Wyrd Designs – Scouting for Pagans…

Wyrd Designs – Scouting for Pagans… November 6, 2010

As American as apple pie and baseball, are hallmark institutions like the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America. Most Americans have been exposed to both of these groups through their lives. Whether through active enrollment for a time in such a program, or from their friends being involved in the program, or the annual fund-raisers and volunteer projects in the community that scouts participate in. Of course, while we think of these organizations as uniquely American institutions, the fact is both of these institutions were founded in response to the International Scouting Movement began in the early 1900’s by a British Lieutenant-General in the Army.

While scouting supports the type of virtues one would like to see encouraged across our society as a whole: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. It’s unfortunately not an organization for everyone.

Recently the organization has been back in the news for denying leadership positions to a Texas father who is publicly gay, as well as to a Mormon couple. Since they are a private organization, they are allowed to dictate the criteria for their membership, as well as to dictate who can be a leader of a scout troop.

At the heart of the organization is the Scout Oath:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

The BSA interprets this to mean that a person must have some concept of deity (the Abrahamic God, a pagan diety, Buddha, etc.) that they believe in, and therefore atheists and agnostics aren’t welcome. They deny openly homosexual individuals from leadership positions (even volunteer ones) because those individuals are not “morally straight” nor are they an “appropriate role model”.

While most people expect that the organization is most-likely welcoming to those of the Abrahamic faiths, it is also willing to welcome those of many other religious faiths to partake of their programs as well, including pagans. In fact, several years ago an Asatru Kindred was granted a charter to found an all-Heathen Boy Scout Group: The group has been given troop number 1239 in the Greater Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America. There have also been several Wiccan-chartered scouting groups through the years.

But as a recent op/ed piece by LZ Granderson at CNN suggests, being actively involved with organizations like the is the same as tacitly agreeing to their discriminatory attitudes. This and other factors is why many pagans have left the organization, opting instead for an alternative that is less discriminatory to people of other religious beliefs — the Spiral Scouts, which has been around now approximately 10 years. The Spiral Scouts are more-encompassing of varied definitions of family so parents who wish to lead and volunteer can do so regardless of their own religious beliefs or sexual preferences. Spiral Scout troops are open to both boys and girls, religious beliefs (or lack thereof), all creeds and races and have a philosophical focus on earth, air, fire, water and spirit while encouraging community service.

While the Spiral Scouts is an alternative option, the problem is that certain religious creeds don’t quite fall in line with the 5 element philosophy, and the fact that while they’ve spread all over the globe, they’re still not nearly as wide spread as the more mainstream scouting groups. For instance, even a massively large state like Texas with major metropolitan areas and dense population only has 5 such scouting troops for the entire state.

In addition to the Spiral Scouts, we also have the other big American scouting organization the Girl Scouts of America, who are more accommodating than the BSA. While God is also part of their pledge, they allow individuals to substitute the word to what is appropriate for their belief system, be it God, Gods, Buddha, my faith, the Creator, the Goddess, etc. As it pertains to homosexual leaders, their policy is that it is a private matter and that leaders must behave in a way that is sometimes colloquially summarized as: “don’t ask, don’t evangelize.” In their case, their more liberal attitude which came into being in the 1990’s caused a splintering of some conservative Christians to found a new scouting group in 1995 called American Heritage Girls as an alternative to the GSA.

While many people think that the GSA is the sister club to the BSA, that’s incorrect. BSA’s sister club was the Camp Fire Girls, which since the 70’s is a co-ed organization and now known as Camp Fire USA. Unlike the BSA or the GSA they don’t care at all about religious beliefs or sexual preferences, they’re more focused on building up values in the youth.

So as a pagan, I ask you my readers what do you feel is the way to go with scouting? Change organizations like the BSA from the inside out? Embrace the Spiral Scouts, or utilize other more mainstream scouting groups like the GSA or Camp Fire USA? For those who have scouted, as well as those with children, what do you want to see in future scouting generations?

