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"Neopagan" redirects here. For other uses, see Neo-Pagan (disambiguation).

Modern paganism, also known as contemporary paganism, and neopaganism,[1] is a group of contemporary religious movements influenced by or claiming to be derived from the various historical pagan beliefs of pre-modern Europe.[2][3] Although they do share commonalities, contemporary Pagan religious movements are diverse and no single set of beliefs, practices, or texts are shared by them all.[4]

Contemporary paganism is a synthesis of historical practice and modern innovation,[5] drawing influences from pre-Abrahamic, folkloric and ethnographic sources[6]. The extent to which contemporary Pagans use these sources differs. Many follow a spirituality which they accept as entirely modern, whilst others attempt to reconstruct or revive indigenous, ethnic religions as found in historical and folkloric sources as accurately as possible.[7] Polytheism, animism, and pantheism are common features in Pagan theology. Of the various days for celebration among Pagans, the most common are seasonally based festivals of the Wheel of the Year.[8]

Terminology and definition

The term "neo-pagan" was coined in the 19th century in reference to Renaissance and Romanticist Hellenophile classical revivalism.[lower-greek 1]

"Pagan" as a self-designation appeared in 1964 and 1965, in the publications of the Witchcraft Research Association; at that time, the term was in use by "revivalist Witches" in the United States and the United Kingdom, but unconnected to the broader, counter-culture Pagan movement. The modern popularisation of the terms "pagan" and "neopagan", as they are currently understood, is largely traced to Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, co-founder of "the 1st Neo-Pagan Church of All Worlds" who, beginning in 1967 with the early issues of Green Egg, used both terms for the growing movement. This usage has been common since the pagan revival in the 1970s.[9]

The term "neopagan" provides a means of distinguishing between historical pagans of ancient cultures and the adherents of modern religious movements. This category of religions includes journal in the field.

"Heathen", "Heathenism" or "Heathenry" as a self-designation of adherents of Germanic neopaganism (Theodism in particular) appeared in the late 1990s.[lower-greek 2]

The American scholar of religious studies Michael F. Strmiska in 2005 argued that the modern adoption of the term "Pagan" was "a deliberate act of defiance" against "traditional, Christian-dominated society", and that, on the other hand, "Neopagan" is often deemed offensive and not used by many contemporary Pagans, who claim that the inclusion of the term "neo" disconnects them from their ancient polytheistic ancestors.[lower-greek 3]


Beliefs and practices vary widely among different Pagan groups, however there are a series of core principles common to most, if not all, forms of modern paganism.[12] The English academic Graham Harvey noted that Pagans "rarely indulge in theology".[13]


One of the most important principles of the Pagan movement is polytheism, the belief in and veneration of multiple gods and/or goddesses.[12][13] Polytheism was a trait common to the pre-Christian religions of Europe, and is also common to a wide variety of religions around the world, from which contemporary Pagans draw on.

One view in the Pagan community is that these polytheistic deities are not viewed as literal entities, but as Jungian archetypes that exist in the human psyche.[14] Many Pagans believe adoption of a polytheistic world-view would be beneficial for western society – replacing the dominant monotheism they see as innately repressive.[15] In fact, many American neopagans first came to their adopted faiths because it allowed a greater freedom, diversity, and tolerance of worship amongst the community.[16] This pluralistic perspective has helped the varied factions of modern paganism exist in relative harmony.[17] Indeed, most Pagans adopt an ethos of "unity in diversity" regarding their religious beliefs.[18]

In Wicca, (especially Dianic Wicca) the concept of an Earth or Mother Goddess, similar[dubious ] to the Greek Gaia, is emphasized. Male counterparts, such as the Green Man and the Horned God, are usually also evoked. These Duotheistic philosophies tend to emphasize the God and Goddess' (or Lord and Lady's) genders as being complementary opposites analogous to that of yin and yang in ancient Chinese philosophy. Many Oriental philosophies equate weakness with femininity and strength with masculinity; this is not the prevailing attitude in paganism and Wicca.[19] Among many pagans, there is a strong desire to incorporate the female aspects of the divine in their worship and within their lives, which can partially explain the attitude which sometimes manifests as the veneration of women.[lower-greek 4] Other neopagans reject the concept of binary gender roles.

Animism and pantheism

A key part of most Pagan worldviews is the holistic concept of a universe that is interconnected. This is connected with a belief in either pantheism or panentheism, in both beliefs divinity and the material and/or spiritual universe are one.[20] For pagans, pantheism means that "divinity is inseparable from nature and that deity is immanent in nature."[17]

Dennis D. Carpenter noted that the belief in a pantheistic or panentheistic deity has led to the idea of interconnectedness playing a key part in pagans' worldviews.[20] The prominent Wiccan priestess Starhawk related that a core part of goddess-centred pagan witchcraft was "the understanding that all being is interrelated, that we are all linked with the cosmos as parts of one living organism. What affects one of us affects us all."[21]

