Saturday, February 28, 2015
Reader Question: What is the difference between paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft?
Q. What is the difference between a witch, a pagan and a Wiccan? Which one of those is a religion? - toughwonderland
Q. So I don't understand any form of witchcraft, but I find it extremely fascinating. What exactly does it mean to be 'pagan'? - Anonymous
This is probably the most frequent question I've received, so I'm surprised I haven't touched on this subject sooner! I did cover "How do I know if I'm a witch?" here, but it doesn't specifically address the differences between Witchcraft, Wicca and paganism.
To answer the question most directly, paganism, Wicca and witch are all completely separate terms with a variety of meanings depending on your denomination, beliefs and research. All Wiccans are pagans, but not all or even most of pagans are Wiccans. Some pagans are witches. Some aren't. Some witches are pagans. Some aren't. Confused yet? Don't be!
Paganism is a term for all historical pre-Christian earth-based religions, mostly referring to indigenous peoples and the classical world. Neopaganism or contemporary paganism, often just shorted to paganism conversationally nowadays, is a modern religious movement of paths influenced by historical paganism. Modern paganism becomes an umbrella term for many different paths (much like Christianity is for the many Christian faiths). Paganism can be many, many things, ranging from Asatru to Wicca, Satanism to Christo-Pagans and even Techno-Pagans. Some pagans pull from many different belief systems to suit their personal and spiritual needs. These pagans refer to themselves as eclectic pagans (Eclectic - adjective - deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources. [Source]). The truth is that there are so many different forms of paganism that it becomes hard to define just what it is, but that gives you a generalized description to sort the differences.
Wicca is an incredibly modern denomination of paganism originating in the 1950’s by one Gerald Gardner which, at its strictest core, blends European pagan folk traditions with 19th and 20th century occultism. Wicca is usually, but not always, dualistic in beliefs with a God and Goddess, sometimes represented by classical pagan gods and goddesses. Until the 1970’s-ish (that’s a technical term there), you typically couldn't be considered Wiccan unless you were initiated formally into a British Traditional Wiccan coven - a coven that can trace its roots back to some of the first forms of Wicca, such as Alexandrian or Gardnerian. Self-initiation became an important part of Wicca as the religion gained popularity but was still considered socially taboo, making it hard for individuals to find covens while still wanting to practice their beliefs. Today, self-initiation is generally accepted.
Witch itself is an independent term referring to the non-religious practice of the manifestation from the interconnectedness of the world a particular intent, in the most broad and general terms. It is not a religion, hence why it's referred to as a Craft, but it can be incorporated as a component to religion if desired. Or, if you don't have/want a religion, you can simply practice Witchcraft as it is. It all depends on your personal belief system.
The reason it's so hard to define paganism, Wicca or Witchcraft is that there is no one book to outline the beliefs. Unlike Christianity which has the Bible, or Islam which has the Qur'an, or Judaism which has the Torah, Paganism is so incredibly diverse and covers such a wide range of topics that it would be quite literally impossible to narrow it down to just one text as the basis of all beliefs. To make it even more difficult to define, neopaganism, Wicca and Witchcraft are all generally built around the individual rather than the group. The idea is that that we are our own spiritual mediator and that we can create our own churches by will with as many or as few people we like in as big or as small of a space as we prefer. It makes paganism, and thus Wicca, incredibly personal religions, and Witchcraft an incredibly personal practice. We are allowed to shape our own spirituality, and thus no single book can define every person's individual views.
Use this article as a means to fuel your own research. These are my definitions based on my own research, but there are so many wonderful resources out there that may give you different or clearer definitions! Try checking out my personal reading list for a starting point. Best of luck to you!