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. Common Sense

    Wiccans DO NOT recite the lords prayer backwards as one poster put it. THAT is a satanic ritual among other things satanists use to make fun of or mock the christian religion. Ms. O'donnel had no clue what she was talking about. She basically was just trying to sound like she was cool and different. Do some research on subjects before you spew things that aren't true.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  2. skytech5

    I love being wiccan

    September 22, 2010 at 3:10 pm |
  3. martin

    I'm all for any belief system that includes diaphanous clothing.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  4. Hearth

    Thank you CNN and Selena Fox for clarifying things. I think the photo is beautiful btw.

    September 22, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  5. Celtic Shaman

    Ms. Odonnell needs to get her facts straight about Wicca & Paganism vs Satanism & other religions that may or may not practice ritual sacrifice. As a practicing Christian, I'm sure she would take great offense at being categorized as a cannibal. However, participating in the Holy Sacrement of Communion or the Holy Eucharist, she and her fellow Christians are partaking of the bread/body and the wine/blood of their dear departed savior Jesus Christ; even if it is just a nibble and a sip each time. Besides which no self respecting Pagan, Wiccan, or Christian for that matter would use their altar as a picnic table.

    What I find most "questionable" is Ms Odonnell's comments, her ignorance about others' faith and spiritual practices,and Mr. Mahr's taking her comments out of context from an interview that is several years old. Although be careful of what or whom you pray or vote for. You just might get it.

    Celtic Shaman

    September 22, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
    • Nancy

      Glad to know I am not the only one who recognizes the cannibalistic aspect of Holy Communion...

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

      Nancy, you're definitely not the only one. Quite a few of us are amused by all of the "ZOMG... they cast SPELLS!!!" when communion may be the most popular (and successful) transmogrification spell around, considering how important it is to the believers who take communion.

      September 22, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  6. Sean

    You want irony in this whole Pagan/Christian debate... Christian holidays all come from Pagan ones. Xmas at one time was a Pagan holiday (though wasn't called Christmas of course) but the idea of a "Christmas Tree" a "Reef on the door" and "Mistletoe" all come from Pagan traditions. Same goes for Easter the idea of the easter bunny comes from Paganism not to mention the name "Easter" actually comes from the goddess "ester".

    These are just two holidays that Christian's hijacked over the years... so the next time your setting up your xmas tree, remember your celebrating a Pagan holiday 😛

    September 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
  7. Rich

    Yup, to the "masses" (aka sheep), O'Donnell is a "dumb conservative". Who thinks that Guam may capsize if a few thousand US Marines are deployed there? Liberal Dem. Who thinks you use a breathalyzer if you have athsma? Liberal Dem. Who dines at a restaurant in Delaware (or was it Scranton) that has been closed for 20 years? LIberal Dem. Who stated that they knew that either the father or the son (who was two years from being born at the time) would go on to political greatness, so he moved to Delaware? Liberal Dem (Biden). Yup, liberals are just so smart!

    September 22, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Kate


      And Dan Quayle invented the Internet, and Ted Stevens who equated it to the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline on steroids 😛

      Dumb is bipartisan – about the only thing both parties share, in fact.

      That and their free government healthcare.

      Just sayin'

      September 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  8. mario

    Its all liberal media hype that is just trash and nothing more...if you believe one word what a lib says...your a terrorist then!

    September 22, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • Kate


      It's much better to listen to what the person concerned says, isn't it!

      oh wait. that's what borked O'Donnell – AGAIN!


      Just notin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • peace2all


      You said...."It's all liberal media hype, that is trash and nothing more."

      ****And you know this based on your very cogent argument and cited references here...? Where are they exactly...? Oh, wait a minute.... you have no credibility. I could very easily say, but of course I woudn't...that....

      "It's all right-wing extremist propaganda from @MARIO....His comments are just trash and nothing more.. but, again, I wouldn't say that about you.

      You said..."If you believe 'one' word (what) a lib says.... (your) a terrorist then....!

      ****Let me make a quick point about this last comment.....

      First....the use of the word (your and you're).......there is a difference you know MARIO. One is a contraction of you and are (you're)...the other (your) implies for one thing ownership.

      For instance, allow me to use them both in a sentence..... "If you believe one word that MARIO says, not only are you an 'idiot,' but ('you're') a ...... terrorist....!

      Vs.... MARIO.... (your) junior high school tapes on .... how to 'critical thinking' skills and make a sound argument for debate are coming in the mail.

      Or....MARIO.....(you're) you are just a plain arrogant, ignorant right-wing hate mongering fool, to even suggest that lib's are terrorists.

      Get the difference.....


      September 22, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
  9. redrose999

    In my opinion the woman isn't a Christian. Her pride, intolerance for gays and other religious groups, her immoral stance on saving others vs her pride for lying and her and her in general her desire to outlaw how couples make love to others makes her more a Satanist than the poor Wiccans she attempted to slander with ignorant lies.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
    • Kate


      On the other hand, she does believe that Genesis is provable via scientific method, as much as if not more than evolution, and believes that r4pe and incest victims should be forced to carry the result to term. That makes her a good Christian.

      Just sayin'

      September 22, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
    • peace2all


      Ooooooops......my original comment got immediately flagged for "moderation".....

      So, let's try again.... shall we....?

