I recently read that the Department of Veterans Affairs has, after a decade of foot dragging, finally agreed to allow Wiccans who served in the US military to mark their graves with the encircled five-pointed star that is the symbol of their faith. I am happy for Wiccans and proud of America, but two ironies haunt me.
The first irony is that it took the most overtly Christian administration in American history to recognize the pentagram as a legitimate religious symbol. This is so cool, and so American. It shows what a secular democracy is all about. The Bible, of course, is not American, secular or democratic, “Thou shall not suffer a witch to live” (Exodus 22:18). Stoning and later burning witches at the stake was just doing the will of Allah, oh, sorry, YHVH, God, Jesus, Whomever. In this country burning witches is associated with Salem, MA which makes me wonder why a tobacco company would name a cigarette after it. When you light up a Salem are you symbolically reenacting witch burning?
[To find out, wrap yourself in thick iron chains and throw yourself into a lake. If you drown you are not reenacting Salem witch burnings. You are also not smoking. Or breathing. You are dead. So, on second thought, don’t try this.]
Actually the Hebrew of Exodus is a bit more nuanced than the English. It may mean, “Thou shalt not provide witches with livelihood.” In other words you don’t have to kill them, just don’t hire them. Which brings up the question why I see so many signs for local Tarot card and palm readers in my overwhelmingly Christian town. I wonder if people read the Bible, or only those parts that fit their opinions? Actually I don’t really wonder about this. I know we all edit the Bible in our own image, after our likeness, reflecting our madness, bias, and bigotry.
If you believe, as many of my neighbors do, that God wrote the King James Version of the Bible, you know that homosexuals and witches (not to mention shrimp, jumbo and otherwise) are abominations to God (see Leviticus 18:22; Deuteronomy 18:12; and Leviticus 9:12). Why focus on one and not the other two? (I am as guilty of this as the next person. I keep kosher and don’t eat shrimp.)
The second irony is that Wicca claims to be a religion whose central tenet is not harming other human beings. If this is true, what are Wiccans doing in the Armed Services in the first place? I served in the military, but my religion is not shy about smiting and fighting and marching behind a god who is a Man of War (Isaiah 42:13). Shouldn’t people whose faith tells to them to do no harm or to love their enemies refuse to serve in the military? I guess Wiccans are a lot like the rest of us: we don’t let religion get in the way of doing what we want.
Anyway, I am grateful to anyone willing to put her or his life on the line in service to this country, and I am pleased wiccans now have their religious symbol recognized by the government. I am only sad that they need to use it.