Pagan, Wiccan,’Witch,’ Or None?
How Do You Identify?
There is a little bit of confusion especially amongst outsiders as to what differentiates Wicca, Paganism, and witchcraft. Making matters even worse is pop culture’s negative view of these spiritual practices and the fragmented definitions from self-proclaimed gurus. Truth be told, they are very closely related but yet different. One is a religion, another a craft and the other is sort of an all-encompassing “buzzword”. One can identify with any of them and yet not be associated with the other two.
I’ll be going over how they came to be, the differences and nuances between paganism, Wicca, and witchcraft.
What Is Paganism?
The word “pagan” is said to have been derived from the Latin word “paganus”, which has various meanings, one of which is “villager”. In ancient Rome, the individuals who chose to hold onto their beliefs of a god outside of the Christian god lived in rural villages, so over time, anyone who didn’t adhere to Christian beliefs became known as a pagan.
Paganism according to Merriam-Webster dictionary is defined as a religion that has many gods or goddesses. Therefore, it polytheistic (serving multiple gods) in nature. This isn’t all true. Some pagan religions believe in a god and goddess of equal power and divinity, while other pagan practices focus all their worship on a single deity, which is sometimes the earth itself. Although the dictionary might call paganism a religion, it hardly is. It is more of an “umbrella” term used mostly by Christians to describe people who serve “false gods”. There are a lot of religions with their own unique belief systems under paganism, some of which are Wicca, Druidism, Reconstructionism, Heathenry, and others. Some of these religions have their roots in the distant past, way before Christianity came to be.
What is Wicca?
Wicca is a religion founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s. As earlier stated, Wicca is a religion under the umbrella of paganism. Wicca itself also has some sub-categories, there’s the eclectic, faerie, Celtic and Gardnerian Wiccan practices. Some Wiccans believe in both a God (The Horned God) and a Goddess (The Triple Moon Goddess) and witchcraft is a common practice amongst Wiccans. This is not the type of witchcraft we often see in movies which employ dark magick, Wiccans abide by the Wiccan rede which in its simplest form states, “An it harm none, do what ye will”. Therefore, Wiccans do practice witchcraft but they don’t do curses or hexes or anything that would harm someone else.
Another core part of the Wiccan religion is the respect for nature, they honor the earth through ritual worship and constantly strive to live in harmonious balance with the earth. Wiccans celebrate 8 sabbats in a year in honor of the Wiccan God. These sabbats occur at the winter and summer solstices, the equinoxes and at other times in the year. The festivals which honor the Wiccan goddess are known as Esbats. Esbats are usually held when there is a full moon.
Unlike other religions, Wicca has no “bible” or a definite place of worship. Part of the appeal of being Wiccan is that Wiccans are pretty free to navigate the Wiccan religion as they see fit so long as they respect and care for the earth, which is in fact divine.
What is Witchcraft?
Witchcraft, as the word implies is a craft, or a practice. Anyone, irrespective of your religious beliefs can dabble into witchcraft. A lot of pagan religions inculcate the practice of witchcraft into their religion while others don’t. At its core, witchcraft is the practice of manipulating energy either from nature, from the divine or from within to achieve a particular outcome.
In some sectors, anyone who indulges in witchcraft is a witch while others feel that one needs to be initiated into a coven or be part of a widely recognized pagan religion to be considered a witch. Essentially, witchcraft is a means to an end, it is just a tool. Anyone can use it as he or she pleases. You don’t have to be part of a coven or religion to practice witchcraft. Witchcraft is more skill than religion. And as I have earlier stated, there is SO MUCH MORE to witchcraft than black magick. Many witches don’t even dabble with black magick at all (and most stay away from blood magick, but we’ll talk about that later.) Witchcraft is most often used for a lot of good. Good intentions, positive vibes, and self-growth are all popular amongst the witch crowd.
Wondering if you’re a witch? Check out this blog on signs you may be a witch.
What Witchcraft is NOT:
Witches are not a cult, they do not worship satan, nor do they practice blood rituals. (For the most part, anyway.) Most witches are the lovely guys and gals who you see wandering about in gardens, picking up pretty rocks, and socializing with all of the cute neighborhood animals. They are often people you’re drawn to because of their outgoing or bright aura. Witches do not have to wear all black, they do not have to participate in bad magick, they do not have warty noses. Modern-day witches do not steal, whether that be something tangible or intangible. Most witches set out to help others and better their lives. While it’s fun to visualize the ladies of Hocus Pocus – they do not really encompass your modern witch. (Although I would personally be okay with being a Hocus Pocus type witch.)
Paganism Vs. Wiccan Vs. Witchcraft
Let’s take a look at a brief look at how they stack up.
- Wicca is a subset of paganism, Wiccans may or may not practice witchcraft, it depends on the individual or the group.
- Wiccans are pagans but not all pagans are Wiccans.
- Paganism is not just one thing but a group of different religions and belief systems. One of which is Wicca.
- Anyone is free to practice witchcraft; you do not have to be a pagan. Witchcraft isn’t meant for a select few alone, although it is a major part of some pagan religions. I, personally, have known men and women from all major religions who practice witchcraft.
- Most pagans and Wiccans have a reverence for the earth and believe it to be divine.
- The pagan religions do not teach evil or any other diabolical activities as portrayed in popular media.
- Unlike religions that usually involve a deity, witchcraft doesn’t require a deity. Witchcraft involves using freely accessible natural resources like herbs, to achieve the desired result. It could be to heal a sickness or to protect against some evil.
- Paganism, witchcraft, and Wicca all exist on their own and can be separately indulged in.
- What we now know today as Paganism and witchcraft have been around for centuries, long before Christianity or other modern religions came to be. Wicca, on the other hand, is fairly recent and was founded in the UK within the 1940s and 50s.
- Wicca is very much different from other pagan religions like Druidism, Shamanism, Hellenism and so on.
- Witchcraft, paganism, and Wicca do not involve Satan worship.
Religious Vs Spiritual: What if you don’t identify as either?
Do you identify as Pagan, Wiccan, or neither? Or something else altogether? Regardless of your response, it doesn’t matter. You can be a witch, or practice witchcraft, no matter how you religiously identify. You can be super religious and still practice witchcraft, because witchcraft is not a religion. It involves some form of spirituality, but that is completely up to the person and how they interpret their witchcraft. You do NOT have to be religious to be a witch! (And if you are religious, that’s cool too! Group hug!)
Don’t let anyone try to tell you how to be a witch. That is completely up to you. You can practice however you like, worship whomever you choose, and that’s 100% okay. We crystal clear? Good. Here’s the 5 things every basic witch needs.