Conservative Christian polling organization The Barna Group has put out the results of a new national survey that tracks knowledge and opinions concerning the religion of Wicca. Leaving aside my usual reservations about their methodology (which I believe skews heavily towards “born-again” Christians and conservatives), it does say some interesting things about the perceptions and depth of knowledge people have of this Pagan faith nearly fifty years after it being introduced to America.
A slight majority of Americans (55%) say they have not heard the term “Wicca.” Among the 45% who have heard of, the segments most familiar with Wicca include people younger than 60 (50% are familiar with the name, compared to 35% of older adults); Christian evangelicals (65%); Skeptics (61% of atheists and agnostics); Asian Americans (52%); upscale adults (62%); and those who describe themselves as socio-politically liberal in most cases (55%).
While only about half of Americans have heard of Wicca (according to this survey), a surprisingly large percentage (62%) accurately define it as an “organized form” of religious Witchcraft. Only seven percent thought Wicca was Satanic in nature. So, if so many people know who we are, do they like us? According to Barna, not really.
When asked to express their view of Wicca, 6% held a favorable view (2% very favorable and 4% somewhat favorable), and 52% held unfavorable views (7% somewhat unfavorable and 45% very unfavorable). Perhaps the most intriguing response was from the remaining 43% who said they did not know what they thought of Wicca or had no particular opinion about it.
So only around 6% of people who’ve heard of Wicca like Wiccans? That can’t be good. Especially if the large percentage of people who have unfavorable (or very unfavorable) opinions come in at a whopping 52%. Which group do you think will have more influence on the 43% with no particular opinion? Of course they don’t define what “unfavorable” really means. It could be someone who is merely annoyed at a teen-aged Witch they know, or it could be evangelical Christians actively spreading falsehoods about Wiccans.
Despite this somewhat dis-favorable outlook, Barna believes there are many factors that will continue contribute to Wicca’s growth, and that teens will continue to adopt various Wiccan-friendly beliefs.
Barna said he expects Wicca to continue to fly below people’s religious radar until it develops higher profile, more structured leadership, which is in some ways antithetical to Wiccan practices. However, he also expects significantly growing numbers of young Americans to embrace elements of Wiccan practice, such as spell casting and performing magic rituals, which have proven to be central behaviors featured in various popular media presentations in recent years. Many young adults will not consider themselves to be Wiccan but will adopt some of its practices and thinking alongside their more traditional religious views and behaviors.
Like I said earlier, I feel that Barna’s surveys often over-emphasize the conservative Christian voice. So these numbers could be seriously skewed. I also think that his estimates of the number of Wiccan practitioners (which he puts as under 250k) are too low, especially considering the data from the far more robust (and religiously non-partisan) Religious Landscape survey from the Pew Forum. However, I do think this data sends an important message to Wiccans and the wider Pagan community concerning just have far we’ve come, and how far we have to go. It’s why media depictions of modern Pagans are still an important issue. We may be jaded to all the innaccurate and exaggerated lampoons of our belief systems, but for around half of America it may be their first glimpse of what Witches do.