By Joe Carroll, in Washington
The revelation that the army's biggest base at Fort Hood, Texas, has
approved the practice of the neo-pagan Wicca religion and provided a grassy
site for its lunar rituals has shocked some Americans.
Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia has urged the Fort Hood commander, Lieut
Gen Leon S. Leponte, to "Please stop this nonsense now". In his indignant
letter Mr Barr asks: "What's next? Will armoured divisions be forced to
travel with sacrificial animals for satanic rituals? Will Rastafarians
demand the inclusion of ritualistic marijuana cigarettes in their rations?"
But the army is defending its Wicca witches. They are proof "that people
with different religious beliefs are all working together successfully,"
according to the base spokesman, Lieut Col Ben Santos.
Fort Hood was the first army base to approve the practice of the Wicca
religion by the Open Circle group two years ago. The base authorities approved
the group's choice of high priestess and lent it an army chaplain for moral
support. At least five other bases have now given similar support.
Some alarm was caused among fundamentalist Christian churches when a
Texas newspaper published photographs last March of the Wicca spring rite
ceremony showing women in robes and shirtless men leaping around under
a full moon.
The Rev Jack Harvey of the Tabernacle Baptist Church, which allows no
dancing, drinking, Halloween or Santa Claus, is campaigning against the
Wiccans. "We need to stop them. We're not going to stop until they're gone,"
he told the Washington Post. "God says `Suffer not a witch to live.' We
would like to see them saved, but God doesn't change his mind."
Mr Barr tried and failed to amend a defence spending Bill to ban the
practice of Wicca or any other form of witchcraft at Defence Department
High Priestess Marcy Palmer of the Wiccans at Fort Hood is a former
military policewoman who now works at the base hospital. She was raised
a witch in Seattle. She says that most Wiccans worship Mother Earth and
Father Sky but do not sacrifice animals.
She negotiated the acceptance of the Open Circle with the Fort Hood
Wiccan soldiers are, strictly speaking, pacifists, but some have seen
action in the Gulf War. One of the Open Circle founders says that they
may kill in the line of duty "but with no malice in our hearts and no pleasure
in the act."