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. Boobee

    It's amazing to me how just about every internet news outlet features these "message boards" underneath news stories. It's even more amazing that the comments take up 10 times more space than the story itself. It seems that the story gets lost in the long debate/dialogue that follows. Tangents, segues – you name it – every topic can potentially grow out of a simple new story. I was reading about football earlier and suddenly the message boards are discussing the economy! I just feel stupid for reading so many of the posts! And I actually agree with at least half of them, most of the time. well, this will be my first and last posting. Thanks for reading this message. Take care and have a nice day folks.

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


      I'm confused, does that mean you're for or against raising the import duties on tootie fruities?

      Just pollin'

      September 22, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
  2. shoehorn


    AT Kate?
    what is this nonsense ?

    @just sayin' you should step away from the computer and go outside

    September 22, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • Kate


      I am outside. You never heard of wifi?


      Just networkin'

      September 22, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
    • peace2all


      LOL!!!!! 🙂


      September 22, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  3. Thorrsman

    She may have "dabbled" but not much more than any other high school kid. Seems likely that her "friends" who were into "witchcraft" were little more than dabblers themselves, no matter what they said. Typical, really.

    Wiccan beliefs are quite gentle, for the most part. I don't partake of their Pantheistic viewpoint, but I understand it very well. No Satan in their beliefs, and harming others brings back harm three-fold, just as doing good for others brings back good.

    "Magic" as they view it, is simply one part of "The Whole" nudging reality just a bit in the direction they want it to go. Fascinating, the entire process, and the "bumper-sticker" amount I can post would not do it justice.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  4. Dave

    Pagan – born again - they're all delusional to me. Selena Fox looks like a pleasant person and I'm sure I'd enjoy her company socially. O'Donnell is thief and a fraud and I don't care to ever see or hear her again.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  5. CJ

    She turned me into a newt!!!!

    .....I got better.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  6. Chip

    Sounds like their religion makes more sense than Islam or any form of Christianity I've ever heard of.
    Plus, Wiccans have never hijacked planes or started any wars too recently, as far as I know.
    Seem like nice people, really.
    We need more hot Wiccans, though. A lot of 'em are kinda homely, from what I've seen.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • Eric G.

      I have a cousin who is a Wiccan. She never hijacked a plane, but she did steal my weed when we were teenagers once. (Sorry Christine)

      September 22, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
  7. Testament

    A Real Wiccan/ Pagan believer does not believe in Satan whatsoever because 1.) Satan/ The Devil is a character that was created for Christian Jewish and Islamic backgrounds. 99% of those roots within Jewish and Christian. 2.) Pagan/ Wiccan beliefs were around waaaaaaaaaay before the bible was even a thought.

    Real Pagan/ Wiccan beliefs are infact rooted to nature. Period.

    When it comes to spell casting they aren't using the magic that ya'll are used to seeing like magicians or parlor tricks. They are simply using the energies or what they called way back in those days magicks, that the earth supplies them which is Earth Water Fire Air and Spirit. Which is represented by the 5 pt right side up star also known as the pennacle or pentagram; that as also been tarnished by movie makers as well portraying it as an evil sign when in fact its a sign of protection.

    All energies are part of creation which means they can be used for just that...creation or destruction. Selfless or Selfish depends on the spell and/or the spell caster's intention. There is the rule of 3 Which means what u put in u get back. So all ppl who incorrectly call themselves Wiccan's/ Pagan's using the Spells for dark purposes will get back the Karma 3 fold if they haven't already. Ppl who use the energies correctly as the Wiccan teachings put it u will still get back what u put in. But good karma rather than bad karma.

    Black Magic nowdays is part of Luciferian or a more watered down version that everyone is familiar with "Satanism". And any and all types of Sacrifical Rituals that require real animal or human blood are all part of the black magicks catagory.

