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How many Wiccans are there?

Our best estimates of the number
of Wiccans in the U.S. during
the years 2001 and 2008:

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Part 6 of seven parts

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Wiccan image

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For data from public opinion polls during 2014 & 2015, see the previous essay.

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Year 2001: Our best estimate of the number of Wiccans in the U.S. based on the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS):

The massive American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) of the year 2001 was conducted by the The Graduate Center of the City University of New York. It was probably the most accurate source for adult religious affiliations at the time. 1 Data was collected via a telephone poll taken between 2001-FEB and JUN, among over 50,000 randomly selected U.S. adults. However, their survey contains some room for inaccuracies:

Some members of oppressed and discriminated-against groups in the U.S., like Wiccans and other Neopagans, refuse to reveal their religion to a stranger over the telephone because of safety concerns. At the time, many Americans sincerely believed that Wicca was a form of Satanism. Some still do today. Often, conservative Christians will read a passage like:

  • From the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament): Exodus 22:18: "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." (King James Version).

  • From the Christian Scriptures (New Testament): Galatians 5:19-21: "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, sedition's, heresies, Envying's, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." (King James Version).

and might conclude that since Witches were so evil that they were executed in ancient times and sent to Hell after death, then they must be profoundly evil today.

Since many conservative Christians regard the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, they might assume that this also refers to Wiccans. In reality, these passage, and other similar passages, were poorly translated into English.

  • In the original Hebrew, Exodus 22:18 said that one must not allow a woman to live who is an evil sorcerer who issues curses that hurt and kill people and animals.

  • The Galatians 5 reference to "witchcraft" in the original Greek involves people that use poisons to kill others.

These passages would definitely not refer to Wiccans today, because their main rule of behavior -- the Wiccan Rede -- states:

"A'in it harm no one, do what thou wilt."

This prohibits a Wiccan from casting spells that are evil or which manipulate others.

Further, many members of the public at that time believed that Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) of both adults and children was common and widespread in the United States, even though many U.S. police and SRA investigators had concluded by that time that it was a hoax. If it had been a widespread phenomenon in 2001, investigators had concluded that specific hard evidence of abuse would have surfaced. However, no such corroboration was ever detected. The source of memories of ritual abuse was finally identified as an unintentional byproduct of attempts to recover people's repressed memories of the past. These procedures generally recovered what felt like real memories of past events, but were actually of events that never happened.

In reality, Wicca has always been an nature-based, environmentally friendly, and gentle religion that was partly derived from ancient Celtic beliefs. Modern-day Satanism has no connection, either with Wicca or with the teachings about a non-existent form of Satanism that was believed to exist during medieval times. Modern-day Satanists are mostly Agnostics and Atheists. They do not worship Satan as a deity.

Modern religious Satanists are not profoundly evil as they are often thought to be. One indication of this is that a leading group of Satanists, the Satanic Temple, has adopted elements of the Golden Rule in three of its Seven Tenets. For example, #1 states that its members are to:

"Strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason."

Because of ungrounded suspicions, many Wiccans in 2001 kept a very low profile. Because of their reluctance to identify their religion, the actual number of Wiccans is probably significantly larger than the survey indicated.

In the ARIS study of 1991, 2.3% of those contacted refused to disclose their religion. In the 2001 survey, the number had grown to 5.4%. The latter number involved over 2,700 persons interviewed, which corresponded to over 11 million U.S. adults! The reason for this increase in desire for secrecy is unknown. Among the 2,700 persons there were probably many Wiccans who refused to reveal their religion over the telephone to a stranger who says that they represent a confidential polling organization.

Their 2001 survey reported that there were 134,000 Wiccan adults and 140,000 other Pagan adults in the U.S. Many Wiccans prefer to describe themselves as Pagans or Neo-pagans. So, there were probably many Wiccans among those who identified themselves as Pagan. This would also indicate that the actual number of Wiccans is probably significantly larger than reported.

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Our group's best estimate of the total number of Wiccans in the U.S. during 2001, as based on the ARIS study, was computed as follows. All numbers are rounded:

Number of Wiccans estimated by ARIS:   134,000 adults
Plus the number of Pagans found by ARIS: 140,000 adults
Total number of Wiccans and Pagans found: 274,000 adults
Less our estimate of the number of Pagans who are not Wiccans: - 70,000 adults
Estimated total Wiccans found by the survey: 204,000 adults

Estimated number of Wiccans who refused to disclose their religion (assuming a 25% refusal rate)

68,000 adults
Total Wiccan adults in the U.S. 272,000 adults
Estimated total U.S. Wiccans (including teens) 350,000 people

