“Pagan Support Group”
Quite honestly, it was the oddest group of folks I had ever encountered at a single time. Not odd as in eccentric though. It was the oddest set of belief systems I had ever seen assembled in a single spot. The predominant members were Wiccans of various Traditions throughout the United States. They numbered close to two-thirds of the individuals there. Included in the group were various Ceremonial Magicians (a group of people I had never encountered before), a Mambo Priestess (voudoun), and a few eclectic Pagans (German citizens to boot). The idea of the group was to meet and talk with each other at meetings once a month. Over time, the eclectic Pagans disappeared. I am not sure if it was the language barrier that sent them along or if they thought that this wide-ranging group of Pagan beliefs were just a gathering of flaky Americans. The self-appointed leader of the meetings continued talking about how we – the Pagan Support Group – needed to get the Ramstein Air Base Chaplain’s office to provide us with space to hold worship services. When this leader started setting forth the number of “Wiccans” that were asking for the worship services as the total number of individuals that were part of the Pagan Support Group… Well, Predictably, all of the Nine Hells broke loose among the group. Many of the non-Wiccans, particularly the Ceremonial Magicians, did not approve of being lumped into a Wiccan pile. Particularly one that was increasingly to be the flavor of this particular individual.
The Power of Three
Somehow, the concept of triads and threes becomes a big part of my Life. I cannot explain the entirety of that – however, the “Pagan Support Group” splintered into three separate groups, while still maintaining a presence at the Vogelweh Recreation Center as a single group. The document you see to the side here, is the document that names SSGT Nathan Crisp as the Lay Leader of the group he claimed numbers for. Furthermore, it provides Chapel Space on Kapaun Air Station for the group to hold religious rites. That was the first official time that the United States military offered space for a Pagan religious rite on a military installation. During this time, I attempted my usual role of peace-maker. I kept a connection between all three groups, and tried to get them to see reason towards trying to find common ground to work together. I attended the first ceremony with Nathan’s group. Nine people attended (including myself), along with a reporter and a photographer from a German paper. Four days later, I went to one of the local Army Kasernes (Tank barracks) for a ceremony that was held in a motor pool garage – unsanctioned by the military. This was for the other Wiccan led group. Two weeks after that particular ceremony, I attended a Ceremonial rite in the middle of the woods – again, unsanctioned by the military. The day after that rite, I went to a house where I attended a ceremony held by a group that had driven to the Kaiserslautern area from the Fulda Gap area near the East German border. It was here that the two page centerfold pictures for the Stars and Stripes article were taken, along with the accompanying interview.
Attacks, Slurs, and Overt ‘Friendliness’
Shortly after these ceremonies and interviews were done – those of us featured in the paper became mini-celebrities in our duty sections. At my weekly Dungeons and Dragons gaming session – my DM used the paper centerfold (published – fittingly enough – on October 31st) as a DM Screen. There was no hiding my beliefs from the nearly two-hundred people I worked with in the ATOC (Allied Tactical Operations Center) Command and Control facility. There was also no hiding what I was from the general military community either. I was pushed by several soldiers in the mail facility, and told that they would be glad to beat me into Hell. Reports of this to the Security Police were dismissed as “people just playing around”. My vehicle’s windows were smeared with shoe polish with slurs such as “Satanist Asshole”. Other individuals mentioned in the article were physically assaulted while sleeping in their barracks – their attackers were hidden in masks and thus unable to be identified. Letters to the Editor in the Stars and Stripes appeared with each of us named as people who should be run out of the military. My supervisors’ supervisors started to take a particular interest in what I did with my personal time, as well as nitpicking areas of my military bearing that had never been questioned before. In short, we had all made targets of ourselves through our actions.
My End of the Story Eventually Comes
Over time, many of us felt enough pressure to leave the military – or had inflicted enough minor infractions (mine was missing a formation) to be processed out of the military. We were not the point of the spear in our drive to get acceptance for Pagans in the military. The thanks for that goes to people like A1C Lorie Johnson, who had fought to get the start of acceptance started through their actions in the early 1980s. Those of us who continued that fight into the early and mid 1990s, attempted to take their actions to the next step. And there are many Pagans who have come after us – the Pagans that are part of the military force today. Today, Pagans are afforded a lot more ability to practice openly. As a singular instance, the picture here is the Stone Circle used by the Pagans at the United States Air Force Academy – Falcon Circle.
Yes, I was part of the group that received the first official permission to hold worship services in Chapel sanctioned space in the United States military. We were not the last either. I am glad to know that many, many more groups have been given that permission. I am saddened, looking back, that we could not keep our group from the in-fighting, arguments, disagreements, and power struggles. But despite all of that – we banded together long enough to get the regulations to work in our favor. We created something that opened the gateway for others. In the movie moneyball, the Red Sox owner tells Billy Beane that when innovators arrive – the first ones to break through the wall get bloodied and beat up, while those that follow do not have that happen to them. We got bloodied and beat up. By outside aggressors, as well as ourselves. But I look at the legacy that all of that left behind – and I believe it was worth it. The entire experience changed who I was. I realized that crusades can be done quietly too – that an individual did not need to grab the flag, charge into battle, get surrounded, and then wave the flag hoping for allies to rally to it. It took a lot of beatings and getting surrounded, but I learned.
Oh, and One Last Thing
…we did win the right to put what we wanted on our dog tags. I have no idea what happened to mine. I may have given them away to someone or lost them in a move. They might even be in a box out in the garage somewhere. I had mine changed two weeks before they processed me out of the Air Force. I wore those fuckers proudly on my way off the base and over to the airport. When I changed into my civilian clothes in the bathroom – I was not about to spend an entire flight back over the Atlantic in a military uniform – I wore those dog tags on the outside of my shirt, where they could be seen plainly. If I was going to suffer and be drummed out of the military over my religious belief…I was going to wear it proudly as the scarlet letter it was then. I was proud to have served in the United States Air Force for a little more than eight years of my life. I am far prouder to be the Pagan I was then, and the Pagan I have become now.