Archives For VA

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.

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta: "such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism."

Fox News contributor Liz Trotta joins the paganism-as-slur chorus: “such disregard is deeply rooted in the extraordinary creeping paganism.”

  • I guess I should take this as confirmation that I was on the right track with my recent article on the world “paganism” being increasingly used as a slur. Political snark-blog Wonkette notices all the “pagan” talk too, most recently evidenced by Fox News Analyst Liz Trotta. Quote: “The only place where “paganism” seems to be making real gains, of course, is in wingnut rhetoric. In the good old days, it was “secular humanism” that was supposed to be taking over, but in recent years, these guys seem to be warning more and more about “paganism” — by which they seem to mean almost anything they have a faith-based excuse for disliking [...] Fundies have always worried about anything they think might be occult or witchcraft — consider the freakouts over Harry Potter — but now the fear of a pagan planet seems to be increasingly seeping into garden-variety wingnut discourse like Trotta’s [...]  It’s hard to get a sense of just how widespread this nutty “the pagans are coming” meme is, but it’s definitely out there.” The question for us capital-P Pagans is: how do we respond to this growing trend?
  • So, what happens when Christianity religiously dominates a state in Hindu-dominated India? Well, apparently you get Satanists. Quote: “Christian groups in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland are working to quell the rapid growth of Satanism after reports that thousands of teenagers from churches had taken up devil worship in recent months. The Vatican’s Fides news agency recently reported that more than 3,000 young “worshipers of Satan” have been identified in Nagaland’s capital of Kohima alone.” If you give people two choices, and only two choices, God or Satan, it seems inevitable that those unhappy with the Christian God will turn to his opponent. This is what happens when religious ecosystems are critically disrupted. 
  • Is the secular West heading into “a galloping spiritual pluralism?”Columnist David Brooks seems to endorse that future, one paraphrased from Charles Taylor, author of “A Secular Age.” Quote: “Orthodox believers now live with a different tension: how to combine the masterpieces of humanism with the central mysteries of their own faiths. This pluralism can produce fragmentations and shallow options, and Taylor can eviscerate them, but, over all, this secular age beats the conformity and stultification of the age of fundamentalism, and it allows for magnificent spiritual achievement.” Would modern Paganism be one of those achievements? 
  • The Fast Co.Design blog does a feature on the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for Veteran’s grave stones and markers. Quote: “To most of us, Mjölnir might bring to mind Jack Kirby’s trippy Marvel Comics Asgard, a rainbow-striped city of no fixed point in time. Or it might make us think of an armored Chris Hemsworth bellowing as he smashes his hammer down on Captain America’s raised shield. But it’s also a symbol that represents virtues so profoundly felt that two men lived and laid down their lives for it in service of their country. Great symbols resonate deeply within all of us, but each to our own unique frequency. That’s what makes them more powerful than even Mjölnir.” Yes, I’m quoted in the article. There are some things I personally would have changed, and I’m sure a Heathen representative from an organization like The Troth could have done a better job, but I think the piece overall is positive and sympathetic.
  • The Colorado Independent has an in-depth piece up about the murder of Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, by former inmate Evan Ebel, and how the policy of long-term solitary confinement without re-integration may have damaged Ebel’s mental stability beyond repair. Quote: “’Forty-seven percent of these guys are walking right out of ad-seg into our communities,’ Clements told me in 2011. ‘Forty-seven percent. That’s the number that keeps me awake at night.’” I mentioned this case back in May due to revelations that Ebel had listed himself as an adherent to the Asatru faith. 
Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

Graphic via The Globe and Mail.

