WASHINGTON –The work to provide an even playing field for members of Pagan and polytheist religions continues, and ten years after the pentacle was approved for use on VA headstones, the awen has now also been added to the official list. Together with the Thor’s hammer, these emblems have transformed how Pagan and polytheist military members are remembered in death.According to Rev. Selena Fox, executive director of Circle Sanctuary, this particular symbol has been one she’s wanted approval for since the pentacle was approved in 2007. She recalled that during the press conference celebrating that milestone, she brought up the awen in particular.
The room was packed with reporters and other media. They all had received copies of the settlement agreement we had signed with the VA. . . . One of the reporters asked why a stipulation was included in our settlement agreement that stated that Circle Sanctuary had the option of taking legal action if necessary to get other symbols on the list.
I replied that I insisted that it be included since there were many forms of Pagan religions, and we wanted to assure that we were able to do whatever was legally necessary to also help get other Pagan symbols on the list for veterans of other Pagan paths. As an example, I spoke about the requests for the awen that had been submitted to the VA by Druid veterans. This was the first time I spoke about the Awen Quest publicly.
I am thankful that as the tenth anniversary of the VA adding the pentacle to its list approaches, that at last, the awen is now also on the list!
Author Ellen Evert Hopman has been working on this approval since prior to the pentacle being added to the list. Hopman has documented that effort, which began in 2004 while she was co-chief of the Order of White Oak. At her request, Craig Melia, her co-chief, drew up some symbol ideas for the VAs use. Hopman said:
He came up with six variations ranging from clusters of oak leaves, to leaves surrounded by a Celtic torque to variations on the awen symbol, with and without the three dots. We sent the symbols around to the major Druid orders . . . and asked them to vote. The awen symbol was the preferred one, based on the voting.
I had at least one passionate objection to that symbol from a vet. . . . I think it’s important for all vets and their families to understand that other symbols can be created and submitted. Celtic Revival Druids would probably prefer a triskele (triple spiral) design for example. But this was a start and the attempt was made to get the ball rolling.
In response to the VAs action, Hopman said, “I am thrilled that we finally have at least one symbol that Druid vets can choose, I hope there will be more over time.”
The Druidic symbol, which is now #65 on the official list, has a variety of meanings for those Druids who use it, such as the triple aspect of deity or body, mind, and spirit. Tony Taylor, archdruid emeritus of the Henge of Keltria, explained:
The tri-line has many different meanings to many different Druids. One of the distinctive characteristics of many forms of Druidism is looking at the world in the context of threes. Rather than seeing the world in in terms of opposites with shades of gray in between, we find wisdom in seeing the world from three differing perspectives.
Rev. Fox said that this particular version “was in part derived from the awen imagery on some gravestones in an old Welsh family rural cemetery near Circle Cemetery in southwestern Wisconsin.”
She added, “At this time, Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League are not actively working on having any additional symbols added to the list, but we are open to sharing information and giving other support to those who would like to have a symbol added.”
Currently, that process is, perhaps ironically, three steps: a service member of that faith must have died, survivors must certify that the new emblem represents the decedent’s beliefs, and a copyright-free digital version of it must be submitted.
Archdruid Taylor, who is also a Navy veteran, recalled the cumbersome process of establishing religious legitimacy, which was in place for much of the time he worked on getting the awen approved. “It is my intent to have my final memorial include the Druid sigil and I am incredibly pleased to learn that I can use the symbol of my faith on my veteran’s plaque,” he said. “I spent over ten years on active duty and served in Vietnam, and am proud of my service. That the Veterans Administration finally recognizes my spiritual path is heartwarming and a move towards the religious acceptance all our veterans should receive.”
Currently, there are 200 pentacles on memorial markers and gravestones in military cemeteries around the country, and nine at Veteran’s Ridge at Circle Cemetery. The Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery near Arlington will be the first to have a gravestone with a Druid symbol.
Already in production, the new gravestone will honor the memory of retired Air Force Captain Wayne Laliberte of Texas (1954-2013). According to Circle Sanctuary, Wayne was was “not a member of any Druid organization, but he was a Bard, and the Awen, the flowing spirit of inspiration, was central to Wayne’s spirituality and life.”
“When Wayne died [in 2013], none of the symbols that were options for VA gravestones at that time were suitable,” explained his wife Rita. “So I decided to let the place for the symbol on his stone remain blank.” She later learned that it was possible to request that the VA approve the awen symbol.
Rita said, “I am glad that my husband will have the Awen on his gravestone as a symbol of his spiritual beliefs.”
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The work of journalist Terence P. Ward was made possible by the generous underwriting donation from Hecate Demeter, writer, ecofeminist, witch and Priestess of the Great Mother Earth.