Last week I published a piece speculating on the number of Wiccans in the United States. I think most people responded to the article positively, though there were several folks who thought my numbers were a bit pie in the sky.* One of the criticisms which came up was that the number of Wiccans in the United States “doesn’t matter.”
In some ways “doesn’t matter” is most certainly true. I’m not a Wiccan-Witch because it’s trendy or popular, and I’d be a Wiccan-Witch if there were only a few hundred of us. In many ways how many of us there are doesn’t matter, and that line of thinking has some historical precedent. For many years many Wiccans identified as “Hidden Children of the Goddess” and kept their religious choice quiet and/or secret. There are still many hidden children today, and I don’t think anyone has an obligation to come out of the broom closet.
However, I think there are times when our numbers might very well matter, and more of society being aware of our presence might actually do some good in this country. How much our numbers matter will probably depend on how much you care about some of the following items.
Appeal to Us as Voters
Pagandom is an extremely diverse place. There are liberal Pagans and (gasp!) conservative Pagans. We are not a monolith, but our politics generally drift left, and even my more conservative Pagan friends are supporters of the environment. (I’m sure there are some Pagan climate change deniers out there, but I haven’t met one yet.) So while we as a community do not agree on everything, we are all generally tree-huggers.
Because of this, maybe we as a known voter block would encourage politicians to worry a little more about our planet? As I write this half of the West Coast is in flames and parts of Florida and Texas were just swallowed whole by hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Much of the devastation from these events is a direct result of climate change. All sorts of interest groups have influence in Washington because of their political beliefs, why not us?
People are a lot smarter when it comes to Pagan (and especially) Wiccan beliefs today than they were twenty years ago, but misconceptions still abound. People still ask me if I sacrifice things, believe in God, and dozens of other ridiculous things. The more people know about us, the less we’ll have to answer stupid questions about our beliefs and practices.
Note that I would never want our (Pagan) culture to change in some weird quest to be seen as respectable by society at large. I’m going to keep doing magick while dancing naked around the maypole. We should never sacrifice our beliefs in order to been as socially acceptable, but I’d like to not get sideward glances from some of my neighbors when I take out the garbage.
Keeping Jobs, Houses, Children, Etc.
Though it doesn’t happen with the frequency it used to, I’m sure there are still people who are on the receiving end of negative things simply because they identify as a Pagan or a Witch. In this era of “at will” employment, a business owner/manager can fire nearly anyone for any reason. There are some protections for certain kinds of jobs, but all sorts of people are “at will” employees and if your boss doesn’t like Wiccans you can be fired for it. (Though I doubt they’d give that as a reason, and at-will employees don’t have to given a reason when they are fired.)
If more people knowing about us makes such things a thing of the past, then I’m all for people knowing about us. And if more people start realize that there are a few million of us out there, maybe they’ll be worried about mistreating us because we can vote with our wallets? I’d love to know that a boycott by Witches of intolerant businesses might have repercussions.
Prevent a Second Satanic Panic
The Satanic Panic of the 80’s and 90’s feels like a lifetime ago, but the fallout from it continues into today. A couple falsely accused of all sorts of absurdities finally had their convictions overturned in June of this year, after being released from jain in 2013, and serving 22 years in prison.
And if you think Satanic Panics don’t effect Wiccans you are very much mistaken. The Memphis Three were most likely railroaded in part because Damien Echols dabbled in Wicca at the time of the murders the three were falsely accused of. Yeah, it was the 90’s, but certain segments of America seems more than willing to demonize anyone who disagrees with them or looks different than they do.
Certain elements of Satanic Panic live on in certain churches too. I know people today who are convinced that Satanic Witches are sacrificing thousands of baby every year, even though there’s never been any evidence supporting such lunacy. The Satanic Panic has gone into the Christian underground, but that’s also where it started. It could always rear it’s ugly head again.
It All Depends On How Much Infrastructure You Want in Our Community
We have a thriving Pagan subculture today. People still buy Pagan books, and lots of people read Pagan blogs (thanks!), listen to Pagan music, and go to Pagan festivals. We’ve built a very real community over the last several decades. How much we’ll build in the future will probably depend on what we want to do as a community going forward.
Will there be lobbyists representing Witches in Washington? Will we ever become more organized? Will there ever be Wiccan meeting houses or temples? I don’t know. Some of us don’t see the greater Pagan movement as something that will ever embrace such institutions, and others think such things will be beneficial. How big we get will probably influence such things, but would that then change our traditions? I don’t know.
I think the future of Paganism (and especially traditions like Druidry and Witchcraft) probably lies with solitary practitioners. One of the reasons it’s hard to set up Pagan institutions is because more and more practitioners are solitaries. To get Witch ritual fifty years ago one either had to be an initiate or make up their own ritual. Now it’s as simple as hopping on line and doing a Google search.
So It Matters, And It Doesn’t
I don’t want to say that the size of the Pagan or Wiccan communities matters in the United States, because not everyone believes that it does. I think there are benefits that might result from more people being aware of us, and I think there are downsides too. I don’t want an institutional form of Witchcraft emerging, and sometimes it’s nice to leave the neighbors a little bit scared. Whether it matters or not, it is an exciting time to be a Witch!
*Three million might be a bit much, but I’m convinced there are probably two million people who self-identify as Pagan (and/or hang around our spaces) in the United States. I base that on several things, attendance at festivals large and small, book sales, and blog readership.