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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. John

    People are confusing satanists with wiccans. Satanists recognize lucifer/satan. Wiccans are pagans. They're not the opposite of christians or god fearing people. It's a different faith, a different set of beliefs. Pagan beliefs are, imho, more interesting, though. That's because they recognize so many different powers and actors. It's more like reality.

    September 26, 2010 at 4:12 am |
  2. vet

    I don't know what the libertarian party was thinking when they chose Bob Barr in 2008.

    September 26, 2010 at 3:50 am |
    • Willow

      What the heck does this have to do with Christine O'Donnell? She's not Libertarian. She's Republican. There is a difference, believe it or not.

      October 9, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  3. Frank

    Wow, all the rewrites of my posts that I had to do really scr#wed up this page for me. CNN, you're a ch@de. Come up with a better way to mod the comments.

    September 26, 2010 at 3:30 am |
  4. Aws

    Anyway my point is defending religious tolerance is a good thing. But the Wiccan community needs to be more responsible on not always pointing the finger at Satanism. I find it very hypocritical of them. I won't lump all Wiccans together though, some are very knowledgeable and respectful on these subjects.

    September 26, 2010 at 3:12 am |
  5. IronBoar

    Wiccans are usually goofballs- nice, friendly goofballs that smoke a lot of marijuana and run around naked in the moonlight, and work in used-book stores. Most of them seem to be born-again lesbians, or fat guys that want to try to hook up with those kind of women. They spend a lot of time talking about herbal tea and giving each other back-rubs. If this is 'satanism' then hell seems to be a pretty cozy place....

    My only gripe with the group is that they take a subservient role to mainstream religion... they openly call themselves 'Pagans'. This is dumb. If they want freedom of religion then the term 'pagan' implies non-Christian and acknowledges Christianity as the leading religion. I wouldn't put up with that! Christianity is another form of the occult and has no more validity than Wiccanism, Shamanism, Bhuddism, or Flying Spaghetti Monsterism.

    September 26, 2010 at 2:57 am |
    • janetK

      At least you're not making any wild generalizations.And thank you for not being judgmental either–just hard, cold facts. I bet you're right.....all wiccans are exaclty the same, no difference from one to the other.

      September 26, 2010 at 3:06 am |
    • IronBoar

      Look lady, I am just the comedy relief. If you read the above comments with brilliant statements such as 'Did you know that most Satanists are also atheists? Both are sincere recognized religions.' Then you might want to reconsider whom to chastise. Like I said, the only real problem with Wiccans is that they use umbrella label of 'Paganists', which is self-demeaning. Personally, I am an atheist, so I believe there are no deities running the show. To follow any sort of fictional belief system just doesn't compute with my cold-hard emotionless godless brain.

      So, if you DO want me to make rash generalizations about Wiccans, then it would be this: All followers of any cult (from Wicca to Christianity) are clinically insane.

      September 26, 2010 at 3:14 am |
    • Frank

      "All followers of any cult (from Wicca to Christianity) are clinically insane."

      You're certainly ent!tled to your opinion but that sort of att!tude is precisely why many spiritual/religious people take a dim view towards atheism. Or I should say, that brand of atheism, which is just another fundamentalism in a thinly veiled disguise. It adds nothing to the discourse.

      Edit: Keep it up, CNN, with your auto blocking of certain words (especially words like 't!t' that happen to appear in words like 'ent!tled') and I'll just find another news agency. You know – one that actually believes in freedom of speech and responsibility in reporting. You're no better than Faux News.

      September 26, 2010 at 3:41 am |
  6. Aws

    @ Frank but in a way Wicca has really launched Paganism. Yes it is new and it's neo-paganism not paganism and it took a lot from Crowley but it has brought a lot of attention to more traditional paganism. I wouldn't compare Gardner and LaVey with Hubbard though.

    September 26, 2010 at 2:55 am |
    • Frank

      I would. Especially LaVey.

      September 26, 2010 at 2:58 am |
    • Thorrsman

      Actually, I'd compare Hubbard to LeVey. A second-rater, really, compared to LeVey's long con. LeVey enjoyed the fruits of his game immediately and openly.

      September 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  7. Frank

    Personally, I find that many of the people involved in ritual magick actually have no idea what they are doing. 'Dabblers' and such. They think it's just a bunch of dancing around skyclad in a field while chanting some pseudo-Celtic tripe. Boy, are they wrong. I've actually had a VERY negative experience happen to me during a ritual. That's part of the reason why I have chosen to go back to Catholicism. Now I'm no fan of organized religion and I'm no fan of the Vatican, but I don't recall anything ever happening to me like that at Mass. I don't blame Paganism for this, though. Just a certain group which I won't talk about here.
    I mean no disrespect to anyone. If you have found peace in a faith – good luck and best wishes, whichever faith it may be. Just be careful with who you get involved with and NEVER practice ritual magick or divination unless 100% sure of what you are doing. Look out for yourselves.
    God bless you all.

