Witchcraft as a Class Signifier


The people in the media who are trying to disqualify Christine O’Donnell for her witchcraft comments show as usual the insularity of their lives. They don’t know anything about millions of their fellow citizens except their own class-based bigotries.

Lots of people from a more blue collar or lower middle class persuasion are fans of heavy metal and various sub-genres which have all kinds of witchcraft and Satanic symbolism and lyrics. There has been black magic and witchcraft on the edge of the stoner scene and various parts of the music scene since the 1960s, and probably a lot farther back. A trippy girl with black fingernails and black lacy gloves at a party might tell you she was a witch. Wow. Cool.

Yeah, it’s weird. But it is not unheard of.

The smug people who run the mainstream media have lived their lives in a cocoon. I imagine them all spending their squeaky clean, college-focused, uptight, upper-middle-class teenage lives worrying about their SAT scores and living in terror of hurting their chances of getting into an Ivy.

Millions of other people spend those same years working after school changing the oil in the deep-fryer, getting demerits and doing detention, taking drugs, dealing drugs, smoking cigarettes, getting drunk in the woods, getting in fights, listening to loud music, getting pulled over for driving Dad’s car too fast, driving on the back of their boyfriends’ motorcycles without a helmet, throwing up in the bushes, getting arrested at a loud party for lipping off to the cops, getting screamed at by their (single) Mom when they showed up home at 2:00 a.m., and so on. Some of them end up in prison. But most of them turn out OK, anyway.

“How many of you didn’t hang out with questionable folks in high school?”

It sounds like Christine had friends who fit in with this commonly occurring American background. But it also sounds like she did not get sucked into it. It sounds like her life followed a pretty well-worn path of getting religion as part of overcoming a potentially destructive and wasteful group of friends and influences. I am making this up. I’m guessing. How do I know?

But I don’t start out with the assumption she is an imbecile.

When she talks about the issues, she sounds smart enough for me.

(People who mock Ms. O’Donnell have probably never been to a Slayer concert. I walked out on Slayer once. I was there to see the opening act: Motörhead. The crowd of crazed-looking and frankly threatening teens at the Slayer concert were manifestly high on various things, had pentagrams on their clothes and tattooed on themselves, and lots of them would have told you, I am sure, that they were into witchcraft or Satanism. Hell, one of them might have been the guy Christine O’Donnell dated.)

The people who think these comments disqualify Ms. O’Donnell barely understand their own country and the crazy stuff that goes on in it all the time.

As to the masturbation comment, it is mainstream Christian teaching, e.g. this. Tens of millions of people find nothing odd about it at all. As chuckle-worthy as our sophisticated television personalities may find it, orthodox sexual morality still has millions of people who hold it as an ideal and try to live it.

I find it appealing that Christine O’Donnell did not spend her entire life since she was about nine years old worrying about what she said might hurt her career prospects, or sully her pristine resume. She just said what she wanted to say, like a free person in a free country. What a nutty idea.

I am supposed to think that Christine O’Donnell is some kind of freak, and the people who usually run for office are normal. I personally find that to be backwards.

I suppose we will have to always have Senators who are clenched, careerist, smooth, zero defect people with their memorized talking points and brittle hair and a phony laugh, who are comfortable with wealthy lobbyists and the protocols of places where the people with big money spend their time. That whole insider schtick makes them “electable.” It is also boring and pathetic. And it is not what most of America is all about. For now, these guys own the place. And they are supposed to be wicked smart. Just ask them. But they are doing a piss poor job. They may not be dumb, but they have botched things anyway. They have dug a multi-trillion dollar hole they expect the rest of us to dig out of.

You could not do much worse even if you were praying to Satan the whole time.

I like to think that the voters of Delaware will care about Ms. O’Donnell’s positions on the issues at stake in the election and laugh off all this crap.

But, yeah, on second thought, she’ll probably get clobbered. Too bad.

UPDATE: I foolishly failed to provide a link to the best book ever ever ever about a teen witch Andromeda Klein, by Frank Portman. Andromeda is a great character, and I loved this book, and I ate it with both hands, and laughed out loud many times when reading it. (Check out his groovy blog, Dr. Frank’s What’s-It.)

41 thoughts on “Witchcraft as a Class Signifier”

  1. You can add all the people who once played (or are still playing) D&D and other fantasy roleplaying games in the past 30 years. Many of them have fresh memories of when mainstream media went ape over fake D&D-teaches-kids-magic hysteria.

