Would you like to buy some Spiral Scout cookies?
January 31, 2006 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Spiral Scouts are the wiccan/pagan answer to Boy Scouts (and Girl Scouts, since they're not a gender specific organization). And since pagans are apparently the new black, the scouts have been getting some recent attention. Although the Spiral Scouts started through a wiccan church, they've made a point of including all religions and/or non-religions (as opposed to the Boy Scouts). And while you can imagine what the conservative response might be, the left has found enough dirt on the Boy Scouts over the years that the Spiral alternative seems to be getting a fairly warm response so far.
posted by p3t3 (47 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Once again, my support of tolerance, inclusion and non-traditional religions collides with my loathing of children. So keep up the good work, Spiral Scouts, but keep your snot-nosed little rugrats away from me.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:26 AM on January 31, 2006


I was a Tiger, Cub and Boy Scout eventually reaching the "Life" rank in the BSA, Order of the Arrow, Senior Patrol Leader (twice!), etc. All I will say is that the BSA at the local level is a "good thing" and is more about the education and welfare of the boys and girls the troop supports. The upper levels seem to be more interested in keeping their funding from a number of large churches and fighting to keep gays and atheists away (thus keeping their funding).

At the top, it's about money, at the bottom, it's about the kids. That said, *my* kids aren't going to be a part of an organization with that sort of leadership at the top.

Change or die, BSA.
posted by benATthelocust at 10:50 AM on January 31, 2006

Spiral Scout den meetings are awesome. One time we made pentagrams out of tongue depressors and yarn. And last month, I got my merit badge for burning a wicker man using only two sticks and some kindling.
posted by Gamblor at 10:57 AM on January 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Serious question: is scouting really so overtly Christian in the USA? I was a scout in Scotland, and I'm peripherally involved in scouting here in Canada. I had to promise to "do my duty to god" (and also, incidently, "the queen", who was no doubt delighted) when I took the scout oath, but other than that... I don't recall any religiosity.

We didn't meet in a church. We didn't do anything even vaguely Christian. We had kids from other faith traditions in our pack (though I don't specifically remember any Wiccans!).
posted by thparkth at 11:04 AM on January 31, 2006

If I were a hippy with kids, I think I'd prefer my children didn't attend a religous group of any kind, Wiccan, Christian, whatever.

The Woodcraft Folk seem a much nicer bunch - non-religous, pacifist, try to give members 'an understanding of important issues such as the environment, world debt and global conflict', organised as a co-operative, founded by young people, and, best of all, the kids on their website actually seem to be having a lot of fun, unlike the Spirals, who look a bit glum.
posted by jack_mo at 11:10 AM on January 31, 2006

Not on preview: thparkth, yeah, seems that the US Scouts are way more religous than in the UK (surprise, surprise).

I certainly don't recall anything more than the occasional mention of God when I was in the Beavers (pre-Scouts for littler kids), and there were Hindu and Muslim members. There was a weird emphasis on violently boisterous games, though (which is why I stopped going, being a weedy little bookworm).
posted by jack_mo at 11:17 AM on January 31, 2006


Scouting varies widely in the states - or at least in my home state of Kentucky. The troop I was in was originally chartered at a Christian Church, but then later moved to a Catholic Church, but we had a wide variety of racial/ethnic/religious backgrounds within the troup. It just so happens that churches in suburbia are the most convenient meeting places.

Religion is and was part of Scouting, but so was and is tolerance - at least at the local level. Can't say that much for the folks at the top.

Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. (Note the friendly and kind come first).
posted by benATthelocust at 11:19 AM on January 31, 2006

I was a scout. Had a bad experiance. Not molested or anything. We went on a trip to a cabin a bunch of us and the roof was leaky, the facilities stank, bad plumbing, etc. etc. It was raining outside and I had a garbage bag over my head to keep the water from falling on me. My dad came in at night looked around the place said “fuck this” and we left and stayed at a Howard Johnsons.
Last day I was in scouting we came back in the morning to say goodbye. Knowing pancakes were the big thing my dad had taken me for breakfast at IHOP beforehand.
The other kids said “We had pancakes.”
I said “Yeah, me too. Blueberry. With warm syrup. Eggs too.”
We got our stuff and left.
Why give money to an organization that manifestly doesn’t put it into the services?
I didn’t know that then, but in retrospect it’s obvious.
(Can ya be too conservative for the boy scouts?)
posted by Smedleyman at 11:20 AM on January 31, 2006

We played D&D in my Cub Scouts pack my Webelos year.
posted by nflorin at 11:22 AM on January 31, 2006

We played D&D in my Cub Scouts pack my Webelos year.

