(Note from Daven: I place this here because, as a former member of the Army myself, I feel for those who are trying to perform their rituals in that too regimented atmosphere. I would argue one point in this, however. I too was at Fort Benjamin Harrison, but back in 1987-88 and I performed several pagan ceremonies there, just not openly with the blessings of the Officers. Keep this triumph in mind when you are in the Military, and remember those soldiers down in Fort Hood, TX and all the problems they went through to get their Coven launched. Use your head.)
A Military Witch
by Morgan Beard
Being a professional soldier in the U.S. Army is not a profession one tends to associate with the religion of Wicca. I was surprised when I first heard of Wiccans in the armed forces, and even more surprised a short time later to find myself in the Army—Reserves, that is. However, once the shock wore off, one of my immediate concerns was: How could I practice my religion while training?
I did not know very much about that Army at the time, or about how it deals with religion. With the help of a friend, I discovered that the Army fully recognizes Wicca and Paganism. I assumed though, that while Wicca is officially recognized as a religion, it would be unofficially discouraged. During basic training at Fort Jackson (SC), my schedule was too demanding to give me time to perform an rituals, as I would have liked to do. I did finally get a chance to speak to my Chaplain (a Lutheran, as it happened). He told me that he had dealt with Wiccans in basic training before, and I was given permission to use the barracks garden for meditation.
After basic training, I was shipped to Fort Ben Harrison (IN), for advanced training in my chosen specialty of finance. One of the first things I did upon arriving at Fort Harrison was to make an appointment with the Chaplain.
I think I baffled him when we met. Fort Harrison is a small post with relatively few students. The Chaplain had never had a Wiccan request to perform ritual before. He consulted his superior, the post Chaplain, and got permission for me to practice Wicca on post.
His next step was to inform my company commander and drill sergeant of what I was doing. There were only two constraints places on my rituals. I had to have a cadre member present, and I had to wear battle-dress-uniform (camouflage suit) for the ritual. Please keep in mind that these constraints were only because of my training status. Had I been out of training, I would not have had to obey them.
My drill sergeant and I discussed my practice, and although she had never heard of Wicca, she was very open-minded about it. She got me off duty on the nights in question, which later turned out to be a big help. With her and the Chaplain’s assistance, I was able to perform the first Wiccan/Pagan ritual ever at Fort Ben Harrison on 10 October 1992, and the second on Samhain. History had been made!
I would like to emphasize that at no time during basic or advanced training did I feel that I was being discriminated against or harassed by Army personnel. It was actually the opposite–everyone went out of there way to make sure I had what I needed.
This is important for people who are thinking of joining or for those already in the armed forces. realize that you do have the right to practice your religion. asserting yourself as I did has two advantages. One, it paves the way for future Wiccans who may follow in your footsteps. Two, it forces the Army and other services to recognize that Wicca is a living and growing religion whose members deserve consideration. If policy makers believe that only one in every 10,000 soldiers is a Wiccan or Pagan, they are less likely to pay attention to our needs than if that figure is one in 1,000 or even on in 100.
An added advantage is that you can network or make contact with other Wiccans or Pagans. For instance, there were two other Wiccans in my basic training company of 240 people. I never knew about them until I spoke to the Chaplain.
There’s a difference, though, between requesting permission to perform private or open rituals and running through the streets screaming “I’m a Wiccan!” As in the civilian world, in the military it’s not always a good idea to advertise that your Wiccan. While Army people are generally open-minded about religion, there are still a lot of devout Christian soldiers who simply can’t put away their prejudices and deal with the idea of working beside a “witch”.
I do know from experience that it’s too easy to feel lost or spiritually isolated, in the Army or elsewhere, to let anything come between you and the Lady and the Lord. Whether you’re worried about prejudice (a valid concern), or trying to cut through spools of red tape to be allowed to practice your beliefs freely, work calmly and patiently–but persistently.
I don’t believe I’ve done anything extraordinary. I simply opened up an intelligent dialogue with my Chaplains and chain of command, answering their questions, and made sure they understood there was nothing to worry about or be afraid of. Military or civilian, that’s usually all we can do; most often, it’s more than enough.
This file may be freely transmitted so long as none of the content is changed. If quoted or published be sure to give appropriate credit. (c) 1994 Morgan Beard