The Witches of Gulfport
Article ID: 2795
Age Group: Adult
Days Up: 6,340
Times Read: 8,912
Posted: May 18th. 2000
Times Viewed: 8,912
"The Navy wants to find out if this is just an isolated incident, " advised Lt. Cmdr. Harmon "Harm" Rabb Jr., "otherwise it has to reevaluate its policy on religious freedoms."
The pagans who tuned in on 4/25/00 to watch the JAG episode, "The Witches of Gulfport" wanted to find out something similar: was this going to be yet another show that misrepresented or defamed Wicca as an entire group... or would this be developed into a clear case of simply one person (albeit a Wiccan) gone astray?
During the course of the one hour show, several things became evident. Wicca does not involve animal sacrifice nor devil worship. Magick is used to "harness spiritual energy". Spells have a positive intent such as in projecting for 'happiness or healing". Wiccans are a "civil people of deep convictions who pose no danger to the community or to the military". In fact during all conversation and testimony throughout the JAG investigation into the allegations of rape against Chief Petty Officer, Merker, not one disparaging remark was directed toward the religion of Wicca or its members that was not dismissed as being either a fallacy or too ridiculous to incur more than a scornful look of reproach. Disputing the validity of the Wiccan religion was obviously not going to be the focus of the plot line.
I confess that I still suffer a small jolt when I see once very private Wiccan ceremonies depicted on television or in the movies. In this case however, that personal pang was quickly replaced by the familiar feeling of awe and wonder that always sweeps over me whenever I hear 'The Charge of The Goddess' being reverently offered up to the stars. Even after forty years in a pagan path, the beauty of these words never fails to move me. With not a goat-head, skull or inverted pentacle in sight (and yes, I'd like the name of the Jesuit shop that made those robes, too.) the ceremonies of Wicca-as similar or as divergent as some may be to this one-were given reverential treatment.
The question that in my mind begs answering is this one: why- with all the issues that normally surround Witchcraft- was sex the vehicle used in this particular plot? The answer, I think, was right there in the beginning of the program: Witches/Wiccans do not practice animal (or any other sort of blood related) sacrifice and they don't worship the devil. These charges are the ones most often leveled against Witches after all. Why dismiss these so succinctly right off the starting line? Well, maybe because except for within the minds of those extreme fundamentalists, who still prefer to use the time-tested tools of fear and propaganda to keep their followers in the fold, these myths about Witchcraft no longer exist anywhere else. That is what decades of public work by dedicated pagans have already accomplished. It's a done deal.
The newest ugly heads to rear up against pagans are indeed the charges of sexual wantonness and immorality. Aside from the instant pudding excuse that 'sex sells', perhaps the writers of this JAG episode looked at the issues and wanted to tackle the one that seemed most likely to be the current battleground in Witch-community relations. For if in fact the writers really had desired to sensationalize Wiccan sexual mores, they could have just as easily used the 'Traditional' five-fold "kiss" instead of just a 'touch'. To me, the discretion and restraint that was exercised in this area- while still accurately portraying some Wiccan beliefs and ritual practices- speaks volumes about the writers' good intentions.
The testimony of the main accuser, Petty Off. Plunkett, brings to the forefront the conflicts that sexuality and sexual mores can incite as different religions encounter each other. The former Baptist-turned Wiccan initiate-turned Baptist again in remorse-demonstrates the conflicts of conscience that can-and do- occur as those who were brought up in a religion where sexuality is tightly controlled by dogmatic tenets enter into another belief system where the issue is considered very differently. It is not clear whether Plunkett was indeed a victim of rape (She never testified that any sort of physical force was used in her case. The seaman's claim of rape was proven and Mertzer was convicted on that count.). The thread of the plot here clearly steered in the direction of a personal conflict with Plunkett's own deep-seated beliefs about sexuality.
It is not easy to shrug off a lifetime's years of religious indoctrination and this is often a problem for new folks who are exploring pagan paths. The only suggestion that we pagans can offer to those facing such a conflict is that no one should be forced, coerced or otherwise compelled to surrender their own free will in this matter. Indeed, virtually all of the modern paths agree that free will and personal responsibility are two areas that are considered sacred and should not be breached. That point was addressed subtly (perhaps too subtly for my taste), but the attempt was made nevertheless.
In the closing segment, the High Priestess berates the subterfuge the investigative team employed in the case and retorts, "How would you like to live in a world that sends spies into your bedroom?" The team does not answer- because there is no answer that can fully justify such an intrusion.. Perhaps a look into the bedroom of the one person being accused of sexual wrongdoing is a legal necessity. The desire to then check everyone else's bedroom because they share the same religious beliefs as the guilty party is a hard one to resist. But resist that desire they should because Americans at least are guaranteed freedom of association, expression and religion under the Constitution.
Ironically enough, even as I write this the government in the state of Mississippi-the very state where this JAG episode was set- is considering signing into law a bill that forbids gay couples from adopting children. I'd like to ask the legislators in Mississippi the same question that the H.Ps. asked: "How would you like to live in a world that sends spies into your bedroom?" I doubt any answer from that quarter would be of any real value in the dialogue of sociological equality. But the question must surely be asked again and again wherever the issues of pagan rights, gay rights or human rights are being addressed.
Some of you may recall that CBS last season ran a "Nash Bridges" episode that had Witches running amuck with demons and all sorts of nasty stuff. The pagan communities responded to that episode, of course, with floods of email. I don't think that it is too far-fetched a notion to believe that someone at CBS actually read those letters. The network has since produced two programs-this JAG episode and an earlier one of 'Judging Amy'- depicting Wiccan beliefs in a positive light. (In my opinion, they have more than redeemed themselves.)
While Witches, Wiccans and pagans do still live in a world where bigots continue to try to legislate, dictate, preach or otherwise threaten innocent citizens solely because of their religious beliefs or sexual preferences, we are not powerless by any means. Letters, issue-oriented campaigns and organized community-wide educational efforts continue to make inroads against bigotry and discrimination targeting pagans and pagan beliefs.
In one of the show's segments, Harm-as well as he thinks that he knows her- wanted to verify that Mac had indeed resisted being victimized by Merker. Perhaps-as well as they think that they know us- there are still those remaining in the world who aren't quite sure how pagans would respond to discriminatory religious agendas or oppressive political schemes. Let's clear that up right now, shall we?
Will we resist becoming victims to intimidation, threats or misuse of authority? Like Mac, we can confidently and convincing reply, "Yes, of course!"
Walk in Light and Love,
April 26th., 2000
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