Canada’s 25,495 Pagans (and 7.8 Million ‘Nones’)

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 18, 2013 — 11 Comments

On May 8th data from Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey was released, including data on religion. The big headline from this data is that people claiming no specific religion, often called “nones,” now make up around 24% of the Canadian population.

“Observers noted that among the survey’s most striking findings is that one in four Canadians, or 7.8 million people, reported they had no religious affiliation at all. That was up sharply from 16.5 percent from the 2001 census, and 12 percent in 1991. The Canadian trend seems to mirror but even exceed levels of non-affiliation in the United States. A 2012 survey from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life pegged the ratio of religiously unaffiliated Americans at just under 20 percent.”

Pagans from Vancouver, Canada.

Pagans from Vancouver, Canada. (Photo: Vancouver Pagan Pride)

The National Household Survey recently replaced the compulsory census, so the results will be statistically less reliable, but this is the best new data on religion in Canada we can access. This includes information on modern Paganism. According to the new data, there are around 25,495 Pagans, of which 10,225 are Wiccans, making them the largest sub-grouping.  This is a slight bump up from 2001, where the combined number of Pagans was estimated at 21,085. So it seems the Pagan population is growing slowly, or even remaining largely static (which mirrors results in Australia). Related belief system numbers include 1,000 Pantheists, 2,230 New Age practitioners, and 15,125 Unitarians. There were also a whopping 40,195 “others” who didn’t fit any of the religious categories given, so we have no idea how many of them might be nominally Pagan in identity.

An aboriginal elder burns tobacco during a ceremony at Little Norway Park in Toronto, part of the national day of action.(Dwight Friesen/CBC)

An aboriginal elder burns tobacco during a ceremony at Little Norway Park in Toronto, part of the national day of action.(Dwight Friesen/CBC)

In addition to these numbers, a number of non-Christian faiths experienced growth over the past decade in Canada. There were 64,940 practitioners of a traditional Aboriginal spirituality in 2011, way up from 29,820 in 2001 (more on Canada’s Aboriginal peoples here). Hindus grew from around 300,000 in 2001 to around 500,00 in 2011, and Buddhists gained around 70 thousand adherents in the past decade, approaching 400,000. For more numbers, see the Statistics Canada website. On the whole, Canada is becoming less Christian, more diverse, and more individual in its religious choices. The Province of British Columbia could be a bellwether for the country’s future, a pluralistic society where its people are “travelling in several religious directions at once.”

“New data released Wednesday suggests pluralistic B.C. is travelling in several religious directions at once. Many residents are becoming more devout following a great variety of world faiths. But other residents are endorsing secular world views and drifting into private spirituality. [...] Only 41 per cent of Metro residents are Christian, compared to a national average of 67 per cent. B.C. has the fewest Christians on average of any province or territory.”

So, taken as a whole, these are very encouraging trends. But are there really only 25,495 Pagans in Canada? There’s plenty of room to argue that there are more. First, the National Household Survey is “subject to potentially higher non-response error than those derived from the census long form,” so Pagans could be undercounted. Secondly, we don’t know how many individuals who claimed “no religion” or “other religion” may well be “one of us.” It’s conceivable that thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of individual Pagans, Heathens, and polytheists are “hiding” in other categories. Still, it’s good to have some new data on Paganism from our neighbors to the north, and to know that our numbers continue to climb.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • GimliGirl

    I worked for the census in 2011 and I can tell you that it wasn’t well recieved that year. A lot of people are suspicious of it, and at the same time a lot of people were confused and irritated that the long-form had been given the boot. This data is what we have and we have to make the best of it I guess.

  • NT

    I can tell you that there are at least 25,497 Pagans in Canada (2 more) as my household was never asked. There are very likely a lot more of us who simply weren’t asked at all. Also, I agree with Pagans hiding in the “nones” or “others” if there was no Pagan box to check. Many who are in the broom closet don’t appreciate being outed, even to the government.

    • KH

      Yep…we were never asked in this household either

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    There may well be Pagans (and others) ‘hiding’ in the ‘nones’ box, but I believe that the majority of that figure is the increasing secular ‘apatheist’ category – people who do not even consider religion at all during their daily lives.

    This is, by far, the most common denomination I have encountered (I’m not in Canada, but I imagine the trend is true across much of the Western World).

    I distinguish them from ‘atheists’ because they don’t even acknowledge as disbelieving. It is simply a ‘non question’, an obsolete facet of their life.

  • Charles Cosimano

    Looking at the pictures of the Pagans, I can see why not many nones are willing to admit to it. (I could not resist it.)

    • Faoladh

      Haha! You know that there are pictures of you on the internets, right?

      Glass houses, dude, glass houses. ;)

      (For those playing along at home, this is playful teasing, not a serious slam.)

    • Morag Spinner

      What exactly is the problem?

      I thought I looked pretty good, myself.

      -Morag, the Witch in Purple at VPPD

      • Catherine

        I thought that was you! You look fabulous, as always!

    • Franklin Evans

      My good friend Charles is harmless. I know, I possess some of his teeth. If there was ever a good natured nihilist with a decent sense of humor (I know, I know, your mileage may vary), Charles is it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/juniperj Juniper Jeni

    Out of 34.5 million people, that’s not too bad.

  • Malaz