    Nowdays they have specific oils, liquids, crystals, rocks, glass, sand etc etc that provide spell casters the same effect for their spells so no sacrifice is nessecary. Its the same thing with the bible...They used to sacrifice animals and even ppl...Do modern day Christians do that nowdays? No. The majority of common day Christians don't do that. MODERN DAY, every day Wiccans/Pagans don't do it either; depends on the individual if they want to call it evil or not. Same as everyone else.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:25 pm |
  8. Eric G.

    Please, oh please elect this woman. Let's find out how low we can get the IQ of the Senate. 50% of the population is dumber than average.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      You must not have heard some of the Leftists in the Senate speak. They've already brought the average IQ in the Senate well below the national average.

      September 22, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  9. Steve

    Great another unqualified idiot in goverment. How stupid is the general public?

    September 22, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
    • Kate


      Ummmm .... did you really just ask that?

      Just sayin'

      September 22, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  10. Not Alone

    Why is CNN wasting time on this nonsense! Who cares what some wacco wiccan witch says or thinks!! Get real and cover the NEWS, not this crap.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Not Alone

      Well..... Let me introduce you to where you are in reference to CNN and this particular Blog. It is called the CNN (Belief) Blog..!

      There are lots of other places where you can find 'other' news in the CNN world. Go be there.... if you don't like the (Belief Blogs)...

      Make sense...?

      And Wacko Wiccan...? Wow.... that really makes absolutely no sense whatsoever....

      But, good luck to you....


      September 22, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • Kate


      Maybe they just liked the alliteration ... "wacko wiccan"

      I'm still waiting for someone to accuse me of being a wiccan or a witch or a satanist on this thread – I haven't been accused of being those yet, I want to add them to my collection of people's megafails 🙂

      Just waitin'

      September 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
    • KAScofield

      Creedism and disinformation regarding religion(s) in any branch of government is newsworthy. Uncorrected, it has many ramifications and minority religious rights matter, as do the rights of different major religions and their denominations.

      September 22, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
    • Michael Schumann

      If we can read anywhere on nay given day about the Goofy GOP, then I think the Wiccans and almost anyone else deserve some coverage.

      September 26, 2010 at 12:45 am |
  11. Peter

    Palin and O'Donnell get a lot of TV time because these two made such good copy. The viewing audience seems to be fascinated by the disconnect between their lack of qualifications, slight education (mostly concentrating on "communications") and odd behavior, when contrasted with their fan base who view these two as actual political leaders. You may disagree with Obama and Hillary Clinton on certain issues, but their is no denying their academic qualifications-Obama a top performer at Harvard, or Hillary Clinton, who was a top performer at Wellesley and Yale. Palin and O'Donnell seem to be actresses playing politicians. That was their training.

    September 22, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
    • peace2all


      Well said.... As a matter of fact.... I am jealous that I didn't say that... Arrrggghhhhhhhh.... 🙂


      September 22, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  12. Peacemaker

    This is the best the Republicans have to offer the U.S.A.? A woman who has lived off campaign funds, whose financial house is in bankruptcy? Who refuses to be interviewed by the Media? WHAT ARE YOU HIDING, O'Donnell?

    It is a sad day in America, when a candidate for the Senate refuses to face the people! Beware Delaware!

    September 22, 2010 at 6:57 pm |
  13. george in texas

    if trillions of dead christians over the centuries are floating and orbiting out there up in the sky-heaven how come hubble telescope can't see any of them. btw, don't they get tired orbiting?

    September 22, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
    • Kate

      @george in texas

      That has the be the dumbest question I've ever seen on these comments sections. Ever.

      Everyone knows they're hiding around behind it making rabbit finger gestures while dancing on the head of a pin.

      btw, have you asked the moon if it gets tired orbiting? How about earth itself?

      Do we have to find all the answers for you? Is this the future results of the new Texas school curriculae??

      Just groanin'

      September 22, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • peace2all

      @george in Texas

      O.K..... You are one of the few who have been able to get both Me, and Kate to 'bite'....That is a rare event.

