IF Wiccans and
other Pagans were an organized religion, ours would be the seventh
largest religion in the United States. Current estimates on the numbers of Wiccans range from range from a low 2,000 to a
high of 5 million.
article below on the difficulties with estimating numbers of
Covenant of the Goddess Poll estimates Three Quarters of a Million
US Pagans in 2000
Covenant of the Goddes (CoG) conducted a
Wiccan/Pagan Poll beginning in late July, 1999. They identified
768,400 Neo-pagans (largest subset were Wiccans) in the U.S. in
the year 2000.
[Online source: http://www.cog.org/cogpoll_final.html]
While Wiccans and other Pagans tend to focus on our diversity,
religious scholars argue that modern NeoPagan culture and beliefs
are remarkably homogenous. Most scholars in the field believe that
Paganism is the fastest growing religious movement in the US,
surpassing even Islam. Taken as a group, Pagans may be the 7th
largest religious community in the US.
American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) is the most
respected source for statistical data on the subject of
faith-identity. It is affiliated with the Graduate School of
According to ARIS' statistics, there were only 8,000 Wiccans in
1990, and the (self-reportd) Druids and Pagans were so few as to
Things have changed: According to their most recent study, as of
2001, there are 134,000 Pagans, 130,000 Wiccans, and 33,000
For what it's worth, their figures on Unitarian Universalism are
about twice as big as the UUA's own figures, probably because many
UU congregations only report currently contributing members.
If ARIS only counted Pagans who were willing to contribute $5/mo.
to supporting any Pagan organization, my guess is that OUR numbers
would be lower.
sent this to an emailing list a few years ago, with intent to spark
discussion. Some recent comments I’ve read on several other lists and a few
websites, as well as the many attempts to accomplish a “Pagan Census” over
the years, have prompted me to post this here, for the same reason.
Many people, both
friends and enemies of our community, have become increasingly concerned
about judging, declaring, or denouncing how many “Pagans” there are in the United States, Canada, or the world
as a whole. As in most such questions, accurate or useful responses depend
on how tightly we draw our definitional and methodological boundaries. The
traditional journalists’ question list — “who, what, where, when, why, and
how” — can provide some insight into the difficulties.
Who are the people “we” (Neopagans
or Christians, Agnostics or New Agers, amateur or professional scholars)
will agree to “count” (casually in conversations or polemics, or formally
with statistical analyses and charts) as being what kinds of “Pagans?”
only people who are
formal initiates of identifiable Wiccan or other Neopagan groups?
only members of such
groups that have been legally incorporated or associated?
members/initiates of such groups that have been “recognized” (by whom)?
self-initiated solitary Witches/Wiccans working from books?
everyone who attends
open Pagan rituals regularly, whether they join any group or not?
those who are only
“Samhain and Beltane Pagans”?
all the Unitarian
Universalists who identify themselves as “Earth Religionists”?
all the Goddess
Spirituality folks who don’t call themselves “Pagans” (though they might
call themselves “Witches”)?
all the claimed
practitioners of Ancient Witchcraft Traditions (that they made up last
week) who call themselves “Witches” but might not call themselves
“Wiccans” or “Pagans”?
all the New Age
fluffy-bunny, crystal-wanded, beaded-feather, would-be “shamans”?
some, all or
none of those who belong to Mesopagan (mixed polytheistic and
mono-/non-theistic) groups, such as Santerians, Voudounists, Native
American Religionists, Mexican Catholics, Celtic/Norse/Baltic/Slavic
racialists, Hindus, or Mahayana Buddhists?
some, all or
none of the (extremely rare) surviving Paleopagan traditions?
everyone who loved
“The Mists of Avalon”?
everyone who has
purchased three or more books by Scott Cunningham, Silver RavenWolf, or
Patricia Telesco (the entry-authors for many Neopagans in the last ten
regularly buys Wiccan and other Neopagan books?
all or most of the
people who regularly or occasionally post comments in Pagan newsgroups or
in Pagan topics on America Online?
all or most of the
people who regularly or occasionally participate in Pagan chats online?
some, all or none of
the “tree-hugging environmentalists” who talk about Gaia/Mother Nature?
those children who
call themselves Pagan? At what age (birth or later)?
those kids whose
parents are Pagan but who haven’t yet decided if they want to be Pagan
Pagans who are very devout, moderately devout, slightly devout or
downright casual in their beliefs and practices?
those who formally
declare their agreement with particular Pagan doctrines? Whose doctrines,
in which phrasings?
Once we’ve decided what sorts of
people we’re going to count, which ones living where do we count?
just those who live
in the U.S.A. (and/or Canada)?
just those in the
English speaking world?
any of them living
anywhere on the planet?
