Reflecting on the recent controversies over religious freedom in general and religious freedom for military members in particular, it gave me pause. Mulling over the events of the last half of the last year of the Millennium, some well-worn and familiar lyrics from an old Bob Dylan tune came to mind:
Now the bricks lay on Grand Street,
Where the neon madmen climb.
They all fall there so perfectly,
It all seems so well timed.
An' here I sit so patiently,
Waiting to find out what price,
You have to pay to get out of,
Going through all these things twice.
Oh, Mama, can this really be the end,
To be stuck inside of Mobile,
With these Memphis blues again. (1966)
In some strange way, these lines seem to reflect what it is like to be members of an alternative faith group and serve on active duty with the Armed Forces. Spiritually stuck in the middle, often feeling like pariahs. Often rejected by civilians who share the same or similar faith; often feeling isolated due to the fact that few of their fellow service members share the same or similar faith. Often the only one they could turn to with a sympathetic ear was their supporting chaplain.
For decades, Wiccans, and practitioners of other alternative faiths, have served honorably and well in our military forces, all the while quietly and solitarily maintaining their religious customs and observances. Most were and are "solitaries," or people who practice alone or with a few others of like mind. This was more often due to choice rather than some fear of real or perceived persecution. Wicca has no evangelical mandate or no commandment to go out and save men from the world. If anything, Wiccans are usually more concerned about saving the world from men. Therefore proselytizing or recruiting converts has no part in the Wiccan religion. Human beings are, however, gregarious by nature and require greater or lesser degrees of social interaction with others. Just as Baptists, Catholics or any other faith, Wiccans sometimes want to gather in larger numbers for worship and fellowship. And they have done so inconspicuously for years, and if noticed at all, usually have formed a symbiotic relationship with their respective communities, both military and civilian.
Contrary to popular belief, the military takes great care to insure that every service member retains the same basic Constitutional rights as any other citizen of this country. Over the last few years, Wiccans and members of other minority faith groups in the military have, indeed, begun to exercise their rights of peaceable assembly and free religious expression. Again, they did so quietly and inconspicuously under the pastoral supervision of their supporting chaplains. Military chaplains have always considered it their duty to provide for the spiritual needs of all service members under their pastoral care, regardless of faith, creed or denomination.
When this practice became common knowledge, vocal minorities on both sides started taking stands and raising havoc. Again, causing service members to feel stuck in the middle---like pariahs. Having been a witness to all of this, I feel compelled to share my personal perspectives, not as an "Elder" or scholar, or theologian, but as a soldier and a Wiccan who has been personally involved in the issues for nearly three decades.
Wicca and the Military: Perspective of Two Soldiers
In the most recent round of controversy, the first assault came from the Religious Right and the politicians that it either owned outright or controlled through campaign financing. These folks are under the misguided impression that the United States is a theocracy, not a representative republic. It was not long before the political arms of the various religious organizations began attacking both Wiccans in the military, and the military itself for allowing the practice. Most of the editorial journalism could be summarily dismissed as unfounded and ludicrous. There was one article, however, that could not be ignored. The piece was written by a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel, which would have appeared to give it some credibility to those not familiar with either the Army or accommodation policies of distinctive faith groups within the military services. The article was also presented as a scholarly expose and again appearing to lend credibility to it by those not familiar with the Wiccan religion or standard research methodology. I sent my response to this article, along with a personal communication, to the Executive Director of the Department of Defense Armed Forces Chaplains Board.
Dear Chaplain Gunter,
I am certain that you have seen this piece by LTC (ret) Maginnis of the Family Research Council. Frankly, I had not seen it until Reverend Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary forwarded me a copy. As you know, I do not generally respond to such biased rhetoric. This article, however, rather disparagingly cited you and the AFCB by name, and cited me by name in a denigrating manner. Therefore I felt compelled to present a public official response. This response carries my usual disclaimers in that I speak only for myself and the Sacred Well Congregation; I do not and will not presume to speak for any other person, organization or group. The Sacred Well Congregation is a legally constituted international Wiccan Church and Fellowship chartered under the laws of the State of Texas. We are not the Wiccan church, but we are a Wiccan church. As such, we have issued Warrants to our Ordained Officers to enable them to establish Wiccan circles under their appropriate religious accommodation regulations on eight military installations world-wide from all branches of service. We are in the process of establishing three other Wiccan military circles. Consequently, this article presents direct defamation to our Church and our established Congregations around the world.
