The excerpt US Army prepared a book for the guidance of its chaplains when
dealing with a soldier of a non-traditional faith. The book is: "Religious
Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for
Chaplains," and was first published in 1978. The 1990 edition appears to have gone out of print. However
a new version was published in 2001 under the same
name. The the U.S. Department of the Army is listed as as editor 1
Pages 231-236 of the 1990 edition contained an excellent description of Wicca. The text appears below:
ADDRESS: No central address. Wiccan worship groups, called covens, are
essentially autonomous. Many, but far from all, have affiliated with:
Covenant of the Goddess, P.O. Box 1226 Berkeley, CA 94704
OTHER NAMES BY WHICH KNOWN: Witchcraft; Goddess worshippers;
Neo-Paganism, Paganism, Norse (or any other ethnic designation) Paganism,
Earth Religion, Old Religion, Druidism, Shamanism. Note: All of these groups
have some basic similarities and many surface differences of expression with
LEADERSHIP: No central leadership. The Covenant of the
Goddess annually elects a First Officer and there is a
constitutional limit of two consecutive terms, but in
practice officers have almost always served for one year
only. In 1991, there are two co-First Officers, Phoenix
Whitebirch and Brandy Williams.
MEMBERSHIP: Because of the complete autonomy of covens, this cannot be
determined. There are an estimated of 50,000 Wiccans in the United States
HISTORICAL ORIGIN: Wicca is a reconstruction of the Nature
worship of tribal Europe, strongly influenced by the living
Nature worship traditions of tribal peoples in other parts
of the world. The works of such early twentieth century
writers as Margaret Murray, Robert Graves and Gerald B.
Gardner began the renewal of interest in the Old Religion.
After the repeal of the anti-Witchcraft laws in Britain in
1951, Gardner publicly declared himself a Witch and began to
gather a group of students and worshipers. In 1962, two of
his students, Raymond and Rosemary Buckland (religious
names: Lady Rowen and Robat), emigrated to the United States
and began teaching Gardnerian Witchcraft here. At the same
time, other groups of people became interested through
reading books by Gardner and others. Many covens were
spontaneously formed, using rituals created from a
combination of research and individual inspiration. These
self-created covens are today regarded as just as valid as
those who can trace a "lineage" of teaching back to England.
In 1975, a very diverse group of covens who wanted to secure
the legal protections and benefits of church status formed
Covenant of the Goddess (CoG), which is incorporated in the
State of California and recognized by the Internal Revenue
Service. CoG does not represent all, or even a majority of
Wiccans. A coven or an individual need not be affiliated
with CoG in order to validly practice the religion. But CoG
is the largest single public Wiccan organization, and it is
cross-Traditional (i.e. non-denominational).
BASIC BELIEFS: Wiccans worship the sacred as immanent in
Nature, often personified as Mother Earth and Father Sky. As
polytheists, they may use many other names for Deity.
Individuals will often choose Goddesses or Gods from any of
the world's pantheons whose stories are particularly
inspiring and use those Deities as a focus for personal
devotions. Similarly, covens will use particular Deity names
as a group focus, and these are often held secret by the
groups. It is very important to be aware that Wiccans do not
in any way worship or believe in "Satan," "the Devil," or
any similar entities. They point out that "Satan" is a
symbol of rebellion against and inversion of the Christian
and Jewish traditions. Wiccans do not revile the Bible. They
simply regard it as one among many of the world's mythic
systems, less applicable than some to their core values, but
still deserving just as much respect as any of the others.
Most Wiccan groups also practice magic, by which they mean
the direction and use of "psychic energy," those natural but
invisible forces which surround all living things. Some
members spell the word "magick," to distinguish it from
sleight of hand entertainments. Wiccans employ such means as
dance, chant, creative visualization and hypnosis to focus
and direct psychic energy for the purpose of healing,
protecting and aiding members in various endeavors. Such
assistance is also extended to non-members upon request.
Many, but not all, Wiccans believe in reincarnation. Some
take this as a literal description of what happens to people
when they die. For others, it is a symbolic model that helps
them deal with the cycles and changes within this life.
Neither Reincarnation nor any other literal belief can be
used as a test of an individual's validity as a member of
the Old Religion. Most groups have a handwritten collection
of rituals and lore, known as a Book of Shadows. Part of the
religious education of a new member will be to hand copy
this book for him or herself. Over they years, as
inspiration provides, new material will be added. Normally,
access to these books is limited to initiated members of the
PRACTICES AND BEHAVIORAL STANDARDS: The core ethical
statement of Wicca, called the "Wiccan Rede" states
"an it harm none, do what you will." The Rede fulfills
the same function as does the "Golden Rule" for Jews and
Christians; all other ethical teachings are considered to be
elaborations and applications of the Rede. It is a statement
of situational ethics, emphasizing at once the individual's
responsibility to avoid harm to others and the widest range
of personal autonomy in "victimless" activities. Wicca has
been described as having a "high-choice" ethic. Because of
the basic Nature orientation of the religion, many Wiccans
will regard all living things as Sacred, and show a special
concern for ecological issues. For this reason, individual
conscience will lead some to take a pacifist position. Some
are vegetarians. Others will feel that, as Nature's Way
includes self-defense, they should participate in wars that
they conscientiously consider to be just. The religion does
not dictate either position, but requires each member to
thoughtfully and meditatively examine her or his own
conscience and to live by it. Social forces generally do not
yet allow Witches to publicly declare their religious faith
without fear of reprisals such as loss of job, child custody
challenges, ridicule, etc. Prejudice against Wiccans is the
result of public confusion between Witchcraft and Satanism.