And you're all going straight to Hell because of it.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 11:24 AM on January 31, 2006

And you're all going straight to Hell because of it.

Yes, but with the +3 long swords (Frost Brand) that Scouting provided for us we'll all be ready for it!
posted by nflorin at 11:27 AM on January 31, 2006 [1 favorite]

Regardless of how the organization works, the name 'Spiral Scouts' is just awesome. Somebody send me a kid so I can enroll them in this!
posted by Vaska at 11:29 AM on January 31, 2006

posted by homunculus at 11:30 AM on January 31, 2006

If I recall correctly, the BSA is actually responsible for our modern celebration of Halloween in the United States. I usually mention that to any of the extreme right-wing folks that I talk to when they mention how upstanding the BSA is and how hell-bent I am for celebrating Halloween.

Of course, I think that conversation's only come up once in my life. In the same conversation, I mentioned that Hitler was a Christian. That was about the time I got punched in the face.
posted by thanotopsis at 11:45 AM on January 31, 2006

And when they outgrow the Boyscouts, they can then enroll in Spiral Tribe.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:46 AM on January 31, 2006

When the Boy Scouts attacked in earnest, we had the Spell Walls up and were well along in summoning the Fifth Warden of the Black Deeps. They came spilling over the ridge, 22s and pointy sticks poking out of their ranks like the spines of some strange brown clothed amoeba. I'm sure they preferred the image of Roman legions with their spears, but the way they kept screaming "Piggy! Piggy! Piggy!" and shrieking maniacally ruined any such illusion.

My job was to man the top of the barricades and keep them from getting through before our Spiral Scoutmasters could finish organizing the spellcasting. I only have a badge in Occlumancy and Minor Nature Meld, so I didn't really have anything to offer yet in the way of battle magic. I did have my scaled down claymore, channeling the spirits of my Ancient Celtic Brethren, and I could feel the Oak Tree Energy course through my body as a threw off my cloak and lept naked and blue-painted to the top of the mound we'd spent all night building, preparing myself for the onslaught. Gaia protect me, I thought, and began my ululating battle cry. Everyone says I have the best ululation in my troop.

Suddenly, the ranks of the approaching boyscouts parted, and I stared in shock. Could the rumors be true?Had they aqcuired the Ark of the Covenant from the depths of the secret CIA archives? Damn the government and their faith-based initiatives, I thought. From behind me, I heard the roar of the summoned Elder God as it leapt through a rent in the fabric of reality, heard its massive wings beat the wind and its terrible claws scraping the rocky ground. Ahead, the air above the scouts was gathering a misty white light, wherein elongated human shapes seemed to float and an unearthly chorus sang an ethereal song of battle.

It was shaping up to be quite a fight, and I'd either earn my Earth Warrior badge in earnest, or make some Boy Scout pay dearly for the Crusader patch on his little uniform.
posted by freebird at 11:53 AM on January 31, 2006 [34 favorites]

I really don't see where any of this is necessary --- the requirements of Scouts is theism. Unless you're not a theist, it doesn't seem like an issue.
posted by medea42 at 11:57 AM on January 31, 2006

Though I was never a scout myself, my impression is exactly what benATthelocust said above: at the local level, the BSA is a good thing and not usually political--you can find a troop to your liking.

With this in mind, I had considered BSA for my son, but then I couldn't do it in good conscience considering that my son's godfather is gay. He would never officially be welcome to participate, even if the local troop didn't have a problem with his sexuality.
posted by tippiedog at 12:00 PM on January 31, 2006

medea42, you're right. Pagans fulfill the requirement of having "some" religion. Not that there isn't a possibility of harassment. None of my experience (eagle scout, here) shows they would, but there are some hardcore fundies in the scouting hierarchy.

