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Media Gloat: Witches Outnumber Presbyterians in the United States

Ein Maskentraeger im Kostuem der "Offenburger Hexen" tanzt am Dienstag, 24.Februar 2009, vor einer brennenden Strohpuppe in Offenburg. Mit dem traditionellen Abbrennen einer Strohpuppe wird das Ende des Strassenkarnevals gefeiert. (AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)--------A reveler wearing a witch costume dances in front of a burning straw muppet in Offenburg, southwestern Germany, …
AP Photo/Thomas Kienzle
PENNY STARR

Halloween has passed, and as Christmas approaches, millions around the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. But news outlets are referencing a 2014 Pew Research Center survey on religion and the rising number of those who practice witchcraft in the U.S., saying that witches now outnumber Presbyterians in the country.

Quartz started the flurry of recent articles on witchcraft and pagan rituals with their report before Halloween: 

Wicca is a largely Western religious movement that dates back to the mid-20th century in the US and UK. According to the site wicca.com, it’s a belief system informed by “pre-Christian traditions originating in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales,” that promotes “free thought and will of the individual, and encourages learning and an understanding of the earth and nature.”

While the US government does not regularly collect detailed religious data, because of concerns that it may violate the separation of church and state, several organizations have tried to fill the data gap. From 1990 to 2008, Trinity College in Connecticut ran three large, detailed religion surveys. Those have shown that Wicca grew tremendously over this period. From an estimated 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, they found there were about 340,000 practitioners in 2008. They also estimated there were around 340,000 Pagans in 2008.

“Experts believe that the explosion in the witch population is due to millennial women’s embracing of new-age spirituality, mindfulness, meditation, and yoga,” the Daily Mail reported in its witchcraft coverage last week. 

The Daily Mail report said witchcraft or “The Craft” has nothing to do with Satanism. Instead, practitioners “praise nature and nature’s gods and goddesses.”

“They practice outside in parks, gardens or fields,” the Daily Mail reported. “They endeavor to achieve self-awakening through dancing, singing, chanting, and with the use of herbs and incense.”

The Daily Mail article also includes a photograph of a pagan ritual at a bookstore in New York City in October where a hex was allegedly put on now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ahead of his confirmation to sit on the high court.

Reuters published a fact sheet on witchcraft more than a decade ago that is still used to describe the phenomenon today, including in the Mail’s report.

The word “witchcraft” has three main connotations: the practice of magic or sorcery; the beliefs associated with the Western witch-hunts of the 14th to the 18th century; and varieties of the modern movement called Wicca.

Wicca was first publicized in 1954 by a British civil servant named Gerald Gardner who said the religion dated to an old witch cult that existed in secret for hundreds of years, originating in the pre-Christian Paganism of Europe.

Wicca is recognized as an official religion in the United States.

“Experts say that one does not need to be a Wicca or Pagan in order to be a witch, meaning that the actual number of those who practice witchcraft may be higher,” the Mail reported.

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