I’ve been writing at Raise the Horns since 2012, well over seven years. That’s an eternity when it comes to the lifespan of a blog, and as a result I often find myself running out of things to write about. Taking a page from my friend John Beckett I thought I’d open the blog up for questions. I can’t promise to answer everything thrown my way, but I’ll do my best. You can leave a question on the Raise the Horns Facebook page, or via Twitter @panmankey. Today’s question comes from my buddy Toad.
Do you think Paganism is still growing or has it leveled off or even declined in recent times and why???
Questions on the future of Paganism are a staple of blogs, and it’s been a writing prompt on Patheos Pagan a few times over the last couple of years too. My thoughts on the future of Paganism have probably changed a bit over the last eight years so it’s worth revisiting yet again. When people lament the “decline” or “end” of the Modern Pagan movement I believe that they are mostly lamenting the end of what THEY SEE as Paganism.
One of the biggest problems with “Paganism” is that it’s a pretty big umbrella term, and we Pagans disagree on a lot of stuff. There are also people who read Pagan blogs, go to Pagan festivals, sell things primarily to Pagans, and yet hate the word Pagan and don’t want to be identified by the term. So are they Pagans? Pagan-adjacent? Pagan-leaning? Just another piece in a very complex puzzle.
Paganism IS Growing, But It’s Growing in Different Ways
I came into Paganism during the 1990’s via Wiccan-Witchcraft. While it’s true that Witchcraft often conjures up images of moonlit rituals, candle magick, and the Goddess; my experience with the bigger, broader, Paganism was always a bit different. Paganism was tie-dye, festivals, polyamory, drum circles, and acceptance for a lot of very different spiritualities. A lot of that is not going away, but I don’t feel that’s where the growth is today.
Today the growth is in Witchcraft, Magickal Practices, and Devotional Polytheism; the “cultural Pagan sitting around the drum circle” feels like less and less of a thing. When I hear about decline in large national pan-Pagan festivals I think some of that is due to the changes in what people are attracted to. And a lot of the newer Witches know almost nothing about the broader Pagan world. They aren’t reading the same materials you and I are, aren’t shopping at the same places, and most certainly aren’t going to festivals and gatherings.
I have friends who find this development concerning, I don’t share that concern. People can come through whatever door they choose, and practice in whatever way makes them comfortable. If they want to read Lisa Chamberlain e-books and pick up their magickal tools at Urban Outfitters that’s their prerogative. Some of those people will migrate into the spaces you and I inhabit, or at least become aware of them, but if they don’t, that’s fine too. More people practicing magick to improve their lives and those of the people they love is fine by me.
The downside to this is that while “Paganism” might be growing in a sense, most of us aren’t really going to notice. You might look around your local open circle or a festival and see less people, all while there are more people than ever practicing something similar to what you do. They are just doing it alone, or with small groups that have no desire to be seen or heard outside of their circles. Healthy spiritual movements change and grow to serve the needs of their adherents. Expecting people to stick to a model that doesn’t work for THEM is not how I want the future of Paganism to go down.
Pagan Practices Lend Themselves to Current Trends in Religion
The future of religion is probably going to be focused on individual or small group practice, and many Pagan practices are ideally set up for just that. Wicca is probably the best example of this. (And a lot of the Witchcraft traditions that decry the word “Wicca” have been directly influenced by it.) Wicca was designed for twelve people in a living room, not 300 person rituals. It, along with very similar magickal practices, are perfect for solitaries too.
Belief in large institutions is at a pretty low ebb, and most Pagan groups continue to be small and independently run. I’ve always found this model to be a strength and not a weakness (though I think there still exists a need for large groups such as Circle Sanctuary, having someone to lobby on our behalf is not a bad idea), and I think that sort of structure appeals to a lot of younger people today.
I also think people simply want to DO things with whatever they are practicing, and again Pagan related paths lend themselves well to this. One can go out, grab a few books and candles, and immediately start doing magickal things. I sometimes get the “but they don’t know what they are doing!” comment when I suggest this, but I didn’t know what I was doing twenty years ago either. Also, the magick of individuals will either work or not work. If it doesn’t work they’ll either stop, or get better at their work. I assume things are working for all those people who post pictures of their altars to Instagram, because if it didn’t, I don’t think they’d be doing it.
Things we consider Pagan are growing in numbers. Whether those people will consider themselves “Pagan” is an open question though. A lot of the growth in the magickal community will be beyond our field of vision and that’s OK. I don’t expect the “Pagan Community” in thirty years to resemble the one today, but today’s Paganism looks very different from Paganism in 1990. Change and evolution are constant, and the cause for concern is when we STOP changing and evolving. For some people these are growing pains, but I think they are healthy ones.
The Witch’s Wheel of the Year: Rituals for Circles, Solitaries, & Covens will be out in early December!