For many people, it's hard to be openly Pagan or Wiccan. Particularly if you live in a conservative area, coming out of the broom closet may not be something you want to try. Few environments, however, are as conservative as the United States military, and for those thousands of Pagans who serve their country's armed forces, there are a special set of circumstances that surround the choice to follow one's spiritual path openly.
Stefani Barner's book, Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces: A Handbook for Pagans in the Military, looks at some of the unique situations that military Pagans and Wiccans may find themselves facing. Barner examines the life of active duty service members, and delves into the needs and requirements of the military spouse and children.
Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces is divided into four sections, based upon the traditional witch's motto: To Know, To Will, To Dare, and To Keep Silent. Each section looks at different aspects of the journey of the military Pagan and his or her family.
In To Know, Barner looks at important things to keep in mind, such as knowing one's options and legal rights. She reviews the Army Chaplain's Guide to Wicca, examines the requirements that must be met to form a Designated Faith Group on a military installation, and goes over important things to keep in mind when heading off to basic training.
To Will covers in depth the sacrifices that must be made not only by the active duty service member, but by his or family as well. Particularly in cases of deployment to a combat zone, there are issues faced by military Pagans that the civilian population is simply unaware of. Barner also touches on the sensitive issue of "willingness to kill," which is something that any military member, Pagan or not, may be forced to evaluate at some point.
The section entitled To Dare focuses on the myriad of issues that accompany deployment -- both for the soldier and for the family members left behind. How to deal with separation, and the return home, are discussed frankly and openly.
Finally, To Keep Silent takes an honest and straightforward look about what it's like at the end of the day, when all is said and done, for military Pagans. Barner discusses the ongoing battle faced by Pagans in a decidedly non-Pagan environment.
In addition to the issues covered by each section, Barner includes rituals and ceremonies written with the serviceperson and his or her family in mind. There is also a compendium of warrior deities, a list of resources for military personnel, and information on where to find support for veterans and families.
Hands down, this is a book that any Pagan who is a member of the United States military should have on their bookshelf. Not only that, if you're the parent, child, or spouse of an active duty service member, you should read this too. Barner covers Pagan life from a unique perspective -- her husband is a career Air Force member and a veteran of multiple tours in the Middle East, and together they're raising children in a Pagan tradition. Her tips and advice are practical, and the personal (and often deeply moving) interviews with servicemen and their families remind readers that the Pagans who choose to serve in the military are people just like the rest of us.
Barner obviously spent countless hours researching this book, and some of the things she brings up may surprise you. She doesn't hold back when it comes to discussions about marital rape and sexual assault in the military, as well as the misogynistic "boys will be boys" mentality that's often found in conservative institutions. Although Barner makes it clear that she'd far prefer peace to war, she does so in a way that is ultimately respectful towards those who are making sacrifices in the name of protecting our freedoms.Faith and Magick in the Armed Forces is available from Llewellyn Publications, 2008.