By Spc. Lee Elder, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
BAQUBAH, Iraq – Monday nights are a sweet time of fellowship for a dozen local Soldiers who practice Wicca while they live and work among their mostly Christian counterparts.
Wiccans, who see the divine in all of creation to include nature, are a growing presence among military members. They embrace many of the ancient pagan customs and use the five-sided pentagram as their symbol representing the elements of earth, water, fire, air and spirit. They also believe the divine has both masculine and feminine qualities.
“We feed off of each other’s energy here,” said one female Soldier who asked that her name not be used. “It helps us because we can feel a lot of positive energy we get here.”
Like many Wiccans, this Soldier grew up in Christian circles. She attended both Baptist and Catholic churches before embracing Wicca when she was 17 years old.
“I’ve always been into nature,” she said. “I get a lot of energy from the earth.”
Local Wiccans engage in a variety of activities during their gatherings. The meeting topics are usually varied. Some nights are dedicated to divination methods such as tarot cards and rune stones. Sometimes there are classes on candle making, different types of Wicca practices and moon phases. Most cite they most enjoy the friendships made among those who have a common belief system.
On this particular evening, a fire is roaring nearby in a pit near the Morale, Recreation and Welfare hangar at Forward Operating Base Warhorse. Most Soldiers in this fellowship hail from Fort Carson, Colo., and they say they hope to continue their meetings upon returning there in the fall.
The focal point of tonight’s activities is charging personal items with positive energy. These are laid out on a picnic table that is set up to demonstrate different altar designs. Among the items are a sword, coins, identification tags and the ever-present pentagrams. Most Wiccans have a small altar in their homes and each is set up according to the owner’s personal preference or tradition. The group does cast spells, but they are good spells. Wiccans believe that whatever you do to someone else will return to you. Causing harm to others is not acceptable as that harm would be returned to the sender.
“Spells give us protection from harm,” said Sgt. Andrew Konopasek, a combat engineer with Company C, 14th Engineer Battalion, from Fort Lewis, Wash. “We believe in doing good and casting spells for good things.”
Another soldier added, “There are a lot of misconceptions about spells but it is just a prayer in physical form.”
A Wiccan since he was in 7th grade, Konopasek is one of the group’s more enthusiastic and outspoken members. He is upfront about being a Wiccan and said he is pleased with the growing acceptance of his faith among fellow Soldiers.
Konopasek, a Troy, N.Y., native, is quick to point out that Wiccans do not worship Satan nor do they sacrifice animals. He acknowledged that there are many negative stereotypes of the group in both military and civilian circles, but said the group is gaining more “mainstream status” among religious groups in American life.
“We have nothing to do with Satan and nothing to do with evil,” Konopasek said. “It’s all about positive energy.”
Konopasek said that he does get teased about the group’s practices by his fellow Soldiers. However, most are accepting of faith.
Wiccans are proud to show that they can now list “Wiccan” on their identification tags as their religious preference. Before, they could merely list “other” or “non-denominational” as their faith of choice.
Local Wiccans said they have been accepted by the command here and have been officially sanctioned as a religious group. Their meeting times are listed along with Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim services on bulletin boards around the base camp. Members said their chains of command work to ensure they are off duty Monday nights to attend Wiccan fellowship.
Group members admit they were a bit nervous as they began to form their fellowship. Their first meetings were even held with non-participating bystanders serving as “bouncers” to prevent harassment.
“No one has ever bothered this group,” said one of the members who asked not to be identified. “The command here has been very supportive.”
While Wiccans practice an ancient religion that follows a pagan tradition, they use modern methods. The group here has an email distribution list and even boasts its own local emblem, a patch with the name “FOB Warhorse Wiccans & Pagans” sewn onto it along with a pentagram.
Another outspoken member is Pfc. Nathan Edwards, a mechanic from San Diego who serves with Company B, 64th Brigade Support Battalion, as a mechanic. He is an ordained minister who said he got his credentials to perform marriage ceremonies for fellow Wiccans.
Edwards said Wicca is a religion practiced individually. When group members come together, they bring their individual practices to the group and everyone benefits.
“We’re a very open group,” Edwards said. “We always decide what we’re going to do each week.
“Each person brings something important to the group.”