Last week, I promised to continue a lesson on witchcraft and wiccans in a follow-up on my writing about Halloween observances. Since that festival has recently passed, I would like to write you about the seriousness of a problem of the occult that has some connection with the American #2 holiday with regarding to record breaking retail sales. Though Halloween may seem to be an innocuous enough festival, there are some disturbing statistics concerning the “darker” side of this premier American celebration that should not go unnoticed. Ironically, last weekend, we hosted the pastor of the Catholic parish in Anoka, Minnesota, a city which bills itself as the “Halloween Capital of the World.”
The number of Americans who claim to be witches has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. An estimated 1 to 1.5 million people say they practice Wicca or paganism, a rise from an estimated 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, and over 300,000 in 2008.
In 2014, a Pew Research Center survey found about 0.4 percent of Americans actually identify themselves as Pagan or Wiccan, a significant increase over prior years. If accurate, the Pew data would suggest that there are more self-identified “witches” in the United States than members of some mainline Protestant denominations (e.g., according to 2017 figures, there were 1.4 million practicing Presbyterians in the U.S.).
Wicca is a form of modern pagan witchcraft that was begun about a century ago in the United Kingdom. Those who practice Wicca often refer to themselves as “witches.” There are other people who practice other forms of witchcraft and may not identify with the “Wiccan” or “pagan” label – meaning that the number of self-identified witches in the United States might actually be higher than reported.
Online, witchcraft has become increasingly popular and mainstream. One of its hashtags has been used nearly two million times on Instagram, featuring images of crystals, pentagrams, and people sharing their experiences as witches.
A Catholic priest known to me, who is pursuing doctoral studies in exorcisms, said that he wasn’t surprised by the increasing number of Americans interested in dabbling in witchcraft. The priest, whom I will not identify because of the overwhelming attention exorcist priests often receive, pointed to the increasing popularity of spiritualism in general, which includes yoga and ouija, and the need for instant results in American culture.
He theorized that people who are dissatisfied with their religion begin to look for a “quick fix magic.” So, while some witches differentiate between “white magic” and “black magic,” with black magic being intentionally malicious, he rejected the idea there could be any such thing as “positive” or harmless magic. “Both of them are associated with Satan, and he’s in charge of that,” the priest said.
Likewise, he said that people who embrace one form of witchcraft, whether to find love or solve a problem, may find themselves “trapped” in the world of the occult. He also personally had many experiences of people coming to him with issues that stemmed from something initially thought to be innocuous.
He stated that the modern appeal of paganism may stem from Christianity’s early roots. When Christianity first spread to pagan areas, such as England, Ireland, France, etc., the people who lived there were incredibly superstitious. Christianity was able to provide a sort of spiritual reassurance for them. “Christianity always has good news, and the good news is that the devil is overcome,” he said.
Now, he says that as people have begun to turn away from the message of Christ’s lordship they have begun to “glorify their own reason and understanding.” As a result, Christianity has become less appealing–and people return to the superstitious practices of long ago. A lack of faith in the Christian God coupled with the “very hedonistic society” of modern times adds to the appeal of the supposed quick fix of magic. “Anything we want, we have to have right away,” he said. “I mean, if I suffer, I need to have a solution. Even if you go to a hospital, you look at the chart and they always ask you ‘how do you feel [on a scale] from one to 10?’ And if you feel that your pain is too high, they will pump you with opioid painkillers.”
An unidentified priest-colleague of his said that he didn’t find it surprising that some who have turned away from Christianity would turn toward pagan worship. “Man is essentially a spiritual animal who seeks meaning beyond the ordinary and so is prone to worship powers beyond himself,” he explained.
The increase of self-identified “witches” could also be as a result of Satan, he said, who “is actively at work in the world seeking to drive as many people away from salvation in Christ as he can.” Satan, he said, does this “under the guise of principalities and powers that some people think are more novel and powerful than Christ. Sadly, they couldn’t be more wrong, and they need our prayers.”