    As for the masturbation belief, maybe the media could do itself a favor and ask Keith Ellison (Congress’s only muslim) what his version of Islam believes regarding masturbation . . .

  2. Well, I don’t know about the “Millions of other people” in your 5th paragraph, but you pretty much described MY youth to a T….

    (No wonder I like this place so much….)

  3. I think you’re misunderstanding the point–the folks who are making a big deal about this couldn’t care less about whether Christine O’Donnell hung out with witches. What they’re hoping is that it makes a huge difference to her possible voters–to the bitter clingers.

  4. Not all witches are troubled lower-class people. I once dated a witch…well, she hadn’t formally become a witch yet, but she was already showing definite tendencies in that direction…a very nice, extremely well-read middle-class girl. The type you describe is probably much more common, though.

    Note also that while witchcraft per se may be relatively rare among the “progressives”, other forms of mysticism are not: belief in magical crystals, various “forces”, and some sort of conscious Gaia, to mention a few. Belief in astrology is very commmon, and indeed is practically like Newtonian physics, compared with some of the *other* things that they believe in.

  5. It’s not that their backgrounds are squeaky-clean; for the most part they aren’t — consider the revelations that both Bush and Kerry had used drugs in their youth, for instance. It’s that their impenetrably bigoted stereotype of the “bitter clinging hicks” it is their annoying duty to manage disallows such a background, and that that attitude informs voting patterns. The real revelation here is that the stereotype is prevalent not only on the Left, where it is explicitly described, but on the soi-disant Right as well.


  6. David, that Tolkien article is pretty good. An attractive, Conservative woman who likes Tolkien: We have the makings of a gigantic dorkish mass crush. Will the horns of the North, wildly blowing signal a surprise upset for our beleaguered witch princess?

  7. Ric: Bush and Kerry, and Teddy Kennedy, were different. The suffered the moral destruction that great wealth imposes on young men. They did not need to worry about their SAT scores. They just had to show up for life’s prizes to be handed to them. I wouldn’t wish that life on my worst enemy.

    Curmudgeon Geographer: Good point about D&D. I used to play this one.

    David: Yes. The supposedly smart and liberal people believe a lot of weird things. The environmentalism of most of them takes on a cult-like fervor, and is a pretty overt religion substitute.

    Also, I forgot another “witch” who had legions of girl imitators, Stevie Nicks.

  8. Perhaps my experience as a California native who’s lived here my entire life is unrepresentative, but I’ve been hearing for decades that Wiccans (witches to us plebes) are a legitimate, mainstream form of worship, as valid a religion as Catholicism. As recently as 2004 Wiccan Covens were still having public ceremonies in Berkley, California, and Democrats seeking their votes were apologizing for the Salem Witch trials. Of course, Wiccans tend toward extremely liberal views.

    Can a liberal be an acceptable and responsible Wiccan, while a conservative is a despicable, neurotic witch? I’m not personally a Multiculturist, but this form a bigotry would seem to be an extreme violation of Multicultural values, warranting expulsion and ostracism from the Progressive movement.

    I’m certain all Democrats will soon rally together and condemn the anti-witch extremists like Rove and Maher.

  9. Clearly you don’t understand that membership in the Ruling Class is a prerequisite for membership in The Combine. And membership in the Combine is a prerequisite for membership in the Senate. Having a history if witchcraft clearly disqualifies one from membership in the Ruling Class, unlike say drug use (except crack) or leaving girls in cars after you have driven them off a bridge, or having a male prostitution ring run out of your Georgetown house. So clearly O’Donnell is not qualified to be a Sentor.

    Clearly the MSM is out to destroy Ms O’Donnell. We are about to find out if she is as tough as Ms Palin. Thus far, things look good. But she’s got about 40 more days in Purgatory. Thank goodness she doesn’t have children. This will get nastier.

  10. My middle daughter hung out with some Gothic kids in high school and dated a fellow who was a bit out of the mainstream, if you catch my drift. She is now married and a grad student at UCLA with her husband. She joked about having a Wiccan ceremony for the wedding, mostly to see if it would get a rise out of me. (It didn’t). She is also the one who speaks four languages including Arabic and plans a career categorizing ancient Arabic manuscripts in Spain’s archives. She works part time for a major research library, two if you count UCLA’s.

