Paganism in the UK Census 2011

by JoHarrington

On March 27th 2011, a census was taken in Cornwall, England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The results are out with surprising faith alliances for Britain's Pagans.

In theory, every person in the United Kingdom was accounted for in the census held on the night of March 27th 2011. They were all supposed to have filled in truthful and accurate information.

Given the large amount of people who spoiled or refused to return their papers, or who recorded incorrect details about themselves, there's plenty of scope for leeway. But nevertheless, it's as close a snap-shot as is available.

So what did it tell us about Britain's Pagan community? And what might it all mean?

Registering Pagans in the United Kingdom Censuses

It does matter. The census statistics guide government spending and policies. If Pagans are represented, then they cannot be ignored.

The 2011 Census of the United Kingdom was only the second time in history that British people had been asked about their religious beliefs.

In 2001, following a directive from the Pagan Federation, I recorded myself as a Pagan.  In 2011, having totally missed the same directive, I duly informed the government that I am a Wiccan. 

That's great for future genealogists.  They will never have to guess precisely what denomination of Pagan I am; but not so great for the pundits thriving on such dilutions.

On both occasions, ten years apart, the Pagan Federation had requested a tick box, which merely said 'Pagan'.  The National Statistics Office refused. 

This wasn't so outlandish a proposal as it may appear.  The major Abrahamic religions are all listed under an umbrella title, alongside a tick box.  The Pagan community is scattered across all of our parts.

The ultimate effect of this is to make us appear more invisible at a glance.  This is despite the 2001 census revealing that Pagans constitute the seventh largest religious group in Britain.

In 2011, we were the largest umbrella group under 'Other Religions'.  It's a figure that grows even more, once you add in all of the disparate denominations, which would come under that term, if Paganism were treated the same as Christianity, Islam or the rest.

The Dilution of Pagan Census Statistics

Without a tick box to collate us under the umbrella category, many of us scattered across the Pagan denominations. The group figures were accordingly less.

In order to get the right answer, the right question must first be asked. 

In the 2011 census, the spirituality (or lack thereof) question was plain enough.  It merely asked 'what is your religion?'  

To pre-empt the issue of those not having a religion being forced to participate, the first answer was 'no religion'.  The entire section was also a voluntary question.

That latter fact may have hidden some Pagan statistics.  While not openly persecuted in the streets, there are still situations where declaring your Paganism in governmental data may not be entirely wise. 

Occasionally reports still emerge of Pagans losing their jobs, as teachers or public servants.  It's still a religion which is either not taken seriously or feared by some sectors of society.  Faced with doubt or anxiety, it is entirely possible that some Pagans played safe here.  They simply ignored the question.

For the rest, we had that last tick-box, followed by boxes in which to write down our actual denomination.  In 2001, I wrote Pagan in that space.  In 2011, I wrote Wicca.  My religion didn't change during the intervening ten years.  I just switched from generalization to specifics.  Had a tick-box actually said Pagan, I would have opted for that instead.

This renders it incredibly difficult to pick the Pagan religions out of the ensuing mass.  For example, the Pagan Federation frequently use the figure of 42,262 Pagans, based on the 2001 census results.  I make it 40,430. 

Are they fudging the facts?  No.  They just know the names of more Pagan religions than I do, so can pick them out of the long list of resultant faith groups listed in the census data.

Paganism in the 2001 Census

Pagan                30,569

Wicca                   7,227

Druid                    1,657

Celtic Pagan           508

Heathen                  278

Ancestor Worship     98

Asatru                       93

Statistics from personal archives.

Paganism in the 2011 Census

Pagan      56,620

Wicca       11,766

Druid         4,189

Heathen    1,958

Witchcraft  1,279

Statistics from the Office for National Statistics.


The Number of Pagans Nearly Doubled in Britain

However, you might not notice that, if you don't have a faith glossary sitting alongside and the patience to go through a massive list.

Taken as a whole, there are nearly twice as many people registering as a member of a Pagan religion, when the 2001 and 2011 censuses are compared.

By the time the Pagan Federation have examined the list, there may be more.  I missed, for example, Occult, New Age and Pantheism off my statistics.  They may fall under our auspices without me realizing, as I didn't look them up to see.

However, spread across these denominations, the figures appear artificially small, in comparison to the 'tick-box' religions.  Paganism was not treated the same as, say, Christianity.  With the latter, all Church of England, Catholics, Baptists, Methodists and all of the rest were counted together.  We were not.

It's details like this which skew the statistics in ways which render them practically nonsensical to interpret.  Particularly as a longitudinal or cross-denominational study. 

The 'tick-box' religious people were encouraged to form together to present large trunks; the Pagans could be dismissed as so many tiny twigs.

Such things do matter when it comes to the legislature.  On the same day as the 2011 results were released, the British government announced its intention to legalize same sex marriage. But the Church of England and Church of Wales were also prohibited from performing them in the same legislation.  Their numbers, influence and anti-gay marriage stance had carried the day right into the proposed law books.

A Pagan protest (as unlikely as it may be in that particular issue) would have been more likely to be overlooked or rejected.  Just as the Office of National Statistics were able to do in denying the right of a tick-box, simply because the census states that our numbers aren't great enough to effect consideration.

Books about the Pagan Religions

Learn more about all of the religions which fall under the umbrella term of Paganism.

Pagans in the Census Used to Bolster the Christian 'Faith' Argument

One of the more surreal responses to the religious data was watching Paganism being indirectly used to defend Christianity against Atheists.

The 2011 UK census revealed a sharp decline in the number of people identifying as Christians. It was down 13% on the previous figures, describing the religious beliefs of just 59% of Britons.

