Wicca and Neo-Paganism: A Primer for Counselors

Article excerpt

Wiccans and Neo-Pagans are a growing and historically marginalized group, yet little scholarship is available that addresses their specific counseling needs. The authors discuss the origins of Wicca and Neo-Paganism, population characteristics of Wiccans and Neo-Pagans in the United States, important terminology, and common themes of Wiccan and Neo-Pagan belief based on review of the literature. Also discussed are implications for how counselors can incorporate awareness of these knowledge domains into competent practice with Wiccan and Neo-Pagan clients.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2011) there are approximately 682,000 self-identified Wiccans and Neo-Pagans living in the United States. The number of Wiccans and Neo-Pagans recorded by the census doubled between the years 2000 and 2008 (Kosmin & Keysaç 2008). Ezzy and Berger (2009) asserted that this figure underestimates the number of self-identified Wiccans and Neo-Pagans and also excludes members of this population who are not open about their beliefs. Wiccan and Neo-Pagan communities have grown in part due to increased representation in popular media such as television and cinema (Berger & Ezzy, 2009) and the increase of information on Neo-Paganism available on the Internet (Adleç 2006). Wicca and Neo-Paganism are recognized as religions in the United States, and there are several national-level organizations recognized by the U.S. government to ordain Wiccan and Neo-Pagan ministers (Reuther, 2005). Scholarly research dedicated to this group has increased in the past two decades (Adler, 2006), affording counselors the chance to develop greater understanding of the needs of Wiccan and Neo-Pagan clients (Yardley, 2008). Spirituality and religion have implications for well-being and for improved client outcomes (Worthington, Hook, Davis, & McDaniel, 2011), yet little counseling scholarship has focused on Neo-Pagan spirituality or Neo-Pagans (including Wiccans) as a growing and historically marginalized group.

Highlighting how counselors can better serve Neo-Pagan clients is warranted given the extent of the Neo-Pagan population within the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011) and trends signifying that interest in and adherence to Wiccan and Neo-Pagan beliefs is increasing, particularly among youth and young adults (Ezzy & Bergeç 2009). These trends also intersect with the principles of multicultural counseling competence (Arredondo et al., 1996), spiritual and religious competence (Association for Spiritual, Ethical, & Religious Values in Counseling, 2009; Powers, 2005), and the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics (2005) to support the development of competency to work with clients of diverse backgrounds and worldviews. This text is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis but rather an overview of: (a) the origins of Wicca and Neo-Paganism, (b) common terminology, (c) population characteristics of Wiccans and Neo-Pagans, (d) common Wiccan and Neo-Pagan beliefs, and (e) how integration of these knowledge domains can help facilitate counselors' awareness and rapport-building skills with Wiccan and Neo-Pagan clients.

Origins and Definitions

During the Christianization of continental Europe, people who kept beliefs or rituals related to pre-Christian religions began to be referred to as pagans, from the Latin paganus, meaning country-person (Albrecht, 2007). The extent to which pre-Christian religions continued to be formally practiced within Europe is not fully known (Cornish, 2009; Hutton, 2007) but it is generally agreed that interest in pre-Christian pagan beliefs experienced a revival in Great Britain and the United States during the early 20th century (Berger, Leach, & Shaeffei; 2003). In the 1930s anthropologist Margaret Murray proposed her controversial theory that remnants of pre-Christian religions survived in Britain and other parts of Europe in the form of secret and group-oriented worship and that the European witch trials were an attempt to extinguish these practices (White, 2010). …