    September 26, 2010 at 2:53 am |
  8. Frank

    I'm so sick of Wicca being held up as the face of Paganism. Wicca hasn't even been around for a hundred years. Nevermind the fact that Gardner stole much of it from Aleister Crowley and the Golden Dawn. Almost all of these 'alternative religion leaders' are a bunch of thieving lying con artists (LaVey, Hubbard, et al).

    September 26, 2010 at 2:50 am |
    • Frank

      Also, Wicca and Satanism can be just as dangerous as any other belief system. There's enough psychopaths in this world to spread around nicely in all groups. Ritual magick and divination are incredibly powerful tools and must not be taken lightly. There also exists many different beings from unseen (to most) realms. Be careful what you call upon. Always approach these matters with great care and respect.

      September 26, 2010 at 3:06 am |
  9. Aws

    Blessed Greek you are right on wiccans hijacking labels."Simply, they believe and honour the existence of an anti-god." No They don't you don't know anything about Theistic or LaVayan Satanism. In LaVey Satanism Satan is viewed a purley symbolic of mans nature while theistic Satanism is independent from the Judo-Christian religion. Take the Temple of Set for example one of the leading LHP traditions. They worship the egyptian God Set. Even the minority that say they worship Satan really mean Enki or some alien.

    September 26, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  10. Blessed Geek

    Wiccans need to clarify that they have attempted hijack the label "pagan" even though they represent a slight minority of all pagans world-wide, and that there are pagans who do not even know wicannism exists.

    Satanists are not atheists, never will be, no matter how they claim it. Simply, they believe and honour the existence of an anti-god. Buddhism, on the other hand, may have a better claim towards being atheists.

    Satanism in Christianity, Islam and western neo-paganism and neo-Satanists beliefs sprout from one misalignment (or some of us insist is their misunderstanding) with the concept of Satan. To most Jews (except those who have so terribly confused themselves between a Christmas tree and Chanukah bush), Satan is not an anti-god but merciless and remorseless implementor of Divine laws – in my own personal terms, a bipolar executor of laws who is completely faithful to its Creator. Someone so devoid of remorse that it is nearly evil and whose association everyone should avoid. Not an evil or anti-god being as made out in Christianity, Islam or neo-Satanism.

    For Satanists who claim that their "Satan" has nothing to do with the Satan of Christianity, and then deliberately misrepresent themselves to spite Christianity and Islam, they should stop their bait-and-switch practice of using the term "Satan" and instead use the Indo-Persian term, which has nothing to do with the "Satan" of the Bible.

    September 26, 2010 at 2:34 am |
    • FritzMalone

      I know a Satanist who supports your claim.

      Its part of the understanding (read Catholic/Christian) to lump Pagan and Wiccan together. Kinda like they lump anything that involves non-secular thinking into "New Age" at Borders.

      September 26, 2010 at 2:42 am |
  11. Aws

    HotAirAce, can you support your comments with citations from the "Satanic Bible"? Have you read the Satanic Bible? Obviously you must be an expert on the subject. What do you think Anton LaVey thought Satan was? Im an atheist I know a great deal about Satanism and Wicca. SATANISTS DONT EVEN BELIEVE SATAN EXISTS. 0 gods zip,zero,nothing no gods, just yourself. That said just because you are an atheist that doesn't mean you are a Satanist.

    September 26, 2010 at 2:34 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Being an atheist and believing in Satan is fundamentally inconsistent. I suppose others might disagree, in which *I* personally would lump them into the "believers" column, which would make them theist, but that would be circular logic. At the end of the day, I am an atheist so do not see the point of arguing about the finer (sillier!) points of theology.

      September 26, 2010 at 3:14 am |
  12. Aws

    What's so bad about Satanism? Really why do people always jump to defend Wicca but not Satanism. Did you know that most Satanists are also atheists? Both are sincere recognized religions. That said, O'donnell was probably practicing Wicca and was totally confused about their beliefs. What I don't understand is what's with the blood. Sacrifice isn't used by Satanists or Wiccans. It is used by Santeria. She might have been making that part up I guess.