To his credit, LTC (ret) Maginnis did some fairly sound research for this article, rather than presumptuously citing the Holy Bible as a single-source reference. However, the article is replete with initial attribution errors, that is, the drawing of faulty conclusions from valid data due to the implicit or explicit personal bias or prejudice of the researcher. Additionally, many of his citations were taken completely out of the context of the source material. So while this article may appear to have the face validity of a scholarly paper, it would never stand the scrutiny of a critical peer review. An academic presentation should never be used as a gloss to veil one's personal prejudice and bigotry.
QUOTED TEXT AND COMMENTARY BEGINS
Sacred Well Congregation Response to the Family Research Council
By Major (USA, ret) David L. Oringderff, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Sacred Well Congregation
BREWING UP TROUBLE: WICCA AND THE U.S. MILITARY
by Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis (U.S. Army, Ret.)
Wicca received official recognition as a religion in 1996 from the Department of Defense. Today, there are at least five officially recognized military Wiccan congregations.1
The Pentagon should withdraw recognition of Wicca for readiness reasons. Objections to the military's recognition of Wiccans fall in two categories: One, any fringe religion will now have to be granted special benefits by DOD; two, Wicca will undermine readiness factors such as military values, adherence to norms, willingness to kill, and recruitment and retention among the majority who hold a generally theistic worldview and regard witchcraft as an abomination.
Comment: None of the groups sponsored by the Sacred Well Congregation have requested or been granted any special benefit or privilege not afforded any other minority faith group. We ask for nothing more, expect nothing less and have been treated fairly and respectfully by the military services. Every one of our groups was established under and operates in full compliance with all applicable service regulations governing accommodation of minority faith groups. There is not a trace of empirical evidence to suggest that accommodation of our groups undermine readiness or impact on recruitment and retention. While the majority may hold "a generally theistic world view," the assertion that the majority regards "witchcraft as an abomination" is purely conjecture on the part of LTC (ret) Maginnis. Indeed, there are those within and without the military who hold that any belief system other than their own rigidly defined set of dogma is a "fringe religion" and "an abomination."
The presence of minority religious views is not at issue in this controversy. Christians have served in the military in good faith with Muslims and Jews. These religions share a monotheistic and creationist consensus about the "law of nature and nature's God," as understood by the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Because Wicca represents a direct challenge to this widely shared theism, it would work against military discipline, order, and readiness.
Comment: The first sentence is precisely the point: this is a Constitutional issue, not a theological issue. Wicca is an earth-based nature religion, and Wiccans are acutely cognizant of the laws of nature. Indeed, our God is immanent in nature and all created things, not apart from it. It is highly arrogant of LTC (ret) Maginnis to presume to know how this was "understood" by the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Most of the founding fathers were Deists, despite historical revisionism. Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "It matters not to me whether my neighbor worships one God or twenty; it neither breaks my leg nor takes money from my pocket." When I was invited to join the Army in 1968, no one asked me if I worshipped the God of Abraham. They only asked me to protect and defend the Constitution and to put my butt on the line when called upon to do so. And that is exactly what I did, and did proudly for almost three decades. Having gone from Private to Major in 22 years of active and 5 years of reserve service, I have some concept of discipline, order and readiness. Having been a Wiccan for most of that time, I never experienced irreconcilable conflicts between my religious expression and my duty.
Wicca represents a direct affront to Christian and Jewish teaching. The Bible condemns all forms of witchcraft and sorcery throughout the Old and New Testaments (Leviticus 19:26, 31 and 20:6; Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 2 Kings 17:10-17; 21:1-6; and 23:4-7, 24-25; 2 Chronicles 33:6; Acts 13:6-12 and 16:16-18; Galatians 5:19-21; and Revelation 9:20-21). U. S. Representative Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican, has asked the services to stop sanctioning the practice of witchcraft on military bases. Barr argues that allowing such celebrations sets "a dangerous precedent" that could lead to "all sorts of bizarre practices being supported by the military under the rubric of religion."2
Comment: I believe it was Joseph Campbell who wrote, "One man's myth is another man's God." LTC (ret) Maginnis and Congressman Barr should bear in mind that less than a third of the world's population follow Christian or Jewish teaching. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that two thirds of the world's population would consider much contained in the Judeo-Christian religions as "bizarre practices ... under the rubric of religion." Consequently, condemnation by a canon other than their own would have little significance to their own practice. Most revisionists often forget how Christianity came to Europe. Christianity was not carried north of the Alps by pious monks with scrolls of Holy Writ. Christianity was carried north of the Alps on the bloody point of a Roman sword. I am not in any way anti-Christian. I am in every way anti-bigot. Bigotry is nothing more than the zealous and assiduous adherence to an indefensible and usually irrational ideology, whether that ideology be religious, social, political or economic. Bigotry is the vilest form of tyranny. It is usually shrouded in a veil of pseudo-righteousness presented from the myopic perspective of someone's personal concept of God. I have always believed that you can measure the strength of a man's conviction by the degree to which he is able to tolerate a dissenting opinion.
