Modern Pagan religions are growing, this is a fact backed up by surveys and census data, and many believe that we are growing even faster than these somewhat imprecise methods can track. Historian Ronald Hutton has estimated that there may be as many as a quarter of a million Pagans in the United Kingdom, far more than the figure of 40,000 from the 2001 census, and Pagan groups in Australia and Britain have engaged in campaigns that they hope will bring in census results closer to their own estimates. That said, until we get better figures, better surveys, we have to go by what we have. That means around 40,000 Pagans in the UK, around 30,000 Pagans in Australia, around 22,000 Pagans in Canada, and recent Pew Forum and ARIS data that places modern Paganism hovering somewhere around a million adherents (give or take a hundred thousand or two) in the United States.
However, even if we grant that the larger estimates by friendly scholars and movement insiders are more accurate (and I’m hoping 2011 census data will bear our larger estimates out), that would still only mean around 3-5 million modern (ie “neo,” revivalist, and reconstructionist) Pagans worldwide. We are far from taking anything over, despite our advances and achievements. Yet the mere idea of Paganism’s return has sparked some atavistic fears within certain segments of Christianity, and has caused them to use shoddy estimates to falsely bolster our numbers in order scare their audiences into buying products. Many are gloomily predicting that Wicca will soon be America’s third-largest religion. Naturally, what scares certain conservative Christians excites some Pagans, leading them to use these explosive estimates to their own ends.
Wicca is America’s Fastest Growing religion, and it is anticipated by some Christian religious experts that it will become the third largest religion in the United States early in the 21st century, behind only Christianity and Islam. Just this week, a press release for the new book God’s Ghostbusters, by Defender Publishing quoted editor Thomas Horn “In the United States alone, there are now more than two hundred thousand registered witches and as many as 8 million unregistered practitioners of ‘the craft’.”
Witch School Co-Founder Ed Hubbard recognizes that the statements and numbers put out by Horn are similar to his own viewpoint. Hubbard offers “There is such a rapid spiritual reorientation in America occurring, that the need for thousands of Wiccan teachers over the course of the next decade will be required to meet the demand for basic teachings. Because of Wicca’s liberating beliefs and useful skills, people want to understand and embrace it, and learn how to awaken their inner abilities.”
That’s from a brand-new press release issued by Witch School, using these largely invented figures to sell their product. In fact, Witch School co-founder Ed Hubbard knows Horn’s figures are overblown, because he told me so right here at The Wild Hunt.
“I know how they got the 8 million. It has to do with a series of articles from 2005. Basically if we had doubled every eighteen months as we did in the beginning, we would be facing 8 million. I know much of where this is coming from. I can give the strange math if you ever want it.”
In fact that there is a “spiritual reorientation” going on in the West, but it isn’t really about modern Paganism. The numbers point to growing numbers of the religiously unaffiliated more than anything else. That may be good for us societally speaking, and may even spark some growth, but we aren’t the primary recipients of this shift into post-Christianity. Witch School may have had over 200,000 people take classes with them, but I highly doubt they’ve managed a 100% retention rate of students who stuck with Wicca or some other form of modern Paganism over the years.
Speaking frankly, I think it does our movement no favors to peddle misinformation and wishful thinking in order to self-promote. Spreading inaccurate narratives, no matter how positive they may seem, actually harms our attempts to establish ourselves. Muddying waters with “strange math” simply sets us up as opportunistic self-promoters instead of building the bridges we need in areas like chaplaincy, intrafaith, and interfaith work. I’m disappointed that a popular Pagan service would validate the Christians who want to see us as a encroaching menace, even if may flatter our conceptions of rapid growth. The narrative of explosive growth does us no good, I hope that Pagans will drop it in favor of statistical data that will support our claims.