Archives For Dabble-gate

While you enjoy your brunch, why not peruse some interesting articles and essays to be found at our Pagan channel?

  • “A Typology of Pagan Groups” by Aidan Kelly: “Given the commonality of the basic Gardnerian liturgical pattern, it is useful to propose a typology based on how closely the various Pagan groups resemble the Gardnerians, resemblances created because it was the “Gardnerian magnet, as Chas Clifton labeled it, that set off the Pagan Renaissance in the 1960s.”
  • “Encountering Pagan Deities” by Gus diZerega: “One important respect among several where NeoPagan practice differs from mainstream American religion is our relation to our deities. We consider the sacred as immanent in the world, whether or not we also include a transcendent dimension as well. (I do.) The sacred is around us, all the time, if we but have the eyes to see it, ears to hear it, and heart to feel it.”
  • “The Indigeny Debate” by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus: “The present column’s subject at this juncture is likely to be one that many people vehemently disagree with me on. And many of those who disagree will be people whose work I enjoy, whose views I respect, and whose beings I love, and who (needless to say) I know personally. I don’t mean this to be offensive toward them in any manner; I am merely seeking to nuance a certain term’s usage, and to inject what I think is a needed critical note into a usage that doesn’t get as much attention or questioning as I think it deserves.”
  • “Paganism Beyond the Warm and Fuzzy” by Teo Bishop: “All things have their place, and there is certainly a place for the warm and fuzzy in Paganism. But I think it’s also necessary to remember that there are parts of nature, and aspects of the Kindred we worship, that can be violently cold, fiercely wild, and terribly awe inspiring.”
  • “Best Man” by Eric Scott: “This is not the first wedding where I have been part of the bridal party; for that matter, it isn’t the first Catholic wedding I’ve been a part of, either. I like being in the wedding, and I am genuinely honored to be asked to play such a role for my friends. But it leaves me uneasy, too. I have never managed to enter a church without someone making a perfunctory joke about me bursting into flames the moment I enter the nave. The jokes may be in fun, but there’s a nugget of truth in them: there’s something genuinely incongruous about my presence here. However lovely the building, I don’t belong in it.”

BONUS: Remember all the fuss back in 2010 over  Christine O’Donnell‘s candidacy? The infamous “I’m not a Witch” ad?  O’Donnell completely dominated the election news cycle that year thanks to comments made over ten years ago that she had “dabbled” with “witchcraft”. The abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office.

Now, talk show host Bill Maher, who released the “witch” comments from an old show, apologized personally to O’Donnell this past Friday, saying that “I don’t agree with your ideas but it shouldn’t have hung on that stupid witch thing.” O’Donnell, for her part, admitted that some of the damage was self-inflicted, and that she may run for office again in the future.

That’s it for now, have a great day! Looking for something to listen to while you read? Why not check out my A Darker Shade of Pagan podcast?

[You can read part one of this entry, here.]

05. The Druid Network Receives Charitable Status in UK: Perhaps the biggest Pagan-related story coming out of the UK this year was the Charity Commission’s decision to approve The Druid Network‘s application as a religious charity. In Britain, there’s a marked difference between a charity and a nonprofit, and The Druid Network was the first Pagan organization to take advantage of the the Charities Act of 2006, which lowered the hurdles towards becoming a religious charity. This not only caused a wave of press in the UK, but in America as well. Guest author Alison Shaffer did a remarkable job summing the whole issue up back in October.

“So why all the fuss? Because the rights and freedoms granted to religious practitioners of Druidry and Paganism in the UK are, as in the US, not necessarily guarantees that they will also have access to all of the same benefits available to more mainstream faiths — benefits such as nonprofit status, state-recognized holidays, prison and military chaplaincy, clergy who are legally empowered to perform marriages and burials, and so on. In short, although British law provides freedom from discrimination for practitioners of all religions, the freedom to participate fully and equally in civil society is something that rests on a foundation of legal precedent. For many religious minorities, securing the latter means buckling down to a long process of challenging numerous individual instances of oversight and exclusion, in order to push past the tipping point from legal tolerance into social acceptance and support.”

This was an important moment for Druidry in Britain, and for modern Paganism as a whole. Despite the occasional press exaggerations that the UK had recognized Druidry for the first time in “thousands of years, “ this moment does mark a new level of respect and understanding towards our family faiths.

