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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. Aarwin

    No matter how many times we repeat it, Christians just don't seem to get it-WICCANS ARE NOT SATANISTS!! No Wiccan has a satanic altar. It would be a violation of the Wiccan Rede (our Creed pledge) to build an altar to such a concept. For far too long most Christians have been listening to their own PR and swallowing it whole. Wiccans do not believe in the existence of Satan or any "Prince" of evil. Satan is a Judeo-Christian-Muslim deity. As we do not believe in your god, we do not believe in your devil-so, we certainly do not worship or serve either of them. As for witchcraft-I have been a Wiccan priestess for many years, and I am proud to call myself a Witch. Casting a spell is a Witch's version of praying, but instead of asking our deity to please do all the work, we add our own energy to the prayer as well. Also, we are appalled at the idea of anyone else dying for our mistakes or misdeeds. We take full and complete responsibility for our own shortcomings, and accept our karmic punishments and rewards. We have no need for "redemption" for we do not need to be redeemed from anything. We respect life in any form, and have deep reverence for our Mother Earth. We come from all walks of life, professions, levels of education and ethniticity. We are inextricably woven into the fabric of American life and communities. All we ask of our fellow citizens is that they respect our right to religious freedom and allow us to worship without fear of harm. We are Neo-pagans-New Pagans, and while many of our practices and beliefs have come down from ancient history, we concern ourselves with the well-being of all in the here and now. Blessed Be!

    September 23, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • NL

      They won't believe you. It's sad, but along with their belief that you all worship the devil comes two things. First, they may see it as you're not realizing that it is actually the devil who is pulling your strings. Or, if they are feeling especially combative, they may sum up your denials as just part of the whole worship of Satan who is, of course, the Prince of Lies.

      They do pretty much the same thing to we atheists. They'll also claim that we do, in fact, also believe in God and no amount of telling them otherwise will sway them. Poor deluded people.

      So, stop trying to reason with them. It'll only give you a headache.

      September 23, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
    • Kate

      @NL

      Ummmm, so explain Reality? 😛

      Just challengin'

      September 23, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Kate

      Ahhhhhhh..... the continual quest to understand and explain@Reality.....! I really liked your mathematical and statistics model they were looking at awhile back in some thread.... for explaining Reality...... 🙂

      Peace.....

      September 23, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
    • NL

      Kate-

      Reality is just ... beyond reality.

      Frankly, I've come to tune him out long ago.

      September 23, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
    • Mandy180

      No, Wiccans are LOSERS!! I can't believe someone would pay thousands of dollars for a useless degree that is more worthless than toilet paper. Instead of wasting your time studying CRAP, you should be studying something useful to society.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • EnochRoot

      Criminies! Why is everyone who says they are a wiccan a priestess? Don't you guys have like regular dues paying members? I mean who fills the seats? It reminds me of those people who are "in touch" with their past lives. They all want to have been Charlemagne or St. Francis. No one ever talks about having been a slave building the pyramids. I guess they get away with it because you really can't check that resume.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
  2. A Adams

    As a pagan I found some of the comments made by not only polticians but people in general in this country, shockingly ignorant and prejudice. I really do wish Christians would get this very important point through their heads "We are not Satanists, we don't believe in any being call Satan, we don't believe in a being who is totally evil or totally good. We do believe in many gods and worship them in a very individualized way, just because you have heard how one group worships doesn't mean you know how we all do it."

    September 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Not SHOCKINGLY ignorant, just typically ignorant. Unless you belong to that belief–or have made a study of it–ignorance is common. Misconception even more so. I would be more shocked is the majority of posters KNEW what they were talking about with regard to this subject.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  3. Chelsea Willis

    This is a good introduction to pagan faith. It would be nice to see more well written, not biased stories about paganism/heathenism. Education is the key to tolerance which seems to be seriously lacking in the USA.

    September 23, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  4. Reality

    More from the odd world of Wicca:

    "The forms and names we put on Goddesses, Gods, and Powers help translate those forces into terms our human minds can grasp. And so the Yoruba based traditions that originate in West Africa have given the name ‘Oya’ to the whirlwind, the hurricane, to those great powers of sudden change and destruction. Santeria, candomble, luc-umi, voudoun, all include Oya in some form as a major orisha, a Great Power. Offerings are made to her, ceremonies done in her behalf, priestesses dance themselves into trance possession so that she can communicate with directly with the human community.

