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The Pentagram and the US Army
More than thirty different religious symbols are allowed on the graves of fallen US military personnel, but not the pentagram. In June 2006 Dr Leo Ruickbie was asked for his opinion.
Dr Leo Ruickbie was contacted by Stephanie Clary of Gannett News Service and subsequently interviewed by him on 14th June, 2006. Below you will find his original reply.
[Stephanie Clary, 13/06/06, 22:33]
I am working on an article for Gannett News Service on Wicca and Veterans Affairs. The VA currently does not permit putting a pentagram on government headstones and markers (such as those of fallen soldiers who were Wiccans). I wanted more context on the significance of the pentagram.
[Leo Ruickbie, 14/06/06, 12:11]
In a nutshell, the importance of the pentagram to many Wiccans is comparable to the importance of the cross to Christians or the Star of David to Jews. The symbol is not exclusively a Wiccan symbol, but has come to symbolise the Wiccan spirituality through its central use in ritual. It can also be used with other symbols to indicate the level of initiation into Wicca. Most interpretations see the upright pentagram (single point up) as representing spirit in harmony with the four elements.
[Stephanie Clary, 14/06/06, 21:06]
Here are some questions,
- What is the significance of putting a pentacle on a grave stone?
[Leo Ruickbie, 15/06/06, 10:32]
It has the same significance as putting a cross on a Christian grave. It is a visible mark of that person's spiritual identity, of how they lived and how they want to be remembered.
- What are the burial practices of most Wiccans?
[LR] Wiccan funeral practices are varied - cremation; ordinary burial; 'natural' burial - but are generally consonant with those found in the West.
- Do many Wiccans hide their pentagrams or affiliation with Wicca?
[LR] Some Wiccans are unfortunately obliged to be discrete about their spirituality (including the wearing of a pentagram) because of wide-spread prejudice against the religion.
- What is your opinion of those who use the pentagram but are not Wiccans? Do they help or hurt the view of Wiccans in the US?
[LR] The pentagram is not an exlusively a Wiccan symbol - indeed, it has in the past been used by Christians - so I would not agree that any one group should have a monopoly over a geometric design. But undoubtedly if it becomes commonly associated with one group and then is used or abused by another, then public perceptions are going to be confused.
- How do most Wiccans feel about war?
[LR] The moral basis of Wicca is captured in the simple phrase 'An it harm none, do what you will', meaning that everyone is free to do what he/she wants so long as no one else is injured in the process. However, if someone else injures you in some way, then that moral code would seem to no longer apply. For comparison, Christianity teaches 'turn the other cheek' - let's leave the Old Testament out of it, since I would contest whether that is 'Christian' - but Christianity has waged some of the bloodiest wars in history in the name of religion. No Wiccan group, let alone a 'country' or 'state' that identifies itself as Wiccan, has ever waged war.
- Do you know of any Wiccan veterans or soldiers/officers?
[LR] I know many Wiccans who are or who have been in the military, some of them having fought in the recent action, some of them having been wounded. Being Wiccan did not stop Uncle Sam from letting them fight for their country.
- Veteran Affairs has not approved the pentacle to be used on the headstones of Wiccans (Fallen soldiers who identified as being Wiccan), but does allow the over 30 other religious symbols to be placed on headstones. Currently the widow is of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan is requesting the pentacle's approval along with other Wiccan groups - no word on the official decision yet. Are you surprised at all by Veteran Affairs not approving the pentacle symbol?
[LR] No, it is all too common a situation to find supposedly 'liberal' and still largely Christian dominated society actively discriminating against anything connected with witchcraft, including Wicca. If more than 30 other symbols are allowed, one has to ask what it is about the social composition or 'group-think' of the VA that sanctions this particular denial of religious identification.
- Do you view this as discrimination? What discrimination do Wiccans face?
[LR] It looks like discrimination, but until we get an official statement from the VA on its decision we will have to withhold judgement. However, I can't think of any good reason why an organisation like the Dept of Veterans' Affairs should not honour the country's fallen with due dignity and respect.
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