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Does the word “Wicca” offend you? If you are like most people in the United States, then it does. Why does such a small word invoke such feelings of fear, hatred, and loathing? Ignorance is the reason. Many people do not know what Wicca is nor do they know about the people who follow it. Since there is such a negative connotation of Wicca in everyday society, would it be safe to say that Wiccans in the military are judged just as harshly? Is a Wiccan not as worthy of religious provisions as say, a Christian?
What is Wicca anyway? Is it a bunch of old, naked women dancing in a circle out in a field under the full moon? How about a group orgy with blood sacrifices? These are some of the outlandish scenarios that people think of when they hear the words Wicca, Witch, or Pagan. Well, here is the real definition of Wicca as cited by numerous sources on the subject: Wicca is a nature-based, often polytheistic religion that centers on beliefs that pre-date Christianity. (Streeter, 2002) Modern day Wicca is a reconstruction of the “Old Religion” of ancient tribal Europe. Wicca is also known as Witchcraft, Paganism, and Neo-Paganism.
Witchcraft has long since been associated with “evil” or “devil worship”. Witchcraft is neither of those things. Witchcraft is typically thought of as an old hag casting spells in a dark dungeon. That idea couldn’t be further from the truth. Although Witchcraft is often used interchangeably with the word magic, it isn’t the type of magic commonly thought of. Witches use magic to enhance their daily lives not to influence the will of others. Streeter (2002) defines magic as “one’s will to change consciousness and reality”. Wiccans consider “magic” to be the invocation of their gods though rituals.
Pagan was a name given to country dwellers or rural people that were the last to be converted to Christianity. These people lived on the outskirts of town and kept to the old ways. The term “pagan” became a derogatory term around the third century meaning “hick”. Today it means a member of a polytheistic, natured based religion. The term neo-pagan is more often used today because it means “new pagan”.
There are many misconceptions about Wicca and its followers. Many people, primarily Christians, believe that Wicca followers worship Satan. This is simply not the case.
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Wicca is often used synonymously with the term “evil”. This again, is another misperception based on ignorance. Wiccans believe in karma. They believe that any form of energy that is “sent out” whether it be good or bad will come back to the originator. The Wiccan Rede or “Golden Rule” is “an it harm none, do what you will”. Wicca followers also believe that since all things are interconnected, that if “harmful” energy is sent out it will return three fold. (Melton and Lewis, 1991)
With all this information readily accessible to everyone, you would think that modern society would come out of the dark ages and realize that Wiccans are not to be feared. Just because someone has different beliefs or a different way of worshiping their god does not make them evil or hell bound. Why are Christians so quick to judge anyone who does not follow their religion when their religion specifically warns against judgment of others? Wicca followers believe that every religion is true to its believers, so why then do Christians not give that same respect. Most Christians believe that their religion is the only “right” or “true” religion and anyone who does not believe in the Christian god is condemned to eternal torture and damnation. If two people believe in totally different things, which one is true? Is one better than the other? I am so glad I live in a country that gives me the freedom to choose.
Military Policy and Political Interference
The military has had its fair share of controversy when it comes to religion. Wicca is only one of many religions sanctioned by the United States Military. We all are protected by the First Amendment to have the privilege to worship as we choose. Although Wicca is one of the most controversial, there are guidelines that are set that must be followed by military installations.
The U.S. Navy has an official instruction, or policy, directed by the Secretary of the Navy that lists the guidelines for accommodations of religious practices. Its purpose is to “provide revised policy and guidance for the accommodation of religious practices within the Department of the Navy.” (Hultin, 1997) Provisions must be made for all religions under the First Amendment. Chaplains in every branch of the military have specific guidelines that must be adhered to. Chaplains or Commanding Officers cannot deem one religion better than or more valid than another. By law, they have to allow everyone to worship as they choose.
There have been many protests against allowing Wiccan ceremonies to be held on board military installations. One particularly publicized protest was that of Fort Hood, Texas in August of 1997. There are many political figures who are outwardly opposed to allowing Wiccan ceremonies to take place. A major opponent was Georgia Congressman Bob Barr. He is adamantly against congress allowing pagan rituals to be practiced on U.S. military bases. (Haynes, 2007) stated “then-Governor George W. Bush wanted the military to bar Wiccan ceremonies saying “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion”. This man is now our president. It is frightening to thinks that someone so closed minded is running the most powerful country in the world.
The Department of Veterans Affairs does not recognize Wicca as a religion either. They have not yet approved the pentacle, which is the Wiccan symbol, as an “emblem of belief” to be used on grave markers of fallen Wiccan soldiers. (Haynes, 2007) They have approved the symbols for Atheists, Muslims, and Buddhists, but not Wiccans. Under the First Amendment, government and military officials have no choice but to allow Wiccans religious freedom. They have approved so many others, why are they refusing to acknowledge Wicca in a proper manner?
Adler (1986) states “the word witch is defined so differently by different people that a common definition seems impossible”. Even though scholars and specialists have studied the religion and its followers and have searched its origins to give true meaning, society still has a bad view of Wiccans. Until everyone respects another’s right to worship what they choose, we will continue to be at odds with one another and fear what we do not know or understand. If we live in a country that awards us the freedom of choice about everything, then who are we to judge and condemn anyone over their religious choices? Our country was scarred because of an outsider’s judgment. We have friends and loved ones fighting this very moment to ensure our freedom. Do not let their sacrifices be in vain. Respect all people and their choices. You don’t have to agree with everyone, just respect their rights as well as your own.
Adler, M. (1986). Drawing Down the Moon.
Haynes, C. (2007, April 1). Witch Trials and Tribulations in the Land of the Free. Retrieved November 9, 2007, from http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org.
Hultin, J. (1997, December 31), SECNAV Instruction 1730.8A: Accommodation of Religious Practices. Retrieved November 6, 2007, from https://doni.daps.dla.mil.
Melton, J. & Lewis, J. (1991). Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains. Retrieved November 6, 2007, from http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu.
Streeter, M. (2002). Witchcraft: A Secret History.