathens find community wherever they are. We have been committed to advocating for the needs of all military heathens or Asatruar wherever they are, regardless of service, regardless of any other issues. Our small faith community has a large amount of folks who have dedicated themselves to serving their country. It really is a small thing we can do to help support them, but it’s a small thing that means a lot!

Msgt Walters would like all Air Force Heathens to know they can access a portal to connect with others, here. More information about the Open Halls Project can be found, here, here, and here.

The First Pantheistic Center of the Antelope Valley features an article from Lisa Morgenstern about a new first for modern Pagans in the military: Edwards Air Force Base in California hosted a Wiccan service for the 20 Airmen fallen in 2013.

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

Altar from the Edwards Air Force Base Wiccan service.

“The circle keened the names of the fallen in Celtic tradition, calling their names loudly. Amy, a member of Dragon’s Weyr Circle, a Covenant of the Goddess Member coven, stated, “Thursday night as I started to set up the sacred space the wind started to whirl around. The sky looked as if there was a storm brewing, The Celts would say that it was the Sidhe showing their knowledge of the events …..when the circle was done so was the whirling and swirling winds.” The altar held patches of all the squadrons of the men and women lost.

The circle members called in Badb, and the Horned God, and invited the fallen Airmen to join them and be honored. Then they raised healing energy “to send back through their threads of life/energy to help those which are a part of their tapestries of life.” Several traditional poems were read, and as Captain Victoria Ann Pinckney, the local Palmdale High School Graduate and pilot, was a WASP and a tanker pilot, the poem Vectors to the Tanker, along with a WASP memorial poem for female pilots. The Heathens in attendance spoke of the honor accorded to fallen warriors and that those slain in battle are collected by Freyja and Odin and brought to their halls, Sessrumir and Valhalla. They shared mead and lemon cookies on an altar with red roses. The lemon and red roses are military traditions when honoring those lost.”

Edwards Air Force Base has been hosting regular Wiccan services since April, when Elder Priestess Amy Watson, a Covenant of the Goddess member, and wife of an Air Force Captain, first approached the Wing Chaplain.

“When I approached the Wing Chaplain to have services scheduled, he insisted that we schedule weekly services,” said Watson, “just like all the other denominations have.”

With all the talk lately about proselytizing in the military, and the influence of conservative Christianity, I think it’s important to note when important and largely unheralded forward steps are taken. This first, along with other Pagan services on military bases, and the recent approval of the Thor’s Hammer for veteran headstones and grave markers, points to a slow but building new reality within military culture. A pluralistic and multi-religious “post-Christian” future in which a balance must be struck so that all may find within America’s armed forces. I send out my congratulations to Priestess Amy Watson, and to the Pagans and Wiccans at Edwards Air Force Base. I have no doubt the gods heard you in your honoring of the fallen Airmen.

Yesterday, and in less than a week, The Wild Hunt’s Fall Fund Drive met, and then surpassed, its $6000 dollar goal. While I was always confident that this campaign would eventually meet its goal, I had no idea it would do so with such alacrity. I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of my readers, my community, in helping The Wild Hunt go independent once again. To fund a new vision for the site, and Pagan news. So thank you, whether you donated $5, $50, or $500 dollars, you all made this happen. The campaign will stay up through November, and any donation above the $600 goal number will go towards a travel and a materials stipend for our reporters, and perhaps even towards paying additional contributors. So once again, thank you, thank you, thank you. The links lists, Fall Funders list, new underwriting affiliates, and supporter graphics will be going up soon (honestly, I had no idea I would make my goal this fast).

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http://www.indiegogo.com/the-wild-hunt-fall-funding

Now that I’ve shared that happy news, let’s have a few news links, shall we?

  • You may have seen a wire story about a pagan rock carving in Morocco being destroyed by ultra-orthodox Salafi Muslims. Turns out that the report of the sun-divinity’s image being destroyed may have been greatly exaggerated. Quote: “The Moroccan government has denied that an 8,000-year-old rock engraving depicting the Sun as a divinity has been destroyed in the south of the country in an attack residents had blamed on ultra-orthodox Salafi Muslims. Communications Minister Mustafa el-Khalfi took journalists to the site of the pagan engraving in the Toukbal National Park to demonstrate that reports of its destruction were untrue.” So, I guess the lesson here is “pics or it didn’t happen.”
A not-destroyed petroglyph inToukbal National Park.

A not-destroyed petroglyph inToukbal National Park.

That’s all for now, have a great day, and thank you for supporting The Wild Hunt!

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

Bull of Heaven publication party. (photo: Christopher Gregory/The New York Times)

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

“Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” – John B. Finch, 1882

If you follow religion news these days, you can’t help but be inundated with the current debate over what, exactly, “religious freedom” means, and what its limits are. The most popular manifestation concerns Catholic opposition to new contraception guidelines set forth by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (a topic I’ve covered before), but a large number of enterprising souls have taken this proverbial football and are running as far as they can with it. The most recent effort to “protect” religious freedom comes from a consortium of 66 Republican lawmakers who have written a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking for an investigation into “a series of steps signaling hostility towards religious freedom” by the Air Force.

