The Political Peril of Dabbling

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  September 19, 2010 — 17 Comments

If I lived in Delaware I probably wouldn’t be voting for Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell. This is based on the fact that my personal political views differ from hers, so I wouldn’t want her representing my state. However if, for the sake of argument, I agreed with O’Donnell enough to vote for her, I certainly wouldn’t be talked out of it because she once dabbled in Wicca (or maybe Satanism, it isn’t clear) back when she was in high school.

Then Maher did the big reveal, a short segment which included actor Jamie Kennedy listening incredulously to her story. “I dabbled into witchcraft,” O’Donnell says in the clip. “I didn’t join a coven, Let’s get this straight,” she says, as Kennedy asks her questions. “I hung around people who were doing these things. I’m not makin’ this stuff up. I know what they told me they do.” O’Donnell, sporting super permed hair, a blue sweater and black pants, then describes “one of my first dates with a witch.” It was “on a satanic altar and I didn’t know it, and I mean there a little blood there and stuff like that,” she says. “We went to a movie and had a little midnight picnic.”

As someone right around the same age as O’Donnell, who also experienced young-adulthood in the 1990s, and who dedicated themselves to Witchcraft in 1990, I feel I’m uniquely qualified to weigh in on this “dabbling” controversy. For the record, loads of us “dabbled” in the occult back then. Back when that program aired popular culture was going through one of its mini-infatuations with the subject. The Craft had come out in 1996, followed by Practical Magic in 1998, and being a bit “witchy” was rather cool in the proper contexts (remember the uproar over “Teen Witch” in 1998). So it only makes sense that O’Donnell felt safe revealing her naughty Pagan ways back in 1999. After the religious right Moral Majority-dominated 1980s young somewhat-hip pro-abstinence, pro-life, anti-masturbation activists had to prove they could relate to the irony-loving slackers of the day. So she appears on Politically Incorrect and MTV and drops a few hair-pins to let us know she understood where us sinners were coming from.

So fast-forward to the present day, and O’Donnell is ducking interviews and everyone is making a super-huge deal out of this whole “witchcraft” thing.

Former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove on Sunday called on Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell to explain what she was talking about when she said in 1999 that she “dabbled into witchcraft.” O’Donnell’s comments came to light Friday in a clip from comedian Bill Maher’s former show, “Politically Incorrect,” that Maher aired on his current HBO program, “Real Time.” “In southern Delaware there are a lot of churchgoing people,” Rove said on “Fox News Sunday.” “They’re going to want to know what that is all about.”

It’s only a matter of time before someone in the mainstream media drags a willing Witch or Satanist into the limelight to get their opinion about O’Donnell’s “dabbling”. Aside from the idle speculation from our community about what sort of experiences she really had when she was dabbling, I think we should be very careful about how we get involved in this. In fact, if anything, we should be paying very close attention to how O’Donnell’s opponents use this against her. As Pagans, we have no real problem with people trying out different religions, practicing multiple religious simultaneously, or even leaving our faiths entirely if it doesn’t suit them. O’Donnell may have unwisely exaggerated her experiences back in 1999 to prove a rhetorical point, but the current inference that there’s something deficient with her politically because she once tried out Witchcraft is one that inherently demeans modern Pagan religions. It says that people who are Wiccan or Pagan can’t be serious candidates, or at least serious conservative candidates, but we know that isn’t true.

The wisest thing O’Donnell could do right now regarding this is to say “so what”, I was a kid, I tried it, I didn’t like it, I returned to Catholicism (which seems to be the direction the campaign is heading). Her silence is only feeding speculation and encouraging her opponents to dig deeper though her old media appearances.  Indeed, she has more troubling off-the-cuff statements to explain than this one, so waiting this storm out may not be the best option. In the meantime, Pagan faiths are sent the message that while they may enjoy some perks of mainstream acceptance, they, like other minority faiths, are not fully welcome into the halls of political power. Those trying to use this clip as a political club to hurt her candidacy may not realize that it is also damaging the advances of modern Pagans trying to work for equal treatment and an end to unspoken litmus tests.