Another pivotal belief in the contemporary Pagan movement is that of animism.[13] This has been interpreted in two distinct ways among the Pagan community. First, it can refer to a belief that everything in the universe is imbued with a life force or spiritual energy.[12][lower-greek 5] In contrast, some contemporary Pagans believe that there are specific spirits which inhabit various features in the natural world, and that these can be actively communicated with. Some Pagans have reported experiencing communication with spirits dwelling in rocks, plants, trees and animals, as well as power animals or animal spirits who can act as spiritual helpers or guides.[22]

Animism was also a concept common to many pre-Christian European religions, and in adopting it, contemporary Pagans are attempting to "reenter the primeval worldview" and participate in a view of cosmology "that is not possible for most Westerners after childhood."[23]

Such views have also led many pagans to revere the planet Earth as Mother Earth, who is often referred to as Gaia after the ancient Greek goddess of the Earth.[24]


A number of pagan religions purport the existence of a spirit or soul that inhabits the human body and which survives bodily destruction. Belief in reincarnation is common, often combined with belief in an otherworld where souls may reside for a while before reincarnating.

Ethics and morality

Views of ethics and morality differ widely throughout the pagan movement. The most prominent and widespread moral code to be found in the contemporary pagan movement is the Wiccan Rede, which states that those who follow it should "do as you will, as long as you harm none". First developing in the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca, the Rede spread throughout much of the pagan movement in the 1960s.

Alternative ethical codes can also be found within the pagan movement. The religious philosophy of Thelema, founded in 1904 by the English ceremonial magician and occultist Aleister Crowley, instead advocated the law of "Do What Thou Wilt", arguing that Thelemites should attune themselves to follow their own True Will, and therefore the Cosmic Will of the universe.



Contemporary pagan ritual is typically geared towards "facilitating altered states of awareness or shifting mind-sets."[25] In order to induce such altered states of consciousness, pagans utilize such elements as drumming, visualization, chanting, singing, dancing, and meditation.[25] American folklorist Sabina Magliocco came to the conclusion, based upon her ethnographic fieldwork in California, that certain pagan beliefs "arise from what they experience during religious ecstasy".[26]

Sociologist Margot Adler highlighted how several pagan groups, like the Reformed Druids of North America and the Erisian movement incorporate a great deal of play in their rituals rather than having them be completely serious and somber. She noted that there are those who would argue that "the Pagan community is one of the only spiritual communities that is exploring humor, joy, abandonment, even silliness and outrageousness as valid parts of spiritual experience."[27]


Most modern pagan religions celebrate the cycles and seasons of nature through a festival calendar that honours these changes. The timing of festivals, and the rites celebrated, may vary from climate to climate, and will also vary (sometimes widely) depending upon which particular pagan religion the adherent subscribes to (see Wheel of the Year).

Magic and witchcraft

The belief in magical rituals and spells is held by a "significant number" of contemporary Pagans.[28] Among those who believe in "magic," there are a variety of different views as to what magic is. Many Neopagans adhere to the definition provided by Aleister Crowley, founder of Thelema, who defined "magick"[sic] as "the Science and Art of causing change to occur in conformity with Will." Also accepted by many is the related definition purported by ceremonial magician Dion Fortune, who declared that "Magic is the art and science of changing consciousness according to the Will".[28]

Among those who practice "magic" are Wiccans, those who identify as Neopagan Witches, and practitioners of some forms of revivalist Neo-druidism, the rituals of whom are at least partially based upon those of ceremonial magic and freemasonry.[29]

Not all Neopagans consider witchcraft an acceptable part of spiritual or even "magical" practice. Some ethnic traditions that can be considered Neopagan embrace the use of charms, healing and other metaphysical practices that benefit their communities, but reject the term witchcraft as they adhere to the traditional view in their cultures that witchcraft describes only harmful magic performed for selfish ends.[30][31][32][33] These variations in nomenclature are one of many ways that traditional and reconstructionist traditions differ from the more Wicca-based Neopagan communities.


Renaissance and Romanticism

The roots of contemporary paganism begin with the Renaissance, and the reintroduction of Classicism and the resurgence of interest in Graeco-Roman polytheism in the wake of works like the Theologia mythologica of 1532 as well as a revived interest in Greco-Roman magic, studied systematically in Renaissance magic. Although apart from the practice of magic, this was not a revival of pagan cultic practice, the Renaissance was a "rebirth" of the philosophy of pagan antiquity especially Platonism (or Neo-Platonism, Plotinism), but also Epicureanism, re-introduced by Baroque philosopher Pierre Gassendi, described as a "new paganism" in the history of philosophy.[lower-greek 6]

The Romantic movement of the 18th century led to the re-discovery of Old Gaelic and Old Norse literature and poetry. Neo-druidism can be taken to have its origins as early as 1717 with the foundation of The Druid Order. The 19th century saw a surge of interest in Germanic paganism with the Viking revival in Victorian Britain[lower-greek 7] and Scandinavia. In Germany the Völkisch movement was in full swing. These pagan currents coincided with Romanticist interest in folklore and occultism, the widespread emergence of pagan themes in popular literature, and the rise of nationalism.[34]

