Stand Up and Be Counted: Numbering Canada’s Pagan Population
How many Neopagans make up the Canadian population? That’s a hard question to answer. Even worldwide, the pagan community is hard to estimate due to a wide variety of factors, so estimates often come from third-party sources. As issues of political representation and religious freedom remain salient, some Canadian pagans grapple with how to advance the positive recognition of their faith.
A Minority in Many Nations
In most Western countries, Neopagans usually make up less than 1 percent of the population. Organizations such as the Pew Research Center in the United States have attempted to assess these numbers. Yet according to Religious Tolerance, even Pew has not been consistent in its analysis and classification of adherents to modern forms of paganism. Around 0.4 percent of respondents answered “Pagan” or “Wiccan” on Pew’s 2008 Religious Landscape survey, yet Pew classified some of these same responses under the “New Age” category in other years. Pew’s own 2010 estimates stated that 0.8 percent of the world’s population belonged to “other religions,” but it includes faiths such as Zoroastrianism, Sikhism and Jainism alongside various pagan paths such as Wicca, Kemetic paganism and Norse Heathenry.
The Impact of the “Broom Closet”
Depending on where they live, many pagans contend with outright persecution. Some individuals keep their chosen faiths quiet among family, coworkers and acquaintances to avoid discrimination and harassment. In a 2015 Vice article, contributor Leonie Roderick cited examples of the prejudicial actions that practitioners of Witchcraft and other pagan paths face. For example, an English witch named Charlie Mallory Cawley documented years of bullying and abuse both in her workplaces and at school. Her tribulations included accusations of animal sacrifice and being cornered in a women’s restroom and called names.
Problems With the National Household Survey
Statistics Canada incorporated several religious categories for respondents to select in its 2011 National Household Survey. However, a 2013 HuffPost Canada article reveals much of the criticism expressed about the instrument, namely its low response rates among marginalized populations such as the poor, immigrants and indigenous First Nations communities. The 2011 survey listed the following classifications for religious faiths:
- Roman Catholicism
- Other Christian
- Other religions
The Pagan Business Network also mentioned the lack of options for Neopagan respondents in a 2016 blog post. Nevertheless, one possible factor influencing lack of recognition may be the vast range of spiritual paths existing under the banner of Neopaganism. For instance, the Canadian chapter of the Pagan Federation International mentions many different iterations on its website, such as Wicca, Druidry, Heathenry and Shamanism.
Furthermore, PBN writer Mark J. Newby opined that “the Canadian Government is at a loss about how to recognize religions that do not have a centralized, hierarchical structure.” At the same time, he pointed to a recent chaplaincy guide available from Canada’s governmental publications as an example. While it offers an extensive amount of information about Wicca, Newby mentions that Wicca is the only Neopagan faith in the guide and that it seems to consider the Wiccan Church of Canada as a central authoritative body. As pagans themselves can attest, many contemporary Neopagan spiritual movements do not have centralized hierarchies.
What Does the Future Hold?
Pagan participation in politics and other aspects of Canada’s public life is increasing, as evidenced by growing membership in pagan organizations and the growing number of chaplains at higher educational institutions. However, a variety of factors still contribute to the difficulty in determining how many people follow Neopagan spiritual traditions in our country. With the eclectic nature of modern pagan movements and social stigmas that keep their practitioners “in the broom closet,” the future of pagan social and political representation remains to be seen.