What accounts for the popularity of contemporary Wicca?

Firstly I would like to thank everyone who contributed to my previous question, What is spiritually?

While reading the replies and doing my own research the words Paganism and Wicca keep comming up. I am a very curious person and am now doing a research project on the following question:

What accounts for the popularity of contemporary Paganism, especially Wicca? Is it ‘the old religion’ or a ‘new religious movement’?

I would be very greatful for any input or ideas on this topic. Also any suggestions where I could find more information about Paganism and or Wicca would be great.

Many thanks


I’m not going to speak for anyone else except myself. But for me: it’s a personal faith. There’s no intermediary between you and the gods, translating or anything; you’re in touch. You can read and study on your own, initiate yourself, as it were. And it’s inclusive, rather than exclusive. There’s no “one true way” - just the goal, and the acceptance that other people may find a different way to it, and that’s okay too.

There’s also a strong emphasis on personal responsibility. You own your own actions; you are responsible for the repercussions of what you do. I like that.

I’ll have to disagree with tav. Well, what she says may be right in theory, but for the average bored middle class white kid, wicca is a wank of the highest order. To be disregarded.

I blame Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.
Honestly, I don’t know. The majority of people I know who practice Paganism (which, admitadely, is rather few) have been doing it for a long time (raised in the household that way). These are the only ones that seem to take it seriously. Most others seem to have picked it up because it seems to have become trendy. Movies and television have made Wicca seem like something it’s not, and I don’t think many people truly understand what it’s about. I know a lot of people who have put in some effort into studying it, and I myself find certain aspects appealing, but I don’t know of many strong converts amongst those who have a good understanding of what it entails. Of course, some of those people are still just examining their faith, so given time, we’ll see.

But the majority from my experience picked it up because they saw some cool media enduced fantasies about it, found that more interesting than their Christian upbringing, and liked to play Vampire.

Very interesting question… and one I have asked myself many times. (In Brazil its big too.) Having had a GF who was a witch… and many workmates that deal in Druidism and Shamanism I was taken aback by the amount of attention these Pagan movements are getting.

I do see most newcomers to these new religions as trend followers than really "interested" and potential witches. Wicca has also become a catch all expression for "light paganism" and "feel good movements". Do notice that many of my opinions reflect the fact that my GF derided most Wicca literature and movements as a new "Self Help" market segment.

Having met both kinds of Wicca... the more serious and very reserved about it people... versus the "Wow Nice I like to be Pagan" sort... I do agree with my GF.

Reasons ?  I don't have answers... but maybe possible answers:

Female Independence: Women are ever more independent and determined. Even when they do chose to be mothers and house wives they do it as a choice. (Buffy is about female empowerment… so its relevant.)

Sexual Liberty: Sexually women feel less guilty and more liberated than ever… or can feel so. Women can have “fun” or chose not to be romantically involved if they want sex. Wicca has a lot about feeling well and being confident.

Religion: Religion is becoming less traditional and more personal. If you didn't go to church in your small city you were a social pariah. Nowdays there is more respect for religious variety. Even non-wicca feel more free to worship in their own personal ways. This opened a certain freedom to "wierd" new stuff like Wicca. Many Wicca still keep ties with their "christian" religions too... mixing as desired.

Media: The media certainly has played a part... thou of course I feel that most of the "media" wiccans are but trend followers. Still the media has put magic and wiccans into the light... which means even older followers don't feel as reclusive about it.

Those are my 2 cents... now I know of Wicca more from a traditional perspective and a female perspective curiously thou I am a man. So my opinions don't reflect Wicca men... if there is such a thing. I have read my share of occultism as has a friend of mine... but we don't seem too interested in organized practices. I certainly have a problem around witches thou... they give me headaches... :)  No joke. Whenever I stay around one of them too long I get minor headaches.   I have spotted a fair share of witches this way. Too much energy I suppose.  My GF is "retired" so its not a problem most of the time.

Sorry, but which gods would those be?


My ex-wife wrote her doctoral thesis on the “conversion” of Norway and Iceland from polytheistic paganism to Christianity. (In inverted commas, as not a lot of people other than the leaders actually did convert.) While she was studying in Norway, somebody told her about a group that was trying to “revive the old pagan ways,” as they put it. Naturally, she was interested, so she went to talk to them and watch their “services.”

