17:22 GMT23 November 2020
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    Contemporary paganism is on the rise, with one to two million Americans estimated to be practising Wiccans, a higher number than those currently practising Presbyterianism. Helen Berger, an expert on contemporary paganism at Brandeis University, spoke to us about the growing popularity of the Wicca movement.

    Sputnik: Why do you think people are so interested in the paganism movement?

    Helen Berger: I think there's a lot of reasons, some of it has to do with that there's a goddess as well as a god - and for some groups there's only a goddess. So there's girl power or woman power or female empowerment. And the reason I say "girl power" is there are a group of young women who join, or girls, one could say, depending on their age, and so this is seen as empowering of them.

    I think there's also an emphasis on an earth spirituality and connecting to the earth and healing the earth and spiritually being in some way tied to the earth. And, of course, I think most of us can agree that the environmental crisis is the largest crisis that we're facing, internationally. I think the other part has to do with the religion emphasising individuals' spiritual gnosis, and that fits into a contemporary world. I think there are a lot of things that draw people into it. And I think this notion of the world being magical or mystical, is also very appealing.

    Sputnik: How widely celebrated is the festival of Samhain?

    Helen Berger: Among pagans, or among people in general, of course, in America, which is where I am speaking to you from, Halloween has been one of the biggest holidays of the year, secularly. I think it's the second-largest commercial holiday - the only one that's more commercial is Christmas. So, I forget how many tons of candy is normally sold at Halloween. Of course, this year everything is different because of COVID-19, but in most years people buy huge amounts of candy, myself included, to be given to children who come to the door. Honestly, this year we bought none.

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    And we will not turn on our light because of our concerns about the spread of the virus. But normally it is. But if you're talking about the actual religion, well, in America we have 1 - 1.5 million Wiccans.

    Certainly, this is the biggest holiday for just about all of them. In addition, some other people will celebrate with them, they may not be members of the religion, but in the same way that somebody might not be a Christian, but they might join friends or family for Christmas Eve celebrations. So, some people will join in to be part of the celebration to support their friends to see what happens.

    Sputnik: Do you think paganism will continue to grow in popularity?

    Helen Berger: It has been, at one point there was a huge increase that could be seen in censuses around the world; we don't include religious affiliation in our American census.

    But we had some good surveys, and it was shown to be steadily increasing. But then it sort of didn't level off. It sort of got slower, it was much slower. There was a massive increase and then a very slow increase. I think it's increasing again now. And I say that because of the growth on social media, of very young witches, mostly women, but not all women, but primarily young women or girls.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Halloween, culture, religion, paganism
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