O’Donnell, the Media, Real Witches and the Promise of October

O’Donnell, the Media, Real Witches and the Promise of October September 22, 2010

The Pagan community never expected this kind of media attention over Christine O’Donnell’s ignorant and silly comments. We certainly didn’t receive this much attention when Jerry Falwell said that we, along with the ACLU and others, caused 9/11. As a community we are used to people saying something negative and ridiculous about us in the public forum while we try in vain to be heard above the media hoopla. Yet O’Donnell’s comments have the media coming to us, and this is something new.

Jason at The Wild Hunt certainly never expected this kind of response when he initially wrote about Dabble-Gate, as he cleverly termed it. Both Starhawk and myself were convinced to write about it by colleagues. Like her, I never had any intention of writing about the debacle. Yet when I did comment I ended being quoted out of context by USA Today of all things. To our great surprise the media knew about us, and upon hearing O’Donnell’s remarks immediately went after the reactions of Witches, Wiccans and Pagans. It’s astounding. I’m sure many of my co-religionists may feel, like me, that we are in an episode of the Twilight Zone. I mean, CBS even got the opinion of a Satanist!

Jason is always reminding us that we have to pay attention to where Paganism and politics intersect, however I don’t think even he expected The Daily beast to say in it’s interview with Selena Fox and Ivo Dominguez Jr. that O’Donnell has cost herself the Pagan vote. No one expected ABC news to talk to Covenant of the Goddess or for award-winning religion writer to poke fun at O’Donnell while emphatically stating that her views of Witchcraft are wrong. In fact, the only over-the-top erroneous characterization of Witches seems to come from Stephen Colbert, and even I found his take hilarious.

Even those of us who consider ourselves to be media-savvy are blown away by the media coverage, and considering how close we are to October, the traditional time the mainstream media turns it’s glazed and hungry eyes our way, I say we capitalize on it. We have smart insightful writers, political analysts of every stripe and plenty to say on this and many other topics. You don’t have to be a “Big Name Pagan” to have something unique and interesting to say on the subject.

One really fascinating that was brought up last night both on air and in the chat room at the Pagans Tonight! recording last night was the use of the words Witch and Witchcraft. They’re controversial, explosive and even within our communities tangled up with the word Wicca and Wiccan in unhelpful ways. Personally, I revel in the terms revolutionary spark and feel that Witch is as an important identity as Wiccan or Pagan for me. Wicca has been misused for decades and applied to all manner of things but Witch is not a tame word and implies spiritual work that is not complacent, comfortable or “safe”.

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  • I don’t see ‘Witch’ as necessarily implying ANY spiritual work. I see it as thaumaturgy in its purest form. As pure as physics and mathematics.

    For me, a witch’s Book of Shadows is a lab notebook, tracking data, seeing what works, what doesn’t work, how to improve the results of the magic, potions, healing, alchemy, whatever.

    I’d call it the precursor to science in general, the same way alchemy is precursor to both chemistry theurgy.

    As always, your mileage may vary.

  • Fern, that’s why I said that was I how I felt personally. That’s what it means to ME.

  • Sara A.

    I want to know why, if there was blood on the “Satanic altar,” why O’Donnell still ate off it. Her whole story sounds ridiculous to me.

    On the other hand, I think there’s a much bigger issue here. I want people to start asking and keep asking WHY being a member of a minority religion is political poison, WHY both ends of the political spectrum are behaving as if it is, and WHAT is wrong with this picture. It says plain as anything in the Constitution that there shall be no religious test for political office. Yet there is, de facto. This is ethically wrong and bad for our democracy. No one seems to be questioning it, or at the least they aren’t questioning it nearly enough.

    People told me as a teenager that they thought I would be President some day. (Seriously, they did). But, all other considerations aside, I became too weird to be President, or even hold office practically anywhere in my home state, by following my *conscience.* Again, what is wrong with this picture?

  • Sara, I think you very neatly nailed my biggest concern in this whole debacle. Why is being a member of a minority religion anathema politically? What does this say about the way that our government and culture sees Wicca, Paganisms, Heathenry, etc.? And moreover, why has no mainstream media picked up on this fact and run with it?

    It’s very, very troubling. And you’re right, there is a de facto religion test for President and he’d better be protestant christian (or maybe, just maybe, if he’s very popular, catholic). Obama *had* to specifically clarify during the presidential race that he was Christian (and we won’t get into how some folks still don’t believe him). I can’t even see this country electing a Jewish or Buddhist president let alone a polytheistic one.

    Frankly, I think that if a person mentions their religion in anyway during running for office, they should be immediately disqualified. It should not be an issue but then, unlike our politicians, I take that whole separation of Church and State pretty seriously.

  • Sara, I commented on the religion in politics aspect in my previous post.

  • Deriding a political candidate for “dabbling” in X is mud slinging. Politics is a lot about who gets to sling what mud at who.

    What vexes me about this Dabble-Gate episode is that, even though some kinds of mud are definitely out of bounds for slinging, witchcraft and Paganism are still available for dirtying up a candidate. And that folks from all political sides and the media will sling it. Sometimes with great glee and smug delight.

  • The reaason that being of a minority faith group is political poison is partly because of the heavy political reliaance on the concept off “US versus THEM.”

    Any political group who wants to win control needs as large a grouping of “US” as they can manipulate to their own benefit.

    The more different “THEM”s they can separate from the “US” group, the more things they have with which to scare their partisans into more fanatical support for their own claims to be the rightful rulers-to-come.

  • This just reminded me of my own first experience with what I was told was “Wicca.” Naturally, it was in college, and my dorm mate was dating a girl who called herself a witch, wore all black and generally seemed to have a nasty disposition. Her friends dressed all in black, too, and she liked to tease me because back then I was a sheltered yet sincere Christian. No altars with blood or anything–but it hardly gave me a true picture of Wicca or witches. And thank goodness!

    Anyway, I echo many of the comments and thoughts here over the whole thing. If anyone is curious to join the fray, I wrote about it over at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wes-isley