As part of sweeping transformations in American religion and renewed interest in New Age spiritualities, modern paganism is tapping into a deep desire for self-empowerment, social engagement and reconnection with the natural world.
Inspired by, or derived from, historical pagan and nature religions, modern paganism is an undeniably broad, collective category that covers a diverse range of groups that can differ greatly in belief and practice.
While Wicca and astrology have enjoyed a certain popularity for several decades, a wave of new publications has highlighted how personalized spiritual practices, home-brewed magic and shamanistic self-discovery are now enjoying their own renaissance.
The latest edition of ReligionLink includes resources and experts to help you report on this new “neopaganism,” what some are calling a broader “re-paganization of religion.”
Which is a witch, which is a Wiccan?
Terms like modern — or contemporary — paganism cover a wide range of traditions, from goddess movements to Wicca, heathenry to occultism, Druidry to reconstructionist movements such as Asatru.
Heather Greene — author of Lights, Camera Witchcraft: A Critical History of Witches in American Film and Television and former managing editor and publisher of The Wild Hunt, an online news journal covering modern paganism in all its miscellany — said the question of terminology and identification is first and foremost when it comes to reporting on this diverse population.
For example, “neopaganism is not really used within the community anymore,” she said, “and while ‘Pagan’ is preferred by most, there is a lot of diversity in preferences.” To her point, AP style recommends lowercasing “pagan,” while the community prefers to capitalize it.
Making things even more difficult when it comes to covering modern paganism, the “community” is sometimes anything but. “It’s a decentralized, mystical community of solidarity and practice, centered on independent experience,” Greene said, “because it is both highly personal and highly creative, often involving a blend of multiple traditions, it can be hard to pin down.”
Indeed, modern paganism’s boundaries can sometimes be hotly contested, with debates around whether to include certain kinds of Satanism or Afro-Caribbean traditions like Santería (Regla de Ocha), Vodun, or obeah in the mix.
To help you determine which is a witch, which is a Wiccan, and what the difference between Norse Reconstructionism and eco-paganism is, here is a selection of background reading and reporting resources.
Background reading and data
Data on modern pagan communities is sparse and often outdated. With that said, there are a range of academic sources that can provide critical perspectives on the movement and its more recent manifestations.
- Read “Neo-Paganism,” from the Association of Religion Data Archives.
- Read “Paganism” essays at the Harvard Pluralism Project.
- Read “What is Wicca? An expert on modern witchcraft explains,” from The Conversation on Aug. 30, 2021.
- Read “A Political Profile of U.S. Pagans,” from Politics and Religion on April 6, 2021.
- Read “Contemporary Germanic/Norse Paganism and Recent Survey Data,” from The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies on July 6, 2017.
- Read “Contemporary Paganism by the Numbers,” from Handbook of Contemporary Paganism on Jan. 1, 2009.
- Read “Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States, 1993-1995,” from the Harvard Dataverse on April 7, 2008.
Coverage of the modern pagan community is wide and diverse, complex and sometimes contradictory. It includes everything from “WitchTok” and Wiccans in the military to reports on conservative opposition and explorations of race and racist politics among pagan communities. Here is a sample of some of the most recent reporting, commentary and analysis on the scene:
- Read “This Arizona Curandera Changed the Way We Think About Our Wellness Routine,” from Sunset Magazine on March 2, 2022.
- Read “Tennessee preacher Greg Locke says demons told him names of witches in his church,” from Religion News Service on Feb. 15, 2022.
- Watch “See Tennessee pastor burn ‘Twilight’ and ‘Harry Potter’ books,” from CNN on Feb. 6, 2022.
- Read “Meet the enigmatic wizards of the ancient world in ‘Druids: The Mystery Of Celtic Priests,’” from SBS Australia on Jan. 24, 2022.
- Read “How modern witches are enchanting TikTok,” from The Conversation on Jan. 19, 2022.
- Read “House of Intuition founders want you to tap into your ‘inner magic’” from Religion News service on Jan. 14, 2022.
