Halloween as a Religious Holiday? You Better Believe It, Soldier
For a growing number of Americans—including many in the military—October 31st is returning to its Celtic and pre-Christian roots.
For most of us, Halloween is a kids’ celebration. Or perhaps it’s a chance for adults to play dress-up and to trot out the interminable sexy-maid or Elvis costumes.
But for a growing population of Americans, the holiday is returning to its Celtic and pre-Christian roots. That isn’t happening just within the New Age bastions of San Francisco and Los Angeles. If you want to watch the night of goblins and ghosties morph into a serious and historically grounded religious observance, look no further than the U.S. military.
Before Christianity became ascendant in the West, Halloween—more traditionally called by its Celtic name, Samhain (pronounced swain)—marked a seasonal change and a time to honor the spirits of departed relatives. Thanks to the growing numbers of modern U.S. soldiers who practice Wicca, Neopaganism, and other nature-based traditions, Halloween is recognized as a religious festival in the military, and is probably in line to become the nation’s next major faith-based holiday.
In matters of race and religion, so goes the military, so goes the nation. The number of Wiccans is building in the armed services (as in the rest of America) and they are attaining watermarks of recognition. In 2007, for example, the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and state dealt a setback to the Bush Administration with twin lawsuits that compelled the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer Wiccan believers a pentagram on tombstones. Today, the five-pointed star appears on the VA website along with several other occult and esoteric “emblems of belief” for service members to choose from.
George W. Bush was on record from 1999 criticizing the decision of military brass at Fort Hood, TX, to accommodate the requests of Wiccans for a worship circle on the base grounds. “I don’t think witchcraft is a religion,” then-Governor Bush told Good Morning America. He wasn’t the only one who complained. Reacting to Wicca worship ceremonies at the base, Rep. Robert L. Barr (R-GA) wrote to Fort Hood’s commanding officer: “Please stop this nonsense now.” He threatened legislation and hearings. The military’s response was basically: cool your jets.
Since 1978, the Army’s Handbook for Chaplains has listed guidelines and descriptions for Wiccan practice, all written in remarkably fair and lucid language. “It is very important to be aware that Wiccans do not in any way worship or believe in 'Satan,' 'the Devil,' or similar entities,” reads the most recent 2001 revision of the Handbook. “…Wiccans do not revile the Bible. They simply regard it as one among many of the world’s mythic systems, less applicable than some to their core values, but still deserving of just as much respect as any of the others.”
The Handbook specifies October 31st—which it calls by the traditional names of “Samhain, Sowyn, or Hallows”—as a major festival or “Sabbat” for Wiccans. The original Celtic holiday became bound up with the Christian “All Saints’ Day” or “All Hallow’s Eve” during the Middle Ages. But twenty-first century Wiccans see it as a deeply rooted celebration of nature and ancestors. As the Army handbook ably explains it, the festival is “a means of attunement to the seasonal rhythms of Nature.”
The military’s sensitivity to Wicca is partly a matter of demographics. In 2005, the Pentagon counted religious preferences in the Air Force and discovered more than 1,800 active-service, self-identified Wiccans within that branch. Unless the Air Force has some special attraction for Wiccans, it would stand to reason that the numbers climb well into the thousands throughout the armed services as a whole.
Surveys have tracked similar patterns in America overall. As in the military, the increase in numbers may be attributable to demographers realizing that such believers indentify themselves under a multitude of names. In 1990, a survey conducted by the City University of New York counted only a few thousand self-identified Wiccans. By 2001, the same survey – having sharpened and expanded its categories – counted 134,000 Wiccans, 33,000 Druids, and 140,000 Pagans. These numbers square with a more recent survey from Trinity College which finds that the number of Americans who identify with “New Religious Movements” (which includes Wicca, Spiritualism, New Age, and other categories) grew from 1.29 million in 1990 to more than 2.8 million in 2008.
These developments and distinctions are not lost on the military. The U.S. Military Personnel System recognizes seven nature-based faiths: Pagan, Wiccan, Druid, Shaman, Dianic Wicca, Gardnerian Wicca, and Seax Wicca.
For their part, Wiccans acknowledge the military’s strides. “We see more discrimination in the civilian world,” a Fort Hood Wiccan Priestess, Marcy Palmer, told The Washington Post. “The military is actually much more sensitive.”
But not everything is daggers and roses for Neopagan service members. Wiccan chaplains and believers report instances of discrimination, sneers from disapproving peers, and a recent uptick of sectarian Christian prayers at ostensibly public military events and ceremonies. In the wake of the VA’s decision to permit pentagrams on headstones, the conservative Family Research Council began a campaign to argue that Wicca undermines military readiness by striking at unit morale and cohesion. So far, however, their arguments appear to have found little influence among top brass.
So, is anything at stake in all this beyond the pursuit of what some consider marginal beliefs and the morphing of a minor civic holiday into a recognized religious one? The answer is yes. America’s greatest purpose may be the protection of the individual’s search for meaning. If that search, in all its forms, is gaining increased recognition and understanding within the mainstream parameters of the armed services, it suggests that America continues to fulfill its founding purpose.
What would happen if you tripled the US population? Join Matthew Yglesias and Charles Duhigg at 1pm ET on Monday, September 28.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
Dominique Crenn, the only female chef in America with three Michelin stars, joins Big Think Live.
Having been exposed to mavericks in the French culinary world at a young age, three-star Michelin chef Dominique Crenn made it her mission to cook in a way that is not only delicious and elegant, but also expressive, memorable, and true to her experience.
Controversial physics theory says reality around us behaves like a computer neural network.
- Physicist proposes that the universe behaves like an artificial neural network.
- The scientist's new paper seeks to reconcile classical physics and quantum mechanics.
- The theory claims that natural selection produces both atoms and "observers".
Vanchurin interview:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="539759cbfd8fcd5b6ebf14a3b597b3f9"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/bmyRy2-UhEE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Vanchurin on “Hidden Phenomena”:<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="18886ffd5e5840bb19d4494212f88d82"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/2NDVdNwsHCo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>Vitaly Vanchurin speaking at the 6th International FQXi Conference, "Mind Matters: Intelligence and Agency in the Physical World." The Foundational Questions...
43% of people think they can get a sense of someone's personality by their picture.
If you've used a dating app, you'll know the importance of choosing good profile pics.
Quarantine rule breakers in 17th-century Italy partied all night – and some clergy condemned the feasting
17th-century outbreaks of plague in Italy reveal both tensions between religious and public health authorities.