The Booger Man’s gonna get you if you don’t watch out. That’s the media’s message in the finding that at last there are more witches and wiccans than Presbyterians out there, waiting to pounce.
Presbyterians are no longer the targets of the witches, who fly to earth on any runway and park their broomsticks against whatever church or conventional institution lies at hand. The statistics of church membership lend themselves to be easily distorted by media analysts who don’t know much but are reluctant to let slide an opportunity to wish church folk ill.
As media controversies go, this one is thin soup, but inflating the number of pagans, wiccans, heathen and the ungodly is great click-bait for Internet news sites. A lurid headline is about as deep as many Internet readers are willing to go in pursuit of knowledge and learning.
The media is particularly adept at finding surges and tsunamis against the conventional and the traditional that no one else can see. Comparing the number of formally enrolled Christians to the number of estimated Muslims is favorite media evidence of a surge of Islam in America, like the supposed surge in witchcraft cited by Newsweek as evidence that “Number of Witches Rises Dramatically Across U.S. as Millenials Reject Christianity.” Breitbart finds “Witchcraft Booming in America, More Witches Than Presbyterians.” The London Daily Telegraph reports that “Witchcraft Moves to the Mainstream in America as Christianity Declines.”
The Pew Research Center has estimated that only four-tenths of 1 percent of Americans identify themselves as wiccan or pagan. This is about the number of transgendered Americans, but witches and wiccans make far less noise and are not as in-your-face as the LGBTQ folks are.
The media is forever on the scout for fads, fancies and crazes, so the idea that the millennials are surging to swell the ranks of wiccanhood, particularly at the expense of a Christian denomination with a reputation for rectitude and conventional righteousness, is a fancy too good to be true. It neatly fits a narrative.
There is no official accounting of how many witches fly across the night sky, nor the number of wiccans stirring the pot while chanting “Double, double, toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Boiling and bubbling is exactly the reputation and impression the witches and wiccans of America are trying to overcome. Whatever else they’re trying to overcome is not clear. Wiccans are fond of saying they “have no high authority, no single leader, no prophet and no bible,” which makes witchcraft, a do-it-yourself religion if religion it is, perfect for a do-it-yourself age of millenials and media that believe in nothing but their own wisdom and goodness.
Wiccans, whose beliefs originated in the last century in England, once tried to define enough traditions and beliefs and organize themselves into the Council of American Witches. They met in Minneapolis to “attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of like forces of the moon and the seasonal Quarters and Cross quarters.” You might think this would be just what Elizabeth Warren needed when she was all but evicted from her tribe (if any).
The witches and wiccans want to separate themselves from voodoo, shamanism and nut cakes, of whom there is no shortage, and “dispel many myths about witchcraft, distinguish it from Satanism and other misconceptions in the eyes of the general public, such as proliferated in the generals press media.”
Well, good luck with that. So now they’re even going after Halloween. Is nothing sacred? One of the “13 Principles of Wiccan Belief” is that witches and wiccans “conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifesting through polarity, as masculine and feminine, and that this came Creative Power lies in all people and functions through the interaction of the masculine and feminine.” This was in that unenlightened day when there were only two sexes, before the idea of sex was discarded and we all became engendered, like it or not. Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield were reduced from sexpot to genderpot, and life has rarely been the same since.
The witches-in-pursuit of Presbyterians story started in an obscure journal that compared an estimate of the number of witches against the number of enrolled members of one of the several flavors of Presbyterians. The number of self-identified Presbyterians is actually five times the number of self-identified witches and wiccans.
“Witch talk is fun,” says Mark Tooley (a Methodist), who conducts the widely read Institute of Religion and Democracy blog, “and spuriously claiming that witches outnumber Presbyterians was too delicious to avoid. That, along with hyperbolic assertions about Christianity’s implosion and paganism’s surge.”
That’s not a Booger Man out there, anyway, says Mr. Tooley. “Much more numerous Christians in America likely cause more trouble than witches.”
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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