Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Our American political life has always been a little odd, and with the advent of constant-on news cycles, it's gotten even odder. But can it really and possibly be true that here in the United States of America in the first decade of the 21st century, there is conversation about whether a political candidate might at one point have been a witch? Sure, if you're running for mayor of Salem and the year is 1692, I might buy it. But we're supposed to be a post-Enlightenment nation. Modern. Developed. Post-industrial, whatever that means.

Yet here we are, fretting about whether or not GOP senatorial candidate and endearingly chipper wackadoodle Christine O'Donnell might or might not have "dabbled into witchcraft." This gives conservatives the heebie jeebies, particularly that peculiar brand of American Christian that still obsesses about the pernicious influence of the occult. It fills liberal bloggers with delight.

From what I've observed and what I've read, Ms. O'Donnell is not and was never a witch, certainly not in the sense of being a committed Wiccan. The quotes surfaced by the invariably smug and annoying Bill Maher are sparse, and are as follows:
I dabbled into witchcraft -- I never joined a coven. But I did, I did. ... I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do. . . . One of my first dates with a witch was on a Satanic altar, and I didn't know it. I mean, there's little blood there and stuff like that. ... We went to a movie and then had a midnight picnic on a Satanic altar.
If, in fact, she engaged in "witchcraft," she didn't really engage deeply. The way she's articulating herself shows a lack of depth, and is drawn more out of the realm of Jack Chick than of actual neo-pagan practice.

That she typified an altar as "Satanic" is a perfect example. Wiccans and neopagans don't worship Satan. They are generally polytheists, and tend to worship a big groaning board buffet of different deities, who they see as an expression of the divine nature in the world around them. Some focus on the divine feminine, as personified by "the goddess." Their religious practice is similarly amorphous, tending towards a broad mix of incantations, magick, rituals drawn from a range of indigenous practices, and engagement with nature. But in terms of worshiping the Accuser, no, not really.

Would it even matter if she was an actively practicing Wiccan? Given that the last White House that actively consorted with pagan thought was the Reagan White House, it's clear that Republicans don't mind. But what about the rest of us?

I'll freely admit that I find the idea of magick a bit silly. Divination and spells might be fun to play at, but they really don't seem to be all that efficacious. That's not to say that there aren't runes and signs and potions that can have a powerful effect on the world. That's what the arcane arts of mathematics and chemistry and physics are for. But I'm sure plenty of folks out there probably feel the same way about my belief system. I'm willing to accept that someone might...you know...not be Christian...and still have a right to serve as an elected representative.

Of greater concern is the whole wackadoodle thing. It would seem, to me at least, that it would be helpful to have folks running for office who weren't...you know...total space cadets. As America wanders further and further off the path of greatness, you'd think that would make a good baseline.