Who would have thunk it?
While wicca might be a couple of decades older the modern US neo-pagan movement probably started 50 years ago.
According to the Huffington Post scholars think that contemporary paganism started when three organisations were formed. Feraferia, a wilderness mystery religion founded by Frederick Adams; New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn, an eclectic witchcraft tradition founded by Aidan Kelly and Tim (Oberon) Zell filed for incorporation of the Church of All Worlds.
The Church of All Worlds was probably the most important. It was granted official legal status was in 1968, making it the first Pagan state-recognised “church”. It began publishing the Green Egg newsletter in 1968, which became the most influential public forum for Pagans in the pre-internet days.
These neo-Pagans saw ancient paganism as a cure for modern industrial civilisation. They claimed to be reviving the best aspects of ancient pagan ways.
In Europe the pagan movement was a little more interested in reconstructing the religions of ancient pagans from surviving historical sources, however US Paganism borrowed from as many religious traditions, which would sit still long enough to be noticed. There was much less concern about historical authenticity.
They talked about thing like a “Pagan consciousness”, the experience of the immanence of divinity and the interconnectedness of all life.
One of the bibles of this movement was Robert Graves’ The White Goddess which was just as historically accurate as the neo-Pagan movement. It was also helped out by a broad interpretation of Jungian psychology. Beliefs which formed create a religion where divinity was immanent, there were more gods than you could poke a stick at. There was a commitment to environmental responsibility, and a fluid approach to ritual – often based around terrible poetry.
It was entirely unlike the pre-christian pagan movements, but that did not really matter – it worked and they didn’t.
It is estimated that there are a million Pagans in the United States, with over 100,000 in the United Kingdom. This is less than one half of one percent (0.5%) of the population in the U.S. While Christian denominations have been steadily shrinking over the decades, Paganism is growing.
A 2001 Canadian census had Pagans experiencing he greatest percentage growth of all religions in the country over a 20-year period, it is the same for Australia.
Now it is an umbrella term for a diverse group of people with varied beliefs and practices which includes eclectics, witches, druids, animists, Goddess worshipers, reconstructionists, polytheists, occultists, and myriad other varieties.
What most contemporary Pagans have in common, though, is that they look to ancient pagan religions and contemporary polytheistic religions (like Hinduism and the African diasporic religions) for inspiration. How they make use of these sources varies.