I'm in the same boat as many previous commenters. At the local level, scouting is great. At the national level, not so much. The BSA will have to change before they get my money or kids.

PS - I also played D&D at meetings and on campouts. Nothing like Burning Hands to get that fire started.
posted by jaysus chris at 12:09 PM on January 31, 2006

When I was in the BSA, in the late 70s and early 80s, it was a wonderful organization. But it has been corrupted over the years, and has been pretty much taken over by the Mormons.

I am DEAD SERIOUS, and this is not just paranoid conspiracy bullshit. It's really well-documented. The Boy Scouts are the official youth program of the Latter Day Saints, and they completely dominate the program by sheer presence of numbers. ALL young men in the LDS Church are expected to be Boy Scouts, and over the years, they have taken over the high leadership. There are still many non-Mormons in the BSA, but they held very little power as of five or six years ago, and I can't imagine it's gotten any better since.

There are still wonderful individual people and troops in the Scouts, but the aim of the organization as a whole has shifted to 'extract money from the public' and 'despise gays and atheists.' They're not a good organization as a whole anymore. They're about Mormon values, not American values.

A splinter group formed, many years ago, called the Lost Scouts, but I haven't heard about them in ages. I'll have to look and see what they're up to, if they still exist.
posted by Malor at 12:14 PM on January 31, 2006

So the options for my child are to hang with idiots or with flakey idiots? I'll keep mine home to sit in front of a computer, thanks.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:33 PM on January 31, 2006

Great job, you replaced one faith based organization with another. Fuckwits.
posted by substrate at 12:43 PM on January 31, 2006

Unless you're not a theist, it doesn't seem like an issue.

Bingo - so to me, it's an issue.

Meanwhile, spiral???

This is great, so now as soon as he's old enough, my son can pick between:
  • Old-School, Christo-Taliban, Pedophiles-R-Us Scouts
  • New-Fangled, Chicken-Dancing, Stank-Ass Hippy Scouts
Hoooo-ray. Yet another reason to discourage children from ever joining anything.
posted by MaxVonCretin at 12:52 PM on January 31, 2006

Young Spiral Scouts can grow up to be members of the Military Pagans Network

"....With fellowship in mind, I created the "Farwander Fellowship" which eventually morphed into the Military Pagan Network....The press got wind of this, and an article appeared in the Air Force Times about our attempts to get a little respect and recognition.

It worked: the Army Chaplain's handbook now contains a section about Wicca, the earliest versions written by me. It's since been revised, but the bulk of my work remains.

But it came with a price: my career."

posted by troutfishing at 12:56 PM on January 31, 2006


I am still friends with a number of folks from Scouting, one of which has become higher-ups in the district-level administration, and he told me the same thing: Scouting knew that all this anti-gay/anti-atheist stuff was bad publicity, but couldn't risk losing the massive amount of funding and enrollment from the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and the Roman Catholic Church.
posted by benATthelocust at 12:59 PM on January 31, 2006

When I was a Cub Scout we sat around in a circle while the leader held a stuffed wolf head on a stick and chanted nonsensical akala dib dib dib dob dob dob nonsense. We were about 2 feet to left of a suburban lord of the flies. Don't even get me started on what we did when we went camping. I am not sure what pagans could even bring to the table.
posted by srboisvert at 1:01 PM on January 31, 2006

I really don't see where any of this is necessary --- the requirements of Scouts is theism. Unless you're not a theist, it doesn't seem like an issue.

Then something has changed since I was a Scout in the 1970s. At the end of every weekend-long camping trip, every troop member was expected to attend a Christian worship service and take Holy Communion. This was a troop sponsored by a Church of Christ, IIRC. Not much room there for "theists". Maybe other troops were different.
posted by fochsenhirt at 1:03 PM on January 31, 2006

I was a member of two troops growing up.
One attached to my school. THey went camping and had fun. God never came into the picture except for the oath.
Then, I moved to a troop that was run out of a Catholic School (to hang with a friend) and there was a real difference.
The Catholic troop had enforced prayers before each meal and we were all schlepped off to the closest catholic curch on Sundays when we were camping out.
Nothing gets me out of an organization faster than being force fed someone's view of what God might be. Friend or not, I wasn't there long.
posted by Dillenger69 at 1:13 PM on January 31, 2006

This was a troop sponsored by a Church of Christ, IIRC. Not much room there for "theists". Maybe other troops were different.

You're confusing "atheists" with their opposing "theists."
posted by thanotopsis at 1:25 PM on January 31, 2006

There are spiral scout meetings at the pagan sanctuary I visit, and my daughter loves going. The meetings aren't overtly religious, because the concept of 'pagan' covers so many different views, so instead there's a strong focus on nature and humanism.

A typical meeting could consist of having snacks (usually things like fruit, milk, etcetera), making dreamcatchers or learning a native-american tribal dance, or even something as traditionally secular as having the younger kids build wooden racecars, and then race them. The troop my daughter is involved with has kids keep a journal where they draw thematic pictures/tell stories about them, often focused on animals and sometimes mythological stories. My daughter is a "firefly" and loves it, and being something of a nature-loving agnostic (I don't believe in any sort of deity), I have no objections to what they teach.

I actually think the child of a non-religious background would be perfectly fine attending spiral scout meetings. At most, they'd come out of it with a healthy, introspective view of nature, a fair knowledge of ancient literature, and the basic lessons of interacting with other kids - being nice, sharing, etcetera.
posted by precocious at 1:26 PM on January 31, 2006

Serious question: is scouting really so overtly Christian in the USA?

Yes. My nephew's nearing Eagle Scout, and I've been to several Jamborees etc. with him. His own troop isn't so bad -- the Scoutmaster is dim but good-hearted. But at the events I've met some full-on charismatics and evangelicals.

I would say that the Scouts have a similar problem that the military does. As liberals have gravitated away, the organizations become more radicalized and less tolerant of diverse mainstream opinion. Indeed, the sharp decline in churches and especially secular institutions that sponsor troops, largely due to the religious requirements of Scouting, has led to legislation exempting the Scouts from Federal anti-discrimination rules so that military bases can sponsor them -- after a court decision that led the DoD to warn bases about such sponsorships (it was incorporated into the latest defense budget). As such, I think the paramilitary aspects of the Scouts are likely to be more pronounced in the future.
posted by dhartung at 1:50 PM on January 31, 2006

I was in a great troop - Troop 666, amusingly - in DC. It is sponsored by a Methodist church. The religious aspect was certainly muted compared to many (only one scout that I knew of got a religious emblem), but we attended service once a year in the church and ended every meeting with a goofy prayer:

And may the great Scoutmaster
of all Scouts
watch over us
until we meet again.
posted by Happy Monkey at 2:38 PM on January 31, 2006

Serious question: is scouting really so overtly Christian in the USA?

i was a cub scout, boy scout, and explorer. every troop i belonged to was sponsored by a church, as are most, except my explorer post (which was sponsored by western electric, as it was a ham radio post). we participated in "scout sunday" at the sponsor churches every year. i spent a year earning a "god and country" medal, which involved being supervised on a number of tasks by a church pastor (the best of which was a trip to d.c. to meet sen. sam ervin during the watergate hearings). each nationality of scouting has something akin to a god and country medal, based on whatever is perceived as the national religion of that branch of scouting, except in the u.s., where various religions and many denominations have their own religious medal programs of various names.
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:52 PM on January 31, 2006

also, only indonesia (nine million) has more boy scouts than the u.s. (six million).
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:53 PM on January 31, 2006

another quasi-religious aspect of the bsa is the "order of the arrow" which has a number of acquired and romanticized native american mystical practices, probably not unlike the spiral scouts. the prayer to the "great scoutmaster" reminded me of many OA ceremonies i attended where there was much dancing and banging of drums around giant bonfires in order to invoke the blessings of the great spirit in the sky, kind of in the same vein of a civic organization "lodge" and their secret handshakes and made up lore. being in the OA is actually a much bigger deal than being an eagle scout or god and country medalist. eagle scout is often a pre-req for being in the OA. if an eagle scout is not inducted into the OA, it generally means he is not well liked or is not seen as down with the program.

one OA ceremony i witnessed involved scouts dressed as mid-plains indians in war paint canoeing across a lake at sundown to an arena, where a dance was performed, a prayer in lakota recited, and then the ignition of a giant bonfire by means of throwing water on come magnesium coils embedded in the bonfire. this was followed by the induction of neophytes into the order by conking them on the head with a "peace pipe" hard enough that some of them were nearly knocked out. then there was much more native american dancing around the fire.

pretty dang new age is you ask me.
posted by 3.2.3 at 3:06 PM on January 31, 2006

I’d’ve liked to play AD&D in the scouts. No such luck.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:14 PM on January 31, 2006

Magnesium does not react with water to any significant extent.

