Easily one of the most common questions I’ve seen across the internet regarding witchcraft is this: what’s the difference between Wicca and witchcraft?
Are they the same thing? Can you use the two terms interchangeably? Where does Paganism fit into all of this?
Despite the fact that we are now into the 2020s, these same questions have popped up again and again over the last two decades alone. I see them all the time; on forums, social media comments, Reddit posts – you name it, somebody has probably asked.
The answers to these questions (as well as the reason we keep asking them) are what I want to focus on in this post.
What is witchcraft?
Ask 100 different people and you’ll get 101 different answers.
Since the medieval period, witchcraft has been associated with black magic, Devil worship, demons and sorcery with the intention to cause harm to others. This reputation still persists today to some extent and I would be lying if I told you that baneful witchcraft and working with the Devil didn’t exist at all in modern witchcraft.
Ultimately, witchcraft is the practice of magic(k). My personal favourite definition is:
Magick is the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will– Aleister Crowley
Magic(k) is often spelt with a ‘k’ in witchcraft and occult circles to differentiate it from magician’s tricks and stage magic. We can thank Aleister Crowley for that, too.
Basically witchcraft is the skill, or craft, of manipulating the world around us in order to achieve a particular goal. This often includes the use of specific words, tools and ingredients in a ritualistic combination called a spell. Terms like ‘black magic(k)’ and ‘white magic(k)’ are antiquated (and, quite frankly, racist) terms referring to whether a spell has ‘good’ or ‘bad’ intentions.
Magick is neither ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s a completely neutral tool.
Another important thing to know is that witchcraft and religion are mutually exclusive. You do not need to be religious to practice witchcraft. However, religious Witchcraft traditions (such as Wicca) do exist. There are, also, secular witches, Christian witches, Jewish witches, atheist witches, Pagan witches and plenty more.
What is Wicca?
Wicca, as previously mentioned, is a modern religious Witchcraft tradition founded in the 1940s by Gerald Gardner, an occultist and civil servant from southern England.
The reason the terms ‘Wicca’ and ‘witchcraft’ are often conflated or used interchangeably is because until very recently, Wicca had a chokehold on the witchcraft market in the western world.
A Little History
Originally a purely initiatory tradition, Wicca’s popularity exploded in the 1960s and the demand for Wiccan covens to train and initiate new members outgrew supply. Famous Wiccans such as Raymond Buckland had popularised the tradition in America. Feminist thought and environmental consciousness had collided and the Goddess-worshiping, nature-loving witchcraft of Wicca was enticing to curious freethinkers.
By the late 1980s, a more universalist and solitary approach to Wicca had been curated. You no longer needed to be initiated or seek training from a traditional coven to call yourself Wiccan. Authors like Scott Cunningham and Silver Ravenwolf were selling a more accessible and palatable flavour of Wicca to the masses. At this point, you couldn’t pick up a book on witchcraft without learning about Wicca specifically. They were one and the same.
Wiccan witchcraft is typically fertility-focused and ceremonial in nature. Wiccans cast protective circles, call the 4 elements and evoke their Horned God and Triple Goddess into their rituals. Wiccans celebrate a seasonal calendar called the ‘Wheel of the Year’ (which is popular with many Pagans). It includes the equinoxes and solstices as well as four Celtic fire festivals, each around 6 weeks apart.
Not all witches identify with the beliefs and practices of Wicca. Some witches are strictly polytheistic (believing in many gods), some prefer to practice low (less ceremonial) magick and some don’t feel comfortable within any religious framework.
Whatever the reason, Wicca isn’t for everyone.
What about Paganism?
The term ‘Paganism’ is considered an ‘umbrella’ term for a number of traditions, many of which are pre-Christian in their approach, such as Heathenry and Druidry. It, also, includes modern traditions such as Wicca.
Modern Pagans are usually polytheistic and Nature-based, following seasonal celebrations and worshiping gods of pre-Christian Europe. Many are witches, although this isn’t a necessity.
To perfectly define Paganism is actually quite tricky because for every definition there’s always an exception.
For example: Christo-Pagans, pantheistic Pagans and pop-culture Pagans don’t necessarily fit in with the above description but still identify as ‘Pagan’.
While the Wiccan tradition used to dominate witchcraft and Pagan spaces and literature, things have definitely improved in recent years. There is much more variety available now, including books on traditional witchcraft, folk magic and other forms of Paganism. Beginners now have so much choice.
Of course, things aren’t perfect. There are still books being published today that could pass for something released in 2002 (which isn’t a good thing). But beginners in 2022 are far better at differentiating between Wiccan and non-Wiccan witchcraft and calling out authors that fail to point out the difference. It does a disservice to all witches, including Wiccans, to conflate the two.
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