When our counts take place is
another issue. Obviously, a live population count always
takes place in the present. Yet historians may well wish to estimate numbers
of previous populations, and some other academics may want to design
long-term demographic studies that begin now and are repeated at regular
intervals in the future. Extending our counts from the past through the
present and on into the future can provide useful information on growth
Why do we want to know how many Pagans there are? The
answer to this question will help us to make some of these definitional and
methodological decisions. Do we want to make a social or (poly)theological
claim based on our beliefs being widespread? Do we want to be able to tell
elected officials how many potential Pagan voters there might be in each of
their districts? Do we want to convince a judge and jury in a particular
criminal or civil court case that a defendant, plaintiff, or witness is
convincing or unconvincing as a Wiccan or Neopagan because there are a
certain number of others who agree or disagree with him or her? Do we want
accurate demographics over a period of several decades for historical or
sociological purposes? Each of these different goals will require a
different approach to any Pagan census.
As for how a
Pagan census could be accomplished, we need to know exactly which
census-taking methods would be appropriate, with which statistical methods
of analysis and extrapolation, in order to arrive at accurate counts of our
chosen Pagan population. Considering
that there are many places in the world, even in the U.S.A., where being
known as a polytheist of any sort is illegal or otherwise dangerous, our
chosen methods will encourage or discourage cooperation from the populations
we wish to count.
Just how many of us
there “really are” isn’t a simple question. Answering it will require more than just
agreeing upon (or at least declaring) which of the categories/decisions
above we want to use and what our means of gathering, judging, and
interpreting data will be. This latter issue raises many additional
questions about claims and verification, especially considering both the
legitimate needs for some Pagans to remain unknown to the general public
(for fear of persecution) and the illegitimate needs for other Pagans to
inflate the alleged size of their “traditions” (denominations or sects)
and/or their followings.
For those of us who wish
to enumerate our own demographics, as distinct from hostile outsiders
wanting to denounce (or denigrate) our numbers, useful answers will also
require majorities of the members of our various overlapping populations to
actually get around to defining themselves, and/or agreeing to some common
descriptions. That, of course, will necessitate at least a modicum of
prescriptive and/or descriptive doctrines to be articulated — a can of worms
Neopagans have been reluctant to open, mostly due to the personal traumas
that the first two generations of Neopagans suffered as a result of their
various dogmatic childhood religions.
Neopaganism is at the
age (50+ years) where religious movements (as distinct from individual
sects) start defining those prescriptive/descriptive doctrines, however, so
the next few decades should be interesting. <G>
By the way, depending on
all these variables, I’ve seen what I consider reasonable estimates for the
number of self-identified, practicing Neopagans (including Wiccans) running
from half a million to several million people in the USA and Canada.
Certainly there are more of us than there are members of many other
religions such as Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, Christian Scientists, or
However, the lack of
agreed upon criteria for defining/describing modern Pagans, the social and
economic repercussions of being revealed as a Witch or Pagan in bigoted
communities, and secular academic biases against “magical religions” will
continue to make it nearly impossible to arrive at any firm numbers for the
For now, all we can
honestly say is “The Goddess is alive; magic is afoot!” (Or was than an
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April 21, 2005 -- Earth Day celebrations are seen as a way to recognize the
need to save and protect Mother Earth. For some that image is not simply a
slogan or phrase but the center of their worship and religious life. Known
as Wiccans, aka Witches and Pagans, Nature worshippers are becoming more
numerous and their concepts are emerging to challenge traditional rules of
society based on biblical law. They are emerging to become a major force in
spiritual communities, having increasing number of adherents, and expecting
the same rights and privileges as Christians and other faith practices of
the United States.
Steve Wohlberg, in his book the Hour of the Witch, was the first to state
the conclusion that we are now in a turning point and that Wicca would
emerge as the third largest faith in America and would directly challenge
Christian ideals of church and state. This is collaborated by leading Pagan
leader and researcher, Phyliss Currott stating the Wiccan community is
doubling in size every 18 months. That is a predicted future community of
twenty million or more members in the United States by 2012. By both
Christian and Pagan standards that would be a significant shift in American
Wolhberg continues "Witchcraft is growing so fast on high school and college
campuses that Wiccan visionaires are rushing to establish their own
schools." This is meant as a warning to Christian parents. Chas Cliftion,
editor of Pomegranate: The International Journal Of Pagan Studies has a
collaborating statement: "We (Pagans) are like a third world country that
can't put up enough elementary schools fast enough.". Pagans and Christians
agree that Wicca is becoming a major religious educational force in America.
In desperate need of training and trained teachers, many turn to
WitchSchool.com on the internet. This is not a small informational site but
a full fledged school with over 130,000 students, a staff of over 300, and
every online tool of any major university. According to the President Davron
Michaels, "The school is a important part of the emerging healthy community
that can provide the needed training for services and duties required of our
members. Right now that mission includes helping the over one new hundred
students a day that join us to get their quality understanding of the basics
of Wicca. We are providing education at every level for thousands of Witches
world wide. It is a sacred trust that we are faced with everyday.'
So is it possible that this Earth Day, that we are seeing the seeds to a
future community, deeply spiritual and dedicated to simply loving Mother
Earth. Can America's Third Religion be Wicca?