19th century

During this resurgence in the United Kingdom, Neo-druidism and various Western occult groups emerged, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and the Ordo Templi Orientis, who attempted to syncretize "exotic" elements like Egyptian cosmology and Kabbalah into their belief systems, although not necessarily for purely religious purposes. Influenced by the anthropologist Sir James George Frazer's The Golden Bough, several prominent writers and artists were involved in these organizations, including William Butler Yeats, Maud Gonne, Arthur Edward Waite, and Aleister Crowley. Along with these early occult organizations, there were other social phenomena such as the interest in mediumship, magic, and other supernatural beliefs which was at an all time high in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Another important influence during this period was the Romantic aesthetic movement, which venerated the natural world and frequently made reference to the deities of antiquity.[lower-greek 8] The Romantic poets, essayists, artists and authors who employed these themes in their work were later associated with socially progressive attitudes towards sexuality, feminism, pacifism and similar issues.

Early 20th century

In the 1920s Margaret Murray theorized that a Witchcraft religion existed underground and in secret, and had survived through the witchcraft prosecutions that had been enacted by the ecclesiastical and secular courts. Most historians now reject Murray's theory, as she based it partially upon the similarities of the accounts given by those accused of witchcraft; such similarity is now thought to actually derive from there having been a standard set of questions laid out in the witch-hunting manuals used by interrogators.[35] Murray's ideas nevertheless exerted great influence on certain pagan currents; in the 1940s, Englishman Gerald Gardner claimed to have been initiated into a New Forest coven. Gardnerian Wicca is used to refer to the traditions of neopaganism that adhere closely to Gardner's teachings, differentiating it from similar traditions, such as Alexandrian Wicca or more recent Wiccan offshoots.

In the meantime, Germanic mysticism in Germany and Switzerland had developed into baroque forms such as Guido von List's "Armanism", from the 1900s merging into antisemitic and national mysticist (völkisch) currents, notably with Lanz von Liebenfels' Guido von List Society and Ostara magazine, which with the rise of Nazism were partially absorbed into Nazi occultism.

Other Germanic mysticist groups, such as the Germanische Glaubens-Gemeinschaft of Ludwig Fahrenkrog were disendorsed by the Nazi regime. Another of these German neopagan groups was Adonism, founded in the nineteenth century.

Late 20th century

The 1960s and 1970s saw a resurgence in Neodruidism as well as the rise of Germanic neopaganism and Ásatrú in the United States and in Iceland. In the 1970s, Wicca was notably influenced by feminism, leading to the creation of an eclectic, Goddess-worshipping movement known as Dianic Wicca.[36] The 1979 publication of Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon and Starhawk's The Spiral Dance opened a new chapter in public awareness of paganism.[37]

With the growth and spread of large, pagan gatherings and festivals in the 1980s, public varieties of Neo-Wicca continued to further diversify into additional, eclectic sub-denominations, often heavily influenced by the New Age and counter-culture movements. These open, unstructured or loosely structured traditions contrast with British Traditional Wicca, which emphasizes secrecy and initiatory lineage.[38]

The 1980s and 1990s also saw an increasing interest in serious academic research and reconstructionist pagan traditions. The establishment and growth of the Internet in the 1990s brought rapid growth to these, and other pagan movements.[38]


"A movement that consciously looks to the past and claims to revive the ancient religious practices of pre-Christian Europe, modern paganism has always been dependent upon academic scholarship – particularly history, archaeology, and anthropology – in its project of self-fashioning."

Pagan studies scholar Caroline Jane Tully, 2011.[39]

Many pagans and pagan traditions attempt to incorporate elements of historical religions, cultures and mythologies into their beliefs and practices, often emphasizing the age of their sources. Thus, Wicca in particular is sometimes referred to by its proponents as "The Old Religion", a term popularised by Margaret Murray in the 1920s, while Germanic neopaganism is referred to in some of its varieties as Forn Sed ("Old Custom"). Such emphasis on the antiquity of religious tradition is not exclusive to modern paganism, and is found in many other religions. For example the terms Purana, Sanatana Dharma, and the emphasis on the antiquity of the Ancient Egyptian sources of the Hellenistic Mystery religions.

Some claims of continuity between contemporary paganism and older forms of paganism have been shown to be spurious, or outright false, as in the case of Iolo Morganwg's Druid's Prayer. Wiccan beliefs of an ancient monotheistic Goddess were inspired by Marija Gimbutas's description of Neolithic Europe. The factual historical validity of her theories has been disputed by many scholars, including historian Ronald Hutton.

While most pagans draw from old religious traditions, they also adapt them. The mythologies of the ancient traditions are not generally considered to be literally factual by pagans, in the sense that the Bible and other Abrahamic texts are often thought of by their followers. Eclectic pagans in particular are resistant to the concept of scripture or excessive structure, considering personal freedom to be one of the primary goals of their spirituality.[17] In contrast, some Reconstructionist movements, like those who practise Theodism, take a stricter religious approach, and only recognize certain historical texts and sources as being relevant to their belief system, intentionally focusing on one culture to the exclusion of others, and having a general disdain for the eclectic mentality.

