Halloween always brings out witches and warlocks (and ghosts and goblins) for a popular festival of fright. Yet today’s witches — or Wiccans, as they are known — and followers of a range of other neo-pagan traditions hardly seem so scary. They are certainly growing, however — which may give some believers pause.
In surveys, contemporary pagans are usually classified under the heading of New Religious Movements and “other religions,” which includes everything from Scientologists to Spiritualists. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, members of “other religions” and New Religious Movements went from 1.3 million in 1990 to 1.8 million in 2001 to 2.8 million in 2008.
Specifically, the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 2001 to 2008, from 134,000 to 342,000, and the same held true for neo-pagans, who went from 140,000 in 2001 to 340,000 in 2008.
Experts say the growth reflects not only increasing numbers of neo-pagans, but also a rise in the social acceptability of paganism. As a result, more respondents would be willing to identify themselves as followers of some pagan tradition. They also note that identification surveys do not fully measure the influence of neo-paganism. Many people use two or more religious identifiers — calling themselves Unitarian and Druid, for example — while others might adopt certain neo-pagan practices without calling themselves neo-pagan.
The upshot is that neo-pagans — such as Wiccans, Druids, Asatruar (from Heathenism), and various Reconstructionists — and neo-paganism have pushed further into the mainstream.
Some scholars credit the Internet and its ability to connect pagans of different tribes who previously would have remained unknown to each other. Whatever the reason, pagans have grown increasingly more organized and more visible and today are widely recognized by religion scholars and sociologists as a group with staying power.
Here are some recent developments in the contemporary pagan world:
- In 2007, the U.S. military approved the pagan pentacle as one of 39 religious symbols veterans may request for their tombstones. Pagan groups say there are more pagans serving in the military than ever before.
- A group of Canadian pagans has written a Paganism 101 for Unitarians who wish to explore contemporary pagan rituals and practices.
- Many contemporary pagan groups have begun formal clergy training programs, some with certification programs. Asatru Folk Assembly, Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship, New Aeon College and WHO are among the groups with clergy certification programs. Some groups have founded seminaries – St. Brigid’s Academy and Seminary in Fresno, Calif., New Aeon College and Seminary in Albany, N.Y., and Cherry Hill Seminary in South Carolina all ordain pagan clergy.
- Publications aimed at the contemporary pagan are growing, and many have an emphasis on green living. Recent launches include Crone magazine for the aging female pagan, Thorn and Modern Witch Magazine.
- The National Pagan Leadership Skills Conference about has been held in Richmond, Va., annually since 2004, attracting pagans from across the country who wish to learn skills that will promote acceptance and education about paganism in their communities.
WHO ARE THE PAGANS?
Neo-pagans are people who follow any one of a variety of pre-Christian religions that usually blend both old and new traditions. As the Religion Newswriters Stylebook notes, a “pagan” generally means anyone who does not acknowledge the God of Judaism, Christianity or Islam and who is a worshipper of a polytheistic religion. Many pagans follow an earth-based or nature religion.
The modern religious manifestation of these ancient traditions has been known as neo-paganism, though many prefer to be known simply as “pagans,” a word that once had pejorative connotations, or as “contemporary pagans.” Others prefer “neo-pagan” because their faith is a mix of ancient and modern.
There are many subcategories of people who follow ancient traditions. Most of these classifications are fluid. Some say Druids are their own branch of neo-paganism; others see them as a subcategory of Wicca. It is advisable to ask the people you interview how they describe themselves. For insights on the different contemporary pagan groups, visit the Witches’ Voice page on Traditions and Paths.
Here are some of the more prominent faiths and groups:
Dianics – Refers to goddess-centric faiths, and some include the Faerie Faith under its umbrella. Major groups include the McFarland Dianics, founded in Fort Worth, Texas, in the 1970s.
Reconstructionists – These are groups who focus on reconstructing the practices of an ancient, usually pre-Christian, religion. This category includes the following:
- Asatru/Northern Traditions – The worship of the ancient gods of the Germanic people of Northern Europe. Its followers are sometimes called the Asatruar and worship Freya, Thor, Odin, Frigga, Balder, Hel, Sif and others gods revered by the Vikings and other Norse peoples. Major groups include the Asatru Folk Assembly and Urdabrunnr Kindred.
- Baltic and Slavic – The Balts continue the ancient faiths of the Lithuanian, Estonian and Latvian peoples while the Slavs adhere to the old faith of Russia, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and the Ukraine. The emphasis in both is on nature. There is a Slavic Reconstructionist Yahoo group.
