Jan 28, 2009

From the Archives

Survey Reveals Americans’ Feelings about Wicca

A new national survey conducted by The Barna Group shows that while many adults are not familiar with Wicca, nearly half of the adult population has reserved having an opinion on that religious group even though its best-known practices directly contradict the religious faith that they personally embrace.

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Wicca is Largely Unknown

A slight majority of Americans (55%) say they have not heard the term “Wicca.”

Among the 45% who have heard of, the segments most familiar with Wicca include people younger than 60 (50% are familiar with the name, compared to 35% of older adults); Christian evangelicals (65%); Skeptics (61% of atheists and agnostics); Asian Americans (52%); upscale adults (62%); and those who describe themselves as socio-politically liberal in most cases (55%).

Wiccan Practices, Beliefs and Adherence

Wicca is a faith system that has no central organization or theological belief system defined for all of its adherents. It may be best understood through its typical practices, which include performing magic and sorcery, casting spells and engaging in witchcraft. It is a ritualistic faith based on a loose set of pagan beliefs that are generally pantheistic in nature. Those who are involved commonly go through initiation rites for membership, teaching and leadership. Contrary to a widespread assumption, however, Wicca is not synonymous with Satan worship. Wiccans most frequently worship gods and goddesses that are found in nature. Wicca generally embraces the notions of karma and reincarnation, and promotes a laissez faire form of morality.

Barna Group studies indicate that while young people, in particular, are interested in witchcraft and are comfortable with the idea of worshipping nature, few Americans claim to be Wiccan. Based on interviews with more than 4,200 adults during 2008, Barna studies showed that Wiccans represent about one-tenth of one percent of all adults. The company estimates that despite widespread public fascination with the group, among the nation’s 230 million adults, less than one-quarter of a million adults associate with Wicca as their primary faith group.

Defining Wicca

Among those who have heard of Wicca, nearly two-thirds (62%) described it as an organized form of witchcraft. Smaller proportions defined Wicca as a form of Satanism (7%) or as a religious cult (7%). About one-fifth (18%) said that although they were familiar with the name, they knew little or nothing about Wicca.

Opinions about Wicca

When asked to express their view of Wicca, 6% held a favorable view (2% very favorable and 4% somewhat favorable), and 52% held unfavorable views (7% somewhat unfavorable and 45% very unfavorable).

Perhaps the most intriguing response was from the remaining 43% who said they did not know what they thought of Wicca or had no particular opinion about it.

Those who possessed a “very unfavorable” view were most likely to be found among residents of the South and Midwest (52% of whom had a very unfavorable opinion); born again Christians (67%); and socio-political conservatives (61%).

The survey also showed that among people who voted for Barack Obama for president 38% had a very unfavorable view of the witchcraft group, compared to 57% of those who voted for John McCain holding a very unfavorable view.

Teenagers Hold Similar Perspectives

A study released by The Barna Group in 2005 among a national sample of more than 4,000 teenagers found that young people’s views of Wicca were similar to those of people 18 or older. Among teens, 60% were not familiar with Wicca. Among those who were, 58% held unfavorable views of the group.

Potential Growth

Wicca has significant opportunities for growth, according to researcher George Barna. Among the conditions that would facilitate an increase in the number of Wiccans in America are:

  1. the fascination that adolescents and teenagers have with casting spells, performing magic, being an integral part of a small group of like-minded people, and the opportunity for creative expression accompanied by demonstrations of power
  2. the highly individualistic nature of the faith
  3. its sensitivity to nature and the environment
  4. the moral ambivalence of its codes and beliefs at a time when America’s young adults, teenagers and adolescents are not attracted to strict moral rules and practices
  5. the necessity of a high degree of personal participation
  6. the appeal of the secrecy in which Wiccan activities and relationships are undertaken
  7. the profitability – and, therefore, likely continued flow – of books, movies and television shows that feature appealing characters engaging in Wiccan activity
  8. the growing determination of Americans to tolerate and accept worldviews, philosophies and religious practices that stray from those of the traditional or widely-recognized religions (e.g., Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism)
  9. the cultural value placed upon personal experience and adventure rather than adherence to a strict ideology

However, Barna also noted that Wicca faces significant growth challenges in the years to come. Among its challenges are:

  1. the absence of a centralized organization that will fund, plan and intentionally promote its beliefs and practices
  2. the lack of one or a handful of charismatic, widely-recognized and respected leaders to champion its cause
  3. not having a recognized guidebook or body of “sacred literature” to define and facilitate its practices and growth
  4. the likelihood of stiff resistance from several of the larger, traditional faith groups that are popular in the U.S., such as Christianity.

Barna said he expects Wicca to continue to fly below people’s religious radar until it develops higher profile, more structured leadership, which is in some ways antithetical to Wiccan practices. However, he also expects significantly growing numbers of young Americans to embrace elements of Wiccan practice, such as spell casting and performing magic rituals, which have proven to be central behaviors featured in various popular media presentations in recent years. Many young adults will not consider themselves to be Wiccan but will adopt some of its practices and thinking alongside their more traditional religious views and behaviors.

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About the Research

This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group with a random sample of 1,203 adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older, in November 2008. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample is ±2.9 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Minimal statistical weighting was used to calibrate the aggregate sample to known population percentages in relation to several key demographic variables.

“Born again Christians” were defined as people who said they had made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that was still important in their life today and who also indicated they believed that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.”

“Evangelicals” meet the born again criteria (described above) plus seven other conditions. Those include saying their faith is very important in their life today; believing they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believing that Satan exists; believing that eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believing that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; asserting that the Bible is accurate in all that it teaches; and describing God as the all-knowing, all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church attended. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “evangelical.”

“Upscale” adults are those who are college graduates and have a pre-tax household income of more than $75,000 per year.

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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