Number of witches explode as they take to social media

Spirituality is now firmly placed in a predominant society. The growing enthusiasm in astrology propelled by millennials, as well as the attraction of crystals and tarot cards via the ballooning wellness industry, have brought mysticism from the fringes, and right into your Instagram feed.

However, as the cosmetics giant Sephora recently discovered, mysticism and its more formal manifestation, witch culture, are not issues to be ignored. When the business tried to commodify and press together witch-related practices into a “Starter Witch Kit,” they managed to disturb a lot of real witches, forcing the kit’s maker to make amends and pull the product.

The material was definitely targeted at amateurs in witchery, rather than those who truly practice it, which was probably part of the overestimation. Details on the existing population of self-identified practicing witches suggest that a strong– and growing– witch community is present.

By the numbers: witches, Wiccans, and Pagans
Even though the data is sparse, what we do know is that the practice of witchcraft has encountered significant growth in recent decades. As the witch aesthetic has increased, so has the amount of men and women who identify as witches.

witchcraft photo
Photo by Miroslav Vajdić

The greatest source of data on the number of witches in the US stems from assessments of the Wicca population. Not all persons who practice witchcraft consider themselves Wicca, but the religion comprises a notable subset, as Alden Wicker noted for Quartz in 2016.

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

Birgitte Necessary, who defines herself as a Green Witch from Washington State, defines the religion in a similar way, explaining it as “a deep adherence to the outdoors and natural law, an attention to the cycles of the earth and the lives within it.” As a Green Witch, Necessary adds that her methods mostly revolve around the plant kingdom and herbal healing.

Though the US federal government does not routinely accumulate detailed religious data, because of worries that it may breach the separation of church and state, a number of organizations have made an effort to fill the data gap. From 1990 to 2008, Trinity College in Connecticut operated three substantial, comprehensive religion surveys. Those have revealed that Wicca grew enormously over this time period. Starting with an approximated 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, they discovered there were about 340,000 practitioners in 2008. They also determined there were approximately 340,000 Pagans (pdf) in 2008.

Although Trinity College hasn’t run a survey since 2008, the Pew Research Center picked up the baton in 2014. It discovered that 0.4% of Americans, or about 1 to 1.5 million individuals, identify as Wicca or Pagan– which suggests ongoing durable growth for the communities.

Data on Wicca identification is ever sparser in the UK, the other country with a major Wicca population. A 2011 government census found that there are 12,000 Wiccans in England and Wales, but previous surveys really did not collect data on the group.

The rise of witchcraft

Witchcraft had a lengthy and complicated history well before the wellness and beauty industries became fairly recently engrossed with it. Witches have been a component in the popular creative imagination for centuries: And from Snow White to The Crucible to Melisandre in Game of Thrones, beauty, sexuality, and the crusade for eternal youth have been baked into our understanding of witches.

That perception is also, undoubtedly, tied to a bloody history of persecution of witchcraft’s practitioners, and the term “witch” itself has been employed as a multipurpose misogynist slur. It’s perhaps that centuries-long perception that has led modern-day witches to reclaim the term, and even merge into a political movement.

A number of modern witches, such as Courtney Brooke, position themselves in a subset of witches that cohere to a feminist dogma and identify specifically as “feminist witches”:

tarot photoThe mainstreaming of mysticism makes sense when you think about how it overlaps with the interests of the millennial women. As Wicker noted, witchcraft is the ideal religion for liberal millennials who are already engaged in yoga and meditation, mindfulness, and new-age spirituality. With that foundation, they might just show up for pagan holidays or new moon events, or begin to explore the more serious spiritual ideas at the root of these practices.

This is all aided by the increase of witches on social networks (just check out the extremely popular #witchesofinstagram hashtag on Instagram), and a certain style of Instagrammable witchiness has been identified by market trend-spotters as “mysticore.”.

The Hoodwitch, for instance, is a bona fide witch influencer, with 329K Instagram followers, who practices “everyday magic for the modern mystic,” and shows up at events like LA’s BeautyCon to carry out tarot readings:.

The numbers on Wicca and Paganism may well undercount the total number of witches. Indeed, as Necessary notes, some witches reject Wicca in its current form as “a new age less-than-perfect reinvention of witchcraft.”.

But no matter what the precise number is, it’s obvious that witches are among us– and the current trajectory reveals that their population will continue to grow.

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