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. Jason

    Thus Republican's are with the Devil and the next Republican President will be a Republican thus the Anti-Christ. He will hail himself from the Easter Star and make cameo appearances on South Park to corrupt the minds of our children, print 666 on our forearms and make us eat hordes of Cherry Garcia flavored Ice Cream while watching re-runs of MASH to fatten us up for the feast he will have as Democrats put on stretchy pants and wrestling masks to come save the Christian Coalition from total annihilation for voting for a witch. HAAAAAA

    September 22, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  2. N 9-3

    Paganism is Luciferianism whether you, as a pagan, know it or not. Similarly, Luciferianism is Satan worship, whether you know it or not. Paganism did not originate in "old europe". It originated in Babylon as far as we can tell. It may have actually pre-dated Babylon, but that depends on how you feel about "Atlantis".

    Luciferianism plays a trick on almost everyone. It has infiltrated every major faith throughout history. It is all based on sun worship, which represents Lucifer, the "light bringer". Any time you see the virgin Mary or our Savior with a sun (halo) above their head, it is due to Luciferian influence.

    I hate to break it to this Wiccan lady. She may think that she is worshipping nature, but she is worshiping things about nature that can all be traced back to the sun. The joke is on her. That's the thing about Luciferianism – it is everywhere. If it can infilitrate 90% of Christian churches, it can surely be present in Wiccanism.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • OrangeCat

      Your knowledge of actual history is...incorrect.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • David Johnson

      You are right about halos being taken from sun gods of old. But these were myths.

      What about Jesus being a ripoff of a sun god? Look up Mithra and Horus.

      Satan is not real. Neither is Jesus. Neither is any other god.


      September 22, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Kate

      @David Johnson

      Wait ... I thought Mithra was one of the monsters from Godzilla movies ... ?

      Just worryin'

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

      I think you really need to do some more research before you say anything. Paganism does NOT all relate back to one thing at ONE place. it may be difficult for you to wrap your little head around but people CAN and DO worship nature and not Satan. There is a major difference between the Italian Sun god Lucifer and what Christians call Satan. And the Sun god Lucifer? He came WAAAAAAY after paganism was born. Every term you use is incorrect. I can only come to the conclusion that you are mental or just gullible.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
    • NL

      My nut job detector went off when you mentioned "Atlantis."

      September 22, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Kate & @NL

      LOL..!!!!!!! 🙂


      September 22, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      You have no knowledge of the subject, it seems. Delve into the actual beliefs of various people rather than relying on the old edicts of the Church. They INVENTED Satan to keep people in line.

      September 22, 2010 at 11:46 pm |
  3. Jason

    The DEVIL is a Republican!

    September 22, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      Republicans exist. And are not all evil.

      September 23, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  4. guitarharry

    All this discussion about Pagan/Christian belief just underscores the point that Thomas Jefferson (who was basically Agnostic) was trying to make when he invented this idea of a Federal Government; leave religion out of policy-making decisions. Pray to whomever or whatever you want. I am WAY more concerned with what this woman thinks about issues than if she once prayed with Pagans or drank blood or summoned her ancestors' spirits or whatever. Heck, lots of politicians are proud to say they attend regular meetings where everyone chants arcane oaths, pretends to drink blood, and affirms their belief in life-after-death; if they do their jobs, who cares?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  5. John, eh?

    This month's edition of the Canadian published magazine, McLean's, asks whether or not the US has become a Third World country. They cite crumbling infrastructure, a failing public school system, and huge budget deficits among their evidence. Personally, I love the US, but what it has become over the past 10 years is nearly unrecognizable to me. Pure hatred seems to pervade public discourse, and the issues are being completely ignored as the various political parties resort to extreme ideology. This article appears to be another unfortunate example of the disintegration of this once proud and noble society.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • nathan

      The parties aren't the problem. The people are the problem. We the people insist the at government take care of us, without raising taxes. We the people insist on having a school system that offers breakfast, lunch, sports, the arts... At the expense of subjects they really need to know. We the people sit in front TV so a cable news zealot can validate our own opinions, instead of trying to understand the other guys opinion. And in the end, we elect the extremists to office.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • John, eh?

      I agree completely Nathan. It's just sad to see.