This still makes it the largest group of all, but when viewed in historical terms, it's a highly significant fall. 

At the same time, the number of people identifying as 'no religion', Atheist, Humanist or simply ignoring the question rose expeditiously. It accounted for a quarter of the population. 

As the mud-slinging began, the Church of England published a press release to counteract it.  Reverend Arun Arora played down the decline in British Christianity by looking at religion as a whole.

"When all faiths are taken together, people of faith account for two-thirds of the nation - two in every three people identify themselves as having a faith."

That includes the Pagan religions.  All of those writing Pagan, Wiccan, Heathen et al., would be considered 'people of faith' in Rev Arora's world view; and that is justified as an argument against those who would point out the prevalence of the non-religious.

Naturally, he went on to acknowledge that the Church of England faced challenges in modern Britain.  But my jaw had already dropped at the Pagan inclusion in his rhetoric.  It seems only (*counts on my fingers*) two decades ago that I was being thrown out of a multi-faith conference, for 'making a mockery' of the proceedings.

I had dared to suggest that Paganism may be considered as valid a faith as Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism and Jainism.  I had politely requested that I, as a High Priestess, may take my place on the panel along the other religious leaders.

Only in the face of the greater 'danger' of Atheism does it appear that Pagans might actually have our day.  Personally, I'm not sure that I want it on those terms.

Updated: 12/14/2012, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 12/23/2012

Thank you.

Saying that Atheism is a religion is problematic, because their very ethos is that there are no deities. If we're taking religion as a belief in a supreme being or beings, then they're not. But it is a convenient label to stick them into religion. It allows us to compare and contrast belief systems. If we're taking religion as a belief system, then they have to be included.

Buddhism has always seemed a beautiful way to me. It was founded as a reaction to the empire building of people like the Assyrians, Egyptians and, more importantly, those in India. It stood out at the time as the only religion/way of life which wasn't advocating taking over other people's land and committing mass genocide. It seems to have stayed true to those principles ever since.

I used to work for a Mexican company, so I could see this Mayan end of the world thing coming up. The Maya themselves wanted no part in the panic. They saw it solely as ending one calendar and beginning another. You've had to deal with the fall out as an astrologer? Awww! {{{cyber hugs}}}

As for the rest, I agree wholeheartedly with you. Though if we all agreed on one religion, that would be so boring. I love the fact that there are so many different ways of viewing the world. It stops our knowledge pool becoming stagnant.

JeanBakula on 12/23/2012

Interesting piece, Jo. Atheists are a religion too, right? I lean towards some of the Buddhist ways, like the middle path, and I love nature. I am still searching, but feel Pagan at heart! I'm glad to see people are taking Paganism seriously. Being an Astrologer, I've had people writing and panicking about the Solstice and the end of the Mayan calender. Our calender ends every year, maybe they had another one and it's lost. My understanding is that it is time for new ideas of cooperation to be ushering their way in, for the Age of Aquarius. We have to take care of each other. People must take the best and logical ideas of their religions, and basically agree on one. All this "my religion is better than yours" is so pious and silly. And we have to get busy as we have been terrible stewards of the Earth. Well, probably not you. I have been taking my own bags to the supermarket for years, and fighting developers who won't leave any land unpaved. I do like the Pagan holidays, they make sense.

JoHarrington on 12/18/2012

Both Heathen and Pagan are claimed words, insofar as I can tell. Pagan comes from the Latin and means, in effect, those living out in the country. The last to convert to Christianity, as they weren't in the court of kings, the older religion became the pagan religion, or peasant religion if you prefer. Ditto those living on the heathlands, the heathen.

The response of the people was pretty, 'yeah, heathen/pagan and proud!'

Many, if not most, insults and swearwords begin with snobbery and an attempt to marginalize. The C-word relates to a particularly strongly supported Goddess and Her priestesses. She was difficult to shift, when the mass conversation to Christianity began throughout the Roman Empire. But the Christians eventually did win. Her name is still seen as the worst swearword that we've got.

All hail Cunti/Kunda/Cunina!

Ember on 12/18/2012

I had no idea, until reading this, that Heathen was a religion. I thought it was, I suppose, a sort of insult. And the funny thing is, I've heard of their gods/goddesses, such as Loki and Freya.

I never fail to constantly learn things from you, whether were talking or I'm reading your writing XD

JoHarrington on 12/12/2012

i have to agree with your friend on that one, though there's been much tinkering and refining during the intervening centuries. If I wasn't Pagan and therefore aware that my 'vote' counts here, I'd have so listed myself as Jedi.

Heathen is a religion. It's older than Christianity. It's a Germanic/Scandinavian religion, which has a pantheon including Woden, Freya, Tyr, Loki et al. One of the reasons that it has such a bad name is because those in Northern Europe held out against Christian conversion for so long. Hel is one of their Goddesses too, and you know what happened to that good lady afterwards!

Ember on 12/11/2012

So, I was reading this on my lunch break at work, and someone asked what I was reading, and I told him about it and he was all really interested. He read over my shoulder for a bit, before commenting, 'well if you think about it, essentially every religion is pagan or at least has deep pagan routs from which they draw their traditions.'

He's also my friend I was telling you about that is really into yoga... I later mentioned to him what you had told me about persons declaring themselves as Jedi, and he responded that it'd make for a better religion than most, in practice, and would probably even end up looking a bit like a pagan religion of sorts... I asked how he meant and compared it to yoga as one example with things like meditation practice, and being centered... At which point he started play fighting around kitchen with a baguette (see, light saber).

What exactly is heathen? Like, why would someone want to call themselves that?

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