THEY’RE DEVILS!” cries the Reverend Jack Harvey, whacking his meaty palm against a Bible densely annotated with blue ballpoint scrawlings. “They’re wicked! And they’re letting them dance around a fire out there!”
“There” is Killeen’s Fort Hood, one of the largest military installations in the Western Hemisphere and home to 42,000 troops, and “they” are perhaps one hundred soldiers who proudly proclaim their religious preference as Wicca. Wiccans, who call themselves witches, practice a neo-paganism loosely based on pre-Christian European faiths; this particular sect gathers on the base in the form of the Open Circle of the Sacred Well Congregation, an Army-sanctioned group that counts like-minded worshipers from surrounding Central Texas towns among its members. To get authorization for meetings, the congregation went through the standard procedure for religious organizations, which includes securing a sponsor and adhering to military regulations (the Wiccans are forbidden from attending their gatherings “skyclad”—that is, buck naked—and ceremonial daggers are allowed only if they aren’t used to cut anything). Proposed ceremonies are also submitted to a chaplain for review. Wiccan rituals exalt a deity that manifests itself throughout creation, particularly in nature—and, no, it’s not Satan. Wiccans tend to exhibit the earnest patience of the perenially misunderstood; mentioning The Blair Witch Project is likely to produce a here-we-go-again rolling of the eyes.
But if Wiccans are quick to tell you what they’re not—murderers of children, for instance—it’s hard to get a fix on what they are. Aside from their basic credo (“An ye harm none, do what you will”) and a few other tenets, there’s not much in the way of a canon. If you were to cobble together a religion from every third book on the New Age shelf at Borders, you might wind up with Wicca, which is liberally laced with elements of witchcraft, nature worship, and Celtic and Norse mythology, among other things. Despite this eclecticism—maybe because of it—it’s one of the fastest-growing religions in the country, even though witches say they don’t actively seek converts.
So what’s the problem? Ask Bob Barr. Since reading an account of a Wiccan ritual at Fort Hood, the