04. Military Pagans and The Air Force Academy Circle: 2010 was the year the Air Force Academy tried to clean up its public image when it came to religious tolerance. Long accused of being a focal point for evangelical Christian takeover of the military, and still struggling to create an environment friendly to all faiths, much was made in the press about their support for the installation of a Pagan worship area, though perhaps even more press was generated at the subsequent vandalism of said site.

“The Air Force Academy, stung several years ago by accusations of Christian bias, has built a new outdoor worship area for pagans and other practitioners of Earth-based religions. But its opening, heralded as a sign of a more tolerant religious climate at the academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., was marred by the discovery two weeks ago of a large wooden cross placed there. ”We’ve been making great progress at the Air Force Academy. This is clearly a setback,” said Mikey Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the academy. He is founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, and has often tangled with the academy over such issues.”

This concession to the religious lives of Pagan cadets also spurred some religious and political figures into saying some rather stupid things. What was largely missed through all the media glare was that this circle wasn’t some media relations band-aid, but a response to a genuine need among Pagan cadets, one that has permeated all aspects of life there. Sadly, a lot of coverage treated the whole story as something of a joke, instead of acknowledging the important steps forward being taken. The Air Force Academy circle wasn’t the only military-oriented Pagan story of 2010, but it was certainly the biggest, and one that was highly symbolic of our overall struggles for equal treatment.

03. Christine O’Donnell’s Dabble-Gate: I tried to dismiss it, but few could withstand the hurricane force of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (a local Tea Party favorite), who completely dominated the election news cycle this year thanks to comments made over ten years ago that she had “dabbled” with “witchcraft”. Faster than you could twinkle your nose, media outlets from all corners started interviewing “real” Witches about the controversy, while political pundits scored cheap laughs. Then, just when everyone thought the news cycle had died out, O’Donnell’s campaign released the following campaign ad.

Committing one of the classic blunders in politics (right up there with starting a land war in Asia), O’Donnell sparked a new landslide of negative news coverage, and a host of Pagan-created response videos. Her image damaged beyond repair, she lost handily to the Democratic candidate. While the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.

02. Vodou & Haiti: Under any other circumstances, I would have welcomed with joy the emergence of our cousins in Vodou into the media spotlight, but it was not to be. Instead, 2010 has been a year of death, horror, suffering, and media smears, all triggered by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Port-au-PrinceHaiti’s capital. The quake killed nearly a quarter of a million people, and over a million are still homeless.  Within hours of the tragedy triumphalist smears concerning Haiti’s history from a noted Christian pot-stirrer emerged, then there was a veritable onslaught of pundits, many of whom had never set foot in Haiti, opining on how Vodou was the main detriment to its forward progress and recovery.

“The kind of religion one practices makes a huge difference in how the community lives — for better or for worse. I suppose it’s at least arguable that the Haitians would be better off at the Church of Christopher Hitchens rather than as followers of voodoo.Rod Dreher, Beliefnet

But amidst the wave of stunningly wrong-headed criticism,  there were also several pro-Vodou voices,within and without Haiti, that came to the fore. Most notably Max Beauvoir, the appointed “supreme master” of a coalition of Haitian houngans, who ended up being the de facto voice for Haitian Vodou to the Western press in the months after the quake. While I counselled reporters to remain aware of the decentralized nature of Haitian Vodou,  the much-publicized attack on Vodouisants by evangelical Christians in Haitiand its aftermath, created little room for nuance in those hectic first weeks (not to mention tensions over insensitive and controversial missionary activities). Sadly, the centrality of Vodou in Haitian society was often ignored, though there were the occasional nods in that direction.

That suffering was bad enough, but now Haiti, still in political turmoil and further damaged by a rampant cholera outbreak, is seeing angry mobs turning against Vodou practitioners, killing over 40 so far. Sadly the religious press has either ignored or downplayed Vodou during these events, focusing instead on (Christian) charitable giving to Haiti, and an accusation of trafficking. From all this tragedy we can only hope that a new birth, a renewed flowering, is to come. That Vodou, and the Haitian people will overcome the massive obstacles in their way.

01. Patrick McCollum’s Fights and Triumphs: Patrick McCollum has made my top ten list before, but 2010 was truly the year when his efforts started to gain wider notice and recognition. McCollum has been working as a Pagan chaplain and activist for well over twenty years. He was one of the founding members of the Lady Liberty League, and has been involved in numerous legal struggles involving modern Pagans. In recent years he has received attention for his appearance before the US Commission on Civil Rights in Washington, DC, to speak at a briefing focused on prisoners’ religious rights (full transcript of the proceedings), and for his meeting with Obama Administration officials concerning interfaith relations and discrimination against minority faiths in America. On Imbolc of this year, McCollum was installed to the Executive Board of Directors of a United Nations NGO, Children Of The Earth. McCollum currently serves as an unpaid statewide correctional chaplain for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in all 33 CDCR correctional institutions.


