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Wiccan: GOP candidate's witchcraft dabbling a teachable moment
September 22nd, 2010
11:05 AM ET

Wiccan: GOP candidate's witchcraft dabbling a teachable moment

The high priestess followed the media coverage this weekend and grew concerned.

Not only had a woman running for the U.S. Senate once lumped witchcraft with Satanism, a horrible insult in and of itself, but she also went on to distance herself from that earlier statement by calling those who practice witchcraft “questionable folks.”

Once again, the Rev. Selena Fox realized, it would be up to her and other Pagans to educate.

“It’s an opportunity to get some correct information out there. That’s how I see it,” says Fox, who is the high priestess and senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church near Barneveld, Wisconsin, that serves Pagans worldwide. “There’s comedy about it, hot debate about it, lots of pundits weighing in. But one of the things that really hasn’t gotten through is how ridicule and defamation can harm people.”

The teachable moment presented itself when Christine O’Donnell, who won the GOP nomination for Delaware’s U.S. Senate seat, was featured on Friday’s premiere of HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” – not for what she said recently, but for words she spoke in late October 1999.

Maher played back an old segment of his former show “Politically Incorrect,” in which the Tea Party darling, a repeat guest back then, said she had “dabbled into witchcraft” and “hung around people who were doing these things.”

“One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar,” she said. “We went to a movie and then had a little midnight picnic on a satanic altar.”

These dug-up words led Karl Rove to demand an explanation. While addressing Republicans this weekend, O’Donnell tried to laugh off the whole matter, asking the crowd, “How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school?”

She also canceled her Sunday appearances on two news programs.

There’s an irony to the timing of this hubbub, says Fox, 60, who led her first Pagan ritual in 1971.

Twenty-five years ago, almost to the date, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina) – who Fox says called Wiccans Satanists – led the charge to try to pass legislation that would have taken away tax-exemption status for Wiccan churches. This attempted infringement on her church’s constitutional rights led Fox and others to form the Lady Liberty League, to educate lawmakers and others, dispel misconceptions and promote Pagan civil rights.

“It was the first time in American history that Wiccans, other Pagans and those of other religions and belief systems came together to defeat an unconstitutional piece of federal legislation directed against the Wiccan community,” she says.

Pagan, she explains, is the “umbrella term for nature religion practices with roots in Old Europe.” Wiccans represent one branch of Paganism, as do Druids and Heathens, for example, she says.

Nailing down the exact number of Wiccans and practitioners of related Pagan paths in America is next to impossible, Fox says, in part because of people’s fears of discrimination. But her church, which sits on a 200-acre nature preserve, has been in contact with more than 250,000 practitioners in the U.S. since it started in 1974. She’s also heard estimates that the U.S. numbers are anywhere between 500,000 and 1 million.

Numbers measured by the American Religious Identification Survey, most recently completed in 2008, suggest that practitioners may be getting more comfortable owning up to their beliefs. Those identifying as Pagans jumped from 140,000 to 340,000 between 2001 and 2008, according to the survey.The number of Wiccans skyrocketed as well in that time frame, climbing from 134,000 to 342,000.

Fox, who was raised Southern Baptist, explains her beliefs this way:

We honor the Divine as a goddess and god, as well as a great oneness and a multiplicity. We celebrate the cycles of the sun and seasons. … We honor the five elements of nature: earth, air, fire, water and spirit. The circle that connects the five points [of the pentacle star, a symbol used by Pagans] represents the greater circle of nature that we’re part of, love and wholeness. … We honor ancestors and seek to live in harmony not only with other humans but with nature.

And, she insists, she and other Pagans do not recognize or speak of Satan. Some people within the nature religions are trying to take back the words “witch” and “witchcraft,” but she says others stay away from such terms because of the continued misconceptions.

The battles to protect Pagan rights have been ongoing.

Fox delves into what she calls the “Barr Wars” of 1999, when Rep. Bob Barr (R-Georgia), tried “not once, but twice” to illegalize Wiccan practices in the military. And from 1997 to 2007, a successful – albeit lengthy – fight was waged with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs to give Wiccan and Pagan veterans the option to have the pentacle appear as their faith symbol on grave markers.

There have been positive developments over the decades, too, she says. Pagan studies are being offered in some universities, and graduate students are conducting research. Law journals have included reports on the Pagan quest for religious freedom. And the American Academy of Religions established a Contemporary Pagan Studies Group.

Fox, who facilitated an equinox full moon circle last night, even counts the fights for equal rights as positives.

"America, as a whole, needs to be aware that nature religion practitioners are part of the religious diversity in this country," she said. “If these battles hadn’t happened, I would say that people up on Capitol Hill or aspiring to run might not have been aware."