She was very disappointed. She felt that their beliefs were essentially what we call here “contemporary Wicca,” with a few Old Norse touches thrown in for authenticity. To be fair, some of the group members were truly interested in reviving an historically-accurate Norse “mythology.”

Trouble is, though, nobody really knows what it, or for that matter English, Irish, or Western European paganism (commonly referred to as “druidism”) was really like. It’s important to remember that, although we have some sources on them, all of the surviving sources we have, like the Ecclesiastical History of Bede or the Icelandic sagas, were all written by Christians, and often centuries after paganism ceased to be prevalent. They cannot be considered particularly accurate, especially considering as they were usually written by “converters” who had a vested interest in showing the pagans in a negative light. The closest thing we have to an honest history of European paganism probably stems from 16th-century heretical prosecution records, the kinds outlined in Keith Thomas’s Religion and the Decline of Magic. (BTW, an excellent work of history, and a must read for anybody interested in religion, paganism, or British history.) Even so, those forms of paganism are highly alloyed with Christianity, and AFAIK don’t resemble Wicca as we know it now.

I’m not going to say that Wicca is a modern construct, as some historians have said. I will say that attempts to get back to “the old religion” are sincere and heart-felt, but there is simply too much we do not know about European pre-Christian paganism to say whether those attempts are accurate.

However much I’d like to attribute Wiccanism to sub-par neural capacity, I can’t. I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people devote themselves to Wiccanism wholeheartedly.

Some people just cannot live without having some sort of faith in something. There are certain folks who just have to believe, it almost matters not in what.

Wicca is of equal substance to Krishna consciousness. Both are entirely recent confabulations that rely upon older nomenclature to lend them a veneer of credibility. One may as well resuscitate the Roman or Greek gods of myth. There is no difference. None of the above rely upon measured or provable phenomenon.

Just as new age pseudoscience has such immense appeal to those who insist upon the existence of magic, so does Wicca permit those who might be disinclined to participate in more orthodox religion a continued belief in the supernatural. You get all the benefits of suspended credibility without the nasty guilt and penance so often required by the regular church.

“Do what thou wilt, and harm none” works just fine as a credo without having to embroider it with a pantheon of ancient deities. The supposed cloak of respectability conferred by grafting scads of quasi-historical rigmarole onto an otherwise perfectly decent life motto is just so much window dressing.

While individuals are entitled to believe whatever they want, allowing oneself to be sucked into an artificial construct in order that you might construe a false sense of order is another matter. Yes, there is order to the universe. So far, no one has yet proven that it was consciously imposed. Any claims by Wicca, Krishna Consciousness or the Church of the Invisible Pink Unicorn that there is a consciously imposed order are all akin to “Intelligent Design” arguments. It is merely creationism dressed in a shabby tuxedo.

Believe what you wish, just try not to make too big a fool of yourself by doing so.

Since when has religion been based on measured or provable phenomenon ? I agree with your ideas about pink unicorns and the relative silliness of beleiving in the supernatural… but what does that have to do with the topic ?

At least Wicca doesnt tell people what to do… not to use condoms or put women down… so as religions go its ok by me.

I have to ask this: What popularity? I have never met a single Wiccan in my entire life. And the total numbers of them seem negilble, compared against Christians or athiest in the U.S.

Where did I say anything remotely like that? My point is that Wiccanism, like most other religions on earth, is founded upon what are often completely arbitrary notions.

Deities are ipso facto supernatural. Wiccanism would have you believe in at least one, if not a whole slew of these artificial constructs. Ergo, it often demands an even greater suspension of disbelief than monotheism (not that much of monotheism doesn’t). Credulity is neither the most substantial nor respectable trait a faith could hope to elicit from its practitioners.

Um … no. Although not entirely implicit in its practice, Wiccanism does encourage the adoption of a rather massive supernatural pantheon. It may not jam such tenets down your throat but it is still part and parcel of Wiccan rites. While it is certainly the privilege of anyone to believe in whatever they wish, it is also my privilege to skeptically regard something that has been fabricated out of whole cloth. Yes, Wiccanism is a lot more “liberal” in how it permits individual interpretation of one’s intersection with the spiritual world. I’m sure this is an integral part of its modern day appeal. I happen to draw the line when such “liberality” begins to taint otherwise rational thought processes.

