Adherents honor the dead with fire ceremonies, feasts, and by reciting spells. Its roots stem from magic and the occult, but contemporary issues like COVID, protecting the environment, and healing the world are remembered during services. Considering its rapid growth, one could argue that it has become mainstream. Even those that disagree would have to acknowledge that in important ways Wicca, the religion of witches, has become a modern phenomenon.
That this could happen is amazing because witches have never gotten good press. In literature they’ve been portrayed as cackling, wearing pointy hats, and reciting chants to curse people. In parts of Europe they were feared and attacked; in Salem, Massachusetts, women believed to be witches were burned alive. Others suffered discrimination in a more subtle fashion.
How times have changed! These days witches are accepted by most of society, and neither threatened nor ostracized.
More For None
To a great extent, this change in thinking has come about because growing numbers of people are rejecting traditional religions and either becoming atheists or turning to supernatural and pagan beliefs like Wicca. Many of them are young.
Following are some shocking statistics related to this trend. A poll conducted by Pew Research found that the number of Americans identifying as Christians is the lowest it has ever been.
At the same time, the number of people identifying with the “nones” -- those not affiliated with any of the organized and traditional religions -- is now 29%, the highest it has ever been. This number has increased by six percentage points in the last five years, and has increased by 10 percentage points in the last 10 years.
Elizabeth Drescher, an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University, wrote a book about the spiritual lives of “nones.” She said, “If the unaffiliated were a religion, they’d be the largest religious group in the United States.” Drescher also noted that while once concentrated in a few urban areas along the coasts, they now live across the US and come from all ethnic backgrounds and economic levels.
Growing Since The Sixties
Helen Berger, a resident scholar at Brandeis University’s Women’s Studies Research Center, has also found fascinating statistics regarding Wicca; she has researched this subject extensively and written four books about this subject. According to USA Today, Berger said that the numbers of Americans who identify with Wicca or paganism has risen from 134,000 in 2001 to nearly 2 million today. «The witch community in America has been growing steadily since the 1960s,» she said, and «much of the recent growth is coming from young women.»
Manny Tejeda-Moreno, editor of “The Wild Hunt,” a news agency that focuses on the pagan and witch communities, said that the rise of witchcraft on social media suggests an “observable difference in the number of people practicing witchcraft and the number of people willing to discuss that practice openly. Witchcraft and witches have become more commonplace.”
Apparently, many things related to Wicca in particular and the occult in general are getting a great deal of attention, including providing psychic services, palm and aura readings, and conversing with spirits on the other side. Not only are these growing rapidly in popularity, but they are also becoming a booming business; last year it was a $2.2 billion industry in the US. Online mentions of the occult increased in popularity by an average of 4% every week since March 20, 2020, which is when COVID began spreading across the country and lockdowns first went into place.
PEW also found that 2020 was the first year on record that the majority of Americans said they did not belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque; by comparison, from the 1930s to the turn of the 21st century, around 70 percent of Americans belonged to one of those. Not surprisingly, the percentage of people who attend religious services regularly has fallen dramatically and continues to decline.
Many older Americans are more attached to religion than younger ones are. However, as they continue to age and pass away, their numbers are falling. As a result, by default the percentage of people who identify with the “nones” group will continue to rise. If this trend continues, it could have major implications on the people we elect to represent us, on the education provided by schools and universities, and on the policies society as a whole endorses or considers unacceptable.
Actually, this may be happening already. Recent surveys have found that approximately two-thirds of all Americans believe Roe v. Wade should not be overturned; another survey found that a record high 70% now supports alternative lifestyles. These findings are very different in regions of the country where people still identify strongly with religion. However, they do give an idea of how society as a whole thinks, and how dramatically its beliefs are changing.
How? And Why?
Certainly, into the 1950s, traditional religion played an important role in most people’s lives. Children in public schools said prayers every day, and many people recited prayers of thanks before meals and also before going to sleep; there were strict standards of what speech was acceptable and what words should never be spoken.
How could things have changed so much? Years ago, alternative beliefs like Wicca had few adherents, but gradually the strict standards in place were loosened and there was a slow but steady decline in respect for all institutions and traditions; the family structure changed as growing numbers of women entered the workforce and marriage was pushed off.
A steady stream of the graduates colleges and universities turned out every year have been anti-religious and anti-establishment. Hollywood-produced movies and TV fueled the decline in moral standards. Arguably, the Vietnam War and the upheavals it ushered in did more to change long-held beliefs and traditions than anything else.
People certainly have as much right to practice Wicca as any other belief, or not to practice religion at all if that is their choice. But the steady stream of different values keep chipping away at religion and other institutions; now it has become very clear how even very gradual changes add up, and over time make a major impact on what society considers its norms. Major shifts obviously have taken place already. Can anyone feel certain that others, even more drastic, won’t follow?
Orthodox Jews and other religious people have very limited ability to influence an entire society. Still, we need to be aware of what’s going on around us and not be like the frogs in a famous experiment. They were tossed into water and heat gradually increased; not realizing what was happening, the frogs literally were being boiled alive, never recognizing the danger.
Very educated and brilliant people are certainly pondering how societies in the US and in countries around the world could possibly have abandoned so many long-held and cherished traditions.
It would be fascinating to study their conclusions, particularly whether these have happened spontaneously or whether dark and evil forces conspired to bring them about. That may sound crazy, but you can’t rule anything out these days.
Sources: mentalfloss.com; yalebooksblog.co.uk; yorksj.ac.uk; usatoday.com