Religious conflicts - Wicca/Witchcraft
Wiccans and military preparedness
Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis (U.S. Army, Ret.) has written a
paper for the conservative Christian group, the Family Research Council (FRC).
1,2 He is the director of their Military Readiness Project.
The paper seems to have been triggered by a boycott of
some conservative Christian groups against the U.S. Army.
The FRC was initially organized by Focus on the Family, another
conservative Christian organization, under the leadership of Gary Bauer, a
candidate for the presidency of the U.S. in the year 2000.
The conclusion of the
paper is that the "Pentagon should withdraw recognition
Wicca for readiness reasons." Maginnis feels that certain religious rights of
Wiccans in the army should be terminated, because Wiccans are a threat to unit
cohesion, morale, and efficiency in the Army.
The following is our interpretation of Maginnis' paper. You
should read the entire text of his paper to get the full flavor of his
objections. 1 Maginnis raised the following
Wicca is a valid religion:
He recognizes that Wicca has been formally recognized as a valid
religion by the Army since 1996. He did mention that many Wiccan groups have
been given tax exempt status. Unfortunately he did not mention that:
The Army actually recognized Wicca much earlier. Since 1978,
various editions of
chaplains' guide which deals with minority religions, have including Wicca.
Various U.S. courts have also recognized Wicca as a valid
religion (e.g. a 1988 decision by a U.S. district
Wicca is a fringe religion receiving special benefits:
He is concerned that, because of the recognition of Wicca, that
"any fringe religion will now have to be granted special
benefits by DOD." This statement concerns a number of errors:
Wicca is not a fringe religion. It has been active in the
U.S. for about 5 decades. Wiccans have taken part in many inter-faith
conferences, such as the World's Parliament of Religions. They have
about 200,000 members in the U.S.
Each religion that asks to be recognized by the US military
is not automatically accepted. Religions are considered on their own merits, and must meet military requirements. For
example, the Wiccans at Ft. Hood TX had to agree to requirements governing
ritual clothing and restrictions on the use of their ritual athames before they were accepted by
Wiccans and other minority religions have not been "granted
special benefits." They have merely been allowed to use base
facilities for their rituals. It is the larger religions which have been
granted special privileges. For example, the military hires chaplains,
provides office support, and usually provides an on-base religious meeting
place for its Christian, Jewish and often Muslim soldiers.
Even if the DOD spent the hundreds of thousands of dollars
necessary to hire Wiccan priests and priestesses to act as
army chaplains, the Army would not be giving special privileges to Wiccans; they
would only be giving the standard privileges that Christians, Jews and Muslims
have enjoyed for years.
Concern over military readiness:
He is concerned that if the Army allows Wiccans to hold their
services on-base, then non-Wiccan soldiers' "readiness factors such as
military values, adherence to norms, willingness to kill, and recruitment
and retention..." will be undermined. This is because he believes that most soldiers
regard "witchcraft as an abomination."
Diversity: It is quite possible to maintain an army
that is totally male, totally white, totally heterosexual and totally
monotheistic. However, in its wisdom, the U.S. army became integrated a few decades ago; they have allowed women into an
increasing range of assignments. They do not reject those gays and lesbians who
stay in the closet. Finally, they are now formally recognizing small
minority religions. At each step of the way, doomsayers raised the specter
of damaged military preparedness. History has shown their concerns to be
without merit. As armies are increasingly directed at peace
keeping, an force that is racially, sexually and religiously diverse sends a
powerful message to the people being helped. Kosovo and Bosnia are two potent
examples of the power of religious diversity in the military.
Monotheism: Maginnis apparently wants to add a new religious requirement for joining the U.S. army:
the belief in monotheism. This would exclude Agnostics, Atheists,
Buddhists, Ethical Culturalists, Humanists, and a few others from serving,
but would allow Wiccans, Hindus and followers of all of the large religions
Muslims and Jews are the only large religions in U.S.
society that believe in a God who is a single entity, indivisible.
Christians are generally Trinitarian - they follow a
form of monotheism that is quite different from Islam and Judaism: they
believe in a single God who has three aspects: a
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Some even have a pantheons of supernatural
entities to whom their members pray, including the Trinity, the Virgin
hundreds of saints.
Wiccans hold a belief that is almost identical to
Christianity. They are generally Binitarian - they follow a form of
monotheism: they believe in a single deity who has two aspects: a female
Goddess and a male God.
Religious intolerance: He implies that religious
intolerance by Christians and Jews towards Wiccans is a valid reason for
eliminating Wiccans from the armed forces.
