Chaplain’s Guide: Excerpts on paganism

The groups considered in this section manifest the wide variety of religious options available in the U.S. They draw upon several distinct religious impulses, each with a long heritage.

One can trace within the Western religion an alternative tradition which might be termed mystical, Platonic, or idealistic. This tradition emerged in force in the nineteenth century in philosophical idealism which in America became visible in the movement called Transcendentalism. What has been termed the Metaphysical movements in America represent a blossoming of this old alternative tradition in the atmosphere of religious freedom and relative secularity of nineteenth century America. The three main branches of metaphysical religion emerged in the nineteenth century as Spiritualism, Theosophy, and New Thought. Each affirmed the reality of a spiritual reality of which the visible material world was but a pale reflection.

Spiritualism was built around the belief in the possibility of contacting the spiritual world, specifically the spirits of the departed, through the use of the talents of very special people called mediums. Spiritual became a fad in the 1850s and then settled into a quieter existence as a new religious movement. The Universal Church of the Master described below is a typical Spiritualist group.

Theosophy grew out of spiritualism but directed its contact to a more evolved group of spiritual being who comprise what was thought of as the Spiritual Hierarchy of the cosmos. These masters spoke to the leaders of the Theosophical Society which became the source of a number of groups as new claims to contact with the Masters were put forth. The “I AM” Religious Activity and the Church Universal and Triumphant are two contemporary groups which have claimed contact with the Spiritual Hierarchy through their founder/leaders.

New Thought grew directly out of Christian Science. Christian Science had asked the question of healing within the context of an idealist philosophical framework. New Thought, begun by one of Mary Baker Eddy’s students, Emma Curtis Hopkins, differed from Christian Science at first over organizational disputes, but has during the twentieth century developed in various new perspectives which have taken it some distance form Christian Science. The United Church of Religious Science is one form of New Thought (as is the Unity School of Christianity considered in the first section of this manual).

From ancient times, people have claimed powers of mind and spirit far surpassing those recognized by modern science. In years past, these phenomena (e.g., spiritual healing, telepathy, clairvoyance, mind over matter) were termed “supernatural; they are now known as “psychic,” and studied by scientists.

The growth of psychic practitioners led to the development of psychical research. The British Society for Psychical Research was established in 1880, and the American Society in 1882. In studying psychic phenomena, Dr. Rhine of Duke University coined the term “extra-sensory perception (ESP)” and helped make “parapsychology” a discipline of study. The growth of parapsychology, including its membership in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, provided a dynamic base upon which psychic groups could build.

Religious groups with an essential element of belief and practice in psychic phenomena, including the Church of Scientology and the Foundation Faith of the Millennium, continue the older metaphysical tradition and cannot be sharply distinguished from the older metaphysical groups. In general, they believe in the reality of the phenomena studied by parapsychologists. They usually offer members various ways to develop their powers, and some have members with special abilities which can be used by individuals to aid in dealing with personal problems.

There are several hundred psychically-oriented bodies in the U.S. The two considered here grow out of this general background, and are not directly related to other bodies.

Magick (not “magic,” which is considered a stage performer’s art and not a religion) groups have experienced considerable growth since the 1960s. These groups are distinguished by their use of occult practices (astrology and divination) and magick (the ability to willfully change the world by manipulating the cosmic forces). While like the psychic dimension, magick is as old as known history. Its contemporary revival, however, began in the early 1900s.

The most popular form of magical religion Neo-Paganism is a nature-oriented religion based on the worship of the male-female polarity, the observance of the agricultural seasons, and magic. Worship of the male-female aspects of nature usually is expressed as allegiance to the Horned God and the Great Mother Goddess. Ritual follows the movement of the sun and moon. Neo-Pagans see themselves as reviving the pre-Christian religion of Europe and the Mediterranean Basin and manifest as Norse, Druid, or Egyptian in format. By far the Wiccans compose the largest segment of the neo-Pagan community. Wicca or Witchcraft is derived from the ancient Paganism practiced in Western Europe, especially the British Isles.

