Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mourning in America

Apparently, there are now Wiccans in the armed forces, and one of them was killed in Iraq. The military, believe it or not, inscribes some 38 symbols for different religious affiliations, including a symbol for atheists, but none for Wiccans.

The issue appears to be not about dishonoring Wiccans so much as a desire not to inscribe a pentagram or pentacle, which has been traditionally viewed as a satanic symbol by (certain) Christians. What a tempest in a teapot this is going to be. Leaving aside arguments about Wicca's genuine claim to be a religion, which some would dispute, it would seem we could find at least ONE Wiccan symbol that could satisfy everyone. I understand the reluctance just to inscribe a W, but this is such a no-win situation.

More to the point, do advocates of liberty really have to go into the elections this Fall advocating the carving satanic symbols? Why don't we just write "WICCAN" in big bold letters under his name. Or, perhaps, "Dead Wiccan?"

Of course, even in the sticks, there is apparently some room for tolerance, at least if it's a soldier.


Anonymous said...

Here's a question...what's the symbol for Atheists and should they even have one? Speaking as an Atheist, I don't see the point. I mean if I'm not around to say "please don't use my corpse in your religious ritual" what would I care? 

// posted by Raised By Republicans

Dr. Strangelove said...

According to, the approved symbol for an atheist is a stylized atom with the letter "A" in the center. It is the symbol chosen by the infamous atheist Madalyn Murray-O'Hair for her "American Atheists" organization.

While the identifier is therefore not spurious, it seems inappropriate to place this symbol on the same par with other grave markers. For one thing, other than the popular misconception that science is a kind of religion, and perhaps also a nod to alliteration, the symbol does not mean "atheism" to me. But more important, since atheism is not a belief but a lack thereof, I feel the only appropriate "symbol" would be a blank space where one would ordinarily place a religious marker.

As far as the Wiccan pentacle goes, we might note that the association of the pentacle with satanism post-dates the pagan use of the pentacle (I believe this is true? I cannot find a reference, however.) It is natural that the symbols of the pagan faiths--competitors in the spiritual marketplace--were associated with Satanism. No doubt a few hundred years ago, the symbols of other competing religions like Islam and Judaism were no doubt seen as "Satanic" by the Christian faithful as were pagan symbols. And quite frankly, if a person were a Satanist, but they died defending our country, wouldn't they deserve a pentacle on their gravemarker if their families wished?

Ah, symbols. Like flag-burning, Republicans love to make symbolic gestures into political hay. To most people, a pentacle really isn't that scary anymore. If you want to see a frightening symbol, try this one as reported in the NY Times. A Tennessee megachurch has erected a seven-story tall Statue of Liberty holding a cross and the ten commandments instead of a torch and a book.

Anonymous said...

Dr. S-

I can imagine that down South they might well consider that Lady Liberty was "holding a torch and a book" - to symbolize bookburning. Unintentionally funny. The Statue of Liberty is holding a tablet that reads July 4, 1776.


// posted by LTG

The Law Talking Guy said...

I agree that the atheist symbol is very odd. I suspect it is very rarely used, too. Presumably it is used because it was requested by someone, as the Wiccan symbol is now being requested.

The pentacle poses a particular problem for reasons I hardly need to detail. Rather like a "black mass," the pentacle has a very specific cultural meaning in christian symbolism, whatever its other uses may be. We can surely picture similar outrage if someone wanted a swastika on his grave.

It is worth remembering that today, graves in military cemeteries are no longer upright, except at Arlington and a few other historic places, to make mowing easier. Shamefully so, but true. So nobody would see the pentacle unless directly above it.

It's too easy to laugh at conservatives for this. I just don't want to have Democrats perceived in 2006 as running on a platform of satanic symbols. What lousy, lousy timing.

Anonymous said...

The swastika -- horizontal rather than on a point -- is a traditional hindu symbol for good luck, so it is not such a stretch of the imagination. 

// posted by Numbat o Love

Anonymous said...

Well, it IS a stretch of the imagination to fathom the US military carving one on a tombstone. =) The better solution, obviously, is to stop putting religious affiliations on the graves of soldiers.  

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

To equate the pentagram with the swastika is nonsense. (Unlike those who use the pentagram, those who used the swastika cruelly murdered millions in living memory.)

A well-referenced article at the British Columbia Freemason site discusses the history of the pentagram. Quick highlights are that the pentagram has a long history in Babylonian, Greek cultures etc., and it was also used in early Christianity as a symbol of Christ's wounds. (It made its way onto Constantine's seal, for example.)

The Christian association of the pentagram with evil does not appear until at least the 19th century, in the early Satanic writings by Levi and Aleister Crowley, and did not become well-known until the 20th. The common (but not universal) distinction between the regular and inverted pentagrams occurs then. The use of the inverted pentagram for Satan was quite possibly done in mockery.

Anonymous said...

If someone wanted to be buried with a swastika on his grave, should the military be required to do it? What is the line, exactly, that we are drawing here?  