- Celtic – Celtic Reconstructionists focus on the ancient beliefs, practices and the language of the Gaels. A major group is Imbas.
- Kemetic – Refers to the ancient Egyptian religions. There are various branches, including Per Ankh, Atenism and Kemetic Orthodox.
- Hellenistic – This group worships the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece. The most prominent groups include Church of Hellenes and Elaion.
- Religio Romana – Pagans in this group worship the gods and goddesses of ancient Rome and re-create the rites and rituals of that culture using ancient sources. Nova Roma is one prominent group.
Wiccans – This is the largest category of pagans and includes many different branches of pre-Christian, earth-based faiths. There are hundreds – perhaps more – different groups, most of which fall under the umbrella of one of the major Wiccan traditions: Gardnerian, Correllian, Dianic, Alexandrian and several more. Some major groupings of covens include the Covenant of the Goddess, the Church and School of Wicca and the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.
BACKGROUND AND RESOURCES
- The Pluralism Project at Harvard University maintains a pagan resource page with a range of useful listings.
- The Religious Tolerance Web site of the multifaith Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance maintains a Wicca section.
- See the paganism page on Patheos, an online religion resource that launched in 2009.
- Nova Roma has information on Religio Romana.
- The Asatru Folk Assembly’s Web site includes an Asatru primer.
- Linda Kerr, an adherent of the McFarland Dianic tradition, maintains an informational Web site about the Faerie Faith.
- The Witches’ Voice has a primer on various pagan faiths, including Reconstructionists.
- Circle Sanctuary maintains a list of pagan charities in the United States. The list was developed after James Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in the Bush administration, wrote in an online question-and-answer session in November 2003 that he was unaware of any pagan groups that performed charity.
- Read an Oct. 15, 2009, story at ReligionDispatches.org, “A Pagan Republican Comes Out of the Broom Closet,” about a GOP candidate for New York City Council who is also a practicing Heathen.
- Read an April 23, 2007, Associated Press article (posted by MSNBC) about the pagan pentacle’s acceptance by the military for veteran tombstones.
- Beliefnet.com has an article on the rise of Hellenic Reconstructionism.
- Read an article about the Asatru faith and its practitioners. The article originally appeared in The Seeker Journal and is reprinted on Beliefnet.com.
POLLS AND SURVEYS
- The Pagan Census, published in 2007 by Helen Berger, Evan Leach and Leigh Shaffer, found that contemporary pagans “are more frequently solitary than involved in groups of worshippers, are highly computer and internet literate and rely heavily on tradition in their religious practices. Many are women and many find Contemporary Paganism in their teens, largely through learning about it through media, such as television, movies or books.”
- The American Religious Identification Survey tracks the number of neo-pagans and other religions and New Religious Movements. ARIS shows that the number of Wiccans more than doubled from 2001 to 2008, from 134,000 to 342,000, and the same held true for neo-pagans, who went from 140,000 in 2001 to 340,000 in 2008.
ON THE INTERNET
Contemporary pagans are especially adept at using the Internet as a tool to meet each other and disseminate rituals and ideas. Here are some of the more popular pagan Web sites:
- The Witches’ Voice is a major clearinghouse for all things Wicca and pagan. It claims 98,000 individual accounts and offers weekly Web-based articles.
- PaganParenting.com provides resources for neo-pagan parents raising children in their faith.
- The Alternative Religions Educational Network is dedicated to preserving the civil rights of members of alternative religions, including Wicca. It was originally called the Witches’ Anti-Defamation League. Contact Bill Kilborn, 321-243-2337, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Military Pagan Network is an advocacy organization for pagans in the U.S. military and is based in Columbia, Md. In 2006, Stars and Stripes reported that 2005 Department of Defense statistics counted at least 1,800 active-duty service members who identified as Wiccans. The Military Pagan Network places the number of contemporary pagans in the military at 4,300, of which 2,000 are Wiccans. A new Pagan Veterans of the USA group is currently forming.
- The USA chapter of Pagan Federation International is a networking organization for pagans around the world. It publishes a quarterly magazine, Pagan Dawn.
- EarthSpirit Community is an information and networking clearinghouse for all earth-based religions, including Wicca.
- Covenant of the Goddess is the Web site of an international organization of cooperating, autonomous Wiccan congregations and solitary practitioners. It maintains a list of local councils around the country. It is based in Berkeley, Calif.
