UNITED STATES –Today is July 4, which is celebrated as Independence Day in the U.S. It’s characterized by parades, fireworks displays, family cookouts, and widespread displays of regalia in red, white, and blue, evocative of or centered on the American flag.There may be no other flag which is as widely revered and reviled as the one representing the United States of America. It’s a flag with unparalleled ritual significance; the complex rules for its display are enumerated in a flag code, within which are also laid out strategies for its desecration. The flag is the country, and for many that means that its display is indicative of support for the country’s present leadership.
“I won’t hang the flag, because I’m not proud of what’s happening in this country,” one Witch recently remarked in conversation. She is not alone in seeing the flag is a political symbol, to be displayed or withdrawn to express or withhold support for current policies. Also within that dichotomy are people such as Gus diZerega, who writes eloquently about reclaiming national symbols, and HecateDemeter, who warns about how easily fascists might steal them. In this worldview, the flag is ceded to those of a particular political viewpoint (in recent history, aligning with such concepts as a strong military presence worldwide and restrictive immigration policies at home), or wrested from them.
Another perspective is that Old Glory, rather than being a symbol of current political reality, is one of ideals. Musing on the difference, diZerega writes, “Our founding values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are universal. Tribal values are not. Given the flag’s symbolic power, it matters deeply where the balance between these values lies. Are we a community that respects these values as our highest national ideal, or are we an exclusive community that ignores them, particularly with regard to people different from ourselves?”
Kirk White writes on Facebook about how his patriotism annually spurs an urge in him to put up a flagpole, and why he doesn’t, explaining that “since I know that I won’t think to take it in at night, or might let the light bulb burn out and not notice for a few days, or something like that – then I won’t fly the flag. It is so important that I’d rather not do it than do it wrong or half-assed.” Respect for the symbol, in White’s eyes, does not equate to respect for those in charge at any given moment.
Regardless of which paradigm one chooses to adopt about the flag, its many associated rituals can easily be made fodder for those who choose to align it with religion, include any Pagan, polytheist, or Heathen religion. There are rules on its alignment during display, how it is raised and lowered from a pole, its relationship to the elements, and how it is utilized in times of death. It takes 13 folds to properly store a flag, a number rife with magical implications. The flag’s spirit is strong, strong enough that rules on how to honor it are actually laid out in law.
No doubt many readers will, as diZerega also observed in his own post, have mixed feelings when seeing the image of the flag on this page. It has been a long time since the national motto was “e pluribus unum,” and the fault lines which have since developed are a big part of the reason it can be easier to see the flag as a political football than a representative of highest ideals.
Perhaps it’s time to reflect upon how the flag can be used to seal those rifts and heal the nation it represents. Not to at least consider it seems like a waste of a mighty symbol.