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How many Wiccans are there?

Introduction

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Quotation from a posting to a Christian forum:

"I am my father's son" posted the following ominous message on 2007-FEB-20:

"I found this chilling. We are truly in the Last Days as Americans willfully and boldly embrace paganism. I recollect from the 90's a Christian Prophet who proclaimed how the Lord told him that when the simultaneous maturation of three things materializes in the U.S., then the complete destruction of America would immediately transpire; those three thing are abortion, witchcraft and legalized Gay marriage." 5

Abortion access has theoretically been available for over 40 years, since the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade during 1973. The first state to allow same-sex marriage was Massachusetts during mid-2004. By the end of 2014, it was available in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The vast majority of Americans adults expect that it will soon be available nationwide. That leaves "witchcraft" to "mature" before the "Last Days" will start up.

Wicca and other neopagan faiths still represent a very small percentage of religious believers in the U.S. today. Also, what the Prophet defined as "Witchcraft" was probably related to the Satan worshipers/baby sacrificers who were believed to exist in the Middle Ages. They didn't exist then, and certainly don't exist today. So the God's destruction of the U.S. is probably not imminent.

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Self-reporting by various faith groups:

Estimates of the number of members which are supplied by their own religious organizations are known to be inaccurate:

  • Some faith groups consider any person who was once baptized as a permanent member of their faith, even though they may have never darkened the door of a church or other religious building since.

  • Other faith groups simply pad their membership.

  • Still others treat their membership data as confidential and refuse to release it.

  • Some report only active members.
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Difficulties in estimating numbers of Wiccans:

Membership numbers, as supplied by large religious organizations, are notoriously inaccurate, even though such groups have a central administrative authority which can communicate with its member churches and collect and collate accurate data. 

Within Wicca and other Neopagan religions, there is no such organization. Many, perhaps most, Witches are solitary practitioners; they perform their rites alone. Others form covens which are informal groups of Wiccans. There no real coordinating group above the coven level; no state, provincial or national organization. 

The problem is further complicated by the secrecy which necessarily envelops Wicca. Particularly in the past, Wiccans who come out of the (broom) closet and publicly reveal their faith exposed themselves to physical danger. In the late 20th century, there was one lynching, a mass attempted mass murder by stoning, numerous shootings, fire bombings and common assaults. So, many Wiccans remain safely out of sight where they practice their religion in secret. 

Some estimates have been made on the basis of:

  • The attendance at Neopagan festivals and fairs. But it is not known with any accuracy what percentage of Wiccans attend these gatherings, and what percentage of attendees at such festivals are Wiccans.
     
  • The sales figures of various popular Neopagan books. But it is not known how many Wiccans use the Internet, library books, or books borrowed from friends rather than purchase their own copy. 

Wiccans use tools in their rituals: athames (ritual knives), a chalice, candles, etc. But it is hopeless to try to estimate the total number of Wiccans from the number of tools sold. Many Neopagans construct their own equipment. They might adapt a manufactured letter opener or conventional knife for an athame. 

All calculation techniques are largely guesswork and prone to inaccuracy.

A further complication is the religion's rate of growth. The total number of Wiccans is a moving target. They are believed to be among the fastest growing faith groups in North America.

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Wiccan growth rate:

A second important statistic is the rate of growth of the Wiccan community.

"In May, 1998, the Chicago Tribune reported that, though difficult to quantify due to lack of formal organization, neo-paganism is the fastest-growing religion in North America with the Internet being the prime means of proselytizing." 1

Ms. Curott estimates a doubling in size every 18 months. This growth rate seems quite high, but appears to have some credibility in the Wiccan community. The ARIS survey of the American adult population indicates a growth in the Wiccan community of 17 fold between 1990 and 2001 - the highest of any faith group monitored. This would indicate a doubling in numbers of adherents about ever 30 months. 2 Maria Alupoaicei, who co-authored the book "Generation Hex" claims that "The numbers of [Wiccan] adherents are doubling every 30 months." We suspect that she derived her estimate from this essay. She notes that there are over 700,000 web sites for Wiccans on the Internet.

If the latter growth rate is accurate and if it continues, then Wicca would be the third largest religious group in the U.S. by about 2012, behind Christianity and Judaism, and ahead of Islam.

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U.S. Census Data:

A widespread rumor has circulated that the Census was going to collect data about religious affiliation in the year 2000. This is the first Neopagan Urban Folk Tale of which we are aware. A widely distributed Email recommends that Neopagans all call themselves by the generic term Pagan, rather than use more specific terms, such as Asatru, Druid, Earth religionist, Heathen, Neopagan, Wiccan or Witch. Otherwise, they would simply be enumerated as "Religion: other" and lose their identity.

This sounds like an attractive idea. However, it is based on a false belief. The U.S. census for the year 2000, and in subsequent years, did not ask questions about religion.

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Australian census data:

According to the Way of Life Literature's Fundamental Baptist Information Service:

"The number of people in Australia identifying themselves as Witches and Pagans has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2001, which is the government's most recent census, more than 8,700 identified themselves as Witches (up from fewer than 2,000 in 1996) and roughly 11,000 identified themselves as Pagans (which encompasses Wiccans, heathens, Druids, Goddess worshippers, and shamans)." (Grammar corrected) 3

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A Pagan Census:

"Kecia" is conducting a Pagan census over the Internet. She asks that you Email her, listing your name, state or country, and the number of Pagans in your household, to: pagan_census@yahoo.com Alternatively, you can use her form at: http://www.geocities.com/ As of 2001-JAN-14, she has listed 2,485 Pagans in the U.S. This number is quite low, probably because only a small minority of Pagans are aware of her census.

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Number of Neopagan books published:

Supporting the belief in a rapid rise in the number of Wiccans and other Neopagans in the world is the increase in the number of Wicca/Witchcraft-related books in each recent decade. A posting to alt.religion.wicca.moderated described a survey of Amazon.com's online bookstore:

Decade Number of books published
before 1970 55
1970s 168
1980s 223
1990s 666

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. With the passage of time, most of the following links are offline.

  1. Quoted in: "21st century challenges to separation of religion and government," Jefferson 21st Century Institute, at: http://www.j21c.org/
  2. "American Religious Identification Survey," by The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, at: http://www.gc.cuny.edu/studies/
  3. "Witches in Victoria, Australia," Newsletter, Way of Life Literature's Fundamental Baptist Information Service, 2005-SEP-30. Their web site is at: http://www.wayoflife.org
  4. "Wicca will be the 3rd largest religion in the U.S. by 2012," Shattered Paradigm, 2008-SEP-23, at: http://shatteredparadigm.blogspot.com/
  5. "Wicca Religion in U.s. [sic] Expanding Eponentially," Christian Forum, 2007-FEB-20, at: http://www.christian-forum.net/ Christian-Forum.net is currently in "read only" mode and new postings are not accepted.
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Copyright © 1999 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-DEC-10
Author: B.A. Robinson

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