Magick, an essential element in modern Wicca, seeks mastery of all the cosmic forces believed to control the world. Witches believe in the ancient principal of “as above, so below,” and in their worship seek to create a microcosm, a magical image of the whole. The universe is generally viewed as a sphere. The magical circle, drawn at the beginning of all magical rituals, is the outline of the microcosm intersecting the floor.

Witchcraft had grown slowly until the repeal of the last of England’s anti-witchcraft laws in the 1950s. Growth accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s. There are no less than thirty different Wicca groups and hundreds of independent covens functioning in the United States. The Gardnerians are one of several modern Wicca groups. They trace their history to Gerald B. Gardner who initiated the current Wiccan revival. However, most Wiccans now follow an eclectic practice which values creativity and is constantly changing and altering ritual while remaining within the basic nature Goddess orientation.

During the 1980s many Neo-Pagans and Wiccans joined the Armed Forces. Recently they have formed a network to assist in their relating to the military. The Network may be contacted through its newsletter, Pagan Military Newsletter, 829 Lynn Haven Parkway, Virginia Beach, VA 23452.

Secrecy is a major element of the existence of both Witchcraft and Satanism (discussed below). Secrecy is protective (known members often lose their jobs, friends or status), and serves to guard the sacred mysteries of the group.

Often confused with Neo-Paganism and Wicca, Satanism is the worship of Satan (also known as Baphomet or Lucifer). Classical Satanism, often involving “black masses,” human sacrifice, and other sacrilegious or illegal acts, is now rare. Modern Satanism is based on both the knowledge of ritual magic and the “anti-establishment” mood of the 1960s. It is related to classical Satanism more in image than substance, and generally focuses on “rational self-interest with ritualistic trappings.” Modern Satanism began with the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey in 1966. From it, in the 1970s, several groups emerged and quickly disappeared. The Temple of Set is the only substantive offshoot to survive into the 1980s.

Modern Satanists have found it relevant to distinguish themselves from what is termed contemporary devil-worship. By Devil-worship is meant the various informal activities which have appeared in the 1980s around teenage use of Satanic symbols, killings of serial killers professing to have been worshipping the Devil, and various reports of “Satanic” crime. Modern Satanists (i.e., the Church of Satan and Temple of Set) profess a pro-life philosophy and do not condone illegal action by people affiliated with those organizations.

Within the variety of American religion are a number of groups which are highly individual in nature. That is, while their origins can often be traced to any number of the major world religions, they have developed beliefs, systems, or structures which are considerably different from those traditions.

Several of the groups discussed in this section fall within this general framework: the Baha’i Faith, the Native American Church, and the Universal Life Church.

Baha’i is a major new faith built on the revelations given to several Persian mystics of the 19th century. While growing on an Islamic base, it has moved to a more universal outlook.

The Native American Church is one of many that uses psychedelic substances as a visionary aid and sacramental element. They are distinctive in being both the oldest and the only one with government sanction to use the designated drugs.

The Universal Life Church represents a response to the religious freedom in America by individuals with a strong independent strain in their religious thought.

The Universal Life Church has spawned a number of similar church bodies including the Crown of Life Fellowship, the Life Science Church, the Calvary Grace Church and the Brotherhood of Peace and Tranquility.

Rastafarian are a new religion developed in Jamaica in the early twentieth century and imported to America in recent decades. It draws on themes familiar from Black Judaism and Black Islam, but is distinct from both.

Finally, Vajradhatu is a Buddhist group, but out of a Tibetan rather than a Japanese tradition.

ADDRESS: c/o Lady Rhiannon Box 6896 New York. NY 10150
OTHER NAMES BY WHICH KNOWN: Witchcraft; Paganism; Neo-Paganism
LEADERSHIP: No formal leader
MEMBERSHIP: Not reported.
HISTORICAL ORIGIN: Witchcraft or Wicca is a reconstruction of the Old
Religion, the tribal worship of ancient peoples based in magic,
herbology, healing, and the worship (primarily) of the Mother Goddess and (secondarily) her consort, the Horned God. Witches believe they have existed throughout known history in many parts of the world. The term “witch,” more properly “wicca,” comes from the Anglo Saxon word for “wise.” Wicca’s marked revival in the 14th Century is due largely to the work of such scholars as Margaret A. Murray, who traced the existence of the Old Pagan Religion in pre-historic Europe. At the forefront of this revival was Gerald Gardner, the famous witch of the Isle of Man.

