More than a million Americans say they are witches

By Christine Rousselle

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A ritual halloween witchcraft scene. Credit: MarynaKaravaieva/Shutterstock

The number of Americans who claim to be witches increased dramatically over the past 30 years. An estimated 1 to 1.5 million people now say they practise Wicca or Paganism, a rise from an estimated 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, and 340,000 by 2008.

Until 2008, the figures came collected by Trinity College, CT. In 2014, a Pew Research Center survey found about 0.4 percent of Americans said they were Pagan or Wiccan, a significant increase over past years. If accurate, this figure would mean that there are more practicing witches in the United States than members of some mainline Protestant denominations. According to 2017 figures, there are 1.4 million practicing Presbyterians in the United States.

Wicca is a form of modern Pagan witchcraft founded in the mid-20th century in the United Kingdom. Those who practise Wicca sometimes refer to themselves as “witches.” People who practise other forms of witchcraft may not identify with the Wiccan or Pagan label, meaning that the number of self-identified witches in the United States may actually be higher.

Online, witchcraft has become increasingly popular and mainstream. The hashtag “#WitchesofInstagram” has been used nearly two million times on Instagram, featuring images of crystals, pentagrams, and people (almost entirely women) sharing their experiences as witches.

A priest pursuing doctoral studies in exorcisms, told CNA that he was not surprised by the increasing number of Americans interested in dabbling in witchcraft.

The priest, who asked not be identified because of the attention exorcist priests receive, pointed to the popularity of spiritualism in general, which includes yoga and ouija, and the need for instant results in American culture.

He theorized that people who are dissatisfied with their religion begin to look for a “quick fix-- magic.”

And while some witches differentiate between “white magic” and “black magic,” with black magic being intentionally malicious, he rejected the idea there could be any such thing as positive or harmless magic.

“Both of them are associated with Satan, and he’s in charge of that,” the priest told CNA.

People who embrace one form of witchcraft, be it for finding love or solving another one of life’s problems may find themselves “trapped” into the world of the occult, he said.

“I have personally had many, many experiences of people coming to me,” with issues that stemmed from something initially thought innocuous.

The modern appeal of paganism may stem from Christianity’s early roots, the priest said. When Christianity first spread to pagan areas--Ireland, France, etc.--the people who lived there were incredibly superstitious. Christianity was able to provide a sort of spiritual reassurance.

"Christianity always has good news, and the good news is that the devil is overcome," he said.

Now, as people have begun to turn away from this message of Christ’s lordship, and have begun to “glorify their own reason and understanding,” Christianity becomes less appealing--and people return to the superstitious practices of long ago.

This lack of faith in the Christian God coupled with the “very hedonistic society” of modern times adds to the appeal of the supposed quick fix of magic, he said.

“Anything we want, we have to have right away,” he said. “I mean, if I suffer, I need to have a solution. Even if you go to a hospital, you look at the chart and they always ask you 'how do you feel from one to 10?' and if you feel that your pain is too high, they will pump you with opioid painkillers.”

These comments were echoed by Fr. Thomas Petri, O.P., vice president and academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies.

Petri told CNA that he did not find it surprising that those who have turned away from God and the Church would instead turn towards pagan worship.

“Man is essentially a religious animal who seeks meaning beyond the ordinary and so is prone to worship powers beyond himself,” he explained.

This increase could also be as a result of Satan, who “is actively at work in the world seeking to drive as many people away from salvation in Christ as he can.” Satan, he said, does this “under the guise of principalities and powers that some people think are more novel and powerful than Christ.”

“Sadly, they couldn’t be more wrong and they need our prayers.”

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