The mythological sources of the various pagan traditions are similarly varied, including Celtic, Norse, Greek, Roman, Sumerian, Egyptian and others. Some groups focus solely on one cultural tradition, while others draw from several. For example, Doreen Valiente's text The Charge of the Goddess used materials from The Gospel of Aradia by Charles G. Leland (1899), as well as material from Aleister Crowley's writings.

Some pagans also draw inspiration from modern traditions, including Christianity, Buddhism and others, creating syncretisms like "Christian Witchcraft"[lower-greek 9] or "Buddheo-Paganism". Since many pagan beliefs do not require exclusivity, some pagans practise other faiths in parallel.

Eclectic pagans take an undogmatic religious stance,[17] and therefore potentially see no one as having authority to deem a source "apocryphal". Contemporary paganism has therefore been prone to fakelore, especially in recent years as information and misinformation alike have been spread on the Internet and in print media. A number of Wiccan, pagan and even some "Traditionalist" or "Tribalist" groups have a history of "Grandmother Stories" – typically involving initiation by a Grandmother, Grandfather, or other elderly relative who is said to have instructed them in the secret, millennia-old traditions of their ancestors. As this "secret wisdom" can almost always be traced to recent sources, tellers of these stories have often later admitted they made them up.[40] Author quotes Alex Sanders claim of initiation by grandmother as a child in 1933, yet the Alexandrian rituals, "so resemble the Gardnerian rituals [written in the 1940s] that Alex's story of their origin is often questioned." Victor Anderson of the Feri tradition tells similar story, but his rituals also seem largely based on Gardner's writings. Author adds: "Gardner, for whatever reasons, preferred to maintain the fiction that he was simply carrying on an older tradition. This fiction, wrote Aidan [Kelly], has put modern Craft leaders 'into the uncomfortable position of having to maintain that stance also, despite the fact that doing so goes, I suspect, against both their common sense and better judgement.'" Quoting Ed Fitch, "I think all of us have matured somewhat. After a while you realize that if you've heard one story about an old grandmother, you've heard six or seven just like it." Quoting Gwydion Pendderwen, "Yes, I wrote a fantasy. It was a desire. It was something I wished would happen. Perhaps that's why there are so many of these fantasies running around in the Craft today, and people trying to convince other people that they're true. It is certainly so much more pleasant and 'magical' to say 'It happened this way,' instead of 'I researched this. I wrote these rituals. I came up with this idea myself.'"

It is the belief of modern Pagans that the religious beliefs of pre-Christian Europe "possess continuing value for us in our own time, even after centuries of suppression and neglect." Strmiska asserted that contemporary paganism could be viewed as a part of the "much larger phenomenon" of efforts to revive "traditional, indigenous, or native religions" that were occurring across the globe.[lower-greek 10]

Encompassed religions and movements

Further information: List of Neopagan movements

Contemporary paganism encompasses a very broad range of groups and beliefs. Syncretic or eclectic approaches are sometimes inspired by historical traditions, but are not bound by any strict identification with a historical religion or culture; eclectic and syncretic movements freely combine elements of multiple religious traditions. At the other end of the spectrum are the ethnic reconstructionist traditions, which focus on historicity, folklore, and the revival of culturally-specific rites and beliefs.

Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca, British Traditional Wicca, and variations such as Dianic Wicca are examples of eclectic traditions, as are Neo-druid groups like Ár nDraíocht Féin. These contrast with the culturally-focused, polytheistic reconstructionst traditions like Germanic, Celtic, or Greek Reconstructionism.

Goddess movement

Main article: Goddess movement

Goddess Spirituality, which is also known as the Goddess movement, is a Pagan religion in which a singular, monotheistic Goddess is given predominance. Designed primarily for women, Goddess Spirituality revolves around the sacredness of the female form, and of aspects of women's lives which have been traditionally neglected in western society, such as menstruation, sexuality and maternity.[41]

Adherents of the Goddess Spirituality movement typically envision a history – or "herstory" – of the world that is different from traditional narratives about the past, emphasising the role of women rather than that of men. According to this view, human society was formerly a matriarchy, with communities being egalitarian, pacifistic and focused on the worship of the Goddess, and was subsequently overthrown by violent patriarchal hordes who worshipped male sky gods and who continued to rule through the form of Christianity. Adherents look for elements of this mythological history in "theological, anthropological, archaeological, historical, folkloric and hagiographic writings".[42]


Main article: Germanic Neopaganism

Heathenism, also known as Germanic Neopaganism, refers to a series of contemporary Pagan traditions that are based upon the historical religions, culture and literature of Germanic-speaking Europe. Heathenry is spread out across north-western Europe, and also North America and Australasia, where the descendants of historic Germanic-speaking people now live.[43]

Many Heathen groups adopt variants of Norse mythology as a basis to their beliefs, conceiving of the Earth as being situated on a great world tree called Yggdrasil. Heathens believe in multiple polytheistic deities, all adopted from historical Germanic mythologies. The majority of Heathens are "polytheistic realists", believing that the deities are real entities, whilst others view them as Jungian archetypes.[44]