Already, DOD has granted special benefits to other unconventional religious groups. Military members of the Native American church, for example, can legally use the illegal hallucinogenic drug peyote in their on-base religious ceremonies.3
Comment: This citation has no relevance to the topic of Wicca in the military.
Military Support of Religion and Wicca The U.S. military has always supported religion. On July 29, 1775, George Washington "established the [chaplain] corps behind the idea that chaplains brought with them morality and ethics, and that was important in dealing with the forces."4
Comment: Since the day General Washington established the Chaplains Corps, that is exactly what the chaplains have done: brought with them morality and ethics. They continue to fulfill that mission to this day. Military chaplains have always, it seems, been able to transcend sectarian religion and partisan politics and focus on a far more nobler calling---the spiritual welfare of their soldiers, each and every one of them. In the days before we had an all-volunteer Army, it was not all that uncommon to see local exceptions granted to soldiers of minority faiths based on the recommendation of their supporting chaplain. I am sure that LTC (ret) Maginnis recalls, as do I, seeing an occasional turban or yarmulke or beard on a draftee. Chaplains provide for the spiritual support of their soldiers-- regardless of creed. No chaplain ever asked me how I addressed my God, or the manner in which I chose to pray. The only question I was ever asked by a chaplain were: "What is your need and how can I help?"
Today, the chaplain corps seeks to meet the needs of a very diverse uniformed population. In 1998, the Defense Manpower Data Center found that most servicemembers identify with the Christian faith: 330,703 Roman Catholic; 252,855 Baptist (not including Southern Baptist); 43,056 Lutheran; 40,053 Methodist; 25,833 Southern Baptist Convention; 62,063 Protestant but with no denominational preference; and 96,259 labeling themselves Christians with no denominational preference. Twenty percent (283,836) have "no religious preference." Other religious preferences include Judaism (3,913), Muslim (4,080) and Buddhism (2,228). No Wiccans were identified.5
Comment: There is currently no vehicle in the automated system to facilitate identification of specific minority faith groups, so we do not know exactly how many service members claim Wicca as their religious preference. I have been informed, however, that the system is being upgraded to permit inclusion of all religions identified in the Encyclopedia of American Religions. Even when that is accomplished, many Wiccan service members will probably continue to cite "other" or "no religious preference" either for privacy or protection. It is obvious that religious bigotry is alive and well in this country. However, it is possible and a rather simple procedure to have "Wicca" listed on one's dog tags. Mine carried that designation for the last several years of my active service. And in the final analysis, the dog tag is the critical item. In an emergency or combat situation, a medic or a chaplain will not have ready access to a personnel file or personal demographic data. At least not yet.
Military regulations provide a process for religious groups without chaplains to gain access to base facilities for the purpose of conducting services. The qualification process requires that the group must be a recognized religion, military members must request the service and there must be evidence that assigned chaplains cannot meet the "specific theological/denominational requirements of [the] group."6
The U. S. government has recognized Wicca and has given it tax-exempt status as a religious organization. In fact, according to one website, "Wiccan priests and priestesses have been given access to penitentiaries."7
Comment: The military services are agencies of the US Government and therefore are required to follow policies set forth for any governmental agency. There are Wiccan inmates and there are Wiccan wardens, just as there are inmates and wardens represented by all other faith groups. Why is this fact so astounding?
In August 1997, Wicca "high priest" David Oringderff, with the Sacred Well Congregation of San Antonio, helped set up the military's first Wicca Open Circle at Fort Hood near Austin, Texas. The Wicca Open Circle at Fort Hood has perhaps 300 members, about 100 of whom attend regularly.8
Oringderff has helped set up congregations at four other bases as well.9
Comment: I acknowledge our responsibility in this. But I will reiterate that all of our groups were established under and operate in full compliance with all pertinent regulations for their specific services.
The Army defends its decision to support Wicca.
U. S. News and World Report explains, "For today's heterogeneous U.S. Army, the practice is basically business as usual. 'As far as we are concerned, they are a religious organization providing for the spiritual needs of our soldiers,'" says Lt. Col. Benjamin Santos, Fort Hood spokesman, explaining the Army's decision to sanction the practice on bases.10
Comment: Wicca has been recognized under law as a Constitutionally legitimate religion, as LTC (ret) Maginnis acknowledged in end note 7, above. It is the Army's mission to protect and defend the Constitution. I fail to see the conflict or necessity for the Army to defend its position. LTC Santos' comments were both erudite and succinct.