  • The Pew Forum analyzes Canada’s changing religious landscape, noting the growing of “other” religions and those who claim no religious identity at all. Quote: “The number of Canadians who belong to other religions – including Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity – is growing. Collectively, these smaller religious groups account for more than one-in-ten Canadians (11%) as of 2011, up from not quite one-in-twenty (4%) in 1981. In addition, the number of Canadians who do not identify with any religion has been rising rapidly in recent decades, going from 4% in 1971 to nearly a quarter (24%) in 2011.” You can read my article on Canada’s census data, here
  • The Lancashire Constabulary has apologized after The Police Pagan Association acted on several complaints regarding allegations that Paganism might somehow be involved in a rash of “horse slashings” in the area. Quote: “We are aware that comments made to the Lancashire Evening Post recently suggesting that Pagans may be linked to attacks on horses has caused some offence. We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who has been offended; this was certainly not our intention . The comments made are not a reflection of the views of Lancashire Constabulary as a whole. Lancashire Constabulary encourages an open and inclusive culture and celebrates the diversity of our workforce and communities.”This is not the first time that allegations like this have surfaced, and so far no mysterious cult or occult practitioner has been caught bothering or harming horses. It seems to come down to sensationalism and superstition. 
  • There are lots of reasons to not like the new “The Lone Ranger” film, but Tonto not being a Christian certainly shouldn’t be one of them. Right? Quote: “The new “Lone Ranger” film has been a critical and box office disappointment, but the fact that the Indian character “Tonto” is not a Christian has upset some Christian conservatives.” Also problematic: evil businessmen and daring to mention that our country slaughtered Native Americans. As I said, this is film is problematic for all sorts of reasons, but daring to show non-Christian faiths as heroic or positive shouldn’t be one of them. 
  • A challenge to Selma, California’s fortune telling ordinances was dismissed on ripeness grounds because the plaintiff never bothering trying to go through the process of getting a license. Quote: “In Davis v. City of Selma, (ED CA, July 2, 2013), a California federal district court dismissed on ripeness grounds various challenges to the city of Selma, California’s ordinance which requires “Fortune Tellers” to obtain a license in order to provide services within the city.  Plaintiff, a spiritual counselor, initially sought a business license under the Selma Municipal Code (“S.M.C.”), but never completed the application process because it was too restrictive.  Instead she sued claiming violations of her rights under the 1st and 14th Amendments and RLUIPA.” In legal matters, process is important, and if you don’t follow that process, your case can fall apart overnight. 
  • Suhag A. Shukla of the Hindu American Foundation analyzes the recent high-profile decision regarding yoga being taught at a public school, and whether that violated the separation of church and state. Shukla notes that what was being taught had all Hindu elements removed, and truly was free from religion. Quote: “While I haven’t read Judge Meyer’s ruling yet, media accounts indicate that our position is in consonance with his. Yoga is rooted in Hindu tradition, he reportedly said, but the “yoga” taught in Encinitas was stripped bare of all cultural references and even the Sanskrit names for poses, rendering it non-religious. I would go further to say that such asana based courses should not be called yoga. They are immensely helpful, and schools should embrace them, but yoga means so much more.”HAF has been on a campaign to “Take Yoga Back” and remind people that the practice did spring from Hindu religious culture.

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.

On May 10th I reported that the Thor’s Hammer (aka Mjölnir) emblem was approved for veteran’s headstones and grave markers by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Since then, more details have been slowly emerging as to how the approval came about. We know that the listing went up on May 2nd, and thanks to a statement sent to The Wild Hunt from the Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth we now know the circumstances of the emblem’s approval.

Thor's Hammer Emblem.

Thor’s Hammer Emblem.

“Due to a number of inquires regarding the Department of Veterans Affairs approval of the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem as one of the “Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers” I have decided to write the following statement to try and answer everyone’s questions. Please note, that at the request of the Departed’s Family, I am withholding the last name and location of the grave markers.

The departed’s name is Shane, he was an Odinist and a Sargent in the United States Marine Corp. He was a Loyal Brother and Comrade to me personally for many years here in Midgard and although not a member of the OR, he was close with members of The Northern Winds Hearth and joined us in Blot and Sumbel on many occasions. Shane had passed from Midgard in August of 2012. After his Bael and Burial Ceremonies were held, I discussed with his Mother about the gravestone marker Emblems and how the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem was not on the approved list with the VA, even with the previous efforts made by others to get approved.