      What is it that you don't get about her.....? Ms. O'Donnell talks and behaves *exactly* as an extremist Christian.


      September 22, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  10. Thorne

    Thank you, Thank you! Rev. Fox for sharing this "teachable moment," that is the perfect word for it. As a Pagan (though not Wiccan) I am constantly looking for such moments when the need arises. I, like many Pagans, keep my faith to myself because of persecution (I've lost a job because of it) and because we don't proselytize (think anathema). Equating Wiccanism and Satanism is an insult of the first order. It also shows extreme ignorance, which I'm regretfully coming to see is the norm for O'Donnell and her ilk.

    Demonology and witchcraft? Nick... you don't even know what you're talking about. Demonology is demonology and has NOTHING to do with the faith system of Witchcraft sometimes called Wiccanism. Shut off the tv and do some self-educating this is not an episode of "Supernatural".

    September 22, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
  11. Seosamh macPadraigan

    Over the 50+ years of my life, I have flirted with many different religions. While I am currently a practicing Christian, I spent many years trying and questioning many religious beliefs, including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Paganism. While I never joined a Wicca group, I had and still have many friends who identify themselves as Wicca, even knowing I am Christian. While some fundies may shake in their knickers about this next phrase – there are truths in all religions. You only have to be open to acknowledge them in ones that you do not subscribe to. No one should be able to force you to believe something that is against your moral character. Nor should you allow anyone to deny anyone else the right to worship as you please. While this is not the case in some countries, it is the LAW in America!

    September 22, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  12. cavemanstyle

    I'd rather see her on the playboy channel than in politics.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  13. Kebelf

    @TeachableMoment Paganism went underground when the newly formed xian religion started practicing genocide – you don't run around spouting your beliefs if it's going to make someone go looking for firewood. You missed the whole point which is that Paganism is a nature based religion and since they don't run door to door, take out ads or try and convert anyone your saying that these are their practices are specious at best. Most Pagans are solitary. They don't need a fancy edifice to teach the one rule. Do as thou wilt – harm none. Pity the big three can't practice that.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
    • Callie McKenna

      Harm None: Not just the big three... It is a pity that *everyone* does not follow the rede.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
  14. Aaron Moore Sacramento, CA

    Sheesh...sorry for the typos!

    September 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
  15. mario

    If you take any of this crap seriosly your a liberal terrorist!

    September 22, 2010 at 2:47 pm |
    • peace2all


      Again, enough with the extremist c*r*a*p... and the lack of understanding with (your) vs. (you're).

      @mario.....(you're) an absolute idiot for saying things like that.


      September 22, 2010 at 3:44 pm |
  16. Aaron Moore Sacramento, CA

    Why is it that today in America people are so easily offended by the very people they label as "close-minded" and "stupid." If I though someone was either or both of these, I would simply write off what he or she says as the expected statements of such a person and move on. But then, moving on doesn't seem to be in this current administration's vocanulary, just blaming the past administration (led by a man they all refer to as being close-minded and stupid). What's more close-minded, following one's beliefs when others disagree, or labeling one as stupid who one follows his own beliefs just because they are not yours?

    September 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  17. Mark from Middle River

    "Why does anybody care??? Christine O'Donnell is running as a Republican.We only vote for Democrats. Remember Republican evil. Democrats good."

    You sound like most radicals in the world ...from Rev Wright to Bin Laden....

    Some Democrats are good and some Republicans are good..... just depends how far to the right or left you are to judge percentages.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • veggiedude

      But only one party has been hijacked by religious fanatics.

      September 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  18. Jim L

    It really is only the business of the Delaware voters, They only can vote her in or out. Everyone talking crap about anyone that doesn't effect them directly or that even lives in the state are whinning and attacking people. Only Delaware should be listining! It should not be in national news, it is the media trying to discredit a group or individuals and influence the election. You all have your own states to worry about so get to it and go vote. For whoever you like!

    September 22, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
    • Kate

      @Jim L

      It does matter on the national stage, because if elected she'll be in the Senate making decisions for the nation, not just Delaware.

      Just gerrymanderin'

      September 22, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
    • Callie McKenna

      So you are saying that we are not allowed to practice our freedom of speech on this issue to because we are not citizens of Delaware. Sorry it does not work that way. As a citizen of this country I am free to discuss this woman and her impact on the political situations of our country, as is every other citizen of the United States of America.

      September 22, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  19. nick

    Wow talk about the uninformed... last I checked Demonology is a form of witchcraft, as is Necromancy, and a couple dozen other forms of occult practices many of which were actually practiced by members of the Catholic church. Sorry to say Wiccan is just 1 form of witchcraft, there are many all witchcraft means is the art or practices of a witch; sorcery; magic... Sorry but this person has no right to to dictate the definition of a term that is thousands of years old just because there religion can be lumped in under a generic term that covers many many different religious practices.

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

      Yeah, y'all just ain't right

      September 22, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  20. anya

    As a pagan for the last 20 years (who doesn't hide it) I really have to say I find this amusing, not just the tea baggers, but the number of comments here that are as far from reality as it gets. A faith requires one thing to be real, someone who believes in it. The world would be a much better place if a little more respect was given to ALL faiths by others.

    September 22, 2010 at 2:33 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.