What experiences have you had (good or bad) with the various scouting organizations as it applies to the issues that concern you?


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  • I was a Girl Scout and I didn’t find the organization useful for anything. I preferred to hang out with Boy Scouts and read their literature.

    It’s interesting that the Boy Scouts, along with their predecessor the Woodcraft Indians, began with very Pagan themes and values.

    I’ve heard good things about Spiral Scouts. I don’t know anything about Camp Fire USA at all.

  • Donna

    I was in Girl Scouts for much of my childhood, and I truly enjoyed the experience. Most of what I remember is getting together with my friends and learning new songs and crafts, and goofing off as much as the adults could stand to let us. I remember our many camping trips, and still use the skills and rules I learned then when I take my own family camping.

    I can clearly recall one time when I was around 9 or 10, my troop went to a local nature preserve and museum. The tour included a guided hike through the park, and our guide taught us about the native plants and animals we encountered on the trail. One thing our guide said has stayed with me all this time, that even the tiniest ant is a part of nature and has a job to do. In the context of the hike, that meant that we were not to squish the bugs that crossed our path, but give them the right of way; but the larger message I took away from that hike was that Nature was sacred and mysterious, and deserved my respect.

    I have no problem with my daughter being involved with GSA, they’re inclusive and share our core values. If the child we’re expecting in the spring is a boy, I don’t know what organization we’ll choose to support when he’s older. Maybe by that time there will be an established Spiral Scouts circle near us, or another option will present itself. Unless the BSA changes it’s discriminatory positions in the next five or six years, I can’t imagine letting them act as a role model for our future son(s), treating people who are different unfairly is not what we teach our children.

  • harmonyfb

    I was a Girl Scout from the time I was six until I graduated from high school (and was an adult member for a couple of years after that). I loved it, and found that it taught me the value of public service, a deep love of nature, and woodcraft that I still use today.

    I’d love for my daughters to become involved in scouting.

    However, I’d never allow my son to join the BSA – I object to their codified hatred and assumptions about role models.

    Too bad that there aren’t any Spiral Scout groups nearby.

  • I was in the Brownies for one year. I guess ours was a bum troupe, because all we did was care for the troop leader’s babies and play “fashion model.” No hiking, crafts, or other activities that I read about in the little manual they gave us. Just these little girlie things in which I had no interest.

    By their very nature, any kind of organized group will discriminate against those who are different. If you don’t fit in, well, you just don’t…

  • kcs

    There are tons of LDS Scouts and Scout leaders. There is no national policiy that bars them from serving. In fact, in some communities you would be hard pressed to find a scout troop that was not dominated by Mormon families.

    The issue that made the news was where a troop that was sponsored by a local conservative Protestant congregation decided that the Mormon couple in question could not be leaders of that particular troop. Organizations that sponsor local troops can make that kind of decision.

    This is different from the situation with gay leaders. There it is a national BSA policy which says that gays are not permited to serve as leaders of any troop anywhere within the organization.

  • Amy

    I was a Girl Scout, started as a Brownie, and was in the same troop for several years. We did a lot of great activities: crafts, singing, camping, trips to nature preserves, museums and science centers. It was a great experience. Our troop meetings were always in churches but I do not recall any real focus on religion. Mostly it was about learning, empowering girls, being creative and productive, cooperating with others, respecting nature and people and just having fun.

    We had a wonderful troop leader, a mother of a fellow Girl Scout, she was a great role model. I think a good leader makes all the difference and dictates the kind of experience the girls have.

    I went to school with many of the girls in my troop, from elementary all the way through high school. We have all grown up to be decent, open-minded individuals and I think we are all better people due to our experiences together in Girl Scouts.

