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Estimates made of the number of
Wiccans in the U.S., in 1972 to 1998.

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Part 1 of seven parts.

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Wiccan priestess performing a ritual
A Wiccan Priestess performing a ritual

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Some estimates:

Wicca is a neopagan religion that was partly based on elements of the ancient Celtic religion. A neopagan religion is one that is based on an extinct ancient pagan religion.

We have collected the following estimates of the number of Wiccans in the U.S. that were made between 1972 and 1998. Early estimates were vague because no formal polls had ever been taken.

  • 1972: John Godwin estimated in "Occult America" that "there were at least 20,000 organized members [of the occult] in this country." Many of these would have been Wiccans.

  • 1980: J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of American Religion estimated 30,000 to 40,000 adherents to some form of Craft doctrine. The estimate was based on data collected at the 1979 Pan Pagan Festival. 1

  • 1982: William Petersen, author of "Those Curious New Cults in the 80s," quoted Nat Feedland, author of "The Occult Explosion." Feedland wrote:

    "From the visible manifestations of the witchcraft scene it's doubtful if there are more than 6 or 7 thousand really active practicing witches around today--3,000 in England... perhaps 2,000 in North America..."

  • 1986: Margot Adler, author of the very popular book on Wicca titled "Drawing Down the Moon" estimated that there were about 50,000 to 100,000 active, self identified Pagans in the U.S. Of these, most would probably consider themselves to be Wiccans.

  • 1988: "Morwyn" estimated 75,000 members. She based this on her experience as a previous owner of a mail-order metaphysical supply business. 2

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  • 1990:

    • The US Army published a book for the guidance of its military chaplains when dealing with a soldier of a non-traditional faith. It was titled: "Religious Requirements and Practices of Certain Selected Groups: A Handbook for Chaplains." 3 In the 1990 edition, the author comments:

      "MEMBERSHIP: Because of the complete autonomy of covens, this cannot be determined. There are an estimated 50,000 Wiccans in the United States."

    • The Graduate School of the City University of New York conducted an "ARIS" telephone survey of 113,000 people! They apparently found fewer than 10 people willing to admit to a stranger over the telephone that they were Wiccans. This projects to perhaps 30,000 Wiccans nation-wide.

      One might speculate what percentage of Wiccans would admit their religious affiliation to an unknown by phone; it may have been quite low at the time. The Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) panic had started about 1980 and had reached a peak by this time and started its rapid decline. A lot of people in the U.S. did not differentiate among Wiccans, Witches, and Satanists. Further, at about this time, a poll in Utah revealed that over 90% of adults believe that SRA was happening in their state. 12 It was a time when Wiccans held a very low public profile.

    • Craig S. Hawkins wrote in an article for the Christian Research Journal mentioning values between 5,000 to 50,000 Witches. He concluded that, in the future:

      "... the witchcraft community will become an increasingly significant minority -- a sobering possibility the church cannot afford to ignore." 4

  • 1991: The Canadian census recorded 5,530 Neopagans 5 which would probably imply about 55,000 Neopagans in the U.S. and perhaps 40,000 Wiccans in the U.S. But this is certainly a fraction of the true number. Relatively few Canadian Neopagans would probably feel secure enough to reveal their religion to a census enumerator, who is typically a stranger from their own community. In the 1990's the risk would still have been too great.
  • 1992: Eric Raymond author of "Frequently Asked Questions about Neopaganism" commented:

    "Depending on who you talk to and what definitions you use, there are between 40,000 and 200,000 neopagans in the U.S.; the true figure is probably closer to the latter than the former, and the movement is still growing rapidly following a major 'population explosion' in the late 1970s." 6

    His upper limit of 200,000 appears to have been subsequently adopted by some commentators during the 1990's as a precise number.

  • 1993: Jan Phillips wrote an article about Wicca in Ms Magazine for 1993-JAN/FEB. She wrote:

    "Witchcraft is about wholeness, about celebrating one's intimacy with the Goddess and the earth, who are one and the same ... There are 200,000 women and men practicing the Old Religion in the United States. The Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, California, claims that Witchcraft and Paganism are the fastest growing religions in the country, countering the rise of Christian fundamentalism."7

  • 1996: Vernieda Vergara, a University of Virginia undergraduate at the time, 8 quoted author James Lewis as estimating between 300 and 30,000 covens existed in the U.S. 9 Assuming that each coven averages 6 members, and that half of all practicing Wiccans are solitary practitioners rather than being members of a coven, this would imply 3,600 to 360,000 members in the U.S.

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  • 1998:
    • Countdown to Armageddon, a conservative Christian group preaching about the end of the world, claimed that there are 200,000 practicing Witches in the U.S. Unfortunately, they did not seem to differentiate among Wiccans, other Neopagans, Witches, and Satanists -- all of whom sometimes refer to themselves as witches. 10

    • The Covenant of the Goddess' web site stated that:

      "Conservative reckonings estimate 200,000 Witches and/or Neo-Pagans in the US alone. There could be many more, who are simply more private about their religion, for the very real fear of persecution. Witches are still working hard for our First Amendment rights." 11

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. J.G. Melton, "Neo-Paganism: Report on the survey of an alternative religion,"  The Institute for the Study of American Religion, 1980.
  2. Morwyn, "Secrets of a Witch's Coven," Whitford Press, (1988), Page 33.
  3. Jason Frenkel, "Witches win converts," Herald Sun, 2002-JUL-1, at: http://heraldsun.news.com.au/
  4. C.S. Hawkins, "The Modern World of Witchcraft," Christian Research Journal, 1990-Winter/Spring, Page 8.
  5. "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/ This list also gives membership breakdowns by age groups."
  6. Eric Raymond, "Frequently Asked Questions about Neopaganism," at: http://people.delphi.com/
  7. Jan Phillips, "The Craft of the Wise," Ms magazine, 1993-JAN/FEB
  8. Vernieda Vergara, "Wicca," Sociology 257 class, University of Virginia, at: http://cti.itc.virginia.edu/
  9. J.R. Lewis, "Magical Religion and Modern Witchcraft," State University of New York Press, (1996) 
  10. "Countdown to Armageddon," The Family, at: http://countdown.org/
  11. "Welcome members of the press," The Witches' Voice at: http://www.witchvox.com/
  12. Deseret News Archives, 1992-JAN-1, P. A1-A2

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Copyright © 1999 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-OCT-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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