Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pagans Resist Keeping The Faith To Themselves

Pagans Resist Keeping The Faith To Themselves Cover
They each have a story about how they found their path. One is a former Catholic who gave the faith up at 21. Another was raised by strict Southern Baptists. One had parents who encouraged him to explore many faiths. For another, a self-described hereditary witch, it’s been a family tradition.

They are airmen, sailors and spouses — and they are Pagans. They are also perhaps part of one of the least understood religious minority groups in the U.S. military. They wear pentacles (a circled pentagram) instead of crucifixes as a sign of their faith. They do not believe in the devil and they don’t cast vengeful spells. Their rituals don’t involve sacrifice or blood. At a base that’s 75 percent Christian — a proportion generally found across the military — Misawa’s Pagan community is striving to be treated like any other religious group on base.

“I want to get to the point where you can say Pagan or Wicca and not get a bad reaction,” said Staff Sgt. Katie McDaniel, 31, a Wiccan.

The group, which goes by the name Misawa Earth-Based Religions (M-E-R) study group, already has aired its case to the wing chaplain.

“Basically, the only way to find this group is to call the chapel and ask the question: ‘Do you have a group and, if so, give me a phone number.’ Or mess around on the Internet until you happen to come across the Yahoo (Web page) that we have,” McDaniel said.

In a meeting last week they requested with Chaplain Lt. Col. Steven Nicolai, six group members asked for the same base exposure afforded other religious groups to publicize their weekly meetings.

When Kim Whicker, 29, a Navy spouse, arrived at Misawa about two years ago, M-E-R’s meetings were publicized with other religious events on base cable and in the base newspaper, she said. The listings have since disappeared.

On Friday, on Misawa’s Web site, www., a number of religious study groups with meeting times were mentioned — such as Islamic Study, Catholic Women of the Chapel, and Protestant Women of the Chapel — but not M-E-R.

The group already has a key to a room in the chapel on Security Hill, where it meets Tuesday evenings to discuss topics ranging from herbalism and ritual basics to tarot-card reading and crystals.
Religious accommodation

Nicolai said the chapel would accommodate most of the group’s requests, including making its literature available at the chapel and to airmen in deployment processing lines. The chapel also is working on publicizing the group’s meeting times, he said.

“I’m not of their tenet — I believe in Jesus Christ,” said Nicolai, who’s endorsed by Evangelical Lutheran Church America. “But I want to make sure they’re afforded the same opportunities” for worship.

Nicolai said it’s not his job to judge whether a religious group is valid. It’s Air Force policy to approve requests for religious accommodation, which the service does as long as there’s no effect on readiness, unit cohesion, health, safety, discipline and military duties, he said.

“It all goes back to the First Amendment,” he said. “On the one hand, the government cannot establish a religion. But on the other hand, the government can also not prohibit people from assembling, and they can worship as they please. Just the fact that they walk into my office, say we have a need, we look at it.”

M-E-R has been around for nearly six years, though it’s gone by different names. Its members — currently there are about 16 — adhere to a number of faiths that fall under the umbrella term Pagan.
Some of them believe in deities. Some of them don’t. In general, they adhere to an “earth-based spirituality” and share a reverence for nature. Members say they’re open to anyone affiliated with the earth-based religions or anyone interested in learning more about them.
M-E-R, they add, is a study group, not a worship group. Though their pentacles remain hidden under their military uniforms during the duty day — as any necklace is supposed to — they freely wear the symbol of their faith in civilian clothes. They said they don’t fear discrimination.

“We put ourselves out there,” McDaniel said. “We represent ourselves in a certain way. We wear certain jewelry. We have certain things in our home, and it’s not to be in your face. That’s just the way we choose to live our faith and our path.

“It is obviously going to draw questions. It’s a good thing. If someone wants to know, they’ll ask … and if not, merry part, be on your way.”
Discomfort in public

But for some members, the visibility of their faith off-duty has led to uncomfortable situations in public. Ashley, a Navy petty officer second class who didn’t want her last name used, recalled the glare from a woman selling brownies at the base exchange for a Christian religious group on base. Air Force spouse Danielle Lochin, 35, has overheard mothers tell their children “those are bad books to look at” while browsing earth-based religious materials at the Army and Air Force Exchange Service bookstore.

On the job, the awkwardness typically comes at military functions where prayer is offered, M-E-R members said. At the start of a recent readiness run, a chaplain prayed “in the name of the heavenly father,” they said.