There are plenty of reasons to oppose and criticize O’Donnell if you don’t like her positions, but this shouldn’t be one of them. That said, if she decides to respond to this mess by attacking modern Paganism that’s a different story, but so far the only people mocking us are those trying to embarrass this candidate. There should be no political cost to “dabbling” with our faiths, in fact, I wish more people would dabble in Paganism, if only to humanize our experience to those coming from a place of ignorance.

UPDATE: At a GOP picnic in southern Delaware today O’Donnell tried to joke about the issue.

During an appearance Sunday at a GOP picnic in southern Delaware, O’Donnell said she was in high school when she dabbled in witchcraft. She asked the audience: “How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school?”

It wasn’t reported if the crowd found it funny.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • catvincent

    I cannot help but wonder if she also 'dabbled' in masturbation back in the day…

    • Pallas Renatus

      ahhahaha, I'm sure she did; I wonder if the witches made her do it? =p

  • James Wilson

    Satanic Altar? A little blood here and there? Haven't run across one of those in my years as a Pagan.

    • scorpion one

      I believe that I need to check into Bill Mahers date and place of birth. I could after all be his father as quite frequently I chased the neighbors German Shepherd as a teen. 😉

  • blah

    that should have been "i doubt they'll hold back out of fear of hurting pagans and wiccans, much less satanists"

  • I have been a bit upset at how atheist, Christian, and Jewish progressives are responding to this. It demonstrates that they really don’t take Pagan religions seriously or know anything about them–or the practitioners. Then they attack O’Donnell and her supporters for being ignorant and intolerant. I’m not siding with O’Donnell by any means, but this is sadly revealing.

    • Karlsefni

      Well shit have you not seen pagans? Most of us are rather batty.

  • mp

    She’s a marketing person, for gods’ sake – she knows how to sell her product to her base:

    She comes across as having dabbled as much in college as any “He came to set the captives FREE!” protagonist – ie, enough to build up some sort of credibility among the religious right as having been saved from the evils of Satan.

    I think she used that as a merit badge to get Xian street cred, and THAT shite deserves ridicule.

    And, frankly, I’m starting to think any Wiccan (neo, or BTW) or NeoPagan, who gets up in arms (and speaks up on tv) over us being denigrated by the left, has been PLAYED by O’Donnell.

  • Baurch Dreamstalker

    Oh, her witchy swain probably took her to an old-fashioned stone-coffin memorial stone in a graveyard.

  • Artor

    Oh yeah, and the likelihood that she's "embellishing the truth," AKA "lying," doesn't help her case either.

  • Jason H.

    Just as an FYI, I *do* consider someone who dropped out of med school to have dabbled. Just saying.

  • puff

    Okay, I must finally ask:

    What is the origin of the word "Jeebus?"

  • The former head of the SC Democratic party and a bunch of other Democrats have been flogging this story, the former chairmen saying that her supposed dabbling is proof she’s a fringe character and can’t be trusted. I notice that part of this conflict hasn’t made it inot much of the “pagan reporting” on sites like this.

    O’Donnall is using the old SRA narrative to attack “the elites” ala Alex Jones (who is another person you guys never bother to talk about although he’s convinced his followers Wiccans are killing babies) which is why it’s important. Her response implies that the supposed “elite conspiracy” of Satanists involving Rove is true.

    But the left is invested in that anti-Pagan narrative as well and the reaction to her obviously false claims shows that. When will Wicca as a whole develop the backbone to stand up to their “friends” on the left who are out right saying, on television, there’s something wrong with being a Pagan?

    I’ll bet never.

  • Karlsefni

    But we do rely on them to shame those who deserve it, like Delaware Daisy here.

  • Karlsefni

    She has yet to recant her statement. If she never does, there's no way to prove she isn't lying.

  • Peg Aloi

    Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow have been disappointing on this too.

  • Avin

    Urghh, no kidding about Olbermann. I spent most of the last show under my pillow or ticked off. He probably doesn’t consider that my kids have to go to school and deal with misinformed kids who can be downright hostile. It’s frustrating and hurtful. I was OK with it somewhat up until Withcraft became Wicca. This invokes us when the original story could be written off as ignorant. Nice bumpersticker he showed too. Her picture and “Yes Wiccan” (ie yes we can). Urghh!