It was then that her quest began to submit a request to the VA to get the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem approved. She had written a lengthy heart felt letter to the VA with the request for the approval so her son may have an Emblem of Faith representative of his Beliefs on his gravestone. At this time she also requested that her Husband Mark’s headstone also bear the same Emblem for he practiced and lived by the same core teachings and virtues of Odinism, as their Son did. The VA required that she submit: (1) A three-inch diameter digitized black and white representation; (2) Free of copyright or trademark restrictions, or authorized by the owner for use and publication on the list of publicly available emblems; and (3) Reproducible in a production-line environment in stone or bronze without loss of graphic quality. At that time I enlisted the assistance of Comrades within the OR who were more then willing to assist her with this request.

After the VA accepted the image that was provided the waiting game began. She had made countless phone calls and sent numerous e-mails regarding the status of the request. Finally after all of her tireless efforts she received a letter from the VA dated May 2, 2013 advising her of the approval and that both Shane and Mark’s headstones that currently do not have any Emblem of Faith on them, would be replaced with new headstones inscribed with the Mjölnir – Hammer of Thor Emblem. Although it is with sadness and a heavy heart that this came about, a great step forward has taken place for the Odinist and Asatru communities. From our loss a Great Victory has arisen that will positively affect us all for generations to come! Hail to the Fallen, Hail Shane and Mark! Hail to Shane’s Mother for Her Dedication and Perseverance! Hail to all of Our Service Men and Women! Past, Present, and Future!

FFF/HTR Haakon “Hawk” AOR Guardian of The Northern Winds Hearth, AOR”

I’d like to thank Hawk for sending us this information, so that we can know the story, and who we have to thank for this advance for all Pagan and Heathen veterans. In addition, several groups like The Troth, Lady Liberty League, and the Open Halls Project have also released statements on this victory. I think this statement from the Heathen group Hrafnar sums up the general sentiments well.

“Today, Hrafnar stands with heathens across the US in pride as the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs has approved the Thor’s Hammer as an emblem to put on the headstones of fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. The greater acceptance of our faith anywhere is a victory for all of us, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

Today, Hrafnar also stands with heathens across the US in sorrow: such recognition can only be made after the death of one who has been sworn to that service. The death of one of us is a loss for us all, regardless of whatever other differences we may have.

Hail the fallen! Hail the heathens!”

As for the future, we now clearly know how future Pagan symbols will be approved. Susan Granquist of Irminsul Ættir and the Our Freedom Coalition sent me this reminder for all Pagan veterans and their families.

“We, as an organization, recommend that veterans make sure that they include their desire to have that particular symbol on their headstones in their wills, and to make sure that their legal representatives have documentation and authority to make sure it is placed on the headstone.”

So if you are a Pagan, Heathen, or polytheist, who has served, or is serving, in the US military, please make arrangements now so that your preferred religious symbol can be approved for your gravestone or marker. If you need help, reach out to organizations like the Lady Liberty League, or your preferred national Pagan organization, to make sure everything is in order. Let’s ensure that all our fallen receive their proper honor.

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.”

One thing that underscores the veteran Pentacle quest is that there are modern Pagans serving in war zones right now as we speak. The case of Patrick Stewart, who died while serving in Afghanistan, isn’t a rare fluke that happened to bring up the issue of honoring the faith of all veterans. Thousands of modern Pagans are currently active in all branches of the military, many in dangerous “hot spots” as Sgt. Stewart was. This point is driven home in a New York Times spotlight on Rev. Shareen Fischer, captain and a chaplain in the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion of the 82nd Airborne Division.

