Halloween always brings out witches and warlocks (and ghosts and goblins) for a popular festival of fright. Yet today’s witches — or Wiccans, as they are known — and followers of a range of other neo-pagan traditions hardly seem so scary. They are certainly growing, however — which may give some believers pause.
Neo-pagans are people who follow any one of a variety of pre-Christian religions that usually blend both old and new traditions.
In surveys, contemporary pagans are usually classified under the heading of New Religious Movements and “other religions,” which includes everything from Scientologists to Spiritualists. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, members of “other religions” and New Religious Movements went from 1.3 million in 1990 to 1.8 million in 2001 to 2.8 million in 2008.
Specifically, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 2001 to 2008, from 134,000 to 342,000, and the same held true for neo-pagans, who went from 140,000 in 2001 to 340,000 in 2008.
Experts say the growth reflects not only increasing numbers of neo-pagans, but also a rise in the social acceptability of paganism. As a result, more respondents would be willing to identify themselves as followers of some pagan tradition. They also note that identification surveys do not fully measure the influence of neo-paganism. Many people use two or more religious identifiers — calling themselves Unitarian and Druid, for example — while others might adopt certain neo-pagan practices without calling themselves neo-pagan.
The upshot is that neo-pagans — such as Wiccans, Druids, Asatruar (from Heathenism), and various Reconstructionists — and neo-paganism have pushed further into the mainstream.
Some scholars credit the Internet and its ability to connect pagans of different tribes who previously would have remained unknown to each other. Whatever the reason, pagans have grown increasingly more organized and more visible and today are widely recognized by religion scholars and sociologists as a group with staying power.
- In 2007, the U.S. military approved the pagan pentacle as one of 39 religious symbols veterans may request for their tombstones. Pagan groups say there are more pagans serving in the military than ever before.
- Many contemporary pagan groups have begun formal clergy training programs, some with certification programs. Asatru Folk Assembly, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, New Aeon College and WHO are among the groups with clergy certification programs. Some groups have founded seminaries
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.
St. Brigid’s Academy and Seminary (SBA) is one of the oldest, continuously active Wiccan Colleges and online learning sites in the state of California.
Articles and publications
July 15, 2013, The Guardian article explaining modern paganism.
July 15, 2013, The State article about the evolution of the term “pagan.”
July 13, 2013, Examiner.com article about the rise of paganism in the United Kingdom and the Church of England’s response.
June 19, 2013, KCUR article and radio broadcast about Wicca.
June 27, 2013, The Villager article profiling two practitioners of Wicca.
About.com’s newsfeed on Paganism & Wicca
PaganSpace.net is a social networking site for followers of Earth-based religions, such as Wicca, Asatru, druidism and goddess-based faiths.
Covenant of the Goddess is an international organization of cooperating, autonomous Wiccan congregations and solitary practitioners. Contact through the website.