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“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.

Ever since the Air Force Academy in Colorado unveiled the Cadet Chapel Falcon Circle, an outdoor space dedicated primarily for use by cadets and staff who follow Pagan, Native American, and Earth-based religious traditions, its been dogged by controversy. The circle, which was created in response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, was vandalized shortly after it first received press attention in 2010. Then, after its official dedication in May of last year, a wave of criticism and ignorant opinion pieces could be found from the usual corners. Things seemed to die down after that, but comment and controversy were stirred up once again after the LA Times wrote about Falcon Circle in November, noting its $80,000 dollar price tag.

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

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)

“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.”

That commentary by Don Branum, published on December 27th, movingly recounts the struggles of Pagans in the military, and declares that building Falcon Circle was “the right thing to do.” Branum’s defense trickled into the mainstream media yesterday via The Denver Post, who did note that the circle is available to all cadets, not just Pagans, and that the initially reported cost estimates are deceptively high. Whether these clarifications reach the critics who were quick to condemn Falcon Circle, or manage to change the minds of those who believe the Air Force Academy is being overrun by unholy forces is an open question.  Whatever the outcome from the latest round of publicity, this defense of Falcon Circle by the AFA is a welcome sign, and part of an ongoing initiative to create a culture of religious respect.

“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 prove some ideological point.

[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.

Just a few quick news notes for your Saturday.

Thorn Coyle Launches New Video Series: Pagan author and mentor T. Thorn Coyle has announced the launch of a new subscription video teaching series entitled Fiat LVX. For $20 dollars per month subscribers will have access to two professionally produced instructional and informational videos featuring T. Thorn Coyle each month.

“The first installment will examine a different spiritual idea as it directly relates to our lives; the second video will guide you through the steps of putting that concept into direct experience. A forum led by Morningstar Mentors and Thorn will enable you to ask questions, delve into your experience with other participants, and hopefully inspire us all to keep practicing! Twice monthly practice prompts will support and further the work.

Topics include: Becoming the priestess, able to mediate the space between the Twin Pillars of yes and no, push and pull, light and dark. The power of Integrative Magick that enables us to bring all parts of life to bear on our great work. Aligning the parts of our soul, connecting our animal, human, and divine natures. The series will grow and expand over time, facilitating our own growth and expansion.”

Funds raised through Fiat LVX will go into covering production costs, with any remainder being funneled into the non-profit Pagan organization Solar Cross. While there have been Pagan instructional videos in the past, and a growing number of Pagans are utilizing Internet video and communication services to conduct classes, I believe this is a unique service, particularly considering the professional production values.

Ten Years of Fort Bragg Open Circle: Today, Fort Bragg Open Circle, one of the longest-running Pagan military groups in the United States, celebrates its 10th anniversary. Attending and speaking at the event is Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, who had this to say about this milestone in the group’s history.

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary

“The Fort Bragg Open Circle is one of the oldest and longest running Pagan military groups in the United States of America. Also known by its original name, Bragg Pope Open Circle, it has been providing ceremonies, education, and other support for Pagans at Fort Bragg since its founding in 2001. It was among the Pagan military groups that took part in the successful quest to have the US Department of Veterans Affairs add the pentacle to its list of emblems of belief that can be included on veteran gravemarkers. I look forward to being part of the Fort Bragg Open Circle’s 10th Anniversary activities on Saturday and celebrating this milestone for this group — and for Paganism as a whole!”

The Fort Bragg Open Circle was formed not long after some conservative politicians, specifically former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr,  tried to institute a ban on modern Pagans in the military. That uproar in 1999 would echo for another decade, denying military Pagans the full honor and respect they deserve. So here’s to the Fort Bragg Open Circle for standing up and being out during a time when it truly was risky to do so. Congratulations on your 10th anniversary!

The Young Witches of Salem: Tonight sees the premiere of “The Young Witches of Salem,” a reality web series produced by Ed Hubbard of Witch School that follows a group of young Witches living in Salem, Massachusetts during the city’s busiest month of the year.

“October 1st, 2011 With the cool fall winds of fall and we enter the month of October, America turns to Halloween, seeking out fun and entertainment. Starting Saturday Night, October 1st, the world will be able to visit the Halloween Capital of the World, Salem, Massachusetts, aka The Witch City and follow the exploits of real live Witches during the Haunted Happenings Season. The Young Witches of Salem will begin broadcasting their own web series and sharing their lives as part of the season. The series will follow The Young Witches Lexi Renee, Caitlin Rose, Peter Murphy and Danielle Young as they learn their craft from Salem leaders and Witch Elders, while dealing with the daily reality of their jobs, school, and personal lives. They are inviting the world to become part of the celebration known as Haunted Happenings, as seen through their eyes.

The cast members are not actors, but real members of the Witch community, a community that extends far beyond Salem itself, and they each have a different way of looking at the world. The web series will allow each of the Young Witches to have their individual voice and will allow the audience to have a voice as well with the inclusion of interactive video.”

I believe all the videos in this series will be posted to the MagickTV Youtube account for those who’d like to follow it there. It should be interesting to see how this develops, and who gets involved. Good luck to the Young Witches!

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