A new poll shows more than 20% of Americans believe in witches — but we can't judge, because we believe in some weird shit too.
The Gallup poll, which surveyed Americans believe in the paranormal, found that a full 41% of Americans believe in ESP. Thirty-two percent believe in ghosts, and 25% think astrology is legit. None of this is really all that surprising — I'm not a believer in ghosts, ESP, or star charts, but I've known plenty of smart people who believe in those things, and an interest in horoscopes seems so prevalent I'm surprised that 25% figure isn't higher (maybe people really are reading them "for entertainment purposes only"). But witches?! Twenty-one percent of Americans think some lady is going to put a hex on them? Turn them into a newt, perhaps?
Some portion of these witch-believers may be Wiccans, since witchcraft is part of their religion. But according to one estimate, Wiccans only made up 0.1% of the US population in 2001, and I kind of doubt their numbers have increased two-thousandfold since then. I'm forced to conclude that a big chunk of those who answered "yes" to the witch question are just fucking weirdos.
Then again, I'm one to talk. I may not be a believer in the paranormal, but I am a champion magical thinker. I'm deeply afraid of jinxes and I knock on wood like a madwoman. I'm convinced that bragging about or reveling in anything will immediately lead to its destruction — example: when I told someone I would never take off my grandmother's ring, I developed an allergy to it within a week. I think my magical thinking helps me maintain the illusion of an orderly universe, in which good things are always balanced with bad. In the absence of religion, it's all I've got.
I'm not sure that witches really make the world more orderly, but maybe belief in them comes from a similar place. Maybe it's easier to believe that evil comes from scary ladies who steal your toenail clippings than from life's horrifying randomness, which is shapeless and invisible and does not wear a silly hat. That said, I still think witches are bullshit. Except now I'm kind of scared of getting hexed.