The Warrior's Path - Pagans in the Military

by Carol Kirk

 

There is a great deal of angry rhetoric appearing in print and being disseminated over the airwaves these days brought on by the discovery that there are many Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans who have chosen the military as a career path. As we who have chosen to follow the calling of a different Divinity than that worshiped by the mainstream become more and more open about out practices, and as our numbers continue to grow, it is only to be expected that there will be further instances of such conflict in the future. So it would appear that there is a need to look at what is happening and why.

 

To understand the Christian point of view on the subject is perhaps the easiest. We are a religion that is little understood and about which a great many falsehoods have been told. Unlearning the misinformation of hundreds of years of dogmatic teachings will not happen over night. It will take time and effort to show the average Christian the truth of our ways.

 

To the average Christian, and perhaps even more so the right-wing fundamentalist Christian, there is the erroneous perception that this nation was founded as a Christian nation where only certain beliefs would be accepted and tolerated. The fact is that many of the early Colonies were founded simply because of religious intolerance. As an example, Rhode Island was founded because non-Puritans were not allowed to practice their faith in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Maryland was founded because Catholics were not welcome in other colonies. Given the history of religious intolerance and bloodshed in Europe, and the examples in our own history, our Founding Fathers had the wisdom and foresight to insure that this country would never see that happen again. Hence they wrote into the Constitution, over the objection of some of the churches of the time, that freedom of religion was a right of every citizen. That meant the freedom of every religion. And they insured that the government would never, ever be able to say which religions were acceptable and which were not.

 

For many years this freedom of religion clause was not a terribly important item of the Constitution. After all, the majority of Americans were at least followers of a Judaic-Christian tradition. Except for the Native Americans of course, but their religion was thought to be merely superstition and they were converted as soon as possible by well-meaning missionaries. But in the 20th century, and particularly since World War II, the United States has seen a great influx of persons from countries where Christianity is not the majority religion. Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, Janists, and others came from Asia. From Africa came those who followed tribal Gods. And from South America and the Caribbean came Voudoun, Santeria, and many others. Many of these seemed not only strange but threatening to the more militant Christians, who saw their way of life and their image of the United States being undermined by these "foreigners". The upsurge of Neo-Paganism was just the icing on the cake.

 

Yet throughout, the Right was comfortable in the fact that the military which protected them and their way of life was a Christian organization. And the military with its Chaplains and church presence reinforced this belief. Now that belief has been shattered by the revelation that there are many, many Pagans, Witches, and Wiccans in the military. Pagans with guns. Pagans living in the same barracks rooms with their precious sons and daughters. Pagans being recognized as a "real" religion. To some people this will come merely as a surprise. To those who truly do hate and fear us it is a shock and a source of great anxiety. They understand what their teachings are on loyalty, duty, honor, country. . . but what do these Pagans believe? How will they behave when called upon to fight?

 

Yes, I understand the concern of the Christian fundamentalist.

 

What concerns me more is the response from the Pagan community as a whole with many, many loud and negative voices condemning those of their brothers and sisters who chose the military as a career and a way of life. How are we to answer the Christians if we are fighting among ourselves over the rightness of our choice of path? Where is this anger at fellow Pagans coming from?

 

To understand that you must also understand where the roots of Neo-Paganism lie. Much of what we now know as the modern Pagan movement arose out of the counter-culture of the 1960's. Both the anti-war movement and the influx of pacifist ideas from Eastern religions contributed to a suspicion of all things having to do with the military. Anyone who would consider putting on a uniform was automatically classified as being a fascist, an unprincipled murderer, and a threat to the society that they wanted to build. Not all of this misapprehension about the military has been vanquished, as is clearly demonstrated to anyone who has read Isaac Bonewits' position on policemen and soldiers. To those who would attack the military professional because they fear that his or her career choice is in violation of the Rede, the knowledge that there are a growing number of their brothers and sisters that chose this path is both an affront and an assault on their beliefs.

 

There is a popular myth in the neo-Pagan community that claims that once there was a golden age of peace and prosperity in a Goddess worshiping society. In fact, historical and archaeological evidence indicates that our forebears lived in a very dangerous world, threatened by wild beasts, natural disasters, and warring tribes. Out of such a world was the Warrior archetype born as one of the roles that a man would be called upon to play in his lifetime. The Warrior was not the berserker, not the hardened killer, not the raider that preyed on others. No, the Warrior was he that picked up a weapon in defense of his home and kin. He was Father, Brother, Husband as well. In times of peace he would tend his herds and fields and live in harmony with his neighbors. But when his clan was threatened, he would take up arms to defend them. Thus the Warrior was a position of honor and reverence, for he was the one who placed his living body between his kinfolk and that which threatened their survival.

 

Many centuries have come and gone since our ancestors worshiped in the old ways, but the truth is that the world remains a very dangerous place. Now we are threatened with atomic weapons, ethnic cleansing, terrorist organizations, rogue states, chemical/biological warfare, and perpetrators of genocide. Our very survival as a people and the continuance of our way of life requires that we sometimes fight to defend it. It should be remember that the Rede does not preclude our acting in self-defense when threatened. The modern Pagan soldier who places himself in harm's way to protect his countrymen is no less than the Warrior of ancient times. He does not kill uncaringly, he does not wage war for glory or thrill, he prefers the way of the peacekeeper over that of the soldier. He does not blindly follow orders, rather he weighs what is asked of him against the ethical framework of his religion. But he also understands that until the world becomes a different place, he or she will be called upon in time of crisis to place their life on the line.

 

It is a sad commentary that the modern Pagan soldier must then find himself reviled by the very people he would die to protect. And there is something that those who seek to distance themselves from Witches and Wiccans should think about when they cry out that no "true" Pagan would ever consider putting on a uniform.. Remember, that when the going gets rough and things are coming down hot and heavy, soldiers listen only to other soldiers........

 

If you take all of the Goddess-loving, life-affirming, peace-loving Pagan folk out of the military . . . who do you have left?

 

Copyright 1999 Carol Kirk

All Rights Reserved