According to the newspaper The New York Times, America is currently experiencing a “religious revival.” However, they are not referring to “religions” in the literal sense, but neo-pagan movements.
The author of the article, David Brooks, is essentially analyzing the so-called “Wicca” movement. This pagan spirituality, born in the 1950s in Britain, combines elements of belief in shamanism, druidism, and Greco-Roman, Slavic, Celtic, and Nordic mythologies. Its followers, “wiccans,” venerate nature and engage in witchcraft, whose codes and imagery they borrow.
“In 1990, only 8,000 Americans self-identified as Wiccans. Ten years later there were 134,000.” In 2019, along with the other neo-pagan movements, there may be more than one million “practitioners,” thus posting the highest rate of growth of spiritual movements in a country with 326 million inhabitants.
David Brooks notes that “the followers of these beliefs have gone from being on the fringes to social and media visibility.” He observes “increasingly important convergences” between “esoteric mobility and social militancy.” One can thus find in American bookstores many books explaining how to use astrology or witchcraft to advance “liberal” causes. Thus, in recent years, “wiccans” have intensified their “struggle” against the American right. A group of 13,000 “resistant witches” have given themselves the task of regularly and publicly casting spells on conservative politicians. Figures such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, considered to be too conservative, or President Donald Trump have been targeted.
According to David Brooks, “Being occult is a way to announce that you stand on the fringe of society, that you stand against the patriarchy, against the heteronormative culture, and against the structures of oppression.” The success of these movements is also explained by the autonomy they leave to the faithful. “The emerging spirituality is a hodgepodge spirituality. Each person borrows practices from, say, Native American, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, and Soul-Cycle traditions and blends them in a way he or she finds moving.” For the author of the article, this is when “religion bows before individualism.”
The editorialist does not think, however, that this esoteric wave is “sustainable.” He doubts “it’s possible to have tight community and also total autonomy.” He also questions whether it’s possible to “detach spiritual practices from the larger narratives and cultures and still have something life-shaping.” For all that, David Brooks calls for taking these new phenomena seriously and understanding them according to the “major transitional change” that “is currently going through the world.” What we have here in front of us is a new outgrowth of American religiosity, born and raised in free examination, adopted by the “great forefathers,” and which has already given us Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and so many others.