      September 22, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • Callie McKenna

      I beg to differ, I am a professional working artist. I am friends with many others, we pay our taxes, and work very hard at what we do. I am also friends with coaches and a mother to a football coach. He works hard all day, and after work goes to his coaching job. He has two beautiful little girls, a lovely wife, pays his taxes, and teaches unruly teen boys how to behave as a team. Even when the boys are spoiled rotten at home and taught to take only for themselves. They come out of his football program better people, who understand the value of teamwork. The world and the US are more than subjects like math, history, science. Get a clue will you!

      September 23, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  6. David Johnson

    Are there no pretty witches? That one witch in the Wizard of Oz was pretty. *sigh*

    September 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
    • guitarharry

      Elizabeth Montgomery on "Bewitched" was kinda hot.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • KaraokeGoddess

      @ David, this is Dei Ty, a personal friend of mine... She is a witch, and she is HOT 🙂 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sGk6rTBkdXA

      September 22, 2010 at 8:36 pm |
    • Dragonseye

      What about Sabrina, the teenage witch?

      September 22, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  7. angel

    Ignorance & arrogance=wmd. I am not a christian, but give thanks 2 jesus. I am not muslim, but give praise 2 allah. I am not judaic, but acknowledge jehovah. I am not buddhist, but respect the buddha. I am not a wiccan, but bear witness 2 the divine. Sorry satanists/luciferians-i give satan no props, but still i respect u as brothers & sisters. Peace & love above all. Let's get our world right, people!

    September 22, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  8. Hexmeister

    Unfortunately, this article is promoting even more fallacies. For starters, Wicca doesn't have a trademark on the term "witchcraft" (witchcraft does not necessarily equate to Wiccan); therefore, for Selena Fox to be offended is a bit misplaced. O'Donnell didn't mention Wicca by name; she said "witchcraft" and Satanism".

    I've met Selena Fox a few times. She's a wonderful person, but she also needs to realize that not all witches are Wiccan, or even Neo-Pagan; many don't even approach it from a religious angle. Just Google "Traditional Witchcraft" and compare it to Wiccan beliefs. The former is a practice or method, not a religion like Wicca. It makes me wonder: why didn't they interview any prominent Satanists who might be offended by being associated with O'Donnell? After all, Satanism WAS acutally mentioned.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Bianca


      For all the hoopla about O'donnel and Palin, you'd think people would learn to read.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  9. nathan

    Where are all the atheists? If there's postive sorry about a Christian, every third message in the message board would be by a ranting atheists insisting that Christian are brain washed sheep. It's OK worship mythical nature gods, but a Christian gods is irrirational? Insisting you are a witch makes good sense? Meanwhile, you insist that every priest is a perv? At least be fair and balanced. Pagans are irrational weak willed sheep who can't get along without their imaginary friend in the sky. Atheists, step up!

    September 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Kate


      I think they're all busy posting about todays news about an abusive priest.

      Just observin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Bianca

      I think Reality may be one of the Atheists. I posted this on my facebook and yeah the Atheists there are watching.(OK that just sounded creepy as I posted it. lol. )

      September 22, 2010 at 2:35 pm |
    • Kate


      Reality is so atheist other atheists avoid him 😛 He's totally out of touch with himself, so don't worry so much about it 🙂

      Just warnin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • ScottK

      I have seen a few athiest posts, or at least anti-religion ones. Its just when the religious right hoist themselves on their own petard we feel that its more fun to let them bicker amongst themselves. Debating whose imagination is more vivid and arguing that one diety who demanded blood sacrafices in the bible is better than one who still does it is fun to watch.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Reality

      In reality, Reality is a "Crossanized" Catholic/Christian. "Crossanized" Catholic/Christian??

      Those who review the contemporary books/articles/net sites of the historical Jesus and NT exegetes and conclude the reviews are well researched and that the analyses therein give credence to Jesus being not deity but a simple preacher man embellished by the likes of P, M, M, L and J into some kind of messiah. Common sense and reality are quite apparent in the works of these exegetes. This lays the groundwork for analyzing any religion to include voodooing Paganism and "maypolling" Wicca.

      September 22, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • Steve O

      I'll start getting angry at Wicca the day they start interfering negatively with education, politics, medicine and science. Till then they're welcome to believe whatever the hell they want while I focus my righteous anger at all the Christians.

