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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. Bob

    Bill Maher is a complete idiot anyway. He is so far up Michael Moores @#$ it's not funny. He makes very little sense of what real America is like.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • NL

      All of America is real, Bob, not just your half.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • ScottK

      And Bill had his hand up Christina's keester making her make those statements so he's to blame... yeah right. Thats as good as the twinkie defense.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • Kate

      @ScottK

      Apparently, it's the caffeine defense now

      Just sayin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
    • veggiedude

      Attacking Bill Maher? For telling the truth? LOL!!!

      September 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  2. NL

    Funny, both the article and the video have O’Donnell saying “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.”

    Couldn't help but notice just how gender non-specific the term "witch" actually was, until I heard that. Makes you wonder what else she may have dabbled with in the past, doesn't it?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • Kate

      @NL

      NL++

      The real question should be: Did she inhale 🙂

      Just gigglin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  3. Bob

    Hey I support O'Donnel. What average person in this world has not done something immature? If Obama can get in office with all his secrets, than O'Donnel can be elected. I am more interested in her positions on policy than what she did as a teen. One thing the left/democrats are doing is attacking her personally because they have nothing else to attack. Americans are tired of the democrats policies. They don't work!!! The democrats can't attack anything else because they know there policies aren't want people want anymore.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'I am more interested in her positions on policy '
      so are we, let us know if she ever actually mentions them will you.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • Dave

      Bob, it takes much longer than two years for policies just put in place to work. What you are seeing now are the results of runaway spending, lack of oversite and regulation, unregulated banking, unregulated stock market and big business rip-offs from the George years. These are the same things that put America into the Great Depression. So lay the blame where it belongs.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      I don't think the democrats care about the "dabbled in witchcraft" issue at all. I think the right wing religious zealots may, but am like you, I care more about policy's and actions during her "adult" life than what she smoked, drank, who she did or didn't sleep with...I mean really who cares? Can she lead America in the right direction? That is yet to be shown, but she certainly has some adult financial issues as well as some pretty off the wall quotes already making her seem irresponsible at best.

      September 22, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  4. David

    Obama has doubled the nation's debt, nearly doubled the unemployment rate, the number of attempted terrorist attacks have skyrocketed and the press is concerned with what a senate candidate did in high school? Really?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • veggiedude

      Only doubled? Wow. Even Ronald Reagan quadrupled the national deficit. That leaves Obama with a lot more leeway.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      This article isn't even about Obama and still the wingnuts ramble on? I am beginning to think there are a couple hundred paid pundits that sweep the internet everyday and login under new names just so they can slam Obama on unrelated topics! I mean this is about a "teaching moment" folks learning from a comment made by a person in her teens or early 20's! I can see the article vearing off a little but nope a bunch of folks have to type more Obama attack adds.....this has to be an organized terrorist insurgency led by Rupert Murdoch to conquer ALL news and make it RIGHT!!! LOL

      September 22, 2010 at 6:33 pm |
  5. Allen

    I thank God for the media; without them there would be days when I would have nothing to chuckle about.
    What in the world could Christine O'Donnell contribute to the subject matter of this article? Is she now considered an authoity regarding Paganism because of her obviously childish outburst in the aforementioned Maher clip.
    It's bad enough that Maher's attempts to extort her are being given space, never mind assuming being on a sensatrionalists talk show credentials you as an authiority regarding any matter.
    Come on media, wake up!
    Wait! disregard that; where would I get my chuckles when none are available at home?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • ScottK

      You do know the aning of extort right? Unless you know something about Bill Maher trying to get money from her or he would show the video, you do not. Now, a religion that says pay us money or your loved ones may not get into heaven... thats true extortion.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  6. Drinker

    Although I think Paganism has a better message than other religions, it is still just another religion and strange people do gravitate towards it.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • Dave

      Strange people gravitate towards all kinds of belief systems whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, whatever so that's saying nothing about Paganism and everything about people! What this whole thing does show though is this woman is as silly as Palin and really does not need to be in a position of power in our fine country. We need level heads in this day not folks who are just firing off rhetoric.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  7. suprsport68

    Who cares what religion or non religion any candidate is as long as they do their job? I don't. As long as you do what you were elected to do and don't force your personal beliefs upon others.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
    • ScottK

      Only one problem with your statement, as an elected official of the people it does matter what imaginary diety you believe in even if you are not trying to convert people. It matter because they may be making polcies to further their religious agenda's without even thinking about it. For example, many christians (like Bush) believe that the nation of Isreal must establish itself and defeat its enemies in the middle east before the rapture & Armegedon will come, therefore many support the Zionist agenda because of their belief system so they vote for more money sent to Isreal for its military, not because its the right thing to do but because they believe in a certain imaginary diety.

      I wish it didnt matter, but it does. Personally I would much rather have a House, Senate & President who are all either athiest or agnostic, it would make for a much more peaceful world.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  8. David

    It is nice to see that people actually think that satanists go around killing things and drinking blood, that is not accurate and most satanist are everyday normal people and you would never know it unless they told you. There are also several different kinds of satanists, and none of them do any kind of sacrifice as part of there rituals.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
    • Kate

      @David

      Wait ... I thought that was vampires?

      Just metaphysicallin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  9. Bianca

    Selena fox and many of the Pagans may actually want to read what she said and realize that Wiccans do not own the term Witchcraft. Yes Virginia there are Satanic Witches. There are quite a few non Wiccan Witches and it isn't all petting the nice puppy dogs and gardening in the earth, earth centric either.

    http://wicca.timerift.net/
    This does a better job at defining what Wicca is.

    I mean really, any time there is a bad thing about Witchcraft in the media(be it news or even the fiction areas of T.V) we get this whole slew of NUH UH, we aren't Satanists, we don't' believe in Satan blah blah blah. Can we get over it already and move on to stuff that is more imp. Enough with the Politically Correct Pr nonsense.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  10. TruthMan

    So she was a repeat guest, and this is how Bill Maher thanks her? What a dirtbag.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Kate

      @TruthMan

      Someone who forgets their beano isn't going to thank their repeat guests, why should Maher?

      Just flatulatin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  11. steve

    ODonnel should have said she dabbled in Islam and Liberal Democrats would have worshipped and voted for her!

    September 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  12. Trent

    Wiccans don't fly planes into buildings, so they're all right in my book.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
    • Kate

      @Trent

      And you know the guy with a gripe with the IRS a few months ago wasn't wiccan how?

      Just sayin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
    • ScottK

      Its interesting to note that even though the guy who flew the plane into the IRS building posted on several right wing blogs and websites sharing his anger and frustration with fellow christians, not one article from the media discussed his religious background. Seems some people arent comfortable talking about the white christian terrorist, but have no problem blaming any of another belief system if one of their members is crazy enough to violently act on the rhetoric they hear at their church/mosque/temple...

      September 22, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Kate

      @ScottK

      I knew he was Tea Party, but not that he posted to Christian sites. Shows how much exposure that tidbit got ...

      Just revealin'

      September 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  13. Jason

    As a person with some good friends who are Wiccans (witches), I too was extremely offended by how O'Donnell characterized witchcraft. Other religions should aspire to be as natural and peaceful as Wicca.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  14. Clark1b

    so if I understand her correctly ... Wiccans worship the creation but not the Living God that created everything.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
    • ScottK

      you understand incorrectly, they do worship the creator, just not your version.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Skye

      "so if I understand her correctly ... Wiccans worship the creation but not the Living God that created everything."

      Wiccans typically worship nature as well as both a male god and a female goddess, and some worship multiple gods and goddesses. Some see the god and goddess and multi-faceted like a diamond, with each face of the diamond represented by a different named god or goddess. Some Wiccans also practice "magick", spelled with a "k" to differentiate it from stage, or illusionary magic. Magick is the manipulation of energy towards one's desired will. In some ways, it's somewhat like a prayer. Most Pagans believe that there is energy or spirit in all living things. Wiccans are Pagans and also share that belief, but they also believe in and worship the god and goddess. Selena Fox speaks for herself and for her coven (or group of followers) but she does not speak for all Wiccans, and certainly not for all Pagans. Pagan is an umbrella term that covers many different spiritual paths. I like to explain it to Christians in terms they can relate to, so I usually explain it like this: There are Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Protestants, Lutherans, etc. They all profess to be Christian churches, and are widely regarded simply as "Christians". There are Druids, Wiccans, Asatru, witches, etc and they are widely regarded as Pagans. The "Living God" you refer to is a Christian god, and thus, Wiccans would not worship that dod since they are not Christians.

      Most Pagans I know, including myself, tend to view religion in terms of an old wagon wheel, with an outer rim, spokes, and center connecting the spokes to the outer rim. The outer rim is all humanity – regardless of what spiritual path, if any, that they follow. The rim in uniform all the way around – symbolizing that humanity is all the same, regardless of how much we try to be different from each other – at our core, we are all humans. The spokes represent different faiths or spiritual paths – all of them! Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, Druid, Methodist, Islam, Hindu, etc. All of them. All of those paths are connected to the center. The center represents what we, as humans, all really want. We want answers, we want connection, we want knowledge, we want hope, we want something to have faith in. No one religion is right or wrong – though what may be right for me might not be right for you or vice versa. We are all on different paths with the same destination. How we get there, what we call it, and individual adherence to the covenants of that path may be different, but the destination doesn't change.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • SurelyUjest

      Clark1b You do not understand.

      September 22, 2010 at 6:26 pm |
    • KAScofield

      No. Despite incongruent beliefs and even different definitions of common terms (deity, worship, magic, witchcraft), you're trying to define Wiccan cosmology and theology in terms of Christian beliefs, despite the fact that doing so is like trying to slam a square peg into a round hole.

      September 22, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  15. quori

    To quote Lewis Black, "I don't care if you are in love; you can't marry a snapping turtle"

    Believe what you will. As a Christian, mine is NOT to judge. That's for God to do. And in the end, he may look at the Druid, Pagan, Christian, Jew, and Mulsim standing before Him and say to them all...."You led good lives. You cared for one another. You respected one another. You loved one another. THAT was my commandment to you all. Please come in, Heaven and all its splendor are yours." and then turn to another group comprised of a Druid, Pagan, Christian, Jew, and Muslim and say to those 5, "You hated. You despised. You hurt. You maimed. You never cared, respected or loved anyone, not even yourselves. please go away, there is no place for you here."

    I may think my way is right...and I am more than willing to express to anyone who asks what I think that is. But I DO NOT EVER EVER EVER expect everyone to follow it, accept it as their own, nor would I derail or denounce them if they didn't. GOD forbid someone forget we share this world with one another.

    I loathe people like O'Donnel. Not for her beliefs...but because she doesn't stop and think about what she is about to say before she says it. Doesn't stop and think..."Wait, I'm a Christian...before I cast the stone, is my house in perfect order?" which we all know it isn't...cause no one's house is in perfect order – no one is perfect.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • Clark1b

      Christ said, "I am the Way, The Truth and the Life ... no one comes to the Father except through Me". So, pagans, witches, and all other people ... all who reject Christ ... will not be accepted into Heaven.

      September 22, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Kate

      @Clark1b

      Or, he might have meant "Knock and I'll open the door and show you in"

      Or it might just have been the Pauline re-writing of history so he could shunt Peter out of the way and take over because he was a previous incarnation of Ratzinger.

      And that's not even going into the pantheistic Christian Deity mythologies that could lead one to believe that it doesn't matter what name you stick on them.

      This is what happens when people take a God and start adding plugins like some demented meccanno expansion set, and pick one to be the glorified outsourced answering service for one God. It leaves all kinds of loopholes.