The lawmakers outlined several instances where they had problems with Air Force policy, particularly a memo last year from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, which said that “chaplains, not commanders” should notify airmen about chaplains’ religious programs. The lawmakers wrote the memo was “suggesting that the mere mention of these programs is impermissible.” They also took issue with the suspension of a briefing that discussed Bible references, the changing of a Latin office motto that included God and removing Bibles from Air Force Inn checklists. They wrote the policy of “complete separation” between church and state is having a “chilling effect” down the chain of command.

An Air Force spokesperson responded by saying that “Airmen are free to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their religion—in a manner that is respectful of other individuals’ rights to follow their own belief systems.” Indeed, these instances the 66 Republican lawmakers are concerned about aren’t initiatives to limit religious freedom, but to instead avoid showing favoritism for any particular faith.

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz

“The Air Force’s top officer has issued a stern reminder to leaders about religion and their jobs: Don’t proselytize or show favoritism toward a particular faith. Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz sent a servicewide memo Sept. 1 cautioning leaders at all levels to balance the Constitution’s protection of religious freedom and the prohibition on government intrusion. “We have seen instances where well-meaning commanders and senior noncommissioned officers appeared to advance a particular religious view among their subordinates, calling into question their impartiality and objectivity. We can learn from these instances,” said Lt. Col. Sam Highley, Schwartz’s spokesman.”

We should also remember that these corrections aren’t happening in a vacuum, and were prompted by a culture of evangelical Christian takeover within the Air Force Academy, where blatant religious favoritism was in full and open display.

…my son’s orientation became an opportunity for the academy to aggressively proselytize this next crop of cadets. Maj. Warren Watties led a group of 10 young, exclusively evangelical chaplains who stood shoulder to shoulder.  He proudly stated that half of the cadets attended Bible studies on Monday nights in the dormitories and he hoped to increase this number from those in his audience who were about to join their ranks.  This “invitation” was followed with hallelujahs and amens by the evangelical clergy.  I later learned from Air Force Academy chaplain MeLinda Morton, a Lutheran who was forced to observe from the choir loft, that no priest, rabbi or mainline Protestant had been permitted to participate.”

This was a major scandal for the Air Force, which, like all government bodies, isn’t supposed to favor any particular faith, and to maintain separation between Church and State. They’ve since made major efforts to make their branch of the military a place where all faiths are respected, including the building of a Pagan/Nature Religions worship area at the Air Force Academy.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy. Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

Sadly, these worthy efforts towards making the Air Force a place that respects all manifestations of faith is being framed as an attack on “religious freedom” by these lawmakers. For them, religious freedom means freedom for Christians to swing their theological “arms” without any regard to whose nose might be struck. When U.S. Representatives Diane Black of Tennessee, Randy Forbes of Virginia and Todd Akin of Missouri assert that “the combination of events mentioned above raises concerns that the Air Force is developing a culture that is hostile towards religion” what they mean is hostile toward unfettered Christian expression, and little else. I cannot imagine that any of the 66 lawmakers gave one thought as to what things were like for religious minorities before the recent shift in policy and tone. Religious freedom, for them, begins and ends with their conception of America as a “Judeo-Christian” nation that exists under a single, monotheistic, God.

As I’ve said before, to these Christians, government-enforced secularism isn’t a neutral ethos, but a method of attacking their faith and limiting their free expression. In the minds of these Christians “religious freedom” means, in this time of demographic dominance, the right to let the majority dictate the religious norms of a society. Any deviance from that, in limiting prayer in schools, or sectarian prayer at government meetings, is a persecution of their church. We are increasingly caught in Christianity’s own crisis over its role and purpose in a post-Christian pluralistic society, and the results aren’t always pretty. This crisis will only escalate as religious minorities continue to stand up for real equality, for their voices to be heard in the public square, and as litigation starts to reevaluate what the standards for inclusion are in government-backed religious initiatives.

Whatever valid concerns Catholics, Evangelicals, and other conservative Christians might have over religious freedom in the United States, they are continually tempered by their insistence on being the sole definer of where that concept begins and ends. No one is asking Buddhists, Pagans, Hindus, or practitioners of Native religions for their input, and in many cases the same Christian leaders and lawmakers who cry persecution are the very same who ignore our concerns, or are outright dismissive of non-Christian religious expressions.

“I don’t care what the naysayers say. This nation was founded as a Christian nation. The god of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. There is only one God. There is only one God, and his name is Jesus. I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words. I’m tired of people telling us as Christians that we can’t voice our beliefs or we can’t no longer pray in public. Listen to me. If you don’t love America, and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, get out! […] We don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammed, we don’t worship Allah. We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

To me, the Catholic Bishops and Evangelical leaders who claim to be baking the bread of freedom, produce only the taste of ashes in my mouth. Have we really forgotten that Christian Republican lawmakers as recently as 1999 tried to get the practice of Wicca banned from the military? That the Catholic Church, openly hostile to non-Christian faiths, has proposed a grand coalition of the dominant monotheisms to quash the rights of faiths and traditions who want to perform legal same-sex marriages? To my mind these are not the defenders of my religious freedom, to say the least.

