TWH – November 11, 2020 marks the 101st observance of Veterans Day in the United States and coincides with Armistice Day for many countries around the world as well as Remembrance Day for Commonwealth states (former British Territories). Originally a holiday marking the end of hostilities during World War 1, in 1919, it wasn’t until the Treaty of Versailles was signed that all fighting officially ceased.
In the U.S. it was later altered and became known as All Veterans Day, in order to honor all those who have served in the armed forces, later shortened simply to Veterans Day.
The Pagan community and Pagan veterans of all stripes honor the day in various ways including Circle Sanctuary’s annual ceremony for Pagan veterans. This year marks the 14th anniversary of the beginning of their Veterans Pentacle Quest which eventually cleared the way for military veterans to request a pentacle on their headstone. This is also the 14th anniversary of their Operation Circle Care, a support program for active duty Pagans. As covered in The Wild Hunt’s Pagan Community Notes earlier this week, Circle Sanctuary planned to hold their observance online this year because of COVID.
A number of Pagans, Witches, and Heathens came forward with their thoughts about the challenges they experienced having a minority faith in the military as well as reflecting on how the larger community can support their co-religionists who are serving or have served.
Tintalle Foxwood, who served in the US Army from 1993-2003, said that she came to the craft while she was enlisted. She initiated into Alexandrian Wicca at Lammas, 2003 and retired from the military later that same year.
“Because of the work I did I feared negative backlash by being out as a witch so unless I really got to know a person I wasn’t going to share that,” she said.
While she met some during her time as a soldier, it wasn’t until after she rejoined the civilian world at a defense company that she began to meet more Pagan veterans.
One way that Foxwood regularly honors Veterans Day?
“(I) make an offering of an ice cold beer (whatever I have in the fridge) to my ancestors to honor my family who have served. Many men and women in my family have served including myself, my sister, both grandfathers, my dad, my uncles and two cousins,” she said.
Michael, from Atlanta, is a veteran of the US Air Force for which he served during the 1990’s.
“I dealt with both Paganism and being sexually ‘other’ while in the military during the height of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. I didn’t handle either well, honestly,” he said.
Once though, during basic training, he recounted what he described as a slight respite when leadership were requesting volunteers to be Chapel Guides, who would escort trainees to their services.
“They asked if anyone was anything other than Christian or Jewish, and for some reason I raised my hand. I was too timid to be specific, but when I mentioned meditation, I was instantly named the Buddhist Chapel Guide. That didn’t offend me, as Buddhism holds a strong representation in my life and practice,” Michael said.
As for the acceptance of veterans within the Pagan community, Michael said that he has encountered a strong negative response over the years.
“I think the most supportive thing I could imagine would be a statement of support for those Pagans who chose to serve. We went through a lot, and knowing that our own kind supports us would be a tremendous gift,” he said and added that doing so would be good for morale and may lead to more ‘out’ Pagans who are active duty.
In considering the future, Foxwood also reflected on increased representation.
“In 20 years I’d like to see more acceptance (and) normalization of Paganism so people who identify as Pagan can have that on their dog tags without worry or fear of scorn or reprisals,” she said.
Incendia, from South Florida, said that while she was serving she didn’t hide her religion but she didn’t advertise it either.
“I didn’t really have that many challenges to be honest. However, I do remember having to check ‘other’ under religious preference as there was no Pagan/Wiccan/Heathen option when I joined,” she said.
She credited Circle Sanctuary’s Pentacle Quest with allowing her to finally select the right option with the official personnel office and also on her ID tags.
Incendia said that the best way the Pagan community can support their veterans is to begin by recognizing the challenges they face.
“Deployments, long times away from friends and family, worry for their family (and the stability of that family) while away, financial concerns. And of course PTSD,” she said.
The Open Halls Project (OHP) is a Maryland-based nonprofit serving the Heathen military community. Co-Director Josh Heath said that the group, which consists of veterans and active-duty members, has a membership of about 750 people, growing in recent years. Their main requests for assistance they have been fielding lately have come in the form of religious accommodation requests and assisting lay leaders while keeping an eye towards having a full Chaplain.
In 2019 OHP made freely available a Resource Guide for Chaplains so that those of different faith backgrounds are aware of how best to serve the needs of Heathens in the military.
While their mission of networking and support is similar to Circle Sanctuary’s, they stay more narrowly focused on the Heathen community.
“We haven’t worked directly with Circle Sanctuary, but we’ve talked with them here and there over the years. We’d be up for working with any groups that have the same mission focus,” Heath said.
Though membership is up, COVID has had a real impact on the ability to organize. Like many groups, engagement tends to be higher when there are in-person offerings.
“We did hold an Open Halls meet-up in the DC area before COVID hit that was a very big success, with about 50 people attending. We have plans to continue these meet-ups when we can have large group meetings again,” he said. “We have tried to do Zoom meet-ups and get-togethers, but it hasn’t had quite the same impact or attendance.”
Heath said the best way to support Pagan veterans starts with getting them in touch with organizations that can support them and help them network and focus on veteran’s issues.
Hail to our veterans!