Wiccan priestess discusses spirituality

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Selena Fox ‘71, renowned Wiccan priestess, highlighted the importance of ancient and classical cultures in ceremony at her COLL 300 talk at the Sadler Center. COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

March 27, students attended a talk entitled “COLL 300 Lecture Series: Selena Fox,” given by renowned Wiccan Priestess Selena Fox ’71. From her unique perspective of a Wiccan practitioner and the co-executive director of the Circle Sanctuary in Barneveld, Wisconsin, Fox’s talk focused primarily on issues of environmental protection and religious discrimination. 

Theatre professor Elizabeth Wiley has been heavily influenced by Fox in her life and extended Fox to speak at the College of William and Mary’s COLL 300 lecture 

When Selena was a student at William and Mary, she was already planting the seeds that would then come into bloom her life,” Wiley said. “She was one of the founders of the first Earth Day in 1970. She is also among the founders of the first women’s equality groups on campus, so it was no surprise that in 1974 that she founded Circle Sanctuary, a nature spirituality church and preserve.”  

Wiley has seen Fox in many roles, including as the officiant in her daughter’s coming-of-age ceremony.  

Over the years I have witnessed her as [a] priestess, teacher, organiser, mentor and above all as [an] inspirer, Wiley said.  

Following along with the COLL 300 curriculum’s theme of ceremony for the spring 2019 semester, Fox answered panel questions from students about how ceremony has touched her life.  

“Ceremony in my life began on this very campus,” Fox said. “… Every yuletide there is the campus yule log ceremony. In the summer of 1970, I had the opportunity with others to be part of this long-standing tradition and ceremony at the College.” 

As a Wiccan priestess, Fox is required to be the officiant of many ceremonies, but ceremony has not always occupied such a meaningful role in her life. For Fox, ceremony is inspired by ancient and classical cultures, some of which she studied as a student at the College.   

“I also created my very first public ceremony at the [College] Through my long-time interest in the classics,” Fox said. I was president of Beta Sigma Phi as well as founder and president of the Classics Club. It is important to experience the classics through ceremony, not just reading or discussing it over tea With the full cooperation and participation of all the faculty we created and enacted a Rite of Spring.” 

Reflecting on her time at the College, Fox credits the inequities faced by women during her time in Williamsburg for inspiring her drive towards justice and equality.  

“In the fall of 1967, as a freshman on campus I got a copy of the William and Mary Woman and I was told I had to read it, memorize it, and be tested on it,” Fox said. I read the book and I started to wonder if men had a similar book. I later found out they did not. We had all sorts of interesting rules. 

Looking through the books, which can still be found in Special Collections at the Earl Gregg Swem Library, Fox realised that there were many discriminatory rules aimed at restricting the freedom of women on campus.  

“You couldn’t go walking in the woods without signed parental permission,” Fox said. You couldn’t wear slacks. I lived on Chastity Row: Jefferson, Chandler, Barrett, Landrum. We would get locked up at 11 at night and periodically there would be fire drills. For fire safety? No, but to make sure we were there. 

“You couldn’t go walking in the woods without signed parental permission,” Fox said. You couldn’t wear slacks. I lived on Chastity Row: Jefferson, Chandler, Barrett, Landrum. We would get locked up at 11 at night and periodically there would be fire drills. For fire safety? No, but to make sure we were there. 

Eventually, Fox grew exasperated with what she saw as patronizing behaviour

“This experience pretty much radicalized me, I would say,” Fox said. Only 25 percent of the campus was women and you had to be an A student to even get in here, but they were treating us like we were little kids and controlling us. What is wrong with this picture?” 

Fox decided to organize an administration-approved burning of the rulebooks in protest. Though not many women were brave enough yet to stand up to administration, many men expressed their solidarity by joining in the book burning.  

“After contemplating and reflecting, I thought we needed to do something,” Fox said. Now, I love books. I would never think of harming a book, much less burning a book. But I thought this might be a bright way of expressing our concern. In fact, there was a great burning of William and Mary Woman rulebooks.” 

Though Fox hasn’t always identified as a Wiccan, she has always seen herself as a nature practitioner — even when she was a Southern Baptist. She found ways to commune with nature and connects the content of the Gospels with her Wiccan faith.  

“I started my nature spirituality journey as a Southern Baptist and indeed, and though I honor many beliefs I would go out and commune with nature as a young child and saw no dissonance with that and my Southern Baptist practices,” Fox said. In my Bible study, as I learned about Jesus having what I call his 40-day vision quest,’ I saw that same piece as being part of Christianity. 

As a practitioner of nature, Fox sees it as important to have ceremonies which celebrate the order of nature. Consequently, she greets the day ceremonially no matter the weather condition.  

“One ceremony that I do personally every day is what I call ‘greet the day’ ceremony,” Fox said. It happens in three places: when I awake I reflect on my dreams, and then I make my way to my home shrine and I do a focus and a prayer, and then I’m out the front door regardless of the weather and I literally greet the day. 

For Fox, ceremony without community is meaningless. Without a community of people to commemorate or celebrate a ceremony, it’s difficult to create a lasting ceremony that can outlive the people who envisioned it.  