Navy Captain Russell Gunter, executive director of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board at the Pentagon, also supports Wiccans at Fort Hood. The military is obligated, said Gunter, to respect the religious needs of its members without passing judgment.11
Comment: What many distracters, including LTC (ret) Maginnis, apparently fail to realize is that the Department of Defense does not sanction or recognize any sectarian religion. It does, however, recognize and sanction the right of any Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine to express his or her religious practice in any lawful manner he or she may choose. Chaplain (CAPT, USN) Gunter's statement was equally erudite and succinct.
Background of Wicca
Witchcraft, also known as Wicca, the craft, or the craft of the wise, is a religion with roots in the ancient pagan religions of northern Europe. Modern witchcraft is a reconstruction of the older versions, based on writings by anthropologist Margaret Murray (1863-1963) - The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) and The God of the Witches (1933) - and by British civil servant and world traveler Gerald Gardner (1884-1964) - Witchcraft Today (1954) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959).12
Llewellyn's 1999 Magickal Almanac explains,
"Wicca, as you practice the religion today, is a new religion, barely fifty years old. The techniques you use at present are not entirely what your elders practiced even thirty years ago. Of course, threads of 'what was' weave through the tapestry of 'what is now.' . [I]n no way can we replicate to perfection the precise circumstances of environment, society, culture, religion and magick a hundred years ago, or a thousand. Why would we want to? The idea is to go forward with the knowledge of the past, tempered by the tools of our own age."13
Comment: Contemporary Wicca is indeed a new religion based the Old Religion of our distant ancestors as described in this passage. This should not be regarded as either unusual or profound. Cultures naturally evolve; societies evolve; languages evolve. Most of us today would have difficulty carrying on a meaningful conversation with William Shakespeare. Most of us today could not carry on any conversation with Geoffrey Chaucer. It should be noted, however, that not all Wiccans append a final "k" to magic. This was a convention instated by Aleister Crowley, who was not a Wiccan, adopted by Crowley's OTO and Gnostic Church, and later by Anton LeVey and the Church of Satan and its derivatives.
"Contemporary witchcraft is so diverse and eclectic that it is extremely difficult to accurately identify and define. In fact, it is almost impossible to state that all witches believe 'this or that," writes Craig Hawkins in the Christian Research Journal.14
Comment: It is curious here that LTC (ret) Maginnis cites this very accurate reference, then attempts to define what "all witches believe" by generalizing some concepts held by specific traditions to the greater population. Again, flawed scholarship.
Danya Ruttenburg wrote in the April 1998 Sojourner (a feminist magazine), "[M]any feminists have certainly been attracted to paganism - the theological framework behind energy-channeling called magic or witchcraft. Women who practice paganism often describe it as a potent means of aligning their spiritual practice with their political beliefs. Though the modern practice has deep roots in a number of ancient traditions, the neo-pagan movement was initiated in England in the 1950. It took hold in America in two separate, parallel movements - both as part of the non-Western spirituality explosion of the late 1960s, and with the concurrent development of goddess consciousness, in radical separatist feminism."15
Comment: Not all Wiccan groups espouse radical separatist feminism. Our tradition uses the natural world as a paradigm and strives for the natural balance between the male and female, which we believe in no way denigrates the development of goddess consciousness. Radical matriarchy is as out of balance and as destructive as radical patriarchy. Radical anything is out of balance and destructive.
Russ Wise, with the Dallas-based Probe Ministries, adds, "In the world of witchcraft the goddess is the giver of life. Witchcraft holds a pantheistic view of God. God is nature. Therefore, God is in all things and all things are a part of God. However, this God is in actuality a goddess and predates the male God. The goddess is the giver of all life and is found in all of creation. This reshaping is nothing less than viewing man and his understanding of reality from a female-centered perspective which focuses on the Divine as being female. The rise of the goddess is a direct assault on the patriarchal foundation of Christianity. This new feminist spirituality affirms bisexuality, lesbianism, homosexuality, and androgyny (through the expression of transvestitism)."16
Comment: Again, using nature as the paradigm, there is nothing brought to birth without the female; life cannot be initiated without the male. The primal Divine archetypes in virtually all ancient cultures were seen as the Earth Mother and Sky Father. The later pantheons that developed from the archetypal representations were formed by the geography and culture in which they were located. In any creation inheres part of the creator, so a pantheistic world view, to us, makes perfect sense. The understanding of reality should not be viewed from either a male-centered or a female-centered perspective. Understanding of reality should be viewed from a harmonious, balanced perspective. We do not see our own Tradition as "new feminist spirituality" and we neither condone nor condemn the sexual preference of any individual. Again, this citation reflects faulty and biased generalization.