Wiccans in the military, especially those who may be posted
in countries perceived to be particularly intolerant, will
often have their dogtags read "No Religious Preference."
Concealment is a traditional Wiccan defense against
persecution, so non-denominational dogtags should not
contravene a member's request for religious services.
Wiccans celebrate eight festivals, called "Sabbats," as a
means of attunement to the seasonal rhythms of Nature. These
January 31 [Called Oimelc, Brigit, or February Eve],
Some groups find meetings within a few days of those dates to be acceptable,
others require the precise date. In addition, most groups
will meet for worship at each Full Moon, and many will also
meet on the New Moon. Meetings for religious study will
often be scheduled at any time convenient to the members,
and rituals can be scheduled whenever there is a need (i.e.
for a healing). Ritual jewelry is particularly important to
many Wiccans. In addition to being a symbol of religious
dedication, these talismans are often blessed by the coven
back home and felt to carry the coven's protective and
ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE: Most Wiccans meet with a coven, a
small group of people. Each coven is autonomous. Most are
headed by a High Priestess, often with the assistance of a
High Priest. Some are headed by a High Priestess or High
Priest without a partner, and some regard themselves as a
gathering of equals. Covens can be of mixed gender, or all
female or male, depending on the preferences of the members.
Every initiate is considered to be a priestess or priest.
Most covens are small. Thirteen is the traditional maximum
number of members, although not an absolute limit. At that
size covens form a close bond, so Wiccans in the military
are likely to maintain a strong affiliation with their
covens back home. There are many distinct "Traditions" of
Wicca, just as there are many denominations within
Christianity. The spectrum of Wiccan practice can be
described as ranging from "traditional" to "eclectic," with
Traditions, covens and individuals fitting anywhere within
that range. A typical difference would be that more
traditional groups would tend to follow a set liturgy,
whereas eclectic groups would emphasize immediate
inspiration in worship. These distinctions are not
particularly important to the military chaplain, since it is
unlikely that enough members of any one Tradition would be
at the same base. Worship circles at military facilities are
likely to be ad-hoc cross-Traditional groups, working out
compromise styles of worship for themselves and constantly
adapting them to a changing membership. Therefore, the lack
of strict adherence to the patterns of any one Tradition is
not an indicator of invalidity. While many Wiccans meet in a
coven, there are also a number of solitairies. These are
individuals who choose to practice their faith alone. The
may have been initiated in a coven or self initiated. They
will join with other Wiccans to celebrate the festivals or
to attend the various regional events organized by the
ROLE OF MINISTERS: Within a traditional coven, the High
Priestess, usually assisted by her High Priest, serves both
as leader in the rituals and as teacher and counselor for
coven members and unaffiliated Pagans. Eclectic covens tend
to share leadership more equally.
WORSHIP: Wiccans usually worship in groups. Individuals who
are currently not affiliated with a coven, or are away from
their home coven, may choose to worship privately or may
form ad-hoc groups to mark religious occasions.
Non-participating observers are not generally welcome at
Wiccan rituals. Some, but not all, Wiccan covens worship in
the nude ("skyclad") as a sign of attunement with Nature.
Most, but not all, Wiccan covens bless and share a cup of
wine as part of the ritual. Almost all Wiccans use an
individual ritual knife (an "athame") to focus and direct
personal energy. Covens often also have ritual swords to
direct the energy of the group. These tools, like all other
ritual tools, are highly personal and should never leave the
possession of the owner. Other commonly used ritual tools
include a bowl of water, a bowl of salt, a censer with
incense, a disk with symbols engraved on it (a "pentagram"),
statues or artwork representing the Goddess and God, and
candles. Most groups will bless and share bread or cookies
along with the wine. All of these items are used in
individual, private worship as well as in congregate
DIETARY LAWS OR RESTRICTIONS: None.
FUNERAL AND BURIAL REQUIREMENTS: None. Recognition of the
death of a member takes place within the coven, apart from
the body of the deceased. Ritual tools, materials, or
writings found among the effects of the deceased should be
returned to their home coven (typically a member will
designate a person to whom ritual materials should be sent).
It is desirable for a Wiccan priest or priestess to be
present at the time of death, but not strictly necessary. If
not possible, the best assistance would be to make the
member as comfortable as possible, listen to whatever they
have to say, honor any possible requests, and otherwise
leave them as quiet and private as possible.
MEDICAL TREATMENT: No medical restrictions. Wiccans
generally believe in the efficacy of spiritual or psychic
healing when done in tandem with standard medical treatment.
Therefore, at the request of the patient, other Wiccan
personnel should be allowed visiting privileges as though
they were immediate family, including access to Intensive
Care Units. Most Wiccans believe that healing energy can be
sent from great distances, so, if possible, in the case of
any serious medical condition, the member's home coven
should be notified.
OTHER: With respect to attitude toward military service,
Wiccans range from career military personnel to
conscientious objectors. Wiccans do not proselytize and
generally resent those who do. They believe that no one Path
to the Sacred is right for all people, and see their own
religious pattern as only one among many that are equally
worthy. Wiccans respect all religions that foster honor and
compassion in their adherents, and expect the same respect.
Members are encouraged to learn about all faiths, and are
permitted to attend the services of other religions, should
they desire to do so.
GENERAL SOURCE BOOKS
The best general survey of the Wiccan and neo-Pagan
movement is: Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston:
Beacon Press, 1986. 595pp
For more specific information about eclectic Wicca, see: Starhawk. The Spiral Dance. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
For more specific information about traditional Wicca, see:
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar:
Eight Sabbats for Witches. London: Robert Hale, 1981. 192pp.
The Witches' Way. London: Robert Hale, 1984. 394pp.