Archives For Military

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.

In 2007, after a decade-long struggle, Pagan and Wiccan organizations succeeded in getting the Pentacle approved for military veteran headstones and markers. After that victory, in July of 2007, a rally was held to start the push for two more symbols: the Druid Awen and the Heathen Thor’s Hammer. Two Heathen organizations, The Troth and the Asatru Folk Assembly, were represented at that rally, and from it a wider movement to get the Thor’s Hammer approved emerged. Now, after a six-year journey which included some inter-organizational tensions within the Heathen community and a U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs rule change, it appears the symbol has finally been approved.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

The updated emblems list is the only place where this addition is noted. There’s no media release, news story, or even blog post that I’ve been able to find about this development. So I have no way of knowing when, exactly, the official approval went through. I have sent a note to The Troth for an official statement on this victory.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders.

The 2007 4th of July Pagan Religious Rights Rally in Washington DC featuring Wiccan, Druid, and Asatru leaders. Photo: Witchvox

Until we find out more, here’s a relevant quote from Diana Paxson, an Elder in The Troth, written in the wake of the Pentacle Quest and the 2007 July 4th rally.

“America has always been noted for creativity, in religion as in all else. Each new faith, whether immigrant or homegrown, enriches our culture. Today, when Buddhist temples and Islamic mosques may be found in many parts of the U.S., one might wonder why the VA denied a Wiccan veteran the right to have a pentacle on his headstone for ten years, and the Army has still not hired a Pagan chaplain. Paganism does not seek to replace other religions, but Pagan perspectives can revitalize the ways in which we relate to our history, our ancestors, and especially, in this time of climate crisis, to the environment. Rather than resisting, America should welcome the Pagan contribution to our cultural diversity.”

For now, congratulations to all Heathens and Asatruar on this amazing victory! Forward to the Awen! If you or a loved one are a Heathen veteran and want the Thor’s Hammer for a headstone or marker, you can find ordering information at the VA website.

ADDENDUM: The Troth has released the following statement.

“To our knowledge, current procedure to add an emblem of faith to a military headstone requires that the next of kin for a deceased Veteran request it. Josh Heath, of the Open Halls Project, has requested information in writing from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, but at this time we do not know who the Heathen service member was. In Heathen tradition, we greatly honor our slain warriors and offer Blóts and Fainings to them as the Einherjar, those warriors collected by Odin and Freya to take to their halls in Asgard. We are ever grateful to this fallen service member, both for their sacrifice to our country and for requesting Mjöllnir, or the Thor’s Hammer, for their headstone. We solemnly anticipate the time we can honor this newest of the Einherjar by name.”

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.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

Mass grave for the dead Lakota after the massacre at Wounded Knee Creek.

