Monday, April 23, 2007

Cemetery symbols may provide insight to individual beliefs

Symbols on headstones often indicate something about the life of the deceased. Owing to a recent ruling, one of the more controversial symbols can now be added to those allowed on headstones in government cemeteries. An article in the International Herald Tribune, "Wiccans symbols allowed on grave markers in government cemeteries," reports the Wiccan pentacle [or pentagram] has been added to the list of emblems allowed in United States cemeteries and on government-issued headstones of fallen U.S. soldiers, according to a settlement announced Monday. A settlement between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Wiccans adds the five-pointed star to the list of "emblems of belief" allowed on VA grave markers.

Wicca is said to be a nature-based religion based on respect for the earth, nature and the cycle of the seasons, but variations of the pentacle have been used in horror movies as a sign of the devil — a usage not accepted and vehemently denied by Wiccans. The pentacle has been added to 38 symbols the VA already permits on gravestones. They include commonly recognized symbols for Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism, as well as those for smaller religions such as Sufism Reoriented, Eckiankar and the Japanese faith Seicho-No-Ie.

VA-issued headstones, markers and plaques can be used in any cemetery, whether it is a national one such as Arlington near Washington or a private burial ground.

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