Has Wicca become more popular since Buffy started being broadcast?

Wicca is the ultimate social club for nerds. (I mean absolutely no offense by this – it’s a club I was a member for many years.)

It appealed to me because I’d been fascinated by Masonry for years already, and in many ways Alexandrian witchcraft is a sort of “Freemasonry Wow!” (It didn’t hurt that the circles I ran with usually added a little something special to the wine & cakes.)

In my experience, it was like a book & film club, except you got naked with everyone from time to time.

The establishment of either a basic dogma on the truth of supernatural things, or a code of behaviour, is the primary reason we HAVE religions. If Wicca doesn’t set out rules for what you’re supposed to believe or how you’re supposed to behave, it’s not a religion in any meaningful sense - that would make it no more than, as one poster as put it, a social club for nerds. If it’s even that. If the code of Wicca is “do whatever you want and just don’t harm anyone” then Wicca is nothing. You could logically state, based on that core belief, that a pacifist Christian is a Wiccan.

I thought the reason religions exist are to bring one closer to the divine. Isn’t “the purpose of religion” a subjective issue? Unless you have some objective truth about all religions?

No? Well then, if no objective truth exists regarding all religion, then shouldn’t religion be whatever one wants it to be? Doesn’t your argument then fall apart?

I’m not Wiccan, but it intrigues me. The main reason why I don’t persue it is it’s association with new age-y flakes.

The thing that is compelling, to me, is that it acknowledges the power of metaphor. Most Wiccan (Wicca varies greatly, and I am working off of a couple of classes and a smattering of readings) acknowledge that their dieties, etc don’t represent actual physical or even spiritual forces. Instead, they represent useful ways of thinking about the world, and useful way to focus your own thoughts on creating the outcomes that you want.

Most religions “work” pretty brilliantly on a metaphorical level. But Wicca cuts the crap and admits that they are going for a working model of things, not the great spirtual truths. It’s almost an existentialist position.

As someone with a background in linguistics, I think that metaphor is one of the most powerful forces in the psyche. It may even be the stuff that consciousness is made of. And it appeals to me to see something that tries to understand and harnass this power.

Add a social circle to that. Throughout time churches have served as much as a social institution as a religious one. Everyone needs some sort of social support, and for some reasion religious communties are good at providing that. For example, when a religious person moves to a new town, the first thing they do is seek out a church. This instantly helps them find jobs/friends/housing. There are plenty of atheists out there that go to church and send their kids to church soley because of the community they provide. And non-religious people miss that. I know I do.

1.) It has a moral code that makes sense to me (harm none). I think it might make sense to a lot of other people, too.

2.) The basic construct works for me. Basically, there’s one diety with two different aspects (male and female), and each of those aspects can be interpreted/understood in a crapload of different ways. I simply stick with the Goddess/God construct, m’self.

3.) The basic religion itself is tolerant of other religions. Some people who are brought up in Christianity (as many Wiccans were) got a bad taste in their mouths from the idea of Hell, and REALLY got a bad taste in their mouth from the idea that belief and faithin one God/set of beliefs was the major factor in determining who did and didn’t go to Hell. They saw it as a rather barbaric concept, and therefore could not accept mainstream Christianity. Wicca was an attractive option (no hell, all faiths “correct”, etc).

4.) I like a certain amount of ritual with my religion; call it a human instinct. With Wicca, there is room for lots and lots of ritual. Even Catholicism is losing its ritual edge.

5.) Equal opportunities for men and women within (most) branches of the faith. This was a BIG reason why I didn’t stay w/Catholicism.

6.) For me, it Just Felt Right.

As for group-wide beliefs…there are SOME in Wicca. Generally, the idea of a Goddess and a God is a given (debate exists as to whether these are aspects of the same diety or different, much the same I imagine as early discussions of the Trinity). Reincarnation is pretty much a gimme, as well. And “harm none” is damned near universal.

One lady I know, who is generally fairly sharp, hypothesized that Wicca is popular because it speaks and resonates so perfectly to bored and angsty suburban girls and emotionally immature women, in giving them a goddess centric ritualistic paradigm to see themselves reflected in via worship, and thus in essence worshipping themselves.