Rev. Patrick McCollum

His current fight, which has been in litigation for over five years, and is currently before the 9th Circuit, centers on the State of California’s “five faiths” policy. This policy limits the hiring of paid chaplains to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and Native American adherents. The case itself has yet to be heard, as legal counsel for the CDCR has been arguing that McCollum doesn’t have the standing to bring the case (an assertion that is rejected by McCollumAmericans Unitedthe ADL, and other groups). This battle is about overcoming what McCollum has called an “endemic” level of religious discrimination against minority faiths in our prison system, and if the courts swing our way, 2011 could finally see a full court trial on this issue.

2010 was also a year that has seen many triumphs for McCollum. He was honored by the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) with the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism at their 7th annual Capitol Hill Receptionfeted at the Lady Liberty League 25th Anniversary reception, participated in the 2010 International Day of Peace at the United Nations in New York, asked for feedback on Pagan practices by the Washington Department of Corrections, and attended the first World Forum of Spiritual Culture in Astana, Kazakhstan. He has, in short, become a globe-trotting emissary for modern Pagan faiths. If one figure represented and defined the public face of Paganism in 2010 it was McCollum, and there is every indication the 2011 will see even more from this tireless advocate for Pagan rights.

That wraps up my top ten news stories about or affecting modern Paganism in 2010. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll join me for another year of sifting through the news and views of interest to our communities. See you in 2011!

A few quick news notes to start off the week.

The Case of the Disappearing Library Books: The Lewiston Sun Journal in Maine tackles an oldie but goody, which books “have legs” in the local public library, that is, which books are most often stolen.

“It’s like you know as soon as you order them; it’s almost like you have a betting pool. Anything to do with Wicca, witchcraft, supernatural, things like that. Especially the spells.” At her library, those books seem to bolt before they’re checked out, taken directly off the shelves. The library simply reorders every once in a while. Increased use of eBooks will help, she said — there’s nothing physical to lose. Her best guess on why it happens? “You know, I think there probably is just a little bit of fear that somebody’s going to judge. ‘They’re going to think I’m into something weird,’” Neal-Shaw said. “It’s almost like they’re trying to hide it from themselves; they haven’t come out of the Wicca closet.”

An informal survey conducted in 2001 by the American Library Association found similar results, books on Witchcraft, Paganism, and the occult get nicked on a regular basis. Why? Well, there’s the shame theory, as elucidated above, and there’s the anti-occult thievery theory as well.

“People take them because they don’t want other people to read about witchcraft, and people use them without returning them. I think we have a little bit of both going on.”

While there’s no doubt that some library Pagan/occult sections are getting thinned due to anti-Pagan sentiment, those perpetrators usually like to make a public statement regarding their actions. I think in many cases it is simply individuals who believe they have a right to keep a book, and lack the moral clarity to see how their actions harm other library patrons. It’s hard enough finding decent occult and Pagan-oriented library collections, and these thefts only make it harder. After all, why waste money on books that will simply get stolen?

Alan Moore on Austin Osman Spare: Writer and practicing magician Alan Moore (Promethea, Watchmen) discusses the British fine artist and magician Austin Osman Spare on BBC2.

The tribute to Spare was in timed to the closing of an exhibition of his art at Cuming Museum. You can find some of Spare’s occult writings, here. You may also want to check out this profile in the Fortean Times.

Christine O’Donnell Dominates: She didn’t win the election, but she did win more election-season coverage than any other political figure short of the President. Thanks to “dabble-gate”, and other embarrassing incidents, Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell dominated the news cycle, dragging a large number of Pagans into the spotlight with her.