If religious freedom as a concept is going to mean anything, if isn’t going to just be hollow rhetoric, then it needs to apply equally to everyone. That means creating a level playing field in the realm of government, it means not privileging the Christian majority simply because it’s a politically expedient thing to do. Sometimes it even means rolling back privileges that some have mistaken for “rights.” The problem is that far too many Christians in America have grown over fond of having no limits on their arm-swinging, and every judicial decision or law that tells them that certain noses are off-limits enrages them, and feeds into an ugly persecution complex (to the point where the majority assumes the mantle of the persecuted minority). Real religious freedom starts when groups stop twisting the concept to privilege themselves at the expense of others.

Pagan Community Notes is a companion to my usual Pagan News of Note series, more focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. I want to reinforce the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So lets get started!

Cherry Hill Seminary Names Two New Department Chairs: Pagan learning institution Cherry Hill Seminary has announced the appointment of chairs for its Community Education and Pastoral Counseling departments.

Rev. Dr. David Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. Oringderff is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation and represented the Earth-Centered Spirituality community during a religious respect conference at the Academy in November 2010. Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

Rev. Dr. David Oringderff speaks with Lt. Gen. Mike Gould during a dedication ceremony for the Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle May 3, 2011. Oringderff is the executive director of the Sacred Well Congregation and represented the Earth-Centered Spirituality community during a religious respect conference at the Academy in November 2010. Gould is the Academy superintendent. (U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan)

“Cherry Hill Seminary is pleased to announce two new academic appointments.  Valentine McKay-Riddell, Ph.D., is the new chair of Pagan Community Education, and David Oringderff, Ph.D., is the new chair of the Department of Pagan Pastoral Counseling.

A long-time professor for the department, Oringderff is well known for his role in the founding of Sacred Well Congregation, as well as many years of advocacy on behalf of Pagans in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Oringderff is a graduate of Dallas Baptist University, and holds an M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Bowie State University (Maryland) and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The Union Institute School of Professional Psychology in Cincinnati, Ohio. […] The second new appointment is that of Valentine McKay-Riddell, Ph.D., as Chair of Pagan Community Education (PCE).  McKay-Riddell is a graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute and a member of the adjunct faculty at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, CA, where she earned a Masters in Counseling Psychology and a Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology.”

Academic Dean Wendy Griffin, Ph.D., noted that Oringderff’s “combination of broad life experience and professional background are what our students need as they prepare to serve in the real world. As more and more individuals serving in the military turn to Cherry Hill Seminary for training for ministry, Dr. Oringderff’s extensive network will be a tremendous asset.” Our congratulations to both Valentine McKay-Riddell and David Oringderff on their new roles within CHS. You can read more about these appointments, and CHS, here.

An Interview With Langley Air Force Base’s New Wiccan Representative: While we’re on the subject of pastoral duties to Pagans in the military, Dead Hour Radio will be featuring an interview with Langley Air Force Base’s new Wiccan representative this Sunday. The host of the show, Carrie Lynn, is an Air Force veteran who started the very first Wicca group at Langley in 2000.

“This Sunday at 10pm EST, on our show we are hosting Langley AFB NEW Wiccan representative to talk about military pagan issues today and the Wiccan faith.”

You can read more about Pagans in the Air Force, here. You can read a piece written by Carrie back in 2000, here. It should be an interesting and enlightening show!

PaganSpace Moving to Member-Owned and Run Model: The Pagan social networking site PaganSpace is moving to a member-owned and run model. In a message to members, outgoing owner Starrfire Price explains the reasons for the change, and how the transition process will work.

“Following a recent announcement regarding the desire to sell PaganSpace I came to the conclusion that the best way to assure the future of PaganSpace is to basically sell it back to the community thus allowing PaganSpace to be placed into the hands of the community who helped bring it to where it is today.

I’ll still be on the site daily and retain admin privileges, I’ll also be training all the new people who step into their positions. I will also be remaining on the board of directors at 10%, under a newly formed corporation (PaganSpace, Inc) that will be formed once the polling ends and board members are elected. I’ll also retain the network site and the domain names for at least the first year (those things will be placed into the corporation name but I know no one will have the means to harm the site with it remaining in my hands). So, I’m not technically going anywhere but I will be freeing up time to complete the many goals and tasks that are in front of me.”

A FAQ has been up for contributors, and those who’d like to have a hand in running the site. PaganSpace is one the few survivors of the DIY social networking boom from a few years ago, a time that saw many Pagan-themed social networking hubs emerge. It will be interesting to see how they progress under this new model, and I wish them luck.