There remains even today in the armed forces some racial
bigotry. But the DOD chooses to fight this by teaching and reqiring
tolerance, rather than allowing discrimination against minority races.
Some degree of sexism remains. Again, the DOD teaches tolerance
rather than expel female soldiers.
There will always be religious bigotry intolerance and
hatred. But the DOD is teaching acceptance. Their only other option is
to expel, or limit
the religious rights, of followers of minority religions. And this is
Confusing Wicca and Witchcraft:
He implies that Wicca
is not only un-Christian and un-Judaic, but is a "direct affront"
to those religions. He links Wicca in America with condemnations of
"Witchcraft" and "Sorcery" in the Bible.
Even if modern-day Wicca were similar to the practices
translated as "Witchcraft" and "Sorcery"
in some English translations of the Bible, the 1st
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that the government and
its agencies not discriminate against religious groups.
Although various English translations of the Bible do
condemn Witchcraft, these references clearly have nothing to
do with Wicca:
The term "Wiccan"
is well defined. It refers to a follower of a NeoPagan
religion, who is specifically required to follow the
Wiccan Rede and
do no harm to others. "Witch"
have so many mutually conflicting meanings that they should never be
used in essays, reports -- and particularly in English translations
of the Bible
In order to understand what the Exodus 22:18
and Deuteronomy 18:10-11 really mean, it is necessary to
consult the original Hebrew. The passages condemn m'khaseph who are
evil sorcerers using spoken spells to harm
others. Wiccans are specifically prohibited from hurting others by their
Wiccan Rede. Similarly Galatians 5:19 is often translated as
condemning sorcery and/or witchcraft. The original Greek word here is pharmakia from which the English
word "pharmacy" is derived. It refers to the practice of
preparing poisonous potions to harm or kill others. Again, Wiccans
are prohibited from following this or any other practices that harms
people. The Bible clearly condemns evil sorcerers, not benign
Maginnis writes that "Witchcraft, also known as Wicca, the craft, or the
craft of the wise,
is a religion." He is correct in stating that Wicca is often called
"the craft," and "the craft of the wise."
But "Witchcraft" is in no way a synonym for
"Wicca." The terms "Witch" and "Witchcraft"
have been used to refer to African native healers, evil sorcerers,
Satanists, very beautiful women, very ugly women, a person who searches
for water, a follower of syncretistic Caribbean religions such as Santeria,
Vodun, a male magician, a wife who is not
submissive to her husband, and an expert in their field. Many Wiccans
avoid associating the term "Witchcraft" with their religion because of the mass
confusion that it causes. Others wish to retain the term because to
abandon it would be disrespectful for the innocent people slaughtered by
the Christian church during the Burning Times. We feel that writers should
avoid the term, unless they wish to project hatred, misunderstanding
The phrase: "A witch holds pagan beliefs, but not all pagans
are witches." is, by itself, meaningless. That is because the term
"witch" has so many mutually contradictory meanings.
The statement "A Wiccan holds Neopagan beliefs, but not all
Neopagans are Wiccans" is valid.
Maginnis makes the common Christian error of equating
Wicca with Druidism and other Neopagan religions. The term
"Neopagan" describes a class of religions; it is similar to
the term "Eastern religions." Within Neopaganism is a number
of different religions, including Asatru, Druidism,
and Wicca. Within Wicca are a number of
traditions, which resemble the denominations of Christianity.
Background of Wicca
Maginnis correctly describes the origin and some of the basic beliefs of
Wiccans. Wiccans do stress the importance of the feminine in society. Most
are accepting of persons of all sexual orientations. Many feminists have
indeed been attracted to Wicca because it lacks the patriarchal beliefs of
most monotheistic religions.
He quotes Probe Ministries, a counter-cult
group which is opposed to new or small religious movements which differ from
historical Christianity. They state: "The rise of the goddess is a
direct assault on the patriarchal foundation of Christianity." Probe
Ministries seems to confuse religions which are un-Christian with
religions that are anti-Christian. Most Wiccans view women and men as
equals. This is unlike the status of women as described
in much of the Bible. However, Wicca is no more of an "assault
on...Christianity" than are liberal and mainline Christians, who also
have non-sexist policies and beliefs.
Concerns over Pacifism
Wiccans who wish to join the armed forces must come to terms with their main rule of
Wiccan Rede "An ye harm none, do what ye will." (in modern
English, "do whatever you wish, as long as it does not harm anybody
including yourself"). Picking up an assault rifle, charging an enemy
position. and trying to kill everyone there certainly does harm to others.
