How many Pagans are there?
Some estimate that there are around 1 million Pagans in the U.S., with over 100,000 in Canada, the U.K., and Australia. Numbers for other Pagans around the world are not available.
The U.S. Census does not ask citizens to identify their religious affiliation. The lack of central Pagan organization and the social stigma attached to self-identifying as Pagan makes estimating the number of Pagans difficult. According to the Pew Forum Religious Landscape Survey conducted in 2008, 0.4% of Americans (approx. 1.2 million people) identified as New Age, Wiccan, and Pagan. However, this figure did not distinguish Wiccans and Pagans from New Agers, so the 1 million estimate might be overly generous.
It is impossible to determine how many of those identifying as Pagans are in fact Neo-Pagan, but it is likely that Neo-Pagans represent the largest percentage of Pagans.
Neo-Pagan culture is a subset of a broader Pagan culture. Pagans are diverse in every way. There are Pagans of every gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political persuasion. Due to the relatively open and welcoming character of Paganism, there may be a higher percentage of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Pagans than in the mainstream culture.
There are Pagans who are doctors, lawyers, accountants, and engineers. Other Pagans have less traditional professions. Some express their Pagan values through their choice of career, by working for environmental, humanitarian, or social justice causes, for example. Others express their Pagan values more privately, through sustainable living and responsible eating.
There are Democratic Pagans, Republican Pagans, Libertarian Pagans, and Green Pagans. Most Pagans do tend to lean toward the liberal side of the political spectrum though. Many participate in some form of progressive social activism.
Some Pagans lead very traditional or conventional lives outwardly. There are Pagan soccer moms and soccer dads who live in houses with white picket fences. But many Pagans participate in one or more alternative subcultures. There are Pagans who participate in other religious communities, especially Unitarian Universalism.
You probably already know a Pagan. They may seem as normal as you on the outside, but they are just as weird as you on the inside.
Where are all the Pagans?
There is no central Pagan authority. The Pagan community is a network of interrelated groups, organizations, and individuals interacting on local, national, and international scales. Pagan groups may be called “circles,” “groves,” “covens,” “tribes,” “nests,” or by other names.
In spite of significant growth in recent decades, Paganism remains a small minority religion, and will likely continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Finding Pagans can be difficult. According to a Pagan census, the majority of Pagans (79% in 2010) are “solitary,” meaning they practice primarily alone. 75% of Pagans meet with other Pagans at least annually, but only 25% do so weekly. Many Pagans’ primary form of interaction with other Pagans is on the internet.
Another reason for the relative invisibility of Pagans is the lack of physical structures representing Paganism. There are few Pagan churches, which, in addition to being gathering places, might serve as symbolic centers for the community. Pagans do hold annual festivals and conventions, but these events cannot serve as permanent symbols, because the signs of their presence disappear when the event is over. There are some Pagan temples and sanctuaries, like Circle Sanctuary, but they are few and far between.
Building community among Pagans is especially difficult for a couple of reasons. Pagans perceive themselves as being very diverse, perhaps more than they actually are. According to Adherents.com:
“despite drawing upon such disparate sources as European Witchcraft, Norse mythology, Druidism, and Egyptian, Greek, and Native American ancient religions, Neo-Pagans as a whole have a remarkably cohesive, identifiable culture and generally shared value set, even more so than religions such as Christianity, Islam or Judaism when taken as a whole.”
In spite of this, Pagans, more than those belonging to monotheistic Abrahamic religions, tend to emphasize their individual distinctiveness over their similarities. This inhibits the formation of community around a shared identity.
In a 1998 survey conducted at a Vermont WitchCamp, respondents were asked to specify their religious identity. They were allowed to indicate more than one identity and were allowed to specify an “other” open-endedly. About half labeled themselves as “Witch” (58%), the same amount identified as “Pagan” (58%), and a little less than half identified as “Wiccan” (46%). Another 27% identified as “Neo-Pagan.”* A full third (34%) indicated they “disliked labels.” The respondents selected an average of 4.5 identities each. When asked to describe their primary religious identity in an open-ended fashion, there were 26 different responses out of 67 completed surveys! The diversity of responses was remarkable given that the survey was conducted at an event organized by one of the oldest Pagan traditions, Reclaiming Witchcraft. In spite of this, only 33% identified as “Reclaiming.” The diversity would likely be even greater at a more general Pagan gathering.
Another reason that building community among Pagans is especially difficult is that Pagans tend to be iconoclasts and antinomians. Many Pagans actively resist the routinization of Paganism and the formation of Pagan institutions, so as to preserve its counter-cultural nature. While Pagans may seek respect from the mainstream culture, many resist “respectability,” which they perceive as compromising those that set them apart from the alienating and exploitative mainstream culture.
In spite of all this, there are Pagan institutions. Some Pagan traditions are established as legally-recognized churches with tax-exempt status, like the Church of All Worlds and the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. There are Pagan “umbrella” organizations, like the Covenant of the Goddess in the U.S. and the Pagan Federation in the U.K. There is a news organization, The Wild Hunt (wildhunt.org), which gathers news of interest to Pagans and does original reporting. Pagans serve in the leadership of various ecumenical and interfaith groups, like the Council for the Parliament of the World’s Religions. Pagan Studies is a recognized academic discipline. There is an academic journal of Pagan Studies called Pomegranate. And there is even a Pagan seminary, Cherry Hill Seminary in South Carolina. Pagans in the military have become more organized. Pagan advocacy groups, like the Lady Liberty League, work to protect the rights of Pagans in the workplace, in prisons, and in the community in general. And there are many online forums where Pagans can share ideas and organize, like WitchVox. There are also Pagan periodicals like Witches & Pagans.
* The preference for the “Pagan” label over the “Neo-Pagan” label can be misleading, as many who would meet the definition of Neo-Pagan may not self-identify as such or may prefer other identifiers.