the rising popularity of America's fastest growing religion

Phyllis Curott is somewhat of a household name amongst Wiccans, having been public in the ‘faith’ for over 40 years. She secured legal rights for those identifying as witches, most notably the right to religious assembly, including winter festivities, many of which Curott publicly organized pre-COVID when outdoor gatherings produced minor risks.

Today, the Wiccan attorney and practitioner is celebrating one of the oldest traditions alive- the Winter solstice- and though celebrations are limited to small gatherings or private rituals, their purpose remains powerful.

“Every spiritual tradition is celebrating the return of the light,” said Curott, who serves on the board of trustees for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the oldest and largest interfaith organization.

The Winter solstice, also known as Yule, originated as a Norse tradition in which a giant log was burned to celebrate the return of the sun. It was believed that the sun was a giant wheel of fire that rolled back and forth. The word Yule stems from the Norse word ‘hweol,’ meaning wheel.

Reverence of nature, specifically the natural cycle of the seasons, is a core component to Wiccan spirituality and is known as the Wiccan Wheel of the Year, which contains the major solar and lunar events that each Wiccan ritual is based on. The Winter solstice is a solar event, marking the longest night and shortest day of the year, and is celebrated in December in the Northern Hemisphere.

Traditions vary from singing, dancing, and drumming, to specific rituals, usually involving candles and bright colors to represent the sun in its absence, per se.

“It’s a holiday of hope,” said Curott. “That in the darkest moment, the light is always present, and the light returns…it’s cyclical, that we move into periods of darkness, and then back into the light.”

Hope is especially meaningful for women, who make up most of the Wiccan population.

“I think one reason that [Wicca] is growing so rapidly and [has] been so meaningful for women and propelled by women, is because it offers them a spiritual home,” said Curott. “It is really the only faith tradition in the western context that experiences the Divine as not just male, but female… and has from the onset afforded a role to women as spiritual leaders.”

Wicca is publicly acknowledged as the fastest-growing spiritual practice in the United States, even though there is still confusion about what it really is, and the answer may be as broad as the questions raised.

An earth-based religion popularized in the 1950s, Wicca's origins are based in ancient, pre-Christian traditions, primarily the reverence of nature and multiple deities. ( As it is a personalized spiritual path, its practices, and even beliefs, vary greatly.

The word ‘wicca’ arose 5500 years ago, meaning wise one, or ‘wicce,’ referring to the feminine version of this. Wicce were elevated members of their communities respected for their vast spiritual knowledge and insight.

'Witch,’ however, has a different origin, appearing in the 1600s during the witch persecutions as a derogatory term for the accused.

During this period- which lasted over 300 years- women were subjugated to violence, torture, and of course, death by fire. Over 100,000 accused witches were killed worldwide.

They were no longer wise, spiritually gifted women, but the hideous, crooked-nosed hags, sometimes devil-worshippers, that people think of when they hear the word ‘witch’- far from the truth, but a projected fear of women and their autonomy by governments and religious organizations alike.

Beyond unfounded accusations, women were afforded little freedom and even subjugated to a torture device known as the witch’s bridle- a sadistic muzzle that would pierce the tongue if spoken, reserved for women who publicly spoke out against their husbands.  

Witch trauma- what Curott calls it- and it has persisted ever since.

“It’s a deep psychological wound that remains as a traumatic influence on the psyches, the souls, and the social positions of women,” said Curott.

The world is transforming, however, and Wiccans are boldly challenging the pervasive stereotype of the evil, ugly witch.

“So many women are willing to say, yeah, I’m a witch, I’m a Wiccan,” said Curott. “And so, by reclaiming that word… you’re taking back its power, you’re taking back your freedom, you’re taking back your revolutionary potential, and you’re beginning the process of healing the psychological, social wound of the witch trauma… and it’s powerful.”

Although not all Wiccans practice witchcraft or necessarily agree on its definition, Curott does not make a distinction between the two from a historical standpoint of the word’s origin, though she does differentiate between the different uses and understanding of magic and spellcraft.  

“When people think of Wicca… they think of folk magic. And a lot of the stuff on Instagram that’s popularized right now… it’s all about intention and will to get the things you want,” said Curott. “It’s very mechanistic… you know, I want a boyfriend and need a new job… you’re stuck in first gear.”

Approximately 956,000 Americans identify as Wiccan or Pagan, accounting for 0.3 percent of the total U.S population. With the growth of social media platforms, the numbers are steadily increasing, possibly accounting for over a million people in the U.S who practice Wicca.

Though many embark on this spiritual path to obtain their ‘wants,’ Curott believes that eventually, this urge for control is replaced by a deep reverence and respect for the earth, its natural cycles, and the creation that flows from it.

“But if [Wiccans] stay on course, they’ll get to the good stuff. And the good stuff is the real magic of creation,” said Curott, noting the magic is living in closeness with nature. “If our lives are happy and healthy and joyful and [we’re] making the world a better place. That’s what we're here for. That’s magic. That’s us participating in the magic of creation.”

This article has been republished from Renewed Awareness Magazine.

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