- Read “A new aspect of the Tarot boom: Diversity in the deck,” from Religion News Service on Nov. 12, 2021.
- Read “‘We’re just normal religious people like anyone else’: Young, Springfield pagans find comfort in each other,” from The Standard (Missouri State University) on Nov. 10, 2021.
- Read “‘We’re in the middle of a witch moment’: Hip witchcraft is on the rise in the US,” from USA Today on Oct. 28, 2021.
- Read “How some ‘Jewitches’ are embracing both Judaism and witchcraft,” from Religion News Service on Oct. 25, 2021.
- Read “Wiccans in the US military are mourning the dead in Afghanistan this year as they mark Samhain, the original Halloween,” from The Conversation on Oct. 20, 2021.
- Read “BreadxButta Celebrates Indigenous Hispanic Heritage and Curanderismo Traditions Through Cannabis,” from Honey Suckle Magazine on Oct. 10, 2021.
- Read “Thor Is Beating the Lutheran Church in a Battle for Believers in the Land of Fire and Ice,” from Newsweek on Sept. 24, 2021.
- Read “Paganism, gods and goddesses aside, is the most LGBTQ-affirming faith in the US,” from Religion News Service on July 12, 2021.
- Read “The issue with commodifying witchcraft,” from The Gazette (Iowa) on June 13, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “Pagan politics are not as uniform (or liberal) as you think,” from Religion News Service on May 26, 2021.
- Read “Tarot booms as Generation Z sorts out spiritual path,” from Religion News Service on April 26, 2021.
- Read “Asatru UK reaches out with ‘The Traveller’s Guide to Modern Heathenry,’” from The Wild Hunt on April 4, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “Natural by nature, pagans expect some digital rituals to survive the pandemic,” from Religion News Service on March 16, 2021.
- Read “Why witchcraft is on the rise,” from The Atlantic in November 2020.
- Read “‘We’re reclaiming these traditions’: Black women embrace the spiritual realm,” from NBC News on Oct. 30, 2020.
- Read “How Hollywood Has Failed Black Witches, According to Real Black Witches,” from Variety on Oct. 30, 2020.
- Read “New Mexico Wiccan debunks myths, explains the pagan religion,” from the Las Cruces Sun-News on Oct. 13, 2020.
- Read “American Paganism: It’s not what the Religious Right thinks it is,” from Commonweal on Feb. 3, 2020.
- Read “Could neo-paganism be the new ‘religion’ of America?” from Big Think on Sept. 30, 2019.
- Read “Season of the Witch: Mind-Body-Spirit Books,” from Publisher’s Weekly on Aug. 2, 2019.
- Read “How Iceland recreated a Viking-age religion,” from BBC Travel on June 3, 2019.
- Watch “The Many Faces of the Occult,” from The Atlantic on Dec. 23, 2019.
- Read “The pagan boom – why young people are turning to non-traditional religions,” from Dazed on Feb. 8, 2019.
- Read “The US witch population has seen an astronomical rise,” from Quartz on Oct. 4, 2018.
- Read “What To Do When Racists Try To Hijack Your Religion,” from The Atlantic on Nov. 2, 2017.
Potential experts and sources
The Adocentyn Research Library is a multicultural, interreligious library in California’s East Bay Area. It collects, archives, preserves and makes available information related to paganism. The 13,000 books in the library’s catalog include a broad range of information on all Indigenous, tribal, polytheistic, nature-based and Earth-centered religions, spiritualities, beliefs, practices and cultures around the world and throughout human history.
Afe Adogame is a professor of religion and society at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he studies religious experiences in Africa and the African diaspora. He previously served as senior lecturer in religious studies and world Christianity at the University of Edinburgh, U.K.
Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship is a pagan church founded in the 1980s. With chapters (groves) around the U.S., the organization supports local public worship, study and fellowship according to the Indo-European Druid traditions.
Lynsey Ayala, a Brooklyn-based artist and curandera, is the founder of BreadxButta, a small pop-up shop featuring art, traditional plant medicine and residence opportunities for art and creative projects. Ayala works with plant medicine to provide healing, using traditions passed down from her Taíno ancestors.