CNN’s Belief Blog reached out to senator-hopeful O’Donnell, who now faces allegations about misused campaign funds, for a comment on this matter, but so far has gotten no response.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Paganism • Politics • Religious liberty

soundoff (609 Responses)
  1. gh

    I want the old Republican Party back. This new crop of Tea Party Republicans are strange. To think that we are going to get something different out of these new Republican candidates is a joke. Billionaires are financing these Tea Party candidates and they are going to want to be paid back. I am not going to waste my vote on any of them.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:58 pm |
  2. NikCO

    When I first heard this woman say she dabbled in witchcraft and her first date was with some guy at a satanic alter, I started laughing so hard. Even my Christian father even understood why. As a pagan myself, it was a complete insult. I am glad she won the GOP there, I hear she doesn't have a chance in, well Christians would understand where.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  3. Joy

    Dennise!!!!! You suck. You actually sell spells and Dragon Blood Oil at "wildwitches.com"?. - What a joke. You should be ashamed of yourself. – All of those kids wasting their allowance on the crap you peddle. Nice way to make a living.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:08 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      And that's worse that the local church selling bibles, icons, prayer beads, candles, etc., etc.?

      September 26, 2010 at 12:46 am |
    • AgentBelanski

      On top of what? You going to your local bookstore and buying a Quran and a Bible? plus entire locations (IE La Salette Shrine) devoted to the beatification of idols via images carved in materials? How about the entire place having a store that has peices and religious "relics" that are sold for top dollar.

      On top of that anything considered "religious in nature" cannot be legally pawned across the US. Yet it does not extend to anything Pagan at all.

      Sure there are people (*cough* Salem, MA *cough*) that peddle in the mystic arts and sell them engross online. However they also pay taxes and rent/buy locations at top dollar where your "church" would only need to seek the Holy See for money.

      September 26, 2010 at 1:21 am |
  4. Big Joe

    Palin & Co. are christo-nazis. Our country will not be safe, neither would the world be if she obtains a federal govt high office.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
    • nobama2012

      They will keep it much safer following the Bush agenda then the Obama (underwear bomber, Fort Hood, SUV in NY and the foreign apology tour 2009) agenda saying that "America can absorb another 9/11 attack"... Obama is too busy trying to protect the illegal immigrants than protecting his own people...

      September 25, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  5. Delaware Resident

    O'Donnell makes me want to cry.... Thank god I have other choices......

    September 25, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
  6. Rock God

    A Republican smears a religion other than Jaysus. What's new?

    September 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm |
  7. IrishRican

    Actually, if you are performing ACTUCAL witchcraft, you are doing so via demons. So while you're not intentionally worshipping demons, you're using them to do your bidding. So really, it's just semantics. Witchcraft and Satan worship are one in the same.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Uh, no. You really need to try to understand Wiccan beliefs rather than label them from what you were told by people who have a vested interest in LYING about other religions.

      September 25, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
    • NikCO

      You should really read and find out what your talking about before you open your mouth. Witchcraft is worlds away from Satanism as witches don't believe your christian satan exist. Unless you are open minded enough to find out about other beliefs, don't comment on them. I have studied many and will only comment on the ones I've learned about. A day of reading does not count as studying. I've spent over 40 years learning.

      September 25, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
    • IrishRican

      What I said, is that if you are performing ACTUAL witchcraft, that is, making magic happen, (I don't mean slight of hand, smoke and mirrors, etc.) you are working with demons. If you are worshipping nature spirits, you are worshipping demons. I understand that you probably don't believe that you are worshipping demons (if you're worshipping nature spirits) but you are. There is one God. The God of the bible. Everything else is of Satan. If you are worshipping anything other than God, you are worshipping Satan, even if you call it Pan or Mother Earth or whatever you want to call it. This includes the worship of people, (athletes, celebrities, "saints" etc.) or things like money.

      September 26, 2010 at 1:32 am |
    • FritzMalone

      Irish,
      Your acusations are founded in a religion that has supported spellcasting for years. Prayer and Ritual is actually a form of upkeep on existing protection barriers on this plane. Relics and sacred texts are only the physical manifestations connecting your priests with the other side. Just putting you into perspective.

      BTW, you should go to your priest today (sunday) and ask for forgiveness, as you spoke of Him in Pride. Your Gluttony has shown and the Wrath you seek upon others against your ideal religious belief is well seen upon this board.

      September 26, 2010 at 2:38 am |
  8. amused123

    Why IS there an @ before reply's. I missed the reason why it started.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      To show that a reply was directed to a certain comment. Some folks think the reply below theirs is directed to them rather than to the person who made to original comment.

      September 25, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
  9. Sven

    That is a horrible generalization, of which, you merely show embarrassing immaturity.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
    • Reality

      The truth sucks - which is exactly why it's so unpopular and frowned upon.

      September 25, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
  10. fil

    Both Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell were both involve with witchcraft and witches before, what does this say to us?
    Well some witches either help each other or fight each other.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  11. Reality

    Good grief. Everyone's so oversensitive it's ridiculous. So she said that the people she hung around with when she "dabbled in witchcraft" were "questionable people." For her, her lifestyle, her belief system, perhaps those people were questionable. Perhaps those people did some shady things in addition to their witchcraft practices.

    It's so sad to watch grown adults in America acting like little Jr. High School kids - getting all offended by misconstrued and out-of-context statements. It's just stupid. American people are embarrassingly immature.

    September 25, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
    • Eva

      Oh, and you're not being Jr HIgh or stupid by labeling American people as "embarrassingly immature?" That's quite an assumption.

      September 25, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
    • AgentBelanski

      PSSST whatever country you are from is not infallible you should read the news that isn't front page. America is just louder about it.

      *off note- I'm just having a blast aren't i?*

      September 26, 2010 at 1:26 am |
  12. magnus

    Why are all self professed "witches" homely and ugly? You ll never see a pretty witch...

    September 25, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  13. Mike Buck

    What a disappointment! The only thing that made her a "Black Sabbath" chick and she got it wrong!

    September 25, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
  14. Sven

    The Tea Party needs to very careful who gets elected. If you look at the Newt Gingrich movement during the Clinton administration, most have been indicted for one crime, ethics violation or another. So here we go again, a bunch of opportunists, they come into power, and make the same bad decisions they've made their whole lives. They are taking advantage of the weak and dumb who are afraid their guns will be taken away.

    September 25, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  15. BalazarsBrain

    Any "Christian" who celebrates Christmas, has a xmas tree, etc. is celebrating a pagan holiday (winter solstice). Anyone who celebrates Easter, has easter eggs, etc. is celebrating a pagan holiday (spring equinox). Furthermore, anyone taking communion for Christ...yah, that was practiced LOOOOOONNNG before Jesus by the followers of Dionysus (god of wine) where followers would dip bread into cups of wine and eat it....sound familiar?

    I guess we're all pagans in our own way huh?

    September 25, 2010 at 8:40 pm |
  16. MrsMC

    I hope that Ms. O'Donnel has gotten smarter since she was in high school; that her views on all subjects are not as simplistic, stereotyped, and easily led.

    One doubts it.

    September 25, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Why would she be different from the vast majority of politicians of any party? Or the vast majority of people who vote for them?

      September 25, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
  17. EnochRoot

    The mainstream religions are bad enough. Do we really need idiots like this roaming the streets talking about worshipping a dropped gourd or a fallen left shoe? These are probably the same people who are always getting scammed by deposed Niarobian princes via email. These people are the reason that I continue to get spam because this is that group of dopes that keep responding to it. Please make them stop.

    September 25, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  18. sockeyerama

    While we've got a number of witches on this site, I'd like to put out a bulletin reacts for some witch's s**t. It's the only thing that works for my arthritis and carbuncles. This might also be an opportune time to request sperm donors for a witch's coven, as Warlocks are infertile due to their Hollow Weenies. No fortune tellers need apply as it is well known that they have crystal balls.

    September 25, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
  19. Mandy180

    I can't stand people who want to get a degree in MUMBO JUMBO, from Retard University. They are stupid adults, still playing Harry Potter. What a drain on society. A degree in mumbo jumbo is about as useless as toilet paper.

    September 25, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      I agree with you!!! It's about as useful as a degree in divinity, or whatever mumbo jumbo the other charlatans of so-called mainstream religions get.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      I must wonder how you feel threatened by those who believe differently than you do. Nothing but fear would explain the anger of your post.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Thorrsman

      If you're replying to me,sorry no fear here. Plenty of frustration and disappointment that we collectively are being held back by myths and superst-itions, and lots of anger about priest bu-gg-ering children and the churches looking the other way, but absolutely no fear.

      September 25, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      No, HotAir, to Mandy. You are just the garden variety Atheist who mistakenly thinks he knows how the world works.

      September 25, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
    • kayaker247

      how is it they are a drain on society? because they like to be in the woods or commune with nature? seems they're less of a drain than most people. I'd be willing to argue, "witches" are GOOD for society. most of them probably recycle, grow their own food, collect rain water for their gardens, drive energy efficient cars and ride their bikes when they can. the drain on society are the republicans and tea baggers that believe less oversight of big corporations is good for the world.

      September 25, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Thorrsman

      And that would make we different from a garden variety believer who mistakenly things they know how the world works, a person such as yourslef perhaps?

      September 26, 2010 at 12:43 am |
    • FritzMalone

      @Mandy last time i checked most english majors couldn't use their degree. The english language is already going to be extinct in 500 years anyways, as i'm sure you haven't used thus thou or thine outside of making fun of someone.

      Also a degree in anything doesn't get you anything. I've known top 10 nationwide scholars who work at McDonalds because their degree doesn't currently have a large hiring field. yeah, i'm sure you enjoy being a Hairstylist right?

      September 26, 2010 at 1:53 am |
  20. DrMabuse

    And wicca–like all religious beliefs–gets IT all wrong, too. Come to atheism–cast off the shackles of silly religious belief!

    September 25, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • EnochRoot

      As long as I don't have to join a group. I don't want to hang out with you people.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.