I almost feel like I’m coming late for the conversation on Delaware Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s claims of having “dabbled into witchcraft” twenty years ago. The news cycle is so short these days that a weekly blog like this can miss the entire life of a news story, even one with as much staying power as this one, and it looks like most other Pagan blogs have already said their piece and moved on. But the comedians are still working with the story (I really like Kristen Wiig’s version on SNL this weekend) and there’s one aspect of the coverage that still bothers me, so here goes.
Maybe – no, probably – it’s hard for me to get worked up about this just because I haven’t self-identified as a witch or Wiccan for over fifteen years now. I try to imagine if she’d talked about eating off of a Druid altar instead of a Satanic one, and I feel… Nah, I’d feel no different about it. Nor would feel bad about watching political pundits and satirists talking about Druids, though I’d probably prepare myself for any questions that the local media asked me, since I’m one of the first contacts they find when they have a deadline approaching and do a Google search for a local Pagan to ask stuff. But I’m one of those Pagans who think that most publicity helps us to gain acceptance, and I know that other Pagans either disagree with that or would prefer that we keep ourselves hidden. Or maybe I just don’t care what people think about me. Hard to say.
When I saw the recently released clip of her from Politically Incorrect (which I actually did watch regularly, though I can’t remember whether I saw that particular show), my first thought was that she was just plain lying. Her track record suggests that, certainly back in those days, she craved media attention, and I wouldn’t put it past her to lie or exaggerate in order to get it.
But okay, let’s assume that she was relating a real experience of hers as best as she could. Are we really so certain that this was a religious ritual of any sort? Or was this a boy trying to impress a girl in a dark way? Teenaged boys have done far stranger things in the hope of getting laid, haven’t they? If every high-schooler who said they were involved with Satanism actually was involved with Satanism, they’d probably be one of the largest non-Christian sects in the country. (Assuming that we define Satanism as non-Christian, which I know can be argued.)
But okay, let’s assume that this was an actual rite with religious intent that this kid was attempting to share with young Ms. O’Donnell. How do we know that he wasn’t a Satanist? What makes us assume that he must have been a Wiccan, and that O’Donnell mistakenly assumed(or decided through the interpretation of her later Christian faith) that he was a Satanist? There are some self-described Satanists out there, and they sometimes call what they do “witchcraft” too. Wiccan’s don’t have the word trademarked.
And that’s the part of this story that I find most upsetting. So many Pagans out there are expressing their dismay with the liberal politicians and pundits for using this story as a way to make O’Donnell look bad for their own purposes, and ignoring the feelings of real Pagans. (As though any religion should rely on the support of political commentators to justify its existence!) And yet I see many Pagans doing the exact same thing to the Satanists, jumping right into the arguments to defend their beliefs and practices without even acknowledging the possibility that the actual practices we’re talking about weren’t their own. Kudos to CBS News for interviewing an actual Satanist about the story, and further kudos to said Satanist for including Wiccans in his description of what Wiccans do and don’t do. But no kudos to the many Pagans out there who don’t seem to know or care about the other kinds of “witchcraft”. (For that matter, do we know it wasn’t an African-American boy performing native African magic? That’s been called “witchcraft” too.)
It saddens me to see a group that I consider so dedicated to the feelings of others acting so counter to their usual selves. I’ve known a few self-described Satanists, and they were all either minor nutjobs or total nutjobs in my opinion, but they at least deserve to have their existence acknowledged so people can make up their own minds about them. But would it really be so hard to add a “well it might have been a Satanic rite but that’s not what we Wiccans do” nod to the debate? If only the Wiccans could come up with some kind of rule to encourage themselves to treat others with respect, and maybe they would get that respect in return in a grand cosmic sort of way, maybe even multiplied by a factor of some sort, a number between, I don’t know, two and four? That might be an act of magic worth the effort. Just a thought.
Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF