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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. JesusisLord

    The spirit wicca invokes is very definitely Satan. Selena Fox is, no doubt, thoroughly demonized. Any religion or faith that does not glorify Jesus Christ is from the Devil. Jesus is your salvation and the clock is ticking against your time to accept Him. What about you? Have you accepted the Risen Son of God as your Savior? Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart.

    September 22, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
    • Terry from West Texas

      Now just how might you know that the Wiccan gods are Satan and your god is not Satan. The ancient gnostics believed – some of them anyway – that Jehovah was Satan posing as God and that the real Creator of the Universe was another, much higher being. The Muslims – some of them – believe that Jesus was never crucified, that Allah disguised Judas to be a dead ringer for Jesus and it was actually Judas who died on the Cross.

      Secular people like me believe that people like you need religion. Your brain is hardwired to want to worship. Religious faith is an ecstatic emotion – not a theology. You can see it in the faces of the true believers. We think that Jehovah, Allah, Jesus, and the whole pantheon of gnostic gods are just Imaginary Friends that folks like you need desperately to believe in. If you had been born in Iran, you would be a devout Muslim. If you had been born in India, you would be a devout Hindu.

      September 22, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Your far, far from the mark. When the Church invented "Satan", they used the attributes of the Gods of Northern Europe as part of the image they created so that they could have a crime to charge against those who would not give up their beliefs for the intruding Middle-East religion.

      September 22, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
    • Hal

      Have you accepted Christ? If so, then you will most definitely be going to heaven; am I right? And if I repent, accept Jesus as my savior; so will I? NO THANK YOU!! Having to share the planet with people such as yourself, is enough. I'll take my chances with Satan, Krishna, Gaia, Thor – whatever is out there. Just the thought of continued existence with offensive "YOU" seems like eternal da-m-n-a-t-i-o-n!

      September 22, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
    • Hal

      Oh and I forgot to mention the most important thing. The voices you hear in your head isn't God, it's a mental disorder called Schizophrenia. You need a Psychiatrist for that, not a Snake Oil Saleman at your local church. He's just there to relieve you of your money without any viable cures. Seeing a Psychiatrist instead will be money well spent. No need to thank me, you're very welcome for the advice.

      September 22, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
  2. Cygnus-3°-BStar

    Selena – well done as always. CNN and HBO / Bill Mahar, however, not well done. Why are you harping on a statement made 10 years ago about something that happened years before that, and the person who stated it is trying to put it behind them? It would be as if your go after a 49 year old who experimented with drugs in their teens and 20s and is now the President of the USA. You didn't go after President Obama, so why go after Candidate O’Donnell? Oh , that's right, Bill Mahar is politically incorrect, and CNN ate it up. There are more important things to worry about in this world than this malarkey. BB.

    September 22, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  3. george in texas

    nobody goes to hell. we all go to our heaven and be happy there. we don't need to know what other peoples' heavens look like.

    September 22, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • NL

      Fan of "The Lovely Bones", are we?

      September 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
    • JesusisLord

      Jesus does not agree with you. He spoke often of Hell. You should be afraid of it.

      September 22, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
    • NL

      JesusisLord-
      If you believe in Hell oughtn't you also be afraid of it? After all, how can you be so sure where you're going next?

      September 22, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  4. Mark

    I don't disagree with most of Fox's point, but O'Donnell didn't say she was a Wiccan, or that she was dating a Wiccan. She said she dated someone who was a witch who took her to a Satanic alter. There are many ways to use the word "witch", and there are people out there who believe they are witch's in the Satanic meaning of the word. It's possible that a lot of the quotes are being left out there, but I don't recall seeing anywhere that O'Donnell mentioned a Wiccan version of a "witch".

    September 22, 2010 at 5:15 pm |
  5. Drew

    This is such a waste of time. Unless she's doing something illegal, why should anyone care. The weird seance type recitations of bible verses that people do in Christian churces are just as weird as anything going on in a pagan ritual.

    September 22, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  6. Legal gal wondering WTH?

    So wait, the wiccan folks are worried about the Manchurian Candidate making them look bad? The more this Palin gobot continues, she's just managing to offend everyone, even the pagans who educate...this is better than comedy.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  7. Nwise

    For one thing she said she dabbled into witchcraft which means she really didn't have a full understanding of what the heck she was doing which is why she could have mistaken a ritual alter or just a table or stone for that fact for a satanic alter and nobody explained to her what it was and what it symbolized. I believe it was pure ignorance or her part.
    @ Fred Sanford
    Wiccans are not all social outcasts I know of many very popular people in society that are wiccans and most of them are not fat women or closeted lesbians that is just like me saying Christians- hypocritical whites that tell everyone that they are going to burn in hell if they don't think the same way they do or live perfect lives while turning around and doing the same thing they condemn others or do something much worse

    September 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  8. Patrick

    These pagan religions are no more wacky than O'Donnell's. At least they have SOME basis in reality, i.e. nature and the physical world.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  9. get real

    @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."

    Not everyone is you though. O'Donnell claimed to be a rebelious teen hanging out with other like minded teens. I don't see why that is a crime. My point was that just because someone claimed to be a wiccan or satanist didn't mean they practiced the religion as others do. At 13 you questioned the beleifs of the people around you. Does that mean that you should be ridiculed or demonized for questioning those beliefs? If tomorrow you changed your mind would should you then be subject to ridicule. Should I hold you as the example of the only way to practice your religion or lack of religion?