Helen A. Berger is a sociologist at Brandeis University. She studies gender and new religions, with a focus on paganism and witchcraft.
Henrik Bogdan is professor in religious studies at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. His main areas of research are alternative forms of religion, such as Western esotericism, New Religious Movements and secret/initiatory societies.
The Buckland Museum of Witchcraft and Magick in Cleveland was founded in 1966 by Raymond Buckland. It is the first and only museum in the United States to feature a collection of witchcraft, folklore, the occult and their related cultures.
Cherry Hill Seminary is the leading provider of education and practical training in leadership, ministry and personal growth in pagan and nature-based spiritualities. Holli S. Emore is the executive director.
The Chesapeake Conjure Society is a Hoodoo society and community organization in Virginia and Maryland.
Chas S. Clifton is an American academic, author and historian who specializes in the field of pagan studies. Clifton holds a teaching position in English at Colorado State University-Pueblo. He is editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. He is also an active pagan.
Donald J. Cosentino is professor emeritus of the UCLA African Studies Center. Specializing in culture and performance (folklore, literature, visual and material arts, popular culture, African and Afro-Caribbean studies), Cosentino has done extensive fieldwork on African and diasporic cultures in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Haiti and is the author of Vodou Things: The Art of Pierrot Barra and Marie Cassaise and The Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou.
Covenant of the Goddess is an international organization of cooperating, autonomous Wiccan congregations and solitary practitioners. Contact through the website.
Ivo Domínguez Jr. is a practitioner of a variety of esoteric disciplines, particularly active in Wicca and the pagan community since 1978. Domínguez was a founding member, and a past high priest, of Keepers of the Holly Chalice, the first coven of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, a Wiccan tradition. He currently serves as one of the elders of the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, a Wiccan syncretic tradition. He is the author of The Four Elements of the Wise: Working with the Magickal Powers of Earth, Air, Water, Fire.
Selena Fox is a high priestess and senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church and pagan resource center near Mount Horeb, Wisconsin. Wicca is a neopagan faith that relies heavily on nature and a belief in some forms of magic and the supernatural.
Heather Greene is a writer and editor who covers religion, art and the occult. She is the author of Lights, Camera, Witchcraft: A Critical History of Witches in American Film and Television. Contact her through her website.
Pam Grossman is a writer, curator and teacher of magical practice and history. She is the host of “The Witch Wave” podcast and the author of multiple books on witchcraft, including Waking the Witch: Reflections on Women, Magic, and Power. Vulture magazine called her “the Terry Gross of Witches.”
Mitch Horowitz is popular voice on esoteric ideas and writer-in-residence at the New York Public Library, lecturer-in-residence at the Philosophical Research Society in Los Angeles and a PEN Award-winning author.
Judika Illes is an American author of esoteric nonfiction books, aromatherapist and tarot reader. She has written the books Daily Magic, 5000 Spells, Encyclopedias of Spirits, Saints, Witchcraft and more.
Peter Jones, adjunct professor of New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California, is co-author of Cracking DaVinci’s Code and author of Stolen Identity: The Conspiracy to Reinvent Jesus.
The Lady Liberty League is a nonprofit group that advocates for religious freedom and freedom from religious discrimination for pagans. Its founder and co-executive director is Selena Fox, and it is located in Barneveld, Wisconsin.
Daizy October Latifah is known as “Los Angeles’ Hoodoo Woman” and describes herself as an ancestral astrologer, diviner and Hoodoo historian. She is also a certified clinical hypnotherapist.
James R. Lewis is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Tromsø and honorary senior research fellow at the University of Wales Lampeter. He edits Brill’s Handbooks on Contemporary Religion series and co-edits Ashgate’s Controversial New Religions series. He is an active, highly published scholar of New Religious Movements. He has written about Sikhism.