      Just critiquin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • NL

      Clark1b-
      I don't know about anybody else, but the longer the list of who will not be allowed in heaven grows, the less interested I become in ending up there. Seems like all the interesting people will end up somewhere else.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Flustered

      @clark1b,

      I'm catholic, and I certainly don't believe that only those who believe in Christ will get to heaven. What do you say of people who have never heard of Jesus, and are in remote villages across the world? Does that mean they have no chance at all to get to heaven? Doesn't seem fair to me. I wholeheartedly agree with quori's view.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • ScottK

      The bible also says that only 144,000 people made up only from the tribes of Isreal will get into heaven, so which parts of the bible do you believe and which parts have you discarded due to the fact that your not included? Or are you from one of the 12 tribes? (Revelation 7:1)

      September 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
    • NYPrincessTt

      @NL- I agree with you, and I like how you phrased your post.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'no one comes to the Father except through Me'
      There you have it folks. To get into heaven you have to beat jesus in a deathmatch. ....2 men enter, 1 man leaves.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
    • Woody

      Wow, ScottK, only 144,000 people are going to make it into heaven. That means somewhere around 7 billion of the rest of us are going to Hell. Boy, that Hell must be one enormous place. I'd hate to have to pay the gas bill.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  16. What Ever

    The most likely senerio is that the whole thing in 1999 was a complete fabrication in an attempt to have "something" to say and maybe appear more "worldly". This is someone who technicaly isn't a liar, as she probably doesn't really understand the difference between the truth and a lie. Much of the time she just engages her mouth and is just as suprised as everyone else at the drivel that spews out.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  17. street smart

    I dont see what this article has in common with ODonnells admission to having "a date" on the blood stained altar. This article is about Wiccans, blood stained altar indicates satanic ritual. Just sayin

    September 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  18. Mike from MN

    The Christians voters that make up the right-wing nuts will care about O'Donnel's beliefs and life.

    Rigtwing nuts don't vote base on a person's policies and ideas but their *fable beliefs*.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • ScottK

      Its a lot like voting based on which side of the debate a canidate endorses, Team Edward or Team Jacob. Who cares if they have no clue as to how our financial system works, who cares if they have no common sense, its all about which imaginary diety do you believe in. Its a very sad way to choose our leaders in this country. And it seems to be getting worse, not better.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • Kate

      @ScottK

      Oh you so didn't bring up Twilight!

      Just groanin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:26 pm |
  19. Nikki

    Steven, you not understanding how the priestess is offended could be seen as close minded. This GOP claims she dated a witch. Wiccans are often refered to as witch's. She is hinting that this "witch" she dated was a satanist. People will then turn around and say Wiccans are witch's, therefore they must deal with Satan. That is what upsets this Wiccan priestess. Think about it. who is offended and who shouldn't be is not the issue here. what is the issue is the fact the this GOP is making herself out to be an idiot. Saying stupid things that in all reallity, make no sense. Witches being associated with satan is purley a medieval idea. People who whorship satan are called satanists. Now, I am not sure if they call themselves that. I have read some of the book by Anton LaVey and it is more of a worship and do for yourself kind of book. Not anything like anyone would expect. In closing, here is the definition of "open minded." "Receptive to new and different ideas or the opinions of others." With all do respect, the GOP was not stating an idea or opinion. She was actually miss labeling, which can be offensive to people. And it is okay to be upset if you feel someone has labeled you wrong. It does not mean you are not open minded.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  20. KellyinCA

    I count several pagans among my circle of friends, and for a short period contemplated Celtic paganism myself. I think the concern in some quarters isn't with the fact that O'Donnell may have explored paganism or Wicca, but that she may have done it so flippantly. Believers of all stripes may be offended less by the idea that O'Donnell "dabbled in witchcraft" than by the idea that it was not nearly as serious a pursuit as spiritual journeys perhaps should be. The concern raised is whether O'Donnell treats the campaign so lightly. As a result, Tea Party supporters may have backed the wrong horse and could well find themselves shut out in November.

    September 22, 2010 at 12:41 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.