Forms of Heathenism have also been adopted by white separatist and white supremacist groups. In the 1990s, Swedish historian Mattias Gardell studied the white separatist Heathen community in the United States, noting that it had become one of the "most dynamic trends" within the "radical-racist milieu" of the U.S., surpassing more traditional white separatist groups like the Ku Klux Klan in "terms of numbers and influence".[45]


Main article: Neo-Druidism

Neo-Druidism forms the second largest pagan religion after Wicca, and like Wicca in turn shows significant heterogeneity. It draws several beliefs and inspirations from the Druids, the priest caste of the ancient pagan Celts. With the first Druid Order founded as early as 1717, the history of Neo-Druidism reaches back to the earliest origins of modern paganism. The Ancient Order of Druids founded in 1781 had many aspects of freemasonry, and have practised rituals at Stonehenge since 1905. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids was established in 1964 by Ross Nichols. In the United States, the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA) was founded in 1912, the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA) was established in 1963 and Ár nDraíocht Féin (ADF) in 1983 by Isaac Bonewits.

New Age syncretism and eco-paganism

Main article: Syncretism

Since the 1960s and 70s, paganism and the then emergent counter-culture, New Age, and hippie movements experienced a degree of cross pollination.[46] Reconstructionism rose to prominence in the 1980s and 1990s. The majority of pagans are not committed to a single defined tradition, but understand paganism as encompassing a wide range of non-institutionalized spirituality, as promoted by the Church of All Worlds, the Feri Tradition and other movements. Notably, Wicca in the United States since the 1970s has largely moved away from its Gardnerian roots and diversified into eclectic variants.

Paganism generally emphasizes the sanctity of the Earth and Nature. Pagans often feel a duty to protect the Earth through activism, and support causes such as rainforest protection, organic farming, permaculture, animal rights and so on. Some pagans are influenced by Animist traditions of the indigenous Native Americans and Africans and other indigenous or shamanic traditions.

Eco-paganism and Eco-magic, which are off-shoots of direct action environmental groups, have a strong emphasis on fairy imagery and a belief in the possibility of intercession by the fae (fairies, pixies, gnomes, elves, and other spirits of nature and the Otherworlds).[lower-greek 11]

Some Unitarian Universalists are eclectic pagans. Unitarian Universalists look for spiritual inspiration in a wide variety of religious beliefs. The Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, or CUUPs, encourages their member chapters to "use practices familiar to members who attend for worship services but not to follow only one tradition of paganism."[47]

Occultism and ethnic mysticism

Historically the earliest self-identified revivalist pagans were inspired by Renaissance occultism. Notably in early 20th century Germany with Germanic mysticism, which branched into Ariosophy and related currents of Nazi occultism. Outside Germany, occultist neopaganism was inspired by Crowleyan Thelema and Left-Hand Paths, a recent example being the "Dark Paganism" of John J. Coughlin.

In 1925, the Czech esotericist Franz Sättler founded a pagan religion known as Adonism, devoted to the ancient Greek god Adonis, whom Sättler equated with the Christian Satan, and which purported that the end of the world would come in the year 2000. Adonism largely died out in the 1930s, but remained an influence on the German occult scene.[48]

In the United States, ethnic mysticist approaches are advocated in the form of Asatru Folk Assembly founder Stephen McNallen's "metagenetics" and by David Lane's openly white supremacist Wotanism.

According to historian Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, occultist currents persist in "neo-völkisch movements", such as neo-fascist and national mysticist neopaganism, since the 1990s revived in the European Nouvelle Droite in the context of the Traditionalist School of Julius Evola and others (Alain de Benoist, Werkgroep Traditie; see Neopaganism and the New Right).

LGBT paganism

In the western world, distinct forms of paganism have developed for members of the LGBT community. Margot Adler noted how there were many pagan groups whose practices revolved around the inclusion and celebration of male homosexuality, such as the Minoan Brotherhood, a Wiccan group that combines the iconography from ancient Minoan religion with a Wiccan theology and an emphasis on "men-loving-men", and the eclectic pagan group known as the Radical Faeries. Similarly, there are also groups for lesbians, like certain forms of Dianic Wicca and the Minoan Sisterhood. When Adler asked one gay pagan what the pagan community offered members of the LGBT community, the reply was "A place to belong. Community. Acceptance. And a way to connect with all kinds of people, gay, bi, straight, celibate, transgender, in a way that is hard to do in the greater society".[49]

Other forms of Wicca have also attracted queer people, for instance, the theologian Jone Salomonsen noted that there was an unusually high number of LGBT, and particularly bisexual individuals within the Reclaiming tradition of San Francisco when she was doing her fieldwork there in the 1980s and 1990s.[50]


