One of my English friends recently asked me to explain the difference between a Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist. Even when I was finished, they still claimed that they didn’t understand what the big deal was between them and why someone would prefer to be one over the other. This got me to thinking about some of the terms in my own religion that sometimes get used interchangeable such as Pagans, Wiccans, and Witches.
So, what are the differences between the three terms and are the differences really that different?
If we look at the terms historically then there are some differences. The term “pagan” was once used to describe folks that lived out in the countryside in small villages and still kept to the “old ways” when the Roman Empire started expanding. It was a generic term that encompassed many people, some of which practiced rituals and traditions that were vastly different from what other people who were referred to as “pagans” practiced.
While the Romans were trying to convert everyone, the term took on a negative connotation because, well, the people were different. They didn’t worship in churches and some of their traditions seemed to be barbaric. Of course, there was a lot of politics behind this, too.
On the other hand, the term “witch” has usually referred to a specific person (or groups of people in some instances) within the community. A witch generally practiced the same traditions and rituals as everyone else in the village, but had something a little extra. Sometimes, the witch had healing powers. Other times, the witch could help with the growing of the crops and bringing on rain or sunshine or whatever else the area needed. As the “old ways” began dying out, and people began converting, the idea of this type of person became frightening. Again, a lot of politics behind this and people tend to fear that of which they cannot explain. Add that to a lot of other people telling you that the person is evil and there is bound to be trouble!
In terms of history, Wiccans haven’t really been around that long, as far as the word itself goes. In fact, although Wicca uses elements of “old ways” and traditions that go back thousands of years, some the spells that are used are fairly new when it comes to the wording and the name has only been around for about 100 years.
So what does all of this mean now? Is Wicca less relevant because it’s new? Of course not! At one time, ever form of religion was new. In the history of civilization, even the Catholic Church is fairly new. The Church of England? Even newer.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that many practices under different religions can be interchangeable. Although I am not Christian, I can still pray. I don’t call it “praying” necessarily, but talking to the Goddess, thanking her, and asking her to watch over my loved ones…is that really that much different than kneeling at a pew and folding my hands? I am not a Tibetan monk, but I do chant. It’s the meaning that you give behind the practices that sets them apart, not necessarily the terms themselves.
I look at Wicca and even witchcraft as a form of paganism. I once hear someone refer to themselves as being a “Patchwork Pagan” because they had a variety of beliefs and rituals that the followed that stemmed from everything from some Native American tribes to Celtic tribes and modern Wicca.
I find it interesting, too, that many so-called “devout Christians” that I know who really turn their nose up at Witchcraft and Paganism actually practice a lot of traditions and rituals that are very Pagan in nature. Even with their holiday rituals aside, I know people who will send a “prayer cloth” that they have prayed over to me when one of my loved ones is ill and have herb gardens that they use for healing. And isn’t making a wish before you blow out your birthday candle a simple form of candle magic? It is possible for one to practice magick and not actually be a Witch.
So what is a Pagan now? Some people would say that anyone who practices traditions and rituals that have been carried out for hundreds of years but does not belong to any of the big religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taosim, etc.) is a pagan. Yet, when I had a similar conversation with friends recently, they were quick to say that people in Ireland before the Catholic Church came there were pagans, yet they do not consider Native Americans pagan, despite the fact that some of their traditions, beliefs, and rituals are very similar.
In the end, there really is no set definition that everyone is going to agree on. Personally, I think of paganism are being an earth and nature based religion. Does Witchcraft fall into this category? I would think so. This would still make it a very universal word, however, and describe any person or group that base their beliefs on moon cycles, Earth-based cycles, etc. So that would include some shamanism groups, Goddess worship, Wicca, animism, and many others around the world.
So can you be Wiccan and not practice Witchcraft? Well, I know someone who does. There are Shamanic Wiccans who consider themselves Wiccan but really like it more for the ceremony and not necessarily the magick.
Sometimes, it’s best not to get stuck on a word or a term. In the end, we need to follow the path that is best for us anyway.
Your Warm and Caring “Resident Witch In Charge”