The Chicago Sun-Times wins the prize for being the first mainstream paper to explore the “mini-rise of the Wiccans” indicated in the recently-released American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) data. Too bad it’s so sloppy and lazy in its execution. First there’s the rookie mistake of referring to Wicca as “Wiccanism” (I mean really, in 2009?), then religion-beat reporter Mike Thomas starts off with the hoary and groan-inducing “real Witches aren’t fantasy witches” bit that we all love so much.
“They don’t toil over bubbling caldrons or cook lost kids. They have no use for flying monkeys. And their spice racks are more apt to contain ginger or paprika than eye of newt.”
Then there is the matter of interview subjects.
“…there’s even a Witch School. An outgrowth of the nationally popular and long-active Web site witchschool.com, the Downstate Rossville-based organization currently offers three monthly courses and returned to town earlier this month after a five-year absence. Local classrooms include the Occult Bookstore in Wicker Park and the Life Force Arts Center in Lake View. [Rev. Don] Lewis said there’s talk of expanding to St. Louis and “a number of different regions.” [like Salem?] On a recent Friday night, Witch School CEO Ed Hubbard visited the Occult Bookstore to talk on the topic of “Magick for the Masses.” Few people attended, save for a handful of employees and one drop-in, but the show went on.”
Now I’m not bagging on the Witch School folks here, they are a (relatively) high-profile organization located in Illinois, so it’s only natural a journalist would contact them. I’m just troubled that the reporter went to exactly one source for this piece. That might fly when your doing a write-up of a metaphysical store in rural Michigan, but not in Chicago where there are literally hundreds (if not thousands) of potential interview subjects. Nor does Thomas interview someone with the ARIS study to get a better sense of the growth of new religious movements, or attempt to contact any academics who study Pagan religions for insight into modern Paganism’s growth.
Using the ARIS data to merely write yet another tired “meet the Witches” piece, complete with the usual patina of superciliousness, seems an utter wase of journalistic space. Franky, if the Sun-Times doesn’t feel that Wicca’s continued growth is worth more than calling one organization and a drop-in at the local occult shop (for a talk lead by the same group) then they should just not bother. There are several interesting stories to be told spinning out of this ARIS data, and I’d rather wait for them to emerge slowly than bide my time with inconsequential filler like this. Honestly, I’d rather read yet another piece on how well psychics are doing during the recession than this mad-libs-style approach to religion reporting.