Use of the Wiccan Pentacle on Military Memorials (2007)

Although this report is from 2007, Religious Diversity News continues to archive articles about the controversy over use of the Pentacle for the memorials of WiccanWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and ... soldiers.

For several years, efforts to have the Wiccan Pentacle inscribed on the markers, plaques, and headstones of American Wiccan veterans have met with no response from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Despite official requests to follow the wishes of veterans and soldiers killed in action, the VA has not added the Pentacle to its list of acceptable emblems of belief for government markers.

PagansThe term “pagan” (from the Latin paganus) originally meant “peasant” or “country dweller.” For many Pagans, the term suggests a life lived close to the land. Today, nature spirituality is an important thread in contemporary Paganism. Some Paga... have been in the American armed forces for many years. Since 1978, the Army Chaplain’s handbook has listed ways to accommodate WiccansWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and .... The Military Pagan Network has been active since 1992. In 2005, there were an estimated 1,800 Wiccans in the armed forces. [1]

The Veterans Administration lists thirty-eight symbols for use on commemorative headstones, markers, and plaques, including symbols for SikhismSikhs call their tradition the “Sikh Panth,” meaning the “community (panth) of the disciples of the Guru.” The tradition reveres a lineage of ten Gurus, beginning with Guru Nanak in the 16th century and coming to a clos. with the death of Guru Gob..., HumanismHumanism is a belief system that values reason, compassion, and hope. Emphasis is placed on human concerns and that which can contribute to human flourishing. Dogmas or creeds that in any way impede these foci are disregarded and humanity is thought to be..., Unitariana belief in one God that rejects the three persons of the Trinity that has much in common with the belief in the early Christian church about the superiority of God over Jesus and the Anti-Trinitarian writing that emerged during the Protestant Reformation... UniversalismUniversalism is a belief in universal salvation, that is, that all people are eventually reconciled with God and united in heaven. Universalists began organizing as a denomination around this core belief in 1793. They merged with the Unitarians to form th..., Eckankar, and Soka Gakkai InternationalSoka Gakkai was founded in Japan in 1930 by an educator named Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. Soon after its founding, it became associated with Nichiren Shoshu, a sect of Nichiren Buddhism. In the early 1990s, all formal ties between Soka Gakkai International and....[2] Since 1997, Wiccan veterans and their families have petitioned for the addition of the Pentacle to this list, with no success. During that time, several other symbols have been added or replaced on the VA list.[3]

Sergeant Patrick Stewart, a Wiccan veteran of the Gulf War, was killed while serving in Operation Enduring Freedom on September 25, 2005. His widow Roberta Stewart, also Wiccan, joined with CircleIn some Pagan traditions, a “circle” refers to the people who gather for a ritual. When standing in a circle, all the participants are able to see each other, with no one member elevated over any other. This practice is often felt to encourage egalita... Sanctuary to ask the VA to approve the Pentacle, to no avail. In late 2006, the state of Nevada took matters into its own hands. The Nevada Office of Veteran Services announced that it had jurisdiction over the state cemetery, and issued a memorial plaque with the Pentacle. On December 2, 2006, the memorial plaque for Sgt. Stewart was dedicated.[4]

Editorials from Nevada to Minnesota have been written in support of the Pentacle campaign.[5][6] John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute, in this article from Christianity Today, calls the VA’s actions an infringement on the religious freedoms of all Americans: “By refusing to place the Wiccan symbol on Sgt. Stewart’s memorial plaque, while permitting symbols of other religions and non-religions, the government is clearly engaging in viewpoint discrimination—which is a shoddy way to treat someone who has died in service to his country…the only way that freedom can prevail for Christians is for Christians to stand up and fight for the minority beliefs and religions of others.”[7]

In November 2006, Americans United for the Separation of ChurchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... and State brought a lawsuit against the VA on behalf of Stewart, Circle Sanctuary, and other widows of Wiccan veterans.[8] As of January 2007, the VA has made no response.

Circle Sanctuary Reverend Selena Fox’s detailed narrative of the Pentacle campaign presents an insight into the ongoing progress of the Pentacle campaign from one of its central figures, and Professor Sarah Pike’s article “The Pentacle Quest: Religious Freedom and the US Department of Veterans Affairs” offers a brief overview of the controversy. Both can be found at the Circle Sanctuary/Lady Liberty League website, www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty.


[1] Bauer, Scott. “Wiccans demand acceptance.” USA Today, December 21, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2006-12-21-wiccans_x.htm.↩︎
[2] “Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers.” United States Department of Veterans Affairs Website, updated January 8, 2007. Retrieved from http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hm/hmemb.asp.↩︎
[3] Pike, Sarah M. “The Pentacle Quest: Religious Freedom and the US Department of Veterans Affairs.” Retrieved from http://www.circlesanctuary.org/liberty/veteranpentacle/smpikearticle.htm.↩︎
[4] ibid.↩︎
[5] “Editorial: Freedom denied if grave symbol not approved.” Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard, September 15, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.lahontanvalleynews.com/article/20060915/Opinion/109150025.↩︎
[6] Soucheray, Joe. “Fallen Wiccan soldier due honors of his faith.” St. PaulPaul, an early Jewish convert to the way of Christ (about 33 CE), became the Apostle to the Gentiles, preaching the Gospel and establishing churches in Greece, Asia Minor, and Rome. Some thirteen letters of Paul to these early churches have become part of... Pioneer Press, December 24, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/news/local/16302449.htm.↩︎
[7] Whitehead, John W. “Stand up, stand up for WiccaWicca is the name of one of the major streams of contemporary American Paganism. It is a form of religious witchcraft, sometimes simply called the Craft. Many Wiccans in America today call themselves “witches,” claiming the name under which women and ....” ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church. Today, June 5, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/juneweb-only/123-12.0.html.↩︎
[8] Americans United for Separation of Church and State, “Americans United Files Litigation Challenging Veterans Administration Bias Against Wiccans,” November 13, 2006. Retrieved from http://www.au.org/site/News2?JServSessionIdr012=x7966w61u2.app1b&abbr=pr&page=NewsArticle&id=8711&security=1002&news_iv_ctrl=1241.↩︎