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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. Hello

    I'm glad the article got it right. Born-agains think that anyone practicing something other than one of the five or six major religions should be lumped in with Satan. It makes it easier for their little, belief-soaked brains to make sense of the world.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  2. Melissa

    Tea partiers and rethugs are both idiots.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
  3. Callie McKenna

    I find it laughable that anyone would give this woman serious consideration for any public office.
    As practicing Pagan of over twenty seven years her remarks were not only an insult to my religion
    but also a chance to point out just how much certain religions stick their nose in state matters.
    Officials of federal and state government use religion as a excuse to trounce on anything they do not understand
    like gays, alternate religions, and many other issues. None of these officials are even worthy of their offices when they allow personal religious beliefs to drive the making of policy and laws.
    A true separation of church and state would not allow
    for such personal opinions to matter in matters of state and law.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
    • BrandonS

      In yo' face O'Donnell!

      September 22, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • catfish05

      Hi, my name is Catfish and I think you and I are part of a dying breed of rational people left in this country.

      September 26, 2010 at 1:23 am |
  4. JES

    Ohhhhhh! I thought she had been talking about witchcraft in which case so what!!! She was talking about SATANISM . . . there's a difference . . . nope . . . I never hung out with Satanists when I was a kid . . .

    September 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  5. Will

    This O'Donnell woman is a grade-A wacko. She fits right in with Conservatives (she's Christian, white, and psycho).

    September 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
    • veggiedude

      And so sad her lesbian sister backs up everything she does, because she thinks its not true. Will the true O'Donnell please stand up? We have the sister version and we have the tea party version. Both can't be right!

      September 22, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
  6. BrandonS

    Maybe if Lady Gaga hadn't travelled back in time with Justin Beiber to set up the Satanic alter and coerce O'Donnell into having that picnic, this never would have happened!

    September 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Frank

      Lol. Oh, those Satanic Illuminati Freemason pop stars just warm my heart. I like the cut of their jib.

      September 26, 2010 at 1:49 am |
  7. David Johnson

    Why does anybody care???

    Christine O'Donnell is running as a Republican.

    We only vote for Democrats. Remember?

    Republican evil. Democrats good.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Will

      AMEN, brutha!!!

      September 22, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
    • BrandonS

      Awww yeeeeaa!

      September 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  8. Cletus

    Why wouldn't Jews be upset if some bimbo compared Judaism to Buddhism? Because they are two completely different religions.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  9. 11:11

    Why are the wiccians upset that she is comparing witchcraft to satanism? Maybe she was dating a Crowley follower. He was very much a satanist.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • Anne

      @11:11
      True, but unfortunately that nuance is lost on the vast majority of the American Public which is following this story. This story, and others like it, is all that many people will hear about anyone connected to the term 'witchcraft'. The coverage of this story suggests that everyone who calls themselves a witch is satanic (or something similarly dark), that their practices are not a religion but something that one can 'dabble' in, and finally that anyone associated with a witch is not fit for public office. That's why we're upset. The fault lies with O'Donnell AND with Rove and her other critics who have jumped on this story as evidence why she should not be elected AND with the mainstream media who have reported on it uncritically.

      As an example, if there was a story in the news out there that suggested that a politician had dabbled in Christianity by breaking apart a slice of wonder-bread, getting drunk on red wine and then handling snakes, I would think that Christians would be justifiably upset. Or, maybe more aptly if a politician said she had 'dabbled' in Judaism but quit because she didn't want to wear long skirts and not use cars on the Sabbath then Reform Jews might object because the practices she describes are not part of their tradition, but that distinction isn't being made in the news coverage.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
    • BrandonS

      Witchcraft and Satanism, by and large, are two TOTALLY different paths with areas of overlap... and besides, they're really just broad, generic terms for branches of belief anyhow.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
    • Frank

      Mr. Crowley was not a Satanist. He was merely a very accomplished student of the esoteric arts. Thelema has nothing to do with the Devil whatsoever.

      September 26, 2010 at 1:47 am |
  10. Kate

    In the interests of education, I direct everyone's attention to the seminal work on the topic:

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fr8DIg3oHFI&w=640&h=360]

    She turned me into a newt!

    ... I got better

    Just tapin'

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

      Throw her into the river and, if she floats up (doesn't drown), she must be a witch. So, then burn her!

      Yup, just gotta love Christian logic.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • Kate

      @NL

      What gets to me is how ... prophetic Life of Brian and Holy Grail can be 😛

      Just Pythonin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • BrandonS

      Oh no you di'int!

      September 22, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • Kate

      @Brandon S

      Oh yeah I did ... sorry, just had to!

      Just groovin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
    • BalazarsBrain

      LoL Kate!....CLLLASSSIC!

      Thanks for posting, I haven't seen this in a while.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
  11. dave Richman

    @test this
    Dude or Dude-et which ever: I am accomplished in English and clearly understood that she INFERRED that people who practice witchcraft are questionable, when she said about her 1999 comments “How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school?” You are splitting hairs.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • Bianca

      Dude, some people who do practice Witchcraft(of whatever religious or irreligious stripe) ARE questionable. Just because you are part of a non traditional religion doesn't mean your automatically a "good" person, any more then a Born again Christian is automatically honest and out to do good.