  • The historic site of Wounded Knee is now for sale on the open market. The current owner, James Czywczynski, makes some rather insulting claims about why he’s selling it. Quote: “For some reason, they cannot see economic development and they cannot see tourism and they cannot relate. They want everything for free is what it amounts to I guess.” The Oglala Sioux see the price as artificially inflated, trading on the massacre when the land itself is valued in the thousands, not millions. Quote: “We see that greed around here all the time with non-Indians. To me, you can’t put a price on the lives that were taken there.” What happens next is uncertain. There are claims that some buyers are interested in buying the land and giving it back to the tribe, but it’s just as possible someone will buy it in order to make money off someone else’s tragedy. 
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center shares the experiences of a lone Jew in a highly racially segregated prison. Quote: “It is an inviolate rule that different races may not break bread together under any circumstances. Violating this rule leads to harsh consequences. If you eat at the same table as another race, you’ll get beaten down. If you eat from the same tray as another race, you’ll be put in the hospital. And if you eat from the same food item as another race, that is, after another race has already taken a bite of it, you can get killed. This is one area where even the heads don’t have any play.” I think it’s important to share this after my story yesterday about Even Ebel. This is the toxic atmosphere in which Paganism behind bars is being practiced. 
  •  Jack Jenkins, a Senior Writer and Researcher with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative, writes about how mainstream journalism still doesn’t do religion coverage very well. Quote: “Yet religion seems to be having an increasingly hard time getting a fair shake from another major player in American life: the media. The breadth and quality of religion reporting in the United States has atrophied in recent years, with once-robust religion sections now all but erased from the pages of the nation’s leading newspapers. Meanwhile, religion reporters have either been laid off or forced to re-shift their professional focus to covering religion ‘on the side.'” The truth is that it’s even worse if you’re a member of a religious minority. We just hope the new episode of “Wife Swap” treats us gently, and we scarcely dream of the coverage larger faiths get. 
  • Just thought you should know that being for gun control laws is very, very, Pagan. Quote: “Frankly, it almost would seem that animism won’t go away. The left, which is largely made up of people who don’t believe in Jesus Christ’s blood as being necessary for our salvation, view inanimate objects as possessing their own will. That’s animism, that’s a return to the most pagan of paganism and look at what nutty political views it ends up supporting.” That’s Larry Pratt, thexecutive director of Gun Owners of America, an organization that believes the NRA is too soft on protecting the 2nd Amendment. Here’s one Heathen’s response to Pratt’s animist ramblings. 
  • In response to a number of recent articles, Evangelical Christians Paul Louis Metzger and John W. Morehead confront the issue of predatory proselytism. Quote: “Moreover, friendship is sometimes abused, when it is reduced to the end of evangelism. In one instance where an Evangelical has been involved in a high-profile relationship and dialogue with a Mormon scholar, many Evangelicals have called for an end to the relationship after a period of time because the Mormon has not converted. Aren’t relationships valuable in and of themselves without being used merely as a tool to convert others? For all our emphasis on personal relationships, one might be left to wonder how relational the Evangelical movement as a whole is.” For more on my personal interactions with Paul Louis Metzger, click here.
Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

Kryja Withers reading to Peter Dybing at her home.

 

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.

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.

  • NPR does a Samhain-inspired spotlight on New York City’s Lady Rhea, owner of Magickal Realms in the Bronx, and a spiritual mother to many influential Pagans, including Phyllis Curott. Quote: “I am a Wiccan high priestess and Witch queen. My age, I’ve been in the craft since ’73. I have a lot of coven people and people who are attached to me over the last years, so one of them coined me Pagan Mother. Call them up and I’ll say hello, are you listening? This is Pagan Mother, call me.” For more in this series, check out Faith in the Five Boroughs.
  • God is all-powerful and all-knowing, but did you know that by simply hoarding rose quartz or buying a lucky cat statue you can instantly block him? It’s true according to Fr. Jose Francisco Syquia: “When paganism and the occult contaminate the faith, the relationship with God is blocked and we can end up saying to ourselves that God is not interested in us, personally and as a nation [not knowing that] His blessings and protection… would not be able to fully enter into our lives.” So remember, God’s blessing, kinda easy to block (darn free will).
  • The Nigerian state of Akwa Ibom has made it illegal to accuse a child of witchcraft,though activists point out that Christian churches will also have to be reigned in if real changes are to be made in this problem. Quote:  “But some say churches in the impoverished state where unemployment is rampant, must also be reigned in. Some activists cite the churches as the source of the belief that children are sorcerers or witches.” For more on this problem, visit  Stepping Stones Nigeria, an organization that is fighting against the branding of children as witches.
  • Meanwhile, four women were arrested for practicing witchcraft in the United Arab Emirates. According to a news report they were caught in the midst of practicing sorcery, and that “a large number of substances and herbs including detergents and bodily fluids” were confiscated. Quote: “Colonel Salem Sultan Al Darmaki, Director of the Criminal Investigation Department at Ras Al Khaimah police, said that the case details date back to when they received information from an Arab lady reporting that four women were practicing sorcery from their flat.” Lucky for them the UAE doesn’t kill women for sorcery like Saudi Arabia does, but it still presents a chilling portrait of what fundamentalism run amuck looks like.

INDIA TREES PAINTING

  • Artists in the Indian state of Bihar are painting trees and bushes with images of Hindu deities in hopes it will stop locals from cutting them down. Forest cover for the state is under 7%, which worsens effects of floods and extreme weather.  Quote: “The unusual campaign, using coats of paint and brushes, has been launched in Madhubani, a northern Bihar district known for its religious and cultural awareness, resulting in hundreds of otherwise untended roadside trees covered in elaborate artwork. Artists are depicting the moods of deities, scenes from Hindu classics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata, or an imaginary scene showing an elderly woman restraining a man coming with an axe to cut trees.” 
  • Amy Wilentz, author of the forthcoming “Farewell, Fred Voodoo,” gives some perspective on zombies in the New York Times. Quote: “There are many reasons the zombie, sprung from the colonial slave economy, is returning now to haunt us. Of course, the zombie is scary in a primordial way, but in a modern way, too. He’s the living dead, but he’s also the inanimate animated, the robot of industrial dystopias. He’s great for fascism: one recent zombie movie (and there have been many) was called “The Fourth Reich.” The zombie is devoid of consciousness and therefore unable to critique the system that has entrapped him. He’s labor without grievance. He works free and never goes on strike. You don’t have to feed him much. He’s a Foxconn worker in China; a maquiladora seamstress in Guatemala; a citizen of North Korea; he’s the man, surely in the throes of psychosis and under the thrall of extreme poverty, who, years ago, during an interview, told me he believed he had once been a zombie himself.” This is a seriously great read – don’t miss it.
  • Salem Witch Richard Ravish, who passed away earlier this year, is remembered by his friends, loved ones, and co-religionists, during the annual walk to Gallows Hill in Salem. Quote: “I am doing a widow’s walk,” Ravish’s wife of 31 years said before the ceremony. “I’ve never done it before. This is the first year that the high priest … my partner, is not here to walk the circle with me. So I want to walk the circle round in a special walk.”
  • Science thinks we all might be a little bit psychic, albeit not in the bending spoons, having visions, sense. Quote: “What the studies measured was physiological activity—e.g., heart rate or skin conductance—in participants who, for instance, might have been shown a series of images, some harmless and others frightening. Using computer programs and statistical techniques, experimenters have found that, even before being shown a troubling image, participants sometimes display physiological changes —a faster heart rate, for example—of the kind that would be expected only after seeing the image, and not just because the subjects know a scary snake picture is coming sooner or later.” 
  • Reasons why I’m glad to be a Pagan: Christian alternatives to Halloween. Plus, here’s some bonus Halloween season “exwitch” stuff, if you’re into that.
  • Samhain at the joint Lackland military base: “Cammen is among a curious multiplication of Wiccans at Lackland. Hundreds of basic military trainees have chosen to study witchcraft at the base. “When we come over here on a Sunday, often times, there are 300 to 400 (trainees),” Tony Gatlin said.”
  •  Texas schools love Jesus, and litigation. Imagine how the handful of non-Christian students feel when Christian prayers are blasted throughout the school on their speaker system. Do you think they feel empowered to share their own faith, or are they instead pushed deeper into the “broom closet”? This is why a strong separation of church and state is necessary.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them 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.

Nothing pleases me more than to see voices connected to our community write important stories that explore our experiences, and the influence we can have on the world. Today, I’m honored to spotlight three such stories, published in three different media outlets.

The Plight of Pagans in the Military: Journalist and author Jennifer Willis, a Reconstructionist Jew with “strong NeoPagan leanings,” writes an exploration of the challenges faced by Pagans in the U.S. military for the Religion & Politics site.

Wiccan Pentacle Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

Wiccan Pentacle Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery.