- The American Academy of Religions maintains a Contemporary Pagan Studies Group.
- BBI Media in Forest Grove, Ore., publishes four magazines for pagans — Crone: Women Coming of Age is for the older female follower of earth- and goddess-based faiths; NewWitch is focused on the various forms of the Wiccan faith; PanGaia focuses on earth-based religions; SageWoman is devoted to goddess-oriented religions. Contact Anne Newkirk Niven, 888-724-3966.
- The Beltane Papers is a magazine and forum for pagan women. Lise Quinn is editor. Contact email@example.com.
- Immanion Press/Megalithica Books publishes esoteric fiction and nonfiction. Its publishers, Taylor Elwood and Lupa, were named by PanGaia magazine as among the most influential pagans of 2009. The company, which is based in the United Kingdom, publishes Celtic Reconstructionist, occult and magic-oriented titles, among others. The staff page contains many contacts.
- Llewellyn Publishers is the largest commercial publisher of pagan-themed books and other media. It’s based in Woodbury, Minn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Pagan Book Reviews is a popular book review blog written by Lupa, a practicing pagan in the Pacific Northwest. (The site is on temporary hiatus as of October 2009.) Contact via the Web site.
- The Pagan Centered Podcast has been described by PanGaia magazine as “the morning zoo” for pagan listeners. It is a one-hour weekly podcast that focuses on pagan issues or issues from a pagan perspective. Contact email@example.com.
- Pagan Dawn is the quarterly magazine of the Pagan Federation. It is published in England. Contact 07986 034387.
- The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies is edited by Chas Clifton at Colorado State University-Pueblo. Contact 719-549-2226, chas.clifton@ colostate-pueblo.edu.
- Thorn magazine is a new quarterly print publication that focuses on contemporary paganism in the wired age. It is edited by Chip O’Brien, a Hellenic pagan. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The rise of contemporary paganism has brought with it a corresponding recognition of the study of these new-old faiths in the academy. Here are some of the leading scholars studying neo-paganism today:
- Nikki Bado-Fralick is an assistant professor of religious studies at Iowa State University in Ames, where she teaches a course on women and religion that includes contemporary paganism. She is the author of Coming to the Edge of the Circle: A Wiccan Initiation Ritual and is a high priestess in the Merry Circle coven. Contact 515-294-0054, email@example.com.
- Helen Berger is a religion sociologist at West Chester University in West Chester, Pa. She has studied pagans for 20 years and is a co-author of Voices From the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States. Information about that survey can be found here. Contact 610-436-2349, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Chas Clifton is a professor of English at Colorado State University-Pueblo and the author of Her Hidden Children (2006), about the history and forms of American paganism, including Wicca. He was named one of the most influential pagans of 2009 by PanGaia magazine. He is also editor of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, which publishes twice a year. He is co-editor of the Pagan Studies series from AltaMira Press. He blogs about paganism and other things at Letter From Hardscrabble Creek. Contact 719-549-2226, chas.clifton@ colostate-pueblo.edu.
- Gus diZerega is a political scientist/theorist who writes extensively about contemporary paganism and its relationship to mainstream culture. He identifies himself as a witch and blogs about paganism for Beliefnet.com at A Pagan’s Blog. Contact through the online journal Studies in Emergent Order, which he edits.
- Wendy Griffin is co-editor with Chas Clifton of the Pagan Studies series from AltaMira Press. Griffin is a professor emerita of women’s studies and an expert on goddess studies at California State University, Long Beach. Contact 562-985-5798, email@example.com.
- Jeffery Kaplan is an associate professor of religion at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. He is on the board of The Pomegranate and is an expert on New Religious Movements. Contact 920-424-7072, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- James R. Lewis is a lecturer in the religious studies department at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. In 2004, he wrote a paper using census data from English-speaking countries to determine the growth of New Religious Movements, including the pagan community. Contact 715-346-3803, email@example.com.
- Sabina Magliocco is the author of Witching Culture: Folklore and Neo-Paganism in America. She is an anthropology professor at California State University, Northridge. Contact 818-677-4930, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Sarah Pike is a professor of religious studies at California State University, Chico, and author of Earthly Bodies, Magical Selves: Contemporary Pagans and the Search for Community. She is at work on a textbook about New Age and magical religions. Contact 530-898-5661, email@example.com.