What does it mean? Well, that there is such a thing as bad press, and that the mainstream media was more interested in talking about O’Donnell’s tenuous ties to “witchcraft” than about the real issues Americans actually cared about. Certainly this isn’t what I was hoping would be the most-reported story involving modern Pagans this year. In my heart I’d like to think this could be a wakeup call for the press, but I highly doubt it.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

As many have predicted, a wave of voter discontent has swept the Republicans back into power in the House of Representatives, though the Democrats have managed to retain control of the Senate. I’ll leave what this “means” to the pundits, spin-masters, and politicos, and instead focus on the candidates and races that have involved our communities in some way, and talk a bit about how this new landscape might affect modern Pagans. To start off, Nevada State Assembly District 29 candidate Erin Lale, an out Heathen who was running on the Libertarian ticket and had the backing of a local Tea Party organization, did not win her race. Incumbent Democrat April Mastroluca retained her seat, and Lale’s involvement may have shaved off enough swing votes from Republican Dan Hill to make it happen.

In a recent interview with the Pagan Newswire Collective Lale expressed frustration at how difficult it is for third-party candidates to receive equal treatment and consideration in the United State’s two-party system.

“…the traditional media, newspapers and TV, usually ignore third party candidates, although I got a really good interview in the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Voter Guide last Sunday, and I’m all over the internet and radio; some media, including not just internet radio shows but even broadcast TV, frankly email candidates promising news coverage if they buy advertising, and even more blatantly, local news channels — including publicly funded PBS!– refused to allow any candidate for governor who had not raised tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the televised debate; people have the attitude that the election is a horserace and they are supposed to bet on the winner, so voting one’s conscience to vote for a third party or independent candidate is somehow “wasting your vote”, and people think they should vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for what they believe in.”

In a message sent to Pagan+Politics last night, Lale had this to say about her campaign.

“Thank you for all your support over the course of this campaign. Although I didn’t win, I did get my ideas in front of a lot of community leaders, organizations, and other candidates, and made a lot of networking connections, so hopefully my ideas can move forward on another front, while I move into another arena of endeavor, whatever that may be. I am now looking for my next challenge.”

This is obviously a disappointment for Lale, but it does show that an openly Pagan candidate with almost no funding or mainstream media attention can affect local politics. As we become more confident, speculations about the “Pagan vote” and Pagan candidates will leave the realm of the hypothetical and be taken more seriously.

Speaking of the “Pagan vote”, one candidate who certainly wasn’t capturing it was Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell.  While some polls saw O’Donnell as competitive early on in the campaign, her dire mishandling of the “dabbling in witchcraft” clip from the 1990s not only created a media firestorm but also earned her the ire of Pagans and real-live Witches.

No matter how Democrats treat the issue, it seems unlikely that Wiccans will turn out for O’Donnell at the polls. “Her inability to separate anything non-Christian from Satanic is going to be an issue not just with her potential pagan constituents but with any other non-Christians or Christians of a flavor that does not match hers,” said Michael Smith, the Wiccan IT analyst who hosted the meet-and-greet the governor visited. “A couple of my local politician friends say she’s losing the Wiccan vote,” said [Ivo] Dominguez. “Well, I said she never had the pagan vote for the most part to begin with.” Ben Crair, The Daily Beast

Ultimately “dabble-gate” cost her the election, and while the abundance of mean-spirited mockery had some in our community questioning why “dabbling” in a minority religion is such a deal-breaker for political office, O’Donnell’s largely unexplored connections to conservative Christianity and how they influence her politics made few Pagans regret her loss.

Turning from Paganism, and those who may have dabbled in it, to other minority faiths, it looks like 2010 will not see the first Hindu in congress. In Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional District Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach seems to have retained his seat against challenger Dr. Manan Trivedi. Nor was it a good night for Indian-American candidates in general this election cycle. The sole exception is the win for Nikki Randhawa Haley, the new Republican governor of South Carolina. A convert from Sikhism to Christianity, Haley is the first female Indian-American to win a governor’s race in the United States. While this election may have been disappointing for those who were looking forward to more religious diversity in America’s halls of power, Indian-Americans are a growing political force here, and it’s only a matter of time before we elect a Hindu to high office.

Finally, did the Republican gains also sweep in a lot of Pagan-hating Christian conservatives? The answer to that one is mixed. As I mentioned, O’Donnell was defeated, as was Sharon Angle in Nevada, despite polls saying she was slightly ahead, meaning her somewhat out-of-the-mainstream brand of conservative Christianity won’t be guiding policy decisions. In Hawaii, Republican James “Duke” Aiona, a candidate with ties to the anti-Pagan spiritual warfare-happy New Apostolic Reformation, lost the governor’s race to Democratic opponent Neil Abercrombie, and, as expected, Washington, D.C., Republican congressional delegate candidate, and Wiccan abortion conspiracy theorist, Missy Reilly Smith, lost to the Democratic incumbent.