[Stefani Barner's] experiences with religious intolerance in the military resulted in her book, Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces: A Handbook for Pagans in the Military. Though far from the witch-hunts of the past, Pagan stereotypes continue to be problematic, but perhaps even more so within the U.S. Armed Forces. Though there are now military chaplains for many minority religions—Buddhism and Hinduism included—Pagan military chaplaincy can’t seem to get off the ground, and until recently Pagan veterans could not have the pentacle—the symbol of their faith—inscribed on their tombstones in military cemeteries. But with increased accommodation of minority religions and a push for greater religious tolerance in the ranks, life could be changing for Pagans in uniform. “Things have improved,” Stefani says. “I think that we still have a long way to go, but that’s true for many, many minority faiths.”

For those who haven’t been following my coverage over the years, this is an excellent summary of the current status quo, and the struggles we’ve faced in getting to the point where we are now. An auspicious first story dealing with modern Paganism at Religion & Politicsa project of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. Be sure to read the whole thing, and share this on social media.

Religion at the Rio+20: Huffington Post blogger Grove Harris, a UN representative for the Temple of Understanding, and a member of the Interfaith Consortium For Ecological Civilization, reports from the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.  Harris talks about a side-event at Rio+20 where spiritual leaders could discuss changing consciousness in regards to the environment.

“In my work with the Temple of Understanding and the Interfaith Consortium for Ecological Civilization I convened a side event of interfaith spiritual leaders to discuss the need for consciousness change in our relationship to the environment. We have spiritual resources to guide us in this dangerous time that can help us enjoy peace as well as take effective action. Dr.Vandana Shiva advocates saving seeds, all kinds of the non-genetically modified kind that have grown food for humans for a long time. Jayanti Kirpalani of the Brahma Kumaris spoke of respect, respect for self, for home, for others and for the natural world. “We have spiritual resources to guide us in this dangerous time that can help us enjoy peace as well as take effective action. I was invited to speak on aligning awareness and action, and offered up a set of concepts: humility, intimacy, interconnectedness, acting into new awareness, composting as a spiritual practice, love as sustainable energy, and spirituality as nourishment offering freedom.” from addiction. This is my early harvest this solstice, the seeds of a book coming your way soon.”

Considering that I just wrote about Pagans and interfaith, here’s an excellent example of a Pagan operating on the world stage within the interfaith movement. Working to help bring our values of nature as sacred to important summits on environmental policy. I’m hoping that Harris issues more reports from Rio+20, giving us a Pagan perspective.

Open-Air Community at St. Louis Pagan Picnic: Finally, here at Patheos, Kathy Nance writes about the 20th anniversary of the St. Louis Pagan Picnic, which happened earlier this month. Drawing over 4000 people, it may be the largest Pagan event held in North America, one that often goes unnoticed by the rest of the Pagan community.

“I’ve been to 10 of our St. Louis picnics. It’s ironic that I lived within blocks of the event from the second one on and had never so much as walked through before becoming Public Relations chairman for the 2002 event, then staying on for 2003. And that I’d been asking, before that, “Where are all the Pagans?” and assumed the answer was, “In California.” I’ve been able to tell, every year, that there are people who are thrilled, even stunned, that there is such a vibrant Pagan community in St. Louis. I had some newcomers in both workshops I gave at Picnic. I saw and talked to others as I walked down vendors’ row. I’ve met a few so happy to find like-minded souls that they have tears in their eyes.”

Many of us, myself included, often fall into the trap of thinking about modern Paganism in terms of 3 or 4 geographical communities that have shaped our history: The Bay Area in California, New York City, or New England/Salem. Rarely do we stop to notice how modern Paganism is growing and thriving just about everywhere, like in St. Louis, Missouri. Luckily, Kathy Nance reminds us that sometimes our most vibrant communities can happen in places we might not suspect. For more on the St. Louis Pagan Picnic, follow their Facebook page, or check out MagickTV’s coverage.

