Honoring our veterans

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UNITED STATES – Every year, Nov. 11 is a day set aside to honor those who have served in the five branches of the armed forces. Flags are flown; parades are held; ceremonies are attended.

Nov. 11 was chosen because, on that day in 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the allied nations and Germany during the first world war. After that, the day became known as Armistice Day and was unofficially observed.

Then in 1938 just before the outbreak of WWII, Armistice Day was declared a federal holiday and was specifically set aside to honor WWI veterans. The name was changed to Veterans Day after the Korean War, in order to honor all American veterans of all wars.

Warrior Blessing Remembrances HH

Warrior blessing ritual at Hallowed Homecoming. Participants wrote down the names those who have served and are serving in the U.S. military [Circle Sanctuary].

In the past there was resistance in and out of Pagan circles to the very idea that a person could serve in the military and be a Pagan. In a 2000 blog post, Dr. David L. Oringderff responded to an article written by Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis (U.S. Army, Ret.). In the original article title, Lt. Col. Maginnis wrote, “A ‘Wiccan warrior’ is an oxymoron. Wiccans tend to be pacifists, which may be all right for medics but not for infantrymen.” While his intent may be to discredit the religious practice entirely, his sentiment also permeated many Pagan circles.

Military life was contrary to a Wiccan or Pagan worldview.

In 1999, Pagan veteran Carol Kirk wrote, “It is a sad commentary that the modern Pagan soldier must then find himself reviled by the very people he would die to protect. And there is something that those who seek to distance themselves from Witches and Wiccans should think about when they cry out that no ‘true’ Pagan would ever consider putting on a uniform.

“Remember that when the going gets rough and things are coming down hot and heavy, soldiers listen only to other soldiers,” she adds. “If you take all of the Goddess-loving, life-affirming, peace-loving Pagan folk out of the military, who do you have left?”

However, the sentiment has changed, as Pagans and Heathens have found a greater vocal presence within the military as well as greater society. They have gained greater recognition through various actions, and have been given increased and genuine support in and out of the collective Pagan communities.

Where once some Pagan groups might have barred entry to active-duty military Pagans, these same groups are now honoring military Pagans during community rituals.

Circle Sanctuary is one of the most well-known Pagan organizations that lends support to veterans and active-duty military Pagans. It hosts a full schedule of events honoring Pagan veterans.

Saturday, the group hosted a ceremony on Veterans Ridge, a specific location at the sanctuary dedicated to military Pagans. This was followed by a 3 p.m. Veterans Day ceremony during which members of the group will award Pagans who have served, or are currently serving, in the military a Pagan military service ribbon.

Tuesday Nov. 14, Circle Sanctuary will host a special two-hour podcast to honor veterans and to award its special Pagan military service ribbons. These ribbons, which have been part of Circle’s annual tradition for years, are available to any military veteran. As noted on the organization’s site, “Veterans interested in taking part and receiving a ribbon should complete info online by Monday, November 13.”

Covenant of the Goddess is another organization that recognizes veterans with a ceremony and award. For some years a certificate has been available to members of CoG who are also veterans. More recently, the organization produced a ribbon to go along with the certificate.

Many other national and local organizations have joined in the honoring of veterans within Pagan and Heathen communities. There are also specific groups dedicated to lending aid to veterans, including the Circle Sanctuary-sponsored program called the Pagan Military Association.

Pagan Air Force veteran Rev. Dave Sassman said, “As a minority faith it is important to honor those who choose to serve in the uniformed services. Many of those who have served have become or will become community leaders who bring a wealth of experience that will guide the Earth-based faith community into the future.”  

Sassman works to support veterans both in an out of his spiritual community. He is a member of Circle’s military program and a board member of Indy Vet House, Inc.

In 2015 Chuck Hudson, a Heathen and former combat medic in the U.S. Army, explained to The Wild Hunt, “We are the ones that signed a blank check for the total sum of our lives and handed the check to this country. We were the ones that were lucky enough to get the check back and were able to tear it up. Some of us bear the wounds of combat, some the struggles of keeping a unit going.”

He said, “Being a vet isn’t about how many drops you made. Nor how many pallets you loaded. Or privates you trained, trays served or papers filed.”

Veterans Day brings mixed emotions, Hudson added. “I am glad I made it home not more screwed up than I am. And I am also melancholy thinking about those that didn’t come home. And furious that 22 of my brothers and sister end their lives by their own hands each day.”

That statistic is often cited when speaking of veteran suicides. However, as reported by the Washington Post, that number should be used with caution. After analysis, researchers speculate the number is 18-22, coinciding with a more recent Department of Veterans Affairs report. The researchers are also quoted as saying that the stated range does not account for a 2014 spike in suicides among younger veterans.

As reported in the Military Times in 2016, “researchers found that the risk of suicide for veterans is 21 percent higher when compared to civilian adults. From 2001 to 2014, as the civilian suicide rate rose about 23.3 percent, the rate of suicide among veterans jumped more than 32 percent.”

In 2015 Army veteran, Heathen, and co-director of the Open Halls Project Josh Heath told TWH, “There is a sense of separation from civilian society that happens when you join the military.”  Returning can be difficult, regardless of what was endured during active duty.

Like Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess issues service medals to its members who are or have served in the military [courtesy].

Heath went on to say, “Veterans Day is one day for us to specifically acknowledge the commitment and oaths our military service members swore. It should also be a day for our service members to be welcomed back fully into their communities, for their worth to be acknowledged, and to begin to peel back that sense of separation. It is a day to acknowledge that oath has been completed by the veteran and to acknowledge their service and empower them to make an impact in the civilian world.”

The Department of Veterans Affair is now taking this idea one step further. It reportedly will be issuing official veterans ID cards for the first time. As reported in the Military Times, some U.S. states do allow for an indicator on driver’s license, but not all.  The article states, “Supporters have called a national veterans ID card a simple way to honor veterans’ service and a way to help them prove their service status for non-federal activities.”

The new cards, which are available to any veteran who applies, will be issued starting this month.

While the cards won’t hold any specific legal status, they will be official indicators that the individual is a veteran. As such, the cards are another way of honoring a person’s service within civilian society.

As for Veterans Day, it is a time set aside for that very thing on a national scale. It is to honor the people who have served in the in the five branches of the armed forces. Julia Ergane, a Hellenic reconstructionist who served in the U.S. Air Force, said, “As a veteran and the daughter and niece of veterans it is an important day to me. I feel pride in completing a duty I feel that I owe to my country.”

Hudson said, “Veterans Day is for us that made it back to the world. And still stand ready to rally to our nation’s side. To raise the horn to with our brothers and sisters. To have the privilege to call our brothers and sisters of the different armed forces by their nicknames. Flyboy, Dog Face, Jarhead. Puddle Pirate and Squid.”

Hagl berjast menn okkar og konur. Þeir sem þjóna landið okkar og þjóð. Hagl til vopnahlésdagurinn okkar. Hail our fighting men and women. Those that serve our country and people. Hail to our veterans.”.