2008: Our best estimate of the number of Wiccans in the U.S. based on the updated ARIS survey of 2008:

ReligionLink compared data from the 2008 ARIS survey with that of the 2001 survey. 5 They state:

"Specifically, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 2001 to 2008, from 134,000 to 342,000, and the same held true for [other] 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, Asatru (Norse 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." 6

Our group's best estimate of the total number of Wiccans in the U.S. during 2008, as based on the ARIS study was computed as follows. All numbers are rounded:

Number of Wiccans found by ARIS:   342,000 adults
Plus the number of Pagans found by ARIS: 340,000 adults
Total number of Wiccans and Pagans found: 682,000 adults
Less our estimate of the number of Pagans who are not Wiccans: - 170,000 adults
Estimated total Wiccans found by the survey: 512,000 adults

Estimated number of Wiccans who refused to disclose their religion (assuming a 15% refusal rate by Wiccans)

90,000 adults
Total Wiccan adults in the U.S. during 2008 602,000 adults
Estimated total U.S. Wiccans (including teens) 775,000 people

As noted above, this number is believed to be much lower than the actual value because many Wiccans would probably form a significant portion of the 5.4% of respondents who refused to reveal their religion, and many will not tell the truth.

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The second source of error in public opinion polls: not telling the truth.

There is another factor -- not included in the above estimate -- that is known to drastically decrease polls' estimates of the number of Atheists in the U.S. from the accurate number. It is probably present in polls of Wiccans as well.

Traditional surveys have no way to know how many Wiccans do not tell the truth. Many are reluctant to reveal their religion when a stranger over their telephone -- who claims to be from a confidential polling agency -- asks them about their beliefs. Some will pick another religion and say that this is the one that they practice. They do this for self protection because of the animosity by some Christians and followers of other organized religions towards Wiccans and other Neopagans.

This effect is known to be present among Atheists. Conventional public opinion polls typically find that 3 to 11% of U.S. adults "say" that they are Atheists during polls. But Psychologists Will Gervais and Maxine Najle at the University of Kentucky developed an innovative technique to find the true number of Atheists. They designed a polling method that detects a more accurate value without asking the person being polled to give a direct answer. Their estimate was that 26% of U.S. adults are Atheists -- more than twice the polling results.

This effect is also seen with polls about the percentage of U.S. adults who attend religious services most weeks. Typical polls shows that the value is about 40%. But when researchers actually "count noses" of people attending churches, mosques, synagogues, etc. in a given county, they find that the true number is about half that. It seems that many people think that individuals who go to church are somehow better than those who don't. Wanting to be well thought of by the pollster, they tell a fib. The same effect has been found in Canada, although the values there are about half the U.S. ones.

Assuming a similar error with Wiccan polls, this would mean that our above estimate should be doubled, to about 1.5 million for the year 2008, and perhaps increased further to give a better estimate for today's value.

Benjamin Fearnow, writing for Newsweek in 2018-NOV, said:

"The number of witches and Americans practicing Wicca religious rituals increased dramatically since the 1990s, with several recent studies indicating there may be at least 1.5 million witches across the country. ... With 1.5 million potential practicing witches across the U.S., witchcraft has more followers than the 1.4 million mainline members of the Presbyterian Church." 7

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Updating these data to later years is covered in the next essay

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References used:

  1. "American Religious Identification Survey (2001)," by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, at: https://commons.trincoll.edu A PDF file of the survey results can be downloaded from this URL.
  2. "Religion (95A), Age Groups (7A) and Sex (3) for Population, for Canada, Provinces, Territories, Census Metropolitan Areas 1 and Census Agglomerations, 1991 and 2001 Censuses - 20% Sample Data," Statistics Canada, at: http://www12.statcan.ca/
  3. "UK Pagans celebrate as numbers soar," at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk/newsid_500000/500484.stm
  4. Jason Frenkel, "Witches win converts," Herald Sun, 2002-JUL-1, at: http://heraldsun.news.com.au/common/
  5. "Pagans go mainstream: Wiccans and Druids and goddesses " oh, my," ReligionLink, 2009-OCT-20, at: http://www.religionlink.com/
  6. Barry A. Kosmin, et al., "American Religious Identification Survey 2001," City University of New York, 2001-DEC-19, at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/ This is a PDF file.
  7. Benjamin Fearnow, "Number Of Witches Rises Dramatically Across U.S. As Millennials Reject Christianity," Newsweek, 2018-NOC-18, at: https://www.newsweek.com/

Site navigation: Home page > World religions > Wicca > Number of Wiccans > here

Copyright 1999 to 2019 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2019-APR-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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