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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. msaprilr

    The fact that this woman confused "witch" with "Satanist" is an indication that she lives in her own little world and doesn't have a clue about the people she means to represent. I'm a 40 year old Christian who doesn't get out much and even I know that a witch is not a satanist.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  2. Fred G. sanford

    Wiccans – Social outcast (usually fat women or closent lesbians)

    September 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  3. Ames

    Of all the religions...Wicca is the only one that's never been behind a war. 😉

    September 22, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
    • msaprilr

      Wicca a religion? Well Wicca is a religion like hinduism is a religion. It's got lots of hocus pocus. But there's no God concept. The Wiccan's I've known believe that all humanity is part of God/dess (the hindu Brahman). So humans are God really, as are all living things. It's circular reasoning since you can't create yourself. And it's just another form of humanism – a very mystical form. It's not logically sound and most folks who practice Wicca don't try to defend it logically.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • catmom13

      As is Satanism. Too busy making money to bother with wars. Funny how you can't say that about Islam and the Xtians!

      September 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  4. Kraznodar

    I have personal experience with each of the following:
    1) Satanist – turned out to be very kind and caring was helping people fight alcoholism. Not at all what I expected. Claimed not to be immortal and that making that claim would be silly. Invited me to ceremonies but I declined. I found it just too creepy.
    2) Satanist wanna be – Made a lot of stupid boasts and acted like a rapper wanna be but would not plunge a knife into his heart to prove Satan made him immortal like he claimed. Drank a lot and was generally mean.
    3) Wiccan – Rocket scientist, very well educated. Smarter than I am. Volunteer EMT. Successful businessman.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  5. Rodney - Compton

    Who would have guessed... Just 6 months ago we all thought that Rosie was the most whacked-out O'Donnell. By comparison (and only by comparison), Rosie now seems quite normal.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  6. Michael

    You worship the created – I worship the creator.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • veggiedude

      And what creator would have such an ego it would want to be worshiped? Not even I am that vain.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  7. get real

    As someone who was a teen in the 80's I can't believe how literally your all taking this. Many teens and young adults were rebeling at that time calling themselves wiccans or satanists or witches or warlocks. Most of them didn't have a clue what those terms really meant nor did they probably care at that age. They were just rebeling against their parents religion. That O'Donnell was around some of these people is not a big deal in my book. Most teenagers at that time knew someone like that. If this was her exposure to these types of religions then I argee that these people were questionable. Most of them were also rebelling in other ways as well. Give the woman a break.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • veggiedude

      Maybe I am unreal then, because I decided not to smoke, drink, do drugs or eat animals as a teen. I am still that way at 50. And yes, still an atheist since age 13.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
    • Anne

      @get real
      You're missing the broader implications of the situation.

      The point wasn't that she was a shallow teen then (which I have no trouble believing) it is as an adult she brought up those incidents using language that casts unfair aspersions on a religion. And then the media and pundits, both on the right and the left, used open mockery and scorn for that religion to illustrate why she's not a good political candidate. We shouldn't have to deal with this in 2010.

      September 22, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
  8. OldOwl

    You know you're in the mainstream, when Republicans are giving witches a bad name.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • get real

      LOL best comment I've read.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • Rodney - Compton

      Righteous OldOwl ! That's a hoot

      September 22, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
    • peace2all

      @OldOwl

      LOL.... Now THAT was funny....! Thank you for the laugh... I needed it.... 🙂

      Peace....

      September 22, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  9. george in texas

    would be nice if jesus were to come back and take away all his believers to his heaven so that the rest of us may live in peace here.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • veggiedude

      Then the only Abrahamic faith left would be Judaism, because Jesus would take both the christians and muslims.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  10. jesor

    Congratulations CNN, it only took you a week to get to the most disturbing part of this story. The fact that the media, in order to demonize an intellectually disadvantaged candidate, hyped up fear over a minority religion. Next time, try to remember that freedom of religion is in the same amendment as the one protecting the press.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • OldOwl

      The "problem" is not created by CNN reporting the story; rather it is in O'Connell erroneously connecting her religion, Satanism, with the practice of witchcraft, Wicca (a nature religion, that has nothing to do with Satanism, as the article points out. It seems O'Connell in her relligion tends to believe in and support the tenets of the Christian demigod, Satan. But Wiccans (witches) rightfully reject this fundamentalist christian tenet and belief, and are justifiably insulted by it. Not by CNN reporting factually on the news, that a devil worshipper is trying to con her way into the U.S. Senate. Good job, CNN!

      September 22, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  11. about-time

    OK finally, it's nice to see someone stand up and speak out about this issue. 1st of all to point out a whole religion and mix them in with other religions and then go on to call the all "questionable" is just plain silliness at best. If your going to speak, at least "try" to think first.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  12. Dennis

    Tomorrow I suspect the headlines will read "O'Donnell once hunted for Bat-Boy!"

    That she danced naked around a fire by the moonlight is the most normal thing I've heard said about her.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  13. Steve T.

    "I'm going to use MAGIC to restore the economy and create jobs."

    Best campaign slogan ever.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      Why not? we tried cutting taxes (fail) and spending monopoly money (fail)

      September 22, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  14. What what

    This was a teachable moment back in 1999... Now it's just fodder for the liberal media so they can call her crazy. So they won't let this die. They will fight this only because they think they can win, and this is their weapon of choice.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • allanhowls

      Just so that we're all straight on this, if something goofy that a Teabagger said in 1999 is off limits, then righties can no longer mention anything John Kerry might have done in the 70s. Fair?

      Otherwise, you're just a hypocritical, partisan hack. Stop blaming the press for reporting the facts of what O'Donnel has said. Nobody forced her to make idiotic statements. She dug her own grave. That, and having no idea how to deal with money.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  15. skytech5

    I love this stament
    Bide the wiccan law ye must, in Perface love, in Perface truse, the Wiccan rede fullfill and harm none, do what ye will lese in thy self-defense it be ever mind the rule of three. Follow this with mine and hart, and merry ye meet, and merry ye part.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  16. DoubleD

    I would vote for the Wiccan's before the Republican Tea Party. Republican Tea Party scares the he!! out of me.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  17. Dorothy

    Am I the only one who thought of Captain Planet when this Wiccan was describing her beliefs?

    I always felt so bad for the dude with the monkey. Heart was so lame...but I guess he had the monkey to make up for it.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  18. Don

    I read: "We honor the five elements of nature: earth, air, fire, water and spirit" and immediately bust into the Captain Planet theme song!!! Though they got air (wind) and fire backwards. GO PLANET!

    September 22, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  19. Ben

    Wow, way to be objective CNN. You made sure we got the opinion of the left as well as the wiccan opinion. Fair and balanced.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  20. Free thinker

    Any of you posting comments that think O;Donnell and Palin are intelligent you are morons. Don't any of you think for your selves or has Beck and Rush Limpdick finally saturated that melted popsicle you call a brain to the point where you have no original thought process left. Fools all of you

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

      from the boob channeling Obermann

      September 22, 2010 at 3:27 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.