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Monday, July 11, 2011

Pagan or what? Australian census.

The census will be taken in August.  On the question of religion, members of the Pagan community are trying to figure out what to put that will accurately convey how many of us there are. The trouble is that on the census form we are listed under Nature Religions, as follows (an excerpt from a letter to a friend from the Australian Bureau of Statistics):

Thank you for your enquiry concerning the religion question in the 2011 Census.

Paganism is included in the Australian Standard Classification of Religious Groups (ASCRG), as a separate output category in the Classification Counts produced for Religious Affiliation from the 2006 Census. It forms part of the broader Nature Religions group.

The classification structure of this group is:

613 Nature Religions
6130 Nature Religions, nfd (not further defined)
6131 Animism
6132 Druidism
6133 Paganism
6134 Pantheism
6135 Wiccan/Witchcraft
6139 Nature Religions, nec (not elsewhere classified)

If a response of Pagan is qualified with additional information such as Druid or Wiccan, this additional information will be used in classifying the response. For example, Pagan Wiccan would be classified as 6135 and Pagan Celtic would be 6133. Pagan alone would be classified as 6133.

Obviously this is wrong in a number of ways. For instance most Wiccans, Druids and others see ourselves as coming under the broader umbrella of Paganism and regard it as synonymous with Nature Religions, not a subordinate category. There are also various strands of Paganism not listed.

For some years there has been a big push for Wiccans, Druids, Ceremonial Magicians, Voodoun practitioners and so on and others to list themselves as ‘Pagan dash’ i.e. ‘Pagan — Wiccan’, ‘Pagan — Druid’, etc. in the hope that this would swell the official numbers of Pagans and give us some weight as a body of people to be taken seriously by Governments. In the light of the last paragraph of the letter above, that is obviously not the case. Now we are being asked, instead, to put just ‘Pagan’ on the census form so as to have the desired effect. The idea is that once we have got that message across, then we can work towards further educating the statisticians. We see the various kinds of Paganism as being not unlike the various denominations of Christianity, and we’d like the census form to reflect this.

Others in the Pagan community think we should continue to use ‘Pagan dash’, so that we don’t rob the various sub-groups of Paganism of their true numbers. Apparently, if the numbers get big enough, they may rate upgrading to a primary category. (Come to think of it, there are various ‘denominations’ of both Wicca and Druidry too.) These people also argue that after the census we might be able to analyse the data and make a case for changes to the listing — but that won’t work if we don’t stick to our specific designations. 

Some, like me, are still in confusion. I’ll probably end up putting ‘Pagan’ without further qualification. After all, my background and practices are highly eclectic. I could truthfully claim to be a Wiccan, a Druid, a ceremonial magician and a shaman. Just to complicate matters, I am sometimes invited to speak at the local Spiritualist Church, and I have no problem accepting. (Nor do they have any problem with me as a Goddess worshipper.) But the truth is I identify as a witch, albeit one who has been influenced by other paths. I tend to call myself a ‘contemporary eclectic Wiccan’. I’d like to at least put Wiccan. If I were to put ‘Pagan — Wiccan’ that’s where I’d be placed, so why not be direct about it?  On the other hand, if ‘Pagan dash’ achieves nothing, it might be worth opting for ‘Pagan’ alone this time.

In the end we’ll all make up our own minds. Pagans are much inclined to think for themselves! In any case, I thought it would be remiss of me not to address the question in this blog. The least I can do is lay out the issues before you, so that you may come to your own conclusions.


Mark Hepworth of PAN  (Pagan Awareness Network) points out that some people have in the past been afraid to admit to any of the Pagan faiths for fear of repercussions. It’s sad but true that marriages, jobs and friendships can be lost because of our spiritual paths — but not via the census. The information is highly confidential and very well guarded. So, Aussie Pagans, put something truthful!

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