I hope you enjoyed the day off yesterday, because I have yet another round-up of reactions, insights, and opinions regarding the Christine O’Donnell “dabble-gate” witchcraft comments. This will hopefully be the last, since it seems the issue is running out of steam in the mainstream press. Let’s start with more Pagan voices within the mainstream press. First, Pagan author and Washington Post On Faith panelist Starhawk weighs in.
“Witchcraft deserves the same respect accorded to any other spiritual tradition. And O’Donnell deserves the same respect as any other politician: that we judge them by their record, their abilities and their policies, not by stupid, offhand remarks they made decades ago.”
The rest of the panelists cover the thorny issue of if the Tea Party movement itself is religious, with the usual variety of answers that run the gamut of “yes” to “no”.
Meanwhile, at the CNN Belief Blog, Circle’s Selena Fox, who was already interviewed by the Huffington Post, expands on concerns regarding this media feeding frenzy.
“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.”
Fox also talks about the ongoing battles Pagans have waged for equal treatment over the years.
“She’s obviously very ignorant about witchcraft,” said Teri Kalgren, director of the Witches Education Bureau. “To say she dabbled in it — what is dabbling? And how do we know people she was hanging out with were really witches?”
Diane Vera, the founder of a group called “NYC Satanists, Luciferians, Dark Pagans, and LHP Occultists” added today that O’Donnell’s anecdote also misrepresents Satanists. “As far as I am aware, no serious practitioner of any variant of either Wicca or Satanism would have a picnic on one’s altar,” Vera said in a press release. Vera also cited a 1997 Washington Post op-ed O’Donnell wrote as head of the Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth (SALT). O’Donnell wrote about proselytizing to concert goers in the Washington area. “Walking through the crowd I also noticed more pentagrams than crosses around the teenage necks,” she wrote. “‘Satanism is the religion of the ’90s, I was told.” Vera responded that O’Donnell “has a tendency to confuse Satanism with not only Wicca but also rock fan culture.”
As for Christine O’Donnell, she’s done doing national television appearances, except for an outgoing interview with Fox’s Sean Hannity, who gently brought up the whole “witchcraft” issue. Here’s what seems to be her final say on the matter.
“”In my 20s I had a newfound faith and, going on these shows, I looked at it as a ministry opportunity — that was what I did in my 20s. But that was a long time ago. My faith has matured … Who didn’t do some questionable things in high school, and who doesn’t regret the ’80s, to some extent? I certainly do.“
I have some regrets from the 1980’s but I don’t think they’re the same ones she has. So what, as the media starts looking for the next shiny object, is the consequence of all this coverage? Wicca is turned by many into a punchline, it has inspired some rather tired satire, and some commentary that probably should have been satire.
“Once again, the Left’s tolerance and diversity mantra rings hollow. Who knew that witches had fallen out of favor with the Left? You have to wonder if it’s O’Donnell’s dabbling or denunciation that’s piqued the pagans. If the Left continues to link witchcraft and paganism to “crazies,” Obama could end up on the wrong end of the mystics’ magical broom…”
Both Wes Isley at the Huffington Post and University of Illinois graduate student Joseph Vandehey seem to grasp that, barring a few notable exceptions, we were simply grist for the mill that was grinding up Christine O’Donnell.
The media could have talked about the impact that Wiccans have in our society (there’s more Wiccans in the Air Force than any other non-Christian demographic). The media could have talked about the plight of Pagan political figures, since the O’Donnell frenzy connotes that Paganism makes you ineligible for public office. The media could have talked about the difference between covens and the eclectic practices that O’Donnell seemed to have dabbled in. The media could have talked about the fear some Pagans have with talking about their beliefs in public — the so-called “coming out of the broom closet” — especially in the wake of recent attacks on Muslims. The media could have talked about public perception issues, when the average persons’ exposure to Wicca comes from bookstores crammed full of “Spells to make him fall in love with you” trash that has as much to do with Wicca as Fred Phelps does with Christianity. But no, it all got swept under the rug in exchange for an Obama bumper sticker parody: O’Donnell in a pointed hat and the phrase “Yes, Wiccan.”
I can’t help but think that this “dabble-gate” coverage, while it will die down as the media grows tired of the subject, and as Bill Maher releases more embarrassing clips, it may well color our traditional Halloween/Samhain rush of coverage this year. Making the usual efforts to tamp down sensationalism in the yearly glut of “real Witch” stories even more difficult. Or maybe, since this rush happened so late in September, this is the October rush, and our role in this media tempest will stand in for more in-depth explorations of Pagan faith. Whatever the outcome, we have our work cut out for us to push past the easy jokes and to remind the world that we are a mature, multi-generational, community of faiths who have spread around the world and are fighting against the prejudices and ignorance that in many cases denies us equal treatment and access.
ADDENDUM: Want some more? Blogger Daniel Nester at the Times-Union in Albany interviewed Rev. OakLore on Tuesday, and today interviews Witchvox media coordinator Peg Aloi and her partner Todd Hulslander.