Other Community Notes:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

In yesterday’s link roundup I mentioned that the LA Times did a feature on Pagans in the Air Force Academy, I thought it was merely OK, but it turns out that the piece had been edited from a far more mocking tone according to Star Foster at Patheos.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy. Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

“Because I’m an idiot, I didn’t take a screenshot of the article, which has now been edited for tone. (I will always take screenshots going forward, just in case.) Her previously snarky piece is now much calmer, yet still complains that the Air Force is spending money to be inclusive of non-Christians. While I’m glad they removed some of the cheap jokes, I don’t think you should edit an article that much after publication without an editor’s note explaining the change.”

Lest you think the alleged earlier version was simply in Star’s imagination, Mark Thompson at Time’s Battleland blog also picked up on the LA Time’s anti-Pagan snark and calls them out on it.

“The Air Force then earnestly tries to deal with – and encourage – religious diversity, and they get stung by stories like this in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times […] It’s tough walking that careful line in don’t-offend-me America. If you hew too closely to one religion, you’re criticized; if you welcome all, you’re zinged for that, as well.”

On a more positive note, if you click that link on the word “welcome” from the Battleland blog, you’ll notice it heads to part one of the two-part PNC-Minnesota story on Pagans in the Air Force and Air Force Academy. That piece, which was reprinted here at The Wild Hunt, and was written by Cara Schulz at PNC-Minnesota, deserves that attention its getting, and I’m glad Time’s Battleland blog linked to it. While I’m not going to jump to some of the conclusions that Star did, I do think that the Pagan Newswire Collective’s piece did act in some small way to jump-start the current rush of coverage on this story, now running at places like The Telegraph in England. So kudos to Cara, and here’s to Pagan media influencing the narrative!

[This is part two of a two-part story by Cara Schulz from PNC-Minnesota. Part one, dealing with Pagans in basic training at Lackland Air Force base can be found, here.]

One of the Gateways to the Air Force for future officers is the United States Air Force academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While earning their bachelor’s degree, military cadets participate in a rigorous athletic program and are instructed in how to lead others as an officer in the Air Force. In part 1 of our series, Pagans receive warm welcome at the ‘Gateways to the Air Force,’ we looked at Lackland AFB, where enlisted trainees attend Basic Military Training. In part 2, we take a closer look at the Air Force Academy (AFA) through interviews with Pagan faith group leaders, an Academy Chaplain, and a current Pagan Academy cadet.

When Pagans think about the AFA, what often comes to mind are the string of articles in 2007 showcasing the institution as the focal point for an evangelical Christian takeover of the military.  It’s a view that appears to have come about due to an over-correction to the sexual assault cases shocked the campus a few years earlier. Lt Col Dan Brantingham, AFA Cadet Wing Chaplain, explains, “In the aftermath of the sexual assault cases in 2004-5, some leaders looked to religion to assist cadets in living honorable lives. In doing so, the leaders unintentionally promoted a particular flavor of religion as the solution.”

The accounts of aggressive proselytizing of cadets by Evangelicals at the Academy worried civil rights activists as this influences the next crop of officers, planting the seeds to change the culture of the Air Force to a more repressive atmosphere.

Since 2007, the Academy has taken meaningful steps to renew its focus on freedom of religion and religious neutrality in its policies. Brantingham says he supports the current Academy policy of religious neutrality, “As an Air Force Chaplain my responsibility is to ensure the free exercise of religion for all cadets to include the minority faith group cadets. When I protect and advocate the freedom of religious conscience for all cadets, I fulfill my oath and because of the brilliance of the First Amendment, I safe-guard my own freedom of religion as well.”

"Four Freedoms" by Norman Rockwell hangs in Brantingham's office with the quote,“Each according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

"Four Freedoms" by Norman Rockwell hangs in Brantingham's office with the quote,“Each according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

Cadet Nicole Johnson, a senior at the AFA, has experienced the willingness of AFA Chaplains to help cadets of any religion, “The Chaplains are wonderful. You can go to them with any problem. It can be just an every day problem or a spiritual problem and they are more than willing to help you out with it or connect you to the right people.”

Creating a culture of religious respect
How did the Academy change from being a perceived bastion of aggressive Evangelicalism to the open and inclusive institution Cadet Johnson is experiencing? A major step was taken when the Academy hosted the Conference on Religious Respect in 2008 and again in 2010. The conference examines how the Academy can create a climate of religious respect and equip its future officers with the skills needed to ensure religious beliefs are respected and accommodated. Out of the 2008 conference the Cadet Interfaith Council was formed, the Religious Respect Cadet Training program was launched, and support was increased for the Spiritual Programs in Religious Education (SPIRE).

SPIRE is time blocked off each Monday evening for cadets to meet and discuss spirituality. In addition to SPIRE time, Earth-Centered Spirituality cadets also celebrate the Sabbats, go on a Freshman retreat, and enjoy an annual Spring retreat.

The Cadet Interfaith Council meets once per semester and the faith of any requesting cadet is included. The Council assists the Chaplain Corps in monitoring the religious respect climate on the campus. Chaplain Brantingham says the Council, “has expressed frustration the press does not report on what they see and experience day in and day out, a climate of religious respect, and continues to unquestioningly keep slapping the Academy with the 2005 story-line.”

