One of the pervasive beliefs about modern Paganism is that we are growing at an explosive rate. Several studies (often by conservative Christian polling groups) exclaim excitedly of how teens are picking up “occult” and Pagan practices in huge numbers, or how the vast majority of Americans believe in “the paranormal” to one extent or another. Recently, an Australian study of religion claimed that modern Pagan faiths were the fastest growing in that country.
“Amongst those religions on the rise are Buddhism (up 79% since 1996), Islam (up 40%), Hinduism (up 42%), Pentecostalism (up 11%), ‘nature religions’ including Paganism and Wicca/witchcraft, (up 130%), and Scientology (up 37%).”
But is our collective explosive growth now leveling off? While we still have no firm data on America’s Pagan population, new data from Australia’s 2006 census has just been released that sheds some new light on Pagan growth rates. Sociologist (and Pagan) Douglas Ezzy reveals that Pagan growth rates seem to be slowing down*.
“We just heard the figures for the Australian 2006 Census. They are: Paganism 16,000 (11,000 in 2001), Witchcraft/Wicca 8,000 (9,000 in 2001), Other Nature Religion: 2,000 (3,000 in 2001). That makes a change from a total of 23,000 (0.12%) in 2001 to 26,000 (0.13%) in 2006 … so, basically, the number of Pagans recorded on the Australian Census in 2006 is around 0.13 to 0.14% of the population and has grown in size by about 13% since the 2001 Census. Not bad, but nothing like the growth the movement had earlier.”
While Paganism is still on the rise, it is no longer the news-making “boom” that grabbed so much attention in the 1990s, and spurred a large-scale invasion of Pagan-friendly products into the mainstream. Since Australia’s census takes place every five years it can perhaps give an quicker (and more accurate?) snapshot of our collective growth rates. But any claims of a overall slowing of Pagan growth will most likely have to wait until the United Kingdom’s next census in 2011 (like Australia, the UK also reported “explosive” growth in Pagan numbers in its 2001 census). American statistics will have to, as always, rely on the more inexact nature of polls and surveys to get a feeling for our growth rates.
* Could this be yet another sign that our era’s occult renaissance is about to end, just as Louis T. Culling predicted?