Shamanism, pagans and wiccans: trends from the England and Wales census

There are more pagans, fewer French speakers and 2.5 million households are of more than one ethnic group

1) Shamanism is on the rise

Shamanism is expanding faster than any other religion, with the number of people saying they practise it rising from 650 in 2011 to 8,000 in 2021 in England and Wales. The result might prove controversial, as the Shamanism UK website asserts “it is not a religion, more an authentic expression of mankind’s spirituality”.

2) Pagans and wiccans are becoming more established

More established are pagans, who number 74,000 people (up from 57,000 in 2011) and who gather most in Ceredigion, Cornwall and Somerset, and wiccans, who number 13,000. Wicca is sometimes described as a witchcraft tradition whose roots lie in pre-Christian religious traditions, folklore, folk witchcraft and ritual magic.

3) Romanian is the fastest growing language

“Bine ati venit!” Welcome to the fastest growing language in England and Wales: Romanian. 472,000 people now describe the romance language as their main tongue – up from 68,000 in 2011. The centre of the Romanian-speaking population is Harrow in north-west London.

4) There are more mixed ethnicity households

The census recorded that 2.5 million households consisted of members identifying with two or more different ethnic groups – an increase of half a million on 2011. Among individuals identifying as mixed ethnicity the largest increase was among those identifying as “other mixed or multiple ethnic groups” rather than white and black, or white and Asian.

5) Cornish people are feeling more Cornish

In Cornwall 14% of the population (80,000 people) selected only a “Cornish” identity – an increase from 9.9%, or 53,000, in 2011.

6) There are fewer French, Gujarati and Bengali speakers

Languages you are less likely to hear as someone’s main tongue in England and Wales are French, reflecting a fall in the number of people identifying their nationality as French (down from 147,000 to 120,000), and Gujarati and Bengali, perhaps suggesting successive generations after earlier migrations from south Asia are speaking those languages less.

7) Polish is most widely spoken after English and Welsh

On the rise, though, is Polish, now the most popular main language after English and Welsh. To have the best chance of hearing it, head to Boston in Lincolnshire, a hotbed of Brexit support in the 2016 referendum, where 5.7% of the population – about 4,000 people – speak Polish as their main language.

The Polish restaurant in Boston, Lincolnshire
The Polish restaurant in Boston, Lincolnshire. Photograph: David Sillitoe/The Guardian

8) Manx Gaelic speakers are in single figures

The rarest language in England and Wales is Manx Gaelic, which is spoken as a main language by just eight people, followed by Ulster Scots (16) and Irish Traveller Cant (36). Those worrying about the demise of Cornish can rest a little easier: 10 more people said it was their main language than in 2011 (567 people in 2021) and Yiddish has undergone a mini-revival, up from fewer than 4,000 speakers as a main language to 5,356 over the decade.

9) There was a small rise in numbers of Buddhists

Despite the growth in mindfulness meditation practice over the last decade, the number of people following Buddhism, from which the practice derives, saw just a modest increase of 0.1 percentage points, from 249,000 to 273,000 people identifying as such in England and Wales. The highest concentration of Buddhists was again found in Rushmoor in Hampshire – home to the Aldershot Buddhist Community Centre – where the census counted 4,732, up from 3,092 a decade ago.

10) There are more British Sign Language users

British Sign Language (BSL) was the main language of 22,000 people – an increase of over 6,000 since 2011. The hotspot is Derby, with 400 users, and much of this is likely to be down to the location of the Royal School of the Deaf.


Robert Booth, Carmen Aguilar García and Pamela Duncan

The GuardianTramp

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