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Article ID: 14796

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Equal Opportunity Infraction or Paranoid Military Member?

Author: Hartless Dragon
Posted: May 20th. 2012
Times Viewed: 2,446

It seems that Pagans everywhere, whether solitary or in small groups, seem to have more than their fair share of difficulties and challenges in their everyday lives. This goes double, maybe even triple, for those serving in our nation’s military. I am one of them, a United States Marine, currently serving overseas in Afghanistan. Between unstable work hours (never really knowing when you will be going home for the night) while stateside, to the deployed environment, being an active Pagan can be quite difficult. The challenges are many and range from the simple ignorant individual with their offensive comments and questions that you know aren’t serious, Internet firewalls blocking all sites having anything to do with the Pagan community, to larger problems such as discrimination in regards to religious practices. Even though they preach ‘Equal Opportunity’ and fair treatment, it seems that they are way off the mark and need to learn to practice what they preach.

Let us start with the ignorant individuals. How many times do you get asked the question, “Do you do real magic? Like in Harry Potter?” When you know they aren’t truly curious about what it is we do, and they are just trying to get under your skin, this can be extremely frustrating. Can we blame TV and the movies for the images they project? No, we can’t. They are out there for entertainment purposes only, not as educational material. It’s not the movie’s fault that the people watching are that ignorant. As aggravating as this is, it still hasn’t stopped me from saying I’m a Witch, and damn proud to be one.

Although it has caused me quite a bit of grief (including having a superior that was straight up afraid of me, well, that part made me smile) , to hide in the ‘broom closet, ’ as some might say, is wrong to me. We should not be hiding, but out there educating. There are those that will listen, and for my brothers in arms, the higher you go up the chain of command in your attempt to educate, the more effective it will be. Sometimes you get the ones that just plain don’t care, and are actually trying to make fun of your beliefs. At this point, for the military, and equal opportunity representative should probably get involved.

Where shall we take this discussion next? Let’s delve into the thing that gave me the original spark to write this essay to begin with, the infamous government firewalls. I would like to split this piece into two parts, the first being the label given to our harmless sites, the definitions of said label, and how it relates to the Pagan community. The warzone has come far from the days of fighting in trenches. Some of the larger bases are comparable to bases back in the states and even have their own wifi networks, allowing the military members to stay better connected with their families. The government firewall labels all sites even remotely relating to Pagans and Wiccans as ‘Cult/Occult.’

First, let’s review the definition of “cult” via (an actual paper copy of a real dictionary is a little difficult to find in Afghanistan) : “a particular system of religious worship, especially with reference to its rites and ceremonies; an instance of great veneration of a person, ideal, or thing, especially as manifested by a body of admirers; a group or sect bound together by veneration of the same thing, person, ideal, etc.; a group having a sacred ideology and a set of rites centering around their sacred symbols; a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.”

See any trends in the definitions? Key words include ‘group or sect’, ‘body of admirers’, and in the first definition provided, a ‘particular system of religious worship’. One of the unique things about Paganism in general is that there is no one ‘particular system’ that anyone follows. There are a few simple and basic practices that are recognized by most, but everyone’s view is different. We don’t believe in any ‘one right way’. There are many ways to practice, and traditions vary greatly by region, coven, family, and even person-to-person. By the definitions provided, one can hardly call Pagans and Wiccans members of a cult. In fact, the suggestion seems completely absurd to the learned individual. However, those who seem to enjoy classifying us as a cult seem to fit the description almost perfectly.

Ironic, isn’t it?

The biggest problem we face with being classified by others as a cult is that it prohibits government workers, especially those in the military, from viewing even basic sites. I have had great difficulty in reaching sites for simple research for new ritual tools, altar cloths, stones, and even a simple calendar for our beloved holidays. Even the wonderful WitchVox has been completely blocked. However, any research one may want to do on other faiths will prove quite easy and the individual will encounter very little resistance, if any at all. This action alone leaves Pagans isolated from the community of like-minded people all over the world. This can get quite depressing, especially for deployed military members with no one else to talk to.

Luckily there is another Internet service on a few of the larger bases. Only problem is that is it is only available in very few locations, and you have to pay a hefty price to stay connected. The only upside is that it does not have the government blocks as it is a civilian company. So, our options are: 1. to pay for a pricey Internet plan when Internet is already provided at no charge just to connect with the Pagan community (as I have done) , or 2. Be isolated from the rest of the Pagan community until the deployment is over. To be honest, I’m not too fond of either choice.

On to the final issue, good old-fashioned unequal treatment. Allow me to start off with a specific example from my own experiences. There is a religious day, special to the members of the church, called Ash Wednesday. The special service is usually in the middle of the day, obviously that would place it during working hours. Does that prevent anyone from attending? Of course not. I have even seen people leave for said service, not to see them again until the next day. Is there anything wrong with this scenario? No again. They are exercising their right to freedom of religion.

What about other services for other faiths? This is where it gets interesting. I have seen a wide variety of other faiths, many of their members receiving extra privileges so that they can embrace their chosen path without too much interference. All seems pretty fair so far. Then there was a young Lance Corporal, new to the Pagan pathways. There was a branch of a coven that accepted anyone, including military members of all branches, military spouses, civilian employees, and was child friendly. They provided a very friendly and welcome atmosphere for anyone of any religious background to learn. The meetings were held at a time that was well after working hours, which actually caused difficulty if the gathering was a lengthy one due to base curfews. And somehow, even though the timing should not have interfered with work hours, work still managed to keep this young Marine from attending a few meetings. The reason for this? Work takes priority over personal matters, including church.

What about those that disappear for hours on end during the middle of the day in April for Ash Wednesday? Does this apply to them as well? The answer is no, it doesn’t. They are extended the option to attend regardless of workload. However, in the case of our young Marine (me only a few years ago) , once he missed the meeting time for a ride, there was no attending at all until the next week.

Has the Equal Opportunity policy been violated? Or are these merely the ramblings of an unfortunate individual? It seems the government has it out for us. It took a very long time for our victory in regards to the headstones for deceased veterans. The Pagan community claimed that victory only recently, April 20, 2007. It seems our victories are few and far between. But does this discourage me? Of course not! I will continue to fight for what I believe in, and I am sure my Pagan brothers in arms feel the same way.

For those who may have been considering a future in our military, please do not let this discourage you from joining. The road may be difficult, but the more of us there are fighting for what we believe in, the harder it will be for them to ignore us. The change is coming, we just have to hold strong and not give it up. I will continue to attempt to educate the various commands as I move from unit to unit, hopefully spreading tolerance and acceptance so that our future generations will not have to endure the difficulties we are facing. And to all those who wish to help, I encourage you to do the same. Educate the senior enlisted and officer ranks in charge, educate those on your level and below. Talk to command representatives in charge of enforcing equal opportunity or equal treatment policies in regards to problematic individuals or even to set up classes to educate en-mass.

Together, we can pull another victory for the Pagan community within our military.

Blessed Be


Hartless Dragon

Location: Jacksonville, North Carolina

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