- Marilyn Pukkila is the head of instructional services at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where she teaches a course on contemporary witchcraft. Contact 207-859-5145, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bron Taylor is an associate professor of environmental and Christian ethics at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He teaches a course on religion and earth ethics and can discuss pagans’ focus on the environment, which has brought them into more contact with nonpagan communities. Contact 352-392-1625, email@example.com.
As contemporary paganism has come out of the shadows, so have various leaders of pagans faiths and groups. Here are some of the more prominent pagan clergy working today:
- Angie Buchanan is a Circle Sanctuary minister and director of Gaia’s Womb, an interfaith women’s spirituality organization based in Bannockburn, Ill. In 2003, she became the first pagan elected to the board of trustees for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Contact via email only, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
- Phyllis Curott is Wiccan priestess and founder of the Temple of Ara, an affiliation of Wiccan circles in the Minoan and Gardnerian tradition with headquarters in New York City. She is the author of several books on Wicca, including Witch Crafting: A Spiritual Guide to Making Magic. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Maureen Duffy-Boose is president of CUUPs (Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans) and the assistant membership director of the Pagan Pride Project. She lives in Salt Lake City. Contact email@example.com.
- Selena Fox is a high priestess and senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, a Wiccan church and pagan resource center near Mount Horeb, Wis. She is also senior editor of the group’s magazine, The Circle, an international quarterly journal about Wicca and nature religions. Contact 608-924-2216, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Kemetic Orthodox faith maintains a list of its clergy.
- The Rev. Galina Krasskova is a priestess in the Urdabrunnr Kindred and author of numerous books on Asatru and other Northern Tradition pagan faiths. Contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Patrick McCollum is a pagan chaplain who was instrumental in getting the U.S. military to accept the pagan pentacle for veterans’ graves He is active in other pagan rights issues as well. He lives in Moraga, Calif. Contact Tinkergld@aol.com.
- M. Macha NightMare is chairwoman of the public ministry department at Cherry Hill Seminary, where she helps train neo-pagans to assume clergy roles in public. She is also author of Pagan Pride: Honoring the Craft and Culture of Earth and Goddess and is a practicing witch in San Rafael, Calif. Contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Silver RavenWolf is author of numerous books about Wicca, including many titles for teenage witches. She lives in Pennsylvania. Contact ToadyProducts@msn.com.
- Sannion is the founder of Neos Alexandria, a Greco-Egyptian Reconstructionist faith. Contact email@example.com.
- Starhawk is author of Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the Great Goddess, a book widely credited with bringing many new people into the Wiccan faith. She is co-founder of Reclaiming, a community of contemporary pagans in Northern California with branches worldwide. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Contact via Emily Grandstaff, HarperOne publicity, 415-477-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org.
OTHER PROMINENT PAGANS
- Dagonet Dewr is co-founder and membership director of the Pagan Pride Project, which helps mount Pagan Pride Days around the world. Contact email@example.com.
- Jerrie Hildebrand is assistant director of Lady Liberty League, the religious freedom activism arm of Circle Sanctuary. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Fiona Horne was named as one of the most influential pagans of 2009 by PanGaia magazine. She is the author of eight books on witchcraft, including Pop! Goes the Witch, has had two reality television programs and appeared nude in Playboy. She is among the public faces of paganism today. She lives in Los Angeles. Contact via Collin Reno, 310-859-4000.
- Raven Kaldera was named as one of the most influential pagans of 2009 by PanGaia magazine. He is a shaman in the Northern Tradition and is active in pagan rights issues. He blogs at Cauldron Farm and lives in Hubbardston, Mass. Contact 978-928-4198, email@example.com.
- Caroline Kenner is a shaman who was named as one of the most influential pagans of 2009 by PanGaia magazine. She is a Washington, D.C.-based activist who advocates for pagan rights, especially freedom of religion and equality. She was instrumental in the push to get the pentacle on military grave markers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Erynn Rowan Laurie was named by PanGaia magazine as one of the most influential pagans of 2009. She is a Celtic Reconstructionist and co-founder of the Inis Glas Hedge School. She is the author of two books on Celtic spirituality. Contact email@example.com.
- Fritz Muntean was editor of The Pomegranate: The Journal of Pagan Studies until 2003. He is the author of numerous articles about the influence of paganism, including “The Protestantization of Paganism” and “Wicca After Starhawk.” He lives in Vancouver, B.C. Contact via Vancouver Pagans, 604-261-7204.