However, Wiccans are not unique in this problem. All but a very few religions
teach an ethic of reciprocity that prohibits harming
or killing others. In Christianity, this is called the Golden Rule. A few
if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour
that which thou choosest for thyself."|
|Christianity: "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would
that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." |
|Buddhism: "Hurt not
others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."|
|Islam: "Not one of you is a believer until he loves for his
brother what he loves for himself."|
|Judaism & Christianity: "...thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."|
|Native American Spirituality: "Respect for all life is the foundation."|
Followers of all of these religions who wish to enter the army must decide
how to handle their faith's teaching to not harm others. In fact, Christians
have an additional hurdle not shared by Wiccans: one of the Ten
Commandments. Exodus 20:13 specifically says "Thou shalt not kill."
(KJV) Most individuals come to terms with their faith by citing
self-defense and protecting one's country as considerations which over-ride
their religion's teachings. Others simply avoid joining the armed forces.
During warfare, many Quakers (members of the Society of
Friends) and others became conscientious objectors.
One might assume that all applicants to the armed forces have come to terms
with this religious conflict. Wiccans in no way differ from followers of other
religions on this matter. Pacifism within Wicca is not a concern to the army.
His references to Isaac Bonewits and the Arn Draiocht Fein (ADF) are
not particularly meaningful, because Bonewits is a Druid. Druidism is a
different religion from Wicca.
Concerns over ethical relativism:
Maginnis quotes The Covenant of the Goddess as saying "[W]hat is good for one may be evil for another and
vice versa." 3 This, of course, is merely a
reflection of ethical diversity within of American society. Some people believe
that wives should be submissive to their husbands and that equal power sharing
in marriage is forbidden; others believe the opposite. Some believe that an
early abortion is the least unethical action for a woman in some circumstances; others
believe that abortion involves the murder of a human being. The list goes on
He quotes the Circle Sanctuary's web site that says: "Witches have no specific taboos against speaking
particular words, consensual sexual acts among individuals capable of rational consent, or breaking laws they know to be unjust."
4 This statement is generally true:
|Wiccans have no
reserved words that must not be spoken, like the name of G-d in Judaism. Christianity does not
have reserved words either. |
|Wiccans do not generally object to consensual sexual acts between mature people,
particularly if they are done within a committed, dedicated, monogamous relationship. They
typically condemn sexual activity between individuals where manipulation, coercion, force,
or undue influence are involved. But religious liberals, many religious
moderates, and the laws in most of North America agree with this stance. |
Wiccans will knowingly break laws that they know to be unjust or
unconstitutional. Some held a demonstration in North Carolina against an
obviously unconstitutional state law which prohibits reading of palms, use
of tarot cards, casting runes, etc - whether for money, done as an amateur, or
done alone in the privacy of one's home. Quiet protest against unethical laws is an
established American practice for those brave souls who are willing to accept the
consequences. Faced with a constitution that guarantees personal religious
freedom and a state law that eliminates that freedom, some Wiccans will
willingly break the unjust law in order to be charged and have the law declared
Concerns over Wiccan magical practices:
Magic is definitely part of some witches' religious practice:
|Most Wiccans do cast spells. But they are normally prohibited unless they
are done with the prior consent of the recipient of the spell. And they are never
done if the spell is manipulative, coercive or may harm anyone. Love spells
which are designed to influence a person to fall in love with another
not allowed. These are not particularly different from a Christian's
blessing and prayer.|
|Some forms of sex magic involve actual sexual activities. These are
occasionally performed by some Wiccans. However, the ritual is done in
private by a
couple who are in a committed relationship. |
|Some witches "believe that the dead join the
Blessed Ancestors, who watch over, protect and advise their descendants."
