Setting it Straight

I was reading an article in the New York Times today about the recent (and long overdue) decision by the military to allow the Wiccan pentagram on headstones, when I noticed this: “Wicca is a type of pre-Christian belief.” I literally stopped short in the article when I saw that, and had to go take a time out.

Newsflash, kids: Wicca is not pre-Christian. The way this statement is worded, someone who understood the history of Wicca would understand that it is a type of Paganism, a pre-Christian form of worship, in the sense that Baptists are a type of Christian. Someone who doesn’t understand that might be forgiven for thinking that Wicca itself is pre-Christian, and this is simply not true. I’m sure that someone else has already written the Times about this, so I probably shouldn’t bother, but this still bugs me. A pretty basic inaccuracy in a major news paper, a sin of tricky wording. No wonder Regret the Error has so much new content every day.

Hey man, I know it’s hard to get the facts straight. That’s why I always appreciate corrections when I haven’t researched something thoroughly enough and I’m talking out my ass. But I like to think that if I had a panel of editors, basic inaccuracies like this would not slip through. Someone on the staff of the Times could have read numerous articles on Wicca which clearly stated that it was a relatively recently developed religion.

It’s a religious practice that was popularized in Britain in the 1950s, but most of the ideas and practices were probably collated in the teens and twenties. Wicca is an offshoot of Paganism, which most certainly is a pre-Christian religion, but Wicca is not necessarily a “type of pre-Christian religion.” Indeed, dispute over the founding of Wicca suggests that it might not even properly be related to Paganism, because it appears to have sprung whole from the mind of Gerald Gardner. Wicca, in fact, is a modern religion which celebrates the cycles and rhythms of nature. Not that there’s anything wrong with this, I just want to point out that Wicca has not been around longer than bishops in funny hats and tortured skinny dudes on crosses, although the religion which may be the precursor to Wicca was around long before Christ was born.

The Times is correct in stating that there are a number of branches of Wicca, and that everyone practices in a way which works for them. It was unfortunate that the Times didn’t see fit to point out that the major governing doctrine of Wicca is the idea that people should not harm each other, but maybe that seems out of place in an article about Wiccan soldiers. Which reminds me…if the major precept of your religion is that you should not harm others, how do you reconcile going to war? I’m not trying to be a smartass, I am genuinely curious.

Also, if you, like me, were wondering about emblems approved for use on gravestones in military cemeteries, here they are, courtesy of BoingBoing.

Words are slippery little devils, I tell you what.