In contrast to the eclectic traditions, Polytheistic Reconstructionists practice culturally-specific, ethnic traditions, basing their practices on the surviving folklore, traditional songs and prayers, as well as reconstructions from the historical record. Thus, Hellenic, Roman, Kemetic, Celtic, Germanic, Baltic and Slavic Reconstructionists aim for the preservation and revival of historical practices and beliefs of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Ancient Egypt, the Celts, the Germanic peoples, the Balts and the Slavs, respectively.[lower-greek 12][lower-greek 13][lower-greek 14]

Wicca and Pagan Witchcraft

Main articles: Modern Witchcraft and Wicca

Pagan Witchcraft is the largest contemporary pagan religion, having originally developed in the United Kingdom and since spread across the world. It is commonly called "Wicca", a term that came to be adopted in the early 1960s, although in the late 1970s and 1980s certain Pagan Witches began to instead use that term purely in reference to specific traditions of the Pagan Craft, and in the contemporary pagan community both definitions are now employed, causing some confusion.[51]

The Wiccan religion is mainly duotheistic, revolving around the veneration of a Horned God and a Goddess, elements of a variety of ancient mythologies, a belief in and practice of magic and sometimes the belief in reincarnation and karma.

The scholar of religious studies Graham Harvey noted that a poem known as the Charge of the Goddess remains central to the liturgy of most Wiccan groups. Originally written by Wiccan High Priestess Doreen Valiente in the mid-1950s, Harvey noted that the recitation of the Charge in the midst of ritual allows Wiccans to gain wisdom and experience deity in "the ordinary things in life".[52]

The historian Ronald Hutton identified a wide variety of different sources that influenced the development of Wicca. These included ceremonial magic, folk magic, Romanticist literature, Freemasonry, and the historical theories of the English archaeologist Margaret Murray.[29] The figure at the forefront of the burgeoning Wiccan movement was the English esotericist Gerald Gardner, who claimed to have been initiated by the New Forest coven in 1939. Gardner claimed that the religion which he discovered was a modern survival of the old Witch-Cult described in the works of Murray, which had originated in the pre-Christian paganism of Europe. He claimed it was revealed to him by a coven of witches in the New Forest area of southern England. Various forms of Wicca have since evolved or been adapted from Gardner's British Traditional Wicca or Gardnerian Wicca such as Alexandrian Wicca. Other forms loosely based on Gardner's teachings are Faery Wicca, Kemetic Wicca, Judeo-Paganism or "jewitchery", Dianic Wicca or "Feminist Wicca" – which emphasizes the divine feminine, often creating women-only or lesbian-only groups.[lower-greek 15]

In the 1990s, Wiccan beliefs and practices were used as a partial basis for a number of U.S. films and television series, such as The Craft, Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, leading to a dramatic upsurge in teenagers and young adults becoming interested and involved in the religion.[53][54]

Jewish Pagans

Main article: Semitic Neopaganism

Some Jewish Pagans have returned to their own Semitic traditions for inspiration. Surveys have shown that people with Jewish backgrounds are twice as likely to become Neopagans in comparison to Gentiles (non-Jews).

Beit Asherah ("the house of the Goddess Asherah") was one of the first Neopagan synagogues, founded in the early 1990s by Stephanie Fox, Steven Posch, and Magenta Griffiths (Lady Magenta). Magenta Griffiths is High Priestess of the Beit Asherah coven, and a former board member of the Covenant of the Goddess.[55][lower-greek 16]

Humanistic Paganism

Humanistic Paganism is a subset of Spiritual humanism characterized by a naturalistic approach to pagan religion. Humanistic Paganism is an attempt to merge a humanistic respect for science and reason with the sense of religious awe and spiritual values rooted in ancient pagan myth. While embracing empirical science and rejecting supernatural explanations for phenomena, Humanistic Pagans accept the psychological power that Pagan rituals and practices have to deepen our daily experience.[lower-greek 17]


Establishing precise figures on Paganism is difficult. Due to the secrecy and fear of persecution still prevalent among Pagans, limited numbers are willing to openly be counted. The decentralised nature of Paganism and sheer number of Solitary practitioner further complicates matters.[56] Nevertheless, there is a slow growing body of data on the subject.[57] Combined statistics from Western nations put Pagans well over million worldwide.


A study by Ronald Hutton compared a number of different sources (including membership lists of major UK organizations, attendance at major events, subscriptions to magazines, etc.) and used standard models for extrapolating likely numbers. This estimate accounted for multiple membership overlaps as well as the number of adherents represented by each attendee of a pagan gathering. Hutton estimated that there are 250,000 neopagan adherents in the United Kingdom, roughly equivalent to the national Hindu community.[29]

A smaller number is suggested by the results of the 2001 Census, in which a question about religious affiliation was asked for the first time. Respondents were able to write in an affiliation not covered by the checklist of common religions, and a total of 42,262 people from England, Scotland and Wales declared themselves to be Pagans by this method. These figures were not released as a matter of course by the Office for National Statistics, but were released after an application by the Pagan Federation of Scotland.[lower-greek 18] This is more than many well known traditions such as Rastafarian, Bahá'í and Zoroastrian groups, but fewer than the 'Big Six' of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Judaism and Buddhism. It is also fewer than the adherents Jediism, whose campaign made them the fourth largest religion after Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.[lower-greek 19]