“There’s so much going on militarily as you get ready” was how Captain Fischer put it. “Not enough time, not enough days. So I like to have my quiet time. When David said, ‘I look to the hills’ and ‘My strength comes from the Lord,’ he was alone in the desert. And I have to remember where my strength comes from. Because if I am not strong, how can I be a strong leader for my paratroopers?”

While Rev. Fischer is a Christian (a graduate of Oral Roberts University who is an ordained Pentecostal) as chaplain she has to oversee the spiritual and religious needs of her entire unit.

“She led worship services for Christian soldiers and helped arrange them for guardsmen of other faiths. She made sure Jews and Muslims received kosher and halal Meals Ready to Eat. She taught lessons on Bible passages that were set in Mesopotamia. After her unit was attacked, she conducted the required stress debriefing for the victims. And sometimes she simply held the men and women who were crying…Lately she had been surveying her soldiers to determine their religious backgrounds and so meet their needs. She has found Muslims, Jews, Roman Catholics, Protestants of myriad stripes, Eastern Orthodox adherents and even a few Wiccans.”

Those “few Wiccans” in her division, while accommodated in life, are serving knowing that the government won’t (at this time) honor their service after death by acknowledging the faith that defines them. The growing reality is that modern Pagans can be found in almost any profession and situation in America, this includes our military. It is time that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs catches up to the what chaplains like the Rev. Shareen Fischer are already doing, trying to meet the needs of all faiths currently serving.

Getting an advanced college degree must be good for something, just look at how Mary Zeiss Stange, professor of women’s studies and religion at Skidmore College, and a contributer to USA Today managed to tie the Christmas Wars and two Pagan-related stories into one editorial! It seems to be yet another rote editorial on the “controversy” over stores saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” until it becomes all about Paganism.

“Gone are the days when folks who worried about rampant materialism cautioned that it was time to “put Christ back into Christmas.” Now it’s time to put Christ back into Kmart. And so, as Wal-Mart spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone has bravely proclaimed, “This year, we’re not afraid to say ‘Merry Christmas.'”…Of course, if you are a Jew celebrating Hanukkah, or a Muslim marking Eid al-Fitr, or a neo-pagan Wiccan for whom the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) is a major observance, you probably had appreciated the more inclusive acknowledgment that the end of the year is a festive time for you, too. Indeed, particularly if you are Wiccan, the matter of being un-included this holiday season must especially sting. A group of Wiccan families is suing the Department of Veterans Affairs for the right to bury their fallen heroes in military cemeteries in graves marked with a pentacle, the five-pointed star that symbolizes their religion, much as a cross does Christianity or a Star of David, Judaism.”

Did you see that? She managed to dis crass consumerism tainting the Christian holiday, remind people that non-Christians really do live and work in America, and then point out how modern Pagans are getting metaphorical coal in their stockings courtesy of the Veteran’s Administration. Strange tops off this editorial concoction with the “cherry” of ancient pagan elements still present in modern Christmas celebrations.

“For Christmas is, in its origins and its symbolism, perhaps the most pagan-inspired of all Christian holidays. Its dating derives from the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia, which was determined by the winter solstice, that astronomical point in the year after which the periods of sunlight on Earth lengthen…These pagan-derived symbols and customs are precisely the elements of Christmas that Christian activists are pressing to preserve and promote, in venues such as Target and Macy’s.”

How to close such a editorial? Why with the hope for peace (and justice) on earth and goodwill towards mankind (and womankind) of course.

“…nothing could be more in keeping with the “Christmas spirit” than to embrace and celebrate religious diversity. And nothing could be truer to the spirit of the First Amendment than to honor American war dead as they and their loved ones would wish. No single group of self-proclaimed Christians holds a premium on the meaning of this magical season. And no government agency should decide what “qualifies” as an appropriate religious symbol. And so, no offense intended, but season’s greetings.”

That is how you write an editorial on subject(s) that have been covered to death and keep it fresh. Pagan editorialists take note. Oh, and season’s greetings.