By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
In spite of efforts by practitioners and the media to improve the image of modern witchcraft in movies and popular books such as Harry Potter, a recent poll found that a majority of Americans, including youth, have an unfavorable view of these practices.
A poll conducted by The Barna Group in November, 2008 asked more than 1,200 adults age 18 and over to describe their opinion of Wicca, a popular modern witchcraft movement. Fifty two percent of respondents said they had an unfavorable view of the practice with only six percent saying they have a favorable view.
Those who hold an unfavorable view of Wicca tend to be Christian, socially conservative, and to reside in either the South or the midwestern U.S.
Young people are not as ready to embrace witchcraft as one might think while growing up in a culture where occult fiction such as the Harry Potter and Twilight series are so prevalent. When Barna conducted a similar survey among 4,000 teens in 2005, they found that 58 percent of teens expressed an unfavorable opinion on Wicca and witchcraft.
Wicca is not nearly as large a movement as it sometimes portrays itself.
“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.”
This amounts to less than a quarter million adherents to Wicca among the nation’s 230 million adults.
In spite of these findings, however, Wicca has significant growth opportunities, the report states.
Among the conditions that would facilitate an increase in the number of Wiccans in America are:
• 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
• the highly individualistic nature of the faith
• its sensitivity to nature and the environment
• 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
• the necessity of a high degree of personal participation
• the appeal of the secrecy in which Wiccan activities and relationships are undertaken
• the profitability – and, therefore, likely continued flow – of books, movies and television shows that feature appealing characters engaging in Wiccan activity
• 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)
• the cultural value placed upon personal experience and adventure rather than adherence to a strict ideology
Factors that are likely to negate these opportunities for growth are the movement’s lack of centralized organization, the absence of a strong and charismatic leader, having no body of “sacred literature” to define and facilitate its practices, and the likelihood of stiff resistance from larger traditional faith groups within the U.S.
However, The Barna Group warns that because of the popularity of spell casting
and other magic rituals, “Many young adults will not consider themselves to be Wiccan,” the report states, “but will adopt some of its practices and thinking alongside their more traditional religious views and behaviors.”
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