Did you mean Potassium?

posted by exlotuseater at 3:17 PM on January 31, 2006

Well since no one else commented, i liked freebirds take on all this.
posted by quin at 3:20 PM on January 31, 2006

I liked it too. Well done freebird.
posted by vronsky at 3:51 PM on January 31, 2006

I'll third that - a darned nice piece, freebird.
posted by troutfishing at 4:14 PM on January 31, 2006

fourthed. It's one of those gems you come across from time to time here.
...still, I'd've liked to know what happened next...
posted by Smedleyman at 4:20 PM on January 31, 2006


and since this turned into more of a BSA thread-
my only experience with Boy Scouts was getting invited by my Boy Scout friends in middle school to an overnight lock-in at the local YMCA.. i mostly remember spraying hairspray artwork on the racquetball court walls, then lighting it on fire! i wonder if they have a badge for that.
posted by p3t3 at 4:23 PM on January 31, 2006

*holds up lighter*


*sticks thumb in mouth after burning it on hot lighter*

I was a girl scout (I know, it's hard to believe, but it's true) and I loved the scouts. But the GSA and the BSA are so incredibly radically different. I started researching the BSA, what with having a son, and my opinion is that I don't really want him exposed to what I believe the organization has become. Plus, all the troops around here are run by Stepford parents...and the kids are all kinda "children of the corn" spooky.

That said, I think the Spiral Scouts are probably out too.

The Woodcraft Folk, on the other hand, as mentioned above by Jack_mo, bear some investigation, so that's a happy thing.
posted by dejah420 at 6:59 PM on January 31, 2006

Favorite FreeRepublic response:

Why would they want branch into this? They already make crummy furniture.

posted by CynicalKnight at 7:40 PM on January 31, 2006

Fascinating about the Mormons and BSA. The two would seem to have a great deal in common:
Mormons, nice people! The Church of LDS, not so much.
BSA, nice on the local level, the org, not so much.

Growing up in the 60's, I always got the BSA message as being quite 'American'. The modern theist requirement is at direct odds with that, and I deeply resent it. I am a theist. I expect a young person to come to their own terms with such things, in their own time. The anti-gay made some little sense in the times of ignorance, but now we know better. Pity the BSA can't learn.
posted by Goofyy at 2:35 AM on February 1, 2006

I was raised Mormon, and seriously had no idea that Scouts was a separate organization from the Mormon Church. I totally thought it was entirely an LDS thing. We met at the local LDS church on Wednesday nights and it was all the same kids I saw in church on Sundays. I never thought to wonder why there were no non-mormons in the troop. It's interesting to find (according to some posts up-thread) that my childhood perceptions are pretty much now reality.

On another semi-related note, my fondest memory from scouts was a time when we went camping in the middle of snowy winter, and me and my tent-mate kept warm by zipping our sleeping bags together to share 'body heat.' No, I wasn't sharing a tent with my Scout Master, tee-hee. He was my best friend at the time, and remained so until later in life when we both discovered that I probably enjoyed our little snuggle way more than he did.

Needless to say, I eventually left scouts to find a tribe more to my liking. Wood Carving and Wilderness Survival were not the skills I needed to be learning. Where are the merit badges for Rave Preparedness and Accessorizing on a Budget? (hmm, the Knot Tying badge could have come in useful, in retrospect.)

Too bad BSA doesn't let the queers in. Somebody needs to redesign that dreadful earth-tone uniform. However, the little kercheif ascot thingy they wear . . . .how gay is that?!?
posted by Zendogg at 2:11 PM on February 1, 2006

I'm really surprised no-one's mentioned Camp Fire USA yet.
posted by Ironwolf at 11:04 PM on February 1, 2006

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