  • Rita Rippetoe

    Boy Scout troups rely heavily on sponsorships, and many churchs, especially conservative ones such as the LDS sponsor troops and encourage men to be active as leaders. Because they have this ongoing tie with the churches they are unlikely to make policy changes that might damage those ties.
    The Girl Scouts are less likely to have troop sponsors and rely heavily on Product Sales (yes, COOKIES, and nuts and magazines) for funding of troops and the local councils. The activities undertaken by a troop depend on the leaders and other adults, and on the girls, as well as on the program events, camping opportunities, etc. offered by the local council. Girls also have an option of partcipating as Juliette Scouts–working on badges, attending events and selling products as an individual. Don’t forget that the Girl Scouts have the Gold Award, which requires the same type of organizational ability, effort and public service as the better known Eagle Scout award. I think the attitude about gays participating could be more accurately summed up as–no overt sexual behavior or displays are appropriate around the girl members, nor is any sexual contact with girl members allowed, so gay or straight is not an issue. But, in any organization dependent on volunteers the attitudes of members will affect actions, so individual parents might refuse a gay leader for their daughter’s troop. Check out the website for your local council–you will be surprised how scouting has changed. I work for a local council, but this is not an official statement.

  • “Too bad that there aren’t any Spiral Scout groups nearby.”

    You should start one! It’s not hard. You can start with a Hearth, which is one or two families. BSA has had 100 years to achieve its widespread status. SpiralScouts (one word, so as not to step on anyone’s toes, ahem) has had just shy of 10 years. In 90 more years, it will probably be in every town as well.

    After all, there won’t be a Circle in XYZ town if nobody starts one.

  • Bjarki

    .I grew up within the Boyscout program. I have also served as an advisor for a Law Enforcement Explorer Post and currently am President of a 401(c)(3) that sponsors a Living History Venture Crew (Viking Age Norsemen). My personal beliefs have never been an issue within this organization, though I have been quite unsatisfied with the BSA as a whole. If it wasn’t for the political/social advantages of the BSA I wouldn’t be involved at all. Frankly they provide a level of acceptance and respectability that we’d be hard pressed to achieve without them. With the BSA’s “endorsement” I can teach pre-Christian Heathen values to young adults between 14 and 21 years of age as they are learning the physical skills that were important to their ancestors. Yes, there have been “fundamentalist” Xian who objected to their child “dressing in strange clothes and discussing false Gods”, but we teach history…not religion. We also have advisors who believe that they are still Xian (wish all Xian were so honorable and versed in Norse lore & traditions…wish more Heathens were for that matter), so there’s never been a real problem. And as the Venture Crew members are learning about (and embracing) those noble virtues, they start to stand out in the Scouting Community as they LIVE those virtues. Thereby increasing their word fame. And yes, as these Venturers turned 21 or were 18 and officially left the BSA program, we have had them approach about Kindred memberships.

    As for the SpiralScouts…about 5 years ago my daughter joined the local program at my suggestion. I thought it’d be good for her to be around other people her age (10) who were “non-Xian” too. There were enough children to have three different age groups (circles). Unfortunately she was the only Heathen in a fairly large group.

    As we were driving home after her third meeting, she turned to me and asked, “What’s wrong with these people?” As she’d never been exposed to Wiccans before, she found the views/opinions of their children confusing. (This, and her coming home from school saying her classmates were looking at her wierd because she didn’t know what the Garden of Eden was, showed me her education on other faiths was lacking. A wrong I soon righted…not that she still doesn’t sometimes wonder what’s wrong with them.)

    When at the next meeting the males were not allowed to tend (put wood on) a fire because it was sacred to Goddesses only, she was vocally upset. When she was prevented from blowing her hunting horn because “hunting is violent”… well she quit.

    My point is that every organization is going to have policies that won’t fit everybody. Were my daughter’s issues an isolated incident, these restriction being decided upon by the local leaders only? We don’t know. It doesn’t really matter. As long as it’s a Pagan organization it’ll be guided by Pagan ideals.

    Heathen beliefs and traditions were passed down within the Kin, and still need to be. At 15 years old now, besides her Venture Crew connection, there are over 12 children under the age of 8 in our Kindred who she helps teach and care for. These children are not growing up alone, and we will be handling our own “scouting” program for them.