After years in the East, Gardner returned to England in the 1930s, located a Wicca group, and was initiated by “Old Dorothy” Clutterbuck. He participated in the “Operation Cone of Power” during World War II, in which English witches joined their magical energies with the prayers of all other religious groups to turn back Hitler’s invasion of England. In 1949, he published High Magic’s Aid, a novel about Medieval Wicca based on his growing knowledge of 14th Century Witchcraft. After repeal of the last anti-Witchcraft law in Britain in 1951, Gardner became publicly prominent. He opened a Museum of Witchcraft on the Isle of Man, and in 1954 published Witchcraft Today in which he attacked the idea that Wicca was the worship of Satan and declared himself a witch, devoted to the Mother Goddess. As a result, many witches associated with him and other people contacted him to join the Craft. Those who associated with Gardner, who shared his views of Wicca, and who started to use the rituals he used have come to be called “Gardnerians.”

Gardnerian witchcraft was brought to the U.S. by Lady Rowena and her High Priest Robat from England in 1962. Raised in the Church of England, they began to read books on the Craft and eventually to correspond with Gardner. They traveled to the Isle of Man a number of times and were fully initiated, then began to form covens in the United States.

BASIC BELIEFS: Garnerians worship the Mother Goddess and also the Horned God, symbols of the basic male/female polarity of all nature. They seek the balance within themselves, and with their environment. Worship is often done in pairs, masculine and feminine, and the power which is produced by magical ritual is directed by the High Priestess for its desired purpose. While devotion to the Wiccan deities is the main coven activity, magic, the control and use of natural cosmic forces which emanate from the human mind and body, is the secondary activity of the coven. It is done for healing and for aiding members in various endeavors. Most Witches believe in reincarnation; i.e., that the soul or spirit of the individual will progress through a number of subsequent Earthly lives as it evolves. Retribution for acts in this life will be returned threefold, good or evil, in this life. A reincarnated spirit starts afresh.

Contrary to popular media representations, the Wiccan neither worships nor believes in “the Devil,” “Satan,” or any other similar entities. They point out that “Satan” is a belief associated with the Judaeo-Christian Tradition, while the Wiccan beliefs are based upon a pagan mythos which predates the Judaeo-Christian era.

One book used by Gardnerian Wicca is authoritative: The book of Shadows, or book of ritual. In the Gardnerian tradition, these are hand copied from High Priestess to High Priestess. Each High Priestess then shares the information with her coven. They are part of the traditional teachings of the Craft, and are available only to initiates. From coven to coven, the rituals vary slightly. The Gardnerian tradition is an evolved and evolving tradition. Hence, each coven will start with the materials passed on to its High Priestess, and then experiment with new emphases, magical formulas and rituals. The books of Janet and Stewart Farrar (Eight Sabbats for Witches, The Witches’ Way, The Witches’ Goddess, and The Witches’ God) are the best currently available sources on Traditional Wicca. For eclectic Wicca, the best source is Star hawk’s The Spiral Dance. Margot Adler’s Drawing~ Down the Moon is a useful survey of the larger neo-Pagan movement.

PRACTICES AND BEHAVIORAL STANDARDS: Gardnerian Witches live by the Wiccan Rede: “An Ye Harm None, Do As Ye Will.” Within this general concept is the Law of Retribution, by which witches can expect to receive threefold return on their actions.

Social forces generally do not yet allow witches to publicly declare their religious faith without fear of reprisals such as loss of job, ridicule, etc. Rituals, many teachings, and even acknowledgement of affiliation with the Craft are generally not discussed with non-initiates. Ritual instruments are generally hidden and protected.