3 This is very similar to some Christians who pray for
support and guidance from dead saints.|
|There is no "basic Wiccan dedication ritual" as stated in
Maginnis' paper. Different
Wiccan traditions have various rituals for dedication and initiation. There
are probably thousands of them in existence.|
Concerns over Military Readiness:
Maginnis cites a number of concerns about the adverse effect that Wiccans would
have over military readiness. None seem to be valid:
|Wiccans are "noted for their ethical relativism." This is
common among all Neopagans, religious liberals and religious moderates. It
results in a person carefully considering their decisions - an advantage in
|Wiccans approve of consensual acts by persons of minority sexual
orientation. This is probably true, although we are unaware of any surveys
that would confirm that. This is also the policy of the DOD ever since they
implemented their "don't ask, don't tell" guidelines. Thus,
all soldiers are required to support this policy.|
|Wiccans in the armed forces are not pacifists. If they were pacifists
then, like most Quakers, they never would have joined the army. Wiccans in
the army have come to terms with the Wiccan Rede, just as the majority
Christians have come to terms with their Golden Rule and 10 commandments.|
|All that Wiccans have asked for is to be allowed to practice their
religion like the Christians, Jews and Muslims. They do not ask for special religious facilities; they do not ask for professional
chaplains. In fact, if the majority of soldiers were Wiccans, the armed
forces' task of providing for the spiritual need of its soldiers would be
significantly simplified. There would be no need for chaplains and
supporting facilities. All Wiccans ask for is access to existing rooms
and permission to hold their rituals on the base. |
|It is true that many English versions of the Bible label "witchcraft as|
an abomination." Eating cheeseburgers or wearing shirts made of
polyester-cotton blends is also an abomination, according to the Bible.
But the Bible's original Hebrew and Greek do not mention Wicca. The
words mistranslated as "Witch" and "Witchcraft"
are totally unrelated to Wiccans and Wicca.
|Many conservative Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant. The New
Testament contains passages that state that the Gods and Goddesses of
non-Judeo-Christians are really Satan or his demons. Since conservative
Christian soldiers have to accept what they regard as Satan worshipers in
their midst, there should be no difficulty for them to accept Wiccans.|
|The Army has stated that Wiccans do not represent a discipline problem or
adversely affect military readiness.|
For many decades, the armed forces have made major contributions towards
diminishing internal hatred, bigotry and intolerance. Society has benefited
greatly from these policies. Decades ago, they racially integrated the military.
Over the past decade, they have greatly reduced sexism in the military by
allowing women to accept an increasing range of combat positions. Recently they
have learned to accept persons with minority sexual orientations, as long as
they "don't tell." And now, they are formally recognizing small minority religions. The result is an armed forces that fully reflects the
diversity of American culture. This will become increasingly important in the
future, as military roles evolve.
Positive aspects of Maginnis' paper
Lt. Col. Robert L. Maginnis' paper contained a number of positive items that
are infrequently found in Christian essays:
|He capitalized references to Wicca and Wiccans. This is a small item, but
an encouraging one. Although most writers capitalize the names of religions
and their followers (e.g. Christianity, Christian) out of respect, many
Christian web sites omit this when referring to Neopagan religions.|
|He mentioned bisexuality as a sexual behavior. Most
conservative Christian websites basically recognize only one sexual
orientation: heterosexuality. Homosexuality is usually described as an addiction or
a deviate behavior, rather than as an orientation. Bisexuality is rarely mentioned
|Perhaps the main encouraging sign in Maginnis' paper is that he consulted
Neopagan sources to find descriptions of Wiccan beliefs and practices. He
describes Wicca fairly accurately. He does not describe them as evil people,
murderers who barbeque babies for breakfast, abortion providers who consider
abortion to be a religious ritual, etc. as in so many other
Christian web sites. For decades, conservative Christians have written
books, given lectures, and (recently) created web sites attacking Wiccans as
profoundly evil people. They have based almost all of their writings, directly or
indirectly, on Christian propaganda from the 15th to 18th centuries. These
were the burning times when the church was actively exterminating what it
regarded as heretics. For what we believe is the first time, Wiccans are
being criticized on a conservative Christian website for being too gentle
and nice, not willing to kill other human beings. Maginnis' paper will be a
useful essay for Wiccans to use as a refernce when they are trying to
convince conservative Christians that they are not kidnappers, torturers,
and murderers of children, or Satan worshipers. |
Related essays on this web site:
R. L. Maginnis, "Brewing up trouble: Wicca and the
U.S. Military," Family Research Council, at: http://www.frc.org/papers/milred/
Printed copies of the essay can be requested from the Family Research Council
at (800) 225-4008. This is a toll-free number accessible from the U.S. and
"Witchcraft: Commonly-Asked Questions, Straightforward Answers,"
Covenant of the Goddess, at: http://www.cog.org/wicca/faq.html
"Circle Sanctuary - A Pledge to Pagan Spirituality,"
- The term "Wiccan Rede" is sometimes used to refer to the short
phrase which defines Wicca's main rule of behavior. Other times it is used to
refer to a poem which includes the behavior rule and the Threefold Law.
Copyright © 1996 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on
Latest update: 2007-JUL-02
Author: B.A. Robinson