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

In America, today is Memorial Day, a federal holiday that recognizes those who have died in the service of our military forces. For decades modern Pagan military personnel have worked to see that their contributions and sacrifices were given equal honor and recognition. Today, Pagan involvement in our armed forces is at a level of visibility and acceptance never before imagined, though with that recognition comes new challenges. While we work to continue our advances, let’s take a moment to recognize the fallen.

Marker for Sgt. Patrick Stewart.

Marker for Sgt. Patrick Stewart.

Circle Sanctuary is compiling a list of Pagan military who have died in the line of duty.

AFGHANISTAN: Operation Enduring Freedom

Sgt. Patrick Dana Stewart of Fernley, Nevada.
Nevada Army National Guard. Killed in action, died September 25, 2005, age 34.
Cremains scattered September 25, 2006, Nevada Highlands, Nevada.
Some cremains buried May 28, 2007, Circle Cemetery, near Barneveld, Wisconsin.

IRAQ: Operation Iraqi Freedom

Spc. James W. Price of Cleveland, Tennessee.
US Army. Killed in action, died September 18, 2004, age 22.
Buried in Sunset Memorial Gardens, Cleveland, Tennessee.

Pfc. Stephen P. Snowberger, III of Lopez, Pennsylvania.
US Army. Killed in action, died May 11, 2006, age 18.
Buried in Brown Family Cemetery, Lexington, North Carolina.

Sgt. Jason Alan Schumann of Hawley, Minnesota.
US Army. Killed in action, died May 19, 2007, age 23.
Buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Spc. Charles Thomas Heinlein, Jr. of Hemlock, Michigan.
US Army. Killed in action, died July 31, 2007, age 23.
Buried in Section 60, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

Pfc. Juctin R. P. McDaniel of Andover, New Hampshire.
US Army. Died December 17, 2007, age 19.
Buried in New Hampshire State Cemetery, New Hampshire.

Sgt. Michael Bramer of Fayetteville, North Carolina.
US Army (2001-2006). Severe head injuries in combat in October, 2003.
Died in California of injuries on January 17, 2007, age 23.
Buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, Bath, Maine.

The modern military experience can also be a modern Pagan experience, those who are wounded and die in our country’s service aren’t an anonymous “other” removed from our experiences, but us. We here at The Wild Hunt give honor to all our Pagan brothers and sisters who have served, are serving, and have fallen in the line of duty. Please feel free to link or post any observances, tributes, thoughts, or remembrances you think appropriate on this day.

There’s no rhetorical fruit that hangs lower than government waste, everyone hates it! $16 dollar muffins$600 dollar toilet seats, $131,000 dollar dragon robots for preschoolers (actually, that sounds pretty cool), all seeming evidence of a spend-happy government run amok, and an easy target for curmudgeonly columnists of all political stripes. This past year, we saw modern Pagans get sucked into this Andy Rooney-esque vortex from which no nuance or joy escapes when a LA Times report wrote about the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Circle in November, noting the $80,000 dollar price tag for the Pagan and earth-religions-dedicated worship area.

Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle at the Air Force Academy

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

“Still, the academy this year dedicated an $80,000 outdoor worship center — a small Stonehenge-like circle of boulders with propane fire pit — high on a hill for the handful of current or future cadets whose religions fall under the broad category of “Earth-based.” Those include pagans, Wiccans, druids, witches and followers of Native American faiths.”

That reported cost spurred a wave of commentary about government waste and rampant political correctness, which prompted the Air Force Academy to defend the cost, and their commitment to religious plurality.