    No city in the U.S. has more pract-itioners of these traditions than New Orleans. On the night the hurricane was due to hit, I made a ritual with a small group of friends to support the spiritual efforts that I knew were being made by priestesses of Oya all over the country. We were in Crawford, Texas, at Camp Casey, where Gold Star mother Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Itaq, camped near Bush’s ranch to confront Bush with the painful reality of the deaths his policies have caused. Many of the supporters there were from New Orleans, worried about their homes, their friends and families. The overall culture of the camp was very Christian—we found no natural opening for public Pagan ritual, although a number of people did indicate to me quietly that they were ‘one of us.’ But our little group gathered by the roadside, cast a circle, chanted and prayed.

    We prayed, speaking personally in the way humans do: “ Please, Mama, we know what a mess we’ve made, but if there is any way to mitigate the death and the destruction, to lessen it slightly, please do.” That same night Christians were praying and Orisha priestesses were ‘working’ Oya, and the hurricane did shift its course, slightly, and lessened its force, down to a Category Four.

    And New Orleans survived. Not without loss, and death, but without the massive flooding and destruction that was feared. We all breathed a sigh of relief."

    Pat Robertson, of course, infamously claimed that through prayer he prevented Hurricane Gloria from striking Florida in 1985. In contrast, Starhawk’s accomplishments seem a bit underwhelming.

    September 23, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  5. gregory

    @KATE can speak please?

    September 23, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  6. Julie

    Could CNN please have talk about News that has substance instead of picking on O'Donnell over what she said, when she was 17 yrs. old. Teenagers are just that teenagers. Since there is nothing else to target O'Donnell coming up with witchcraft as an attack on her is pretty lame ! What has happened to the real reporters of our day??????????????

    September 23, 2010 at 10:43 am |
    • Julie

      I didn't write this post, so I don't know who was signed in under my name. Those aren't my views...I'm just saying.

      September 23, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  7. Rae

    Thank you for this. I am glad that someone can take this and turn it into a positive.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  8. Callie McKenna

    When something really says it all, it should be shared.

    "An Inuit hunter asked the local missionary priest: "If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?" "No," said the priest, "not if you did not know." "Then why," asked the Inuit earnestly, "did you tell me?"
    Annie Dillard from "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek"

    September 23, 2010 at 10:37 am |
    • NL

      That's called plausible deniability, isn't it?

      Interesting how the "Good News" that the Christians preach also comes with this bad news about there being a hell to be saved from. It should go more like "I've come to bring you the Good News, ... but first some really Bad News. When you die you'll be going to a place called hell where you will be tortured for all eternity. Never heard of it, well trust me, it's real. Says so in this book, see? Well, the Good News is that I've got the cure for going to hell also in this here book, and all you gotta do is do everything I tell you from now on, give me 10% or more of everything you make, believe in a bunch of ridiculous stuff I can't prove .... "

      September 23, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
    • Kate

      @NL

      Google the lyrics to the Genesis song "Jesus, he knows me"

      Just groovin'

      September 23, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • NL

      Kate-
      "Or the man I met last night"
      Perhaps you should have posted this in one of the Bishop Long treads? 😉

      September 23, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  9. Rev. Vickie Carey, D.D., Ph.D.

    I tried to educate by posting a response directly to the story CNN reported on O'Donnel's comments. CNN decided not to share post. I was very disappointed, but not surprised since my response was critical of CNN. Wiccan's aren't the only Pagans who are concerned about the comments and perceptions of our religion. We all share a desire to correct the centuries of propaganda about our beliefs. The University of Virginia has stated that the religion of Witchcraft is the longest and most persecuted religions through out history and extends even into today. While we can use moments like this to teach, it's still up to society as a whole to develop tolerance and respect for all religious beliefs. Only through tolerance can we find peace.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  10. shawn

    America's right-wing conservatives are the dumbest and craziest people on Earth!

    September 23, 2010 at 10:20 am |
    • Thorrsman

      ...after America's Left-wing liberals.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  11. Bluebird

    She {O'donnel} is lucky that Palin's African Witchunter friend wasn't there. She might have been giving interviews from a church basement in chains, sitting in her own filth.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:14 am |
  12. Julie

    So now we have to be politically correct towards witches, too?

    September 23, 2010 at 10:08 am |
    • CelticZebra

      Julie, we have been persecuted, demeaned and even murdered for our beliefs. I think we deserve the respect of other religions whither or not you believe in our approach to life and spirit or not. Your comment is proof that we have a long way to go to educate the ignorant bigotry of those who look down upon us. So to answer your question – Yes you should be politically correct to us and all those who practice a religion that's different than yours. We've earned it.

      September 23, 2010 at 10:35 am |
    • Julie

      CelticZebra, I was commenting on how ridiculous I think the whole "politically correct" idea is, not about how I want to hate someone. I truly feel sorry for you, but I don't hate you. The purpose of calling for "political correctness" is to silence freedom of expression.

