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The status and increased following of Nature Religions in Australia

By Philip Hughes and Sharon Bond - posted Monday, 29 September 2003

Nature religions are the fastest-growing group of religions in Australia. Between the 1991 and 1996 Censuses the number of people following nature religions, as defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, rose 130 per cent. In 2001 the growth in nature religions showed a 140 per cent rise - 24,156 people, or 0.13 per cent of the population - since 1996. This means that nature religions have attracted an additional 20,000 people in the decade.

The term "nature religion" is somewhat loose. It includes Druidism, Paganism, Pantheism, and Wicca or Witchcraft. Generally, groups that have developed in the West are included in this category but so is animism, which is found in many ancient cultures and which refers to the recognition of spirits in natural objects. Australian traditional Indigenous religions have not been included.

The 2001 Census reported that of all nature religions Paganism (see below) was the largest, comprising 44 per cent of the category, and Wicca or Witchcraft (see below) the second largest (36 per cent).


Sixty-four per cent of those identifying with one or other of the nature religions lived in Australian capitals. Generally agricultural communities are more likely to identify with mainline Christian denominations.

Melbourne had the largest number of people aligned with nature religions (4155), and 74 per cent of Victoria's total lived there. Sydney had the next largest number (3903) but this represented a smaller proportion of the state total (56 per cent) than for Victoria. Brisbane had the third greatest number (2457) but was very similar to the proportion living in the rest of Queensland (2406). Perth had about 2000 followers, Adelaide had slightly fewer, Northern Territory and Tasmania fewer again.

Characteristics of nature religion followers

More females were aligned with nature religions as a whole - 63 per cent compared to 37 per cent males. Over three-quarters of those affiliated with Wicca or Witchcraft, and almost two-thirds affiliated with Paganism, were women. The other nature religions were male dominated. Two-thirds of men said they followed Druidism, and 57 per cent said they followed Pantheism. Although not included in the nature-religion category, Satanism was also male dominated (79 per cent).

Nature religions had a younger age profile than all major religious groups in the 2001 Census. Seventy-four per cent of people who followed a nature religion were under 40 years of age, though only 45 per cent of the total population was under 40. Fifteen-to-29-year-olds alone accounted for almost half those belonging to nature religions (47 per cent), though 15-to-29 year-olds constituted slightly over one-quarter of the total population (26 per cent). People over 50 accounted for only ten per cent of the group, while people over 50 made up 36 per cent of the total population.

More people born in Australia identified with nature religions than people born elsewhere; slightly more than one-fifth were married; and one-fifth had attended university (a number of major religious groups had higher rates of university attendance).

Nature religions had more employed people (59 per cent) than the total population (56 per cent) but more unemployed people (12.5 per cent) than any major religious group, and more than the population as a whole (4.5 per cent). Of the employed nature-religion followers, more earned less than $600 per week (73 per cent) than the general population (64 per cent).


Nevertheless, nature religion followers held various jobs and were over-represented in areas such as professional and associate professional employment, and in the clerical, sales and service fields, as well as the community service, health and education industries, and the recreation, hospitality, personal and other services industries.


Between 1996 and 2001 the number of people affiliated with Paganism rose considerably from 4353 in 1996, to 10,632 in 2001 - a rise of 144 per cent.

While Pagans date their origins to early-Christian times, Paganism as we know it today (sometimes known as Neo-paganism), is very much a Western, 20th-century invention, an eclectic spirituality that draws on a range of resources to create meaning. Sometimes it is promulgated as an alternative or in opposition to institutionalised religions, particularly Christianity.

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Article edited by David Paterson.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This is an edited version of an article first published in the Christian Research Association Bulletin, Pointers, Volume13, no.2, June 2003.

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About the Authors

Rev. Dr Philip Hughes is the Senior Researcher at the Christian Research Association. He is a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, although originally ordained in the Baptist Church, and is also employed by Edith Cowan University on projects on church and community, and insecurity and wellbeing.

Sharon Bond is a research assistant at the Christian Research Association.

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