  • Gilwellian

    If Ásatrú Scout Troop in the USA want badges (as you can see on eBay lately), I supplied a few hundred as a gift so I really don’t care to send 50 of each model to you as a present as well. Please, contact me: gilwellian@hotmail.com Hails from Barcelona!!!

  • Gilwellian

    If Ásatrú Scout Troop in the USA want badges (as you can see on eBay lately), I supplied a few hundred as a gift so I really don’t care to send 50 of each model to you as a present as well. Please, contact me: gilwellian@hotmail.com Hails from Barcelona!!!

  • Shenandoah_77

    At the moment I’m actually the co-leader of a Girl Scout troop and it’s something my daughters really enjoy. I was in the Scouts as a girl and enjoyed the experience so when my best friend started a troop I agreed to be the co-leader. I remember camping trips, crafts, singing and being in local parades. My best friend though is devoutly Christian and while or meetings are held in a local elementary school several of our outings have been to church youth events. That’s where things get a bit complicated for me I mean I was raised in church and while it doesn’t really fit my beliefs or worldview anymore it is a part of my upbringing and parts of it still speak to me I always loved the music I probably always will because music speaks to me on a spiritual level.

    So what do I do I tell my kids it’s completely up to them to decide what religious path to follow just choose the one that feels right to you. When they play music I sing along surreptitiously changing the lyrics to honor my personal gods. My best friend put me in a bit of a Jam when she insisted we go to the alter to pray with one of the girls I settled on just praying an open blessing on her asking any and all gods to keep an eye out for her and to guide her to adulthood. It may not be what some of you would do but I live in a small southern town where it’s highly likely I’m the only pagan or part of a small so secretive we don’t even know about each other group I could be more open I could make waves but I have to live here and for now I choose to just quietly practice what I believe to the best of my ability. Are there ever uncomfortable moment oh believe me there are I mean she scheduled us to attend a youth event where the opening prayer contained a line about binding the spirit of witchcraft boy did I feel welcome I mean I can be respectful and I wasn’t there to disrupt their service why can’t they conceive of the possibility that my presence may be benign and my beliefs as valid as there own? We have no Spiral Scouts in the area so I’m stuck with making the best of the Girl Scouts and hoping
    maybe I can on the sly pass on some of my values too.

  • Shenandoah_77

    At the moment I’m actually the co-leader of a Girl Scout troop and it’s something my daughters really enjoy. I was in the Scouts as a girl and enjoyed the experience so when my best friend started a troop I agreed to be the co-leader. I remember camping trips, crafts, singing and being in local parades. My best friend though is devoutly Christian and while or meetings are held in a local elementary school several of our outings have been to church youth events. That’s where things get a bit complicated for me I mean I was raised in church and while it doesn’t really fit my beliefs or worldview anymore it is a part of my upbringing and parts of it still speak to me I always loved the music I probably always will because music speaks to me on a spiritual level.

    So what do I do I tell my kids it’s completely up to them to decide what religious path to follow just choose the one that feels right to you. When they play music I sing along surreptitiously changing the lyrics to honor my personal gods. My best friend put me in a bit of a Jam when she insisted we go to the alter to pray with one of the girls I settled on just praying an open blessing on her asking any and all gods to keep an eye out for her and to guide her to adulthood. It may not be what some of you would do but I live in a small southern town where it’s highly likely I’m the only pagan or part of a small so secretive we don’t even know about each other group I could be more open I could make waves but I have to live here and for now I choose to just quietly practice what I believe to the best of my ability. Are there ever uncomfortable moment oh believe me there are I mean she scheduled us to attend a youth event where the opening prayer contained a line about binding the spirit of witchcraft boy did I feel welcome I mean I can be respectful and I wasn’t there to disrupt their service why can’t they conceive of the possibility that my presence may be benign and my beliefs as valid as there own? We have no Spiral Scouts in the area so I’m stuck with making the best of the Girl Scouts and hoping
    maybe I can on the sly pass on some of my values too.