Pagan Rituals on Army Base Cast Controversial Spell

ABCNEWS' Peggy Wehmeyer reports that a constitutional protection of religion for some means condemnation from others. (ABCNEWS)

photo: Itarilde and Taniquetil lead a
ritual for Tolerance and Understanding.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, Host For a couple of years now, members of a little-known religious group have been quietly practicing some of the usual rituals of their faith in a surprising setting. ABC's Peggy Wehmeyer reports on a coven of Army witches and the toil and trouble suddenly stirring up around them.

PEGGY WEHMEYER, ABCNEWS (VO) They chant to pagan gods and goddesses...

WICCANS (chanting) Vera Kosha (ph), Mama Luna (ph)...

PEGGY WEHMEYER (VO)... and believe there is divine power in nature, power they can use in magic spells.

WICCAN Wanda Tower, I conjure thee to ban such things as named by me.

PEGGY WEHMEYER (VO) Although these witches use wands, pentagrams, and broomsticks, they do not, as some believe, worship Satan.

HEIDI MORROW, Wiccan Witch We are not violent or criminals or we don't sacrifice children or animals. And we're actually very tolerant.

PEGGY WEHMEYER (VO) And certainly disciplined. These aren't your ordinary witches that one might find on a moonlit night in central Texas. By day, some of them are soldiers in the U.S. Army who prepare for combat at Fort Hood. They're part of a 50-year-old pagan religious group called Wicca.

Marcy Palmer, a veteran of the military police, is the high priestess of the Ford Hood Wiccans and teaches classes on witchcraft twice a week on the base. She estimates the number of witches at Fort Hood has grown to several hundred.

MARCY PALMER, High Priestess They're looking for something to satisfy that hunger that they feel for spirituality, and they haven't got it elsewhere.

PEGGY WEHMEYER How has the Army been to you?

MARCY PALMER They're great. The Army's been really good. The Army's been very supportive.

PEGGY WEHMEYER (VO) And that's what outrages some local pastors, who want the witches banned.

Rev. JACK HORVEY, Tabernack Baptist Church The leaders of our country are going to give account to God with how they deal with this matter of witch craft, because our precious single soldiers are going to be involved with it if they allow it in our military force. It's evil!

PEGGY WEHMEYER (VO) Some Christian groups are even boycotting the Army.

WILLIAM LIND, Center for Cultural Conservation What we're calling on Christians around the country to do is say, If the Army is going to officially bless and support Satanism and witchcraft, then we as Christians are not going to be part of that Army.

PEGGY WEHMEYER (VO) Even the governor of Texas is concerned.

Gov. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), Texas I don't think witchcraft is a religion. I would hope the military officials would take a second look at the decision they made.

PEGGY WEHMEYER The Wiccan ceremonies are allowed on Fort Hood because several years ago, the Army brass here recognized Wicca as a legitimate religion. Since then, a handful of U.S. military installations have sanctioned pagan rituals.

(VO) The Pentagon says that under the First Amendment, witches have as much right as any other religion to worship on base.

Maj. Gen. BILL DENDINGER, Chairman, Armed Forces Chaplains When the federal and state courts statutes decree that this is a religion, then we provide for them as best we can.

PEGGY WEHMEYER (VO) But Army officials told the Wiccans they could not perform their rituals in the nude. (on camera) Will the witches in the military go away?

DAVID ORINGDERFF, High Priest Witches in the military have been around for as long as I've been around the military. We haven't gone away, we won't go away.

WICCANS (chanting) Parsley, sage, rosemary, fennel, parsley, sage, rosemary, fennel...

PEGGY WEHMEYER (VO) But the Fort Hood Wiccans may need more than divine help to convince the rest of the world that the magic they're brewing is harmless.

WICCAN We hope that these herbs will carry our message to the rest of the world for understanding, tolerance, peace, and love.