On the night of a full moon in the summer of 1999, a group of Pagans gathered near the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, DC. They cast a circle, invoked the Lady and Lord, and recited the words of Thomas Jefferson: "I never told my religion, nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I have judged of others' religion by their lives, for it is from our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read." The ritual, sponsored by the Military Pagan Network (MPN), was held to support freedom of religion within the military. John Machate, coordinator of the MPN, stood on the outskirts of the ceremony, as he generally does at public rituals.
John Machate is a Pagan, a Celtic Reconstructionalist, who acknowledges theSky, the Sea, and the Land in his personal rituals. As a solitary practitioner he calls on the Gods, the spirits, and the ancestors by himself, by the creek behind his apartment.
Brought up in a military family, Machate was taught that politics and religion are not discussed in the military. His Roman Catholic family believes in the centrality of love, and they are accepting of his spiritual path. According to Machate, he was an "irresponsible brat" when he joined the Air Force. Now he is a systems analyst, a college student, and a spokesperson for the MPN, which responds to attacks on the religious freedom of Pagans in the military.
Publicity about Pagan rituals held on military bases has lead to controversy, including an attempt to prevent tax dollars being spent on these earth-based rituals, and a call to boycott the military until the practice of Wicca or Witchcraft is stopped. Some believe that Pagan rituals are not religious and are detrimental to the military mission, even though Wicca (a major tradition in Paganism) is a religion recognized by the military and its practice is constitutionally protected. For Machate, "When the practice of one religion is threatened, all are threatened." (News articles on the controversy are archived on the MPN website.).
Machate never asked for accommodation of his religious practices in the military; he met his needs privately while living off-base. When the Air Force moved the 21-year-old Machate from Waco, TX to Washington, DC, he spent over a year seeking other local Pagans. He built a database of Pagan community resources, which evolved into the MPN. Machate explains, "It is hard enough finding a coven in your area. And then you move every two to four years, so we need open circles." While his own practice is solitary by choice, his work helps military Pagans come together.