Big Data and the Pagan World

Sean McShee —  November 28, 2018 — Leave a comment

TWH –  Almost everyone uses Google to search for information. AS we all know, Google provides other types of information as well and some of that content involves Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, and Heathens.

But before going on, proceed with caution.  There is some nerdy tech-iness ahead. .

Google Ngram Viewer

Google has digitized millions of books and through that process has made those document searchable and comparable in a variety of ways.  Google Ngram Viewer is a tool that examines books published between 1500 and 2008. Google Ngram Viewer calculates the frequency of user-supplied words or phrases. This allows for the user to estimate the approximate “popularity” of certain words over time. The result is displayed in the graphic form of a time-line. The tool is available in several languages other than English.

Recently, The Wild Hunt searched Google Ngram Viewer. This search sought to learn how the use of the words “Pagan,” “Wicca,” “Druid,” and “Heathen” has changed over time. For ease of comparison, this search was restricted to the years between 1800 to 2008.

 

The words “Pagan” and “Heathen” appeared more often than “Wicca” or “Druid” did.  This is not surprising in that those words have been used in common as well as ecclesiastical texts for some time, and often with unflattering usage.  The words “Druid” and “Wicca” remained at low frequencies for much of the search period, Wicca being non-existent. Before World War I, the term “Heathen” appeared much more often than the term “Pagan” and it’s use dropped sharply over the preceding 40 years. Interestingly, both World Wars saw a relative dips in the use of the words “Pagan” and “Heathen.” All four terms began to appear more often after the 1980s, though Heathen has never again risen to the height of its prior  frequency observed in the mid-Nineteenth century.

Google Keywords

Most people also know that Google stores data from their searches on that site. It then summarizes that data and  identifies words common to many other similar searches. The identified words are called “keywords.” They can be single words or phrases. Google Keyword Planner provides data on these keywords. Advertisers will then develop advertisements based on such keywords; and, of course, pay Google to post those ads with similar searches.

The public has access to much of this summarized information about Google searches. Access may require setting up a free account. The public has no access to data at the level of individual Google searches.Website developers use these keywords in the development of their sites. They pepper their websites with these new keywords. When people search using one of these new keywords, they may be drawn to that.

When individuals conduct Google searches about Paganism, Wicca, Druidry, or Heathenry, the summary data about those searches can be examined. These examinations can reveal information deficits and popular misconceptions.

Besides, singular keywords, the Google Keyword Planner provides “new keywords.” These new keywords appear in many searches similar to the original search. They provide more insight about the content of people’s Google searches. These new keywords may be a single word or a phrase. New keywords also show how people conceptually link two or more concepts.

TWH performed a new keyword search for four words of interest used in the Google Ngram Viewer: “Pagan,” “Wicca,” “Druid,” and “Heathen.” The numbers of new keywords generated ranged from 696 to 319. Google sorts these new keywords by relevance. Rather than examining all new keywords, TWH examined only the first 50 new keywords.

The keyword “Pagan” generated 527 related concepts. Neither the word “Heathen” nor the word “Druid” appeared among these 50 new keywords. Words such as “Witch,” “Witchcraft,” and “Wicca” appeared in 56 percent of these new keywords.

These new keywords can be categorized into roughly four groups: Religion, Supplies, Spell work, and Other. Interestingly, Satanism and devil did not appear among these first 50 new keywords.

The keyword “Wicca” returned 696 new keywords. While 56 percent of the new keywords for “Pagan” related to Wicca, only 4 percent of the new keywords for “Wicca” related to Paganism. The keyword “Wicca” returned 169 more new keywords than the keyword “Pagan” did suggesting that, for Google searchers, Wicca may be more strongly linked to Paganism than Paganism is to Wicca

The new keywords associated with the keyword “Wicca” can be grouped into three known categories: Spell Work, Religion, Supplies. An “Other” category emerged with a small frequency.

 

Neither the word “Heathen” nor the word “Druid” appears among the top 50 new keyword ideas for either Pagan or Wicca searches.

The keyword “Druid” returned 369 new associated keyword ideas. Among the 50 new keywords, a little over half related to the massively multiplayer online role-playing game, “World of Warcraft” where in players can be Druid characters.  None of the remaining 24 new keywords contained the word “Pagan.” One contained the word “Wicca.”

The keyword “Heathen” returned 586 new associated keywords. Among the 50 new keywords, 39 referred to music. Only five new keywords referred to religion. Six new keywords could have referred to either religion or to music. Two referred to Wicca or Witchcraft.

Among Google searches, the words “Druid” and “Heathen” appear much less often than the words “Wicca” and “Pagan” do.  This suggests that the terms Pagan and Wicca have become more familiar concepts to the general population.  It is unclear whether Druidry or Heathenry associations are the result of free associations or that these searches may be subsumed by a term like “Pagan”,as a first identifier.

At present a significant portion of many people’s lives occurs online. Every major organization, profit or non-profit, religious or secular, monitors its online presence including data stored by Google.

Google searches reveal what outsiders want to know about Paganism. Like a nerdy mirror, data from Google searches reveal how outsiders view Pagans, Wiccans, Druids and Heathens. For example most of the new keywords related to Wicca involved spell-casting. Among the top 50 new keywords linked to Wicca, none involved female empowerment. The word “nature” only appeared once among the top 50 new keywords associated with Paganism. The word “nature” did not appear among the top 50 new keywords associated with Wicca, Druidry, or Heathenry.

Website developers use data from these Google searches to attract people to their website. They spray their websites with some of these new keywords to attract traffic and identify themselves on the internet. This can alleviate misconceptions and answer questions. Everyone else is looking into their nerdy mirror, maybe Pagans, Wiccans, Druids, and Heathens, this is an opportunity for to do so as well.

 

Sean McShee

Posts

Highly alienated, over-educated, and under-employed, Sean McShee is a San Francisco ex-pat currently living in Fort Lauderdale. He writes on HIV issues and health issues for South Florida Gay News, and blogs movie reviews at http://dreamingnoir.blogspot.com/. He has worked with Reclaiming, the Feri Tradition, Radical Faeries, and now is studying with ADF.