      October 5, 2010 at 4:38 pm |
  10. Jason

    I love how the Christian Coalition nut jobs scream and shout about how horrible Democrats are, how they are so sinful. Same folks that just voted someone who had a date on a SATANIC ALTER (with blood!). Yeeeeehaw!!!!! I LOVE AMERICA!

    September 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  11. me

    Visit Salem, MA. Large population of Wiccans– very peacefull....................

    September 22, 2010 at 1:33 pm |
  12. Jason

    HAAAAAA! The Republican Machine voted a WITCH into their midst, just in time for Halloween. Nice Job! - Don't discriminate, we now need a vampyre, werewolf, boogie man, and Frankenstein too. Oh sorry, I forgot we already had a monster as a President, W.

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

      If you really look hard at the Republican line up it's already enough to scare little children. No need to add anything.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Bianca

      Please Gods no, don't mention the vampire bit. There already was one running for pres. He'll come out of the woodwork if you do mention him and offer to stake O'donnel or something equally asinine.

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


      you think that's bad, you should look at DC's Mayor-elect, Grey. The guy looks like Peter Cushing, Chris Lee, and Boris Karloff combined – in makeup!

      It's like we've moved to Maine or something!

      Just scarin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  13. Tamlin

    Gee, for being Christian, you guys sure stole allot of our stuff.... Christmas the birth of the Son 25th is Yule the birth of the sun 21st, Christmas Tree, Mistletoe, Wreath Samhain – Halloween, Easter – Estara, Easter Egg just for starters.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      Though mistletoe is banned in a lot of churches because of its pagan roots.

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

      @Cedar Rapids

      I thought you only hung the branches and berries, not the whole plant ...

      Just grinnin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • ScottK

      If you look carefully you can see that the GOP does worship the Sun... Just check out John Boehner...

      September 22, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
    • Dragonseye

      @cedar rapids

      But, didn't God create mistletoe? why would they ban one of God's creations? Or did someone else create it? Did the pagans genetically engineer it in some way?

      Christians are so brainwashed they cannot reason to save their own lives, no wait, they're waiting for Jesus to do that.

      September 22, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
    • Kate


      nonono, they ban the roots for being pagan, the rest of it is obviously born again and is therefore the only part they think worth saving.

      Or ... somrthing ...

      Just musin'

      September 22, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
    • Anne

      @Cedar Rapids
      I highly doubt any churches are banning mistletoe for it's pagan connections – real mistletoe berries are crazy poisonous and have a tendency to drop off the plant constantly once it's hung inside. There are lots of cases of little kids eating the berries and being poisoned – that's why the plant is probably banned, not some BS pagan reason.

      September 22, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
  14. Seth Hill

    I love these Pagans; more power to them; here in America we grant all religions equal status.
    However, I resent that religious faiths get tax-exempt status! We atheists don't get any tax breaks! I have to pay taxes on all my income, while the church or synagogue or mosque or coven or whatever next door gets a free ride! It's not fair!

    September 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • Kate

      @Seth Hill

      I've seen people use worse reasons to convert to religion. Just become a moonie and set your house up as a temple, you should be set!

      Just prosetylizin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • NL

      Actually, it is fair in the sense that they have organizations, and we don't. We should, however, be able to get the same status for some kind of organized "freethinkers' group, but I'm sure that the criticism would be that we hold no religious beliefs, which is ironic considering how many believers insist that we actually do believe in God's existence and have faith in things like evolution...

      September 22, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • NL

      Well, they say we atheists are harder to herd than cats so organization will never be in the cards, but imagine if we could claim tax exemption on an individual basis! I'll bet you'd see our numbers jump up then on the next pew survey!

      September 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • ScottK

      Hey, theres a great idea you have, though your looking at it from the wrong direction...
      Lets get this country back on firm fiscal footing by taxing all religions!! Equality for all.
      No more people hiding from what they really owe the country they claim to love so much by getting tax breaks from their donations to a religion that only helps those who believe or attend.

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


      You'd get my vote!

      Just campaignin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:26 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Don't non-profit organizations get the same tax breaks? Atheist orgs don't have to be a 'church' per se, I don't think.