“Ceremony is about community. It’s about having a community connect together as well as connect with the divine in whatever form that’s conceptualized,” Fox said. With the rise of international and interreligious collaboration and communication there has been an evolution of ceremony that can give expression to different forms of prayer.” 

“Ceremony is about community. It’s about having a community connect together as well as connect with the divine in whatever form that’s conceptualized,” Fox said. With the rise of international and interreligious collaboration and communication there has been an evolution of ceremony that can give expression to different forms of prayer.” 

As an activist for nature-based religions, Fox has pioneered the way for practitioners to be recognized by governments on federal and local levels. 

I have worked with the U.S. Department of Defence and the Department of Veteran Affairs,” Fox said. I have been an advisor to a lot of state organization and government agencies. I have helped revise the section on the Wiccan religion in the 1980s with the Pentagon for the army chaplain’s handbook.” 

Recognizing that sometimes people’s prejudices can only be swept aside with the threat of legal action, Fox gives credit to the legal teams — and the College — that have helped her push past discrimination that prevents recognition for pagans.  

“Sometimes it takes lawyering up to get action,” Fox explained. Working with the different branches of government and having firsthand opportunities to see government in action or not in action, I can say that it has helped to have some institutional background and a lot that understanding got its roots right here at William and Mary and some of it has come from my conservative upbringing.” 

Ultimately, Fox knows that anti-pagan discrimination has deep roots, especially in Christian-European influenced cultures which conflate nature practice with Satanic worship. 

“Not all people in the U.S. or on planet Earth are embracing of diversity that includes nature spirituality,” Fox said. There is some fear, there is some misinformation, there is some ignorance, there’s outright bigotry — and I’ve had a number of close encounters of the problematic kind.” 

Giving her audience an example, Fox harkened back to a similar college talk she was asked to give. Asked to speak to a government class, many people complained about her presence once it was made known she was a Wiccan, with the ultimate goal of silencing her.  

“I was speaking in a government class on civil rights and First Amendment rights and some people learned that I was also a pagan priestess and a nature spirituality minister and did not feel that I should be speaking there,” Fox said. “They created all sorts of ruckus and made phone calls to the head of the campus. Fortunately, I didn’t have to lawyer up. What was I speaking on in the government class? Persecution of pagans. I don’t think they even knew that, but clearly they proved the point.” 

Fox later remarked on the successes that her holistic healing has had when she would work with patients — as a response to some of the medical-related questions asked by students. 

When I worked at a private, forprofit mental hospital, I proposed to the director of medical services that I be able to take the severely mentally ill people out to the grounds as part of the therapy. No surprise! It boosted some wellness with them,” Fox said 

However, parts of Fox’s talk did not resonate well with audience members. Some saw Fox’s promotion of alternative medicines as a problematic gesture 

She mentioned that you could use herbs and medicine to have a holistic connection to medicine, but that’s like saying you could teach alchemy and chemistry alongside each other to have a holistic understanding of the elements,” Matthew Petit ’22 said. “I’m not convinced that you could combine the two.” 

In relation to religious pluralism, Fox urged audience members to look introspectively and examine their beliefs in relations to that of others and realize that everyone has more in common than they have differences.  

“I do think that it’s important for people no matter what the belief system is to really look deep into the religious, the spiritual or philosophical tradition,” Fox said. Chances are that you’re going to find some common ground with love.”  

“I do think that it’s important for people no matter what the belief system is to really look deep into the religious, the spiritual or philosophical tradition,” Fox said. Chances are that you’re going to find some common ground with love.”  

Along with finding religious common ground, Fox wants people to show compassion to others — especially in this current political climate.  

“We are in contentious times right now, but I’m truly hoping that good manners will re-emerge and prevail, honesty will prevail and that compassion and consideration will also become a thing,” Fox said. 

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Gavin Aquin-Hernández
Gavin Aquin-Hernández ’22 is a Sports Editor for The Flat Hat newspaper and a proud member of the Editorial Board. He has contributed to the paper since 2018. Gavin originally hails from Las Vegas, Nevada and Los Angeles, California. He is a History and European Studies double-major, with a particular interest in Spanish and French cultural issues and the history of the Jewish Diaspora. Gavin hopes to eventually become a lawyer when he graduates. When he isn't watching Tribe Athletics, Gavin follows the Vegas Golden Knights, the LA Dodgers, Tottenham Hotspur and C.D. Guadalajara. En castellano: Gavin Aquin Hernández '22 es un editor de deportes para el periódico « The Flat Hat » y es miembro de la Junta Editorial. Él ha sido miembro del periódico desde 2018. Originalmente, él viene de Las Vegas, Nevada y de Los Ángeles, California. Él está estudiando la historia y los estudios europeos. En particular, le interesan los temas culturales españoles y franceses, y también le interesa la historia de la diáspora judía. Gavin desea trabajar como abogado después de graduarse. Además de seguir Tribe Athletics, Gavin sigue a los Golden Knights, los Doyers, Tottenham Hotspur y las Chivas.