The third initiative to come out of the 2008 conference is what the Academy calls its “cornerstone religious diversity program,” the Religious Respect Training program for cadets, faculty and staff. The program is unique to the Air Force Academy as no other military academy or university has a program quite like it. It includes in-depth training on the First Amendment, and the Establishment, Free Exercise, and Free Speech clauses of the US Constitution. The program is modular and cadets have six hours of scenario and mission focused training on religious respect during their four years at the Academy. The Academy hopes this program assists future officers in creating a climate where airmen under their command feel free to request religious accommodation.

The Conference on Religious Respect in 2010 continued to examine and refine those initiatives. Sixteen national religious leaders were invited as panelists including Rev. David Oringderff, PhD, head of Sacred Well Congregation and sponsoring organization for the Earth-Centered Spirituality group at the Academy. In a message to the San Antonio Military Open Circle Yahoo group, Rev. Oringderff said he was impressed by the emphasis on ways to promote respect, not merely religious tolerance. He quoted Chaplain Brantingham remarks during the opening of the conference, “I don’t want to be tolerated; I want to be respected—and everyone else is entitled to that same right.”

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle
The most visible result of the renewed commitment to free exercise of religion is the creation of Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle. Falcon Circle, which sits on a hill, came into existence through the efforts of a former cadet wing chaplain, Chap. William Ziegler and former Earth-Centered Spirituality Distinctive Faith Group Leader (DFGL), Tech Sgt. Brandon Longcrier, who is currently deployed in Afghanistan.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy.
Photo by: Jerilee Bennett / The Gazette

In 2006 Tech Sgt. Longcrier and Reserve Major Kelly Ihme started a Wiccan circle at the Air Force Academy. They were able to instruct cadets because of two organizations – Sacred Well Congregation and the Air Force Academy’s SPIRE program. SPIRE was created in the early 1990’s to provide religious accommodation to faith groups not served by a chaplain of their faith. Longcrier contacted Sacred Well Congregation, which was already the Denominational Sponsor for other Pagan military faith groups, to sponsor him as a Distinctive Faith Group Leader (DFGL) for the Academy. Sacred Well Congregation agreed and the request was approved by the Command Chaplain at the AFA. Longcrier and Ihme could now form a faith group on campus.

The faith group went through a few name changes before they settled on Earth-Centered Spirituality. Originally called a Wiccan group, they later changed it to Pagan. Major Ihme, a mental health nurse and current DFGL at the Academy, says there’s a good reason for their present name, “[Earth-Centered Spirituality] is less threatening, especially to civilians living in the Colorado Springs area. We’re also want to be inclusive of Native American religions.” Nearby Ft. Carson has a sweat lodge and Ihme like to cooperate with them, but they’re just beginning to explore the possibility.

The Earth-Centered Spirituality group met in an engineering classroom for worship before construction of Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle began in early 2010. The circle drew world wide notice when it was dedicated in Spring of this year. Some of the news articles and editorials were good, much of it was not. It also resulted in the resignation of Longcrier as DFGL at the Academy, “The Wing Chaplain and I had some very heated discussions about the name of the Circle. He kept wanting to call the Earth-Centered Circle a Chapel and also wanted anyone to be able to use it. To me, this was taking away something that belonged to us.”

Chaplain Brantingham says the decision on the name and the use of the circle was a joint decision between the Academy and Sacred Well Congregation, “I worked very closely with TSgt Longcrier’s national DFGL certifier at the time, Dr David L. Oringderff of Sacred Well Congregation. After extensive consultation with Dr Oringderff, TSgt Longcrier and Maj Kelly Ihme, USAF Reserves, I decided the best long-term solution for promoting religious respect and economy of resources was to dedicate the outdoor worship space as the Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle with the Circle being available to all cadet faith communities and the Earth-Centered Spirituality cadet community having scheduling priority. Dr Oringderff and the Academy’s current Earth-Center Spirituality DFGL, Maj Kelly Ihme, agreed.”

What brought matters to a head was the date of Falcon Circle’s dedication“The straw that broke the camel’s back was when they set a date for the dedication of Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle on a date when I would be deployed. I put my blood, sweat, and tears into the program and getting the Circle approved and built and they thought that it would be ok to dedicate it without me being there? I resigned after that, but left the group in very good and capable hands.”

Longcrier also said he was concerned over incidents of religious harassment at Falcon Circle, “We already had incidents where Christians would go up there to pray for our sins and that isn’t what I wanted to be happening up at our sacred space.”

Ihme said that although there were early incidents at Falcon Circle, that is no longer the case, “At first there was some problems with Christians praying for our sins and some acts of vandalism [at the Circle] but no one besides us goes up there now. The site is very secure now with cameras running 24/7.” Ihme said the Circle is a peaceful place that seems far more remote than the short walk up the hill should feel.

Rev. Oringderff had the opportunity to visit Falcon Circle while attending the 2010 Conference on Religious Respect, “The site is situated on the hill just above the Cadet Chapel and you immediately sense the spirit and sacredness of the place.”