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

How about this: political symbols of sworn enemies of the United States may not be used as religious symbols. This would mean the hammer and sickle is out as well. The VA department has a list of religions and symbols, but not every religion has been allowed a symbol. Let every religion choose a symbol.

Anonymous said...

Interesting take on this issue, but before we go there I'd have to point out that he was shot down in Afghanistan and not Iraq. You're not the only nonwiccan blog to be getting this wrong, it seems to be a general assumption a lot of people unfamiliar with this story are making.

He was killed last September, and his family's been fighting that long with the VA about the symbol marker on his grave. Interestingly enough, I was reading earlier tonight on, the message board for that site's pro-Stewart article. And the support by the military members posting there was overwhelming, even the evangical Christian ones.

As to whether Wiccans should negotiate an acceptable symbol with Christians to use on military graves. You know, that's mildly offensive. The Christian cross was a symbol used to commit attrocities against many religions around the world, under direct order by the central religious Christian authorities of the time. Should Christians have to negotiate a more acceptable sign of their faith with the Muslims or Jews in the military?

Of course not. The pentacle is an ancient pagan symbol and its become our central symbol for Wicca now, and we don't need a permission slip from Christians to use it. If they're in such an uproar about the existance of satanism-well they created satanism by insisting it existed, and it will vanish after they stop. Food for thought.


// posted by Olive

Anonymous said...

I suppose so many are killed in Iraq now that it's just a natural assumption. Thanks for setting me straight on that.

The angle that I've been pushing here is the political one. First, there is no doubt that forcing the military to incribe a pentacle or pentagram will be enormously, miserably unpopular. Second, there is no doubt that the symbol in question has become a cultural shorthand for satanism even for non-Christians - indeed, in movies and on TV, when the police break into a room and find pentagrams, the evil music sounds and Trouble Is Afoot. So it's not just going to be jarring for evangelicals. If any Democrat comes out in favor of it, it will cost big. So we are just wishing the issue would go away.

As for Christians "inventing" Satanism by insisting it exists, well that's a bit of a stretch. True, Satanism derives from Christianity inasmuch as it is conceived of as a deliberate blasphemy against a particular religous tradition. But there's a real history there, quite apart from the additional mislabeling of folk magic and customs as Satanism. Satanism is far more than just a label applied by the ignorant to traditional folk practices.

One other question I have concerns the importance of the pentacle as a symbol. How pervasive is that symbol? The christian cross is plainly central - it tops every church and is worn widely. I don't see pentacles in the same vein. Other symbols seem to abound as well. Would it really be so offensive to choose a symbol viewed more benignly by the rest of the culture? 

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

Good point about Afghanistan, Olive. It is also very heartening to hear that there has been a great deal of support for Sgt. Stewart's family (and his widow's wish for an appropriate grave-marker) from the community across all religions.

I do not think the issue is, as LTG framed it, one of "forcing the military" to inscribe a pentagram. Apparently, many in the military are quite supportive of it. I think it's an issue of certain political appointees high up in the food chain squelching what would probably be a routine matter in hopes of scoring a few points with their far-right constituency. Because the truth is that, if they were to go ahead and inscribe the symbol, I doubt most people would care.

I doubt highly that it would be "enormously" unpopular. And there would be nothing the right-wingers could do about it. I mean, Imagine the right-wingers started picketing at the cemetery! Imagine if they interfered with a soldier's widow who wanted to honor her husband's memory and his faith. That would spark an outrage.

It is unfortunate that Satanists and Wiccans use the same symbol. (Perhaps if they also inscribed "Wiccan" below the symbol, it would help?) But Olive has a good point... if you want to talk about symbols, then you have to think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and centuries of violence committed in under the cross. If the cross is allowed, surely the Wiccans can get their own symbol too.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who wants to go into the next election with this slogan, raise your hands: "[I]f you want to talk about symbols, then you have to think of the Crusades, the Inquisition, and centuries of violence committed in under the cross. If the cross is allowed, surely the Wiccans can get their own symbol too."

Most of the country is nowhere near as reflexively anti-Christian as many on this blog are. 

// posted by LTG

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG calls me, "reflexively" anti-Christian. That's an insult, and I resent it. Even the sentence LTG cherry-picked from my several comments posted above dealt with the use of the cross as a symbol--not Christianity per se--and certainly not with any modern Christianity. (Unless, of course, LTG reflexively believes that all who act under the banner of the cross are his Christian brothers.)

The main point I was making, which LTG ignored, was that I suspect LTG is wrong about what most people will find horribly offensive in this story. Most people (even Evangelicals) will see the real story not as Democrats pushing Satanism, but rather as the Veterans Association deliberately denying a soldier's last wishes for political gain.

We should show this up as an issue of how Republican appointees are playing political games even with their war dead. Democrats are too timid, more inclined to fear what others might think than to take a stand on principle. Hands up everyone who wants this to be the Democratic slogan (again?): "we are just wishing the issue would go away."