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    Wicca on the Water

    The squeaky, blue leather couch that I waited on in the Command Religious Ministries Department office wasn’t helping calm my nerves. I had heard stories and rumors of what goes on behind the chapel’s doors on Friday nights. Could the dark arts really be practiced in that dimly-lit room every week? I grew more eager with each passing minute to find out for myself, anticipating the ship’s announcing system to pass the word.

    “Wiccan lay service will be held in the ship’s chapel at 2100.”

    Fifteen minutes before the service, Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Danny Sancho, from Loma Linda, California, the Wiccan lay leader and a leading petty officer in the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis’ (CVN 74) Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department’s IM-3 division, begins to prepare the ship’s chapel for his weekly-scheduled celebration.

    “I was born Roman Catholic, but I knew I didn’t connect with it,” said Sancho, who checked aboard the John C. Stennis, May 2017. “My search for faith began before boot camp. I had gone to more than five different religious services to find one that I thought made sense. I even went to a Buddhist service at boot camp and that opened my mind up, literally, to meditation. Once I met my wife, a practicing Wiccan, my affinity for the practice grew.”

    Wicca, a faith based around the seasons, nature, elements, and the moon, relies heavily on symbolism during its services.

    On the alter in the front of the chapel, Sancho sets up everything he believes is needed to channel the mystical powers for a Wiccan service, called a ritual: salt, used instead of dirt, which represents the earth, along with water, lit candles that embody fire, crystals, a wand, a cast iron incense holder, and a pentagram.

    “I know what you’re thinking,” Sancho assured me. “People think the pentagram is a symbol of devil worship, but it most definitely is not. It’s a protection charm and is widely-used in Wicca. And the wand, that’s to help people focus their intentions through a central, physical object. I don’t do anything crazy, no ‘hocus pocus’ stuff.”

    My preconceived notions about the lay service were beginning to be alleviated with each explanation from the lay leader.

    As Sancho lights four large candles around the room, one in each cardinal direction representing air to the north, fire to the south, the earth to the east, and the water which flows below our ship to the west, he begins to guide participants in a guided meditation, only pausing briefly as the roar of an aircraft on a catapult above drowns out his voice.

    Walking clockwise around the chapel in order to create or manifest auras, Sancho invites practicing Wiccans, called by the gender-neutral term ‘witches,’ and the magick-curious, spelled with a ‘ck’ to discern from modern illusionists, to picture themselves as large trees, with their roots firmly entrenched in the earth and sun beating down on their leaves above, and reiterates the Wiccan creed.

    “For our greatest good, harming none,” Sancho said, as he lights white sage to cleanse and purify people in the room. “The circle is open, but never broken. I pray for those who have worked today, to help them wash away their stresses, and I pray for those who will work tonight, to give them positivity.”

    Through creative meditations and peaceful thoughts, Sancho said that he thinks Sailors get revitalized and refocused on the mission at hand when they can take a mental pause to look inward.

    “Meditation helps calm people, there’s no arguing that,” said Sancho. “We work in a potentially high-stress environment. It’s important to center Sailors’ focus on where it needs to be, which is work. We’re all here for a reason, whether we chose orders here or not, and I think I do my part to keep peoples’ minds on track.”

    The Wiccan faith thrives on attraction, rather than promotion.

    “I’ve done a lot of research into Wicca before coming to the ship and have been interested in it since I was young,” said Aviation Structural Mechanic 2nd Class Jessica Williams, from Yuba City, California, a Sailor embarked aboard the John C. Stennis with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 14. “Coming to Wiccan services gives me something to look forward to every week. I definitely feel that I’ve gotten calmer since I started attending [the services] since November 2018. I came into [the service] tonight really frustrated, I’ve got a lot of maintenance scheduled, and now I feel relaxed, focused and rejuvenated. I’m ready to get back to work with a clear head.”

    After a guided meditation, the burning of white sage, and prayers to the moon goddess, Sancho circles the room, now counterclockwise to close out the prayer session, bringing the ritual to a close. The lay leader has served his purpose for another week.

    “The ship’s chaplains train lay leaders who are recognized by their faith groups, perform well in their rates, have no disciplinary issues, and are appointed by the commanding officer to facilitate identified religious needs while expeditionary,” said Cmdr. David Dinkins, from Hurst, Texas, the John C. Stennis’ command chaplain.

    Sancho’s faith group, called a coven, helped provide him the skills he’d need to lead Sailors through Wicca rituals and accurately propagate their belief’s teachings.

    “I became a Wiccan lay leader to try to break the image that Hollywood has given Wicca followers,” said Sancho. “We don’t summon demons, we just align ourselves with the moon and the seasons and meditate.”

    Recognition of Naval diversity has been highlighted by the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson.

    In a September 2016 release titled “One Navy Team,” Richardson said, “In our Navy, we have individuals from many different cultures, ethnicities, and histories. We must recognize this advantage and include the broadest-possible spectrum of people and perspectives.”

    The diversity of our modern Navy is, in part, what I think makes us great. When combined, the experience, technical prowess, and warfighting strength of every individual aboard the John C. Stennis makes us a premier, formidable fighting force. Thanks to lay leaders who do their part in keeping Sailors’ faith and mental well-being strong, the crew of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group truly live up to their Latin motto: “In mundo optimum,” the world’s greatest.

    Whether Sailors attend mono-, poly-, or eco-theistic religious services, the end goal is all the same: to make sure we’re mentally strong for the physically-demanding tasks that lay ahead.

    The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is deployed to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

    For more news on John C. Stennis, visit or follow along on Facebook at



    Date Taken: 03.06.2019
    Date Posted: 03.06.2019 03:33
    Story ID: 313085
    Location: PACIFIC OCEAN

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