The Washington Post promotes liberals of all stripes. On the Saturday before Halloween, the front of the Style section carried the headline "A witch spells it out: You're responsible for your own reality." David Salisbury is a believer in witchcraft as one way to be a social-justice warrior -- animal rights and environmentalism. The religious right is often covered by the Post as pushing a strange and possibly dangerous belief system.
But not David, the gay vegan witch, who needs help explaining how he's nice, and normal, too: "I always tell people I've never seen the inside of a closet - broomstick or otherwise," he says.
Post reporter Ellen McCarthy explained that as a child, David met a friend's mom who was "high priestess of a local coven."
What he encountered through Miss Tina was a worldview and practice that gave him a sense of control over his life. "Witchcraft is very much based on personal responsibility," he says. "So when I would go through rough times I would always have those guiding principles of the craft that would say, 'This is your doing. You're creating your own world. Are you going to wallow in what's happening or are you going to change it?"
He dove in, soaking up as much time with Miss Tina as he could, saving up lunch money to buy books and attending holiday celebrations with the coven. To a kid whose greatest solace was nature, a religion that focused on the changing seasons and the lunar tides had deep resonance. He loved Wicca's reverence for the divine feminine and its emphasis on personal empowerment.
The online headline was "For this witch, Wicca is about personal responsibility and growth." It came with a promotional video where David sits at an altar with his pentagram and candles. “Witches do a lot of cleansing work, primarily because we believe our actions in the world are all things that we are personally responsible for, so we’re much more likely to be successful and forces for positive change, if we approach our day cleanly and freely.”
He describes the Wiccan religion as one founded on the belief that people operate best when "connected with environmental energies, so that we can meet our own greatest potential."
"A lot of what I call magical practices are based on finding and claiming your personal power, your place in the world," says David, now 30. "So you end up gaining this strong compass of direction and confidence."
That self-possession was enough to help David ignore the objections of his stepfather, a devout Christian who opposed both David's sexuality and his chosen religion, and the taunts of his classmates. "If you just own everything that you are, it's really hard for bullies to pinpoint something to pick on you with," he says.
David's Wiccan belief that "we're responsible for making things the way we want them to be" drove him into activism. He started his high school's environmental protection group and led the gay-straight alliance. And instead of going right to college, he took an internship with PETA and became a vegan.
That passage was the one mention where the Post allowed a critic of Wiccans to surface, but only as the perspective of "bullies" who "pick on you."
McCarthy wrapped up this promotional story with the obligatory note of clearing up "misconceptions" from people who fear the occult:
This Halloween, David will join his coven for a silent dinner, called a dumb supper, to mark the holiday they call Samhain. Each participant will bring the favorite food of a deceased loved one, and once the solemn meal is finished, the gathering will turn into a more traditional Halloween party.
David knows that witches still get a bad rap. And he doesn't expect that to change in his lifetime. But he hopes to upend the stereotype with each person he encounters.
"Sometimes all it takes is a few seconds for someone to meet someone and say, 'Oh, well, they seem like a regular person.' Or, 'Oh, they seem kind,' " he says. "That act alone just shatters so much misconception."
The story promoted the Firefly House, a "pan-Pagan organization, and they were not alone. ABC's Good Morning Washington also aired a local promotional segment, complete with plug for the website.