"The Goddess religion is a conscious attempt to reshape culture," says Starhawk, a witch who works with a Catholic priest at the Institute of Creation Spirituality.17
Comment: Our Tradition does not attempt to reshape culture, consciously or otherwise. Culture will reshape of its own accord following the natural process of cultural evolution. What we do may, and hopefully will, have a positive impact on that process.
A June 1999 edition of the Washington Post identifies Wiccans as pacifists. Despite the "many varieties of Wicca," Wiccans in general accept a basic rule: "An ye harm none, do what ye will."18
Comment: This statement was taken out of context. I was the subject of this interview, and speaking only from a personal perspective when asked the question of how I reconciled our Rede with military or police service. Basically, I explained to Ms Rosin that I reconciled this moral paradox in the same way any other soldier or police officer of conscious would, no matter what religious creed: with full personal responsibility and "with no malice in our hearts or take no pleasure in the act." The Reverend Mr. Harvey, in a local Killeen newspaper, later plagiarized the quote of "no malice in the heart" as a condition of forgiveness and justification for the summary execution of witches under the KJV biblical injunction of "suffer not a witch to live." He conspicuously left out the "take no pleasure in the act." This suggests, perhaps, that Reverend Harvey would take great pleasure in witnessing the murder of any person who identified himself or herself as a "witch" or any other person who falls outside of the narrow parameters of his own definition of Christianity.
Comment: The issue of pacifism has nothing to do with one's religion, but everything to do with one's personal interpretation of that religion and its inherent moral foundation. During a recent interview, Tama, my wife and High Priestess, commented that we were "tired of hearing all of this nonsense about pacifism." She echoed my sentiments exactly, and my military record stands on its own merit.
The Armed Forces Chaplains Board explains that many Wiccans "regard all living things as sacred" and consequently hold that the destruction of human and animal life is wrong. Others believe that "as Nature's way includes self-defense, they should participate in wars that they conscientiously consider to be just."19
Nonviolence, however, is the first principle of Wicca, according to a Wicca website: "The harm which is to be regarded as unethical is gratuitous harm; war, in general, is "gratuitous" harm [emphasis added], although it is ethical to defend oneself and one's liberty when threatened by real and present danger, such as defense against invasion."20
An article titled "Pagans in the Military" by John Machate, published by the Military Pagan Network, elaborates, "In an article by Isaac Bonewits, Archdruid of ADF (Arn DraiochtFein), he stated: 'A "soldier", [sic] on the other hand, I perceive as a hired killer, whose primary task is not the defense of his/her community, although that claim is usually made, but rather the defense of that community's political, social, religious, and economic rulers.' This statement reflects the attitude of a lot of civilian organizations. One organization doesn't even want to allow military members to belong to their organization. We as members of the armed forces have to work, not only to convince the military that we are not 'baby killers', [sic] but the civilian pagans too. Again I quote Isaac Bonewits 'He [sic] or she will kill any man, woman, or child that he/she is ordered to kill, simply because he/she was told to do so...."21
Comment: First let me point out that the ADF is not Wiccan, which is, after all, the topic of this article. The ADF is a pagan organization based on a loose reconstruction of Celtic Druidism. Mr. Bonewits, its founder, has been vehemently anti-military since his days as an anti-war activist in California. His position has remained virtually unchanged through the years, and has been repeatedly challenged by other Wiccan and pagan leaders. Mr. Machete, himself a veteran and the Director of MPN, would hardly be supportive of Mr. Bonewits' position. This citation was blatantly taken out of context. I might add that I attest from personal experience that there is more than one pagan organization that do not accept military personnel into their membership. I might also note the irony that at one point in time not that long ago, merely putting on a military uniform would earn one the title of "fascist pig and baby killer." Now, good and honorable soldiers who practice Wicca as a spiritual path have been labeled "baby eaters" by some extreme radical evangelical elements.
Comment: People such as Mr. Bonewits and Congressman Barr, who have no direct military experience, tend to hold very rigid and often erroneous stereotypes of what a soldier is. The American soldier is not, nor ever has been, a mindless android-- at least not in any greater proportion than the percentage of mindless androids in the general population. I have, on rare occasion, obeyed a lawful order under protest. On rarer occasion, I have refused to obey an unlawful order. An order to commit genocide, murder, or inflict intentional and unnecessary harm is both unlawful and immoral. Whether the order comes from a superior officer or from God---anybody's God---it is no justification to carry it out.
