Out of the Shadows: Wicca Grows in Austin and Beyond

…Mary Caldwell has spiky pink hair, tattooed arms and works in customer service for a software company. She’s also the leader of a Wicca meet-up that gathers every other Monday at Monkey Nest Coffee on Burnet Road.

…as well as rituals and personal experiences with spirits. Recently, some members of the group had visited a local cemetery to commune with spirits.

“Some of the people in the group just see them, some just hear them and some of them just smell them,” said Caldwell, 44. “It was great fun.”

Wicca is a modern version of ancient pagan religions, created in England and brought to the United States in the 1960s. Its followers worship a goddess and a god, honor the Earth and practice ritual magic…

“We believe that everything is part of the One,” said Ed Fitch, 80, a Wiccan senior high priest and a member of Caldwell’s meet-up group, one of several Wiccan or witches’ groups in Austin. “Everything in the universe is linked to everything else in the universe.”

…The American Religious Identification Survey, which periodically surveys 50,000 Americans, said the number of self-identified Wiccans increased to 342,000 in 2008, up from 134,000 in 2001. The 2008 figures are the most recent available.

Wicca’s growth tracks the changing religious landscape in the U.S., as a growing number of people leave established religions and become either unaffiliated or switch to alternative religions. About 5.9 percent of Americans followed a non-Christian faith in 2014, up from 4.7 percent in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center,

“The number of people who have institutional affiliation are declining in general, so [Wicca] is part of a larger trend,” said Jennifer Graber, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Texas at Austin. “People are not aligning themselves in traditional religious ways.”

…“We don’t just have god, who in Christian values is a white male. We’ve got a goddess. They are equal to each other.”

…Caldwell dabbled in Wicca when she was a teenager, but said her interest faded as she grew up and had children. It was not until eight years ago that she became fully devoted the religion.

…“It’s funny, because I’ve got people who are devoted Catholics coming to me and saying, ‘I’ve got a problem, and can you do a spell for me?’ ” she said.