But is wasn’t all good news. Republican Florida Senate-winner Marco Rubio may be a bit too cozy with rabidly anti-Pagan “Constitutional Scholar” David Barton (who argues that Pagans don’t deserve the same Constitutional protections as Christians) making some wonder how much he agrees with Glenn Beck’s “professor”.

“Senate candidate Marco Rubio revved up a crowd of about 200 supporters at the Alaqua Country Club Wednesday, but Rubio had a little help from the guy who introduced him. David Barton primed the pump with his brand of America first, last and always political/religious revivalism … Barton’s primary message Wednesday – and most days – is that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, was intended to be a Christian nation and would be a whole lot better if everyone started buying into that. Barton traces a number of social ills, for example, back to the prohibition of compulsory prayer in public schools.”

Too bad no one got to question him on the point of equal treatment for non-Christians, specifically Pagans. On the whole, some are starting to see this election not as the rise of the Tea Party, as some had hoped/feared, but as a second wind for Christian conservative candidates (some of whom have latched onto or gained the support from Tea Party groups). What that all means for minority religions (or for the fiscally-motivated Tea Party for that matter) in the next few years remains to be seen.

Have any election-night insights to share? Leave them in the comments!

Delaware Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s recent Hail Mary pass of a political addirectly confronting accusations of “witchcraft” that surfaced after an old clip where she admitted to “dabbling” in the practice and having lunch on a “Satanic” altar as a teenager, isn’t having quite the intended humanizing effect on several Pagans. A growing Youtube response meme has Pagans reminding O’Donnell, and America, that “I’m you” includes Witches. Here’s a run-down of the videos posted so far.

Star Foster, Pagan Portal manager at Patheos.com, was one of the first, and her video gained the attention of USA Today religion reporter Cathy Lynn Grossman.

Right around the same time COG First Officer-elect Peter Dybing (acting as a private citizen and not as a COG representative) also posted a video response.

From there the phenomenon has seemed to take on a life of its own. There are videos from Angela from the Pagan Mom Blog, Kei Dallmer, and Rebecca Chow so far.

No doubt more videos are being made and posted as we speak.

In addition, this revival of “dabble-gate” has spurred even more coverage and interviews with modern Pagans. Time Magazine has a very good interview up now with Delaware-based Wiccan Priest Michael Smith, a member of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, and a Cherry Hill Seminary Board member.

“There was a lot of eye rolling. It obscures the actual issues involved [in Wicca]. Who knows what she did or dabbled in when she was in high school. I doubt very seriously that she knows what it was. Certainly I do not think that she has any concept about what witchcraft, Wicca or paganism actually is. I doubt very seriously whether she has any concept of what Satanism actually is.”

Meanwhile, some mainstream media has become so over-the-top and theatrical in reporting this story that comedian Jon Stewart has to act as the voice of reason on this whole issue.

“You know, I feel like again, this woman, Christine O’Donnell, she may be qualified. She may not. I’m not all that impressed with what’s in the Senate right now. But the last thing that I would suggest is that her witchcraft or masturbation stance is what we should be even thinking about or focusing on, and I think that’s an enormous mistake that the Democrats will make.”

Again, if O’Donnell is indeed elected, what actual worrisome things about her will we miss because the media is having so much fun dressing folks up, interviewing Wiccans, and vainly trying to contain their smirks? I’m glad that Pagans are taking the initiative to use this media storm in a positive way, and I’m also glad that we are getting some more thoughtful coverage in some mainstream outlets, but I wish the mainstream media, and those who consume it, would demand more from their journalism than this ongoing spectacle.

Committing one of the classic blunders in politics (right up there with starting a land war in Asia), embattled Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell repeats the “dabbling” charges against her in a brand new campaign ad.

“…if you’re Christine O’Donnell, you turn to an advertising guru called Fred Davis, a veteran of many past Republican races, and you get him to make you a 30-second TV advert. The new slot has O’Donnell speaking to camera with a large, homely smile on her face. “I’m not a witch,” she says, which as an opening line to a political advert is pretty grabby. “I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you.” A tinkling piano plays in the background and the lighting is soft and welcoming. It has the feel of one of those washing-up liquid ads from the 1970s.”

Since O’Donnell’s  “dabbling” comment came to light it has virtually dominated all coverage of her campaign, including a high-profile SNL skit. But is beginning a new campaign ad with “I’m not a witch, I’m nothing you’ve heard. I’m you” really a good idea? If she’s positioning herself afresh as an everywoman candidate, is starting off by excluding what “you” means going just cause her more trouble? After all, Delaware Pagans and their allies aren’t too thrilled with her already.