      Now, don't get me wrong, we do quite often are posting one, after another on someone's posting, but....... ya' definitely got our attention.

      I'm thinking you were just kidding....Right.....?

      Oh, this was too good..... 🙂


      September 22, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
    • peace2all


      O.K.... He has got to be kidding... right....? This is driving me nuts..... 🙂

      I need an intervention now...... My brain is about to explode... Help...!


      September 22, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
    • Kate


      Normally I'd presume so, but Texas is a special case ...

      Just wonderin'

      September 22, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
    • NL

      george in texas-
      I don't know! Maybe God snacks on souls? He's gotta want them for something, right?

      September 22, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
  14. ammie crowley

    this o'd isnt really worth the x of day this chick's CRAZY no 1 eats a snack on the alter im a master of CROWLEYISM yes Aleister is the 1 i follow i believe that repb is CRAZY 4 no1 eats off an alter as a Crowleyist i believe everybody has a choibe 2 beieve as they want but 2 say that the craft is the same as satanism is nuts altho there is some who take it darkside n claim they r wiccan but they get expossed by their deeds im one who is truthful honest w myself n others peace 2 all

    September 22, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  15. WiserAngel

    Drove me nuts when I heard she was equating Witchcraft to Satanism. It's so funny that we haven't progressed much since the Catholic church's persecution of pagans and Wiccans. Would it kill someone to actually look into what a religion actually practices!??!?

    September 22, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  16. atlantaguy

    What most people dont recognize is that most christians practice pagan practices the easter bunny Christmas trees yule tide logs holloween mistletoe all pagan practices adopted by christianity to convert pagans. Catholicism prays to the pope to mary and to the saints yet any1 whos read the bible knows this is idolitry and heresy to pray to a person even if they performed great miracles they were just channeling the power of god they are tools you thank the hammer you thank the carpenter

    September 22, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
  17. MU

    Wiccan is a RELIGION...it is not dark...it is not about Satan. What happened to freedom of religion. If you don't know what it is..then educate yourselves. (and...no, I am not Wiccan..I am Catholic)

    September 22, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  18. atlantaguy

    How many Goth kids tried this mess as teens she just said she was there when others were doing it and she wasnt into it and again this was 12 years ago get over yourselves you social clams

    September 22, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
  19. atlantaguy

    Crazy this is a 12 year old story she probably did meet people who (Practiced ) what they thought was witchcraft some highschool kids pick up a book on satanic or wizardry and thought theyd go to a graveyard to summon spirits or some stupidity I knew kids in highschool that did that they didnt practice wicca they just thought making spells and going to graveyards and acting witchy was cool

    September 22, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  20. Dawn

    Just the fact that she put witchcraft in the same sentence as Paganism speaks volumes about how dumb she is.

    If you're recognizing Satan, then you have to have some sort of belief in the Christian myths.
    Pagans don't give a crap one way or another about Christianity, and therefore would have no interest in Satan.

    September 22, 2010 at 5:33 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Witchcraft (Wicca) IS a Pagan belief. Satanism, on the other hand, is an offshoot of Christianity. And never the twain shall meet.

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

      Being a witch and believing in wicca are not the same thing. One can be a witch and not practice wicca. Wicca is a religion whereas being a witch is living in harmony with the earth. hence the term Kitchen witchery which means that someone is adept as using herbs for cooking, remedies, etc. One does not need to practice wicca to have learned this knowledge.

      September 23, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • Thorrsman

      Hailsa Hallinskididottir

      True enough. There are those among the Asatru who practice witchcraft of a type. But let us not confuse the straights too much. Witchcraft covers many traditions, rather like the term "Pagan", and not all of us included under that term agree to the meaning. We need, I think, to keep this simple for those who are just now learning that their preconceived notions are not true at all.

      September 25, 2010 at 8:16 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.