When I read about Paganism being on the decline I wonder if the writers of such things actually have boots on the ground. Over the last few years I’ve been able to put my “boots on the ground*” at a variety of Pagan events and in a variety of Pagan settings. Perhaps my experiences aren’t representative of what’s really going on, but I don’t see why they wouldn’t or couldn’t be. I also get to talk to a lot of different Pagans from a variety of settings, if things were really headed downward I think it’s something that we’d notice collectively.
There’s no way anyone can absolutely know one way or the other just how many Pagans there are in the United States or the world, and if we are growing or declining in number. Sure, there are some smart groups that do the occasional survey, but who knows just how accurate those polls are? So while I believe Paganism is fairly healthy, I could be wrong, but I trust my eyes when my contacts are in and things look pretty good from here.
Paganism is also a rather nebulous grouping. There are all sorts of different opinions on just what Paganism means exactly, and without a central governing body (like the Catholic Church) there’s nobody’s really keeping track of just how many of us are out there. It’s also possible to be a Pagan one day and then something else the next. Being Jewish is both an ethnic and spiritual identifier, that’s not really the case in Paganism.
The decline seen in some Pagan institutions is certainly disheartening, but it’s not an isolated thing. Fraternal and service groups have been losing members for decades now, and while I absolutely love my two local Unitarian-Universalist Churches (one of them is my go to spot for public ritual), membership in the UU Church is currently in decline, and this is most likely affecting membership in CUUPS. These are not things I relish, heck the UU Church giving its endorsement to Paganism in the 90’s was a major step forward for us.
There’s also a small minority suffering under the delusion that everyone’s Paganism should look like theirs. The Pagan world is big and diverse, and hosts a variety of opinions. One does not have to be an anarchist or socialist to be a Pagan, and I know some really tremendous Witches who hold political beliefs radically different than my own. There are certainly some things that are just not acceptable in Modern Paganism, but one can be a capitalist and a Pagan.
My sandals have taken me to a lot of places the last few years, here are my thoughts on some of them.
Witchcraft Classes Are Healthy
I teach a paid course in Wiccan-Witchcraft at a local bookstore and my class is full of people, it has more people in it than I ever dreamed it would have. My friend Gwion was telling me just the other night that the store he owns with his wife Phoenix often sells out for events, and that people often end up on the waiting list! That’s amazing. Now all three of us live in California and I realize that things are often a little different out here, but they can’t be that different!
The students in my class vary a great deal in age and ethnicity, and they are all super excited about taking the class. It certainly doesn’t feel as if they are participating in something near its last breath.
Though I’ve never taken an online Witchcraft class, just googling Witchcraft Classes results in dozens (probably really hundreds) of classes, and many of them are from people I know and respect. If we were dying who would waste their time?
I’m Actually A Part of Two Covens
One of those covens is made up only of initiates too, and yeah I can’t tell you everything we do, but I’m comfortable telling you that both my coven and the extended community I’m a part of is healthy. When I’m on the road I routinely run into other initiates of varying ages and experiences. Maybe the anger and sniping I see from some corners comes from not being able to be a part of such groups?
We Have a Real Presence Online
This here blog had it’s best month ever in April, and is headed towards something similar in May. Now numbers are certainly not a reflection of quality and quantity, but as someone who helps keep Patheos Pagan running I can assure you that things are headed upwards and not downwards. That’s not going to be true for every blog or blogsite of course, but Paganism’s presence online has always been strong and getting stronger.
If you missed it, Pagan Bloggers debuted in March hosts some absolutely terrific writing. Witches and Pagans continues to feature some of the best voices in Paganism and the Wild Hunt provides quality journalism nearly every day (and it’s something we as a community have chosen to value with contributions/donations). I just don’t see the death spiral.
Festivals and People And People At Festivals
By the end of 2017 I’ll have visited nine different Pagan festivals from one side of the United States to the other. At all of those festivals I’ll have talked to (or will talk to) all sorts of different Pagans, and I mean all sorts of different Pagans. Southern Fried Pagans, Druids, California Coastal Elite Pagans**, Witchy Pagans, Midwestern Pagans, Conservative Pagans, Activist Pagans, Party Pagans, Heathens, and everything else in between. What does this mean other than I like to talk? It means that Paganism and its many paths appeals to a wide range of people.
The diverse and eclectic mass that makes up Modern Paganism is something that a lot of people who live in bubble culture don’t see. All they can envision is people just like them, but that’s the exact opposite of what Paganism should be. There’s something about today’s Paganism that appeals to all sorts of people from various cultural and societal backgrounds. If Paganism were just one thing it wouldn’t be thriving in Louisiana or Georgia, but here we are.
(Weird aside, at the Wyld Fire Beltane Hunt a couple of weeks ago the festival organizer was telling me that the plumber they had come out to fix something at the site turned out to be a Pagan! And this was a place outside New Orleans by a good hour. Does this mean anything? Maybe not, but it was still pretty cool. Pagans are everywhere!)
But Hey, What Do I Know?
I know there will be some people who think that after reading this article, but what I know comes from experience. It comes from being out of my house and in the greater Pagan world. Certainly not everything is perfect out there, but what’s out there is definitely going to outlive me, and I think it’s going to get bigger.
Now it may not expand at the rate it’s been expanding the last thirty years, but ebb and flow is a part of nature and it’s a part of how spiritualities and religions grow. To scoff at that is nonsensical and childish. The people actively hunting for the decline in Paganism are tilting at windmills, as for me I’ll continue talking to actual Pagans and doing my own Witchy-work.
*In my case those are usually really “sandals on the ground” but it doesn’t have quite the same ring.
**To quote Sarah Palin