Mainstreamed, In Demand, Yet Shrinking?

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Is modern Paganism becoming more mainstream, yet shrinking in size? That seems to be the gist of two recent articles that talked to practitioners and academics about the state of modern Paganism today. Reuters reporter Sarah Marsh interviews famed Alexandrian priestess Maxine Sanders, who explains that Witches and Pagans are more in demand than ever before.

“‘Witches are getting more and more in demand. People want a pagan wedding,’ said Maxine Sanders, high priestess of the sacred mysteries and a promoter of the modern nature-based witchcraft movement of Wicca … People are more tolerant on the whole nowadays, she added, and more interested in witchcraft.”

Elsewhere in the article, pop-culture boosts to Wicca and other modern Pagan religions through shows like “Buffy” and “Charmed” are mentioned, but a metaphysical store owner says these newcomers aren’t necessarily in it for the religion.

“More and more people are practicing magic but they are not necessarily interested in the spiritual side of witchcraft, said John Cole, high priest of a Manchester coven and owner of an occult shop selling everything from cauldrons to Viking rune charms.”

Some of these themes are taken up in a Samhain-themed article for The Record in Canada. Mirko Petricevic interviews academic Douglas Cowan, author of “Cyberhenge: Modern Pagans on the Internet”, who also credits pop-culture for a sudden burst of growth, yet now thinks modern Paganism is entering a “shrinking” phase as that initial surge of interest wears off.

“Cowan says he hasn’t had to go far to track the popularity of Paganism. But he has also observed that participation seems to be declining. Not long ago, he says, books about Wicca and witchcraft occupied huge amounts of shelf space at book stores. “Over the years I watched that shrink” … Cowan suspects the next census or two will show a dramatic drop in the number of Pagans. He says he believes Paganism will grow, but that it will build slowly from the same core group of believers who were practising before interest in Paganism was driven by pop-culture.”

While I agree that we may be tapering off of the explosive growth modern Paganism saw in the 1990s, there seems to be no clear picture on if we are shrinking (call it the hypothetical “pop-culture corrective”). Book-buying as proof of growth rates is a pretty shaky indicator, especially if the market was over-saturated for many years (as I believe it was). There will always be transient dabblers and seekers who don’t stay long, but the demographics of possible new Pagans keep improving, perhaps mitigating any dramatic “shrink” in population. No doubt harder data will emerge when both Britain and Australia hold their next censuses in 2011. Until then, while I agree we are becoming ever more “mainstream”, I’m not sure we are experiencing any dramatic downturn.