No matter how Democrats treat the issue, it seems unlikely that Wiccans will turn out for O’Donnell at the polls. “Her inability to separate anything non-Christian from Satanic is going to be an issue not just with her potential pagan constituents but with any other non-Christians or Christians of a flavor that does not match hers,” said Michael Smith, the Wiccan IT analyst who hosted the meet-and-greet the governor visited. “A couple of my local politician friends say she’s losing the Wiccan vote,” said [Ivo] Dominguez. “Well, I said she never had the pagan vote for the most part to begin with.”

Distancing herself from witchcraft isn’t too shocking, but I wonder what Tea Party-aligned and conservative Pagans will make of this new direction for O’Donnell.

“If this witchcraft admission affects her or not depends on how she handles it. I would like her to come out and explain what happened, not denigrate witchcraft, and then move on. If it was some guy who wanted to get into her pants, that’s what I think happened, she should say so. Ideally she would talk about the difference between Paganism and 1980?s and 90?s style Plagans. I doubt that will happen. A mage can dream, right?”

According to recent polls O’Donnell  is trailing badly, so a risky ad might just work in her favor. It’s also likely that the stream of mockery against her could backfire, and she could end up ahead. Several pundits have noted that it isn’t outside the realm of possibility for her to win. If that happens, we’ll suddenly be confronted with several new questions about O’Donnell, questions that could affect modern Pagans in Delaware and across the country. Questions like: Is she a believer in Satanic Ritual Abuse? There’s growing suspicion that she might be, but there’s no way we’ll be able to separate fact from fiction in the media circus that has developed since “dabble-gate” and the other kooky things she’s said that has been leaked to the press. The feeding frenzy of media around Pagans may be over in this story, but this may not be the last time we’ll have to confront O’Donnell’s legacy.

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.

On the local level, some Salem Witches are interviewed by The Salem News, and they aren’t pleased.

“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?”

Oh, and the mainstream media (CBS News) did finally get around to interviewing a Satanist.

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.

Apparently this story isn’t going to just go away. I expected some mainstream coverage, maybe even some attention in the 24-hour news cycle, but this amount of attention seems far out of proportion to its actual importance. Joining ABC News and the Huffington Post in quoting Pagans about Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell‘s teenage “dabbling” in “witchcraft” comes USA Today’s Faith & Reason blog (quoting Star Foster at Patheos), a Washington DC CBS affiliate interviewing local priestess Katrina Messenger, and The Daily Beast, who actually interviews some Delaware Pagans.

[Ivo] Dominguez said that the surfacing of O’Donnell’s past comments is particularly unfortunate for Wiccans because it comes near “our least favorite media cycle,” the run-up to Halloween. “My biggest concern is that we will be receiving negative depictions on one side from the people that traditionally don’t like us, which are folks that believe the only thing that is a valid spiritual path is a narrowly defined kind of Christianity, and on the other side people that are progressive that we would normally see as our friends but who will be using the witch angle as a way of attacking a conservative candidate.”

I’m very glad to see these comments from Ivo Dominguez because I think a lot of people aren’t grasping the deeper meanings to this tempest in a tea-pot (no pun intended). Yes, some religious conservatives are pulling out their “devil” card for this occasion, but it’s the added mockery from the left that is really setting us back. The implication that dabbling in any faith outside the mainstream is toxic to winning elected office in America.

“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.”

While we stick to the “it’s not Satanism” talking points of old, a larger narrative, and one harder to easily refute is taking shape before our eyes. That any taint of Paganism, of Witchcraft, of the occult, is political suicide. That we are a joke and nothing more. Grist for satirists and a boon for political opponents. While some claim we are “undoubtedly reaping the benefits of the spotlight”, I don’t think that’s the case. We have to think about what the lasting message will be two, five, or ten years from now. Will it be “Witches aren’t Satanists”? Something tells me it will be “crazy anti-sex witch candidate”.

What does this mean for our Pagan politicians already in office? Would Dan Halloran stand a chance in a Senate race in such a climate? Would ? If a solid Christian conversion narrative makes you too wacky for primetime, what does it mean for someone who is actually a practitioner? How about Pagans trying to fight for equal treatment in adverse situations, how will this affect them? This has not been a good news cycle for our faiths, despite all the interviews, and it will present problems down the road.