The 2001 UK Census figures did not allow an accurate breakdown of traditions within the Pagan heading, as a campaign by the Pagan Federation before the census encouraged Wiccans, Heathens, Druids and others all to use the same write-in term 'Pagan' in order to maximise the numbers reported. The 2011 census however made it possible to describe oneself as Pagan-Wiccan, Pagan-Druid and so on. The figures for England and Wales showed 80,153 describing themselves as Pagan (or some subgroup thereof.) The largest subgroup was Wicca, with 11,766 adherents.[lower-greek 20] The overall numbers of people self-reporting as Pagan rose between 2001 and 2011. In 2001 about seven people per 10,000 UK respondents were pagan; in 2011 the number (based on the England and Wales population) was 14.3 people per 10,000 respondents.

Census figures in Ireland do not provide a breakdown of religions outside of the major Christian denominations and other major world religions. A total of 22,497 people stated 'Other religion' in the 2006 census; and a rough estimate is that there are 2,000–3,000 practicing pagans in Ireland as of 2009. Numerous pagan groups – primarily Wiccan and Druidic – exist in Ireland though none is officially recognised by the Government. Irish Paganism is often strongly concerned with issues of place and language.[lower-greek 21]

North America

Socio-economic breakdown of U.S. Pagans
Education Percentage[58]
Claimed to have at least a College degree 65.4%
Claimed to have Post-graduate degrees 16.1%
Claimed to have completed some college or less 7.6%
Location Percentage[58]
Urban areas 27.9%
Suburban areas 22.8%
Rural areas 15.8%
Small towns 14.4%
Large towns 14.4%
Didn't respond 5.6%
Ethnicity Percentage[58]
White 90.4%
Native American 9%
Asian 2%
Hispanic 0.8%
African American 0.5%
"Other" 2.2%
Didn't respond 5%

Canada does not provide extremely detailed records of religious adherence. Its statistics service only collects limited religious information each decade. As of the 2001 census, there were a recorded 21080 Pagans in Canada.[lower-greek 22][lower-greek 23]

The United States government does not directly collect religious information. As a result such information is provided by religious institutions and other third-party statistical organisations.[lower-greek 24] Based on the most recent survey by the Pew Forum on religion, there are over one million Pagans estimated to be living in the United States.[59] Up to 4 of respondents answered "Pagan" or "Wiccan" when polled.[60]

According to Helen A. Berger's 1995 survey, "The Pagan Census", most American Pagans are middle class, educated, and live in urban/suburban areas on East and West coasts.[58]


Breakdown of Australians[61]
Classifications Adherents
Animism 780
Druidism 1049
Paganism 16851
Pantheism 1391
Nature Religions 3599
Witchcraft (incl. Wicca) 8413
Total 32083

In the 2011 Australian census, 32083 respondents identified as Pagan.[61] Out of 21507717 recorded Australians,[lower-greek 25] they compose approximately 0.15 of the population. The Australian Bureau of Statistics classifies Paganism as an affiliation under which several sub-classifications may optionally be specified. This includes animism, nature religion, Druidism, pantheism, and Witchcraft. As a result, fairly detailed breakdowns of Pagan respondents are available.[lower-greek 26]

New Zealander
Groups Adherents
Druidism 192
Nature religion 4530
Wicca 2082
Total 6804

As of 2006, there are at least 6804 (1.64‰) Pagans amongst New Zealand's population of approximately 4 million.[63] Respondents were given the option to select one or more religious affiliations.[62]

Paganism in society


Based upon her study of the pagan community in the United States, the sociologist Margot Adler noted that it is rare for Pagan groups to proselytize in order to gain new converts to their faiths. Instead, she argued that "in most cases", converts first become interested in the movement through "word of mouth, a discussion between friends, a lecture, a book, an article or a Web site." She went on to put forward the idea that this typically confirmed "some original, private experience, so that the most common experience of those who have named themselves pagan is something like 'I finally found a group that has the same religious perceptions I always had'."[64] A practicing Wiccan herself, Adler used her own conversion to paganism as a case study, remarking that as a child she had taken a great interest in the gods and goddesses of ancient Greece, and had performed her own devised rituals in dedication to them. When she eventually came across the Wiccan religion many years later, she then found that it confirmed her earlier childhood experiences, and that "I never converted in the accepted sense. I simply accepted, reaffirmed, and extended a very old experience."[65]

Folklorist Sabina Magliocco supported this idea, noting that a great many of those Californian Pagans whom she interviewed claimed that they had been greatly interested in mythology and folklore as children, imagining a world of "enchanted nature and magical transformations, filled with lords and ladies, witches and wizards, and humble but often wise peasants." Magliocco noted that it was this world which pagans "strive to re-create in some measure."[66] Further support for Adler's idea came from American Wiccan priestess Judy Harrow, who noted that amongst her comrades, there was a feeling that "you don't become pagan, you discover that you always were."[67] They have also been supported by Pagan studies scholar Graham Harvey.[68]

