What is a Witch? What is a Wiccan? Taking a Look at Witchcraft Terminology
There are a few words in pagan terminology that seem to cause some confusion among the witchcraft community. Some use these terms interchangeably when in fact they each have a slightly different meaning, both in terms of the meaning of the word and the meaning of how it affects the life of someone who identifies with the term.
In today’s post, we’re going to take a look at each of these pagan terminology terms to get a better understanding of how they differ from one another and how you can find the appropriate one to use for your personal style of witchcraft.
Defining the word Wicca
Wicca is a neopagan religion that was started by Gerald Gardner with the release of his book Witchcraft, Today in 1954. Around this same time, Gardner formed the Bricket Wood Coven with founding members and high priestesses Doreen Valiente, Lois Bourne, Patricia Crowther, and Eleanor Bone. These same women would go on to help spread the Wiccan religion throughout Great Britain, Australia, and the United States over time with the formation of new covens.
The spiritual belief system that Gardner presented as the Wiccan religion is said to have come from a coven he linked up with and was initiated into in New Forest, England. According to Gardner, these traditions came from a book of shadows based in early British Witchcraft that had been passed down through the coven over the years.
Although it is largely discredited by modern scholars ( for reasons we’ll go into more detail on at a later date ) the work of archaeologist Dr. Margaret Murray ( including The Witch-Cult of Western Europe from 1921 and The God of the Witches from 1931 ) proved to be quite influential on Gardener. He believed that these books were proof of a surviving witch cult in the UK, which made it easier for him to believe that those who came to him as a coven were the real deal.
Some believe that Gardener used the work of British occultist Aleister Crowley in the formation of Wicca. Indeed, what came to be known as the Wiccan Rede ( An Harm Ye None, Do What Thou Will ) and Crowley’s decree from Thelema ( An Harm Ye None Shall Be the Whole of the Law) have undeniable similarities.
There were also parts of Gardener’s book of shadows that were strikingly similar to the work of Crowley and Aldous Huxley. When questioned about these similarities Gardener stated that the book of shadows he received from the New Forest Coven during his initiation was fragmented so he had to fill in what he could and Crowley’s ceremonial magic was a good reference for this.
Later, the book of shadows was rewritten by Valiente who removed much of Crowley’s influence from the pages. However, clear similarities do remain.
Paganism is an umbrella term that is used to refer to many pre-Christian religions. The term comes from the Latin “Paganus” which translates to something along the lines of “rural” or “rustic”.
Put simply, these were the country folks living a simple life on the outskirts of early villages. While rulers and much of the aristocracy were quick to convert to Christianity in some regions, it was often those living off the land who were less likely to abandon the Old Gods their families had known for generations. Thus, there grew a need for a term to differentiate these followers of the Old Gods from the new Christians and the term pagan came into the conversation.
There are many different faiths and traditions that fall under the scope of paganism. Some of these traditions seem to have only existed in ancient times. Others are still followed by many in modern times.
A few of the better-known traditions that one may follow as a witch include Celtic paganism with deities such as Brigid or The Morrigan. The Norse paganism whose pantheon includes Loki, Thor, and Odin among many others. There are the Roman Gods and Goddesses who correspond to many Greek deities such as Artemis, Dionysus, or Aries. Perhaps some of the most mysterious are those deities in the Egyptian ( sometimes called Kemetic ) pantheon. This includes figures such as Ra, Thoth, Isis, or Sekhmet.
What is Witchcraft?
A witch is a practitioner of witchcraft. While the first two terms we’ve discussed can be seen as a type of belief system, witchcraft can be thought of as an action. It is the practice of doing magic. Now, there are a lot of different ways this can be done and methods vary greatly from one witch to the next.
Some of us use candle magic, some use visualization. Others do ceremonial magic or elaborate rituals. There is no right or wrong way to practice witchcraft. What is important is finding the method that works best for you.
So in summary, a Wiccan can be a witch but not all witches are Wiccans. Only those who follow the particular neo-pagan religion of Wicca are considered Wiccan. In addition, there are many different types of pagans such as Norse pagans, Atheist pagans, and others who may not consider themselves to be a witch because not everyone who enters this spiritual realm has an interest in participating in magic or ritual.
In addition, it’s up to each of us to decide which concoction of these three pagan terminology words we will become, and we must dedicate the time and effort to understand the meaning of each to us as an individual so that we can find the path that is most meaningful to us rather than just the one someone else tells us that we should walk.
I hope that this information on pagan terminology was helpful ( and didn’t just add even more confusion!) If any questions come up be sure to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer them. You can also find discussions on this topic in our Facebook group as well as the Discord channel ( coming soon ). We’ll be having group meditations, discussions on various topics in the realm of basic witchcraft, and much more!