Roughly 7 years ago, I was once a young Private First Class in the desert sands of Iraq. There were plenty of PFC’s in both the US Army, but I was special. Not in the egotistical, I am better than you way; but in that I was a Pagan.
My platoon had just rolled into FOB (Forward Operating Base) Sykes and were looking for the chow hall. Upon arriving to the chow hall, I had noticed that there was a list of religious services offered on FOB Sykes. Bring curious, and new in country, I had to look.
Behold! There were Pagan Services offered at FOB Sykes! Oh, I was thrilled! I had already come out of the Broom Closet to the other members of my platoon, so bringing this up was not going to be a big deal! So, even though I had to ask, I knew I already had permission to attend as long as mission dictated it.
It took a good couple of weeks to get back to the FOB and even longer for us to get there on the date and time specified on the flyer. Then, we got the chance to stay a few days for a maintenance refit! I would be able to attend!
Oh I was nervous, excited, and ready to explode with anticipation that first night! I had never been amongst a group of Pagans before! This was going to be absolutely amazing! My biggest fear was messing up the rituals of the night due to my inexperience. (Also the issue of going skyclad was a bit nerve racking for me back then.)
Well, I made it to the chapel. All the thoughts previously stated were swimming around in my head like over-caffeinated sardines. I couldn’t wait! So…
Then two guys came up from the side and asked me if I was waiting for the Pagan Group. I was a little nervous answering this because I was unsure if they also were Pagans or soldiers looking to mess with one. I took a chance and said yes and if they knew of they were meeting today? They took me to the meeting place, turns out the chapel was “no longer available,” that turned into my favorite place to be.
I went into this Army Tent that had a wonderful peaceful energy attached to it. The smell of incense and coffee hung in the air. The clear holiday lights lit up the interior and exterior of the tent in a nice low light. The general feeling of welcoming I had only felt when in deep meditation when the Lord and Lady were present. If anything could be more perfect for me then, was not apparent to me.
That is when I had met Eric Cooper. The leader of the Desert Moon Grove, future leader of the Forest Moon Grove. I had filled out some questionnaires, introduced to the rest of the group, and after this we all sat down for coffee and hung out. Eric gad explained to me that the group was an eclectic group to give Pagans of all paths a place of belonging.
Eric had then proceeded to show me the countless books he had for the group. The altar he had erected to honor his and, later, my Patron Goddess: the Morrighan. After all of this Eric gad asked if I had any supplies to facilitate meditation or general worshipping. Well, lets just say I went back to my platoon that night with hundreds of incense sticks, books, and other ritual items to help me when I wasn’t at the group.
I had periodically gone back to the group throughout my time in Tel Afar. It was my oasis in a vast desert! I had met so many wonderful people that, Goddess help me, have touched my life in a very permanent and profound way! Especially Eric. Eric helped this fledgling witch find a place to feel welcome and safe.
This is the legacy of Eric Cooper and the Forest Moon Grove! They both have helped countless Pagans and continues to do so everyday!