“That’s where it gets awkward with me,” McDaniel said. “We’re at a military function and there are prayers. I don’t mind the words of inspiration, as they call it these days, as long as it’s nondenominational, as long as it doesn’t call on particular deities.”

McDaniel recalled a recent Airman Leadership School ice-breaker.

“All we were doing was standing around, getting to know each other, eating roast beef and pieces of bread” and a commander said a prayer.

Arasin Staubly, 36, a staff sergeant and M-E-R member, said he’s encountering prayer less at military functions than he has in the past. But that’s not the case with all members of M-E-R.

“I am encountering it more,” McDaniel said.

You get as you give

According to Katie McDaniel, a staff sergeant at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and a Wiccan high priestess, Pagans in general believe in direct access to deity and the ability to manipulate energy. Members of the Misawa Earth-Based Religions study group, who follow an eclectic mix of paganistic beliefs, generally believe in the “law of threefold return.”

“Whatever you put out there comes back three times,” said Kim Whicker, a Navy spouse.

“You get returns physically, mentally and spiritually,” McDaniel added. “You’re getting from the universe what you put into it.”

One of the main tenets of Wicca is “And it harm none, do as ye will.”

“Essentially, it’s don’t hurt other people … be yourself but don’t inflict yourself on other people,” said Staff Sgt. Arasin Staubley, an M-E-R member.

In Wicca, rituals are celebrations linked to the seasons and solar and lunar phases. They also can be performed for a dedication, wiccaning (analogous to a christening for an infant) or handfasting (marriage celebration), McDaniel said.

“From the Wiccan standpoint, you’re inviting the God and Goddess to be with you as witness to what is happening,” she said.

Wiccans don’t use blood in rituals, McDaniel added, “because according to the Goddess, she does not demand sacrifice because she is part of everything.”

The Air Force guidelines for religious prayer say “if it’s a mandatory function, a chaplain needs to be sensitive — it’s not my Sunday morning pulpit,” said Lt. Col. Steven Nicolai, 35th Fighter Wing chaplain at Misawa Air Base, Japan.

A chaplain might at an all-units meeting, for example, offer words of inspiration or guidance, rather than a prayer, he said. But chaplains also aren’t required to “extract all language that might have symbolic meaning,” such as “heavenly father,” he said.

“In the public arena, I need to be respectful of differences but, at the same time, I can’t lose my [duty] as a pastor,” he said. “They didn’t hire me as a guy who just says good words. My whole mandate is to be religious-minded. I should never move over to the side where I’m void of religion.”

Nicolai said that, in his view, “nonsectarian” means a chaplain shouldn’t tie a prayer to one religious group, but it also doesn’t mean that religious content has to be entirely absent.

Military recognizes 7 Pagan faiths

The U.S. Military Personnel System recognizes seven Pagan faiths: Pagan, Wiccan, Druid, Shaman, Dianic Wicca, Gardenarian Wicca and Seax Wicca. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, the number of Wiccans in the United States rose from 8,000 to 134,000 between 1990 and 2001. The Defense Department reported 1,871 Wiccan active-duty members in 2006, and 11 classified as “magick and spiritualist.” Some U.S. military bases in the Pacific have small Pagan communities. Of the 5,000-plus airmen stationed at Osan Air Base, South Korea, 16 are listed as Wicca and 10 are Pagan. The chapel at Osan advertises a Wicca group meeting on Saturday nights at 6:30 p.m. While there are no organized faith groups for either Wicca or Pagan at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, the chapel does have a point of contact for both faiths if information is needed, according to base officials. Of 2,700 airmen stationed at Kunsan, four claim Wicca as their preferred religion, while seven list Pagan and two say they’re Druid.

On the Web site, two Pagan groups are listed in Japan, one at Kadena Air Base on Okinawa and another at Yokosuka Naval Base near Tokyo.

The one at Yokosuka is a Wicca study group that formed May 26, according to the site, with this note: “Just got approved from the Command Chaplain to have Wicca services. So if you want to join my services ... feel free to stop in. I am on the USS Kitty Hawk, and I also could get services in Yokosuka if desired ...”

There are no Pagan chaplains in the U.S. military. McDaniel said she inquired about becoming one but was told there was no precedent. 35th Fighter Wing chaplain Lt. Col. Steven Nicolai said the earth religions don’t have a standardized theological training process.

Suggested ebooks:

Benjamin Rowe - Enochian Temples Invoking The Cacodemons With The Temple
Frank Viola - Pagan Christianity Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices

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