Many pagans in North America encounter the movement through their involvement in other hobbies; particularly popular with U.S. Pagans are "golden age"-type pastimes such as the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), Star Trek fandom, Doctor Who fandom and comic book fandom. Other manners in which many North American pagans have got involved with the movement are through political and/or ecological activism, such as "vegetarian groups, health food stores" or feminist university courses.[69]

Adler went on to note that from those she interviewed and surveyed in the U.S., she could identify a number of common factors that led to people getting involved in Paganism: the beauty, vision and imagination that was found within their beliefs and rituals, a sense of intellectual satisfaction and personal growth that they imparted, their support for environmentalism and/or feminism, and a sense of freedom.[70]

Class, gender and ethnicity

Based upon her work in the United States, sociologist Margot Adler found that the pagan movement was "very diverse" in its class and ethnic background.[71] She went on to remark that she had encountered pagans in jobs that ranged from "fireman to PhD chemist" but that the one thing that she thought made them into an "elite" was as avid readers, something that she found to be very common within the pagan community despite the fact that avid readers constituted less than 20% of the general population of the United States at the time.[72] The folklorist Sabina Magliocco came to a somewhat different conclusion based upon her ethnographic research of pagans in California, remarking that the majority were "white, middle-class, well-educated urbanites" but that they were united in finding "artistic inspiration" within "folk and indigenous spiritual traditions."[73]

The sociologist Regina Oboler examined the role of gender in the U.S. Pagan community, arguing that although the movement had been constant in its support for the equality of men and women ever since its foundation, there was still an essentialist view of gender engrained within it, with female deities being accorded traditional western feminine traits and male deities being similarly accorded what western society saw as masculine traits.[74]

Legal status

Recognition of Wicca in Spain. On 23 December 2011, the Spanish Government officially acknowledged Wicca Tradition Celtiberian as a religion for the first time, entering it in the register of religious bodies with the reference 2560-GS / A. This makes Spain the first country in Europe and the second in the world, after the U.S., to recognize it. The Celtiberian tradition of Wicca was founded by Fernando Gonzalez in the 1980s.[75] He derived it from Hispanic Traditional Witchcraft in which he was trained, and it is a structured religion which combines elements of initiatory and mystery religion, historical reconstructionism and liturgical elements of Hispanic Traditional Witchcraft and pre Christian Celtic and Iberian religions.

Recognition of Wicca in Portugal. Subsequent to the high profile the Celtiberian Tradition established in Spain this Tradition of Wicca was established in Portugal and has been registered in the relevant register and is therefore the first Pagan tradition recognized as religion in the history of Portugal.[76] This makes Portugal the second country in Europe and third in the world after the U.S. and Spain, to legalize a Wiccan Religious Worship.

Pagan studies

Main article: Pagan studies

The earliest academic studies of contemporary Paganism were published in the late 1970s and 1980s by scholars like Margot Adler, Marcello Truzzi and Tanya Luhrmann, although it would not be until the 1990s that the actual multidisciplinary academic field of Pagan studies properly developed, pioneered by academics such as Graham Harvey and Chas S. Clifton. Increasing academic interest in Paganism has been attributed to the new religious movement's increasing public visibility, as it began interacting with the interfaith movement and holding large public celebrations at sites like Stonehenge.[77]

The first international academic conference on the subject of Pagan studies was held at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, North-East England in 1993. It had been organised by two British religious studies scholars, Graham Harvey and Charlotte Hardman.[78] In April 1996 a larger conference dealing with contemporary Paganism then took place at Ambleside in the Lake District. Organised by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Lancaster, North-West England, it was entitled "Nature Religion Today: Western Paganism, Shamanism and Esotericism in the 1990s", and led to the publication of an academic anthology, entitled Nature Religion Today: Paganism in the Modern World.[78] In 2004, the first peer-reviewed, academic journal devoted to Pagan studies began publication. The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies was edited by Clifton, while the academic publishers AltaMira Press began release of the Pagan Studies Series.[lower-greek 27] One of the books AltaMira released was Researching Paganisms, an anthology edited by Jenny Blain, Douglas Ezzy and Graham Harvey in which different Pagan studies scholars discussed their involvement with the subject and the opposition that they've faced.[79]

The relationship between Pagan studies scholars and some practising Pagans has at times been strained. The Australian academic and practising Pagan Caroline Jane Tully argued that many Pagans can react negatively to new scholarship regarding historical pre-Christian societies, believing that it is a threat to the structure of their beliefs and "sense of identity." She furthermore argued that some of those dissatisfied Pagans lashed out against academics as a result, particularly on the internet.[80]




Academic books

  • Molnar, Thomas (1987). The Pagan Temptation. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 201 p. N.B.: The scope of this study also embraces the occult. ISBN 0-8028-0262-1

Academic anthologies

Academic journal articles

Technical reports and statistics

  • Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  • Retrieved 13 March 2013.

Contemporary Pagan literature

External links

  • The Pagan Federation (

Template:New religious movements

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