    September 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm |
  10. TheRadicalLiberal

    Eagerly awaiting FOX News, O'Reilley, Beck, Limbaugh et al and all the TeaBaggers standing up for the Wiccan religion.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  11. Selfish Gene

    Psst, your modern Christian celebrations were taken from the pagans you vilify.
    http://www.nvcc.edu/home/lshulman/rel232/resource/RileyPaper.htm

    September 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  12. Deserving

    Been there... Done that...
    O'Donnell made the mistake as most people who are Christian in upbringing but never actually research Wicca make...

    In fact... It's the same mistake that my parents and wife and in-laws and brother and "Guidance" counselor in high school and teachers and clergy of my youth and the general community as whole have made.

    She doesn't know much about it and thus made an erroneous assumption based on what she's been told by her own "Religion"

    Big Deal

    September 22, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • get real

      I agree, but it was also based on what she wittnessed of people who claimed to follow that religion.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm |
  13. catmom13

    Funny thing about Ms Fox, she claims to be so indignant about the slur directed at Pagans that she fails to see the one she is directing against Satanists. And she seems to know just about as much about them as O'Connell knows about Wicca. Amazing how something is wrong when its directed towards your beliefs, but just fine to do to others. She really needs to educate herself as well.

    Had a lot more respect for the Tea Party until this crackpot. Really, what is it with women candidates going brain dead when speaking with the media? She must be related to Palin. Lost my vote, the last thing the US needs is another ignorant, self serving moron in office.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  14. Stephen

    I would say that if the tea bag movement did not consist of people with a hard, hypocritical bent, they would logically be concerned about someone in a Christian rightist movement dabbling in Satanism. Not them, no. It was all made up by Obama, and don't forget, the Earth is 4,000 years old.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • Rodger

      Tea PARTY Movement. Not that I would want to participate in a gathering of either one

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

      And as far as the Wiccan thing goes, I think there have been some rather recent studies in Psychology or Social Psychology, one of the branches, that suggest that folks with above average intelligence who do not "fit" socially in the groups they come across tend to gravitate to unusual philosophies and religions.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • Rodney - Compton

      The definition of DILEMA:
      A hypothetical candidate wants to lower taxes, but the same candidate is a witch that wants to repeal the Civil rights Act.
      What does the Tea Party leadership do?

      September 22, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  15. JDJ

    A Wiccan church for Pagans? Pagans were historically just people that did not believe in God and would have no use for a church.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • catmom13

      A church is a place of worship.....not the type of religion that uses it. Churches are not the exclusive right of Xtians.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      most of the pagan faiths pre-date jesus. Sport.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:43 pm |
  16. quiz889

    "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?”" - Obama hang out in church where his paster made racist comment but CNN and mainstream media closed the their eyes and ears. We know his action tell where he was hagning out with.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  17. Dan Bauer

    I find it so amusing that CNN would run a story like this. Oh yeah I forgot CNN is so biased towards the left it's not even funny. If you look at the top 10 stories on CNN right now, 6 are stories on how the Republicans or Republican candidates are dumb or wrong, two are on how great Obama is and one on weather and one on sports. Tell me this is unbiased reporting... PLEASEEEEEE. None of this will stop until journalist, especially on the left which controls everything outside of FOX news which represents less then 2% of the domestic media but has over 45% of domestic viewership stop trying to push an agenda and learn to give us stupid americans the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This way we can all make our own minds up for ourselves. I really wish I could turn on the news to see a real reporter asking questions that matter, not someone looking into what someone did in High School or what magazine did they read that week or what paper they looked at that morning. This is not journalism but a trap to make people look bad that do not agree with the journalist political philosophy. Can we all grow up please. I would ask the President to be an example to and to do what he promised and be a uniter and not he biggest divider we have ever had in the White House from any Party. At least Clinton listened to the country when his polling numbers went down.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
  18. Rodger

    So if the candidate weighs the same as a duck?...
    I have seen some well thought out comments here today. (not TOO many though)
    I can't really blame Rev. Fox for trying to set the record straight on her beliefs. How many of my fellow Christians get crazy when someone distorts our religion?
    Would I vote for this candidate? No. Is it because she once dabbled in "Witchcraft"? No. I have so many other GOOD reasons that I wouldn't vote for her. (Will she please clarify what "dabbling" means in her mind?)
    Let's face it gang, she is not the first politician to have trouble with saying stupid things. (D.Quayle, J. Biden ring any bells?)

    September 22, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  19. John Jones

    Who cares about Wiccan? It was in her highschool days. Why don't we go over why the Dem. Senate candidate called himself a bearded marxist? I have never heard of a good marxist, good witches, I have heard of. What is the point of going on National Media, they ask softball questions to candidates who support their agenda. Wake Up CNN comment people!!! The Obama agenda is not working, better said the Democrat majority is not working. I would rather have balance in our system like our founders wanted. We should be concentrated on who will fix our economy so jobs will come back, also we should concentrate on holding our reps. accountable for the spending both sides have done to get us in the debt we are in. We have one of the most corrupt governments in the world, if not the most corrupt. This November study your candidates and vote for the one who will take care of our economy first, not social issues which aren't causing an emergency, vote with the candidates who represent who you are and will get us back on tract because we can do better than Bush and Obama.

    September 22, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  20. peter

    veggie dude, its spelled "athiest" if you have a problem remembering what comes first in a word just remember i before e except after c. =)

    September 22, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
    • msaprilr

      Um, no. Actually, it's not. This word isn't English. It comes from the Greek word for God – THEOS. Related words being THEism and THEist. So a THEist is someone who has a God. and aTHEist is someone who doesn't. You really should try to understand a little before you start typing on the internet.

      September 22, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • Patrick

      someone just got owned

      September 22, 2010 at 4:48 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.