Christine O'Donnell, Teenage Witch

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Sept. 22 2010 6:58 PM

Christine O'Donnell, Teenage Witch

/blogs/xx_factor/2010/09/22/christine_odonnell_and_wiccanism/jcr:content/body/slate_image

Thanks to Christine O’Donnell’s admission that she "dabbled into" witchcraft in her youth, Wiccans are up in arms about their portrayal: One high priestess told the Huffington Post that O’Donnell’s flippant dismissal of her teenage experiment contained "defaming" misrepresentations of Wiccan beliefs. O’Donnell herself blamed it on the era: " Who doesn't regret the '80s, to some extent ?"

Advertisement

In fact, the late '90s and early 2000s were when Wiccanism had its highest pop culture profile: 1996’s The Craft made witchcraft seem sexy and dangerous and darkly appealing to a certain sort of female teenage outsider. That same year, indie darling (and heroine of disaffected teenagers) Winona Ryder starred in a big-screen adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Salem witch-trial play, The Crucible . On Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer , viewers learned that Willow, a witch-one of many outsiders on a show about outsiders-had joined her campus Wiccan group, right around the same time she came out as a lesbian, part of a larger story arc in which she comes into her adult self (according to resident XX Buffy expert Nina Shen Rastogi). A flurry of books about Wiccanism were published in the '90s and early millennium, including Rocking the Goddess: Campus Wiccanism for the Student Practicioner . And Wiccanism’s focus on the feminine divine-and female-female relationship, whether friendly or sexual-seemed to dovetail nicely with the feminist moment of the '90s .

Hanna thinks O’Donnell’s " Wiccan thing throws a loop into her whole self-presentation ." Not to my eyes: While her dabbling obviously preceded this high-'90s era, I can’t help reading the Wiccan tidbit, along with some of the others, as adding up to a picture of someone who imagines herself an outsider searching to belong to a group. (And who knows, if she’d stuck with it, maybe it’s less likely she’d have become a Republican .) O’Donnell’s Lord of the Rings -as-feminist-text lecture seems to have grown out of a similar strain: For whatever it’s worth, a woman I spoke to at Bryn Mawr (where not long ago it was a relatively common sight to see students in capes), who was a student there in the '90s and is now an administrator, noted that another of the groups closely associated with Wiccanism was a sci-fi-focused group, and another maintained a communal, public diary.

Wiccanism did indeed grow rapidly in the 1990s-about 17-fold, according to the American Religious Identification Survey; but the "New Religion" category of that survey grew even more quickly in the 2000s , based on 2008 data, even if the media and Hollywood are less obessesed with sexy teenage experimenters. Post- Harry Potter , witches (and wizards) are friendly, familiar, kid-safe. Now, if you want dark and sexy, vampires are a classic, reliable bet , especially with female audiences . But there are still college witches , and there’s even a serious pagan community at the U.S. Air Force Academy that recently got its own worship space . Hard data on Wiccan demographics are scarce, but a couple of anecdotal points-the reissue this year of the Wicca Cookbook , the launch of Crone , for the "aging female pagan"-suggest that plenty of people have settled into it as a lifestyle, rather than an adolescent experiment.

I recently noticed a model in a very '90s flashback Urban Outfitters catalog spread holding a book on Wiccanism. And True Blood just introduced a Wiccan character in the midst of all those sexy vampires. So maybe Wiccanism is on the verge of another pop-culture moment, whether actual practitioners-or O'Donnell-like it or not.

Photograph of the spiral pentacle for Wikimedia Commons.

Noreen Malone is a senior editor at New York magazine.

TODAY IN SLATE

Justice Ginsburg’s Crucial Dissent in the Texas Voter ID Case

The Jarring Experience of Watching White Americans Speak Frankly About Race

How Facebook’s New Feature Could Come in Handy During a Disaster

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Sprawl, Decadence, and Environmental Ruin in Nevada

View From Chicago

You Should Be Able to Sell Your Kidney

Or at least trade it for something.

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Terrorism, Immigration, and Ebola Are Combining Into a Supercluster of Anxiety

The Legal Loophole That Allows Microsoft to Seize Assets and Shut Down Companies

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Oct. 19 2014 1:05 PM Dawn Patrol Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s critically important 5 a.m. wake-up call on voting rights.
  Business
Business Insider
Oct. 19 2014 11:40 AM Pot-Infused Halloween Candy Is a Worry in Colorado
  Life
Outward
Oct. 17 2014 5:26 PM Judge Begrudgingly Strikes Down Wyoming’s Gay Marriage Ban
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 17 2014 4:23 PM A Former FBI Agent On Why It’s So Hard to Prosecute Gamergate Trolls
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Oct. 17 2014 1:33 PM What Happened at Slate This Week?  Senior editor David Haglund shares what intrigued him at the magazine. 
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 19 2014 4:33 PM Building Family Relationships in and out of Juvenile Detention Centers
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 17 2014 6:05 PM There Is No Better Use For Drones Than Star Wars Reenactments
  Health & Science
Space: The Next Generation
Oct. 19 2014 11:45 PM An All-Female Mission to Mars As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 16 2014 2:03 PM Oh What a Relief It Is How the rise of the bullpen has changed baseball.