    She is being recruited by federal agencies because of her knowledge of Arabic and Arabic culture. No political aspirations yet.

  11. Since posting before, I’ve been cruising some left wing blogs. Ms O’Donnell seems to be an obsession with the witchcraft “dabbling.” What I don’t understand is why they would give it a second thought. After all, the GOP is dominated by Bible thumping fundamentalists for whom a mention of witches would be enough for a prayer session. Somewhere, they are getting their metaphors mixed up.

  12. They think it means they have won the election.

    I think it is something they will overplay, because it is not very important.

    They like it because it fits their narratives that people who disagree with them are stupid and gullible and nuts.

    The comment about mice with human brains, that one I found more troubling, for some reason.

    But perhaps the voters of Delaware will be most repelled by the youthful witchcraft.

  13. It’s easier to focus on these kinds of quirks than substance and specifics.

    Hey, I’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

    But the mood seems very different these days. I think people are freaked and want the country to get back on an even keel which is not the same thing as the status quo.

    I don’t know anything about this race or anything about O’Donnell or Castle or anything but I do know all about the following:

    1. Ronald Reagon – dumb actor.
    2. Margaret Thatcher – grocer’s daughter and evil buster of unions.
    3. Sarah Palin – beauty queen and dummy.
    4. Bobby Jindal – hey, wasn’t he into excorcisms?
    5. Bob McDonnell – hey, wasn’t he into confederate flags?
    6. Paul Ryan – he wants to dismantle the ENTIRE government and make granny poor and eat dog food because he wants to dismantle the ENTIRE government.
    7. GWB – dry drunk evangelical.

    Wait a minute! It’s almost as if any person on the right – regardless of qualifications, temperment, personality, past, or job-performance – is kooky.

    Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. And the days go by….

    (I like some of the above, some of the above I’m less fond of.* But you know what? I’m thinking that the nicest, smartest, bestest person in the world would immediately become an ogre if he stated he was a conservative. Funny how that works.)

    – Madhu

  14. The * in the above comment was a mild rant which I decided not to go into but forgot to delete the *. It’s not important. I’m trying to be the happy warrior. I’m tired of my online ranting. Some people do anger well. It just makes me mean. I don’t like that.

    – Madhu

  15. One last comment for this thread. For GW, what I meant is this: for some people, evangelical by itself is a slur. Weird. People are just people and some evangelicals are nice, some are mean, some are this, that or the other. It’s almost as if they are people with all the range, depth, and frailty of human nature seen in any group.

    The attitude toward the religious by some is very strange. Kinda kooky, really.

    – Madhu

  16. Watch out, establishment parties, O’Donnell is putting a spell on you:

    eye of Newt
    with Coons in the cauldron
    Harry be moot
    arrangest my tea leaves
    so that I mote see
    voters disenchanted
    and, perforce, victory!

  17. I view this as part of the culture wars and only incidentally about O’Donnell. Embedded in this situation is a great insult.

    If I understand O’Donnell’s situation. She dabbled in some sort of ceremonials that can vaguely be called witchcraft, repented of it, and is now part of the Assemblies of God.

    Democrats apparently hope to undercut her electoral appeal based on their belief in the hypocrisy of all christian teaching about forgiveness and reconciliation. After all, the early christians never forgave Mary Magdelene and Saul of Tarsus, right?

    This is a profound insult to every christian church that stands for a serious theology.

  18. I recall an article mentioning that the left’s campaign against Republican candidates for more than 50 years has amounted to “Y’know, he’s really not very bright, but OUR guy is!” Did it at least as far back as Eisenhower–you remember that dumb guy, the one who commanded the Allied Forces? Similarly Nixon (might’ve had something there, but uneducated he wasn’t); Reagan we all remember; more recently, I recall the MSM oohing and aaahing over how brilliant Al Gore was—somehow, his flunking out of Divinity school did nothing to alter that disinformation campaign (how, BTW does one FAIL at Divinity school? Unable to memorize the Hail Mary? Forget how many Psalms are in the Bible? But, I digress).
    The failure of this is based upon the insular nature of liberal thought: not only that the intelligentsia have a monopoly on The Truth, but that we, the unwashed proletariat—to whom the liberal thinkers are, of course devoted, if only on a lofty theoretical level—recognize the necessity of another Very Smart Person to lead us.