(Note: A witch holds pagan beliefs, but not all pagans are witches.)22
Comment: More properly, and more germane to stated subject of this article, a Wiccan is a witch, but not all witches are Wiccan. I have known a number of people who identify themselves as "Christian witches."
Ethical Relativism. The Covenant of the Goddess, one of the largest and oldest Wiccan religious organizations in North America, states that evil is subjective: "[W]hat is good for one may be evil for another and viceversa [sic]."23
Comment: The Covenant of the Goddess does not represent all, or even the majority of those who claim Wicca as their spiritual path. Nevertheless, "evil" can only be defined by one's own personal and subjective moral code. Numerous attempts to legislate morality have historically been dismal failures. The Constitutional Amendment that created Prohibition is a recent example. Ethical relativism is akin to the empirical relativism that spawned it. Prozac may be effective in treating clinical depression in one person; it may exacerbate suicidal or homicidal tendencies in another person.
Other examples of this relativistic view abound. Additional Wiccan websites, for instance, make the following claims: "Wiccans rely on their own judgement [sic] to create their own morals, and ideals... We interact with our gods on a regular basis, and we take their power into ourselves during our rituals. We know and feel our Gods, so we don't believe, we know."24
Comment: From a purely personal perspective, the only valid morality is the one I have created for myself. And I have neither the right nor the obligation to force my concept of morality on any other person. I have no scapegoat, and no Devil to "make me do it." I have to take responsibility and bear the consequences for may own action. I cannot invoke mediation or go to a confessional to obtain absolution for my own sins. Therefore I am very careful about the way I treat all living things, animal, mineral or vegetable. If I cannot interact on a personal level with my concept of the Divine, then, to me, my religion is dead.
"Witches consider no act immoral unless it is harmful."25
Comment: Again, this is personal and subjective. It includes harm to self, harm to relationships, harm to others and harm to the planet.
"Witches have no specific taboos against speaking any particular words, consensual sexual acts among individuals capable of rational consent, or breaking laws they know to be unjust."26
Comment: This is yet another inaccurate generalization. I am a licensed Texas Peace Officer. There are many current and former police officers in the membership of the Sacred Well Congregation. As open and as public as we are, it would be patently stupid for us to engage in ritual or activities that violate the laws we are sworn to enforce.
Excerpt from a pagan pledge: "May I always be mindful that I create my own reality and that I have the power within me to create positivity in my life."27
Wiccan Practices and More
Magic is part of the witches' religion: "astrology, astral projection (out-of-body experiences), incantations, mediumship (channeling), necromancy, raising psychic power, (for many) sex magic, spell casting, and trance states."28
Magic, they claim, allows them to "change our lives by spiritual means. We back up our actions with magical intent. It is a potent combination."29
Comment: The very purpose of any religion is to "change our lives by spiritual means." Magic is a tool employed to this end, just as prayer is a tool employed by more traditional religions. The dynamics are essentially the same; one is more or less passive, the other is more or less active. Magic is the focusing of personal intent and will and invoking Divine assistance. Wiccans use herbs and various tools as the point of focus, just as other faiths use rosaries, shrines and icons.
According to one witch, witches worship the Mother Goddess and also the Horned God. Worship is often done in pairs, masculine and feminine, and the power, which is produced by magical ritual, is directed by the High Priestess for its desired purpose. Covens vary in size from approximately 8 to 14 members. The High Priestess heads the coven. The High Priestess who trained her is recognized as a Queen to whom she can turn for counsel and advice.30
Comment: Not all traditions have the formal concept of "Witch Queen" or employ regal titles as part of their craft names.
Casting spells is "part of being a Witch," according to the Covenant of the Goddess (COG). However, COG advises that one cast spells on others "only in very limited circumstances" when "that person's consent" has not been obtained - acknowledging the power which spells contain.31
Sex magic, which is practiced by some witches, is the "use of sex (e.g., intercourse - actual or symbolic) within a ritual or spell-casting session to facilitate or augment the efficacy of a given magical rite. That is, sexual activities are used to accomplish the desired goal of the occultist."32
Comment: The Christian Research Journal could hardly be considered an authoritative or unbiased source.
The COG website indicates that witches practice necromancy, communication with the dead. Some witches "believe that the dead join the Blessed Ancestors, who watch over, protect and advise [emphasis added] their descendants."33
Comment: As previously noted, and acknowledged by LTC (ret) Maginnis, there is great diversity among the groups that identify themselves as Wiccan. The CoG cannot, therefore, be regarded as the "infallible authority" on all things Wiccan. However, not only Wiccans hold reverence for or claim communication with the disenfranchised spirits of their ancestors. Shintoism is based on it. The Night of the Dead celebrations in Mexico and the All Souls Night observances in the Catholic countries of Europe suggest residual elements of this even in Christianity.
Wiccan "tools" include swords, cauldrons, wands, boleens (knives used for carving and cutting magical symbols), staffs, and thuribles (incense burners).34
The basic Wiccan dedication ritual states: "I will protect and guard the Old Ways from those who would desire to destroy them. I will defend the God and Goddess. I will work in harmony with the energies of the Earth, and the Kingdoms of Plant, Animal, Spirit, and Man, striving always for unity and balance. I will work in harmony with the elements, to understand them. I pledge myself as protector of this Earth and Keeper of the Sacred Mother. I will honor and respect my brothers and sisters in the Craft even when our paths do not join. I will respect and keep the Old Ways and the Wiccan Rede. So mote it be."35
Comment: This is by no means a universal or all-encompassing ritual used in every tradition. Nevertheless, I fail to see the moral or ethical objection. There is nothing herein contained that is illegal, immoral or unethical. Quite the contrary, as a matter of fact.
Implications for Military Readiness
Cohesive units are made of soldiers who subscribe to similar values. For the military, there are clear rights and wrongs, not maybes. Wiccans, on the other hand, are noted for their ethical relativism. Wiccans subscribe to a radical feminist worldview that supports sexually deviant behavior such as bisexuality and homosexuality, both of which are illegal in the military. A "Wiccan warrior" is an oxymoron. Wiccans tend to be pacifists, which may be all right for medics but not for infantrymen. The military has already allowed peyote smoking to accommodate Native Americans, and there are a growing number of cases of Muslim soldiers appealing decisions about headgear, dietary requirements and special holidays. Exceptions for every group will drain limited resources and distract from the military's primary mission of preparing to fight. The military should embrace corporate rather than individual interests. Today's military is overwhelmingly Christian. The Bible labels witchcraft as an abomination. Accommodating witches who engage in behaviors that are antithetical to the "law of nature and nature's God" will cause unit friction, undermine morale, and impair recruitment and retention.
Comment: It inheres in the military or in police work that a person will ultimately be placed in a situation where he (or she) is required to employ force. If a person is a Wiccan or a pagan, or a Quaker, Catholic, Baptist or any other faith, and cannot reconcile that morally within his or her own belief system, then that person has no business being in a profession of arms. This whole concept of "spiritual warrior", "Christian soldier" or "Holy War" to me is an oxymoron. Since 1965, this country has been involved in two wars and a half dozen or so live-fire exercises, and I didn't find a damned thing "spiritual" or "holy" about any of them. Perhaps it's time we find a more appropriate analogy for discussing the spiritual crises and conflicts that we all, individually and collectively, at some point encounter.
Comment: The very fabric of this country was founded on individual not corporate interests; the military has always reflected the character of its society, and has still been very successful in accomplishing its assigned missions. I can't speak for LTC (ret) Maginnis, but if I am ever recalled to active duty during a national emergency, I do not want to be led by a CEO like Ross Perot; I want to be led by a General like Colin Powell.
Comment: Soldiers are not second-class citizens, nor do they waive any Constitutional guarantees for the privilege of serving this country. There are some practical and prudent restrictions on personal liberty, but no abjuration of Constitutional rights. When I was a young soldier living in the barracks, I did not keep my privately owned weapons in my footlocker. I kept them in the unit arms room as required by regulation, and was given access to them whenever I needed for any lawful purpose. Did this violate my Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms"? Absolutely not. It was a prudent and pragmatic matter of good order and discipline, not to mention it provided some added security for some very expensive hand guns. Denying the right to "keep and bear arms" to someone whose job it was to bear arms is almost as ludicrous as denying the right of lawful free expression of religion to someone whose job it is to defend it.
Unfortunately, the modern military has embraced tolerance for virtually every bizarre practice. It's past time for Congress to exercise its constitutional obligation to stop the Pentagon's willingness to sacrifice national defense in order to accommodate political correctness. The armed forces should focus on readiness.