Cadet Johnson describes Falcon Circle as a needed oasis of tranquility, “I go there during the day sometimes. It’s very stressful here so getting away from the academy is important. I can go and center myself and get more in touch with nature.” Johnson says in the four years she’s been at the Academy she’s never experienced a problem with religious discrimination or harassment.

Not every Pagan has had a military career free of harassment, but many have remarked that the military is generally ahead of the curve in accepting minority groups. Carlee, who left a comment on PNC-Minnesota’s article on Pagans at Lackland AFB, wrote, “Despite what people think, the military usually leads in the acceptance of minorities when the rest of the population still treats them as pariahs. Note the integration of blacks, the acceptance of women (I watched this one from 1979-1999 as more and more opportunities opened to me) and now the acceptance of gays. I am proud to have served in the nation’s military and to be one of the very few who has.”

Major Ihme wants Pagans considering applying to the Air Force Academy to feel reassured, “You don’t have to be nervous or afraid because every belief system is OK at the Academy. We will back you up.”

“You don’t have to be scared about sharing your religion or think you need to stay in the broom closet about it,” Cadet Johnson says. “People are very understanding. We have officers in charge of us who are very understanding, the Chaplains are very understanding so it’s very easy to be a Pagan at the Air Force Academy.”

[This is part one of a two-part story by Cara Schulz from PNC-Minnesota. With today being Veterans Day in the United States, I’m proud to run this important look into the experiences of Pagans in the Air Force.]

When potential Military Members join the United States Air Force they usually enter through one of two Gateways To The Air Force.  Future officers attend college at Colorado Springs Air Force Academy and enlisted trainees go through Basic Military Training (BMT) at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas.  Both places not only educate and train service members in warfare techniques they also help assimilate individuals into the Air Force collective culture.  In the past, that culture has not always been kind to airmen of minority faiths like Paganism, but what is it like now?  PNC-Minnesota spoke with Air Force officials, airmen, and civilian Pagan ministers involved at both gateways. On Tuesday we’ll take a look at the Air Force Academy.  Today, on Veterans Day, we’ll head to basic training at Lackland.

“We each walk our own path to the divine.  Be it in a God/dess faith or not.  Our airmen coming out of Lackland have been armed in so many ways with their military training.  More importantly, they should know that the Air Force has gone to great lengths to ensure their spirit was nurtured while in basic training,” says Rev. Tamie Rieth of Sacred Well Congregation.  She should know.  She’s been the Wicca Distinctive Faith Group Leader (DFGL) at Lackland for just over 6 years.  Rev. Rieth is one of 5 instructors who lead the weekly Wiccan services for BMT trainees.

Approximately 150 to 300 trainees attend the two hour Wiccan services held in the Receiving Center each Sunday.  Rev. Rieth and the other instructors spend the first hour answering any questions the trainees may have and the second hour is spent in meditation and chanting.

As a mark of how important the military considers access to religious services, all trainees are briefed religious service options within the first few days of arrival at Lackland.  No one is pressured to attend religious services and there is no penalty or extra duty for airmen who choose not to attend a Sunday service.  In a phone call with Lackland Public Affairs and one of the base Chaplains, they stressed that they treat all religions, and those who are not religious, equally.  Religious discrimination and harassment is not tolerated.

A1C Justin Lindquist, a recent basic training Honor Graduate, said he didn’t encounter  harassment or hazing for attending the Wicca services, “Everyone there really didn’t care what service you were going to.  There were people who went to the Christian services that weren’t Christian and people went to the Wicca services that were Christian and wanted to learn more about it or found the time more opportune.  No one really cared.” He said between four and ten fellow airmen out of his flight of 45 attended Wicca services.

Graduating airmen are allowed to invite their visiting family to attend religious service with them.  For some parents, attending the Wicca service is their first exposure to the religion.  As one parent said on the Facebook AFWingMoms group, “It was a relief to see how normal and professional [the Wiccan service] was.  It was a shock that he was attending that and not the Lutheran church, but I’m not as worried as I was when he first told me.”

When we spoke with Rev. Rieth, she had high praise for Lackland’s commitment to religious diversity, “I’m blessed to work with the Gateway chapel and it’s leadership.  In the 6 years I’ve been involved I’ve had amazing chapel support.” She went on to note how this benefits the trainees, “At Lackland they offer so many options for the trainees to choose from that they leave with the ability to learn about many religions.”

The larger benefit, and the reason the military offers such diverse religious services, is the effect on the morale and well-being of service members, especially in high stress environments such as basic training, “It was really good because you got to unwind and you found something familiar when you are under pressure every day.  Very important.  Just not having your [Training Instructor] around was really nice, especially those first few weeks.  It was important to keep everyone up.  You wouldn’t think it would be so important, but alot of people pick back up religion at BMT.”