“The LA Times got the $80,000 figure from the Academy’s Cadet Chapel fact sheet. But the numbers on the fact sheet at the time were too high because they mistakenly included $26,500 that was spent to control erosion on the east side of the hill on which Falcon Circle is now situated. [...]  The scope of work in the $51,484 Falcon Circle contract included removing screws and nails from the inside of the circle and installing 1,225 square feet of flagstone. The boulders were moved in 2009 from the east side of the hill, where erosion threatened to send them crashing into the Visitors Center, where more than 500,000 people per year learn about the national treasure that is the Academy. By way of comparison, the Cadet Chapel that now houses Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist worship areas cost $3.5 million to build — in 1959. That would be more than $25 million in today’s dollars, or enough to build 500 Falcon Circles.”

Defending the cost of Falcon Circle, which was built in response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, was just the latest in a string of challenges faced by the academy and Pagan cadets. This included the site being vandalized shortly after it first received press attention in 2010, and ignorant opinion pieces attacking Pagan religions. Sadly, the debunking of the $80,000 dollar price-tag seemed to not reach retired news anchor and Scripps columnist Truman Taylor, who decided he really needed to weigh in on this important issue.

“If you don’t agree that most government spending is quite that wasteful, a recent Gallup poll says it may be because you’re too well-educated. A conjecture perhaps, but there it is. Those in the survey with some postgraduate education don’t think that the government wastes as much money as do those with less education. You can self-test yourself on this Gallup assertion. First, think about how much education you have, then think about the $80,000 pagan stone circle that the government built at the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colo.”

Ho-ho! You over-educated eggheads, Taylor has you in his rhetorical grasp! How can any reasonable person think $80,000 dollars is anything but waste for a “Stonehenge look-alike on the top of a hill with a fire pit right in the middle of it.”

“…the fact that only three of the academy’s 4,300 cadets are actually believed to be pagans, you may think that the money spent to build the stone circle was justified to protect the constitutional right to religious freedom. You may also think that $80,000 for a fire pit for Druids and Wiccans at the Air Force Academy isn’t enough money to get too riled up about, that perhaps the academy is trying to attract more Wiccans to the Air Force — an equal-pagan-opportunity sort of thing. If these thoughts come to your mind, Gallup would probably say you may have spent too many years in grad school … not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

Touche! A touch! A veritable sting! Truman Taylor can now sit back in his armchair, crack open his vintage collection of Mike Royko columns next to a roaring fire whilst enjoying a fine glass of port, safe in the knowledge he’s not only lampooned excessive government spending, but political correctness *and* people who went to grad school (suckers!). Who cares if it isn’t exactly true, it feels true, and that’s all that matters, right? I mean, why mention that the real cost was much lower and that the erosion work needed to be done anyway to protect other buildings on the base. Why trouble our thoughts with the notion that the circle isn’t exclusively for Pagans and that any cadet can use the circle for all sorts of activities, why quibble over the fact that it doesn’t actually look like Stonehenge in the slightest? People hate government spending, and so long as you check the boxes on the ready-mix instant-column, you’ll do just fine.

In truth, I don’t mean to excessively pick on Truman Taylor’s column, but misinformation can sometimes overwrite actual reality. The more people spout the $80,000 price-tag and hold it up as an example of waste, the more folks believe it, and the more it sinks in that Pagan cadets aren’t worth the expense, even though the AFA’s cadet chapel would be worth the cost of 500 Falcon Circle’s in today’s dollars. Frankly, I don’t care if there’s only one Pagan cadet, creating a culture of religious respect within our military is a vital project worthy of the cost.

“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.”

Here’s hoping that it continues to be “very easy to be a Pagan at the Air Force Academy, “ and that Pagan cadets can get back to focusing on their lessons instead of being put under a microscope by those looking to score points on “government waste”.

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 April of 2007 the Bush Administration agreed to a settlement that paved the way for approval of the Wiccan pentacle to be engraved on government-issued headstones and markers, bringing to an end a campaign that lasted a decade, one that saw casual anti-Pagan demagoguery morph into government policy. Nearly five years after that historic settlement, the number of grave markers with the pentacle emblem, according to iPad-formatted news magazine The Daily, has risen dramatically.