      The occult and Pagan side of the board has many of it's own questionable people and fruits, nuts and assorted other crazy candy in the candy bowl of life.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  12. David Johnson

    See, the god of Abraham has this to say about it:

    Exodus 22:18

    Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

    Just readin' my 'ol King James

    September 22, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
    • BrandonS

      My King James told me to force my wife into isolation for seven days during each of her menstrual cycles and then perform an elaborate cleansing ritual afterwards, should I do that too?

      September 22, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @BrandonS

      It depends. Who will do the cooking, cleaning and bring you a beer during the 7 days? Remember brother, women are not totally worthless during this time.

      As to cleansing, I usually bless the water where it comes in at the meter. I can then hose the wife down with the garden hose and let her back in the house. So sayeth the Lord.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      The problem is, your "King James version of the Bible was purposely MISTRANSLATED ( for political reason, of course) the ORIGINAL meaning was more along the lines of "Thou shalt not suffer a POISONER to live" with "poisoner" having the sense of assassin. Jamie boy had a bug about witches and revolutionaries trying to steal his throne, y'see.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
  13. Demented Hippie

    Sounds like Christine O’Donnell was practicing Satanism, not witchcraft. I hope that the Christian Right realizes, once she prayed to Satin, she broke the commandments. Downplaying her actions as I was just a teen doesn't wash for me. I feel that she doesn't have a solid footing on what this country needs, I hope that she isn't voted in just because the Tea Party backed her. Wake up America, Become a good steward of this country.

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

      I prayed to Velvet and Silk and my life's a mess – can't imagine what would have happened if I had prayed to Satin.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • Kate

      @Brandon S

      Does Pol know you're out of the house?

      Just Gariadin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • BrandonS

      You're so silly Kate! I signed out of the halfway house on my way to the employment center this morning, they know where I am!

      Just bongloadin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  14. manyote

    Now was it a picnic on a satanic altar or did she have a "lunch" on a satanic altar?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  15. test this

    What she said was “How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school?” .. not "those who practice witchcraft [are] 'questionable folks.'" This means that the particular people with whom she associated at the time were questionable - not "all people who practice witchcraft." That's a huge difference, and NOT one easy to mistake - except by people who have an agenda, and a transparent one at that.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
    • Anne

      Oh for heaven's sake. @test this, talk about 'a distinction without a difference.' I seriously doubt the majority of her intended audience, or the US public, will read her comments as not implying that witches are 'questionable folk' with whom a Christian and a political candidate should not be associating with.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • Bianca

      This.
      At no time did she mention Wiccans.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  16. Fuyuko

    This is so dumb. I can't believe people even care about this. I have no worries about a candidate who dabbled in Wicca. I see no difference in being Wiccan than if she dabbled in Islam or Christian Science. In fact Wiccan would be preferable.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • David Johnson

      It will matter to the Christian Right. Their god feels uncomfortable with witches.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Yes and no. Oddly, my mother who is 'christian right' thinks they should leave the woman alone and this is irrelevant.

      I am a libertarian and find religious viewpoints irrelevant. In fact, I personally don't want to know them.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Exodus 22:18 "Suffer not a witch to live."

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

      She didn't dabble in Wicca, she dabbled in Witchcraft.

      Otherwise I do agree with you.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  17. DJ

    This is why the program is called POLITICALLY INCORRECT ! Political correctness is not tolerance. It robs people from their individuality. That so-called witch can say what she wants, who cares. next topic.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  18. Fiona

    Don't get lost in fact checking and "gotcha" games. What matters about the video clip Maher aired is what it says about O'Donnel's (lack of) intellect. The woman is a ditzy dabbler in politics. She's a young version of Sarah Palin - and I mean that in an extremely negative way. She needs to be quashed, quickly and for good.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  19. Ekballo

    Never having posted on this site, I could not help but notice that a great deal of discussion regarding witchcraft, et al has taken place. I will be blasted for this comment, I am sure, but I would strongly encourage anyone reading this who is curious about witchcraft to think twice. It is darker and more sinister than you can possibly imagine and anyone who says otherwise is already so far into the deception they cannot understand this, or has never experienced anything of the supernatural. My only hope is that anyone who is curious about witchcraft would think twice before entering that realm.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • Melissa

      Really? How is it so "dark?" Because it doesn't use the Bible as a religious book? Because the Pagan faiths focus on individual connections to the world around them and the Divine?

      Please. There's nothing dark about Paganism unless an individually intentionally looks to make it a dark experience. The hellfire and brimstone churches of Christianity are far darker and far more evil and sinister than the vast majority of Pagan faiths.

      And hey, our faiths have cookies.

      Blessed Mabon, all.

      September 22, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      So Darth Vader is your Wicca guide?
      Bueller?

      September 23, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  20. Benjamin

    The only difference between Wiccan and other religions is that it's too small to have to be taken seriously.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • NL

      Size doesn't matter when it comes to not taking a religion seriously.

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

      @NL

      My wand is bigger than yours?

      Just sizin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • NL

      Kate-
      Voldemort had a big wand, but Harry's was bigger. Hagrid's was even bigger than Harry's when he still had one. Rowling did make it a point to give lengths of wands, especially of wizards. Seldom is a witch's wand length given. I find that rather interesting, don't you?

      September 22, 2010 at 5:17 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.