Another high pressure enviornment is when service members are deployed.  Retired Lt. Col. Tony Gatlin is a Sacred Well Congregation minister and is  taking over as DFGL at Lackland next month when Rev. Rieth steps down.  He’s assisted Rev. Rieth for four years and has the added experience of being a DFGL and an Inspector General while he was deployed overseas.  He’s seen how building trust and confidence in the Chaplains and DFGLs during BMT can translate into trust and confidence in the field,“When I was in in Afghanistan and Iraq there were airmen who came up to me and asked if they could learn more about Wicca.  They trusted that their spiritual needs would be met.  They learned that trust in basic training.”

If Gatlin’s name isn’t known to you, it should be.  Lt. Col. Gatlin is the man responsible for getting Wicca registered as a religious choice on Air Force service tags and is the first person to have the designation on his tags.  The other designation non-Wiccan Pagans choose is “Other Religions.”

Our community has come a long way from when it was argued Pagans in the military were morally ineligible to self-identify as Pagan.  It’s hard to estimate the number of Pagans in the military, but in 2002 the Military Pagan Network estimated there were over 1,000 active duty Pagans in the Air Force alone and over 100,000 service members and DOD dependents military wide.   Judging from the number of trainees who attend the Wiccan services at Lackland each week, that number is much larger today.

As the number of Pagans in the military increase, more Pagan groups are actively supporting them.  “Pagans who have served and who are serving in the US military need our support, as do their families and friends.  Veterans Day is an excellent time to express our support and appreciation for their service, but they deserve and need our support year round,” said Rev. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary.  She also wanted to express her appreciation for those who choose to live out a Pagan warrior ethic, “Those of us at Circle Sanctuary join with other Pagan organizations and individuals in saluting Pagan veterans, troops, and their loved ones – thank you for your service!”

Lt. Col. Gatlin understands what military members face when they choose to put on the uniform.  The challenges are many, but he says service members can always turn to Chaplains and DFGLs for help, ”You can rely on the Chaplains in the field.  They are wonderful, supportive.  It doesn’t matter what faith you are, they are willing to help you and service your faith needs.”

How can you support military Pagans?
Upper Midwest Pagan Alliance
Pagan Soldier Support Packages is a project to aid our community in collecting personal and magical supplies for Pagan soldiers in the Iraq war zone. You can either do this completely on your own, or drop off items to be assembled into aid boxes containing each a wide variety of items. We will also include information about UMPA and our pagan community.

We collect individual items at any UMPA meeting or event, and at many regional events. If you wish to participate, and can donate the cost of shipping a box this is preferred. If you can just donate a few items, we welcome that as well. We do reserve the right to donate locally any items we find unsuitable for this project!

Drop Boxes located at:

  • Keys Of Paradise, 713 Minnehaha Ave E, Ste 109 & 111, Saint Paul, MN 55106
  • Magus Books, 1309 1/2 4th Street S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414
  • Eye of Horus, 2717 Lyndale Ave South, Minneapolis, MN 55408
  • Sacred Paths Center, 777 Raymond Ave, Saint Paul, MN 55114

Circle Sanctuary
provides support to Pagan veterans and Pagans serving in the US military and their families in a variety of ways.  We sponsor Pagan Circles at US Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine installations.  The Air Force Circles we sponsor include those in the USA at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and Sheppards Air Force Base in Texas, plus some overseas, Osan Air Base in Korea and Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.

Each year, we send Yuletide care packages for Pagan troops on active duty in war zones and elsewhere overseas through Operation Circle Care.  Circle Sanctuary sponsors the Order of the Pentacle and the Pagan Military Association.  In addition, Circle Sanctuary ministers conduct Pagan Warrior Blessing rituals at Pagan festivals and other events throughout the year across the country.  For more than thirty years, we have been active in the quest for equal rights for Pagan veterans and troops and their families.

Pagan Warrior Radio
A weekly program for Military Pagans, their friends, families, and supporters, which debuts with a special Veterans Day show on 11/11/11 from 8-9 pm CST.  Pamela Kelly, who co-hosts with Rev. Selena Fox, is the DFGL at Sheppard AFB.

Editor’s Note:  Special thanks to Seshen Wolfsong, the San Antonio Pagans, and the San Antonio Military Open Circle Yahoo group for all their help.

In the day-to-day nature of Internet news, it’s often difficult to keep track of stories as they develop. So here’s a round-up of follow-ups, updates, and recent developments in stories previously reported here at The Wild Hunt.

About that Icelandic Curse: I recently mentioned that the Icelandic Heathen organization Ásatrúarfélagid, led by Chief Godi Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, had made the news for a high-profile (and apparently successful) curse against Iceland’s enemies. Pagan Newswire Collective reporter, and host of the popular Asatru podcast Ravencast, David Carron, spoke with Hilmarsson about the article and brings us the following statement.

“The article in Iceland Review is somewhat slanted, as the TV interview cited was based on the assumption that we had ritually cursed named members of the British and the Dutch governments. The ritual in question was a protective one ( with the subtext that those who would try to harm our nation would be exempt from the protection / sanctuary ) and its intent was to push aggression back to where it belongs. However some people observing the ensuing developments have given us credit for all sorts of things including Gordon Brown’s unstable temper, the freak winter in Britain, and the troubles befalling and in the end collapsing the Dutch government.

