3.24.2006

No Rest for the Wiccan

No Respect for Hero's Religion

from Sploid

Nevada National Guard Sgt. Patrick Stewart paid the ultimate price for his patriotism.

In September, he was riding with fellow U.S. soldiers on a Chinook helicopter when it was shot down in Afghanistan. Stewart and four others were killed.

But the spot for his memorial plaque at the Northern Nevada Veteran's Cemetery remains blank.

Stewart was a Wiccan.

The Veteran's Administration has
never authorized the use of Wicca's pentacle on grave markers, even though it allows the use of symbols from 38 other beliefs, including obscure or possibly fictional religions such as Ixumo Taishakyo, Soks Gakkai, Aaronic Order, Seicho-no-ie and Presbyterians.

Stewart's 12-year-old stepdaughter, Alexandria, sent a heartfelt letter to the secretary of veterans affairs:

"Why won't you put my dad's religion sign on a plaque? He respected you and your rules and went and fought for our country and died for our country and this is how you treat him and his family."

The 34-year-old veteran of the first Gulf War had long been a practicing Wiccan, his wife Roberta Stewart said. After his tragic death, he was awarded the Air Medal, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Nevada Distinguished Service Medal and Combat Action Badge.

Sgt. Stewart is hardly the only Wiccan serving in the U.S. armed forces. There are at least 2,000 and possibly as many as 50,000 American heroes who follow Wicca.

The online group
Military Pagans says Wiccans have been trying to get their symbol recognized for a decade, but VA bureaucrats have yet to simply approve the pentacle.

Some find it ironic that American troops serve a
Pentagon - the heart of every Wiccan pentacle - but aren't allowed to have a pentacle mark their final resting place.

But the publicity around his widow's crusade may finally push the Veteran's Administration to allow the pentacle.

"
We expect a decision soon," VA spokeswoman Jo Schuda said Thursday.

Wicca is a
relatively new religion, introduced in 1954 by British civil servant and Freemason Gerald Gardner.

Although its founder claimed it was a resurgence of ancient Celtic nature worship and witchcraft, most of its ritual and culture were lifted from British occultist
Aleister Crowley's Ordo Templi Orientis, itself a mix of Western ritual magic, Eastern mysticism and the secret-society language of Freemasonry.

Nonetheless, Wicca is known as a feminine religion because many adherents worship a goddess and (sometimes) a secondary male horned goat god, a nature symbol Christians adopted as the face of their own devil.

Wicca is
not the only religious group without its symbol in veterans' graveyards.

Pagans, Spiritualists, Scientologists, Deists, Taoists, Druids and Rastafarians are just a few of the scores of faiths ignored by the U.S. military, even when its volunteer heroes die for their country.

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