An attempt to estimate the number and distribution of Pagans in Italy

One of the questions I am most frequently asked, not only by journalists and scholars but also by people belonging to the pagan and neopagan community itself, concerns the actual number of people following pagan spiritual paths in Italy. This question has not received any reliable answer so far, as all that we could provide so far were gut feelings, wishes or wild guesses: in spite of some who tried to nominate unlikely “capitals of paganism”, as of today it was completely impossible to come up with a credible answer given that our general Census does not have a specific question regarding religious affiliation and that there is so far no scientific enquiry which has gone so far in depth as to pinpoint a group that, albeit growing in recent years, is still a very small minority.


For quite a long time I have myself believed it was nearly impossible to have reliable data about this, until it has been brought to my attention that statistical analysis are generally conducted with a rather small sample, normally between 500 and 1000 individuals. This has led me to reconsider several things and made me think that I was actually in possession of some data that could be used to make a rough estimate: I am referring here to the demographic Insights of Facebook pages, where users who “liked” the page are grouped according to their gender, age and geographical location. Since the Pagan Pride Italia had more than 2000 “likes”, I could start from here using these data as a statistical sample..


Obviously we have to make several things clear to begin with: first of all we are speaking of a very peculiar sample, which was not scientifically selectioned in order to represent the whole society; secondly, the data that we are going to evaluate do not represent the whole pagan and neopagan community, but rather those pagans which use internet, are on Facebook aand have Liked Pagan Pride Italia. This latter detail is especially relevant since I have found that while the vast majority of pagans use internet and most of them are on Facebook, yet there is a significant part of the communitiy, the part more tied to traditionalist paths, which shuns pages and fora which can be tied to neopaganism in general. We should therefore be aware that we are dealing with partial data, but still we are going to have a first estimate based on real data, and not just feelings.

First of all we have to specify that the situation we are going to discuss about has been portrayed on January 2013: at this date the Pagan Pride Italia page had 2574 Likes, 2183 of those from Italy. Unfortunately Facebook demographics does not list every single entry, but only the twenty cities which have the largest number of voters,so we need to estrapolate and integrate the data in order to reconstruct where the entries not listed are coming from. To this end I cross referenced this data with the General Census of 2011 and I begun calculating the percentage that each of this cities represented in its own region, to be able to estimate the number of non registered pagans in each different area. I will not repeat every single number here but I will send the relevant spreadsheets to anyone who would like to peruse them personally, at any rate using this method I estimated a total close to 6,000 units.


Nonetheless I was still a little perplexed by this method, given that not only it takes for granted that the number of pagans will be omogeneous inside each region, but there was the problme that I only had data for 12 out of 21 regions, so that I had no real way to make estimate on the 9 which do not have any city in the top twenty.


I decided therefore to try a different approach: I related the Likes of each city with its gross population, determining thus the percentage of pagans in each (an approximate guess of course, as stated at the beginning). Then I took all these percentages and established an average percentage that could therefore be the percentage of pagans on the general population of Italy; this percentage, as can be seen on the spreadsheets, is close to one every 10,000 inhabitants, meaning that we are back to an average estimate of about 6,000 pagans in Italy. If we want to integrate this number with those who do not use the internet or Facebok or that, belonging to a more traditionalist approach, do not read neopagan pages, I think we could say that we are looking at a number of pagans in Italy ranging between 6,000 and 8,000 individuals.


Concerning the distribution on the national territory, what is evident is the difference between Rome and the rest of the country, the former showing a perccentage of pagans over 2 every 10,000 inhabitants, ie twice the national average and far greater than any other single city registered. Nonetheless I have tried to enlarge the scope of my enquiry here, and I crosschecked my sample with the insights of friend pages which have graciously shared their data with me, for which I thank them deeply. These pages are, Wiccanews, PaganItaliani and the Shamanism page of Lorenza Menegoni.


The data cannot obviously simply be added up, since a lot of people is registered on more than one of these pages, so what I did was to compare the different cities and make an average of the five different entries, in order to have a list of averages. I have to say that, as it is obvious from the spreadsheets, the general trend has proved to be very omogeneous, with Rome having normally between two and four times more people registered than any other single city. In the general list of the averages,amongst the top five cities Rome is first with 38% of the rgistered pagans, followed by Milan with 13%, Naples with 8%, Turin with 5% and Palermo with 4%. If we consider the regions, we have a difference with the previous sample, with Lombardia preceding Campania, followed by Lazio, Sicilia and Umbria, whereas calculating the regional percentage Lazio was first in front of Lombardia, Emilia, Sicilia and Campania. Generally speaking, the majority of pagans reside in the North regions, with the Centre second followed by the South and then the Islands..


Once again I remember that this is an estimate on partial data and with a sample which was not scientifically selected, nonetheless it is a first rough estimate based on real data, not just on gut feelings. With all the faults that this might have, I offer it to the community as the basis for a first discussion, hoping that soon we will have the chance to have more reliable and complete data.