I did own up to writing a scathing poem about Gordon Brown in the time honoured tradition of “níðvísa” and I am sure that long after his name is forgotten on the British Isles there will be Icelanders dancing on his grave and and finding inventive and practical ways of pouring / spraying ale upon it.”

So there you are, not so much a “curse” as protection working that is successfully pushing aggression back to its source. Carron is currently arranging an interview with Hilmar Hilmarsson for Ravencast, and I’ll keep you posted as to when that’s available.

The Air Force and Pagans: A lot of news has been made recently regarding the Air Force Academy and its new stone circle dedicated to Pagan services, but this ethos of acceptance and accommodation stretches beyond the academy to the Air Force itself. A memo has been brought to my attention that shows Major General Cecil Richardson, Chief of Chaplains for the USAF, listing Wiccan and Pagan Spring holidays along side other faiths as deserving of accommodation by all commanders.

“Thank you for your continued support of Airmen who request religious accommodation. Airmen who are allowed to practice their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion are generally more spiritually fit and better able to handle the rigors and stressors that come with deployments and a high OPSTEMPO (Operations Tempo) … Wiccans and other followers of Earth-based religions will observe Ostara, the spring equinox, on 21 March followed by Beltane, a celebration of the abundance of the fertile Earth, on 1 May.”

So it looks like the Air Force really is taking the inclusion and accommodation of Pagan airmen to heart. I’d love to know if any of the other US Armed Forces have released similar memos. If they have, please feel free to drop me a line so I can share them with my readers.

The Syracuse Pagan College Chaplain: Student paper The Daily Orange follows up on the appointment of Mary Hudson as Syracuse University’s first Pagan chaplain. While Hudson says that she’s only received positive feedback, reporter Rebecca Kheel finds a more mixed response on the Internet.

“Mixed reactions arose since Hudson was recognized as a chaplain. Hudson herself has only received positive feedback, but there has been an online backlash in comments sections of articles about Hudson’s appointment. Other chaplains said it is too early to make a judgment about whether they agree with Hudson’s appointment … Hudson said she has seen the negative comments in online articles about her appointment, including one that suggested she eats bats. Some others said her appointment will make SU look unattractive to potential students. But that was to be expected, Hudson said.”

Eats bats? Really? As the article points out, it’s still early days, and we have no idea how well Hudson will perform in her role, or if she’ll encounter any real resistance to her chaplaincy. What is important at this stage is that the needs of Pagan students are being acknowledged and respected, and that feedback from that community has been positive.

Covering the Vodou Attack in Haiti: Mollie at Get Religion takes a look at coverage of the recent attack on Vodouisants by evangelical Christians in Haiti, and its aftermath, and finds it wanting.

“I find it fascinating that the first article begins with a call to war by Beauvoir while the second article has him saying he hopes it doesn’t come to war. I’m not saying that both quotes aren’t accurate but it kind of reminds you how much power a reporter has in shaping a story.”

Mollie kindly quotes me on the subject of Vodou leader Max Beauvoir, and in the comments I elaborate my feelings on his leadership, and the need for journalists to approach decentralized minority faiths differently from the dominant monotheisms they are used to.

“The frustrating thing is that we have no real way of telling exactly how important or influential Beauvoir is among Vodou practitioners in Haiti. There’s a number of reasons for this, an important one being the lack of probing and analysis that followed after Beauvoir was first put forward as the “supreme chief” of Haitian Vodou (and, as Mollie mentioned, was called a “pope”).

However, two things are clear that all journalists covering Vodou in Haiti should know. One is that Vodou is, by its nature, a decentralized faith. It is largely organized around different “families” of initiates. No matter how large Beauvoir’s coalition may be, he simply cannot speak for the entirety of Haitian Vodou. The second is that thanks to the reporting so far, Beauvoir’s title has become prophecy. His willingness to interact with the press, to become the spokesman, has cemented his place as the go-to person for the “Vodou voice”. No doubt many families will rally to him in these uncertain times, and he may very well become, for a time, something close to the central figure the press portrays him as.

The lesson here is that journalistic assumptions about religion can shape religions, especially in times of crisis and trouble. Reporters like having a singular go-to leader when discussing a faith, it makes info-gathering and quote-seeking far easier. But minority faiths are very often different from the Protestant denominations or Catholic churches they are used to covering, and they often lack a clear leadership structure (or they have a clear leadership structure, but not one that applies across the board). The best policy is to always seek out multiple voices when dealing with a decentralized faith, and to always take claims of supremacy within a decentralized faith with a grain of salt.”

We all need to do a better job of covering religion in Haiti. Trying to assemble a clear picture from the assorted claims, incidents, and reports is difficult, and we run the risk of giving an incorrect, or even harmful, analysis of current events. If I error, and I probably will considering the trickle of good information, I hope it’s in favor of preserving and respecting Haiti’s indigenous faith traditions.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!