Comment: The military has only embraced tolerance for the religious pluralism that is reflected in the nation it serves. The Congress has the Constitutional obligation to raise an Army; the Commander-in-Chief, through the Executive Branch, has the Constitutional authority to manage it. This system has really worked quite well for over two hundred years. The armed forces do, as they have always done, focus on readiness. They could do so much more efficiently without outside interference from vested interest groups and the political organs that they control.
Colonel Maginnis directs Family Research Council's Military Readiness Project.
- Kim Sue Lia Perkes, "Wiccans becoming more at home in military," The Dallas Morning News, May 29, 1999, p. 1G. (Wiccans have congregations at Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Wainwright, Alaska; Fort Polk, La.; Kadena Air Base in Okinawa; and Fort Barrancas in Pensacola, Fla.)
- "No Witching Hour for Barr," News Briefs, Army Times, June 7, 1999.
- "Military OKs Using Peyote, Indians Say," Associated Press, Dallas Morning News, June 21, 1999. (In the April 28, 1997, edition of Navy Times, Karen Jowers reports, "In 1994, Congress passed a law allowing authorized American Indians to use the drug [peyote] in religious ceremonies. Since last summer, defense officials have been writing regulations that would set out guidelines for the military.")
- Marcia Jackson, "Chaplain Corps celebrates 221st birthday," ArmyLINK News, July 18,1996, http://www.dtic.mil/armylink/news/Jul1996/a19960718chap.html
- Jack Weible, "A Smorgasbord of Religions," Army Times, July 13, 1998.
- "Distinctive Faith Group Leaders, Certification Process," U.S. Army Training Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia, http://www-tradoc.monroe.army.mil/chaplain/dsl.htm, accessed June 22, 1999.
- "Witchcraft and Wicca," http://www.religioustolerance.org/witchcra.htm accessed June 22,1999.
- Perkes, op cit.
- Joe Holley, "A genuine witch hunt," U.S. News & World Report, June14, 1999, p. 27.
- Perkes, op cit.
- Craig S. Hawkins, "The Modern World of Witchcraft," Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1990, p. 8.
- Silver RavenWolf, cited in Llewellyn's 1999 Magickal Almanac, Llewellyn Publications, 1998, http://www.religioustolerance.org/witchcra.htm accessed June 22, 1999.
- Hawkins, op. Cit
- Danya Ruttenburg, "Witchy Woman-Paganism, Politics, and Spiritual Healing," Sojourner, April 1998, p. 25.
- Russ Wise, "The Goddess and the Church," Probe Ministries, 1997, http://www.probe.org/docs/godd-chu.html.
- Quoted by Wise, ibid.
- Hanna Rosin, "An Army Controversy: Should the Witches Be Welcome?" The Washington Post, June 8, 1999.
- The Armed Forces Chaplains Board, "Wiccan Religious Background Paper," submitted to the Chief Chaplains of the Armed Services in May 1998, http://www.milpagan.org/files/AFCB_Wicca_paper.htm
- "Wiccan Ethics - Basic Principles of the Craft," http://home1.gte.net/buckmstr/wiccanethics.htm, accessed June 22, 1999.
- John Machate, "Pagans in the Military," http://milpagan.org/articles/pagmilt.htm, accessed June 22, 1999.
- "The Grove: What is a Pagan? What is a Witch?" http://www.apocalypse.org/pub/u/hilda/ddtmqa.html , accessed June 22 1999.
- "Witchcraft: Commonly-Asked Questions, Straightforward Answers,"Covenant of the Goddess, http://www.cog.org/wicca/faq.html, accessed June 22, 1999.
- "Calhoun's Wiccan FAQ," http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/Lofts/3156/wicca.html, accessed June 22, 1999.
- "The Grove - What is a Pagan? What is a Witch?" op. cit.
- "Circle Sanctuary - A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality," http://www.circlesanctuary.org/contact/PSApledge.html, accessed June 22, 1999.
- Hawkins, op. cit.
- "Witchcraft: Commonly-Asked Questions, Straightforward Answers," op. cit.
- Lady Rhiannon, "Gardnerian Wicca," http://126.96.36.199/chap/relpractice/other/gwicca.htm, accessed June 24, 1999.
- "Witchcraft: Commonly-Asked Questions, Straightforward Answers," op. Cit
- Hawkins, op. cit.
- "Witchcraft: Commonly-Asked Questions, Straightforward Answers," op. Cit
- "The Witches' League for Public Awareness - The Tools of Witchcraft," http://www.celticcrow.com/basics/tools.html, accessed June 22, 1999.
- "The Witches' League for Public Awareness - Dedication Ritual," http://www.celticcrow.com/basics/dedication.html, accessed June 22, 1999.
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