Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Onward, Pagan soldiers

The issue of Sgt. Patrick Stewart's Wiccan memorial marker "has legs," as I would have said in my newspaper reporter days.

Driving to school today, I heard Carl Kasell update the story on NPR's Morning Edition, and it occurred to me that that was the first time I had heard Wicca mentioned in an NPR newscast, as best I can remember. (I know that I heard it, but I cannot find a link. Hmm...)

NPR was probably following this Washington Post report.

There is the usual bureaucratic bafflegab:

Department spokeswoman Josephine Schuda said VA turned down Wiccans in the past because religious groups used to be required to list a headquarters or central authority, which Wicca does not have. But that requirement was eliminated last year, she noted.

"I really have no idea why it has taken so long" for the Wiccan symbol to gain approval, Schuda said.

His widow, Roberta, is supposed to be meeting this week with some undersecretary-for-something-or-other about the VA's reluctance to admit the presence of Pagan military personnel.

In 1993, after the first Gulf War, Llewellyn published Circles, Groves, and Sanctuaries by Dan and Pauline Campanelli. It's out of print now, of course, thanks to Llewellyn's short-press-run philosophy and the federal tax code. You can find it on Advanced Book Exchange, though.

It included a photo of a soldier's Wiccan circle in the desert of Kuwait (as I recall). I reckoned that that might have been one of the first Pagan rituals celebrated in that part of the world in about 1,300 years.

What I wanted to see was an M1 Abrams tank nicknamed "Chariot of Ishtar" (painted on the hull in English and cuneiform, please) rolling through Baghdad.

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Blogger gl. said...

"bafflegab" is a great word. :)

11:57 AM  
Blogger Frostbeard said...

Coincidentally, yesterday had a link to the original story from back in March. It's a good story to be getting attention, don't you think?

12:11 PM  
Blogger branruadh said...

How would you define Zoroastrianism as a religion? Pagan or otherwise? If pagan, there have been such rituals there in an unbroken line for quite a long time. Just an FYI.

9:42 PM  
Blogger Cosette said...

You can listen to a story about this on NPR's All Things Considered from April.

10:24 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


Although Zoroastrianism must have Pagan roots, I consider it to be more related to the "Abrahamic" religions. Some scholars considered that Judaism borrowed doctrines of angels, etc., from Zoroastrianism. Note too that during the Arab Islamic conquest of Persia, its followers were considered "people of the book," although -- typically -- they were taxed more than Muslims were. (A little financial incentive to convert to the religion of submission.)

9:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't regard Zoroastrianism as related to the Abrahamic religions. It has no substantial ties to them; if it was an influence on the development of Judaism, well, that doesn't mean that the (putative) influences went both ways. Zoroastrianism retains the earlier, "Mazdean" pantheon, albeit somewhat demoted in stature, and when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the Persian Empire's religious policy was apparently to regard themselves as the natural allies of pagan elements inside Roman territory; hence the protected status accorded to Harran. As for the status of Zoroastrians as "People of the Book", this has always been a pragmatic and fluid designation. Look at the case of the so-called "Sabaeans" of Harran (i.e., Hermetic or Platonic pagans). I would consider Zoroastrianism to be a monotheizing heresy within Mazdean paganism, but as things stand, it is clearly the inheritor of Mazdeanism in the modern world.

Edward Butler

9:41 AM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


Is this a case of convergent evolution within religion? :-)

While Zoroastrianism may have grown separately from the other "desert father" faiths, certainly it and they look more like each other than like anything else, wouldn't you say?

On the other hand, someone more knowledgeable than I could could at the connections between Z'ism and the original Vedic religion.

11:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm a little nearsighted, but Zoroastrianism really does not look much like the other "desert father" faiths to me. First of all, it's not a "desert religion", as anyone who has gone skiing in Iran could attest.

Less facetiously, if one reads Zoroastrian texts I think that what one sees is basically a Mazdean mythological base with a "wisdom tradition" overlaid upon it. It isn't monotheistic, but strictly dualistic, which makes it less like Judaism, say, than like Native American religions with prominent myths about cosmogonic twins. And practically speaking, as I indicated, it has a pantheon, members of which--Anahita, for example--were worshiped in pagan syncretic contexts throughout the Hellenistic and Imperial era. The Shahnameh, as well, is full of thinly historicized Mazdean myth, and although it is not by any means a scripture, it is very much associated with Zoroastrianism culturally.

Persia was clearly regarded as a "nation" (i.e., an ethnos, with an "ethnic" or "pagan" religion) by pagans, as well as by Christians, who saw Zoroastrianism as a pagan religion. On the other frontier, Zoroastrianism has close ties not only to Vedic Hinduism, but also to Central Asian pagan faiths.

I would definitely include Zoroastrianism among the pagan religions, as I would Taoism. This is not to say that Zoroastrians would themselves wish to be considered pagans, but that's a different matter...


3:38 PM  
Blogger Chas S. Clifton said...


Very good! I don't doubt you on the old pantheon. But all I have seen--and it's very little--is modern Parsi stuff, which does not have a Pagan "vibe" to it, in my mind. Still, I am open to persuasion.


3:43 PM  
Blogger Carol said...

FWIW, I've heard Wicca mentioned on NPR (or its competitor PRI -- our local public radio has programs from both) at least a couple of times. Once was in a religious context, in a series that annoyed a lot of pagans a year or two ago.

But another time Wicca was just one of a list of religions the speaker happened to use as example. It made us seem just as non-exotic as Episcopalianism, and it wasn't even Samhain. I felt absurdly grateful at the time.

Carol Maltby

7:08 PM  
Anonymous Matt Stone said...

As a disciple of Jesus I would like to offer my support to Pagans in gaining recognition and appropriate funeral honours for military personel.

For Christian faith to be meaningful it has to be a free choise. May you have free choise. Blessed be.

11:42 PM  

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