- Tamara L. Siuda is the founder and leader of the House of Netjer, a church within the Kemetic Orthodox faith. Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Glenn Turner is the founder of PantheaCon, the largest gathering of pagans of all faiths that takes place in California each year. He is also the owner of Ancient Ways Pagan Metaphysical Store in Oakland, Calif. Contact 510-653-3244.
- Nora Cedarwind Young is a Circle Sanctuary minister and a leader in the “green burial” movement. She lives in the Seattle area. Contact via the Web site.
- Adrian Ivakhiv is an associate professor of environmental studies at the University of Vermont in Burlington. He is on the board of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies. Contact 802-656-0180, email@example.com.
- New England Reconstructionists is a networking Web site for followers of Reconstructionist faiths in the New England region.
- Sha Stafford is the New England regional director for the Pagan Pride Project. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Cedar Light Grove is a community of Northern Tradition followers in the Baltimore area. Contact 410-426-3600.
- Ivo Dominguez Jr. is an elder in the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel, a western Wiccan tradition. He lives in southern Delaware. Contact email@example.com.
- Michael Strmiska teaches world and Asian history at Orange County Community College in Middletown, N.Y. He is on the board of The Pomegranate and is an expert on modern revivals of pagan religions. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Amie Tolomeo is the mid-Atlantic director for the Pagan Pride Project in the New York-New Jersey area. Contact email@example.com.
- Michelle Boshears is a high priestess with Stone Circle Coven in Bloomington, Ind. She retired from the Army with the rank of major. She lives in Grovetown, Ga., where she conducts workshops on Wicca traditions and practices. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Cynthia Campbell is president of Carolina Spirit Quest, a nonprofit religious organization for pagans in North Carolina that is instrumental in mounting the annual National Pagan Leadership Skills Conference. She lives in Hillsborough, N.C. Contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Florida Pagan Gathering is a pan-pagan association that promotes pagan acceptance through education, activism and events. It is based in Daytona Beach. Contact 386-451-8319.
- Grove of the Seven Hills is a Celtic and Northern Tradition pagan community in Lynchburg, Va. Contact email@example.com.
- The Eclectic Coven of Red Mountain is an independent group of Wiccan practitioners in the Birmingham, Ala., area. The group blogs at Blogspot under the same name and has a speakers bureau. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Amanda Riley is a high priestess in Children of the Circle, a community of Wiccans in the Arkansas and Tennessee region. They have two churches, one in Memphis and one in Brookland, Ark. Contact email@example.com.
- Cerea Sims is a clergy members at Summerland Grove Pagan Church, an organization of pagan covens and solitary practitioners in Memphis. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Carla Smith is the Pagan Pride Project’s regional director for the Southern states. Contact email@example.com.
- The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Mobile, Ala., has a local CUUPs chapter that meets at its church. Contact Decima Reign, 251-786-4200 or 251-342-6834.
- Michelle Boshears is a high priestess with Stone Circle Coven in Bloomington, Ind. She retired from the Army with the rank of major. She lives in Grovetown, Ga., where she conducts workshops on Wicca traditions and practices. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Ellen Dugan is a Wiccan and author of several books on Wicca and nature. She lives in St. Charles, Mo. Contact email@example.com.
- Jill Medicine Heart is director of overseas military events for the Pagan Pride Project. She lives in Adams County, Ohio. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jennifer Cedarfox Todd is founder of the Lake Spirit CUUPS group in Racine, Wis. Contact email@example.com.
- Linda Costello is a Druid priestess in the Scottsdale, Ariz., area. Contact 480-990-0429, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Kathy Surh is a member of the Mountain Dance chapter of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, which meets in Flagstaff, Ariz. Contact email@example.com.
- Cindy Wilson is a priestess in the Strix Temple of Hecate’s Torch, a Hellenistic Reconstructionist group, in Roswell, N.M. Her priestess name is Olympias. Contact 575-624-2126.
- Arlynne Camire is executive director of the Pagan Alliance, a pan-pagan educational and activism group in the San Francisco Bay Area. Contact 510-872-1188.
- Coven of the Mother Mountain Aerie is a Southern California coven of women Wiccans. Contact priestesses on this page.
- St. Brigid’s Academy and Seminary in Fresno, Calif., trains and ordains Wiccan clergy. Contact 559-355-2050.
- Stachia Ravensdottir is the first officer of the Touchstone Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess in San Bernardino, Calif. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE: This edition updates an Oct. 11, 2004, tip, “Wicca moves into the mainstream.”