    In point of fact, many of us did have less-than-unsullied formative years: and, good for us. I’m educated and board certified and successful and as well read as I can find time for: but I recall growing up in a house trailer next to a junkyard, and racing my buddies on the Interstate, and driving across the state line to take advantage of a more acceptable drinking age, and all of those things that make for an ungilded, imperfect, and quintessentially normal American life in all its idiosyncratic uniqueness.
    The intelligentsia looks upon those of us who not only watched Wayne’s World, but LIVED it, and look down their noses: failing to understand that a majority of us see a sliver of ourselves in these flawed individuals; W’s substance issues, Christine’s high school-flaky witchery dalliance, Rubio’s immigrant family and their oh-so-tiresome-work-hard-and-succeed story, shared by so many millions in this country; in short, all that makes this nation such a fascinating human experiment. They look upon us all, and think only “But, I’m the one who did it right, and I’m the one with the Ivy League degree: why should I listen to this riffraff that I avoided in my town, and my upbringing?” Because buddy, we’ve actually lived life in this country and understand its imperfections, and we WANT someone who is steady and reliable, but shares a few unique warts with us.

    So, you go Christine O, with your slightly smudged CV and unfashionable moral compass, and all of the other mere mortals who decided they could do a better job in Congress than the Ivy League former prosecutor occupying their district’s seat. Support these people, and we might—just might—end up with a more representative Congress and Senate than the one we’re stuck with today.
    Pardon the long post; the subject just got me going.

  19. Mlyster, good comment. This discussion shows that we are tapping into something deeply, structurally wrong with the USA today. And it does not break out along a Left-Right axis.

  20. Mlyster…yes. And note that the definition of “intelligent” they use is simply not one that would survive serious challenge. Is someone with a Masters in Political Science from Harvard *really* more intelligent than someone with a BS in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech, several patents to his name, and extensive interest & reading in history and philosophy? It’s doubtful, either in a pure IQ sense or in terms of ability to actually do things.

    What we are seeing here, very simply, is an attempt to constitute an aristocracy–and, to a substantial extent, a hereditary one.

    I wonder if all those Brit-shows on PBS (“petroleum’s British subsidiary,” as it was once called) have activated some sort of historical memory of living in the mansions and condescending to the lower orders.

  21. “What we are seeing here, very simply, is an attempt to constitute an aristocracy–and, to a substantial extent, a hereditary one.”

    David, this is absolutely right.

    The cargo cult phony-baloney degrees many of these people get are not meaningful indicia of competence to run anything. It is the modern, PC version of the classical education the old Brit aristocracy got. Except, of course, reading Plutarch and Thucydides and Virgil and Livy and the Greek dramas actually is a pretty good preparation for exercising political authority. It does not tell you much about economics, finance or technology, though. Gender Studies does not teach you anything useful to anybody for anything.

  22. “Gender Studies does not teach you anything useful to anybody for anything.”

    Yes, certainly, but early 20 C. deconstructionist gender studies made for some relatable art (how some of us feel going downstairs for our morning coffee, I mean I can’t be the only one?)

  23. “Barely human” certainly refers to the way that *I* feel before having my first 2 cups of coffee in the morning.

    In one of the Hornblower novels, Hornblower’s secretary must put before him the file on a court-martial case involving life or death. He (the secretary) is sympathetic to the accused, and is careful not to bring the matter up until Hornblower has had his coffee.

  24. Lex,

    What are the Democrats going to do when the teen to late 20 something “faceook generation” comes of age politically?

    In the last three years I cannot go out to a west coast swing dance event without 1 to 10 pictures of me dancing and socializing being posted.

    Clubs, spring breaks, college sports events are all wired for cellphone-cam light and sound with a great deal more booze and hormones.

  25. Trent, we will have to define a new normal. If there is no privacy and every word, deed and even thought is a matter of indestructibe public record, only people who have been in solitary confinement all their lives will have no dirt on their escutcheons.

    Or, we will elect AI programs to represent us, after we amend the Constitution to make them eligible.

    The world is weird, and getting weirder every day.

    I rule out nothing.

  26. Call me paranoid, but I see this ‘professionalization’ of politics as part of a broader effort on the part of professional academics to compartmentalize and socially ‘license’ (for want of a better term) every niche of intellectual activity. Years ago, one could be multifaceted, and appreciated for it: the Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Howard Hughes genre was an archetype of the American selfmade, ‘can-do’ sort of personality. Americans recognized that some people simply had talent: not niche education, but basic intrinsic ability to approach a task and master it.

