I am an educated, middle-class, professional who also happens to believe that I am part of a larger ecosystem of life; that there is a divine spirit that dwells within all things; that there is an equal balance between the feminine and masculine aspects of nature (the Goddess and God); and that the human body, and sexuality for that matter, is not something to be a source of shame or fear, but rather celebrated in its variety of expression.
Several years ago, I discovered that there is a name for people like me: “middle-class Neo-pagan.”
Being a middle-class Neo-pagan in today’s world is kind of like — to paraphrase Charles Dickens — the best of times and the worst of times. On one hand, I don’t have to worry about being burnt at the stake for having reverence for nature, I don’t have to worry about losing my job for wearing a pentacle around my neck, and the huge increase in the number of people who are interested in neo-pagan philosophy and practice means that there are a lot more people like me.
On the other hand, most other people like me do not become involved in the local community in the same way that, say, middle-class Christians tend to do. So, being on this path can feel a bit lonely at times. I have often wondered whether I am a bit of a misfit in the neo-pagan world.
There have been numerous studies on the demographics of neo-pagans in the U.S. (for example, Voices from the Pagan Census: A National Survey of Witches and Neo-Pagans in the United States, Studies in Comparative Religion, by Helen Berger) that have consistently found that neo-pagans, when compared to the general population, have a higher level of education, are very tech savvy, lean toward the political left, and are solidly in the middle class. There are also a whole lot of us out there.
Although estimating the number of neo-pagans is difficult, as many people won’t admit to being neo-pagan because of the unfair stigma that is still attached to the word, what I found very interesting was an estimate from a marketing executive from Barnes & Noble who stated that the U.S. “pagan-buying audience” was approximately 10 million. This means that approximately one out of every thirty people in the U.S. spends their money purchasing pagan-related materials from Barnes & Noble. That doesn’t even take into account the large number of people interested in the neo-pagan path who don’t purchase anything from Barnes & Noble. That is a huge number of people!
My question is, where is everybody? There are currently just over 3 million people in the Twin Cities metro area. If one out of every thirty of them has at least an interest in neo-paganism, that is 100,000 people — most of whom are educated, middle-class professionals like me. Yet, when I attend a neo-pagan event, such as Pagan Pride Day that is held every October (tcpaganpride.org) there may only be a couple hundred people who show up, and many of them are more of a counter-culture group. While I have no judgment whatsoever about tie-dye, role-playing games, and railing against social institutions, that is just not me.
Fortunately, I finally found a neo-pagan community that has become my new home. It is a group that puts on a festival called Summerland Spirit Festival (summerlandfest.com). When I went last year, I met a chemist, several teachers, a lawyer, psychologists, corporate IT professionals, nurses, administrators, and all kinds of other people like me. It has always been important to feel a sense of belonging and support while traveling along my spiritual path. Having a spiritual home is important, and I hope that any other neo-pagan out there who don’t feel like they quite belong anywhere to keep looking.
You are not alone. There are a whole lot of us out there, and you too will find a spiritual home.