Photo by Alex Brandon (AP)

Photo by Alex Brandon (AP)

“Since its addition in 2007 to a list of recognized tombstone icons, the pentacle has begun popping up on grave markers at Arlington and other government cemeteries alongside crosses, Stars of David and Muslim crescents. “There’s been a large increase over the past few years,” Jeanet Ewing, co-founder of Northern Virginia Pagan Network, told The Daily. “We’re up to near 80 grave markers nationwide.” The symbol can be found on five Arlington headstones, including that of Army Staff Sgt. Thomas Huffard, a Vietnam veteran who died in 2009, and Army Spec. Charles Heinlein, who was killed in Iraq in 2007.”

While I’m very happy to see our Wiccan veterans properly honored, and glad that The Daily decided to shine a spotlight on this issue, I’m troubled by the comments made by Department of Veterans Affairs staff.

…the proposed new emblem must represent “the decedent’s religious affiliation or sincerely held religious belief system,” the Veterans Affairs’ website states. “It can’t just be someone making up a religion,” department spokeswoman Josephine Schuda told The Daily.  As for the inclusion of Wicca, which involves the worship of a horned god that critics have likened to a Satanic figure, as well as a more benign goddess figure, Schuda recalled that the decision entailed considerable debate. “Essentially, it boiled down to the issue of whether Wiccan beliefs constituted a religion,” Schuda said. “It took a little while, I’ll say that.”

With all due respect to Ms. Schuda, it wasn’t a matter of debate, it was a matter of litigation and intense public pressure that got the pentacle approved. For nine years the VA ignored filed requests, “lost” applications, punted, and stalled. The Pagan community marshaled every interfaith ally it could, and was met by continual stonewalling.  In that time, several other emblems were approved, while outright misinformation was given to Pagan applicants. It wasn’t until Roberta Stewart, widow of Sgt. Patrick Stewart, with the help of Americans United, took the government to court did things progress, and even then the VA tried to have the case dismissed, or delayed with the promise of policy changes.

Ultimately, it wasn’t internal “debate” that won Wiccan veterans the pentacle, it was the discovery of damning evidence by Americans United.

“Lawyers familiar with the case said that some documents suggested the VA had political motives for rejecting the pentacle … During his first campaign for president, then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush told ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’ in 1999 that he was opposed to Wiccan soldiers practicing their faith at Fort Hood, Tex. ‘I don’t think witchcraft is a religion, and I wish the military would take another look at this and decide against it,’ he said. Lynn, of Americans United, said references to Bush’s remarks appeared in memos and e-mails within the VA. ‘One of the saddest things is to learn that this wasn’t just a bureaucratic nightmare, there was a certain amount of bigotry,’ he said. ‘The president’s wishes were interpreted at a pretty high level. . . . It became a political judgment, not a constitutional judgment.’”

In short, the “debate” over “whether Wiccan beliefs constituted a religion” really came down to the VA interpreting George W. Bush’s infamous “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion” comments as a directive. Faced with a courtroom showdown where this evidence would be presented, the VA agreed to settle. A settlement that was agreed on because it won us what we wanted in the first place, the approval of the pentacle as an emblem of faith. An emblem that now graces nearly 80 markers and headstones.

As the old saw goes: You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. The VA’s approval of the Wiccan pentacle didn’t come about because of internal theological debate, it came about because Wiccans, Pagans, and their allies, fought hard for it. Litigation ended up being necessary, and it was only after litigation was filed that we saw any forward progress from the VA. Any other interpretation belittles the decade of activism, hard work, and struggle that occurred. Considering the fact that some emblems were approved in the space of two weeks during the ten years the Wiccan pentacle was being considered ,“It took a little while, I’ll say that,” may set a new standard for understatement. So never forget what it took to get us here, and lets hope that a FOIA request will someday unearth all those “debates” over the pentacle.