    September 26, 2010 at 1:46 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Given that there isn't an atheist bible, set of canon laws (to hide behind) or a supreme council that I can consult, I am nevertheless very confident that aetheists do *not* beleif in satan...

      What is so hard to understand about no, none, zip, zero gods? Even if you don't agree, it's a simple concept!

      September 26, 2010 at 1:53 am |
  13. D.D.

    This is one scarey looking chick!

    September 26, 2010 at 12:20 am |
    • pete

      Pelosi's cousin, maybe?

      September 26, 2010 at 12:32 am |
    • sockeyerama

      Pelosi is an attractive older woman. Fit, nicely dressed (Armani) and well-groomed. Do you see something I don't?

      September 26, 2010 at 1:20 am |
    • sockeyerama

      I cannot wait for the day when inquiring as to one's religious affiliation when running for federal office will be comparable to asking questions about their intimate marital life. Nobody's stinking business as far as I'm concerned. Anyone making such inquiries should be summarily taken before a magistrate and rushed to a clinic to be observed for behaviors such as chewing on their lapels or public praying.

      September 26, 2010 at 1:22 am |
  14. frances in indiana

    I see clearly the parallels between Palin and O'Donnell both are uninformed and not afraid to let the world know it .

    September 26, 2010 at 12:14 am |
  15. Unknown

    Wow, its now Christians vs. Muslims, Christians vs. Pagans, non-believers vs. believers, you think we would get over this after 1000 + years of the existence of modern religion

    September 26, 2010 at 12:09 am |
    • AgentBelanski

      If you didn't notice, there are churches in every town/village/township that also cater to government sponesered religous events, yet you bring up "Autumnal Equanox Celebration and Ritual" to your cities events planner and he/she will almost instantly think naked people and sacrificial goats. Or "Freaks and Hippies smoking the doobie" all over town.
      Religion in this nation is very backwards, even the new Generation I (I as in Internet) doesn't fully appreciate nor care for what their home country does against religion and religious rights.

      September 26, 2010 at 1:11 am |
    • AgentBelanski

      If you didn't notice, there are churches in every town/village/township that also cater to government sponsored religious events, yet you bring up "Autumnal Equinox Celebration and Ritual" to your cities events planner and he/she will almost instantly think naked people and sacrificial goats. Or "Freaks and Hippies smoking the doobie" all over town.
      Religion in this nation is very backwards, even the new Generation I (I as in Internet) doesn't fully appreciate nor care for what their home country does against religion and religious rights.

      September 26, 2010 at 1:11 am |
  16. DGuy

    Wow !!!!!!! Airing this story shows how really desperate the libs and CNN are in this upcoming election !!!!

    This is all her opposition has HAH !!!! HAAAHHH !!!!!

    That's Funny !!!!

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

    Actually, the founding fathers were mostly Deists, not what we now refer to as Christians. Deism is almost a lost faith that has followers, but not as many as before. The main tenent of Deism? That the oceans, trees, flowers forests etc. are proof of a God by their very existence. Deists don't rely on the bible. They don't need it. They look out the window, see what God has wrought, and that's all the faith in God they need. Sounds sort of like Wiccan to me. God forbid! Was our country founded by a bunch of witches and warloks?!?! Very interesting indeed!

    September 25, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      "Sounds sort of like Wiccan to me."

      Not really. Wiccans are Pantheistic–everything is a part of "God". Deists are Monotheistic–one God, even if He is no longer taking our calls.

      September 25, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • AgentBelanski

      @Thorrsman
      Kinda depends on your belief system. I know a woman who believes in her goddess as The Morrigan, the three women.
      She doesn't believe "God" as a deity exists, but more a group of them do to guide the world as a whole. Less "God is everything including the other gods" and more "Gods exist, multiple ones"

      September 26, 2010 at 1:15 am |
  18. donna

    Male wiccans are called WORLOCKS

    September 25, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Wrong.

      September 25, 2010 at 11:40 pm |
  19. kayaker247

    this "candidate" also proclaimed that evolution wasn't possible. I think she's doing a fair job of exposing her ignorance without any help from the good witches out there. I for one don't want to burn anyone at the stake, but the tea party keeps me wondering if that's really the correct position.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      In 1998, about the same time as this "witch" business. Why not focus on what she says and believes today? Or would that put you in an unfair position?

      September 26, 2010 at 12:00 am |
    • pete

      Proclaiming that evolution is not possible doesn't exactly damage your credibility with the right wingers.

      September 26, 2010 at 12:23 am |
  20. Dale

    Everybody is so easily offended these days, political correctness is destroying freedom of speech.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:03 pm |
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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.