When I was a Wiccan, oh now 16 years ago, I was into it because it represented something I wasn’t getting from “mainstream” religions. I was into it becuase it represented a unity and closeness to the universe and the Earth.

I felt a connection to that more than a picture of some old mean looking guy. The connection felt more real and more interesting. Also, it put some magic and twists into my life. Rather than believing in strange occurances hundreds or thousands of years ago, magic existed now and was real.

It felt nice to live in a magical world where I was connected to it.

When I quit being one, four years after I started, I think I realized that magic, while it would make life interesting, is completely silly to believe in. I put that magical mystical wonder into subjects that actually made sense, like astronomy and psychology.

astro, I like you a lot as a poster, and I’d bet I’d like you just as much in person. So please, please, please don’t take this personally, okay?

That being said…

Wicca is not inherently Goddess-centric. In my own practice, I focus more on the God-aspect than the Goddess-aspect. I also would not consider myself to have ever been a “bored and angsty” suburban girl, and I’d like to think that I’m not any more emotionally immature than my age (20) would dictate. I’m not saying that there aren’t narcissistic teenage girls/narcissistic women in Wicca; but there are narcissistic folks of that ilk in ANY religion.

I’m also not denying the fact that the Goddess part of Wicca does draw a lot of females to the religion. I would argue, though, that it isn’t necessarily narcissism draws them to it, at least not any more that it’s narcissism that draws males to worship God/Jesus. For some people, it’s just easier to have a spiritual relationship with a deity that is perceived to be female than it is to have a spiritual relationship with a deity that is perceived to be male.

I know that you probably didn’t mean it insultingly, but this attitude really gets to me sometimes. I’m aware that Wicca/Wicca-like religions aren’t the norm, and, hey, that’s why I don’t go around wearing a “Hi! I’m Wiccan!” t-shirt. Despite this, statements like that that apparently classify almost all Wiccans as being flaky and/or angsty are, IMHO, inappropriate and uncalled for. Blanket statements about ANY religion are in general Not Cool ™.

Not to mention the fact that the above quote doesn’t account for my fiance being Wiccan, nor does it account for the various Wiccan/pagan males that populate this board :).

A couple of points:

  1. I agree with those who mentioned a variety of factors accounting for Wicca’s increase in popularity. As for the media, I would say that that’s primarily responsible for bringing in people who are interested in Wicca, mainly its exterior trappings, as a fad and/or social opportunity rather than as a way to seek insight into their lives and the world around them.

One of two things happens: either they forget about it when the next Pokémon expansion comes out, or something intrigues them about it, and they start to study, work, and ponder it more, and come to some kind of genuine religious architecture.

As for me, I read a copy of The Spiral Dance when I was in cegep, and it went out from there.

  1. Is Wicca ancient or modern? Why, modern, of course. No question about it. Even if Gerald didn’t make the whole thing up, he had to have created at least 99% of it. But that’s not a problem for me; if an idea gives me what I feel to be genuine insight into my life and the way the world is, I don’t care whether it’s a millenium old or a year old.

We … well, let’s say I work with old deities because, learning about them, I start to feel compelled by them as metaphors. I don’t mind if they’re not accurate; I’m not a reconstructionist, and historical accuracy isn’t my goal. What counts is that it work for me as a metaphor.

Some of my best work has been with the Saint Lawrence River. I don’t know how the First Nations saw Her, what gender or name they ascribed to Her spirit, or even if they worked with Her as a spirit at all. But I do so, using the Mohawk name for the river, Kaniatarowanenneh; and this works for me.

Myths are much more impressive when they’re handed down from the pulpits of fantastic buildings by fellows in fabulous outfits; but I haven’t let that bother me. Mythopoiesis - how could I come up with a myth that’s more relevant to me than by writing it myself? Where else did the oldest myths come from?

even, you said this very well. And I’d respond to RickJay by saying that although it begins with the Rede, it goes far beyond it; the only problem is that it isn’t all written down as commandments. When I’m considering my ethics, my religion - the metaphors that help me understand the nature of the world - is of primordial value in helping me make out what I ought to do. It looks like it’s no ethical grounding; but in fact it’s very deep ethical grounding, for me, when I treat ethics as a matter of practical daily responsibility to the community.

All my ethics, indeed all my philosophy, is reflected in my religion; how could it be otherwise?