Honoring our Pagan Fallen on Memorial Day

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Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., a federal holiday that honors the many who have died in military service. For decades, modern Pagan and Heathen military personnel have worked to have their contributions and their sacrifices equally recognized within military circles. Due to the unyielding efforts, Pagan and Heathen involvement within the armed forces is at a level of visibility and acceptance never before imagined. With that visibility, of course, comes new challenges.

Throughout the year, we highlight many of those triumphs and discuss the obstacles. But today, let us pause to recognize and remember the many who have fallen.

Veterans Ridge at Circle Cemetery

Veterans Ridge at Circle Cemetery [Courtesy Photo]

At Arlington National Cemetery, these fallen soldiers lie side by in a remarkable display of religious diversity within the U.S. armed forces. Baha’is lay beside Jews; Muslims beside Christians; Hindus beside Wiccans. The cemetery offers over 60 religious symbols with which to engrave headstones — some of which may be familiar and others rarely viewed in public spaces. – from “Arlington Cemetery Gravestones Honor America’s Fallen Soldiers Of Every (And No) Faith,” The Huffington Post, Antonia Blumberg

Memorial Day isn’t about veterans like me, who got to come home and go on with their lives. No, Memorial Day is supposed to be all about the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who came home in caskets or in body bags. Or who never came home at all, like my father-in-law. They paid the highest possible price to defend this nation, and it trivializes their sacrifice not to make their one day a year just about them. Blake Kirk, Wiccan Priest

Centuries ago, in Athens, when someone died the body was taken by procession to the burial or cremation site. A family member would say the dead person’s name three times to see if they would answer. It was to show the person was really dead, to bring the reality that they had crossed to the land of the dead and will never be coming back.

The US military does the same thing. They take a final role call of the squad or element the military member belonged to and they call the dead person’s name last. Then they call it again adding in the first name. Then they call it a third time, using the person’s full name. When the person doesn’t respond, it is announced they person is dead and where they died. It’s as powerful a rite now as it was 2 or 3 thousand years ago, which is why it is still done. ” from “Thoughts on Death and Burial,” The Wild Hunt, Cara Schulz

They gave their lives, to [country] and to all of us, and for their own selves they won praises that never grow old, the most splendid of sepulchers—not the sepulcher in which their bodies are laid, but where their glory remains eternal in men’s minds, always there on the right occasion to stir others to speech or to action … I would ask you to count as gain the greater part of your life, in which you have been happy, and remember that what remains is not long, and let your hearts be lifted up at the thought of the fair fame of the dead. – from Pericles’ Funeral Oration dedicated to those lost in the Peloponnesian War.

I learned something from the families: The true cost of grief is beyond politics. It was important to realize an individual life had been lost and people were greatly affected. That loss is so much greater than agreeing or disagreeing with [the] war.  – Military photographer Andrew Lichtenstein, as quoted in The New York Times.

[Public Domain]

[Public Domain]

The modern military experience can be part of the modern Pagan and Heathen experience. Those who are wounded and die in service to our country are not an anonymous “other” removed from our society and daily lives. They are us.

We here at The Wild Hunt honor our Pagan and Heathen brothers and sisters who have have fallen in the line of duty.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
– Laurence Binyon, “For the Fallen,” originally published in The Times, 1914

Please feel free to post any observances, names, tributes, thoughts, or remembrances you think appropriate on this day.