Eight sabbats, or festivals, important for witches to gather and attune themselves to natural rhythms and forces as the seasons change, are followed: February Eve (January 31), Spring Equinox (March 21), Beltane or May Eve(April 30), Summer Solstice or Midsummer (June 22), Lammas (July 31), Autumn Equinox (September 21), Samhain (October 31) and Yule or Winter Solstice (December 21).

ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE: Each coven is autonomous, headed by a High Priestess and her High Priest. Covens vary in size from approximately 8 to 14 members. The High Priestess heads the coven. The High Priestess who trained her is recognized as a Queen to whom she can turn for counsel and advice, thus maintaining a lineage of High Priestesses throughout Gardnerian Wicca. Members pass through three initiations, each of which is normally at least a year and a day apart.

ROLE OF MINISTERS: The High Priestess and her High Priest are responsible for coven activities, serving both as leaders in the rituals and as teachers for coven members. A High Priestess, or a woman she has delegated, can cast a circle.

WORSHIP: Wiccans usually worship as a group. Individual worship is possible, but not generally practiced. Worship takes place in a private location in which a circle can be drawn according to prescribed ritual formulas. Covens meet either weekly or bi-weekly (at the full and new moon), always in the evening. Worship in some (but not all) groups occurs in the nude.

Minimum items for worship include an athame (ritual knife), a bowl of water, a censer with incense, salt, an altar and 6 candles in candlesticks. A sword and pentacle (talisman) are optional. All tools must be ritually consecrated by a High Priestess.


FUNERAL AND BURIAL REQUIREMENTS: None. Recognition of the death of a coven member takes place in the coven, apart from the “body” of the deceased. Ritual tools or material found among the remains of the deceased should be immediately returned to members of the coven. It is not necessary for a priest or priestess to be present at the time of death.

MEDICAL TREATMENT: No restrictions, but Wiccans may want co-religionists to do healing rituals in the hospital in tandem with medical treatment. So members of patient’s Circle should be permitted ICU visits as though they were immediate family.

OTHER: With respect to attitude toward service in the armed forces, members include the full range from career military personnel to conscientious objectors.

Wicca is open toward other faiths, recognizing that the Principles of the Great Mother appears in a great many faiths under various names and symbolisms. Because of the persecutions of past years, Wiccans take a guarded relation to groups which claim to possess “The Truth” or to be the “Only Way.” Wicca is only one path among many, and is not for everyone. Members are encouraged to learn about all faiths, and are permitted to attend services of other faiths, should they desire to do so.

Margot Adler. Drawing Down the Moon. Boston: Beacon Press, 2nd, ed., 1986. 595pp.

Janet and Stewart Farrar. Eight Sabbats for Witches. London: Robert Hale, 1981. 192pp.

The Witches’ Way. London: Robert Hale, 1984. 349pp.

The Witches’ Goddess. Custer,WA: Phoenix Publishing,1987. 319pp.

The Witches’ God. Custer, WA: Phoenix, 1989. 278pp.

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 worshipers; 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 Wicca.

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 effacers have almost always served for one year only. In 1991, there are two co-First Officers, Phoenix White birch 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 Bather 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 the years, as inspiration provides, new material will be added. Normally, access to these books is limited to initiated members of the religion.

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 to 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 dog tags read “No Religious Preference.” Concealment is a traditional Wiccan defense against persecution, so nondenominational dog tags 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 are January 31 (Called Oimelc, Brigit, or February Eve), March 21 (Ostara or Spring Equinox), April 30 (Beltane or May Eve), June 22 (Midsummer, Litha or Summer Solstice), July 31 (Lughnasadh or Lammas), September 21 (Harvest, Mabon or Autumn Equinox), October 31 (Samhain, Sowyn or Hallows) and December 21 (Yule or Winter Solstice.) 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 healing energy.

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 a 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 solitaries. These are individuals who choose to practice their faith alone. They may have been initiated in a coven or self initiated. They will join with the other Wiccans to celebrate the festivals or to attend the various regional events organized by the larger community.

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 any 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 “pentacle”), statues or art work 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 rituals.


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.



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