Future of Paganism
Are Solitaries The Future Of Paganism?
Almost three-fourths (73%) of the PCR respondents have practiced in a group at some time, indicating that although most are currently solitaries this appears to be a situation that is somewhat fluid, with people entering into and leaving groups. Furthermore, the definition of what constitutes a solitary practitioner may vary. In West Chester, PA I spoke with members of a group that self-defined as a group of solitaries. When asked how it was possible to practice both as a solitary and with others I was told that each person had her or his own form of spirituality and that no one attempted to change or reform another's practice. They joined together to discuss their spirituality and to participate in Sabbats and perform other rituals. One person would lead the ritual in her or his tradition and others might add things from their own spiritual practice. Individuals, therefore, may be defining themselves as solitary practitioners when they believe that their practice is not consistent with any particular or standard form or denomination of Paganism even if they are joining with others for religious purposes on a regular basis.
Parallel to the growth of solitary practitioners is the increase in people who state that their primary form of practice is Eclectic Paganism, which is the most common designation, with 53% of the respondents claiming this designation. Additionally, 22% state that they are spiritual but dislike labels. As Pagans may consider more than one spiritual path primary, the survey is designed to allow individuals to check more than one type or form of Paganism. But, it is significant that the largest designation in the PC was Wiccan, which was now chosen by only 38% of the respondents to the PCR. The decrease of group training is resulting in a less specific form of Paganism becoming dominant.
What do these numbers indicate for the future of Paganism? Solitary practice and training outside of groups, most likely through books and the Internet, appears to be the future of the religion. With the lack of training by elders or within traditional groups, Eclectic Paganism and Spiritual but without a further label will become more common. This is not to suggest that Wicca, Witchcraft or ethnic Paganism will die out. They will continue to gain some adherents both through converts and from children raised in the religion remaining in it once they become adults but, they will be a smaller percentage of Pagans.
Paganism is a community of spiritual individualists that is well integrated, on both the local level through gatherings, festivals and open Sabbats and on the national and international level through websites, message boards, and blogs. As much of the integration takes place on the Internet or person-to-person, it is unclear how important umbrella organizations such as Covenant of the Goddess or Pagan Associations will be in the future. However, the desire for individuals to practice together and to get together for spiritual purposes suggests that they may grow in import as they help to organize gatherings, rituals, and classes. Paganism will continue to provide a new image of what religion can be in a postmodern world; one without churches or clear boundaries, based on books and the Internet and individuals gathering together and interacting and then returning to practice what they see as their own eclectic religion.
Helen A. Berger is professor emeritus of sociology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. She is the author or editor of Teenage Witches: Magical Youth and the Search for Self; Voices from the Pagan Census; A Community of Witches, and other books and articles.