    In contrast, one now sees in American political life—and indeed, in a variety of public forums—that if your training is not specifically within the subcategory to which your attention or comments are addressed, then you are unfit by definition. This attitude does not benefit the nation, and it does not benefit the culture at large. Rather, it caters to the intellectual and political elite. “You there, uncultured plebe: what do YOU know of governance? I’M the career elected official, here; I’m the one who’s been public defender/city councilman / state representative/ Secretary of State/US congressman; what can you, mere business owner, military professional, career physician, know of the Grand Mysteries of Governance?” Similarly the professional punditry and chronic experts, dismissing the Tea Party and self-assembled interest groups.

    The best career security for politicians is to convince people that it is SO specialized a talent, that only those pursuing it as a lifelong career can be entrusted with it. In fact, a reasonably talented restaurateur or industrial plant manager could do it. And a darn sight better than most of the geniuses driving the Federal government into the ditch today.

  27. @ Mylster – you are on a roll with your last set of comments on this blog! I think I sort of channeled – or maybe subconsciously copied? – some of your sentiments in my comment to the Murkowski post :)

    – Madhu

    PS: In particular, this: “Years ago, one could be multifaceted, and appreciated for it: the Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Howard Hughes genre was an archetype of the American selfmade, ‘can-do’ sort of personality. Americans recognized that some people simply had talent: not niche education, but basic intrinsic ability to approach a task and master it.” Good comment.

  28. Mlyster…”if your training is not specifically within the subcategory to which your attention or comments are addressed, then you are unfit by definition”

    This phenomenon could be seen clearly in the debate over arming airline pilots right after 9/11. Opponents of arming pilots (and there were many) made much of the fact that pilots are not trained law enforcement officials. At a deeper level, it seemed to disturb them for someone to play a role other than their formal, assigned function…i.e., pilots should fly, law enforcement officers should deal with threats, passengers should sit passively in their seats, etc. (It did not seem that a one-week course in firearms use, etc, would satisfy this issue in their minds: only a “real law enforcement officer” counted)

    In a post I wrote at the time, I quoted Robert Heinlein:

    “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

  29. Well put, David (and Mr Heinlein). Only a PhD in Social Interpretational Dialectics (or some other such nonsense) would fail to understand that many, if not most pilots had already undergone basic weapons training during their military careers: and many others simply had experience with firearms because they chose to do so.
    I, for one am merely a trained professional with a postgraduate degree. But I can still put 6 rounds in a 5″ circle at 10 yards with a 45 auto. Bet most airline pilots, after an hour or two in the gun range could still do the same or better.
    Bet the genius PhD commenting on NPR couldn’t, and would run away covering his ears like a little girl after the first round…

    This, BTW is a great blogsite. As an expatriate Chicagoan, it’s a comfortable and stimulating intellectual rendezvous point.

  30. “Bet the genius PhD commenting on NPR couldn’t, and would run away covering his ears like a little girl after the first round…”

    Mlyster, you evidently hit the target both in your excellent comments and at the range. Do hope you wear ear protection for at least the latter.

  31. To the Re-, er, Progressives and RINOs …

    You trumpet someone’s dabbling
    As a naive teenage witch …
    As if today she’s still using
    Samantha’s nasal twitch …
    But when it comes to magic
    You’re much stronger it is clear …
    For you’ve shown you possess the power
    To make trillions disappear!

    Strain strain strain … strain those gnats!
    Then fling ’em out, see if they’ll stick
    From wherever you’re at …
    As you swallow camels of dysfunction
    ‘Till your belly’s fat …
    Strain strain strain … strain those gnats!

  32. To the Re-, er, Progressives and RINOs …

    You trumpet someone’s dabbling
    As a naive teenage witch …
    As if today she’s still using
    Samantha’s nasal twitch …
    But when it comes to magic
    You’re much stronger it is clear …
    For you’ve shown you possess the power
    To make trillions disappear!

    Strain strain strain … strain those gnats!
    Then fling ’em out, see if they’ll stick
    From wherever you’re at …
    As you swallow camels of dysfunction
    ‘Till your belly’s fat …
    Strain strain strain … strain those gnats!

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