      September 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • Julie

      Oh yes, and I should be able to completely disapprove of someone's life choices without being accused of "hate." If my child robbed a bank, I wouldn't hate her, I would still love her, but I would be completely disgusted with her choices.

      September 23, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
    • Chelsea Willis

      You are missing the point.

      Christine O'Donnell was stating that witches are devil worshipers and evil. These statements are not correct. It has nothing to do with being politically correct but everything to do with getting the facts correct. Pagans do not believe in the devil or satan or whatever you want to call it. It is not part of our believe system. All we are asking is that christians stop pushing their beliefs on us.

      September 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  13. RWESTUPID

    A date on a satanic altar? This bimbo doesn't know the difference between a Satanist and a Wiccan. If she were on a Satanic altar she would have been naked during a formal ritual. She is possessed by a demon called ignorance, as are most Tea Baggers. Hail High Priestess Palin!

    September 23, 2010 at 9:10 am |
  14. Gobsmacking.Oddball.People=GOP

    If O'Donnell were a breakfast cereal, it'd fail to sell. Why? She changes her "brand" every week. First it's the super-evangelical no-self-pleasure bit. Now it's "I'm a reformed Satanist/Wiccan". No wonder Rove's trying to play damage control. People with more than two neurons are beginning to realize that the GOP is weak on policy and strong on farce. There's no 'fun' in fundamentalism, but it sure is 'mental'!

    Trouble is, we're going to get a Republican presidency next time. Secular Americans aren't going to click with the empty religious rhetoric. Welcome to the Christian Republic of the United States. Drive thru. Have a nice day!

    September 23, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  15. oldsoldierboy

    And here is my teachable moment. Anyone who dabbles in witchcraft past or present is a nut. End of discussion.

    September 23, 2010 at 5:43 am |
  16. steve

    Margie M – Your gods are demonic in appearance and character, you do practice magic and you do use satanic emblems. So the difference between Wiccans and satanists is like between Shiite and Sunni Muslims to most people, i.e. not significant at all. And this shouldn't surprise you.

    September 23, 2010 at 4:26 am |
    • Thorrsman

      Ignorance can be cured. Stupidity can't. Which do you suffer from?

      September 23, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • peace2all

      @steve

      Way to go.... You just proved that the vast majority of people when it comes to religious bigotry are arrogant and ignorant. (If not all).

      Good one..... way to promote your 'lack of knowledge' in this field.

      Peace.....

      September 23, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  17. Margie M

    Once again, someone really should do their homework, As a Wiccan, I can tell you that we Do Not Believe in the Devil, nor do we have satanic Altars.... Please educate yourself, and remember "closed minds should come with closed mouths "

    September 22, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  18. Tod L.

    Boobee: "I just feel stupid for reading so many of the posts!"

    So do I, now.

    September 22, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  19. Angela in Dallas

    This whole ordeal just proves how desperate the Republicans are! They are willing to lie, twist the truth, race bait, dig up hate and put a witch in office.....Its going to take more than some witchcraft to change the perception about the Republican base!

    September 22, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      All it takes is a look at what Mister "Hope and Change" has done to America.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
    • Kate

      @Thorrsman

      I'd rather have Mr Hope and Change than Mrs Doom and Gloom ... Let's face it, the only good famous woman to come out of Wasilla AK is Lisa Kelly. She's also a lot brighter, more personable – oh, and she didn't quit her job half way through it.

      Just truckin'

      September 23, 2010 at 12:35 am |
    • Thorrsman

      @Kate, the grifter in the White House now needs to go. Who will replace him in 2012 is still undecided, but he WILL be replaced.

      September 23, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  20. Tod L.

    Wicca is so laughable. At least Christians or Muslims etc. have the excuse of having been inculcated from a young age.

    Wiccans are crackpots.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      So are you a bigoted Christian or a bigoted Atheist? Or some other kind of bigot?

      September 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
    • Kate

      @Thorrsman

      Personally I find it easier to identify people using the excellent Flame Warriors quick identification system.

      Then again, I'm a very old f4rt when it comes to the interwebtubes 😛

      Just creakin'

      September 22, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      @Kate, a fascinating listing. I recognize several types right off. Kind of makes me wonder where I might be among such a throng. Perhaps it would be better not to speculate.

      September 22, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
    • NL

      Tod L.-
      Don't Wiccans have kids to drag along to their festivals just like anybody else?

      September 22, 2010 at 10:39 pm |
    • Kate

      @Thorrsman

      That site is the best resource for anyone who ever goes onto internet conversations that go any deeper than what people had for breakfast if you ever hope to keep your sanity!

      Just recommendin'

      September 23, 2010 at 12:37 am |
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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.