      Taxing all churches sounds good though. Could call it the 'Render unto Caesar Act'.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • Kate

      I have to wonder, if letting the Bush tax cuts expire would zero the deficit in a decade, what would removing tax-exempt status from, churches do for the deficit?

      Especially when you wonder just why religious groups have tax-exempt status in the first place – it's not like the money gets used for the people – just those with $350k Bentleys.

      Just observin'

      September 22, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • KaraokeGoddess

      I'm not for sure, but I think http://www.landoverbaptist.com is tax exempt... Hummm, maybe someone can make an arguement that atheisim is replacing religion, therefore IS a religion...

      September 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm |


    @Bri Guy

    "How would you reduce the deficit without raising taxes, and cutting back on military, medicare, or social security?" isn't an intelligent question?

    Just askin'


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

      @True American

      To which the follow up intelligent question would be: Do you support extending the Bush-era tax breaks?

      Be careful now, if you say yes, you're adding $4-6 trillion to the deficit, and if you say no, you're increasing taxes. Remember, any other answer is simply trying to skirt the issue!

      *hums the Jeopardy tune and waits*

      Just puttin' on the spot

      September 22, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
    • veggiedude

      Yea. Its okay to borrow money from China to pay for the tax breaks. I mean, its not like we are beholden to them. LOL

      September 22, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  16. john

    I think she may be an underqualified candidate but, in fairness, she admits to hanging around these people in high school and not being a member. Do we all want who we hung around with in high school to be fair game?

    September 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • Kate


      When someone says something or holds a position and it goes against previous statements or actions, hell yeah we do. Integrity and honesty is supposed to be important, even if both of them have become dirty words. If she had any sense she'd have realized people are less worried about what she did as a kid, than they are about her trying to weasel out of it now.

      Just sayin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
    • Dan Beach

      She admitted it 11 years ago so she was still standing by it in her thirties

      September 22, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  17. Dan Beach

    Bill Maher...says he has lots more videoof her making outlandish statements and will keep playing then until she comes back on his show...like that will happen

    September 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
    • veggiedude

      Either way, it will be entertaining.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  18. Chris

    It never occurred to me to look down on Wiccans regarding the O'Donnell matter. What did occur to me was that (a) conservative Christians certainly do, so her admissions don't win her any friends in those circles, (b) her admissions implied that Wiccans are "questionable folks" when in my mind conservative Christians (including O'Donnell) are more so, (c) Wiccans don't worship Satan any more than Christians worship Thor, and (d) Wiccan's notions of living in harmony with nature certainly make more sense than the cancerous Christian directive to "be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it".

    September 22, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • Dan Beach

      I think Christian will find judgmental ideation's... appealing and comfortable

      September 22, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  19. Charles

    And I concur about Bill Maher's idiocy. I lump him in the same group as Arianna Huffington, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
    • NL

      Well, he does serve on the board of PETA. Generally, that would cinch it for me, but his other positions seem spot on.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Kate


      So basically he's a terrorist supporter. Wonderful 😦

      But, on the bright side, he got it on video, so it shouldn't totally discredit the point since it's her own words and not his.

      Just sighin'

      September 22, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • NL

      I wouldn't call PETA supporters terrorists. Superficial and stupid, yes, but not terrorists. Paul Watson of Whale Wars, however ...

      September 22, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • Druid in Wasilla AK

      P E T A People enjoying Tasty Animals

      September 22, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  20. Charles

    So O'Donnell went out with a Goth boy one evening, went all googly-eyed over some metaphysical mumbojumbo, made out on an old flat-topped rock, and thought it was witchcraft and Satanism. It tells me two things about her: 1) She's awfully gullible, 2) She's almost as smart as Sarah Palin.

    September 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
    • Kate


      Are you saying all goth boys are predators who pounce on the gullible?

      Just askin'

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

      She says she went on a date with a "witch", so how do you know it was with a boy?

      September 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
    • Charles

      Consider: dinner and a movie, a late-night walk to a secluded location. Throw in a bit of charm. Do the math, or rather, chemistry. And in the hormone-saturated world of teenagers and dating, some activities are definitely seduction and some are predation, but the boundary between the two is at times a little hard to see.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:42 pm |
    • Charles

      A good Christian girl would never do naughty things with another girl. That would be sinful.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
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About this blog

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.