Najah Lightfoot is the author of Good Juju: Mojos, Rites & Practices for the Magical Soul and a regular contributor to the Llewellyn annuals and The Library of Esoterica —Volume III — Witchcraft. Her magickal staff is on display and part of the permanent collection of the Buckland Museum of Witchcraft in Cleveland.
Pagan Federation International is a campaigning organization set up to advocate for pagan issues in the United Kingdom and a network of regional organizers and numerous local chapters. Founded in 1971, it is based in the UK with branches and affiliations across the world. Its foundation is registered in The Hague, Netherlands.
Kathryn Rountree is professor of anthropology at Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand. She has published on contemporary paganism in Malta and New Zealand, feminist spirituality, animism, pilgrimage, embodiment and the contestation of sacred sites. Her books include Embracing the Witch and the Goddess: Feminist Ritual-makers in New Zealand and Crafting Contemporary Pagan Identities in a Catholic Society, and the co-edited Archaeology of Spiritualities.
Felicia Cocotzin Ruiz is a curandera, author, Indigenous foods activist and natural foods chef whose work is deeply rooted in the healing properties of all earth medicines.
Robert L. Schreiwer is the manager of Huginn’s Heathen Hof and also manager of Heathens Against Hate. He was formerly the leader of The Troth (2016-2019), an international heathen organization based in the United States. He founded In-Reach Heathen Prison Services, which is now a program within The Troth, and its counterpart for mental health facility visitations.
Teemu Taira is senior lecturer in the study of religion, University of Helsinki, and docent at the department of study of religion, University of Turku, Finland. His research has focused on three areas: religion in the media; the new visibility of atheism and nonreligion; and discursive study of the category of “religion.” He has published on paganism in Nordic countries.
The following is a mix of academic deep dives, practitioners’ perspectives and other resources to help you report on magic, witchcraft and additional aspects of modern paganism in America and abroad:
General Overviews and Histories:
- Read New Age and Neopagan Religions in America, by Sarah M. Pike.
- Read Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and Modern Paganism, edited by Kathryn Rountree.
- Read The Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, edited by Murphy Pizza and James Lewis.
- Read Modern Paganism in World Cultures: Comparative Perspectives, by Michael F. Strmiska.
- Read Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions, by Joyce and River Higginbotham.
- Read The Path of Paganism, by John Beckett.
Witchcraft and Wicca:
- Read Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers and Other Pagans in America, by Margot Adler.
- Read The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, by Ronald Hutton.
- Read Wicca and the Christian Heritage: Ritual, Sex and Magic, by Joanne Pearson.
- Read Pagan Curious: A Beginner’s Guide to Nature, Magic, and Spirituality, by Debra DeAngelo.
- Read The Crooked Path: An Introduction to Traditional Witchcraft, by Kelden.
- Read Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca and Paganism in America, by Chas Clifton.
- Read The Encyclopedia of Witches, Witchcraft and Wicca, edited by Rosemary Guiley.
Heathenism and Norse Paganism:
- Read A Practical Heathen’s Guide to Asatru, by Patricia Lafayllve.
- Read The Way of Fire and Ice: The Living Tradition of Norse Paganism, by Ryan Smith.
- Read Children of Lucifer: The Origins of Modern Religious Satanism, by Ruben van Luijk.
- Read The Devil’s Party: Satanism in Modernity, edited by Per Faxneld and Jesper Aa. Petersen.
Websites, podcasts, and images:
- Check out The Wild Hunt: Modern Pagan News And Perspectives.
- Check out New World Witchery, a show about magic and witchcraft in North America.
- Listen to Weird Web Radio, a podcast by Lonnie Scott.
- Listen to Lunatic Mondays, a podcast by Laura Gonzalez.
- Explore “Cornell University’s Witchcraft Collection,” containing over 3,000 titles documenting the history of the Inquisition and the persecution of witchcraft.
- Look at Getty Images: “Wicca.”
- Look at Getty Images: “Paganism.”
Related resource guides
Past editions of ReligionLink can help you go even deeper into the history of modern paganism and its relation to other religious traditions in the U.S.: