Pagans, and Wiccans, and Witches, Oh My!
I admit to being a bit of a word nerd… Etymology is a passion of mine, communication is key, and as anyone who works with ritual magick can tell you, words hold great power! In exploring my spirituality, I found myself looking for the words that could convey and identify my practice, not just as a means for communicating with others, but as a deeper understanding for myself. Which terms would accurately describe my tree-huggin’, earth-mama, star-gazing Witchy Ways? Deciding to start with broad strokes, the first word I identified with had to be “Pagan.”
My first experience with folks who self-identify as Pagan was a rather pungent one…
I first met individuals who described themselves as Pagans twenty years ago. Other than adopting older, more natural practices into one’s way of living, I had no further knowledge as to what a Pagan lifestyle entailed. The majority of that group had a habit of eschewing personal hygiene habits, and while they were kind, lovely people whose company I enjoyed, our heartfelt manner of greeting and parting with a hug was not always the most pleasant experience. I naively assumed that part of being a Pagan entailed forgoing modern-day luxuries such as deodorant, in favour of living au natural, and never looked into it any deeper than that. Fast forward to today, and I find myself having to reevaluate my first connotations to the word.
Pagan derives from the Latin word for country, or rustic. Dictionaries will often define Pagan as Heathen, which refers to anyone who practices beliefs outside of widely held religions, especially the Christian, Jewish, or Muslim faiths (Heathen is often used as a derogatory term by those who practice those faiths) or go on to address it as a polytheistic religion, involving the worship of more than one deity. It is interesting to note that the term Neo-Pagan is sometimes used to describe the Pagans of today since much of the old religion has been lost, erased, modified, or appropriated by other religions in an effort to stamp out Pagan practices.While the above definition holds a narrow truth, I found I had a need to move beyond the technical aspects of the word, to exploring the conceptual nature of what it truly entails as a spiritual practice. After considering my research and meditating on it, I developed the following definition of Pagan:
Pagan: one who practices an earth-based belief system or spirituality, of which polytheism may or may not be an aspect.
So I am a Pagan, after all. And the truth is that I have loads of Pagan friends, whether or not they identify as such. I’m really in very good company! Having a term that accurately identifies my spiritual understanding, it was time to delve into the world of of words to describe my wild and Witchy Ways…
A quick cruise around the internet will inevitably link-up Wicca to Witchcraft. I had heard of Wicca in conjunction with Pagan and Witchy lifestyles, but didn’t know anything about it other than that specific connection. Is Wicca Witchcraft, and is Witchcraft Wicca? And how do these two terms relate to identifying as a Pagan?
Though Wicca and Witchcraft are often closely associated, they are NOT the same thing!
Wicca and Witchcraft are understandably linked – many of those who follow the Wiccan religion also practice Witchcraft, but there are Witches of all denominations – you will find Witchcraft in use by those who belong to faiths as diverse as Judaism, Druidry, and Christianity, or those who follow no religion at all! This is why Witchcraft is also referred to as “The Craft” – it can stand alone without any religious connotations, whereas Wicca *is* a religion, which may (or may not) incorporate The Craft.To define these two terms in their most simple format, Wicca is an earth-based (Pagan) religion, while Witchcraft is the manifestation of intent via ritual practices. Although it is uncommon to see Witchcraft separated from a reverence and connection to the natural world, whether it is practiced within a religious, spiritual, or secular belief system is up to each individual practitioner. Witchcraft is a branch of Shamanism, it’s practice often linked to the healers, diviners, problem solvers, and medicine wo/men. It’s no far stretch of the imagination to comprehend that this where the title of “Witch Doctor” originated, since Witchcraft is one of the oldest forms of medicine in human history.
The important thing to keep in mind is that while all Wiccans are Pagans, not all Witches are Wiccans… Conversely, not all Wiccans are Witches, not all Witches are Pagans, and not all Pagans are Witches!
Confused? It’s best to think of it as a series of overlapping circles joined by a common thread, with the Wiccan circle held cozily within the Pagan circle. Each individual has access to all three circles, and can mix and match as they see fit. It is for this very reason that much of these practices defy a true definition! Add to this that there are about a million different flavours of Witchcraft, and you can see that the pathways of Witchery are as unique and varied as the stars in the sky… Which is fantastic really, because that means there is something for everyone out there who chooses to walk this path!
That brings us to the point that begs the final question: what kind of Witch are you?
In terms of defining my own personal path, I have come to the conclusion that I am a Pagan (earth-based spirituality) Solitary (I practice on my own) Eclectic (I borrow ideas and concepts from varied practices) Witch (manifesting intent via the power of ritual.) Will that description ever change? I certainly hope so! As I journey along the Spiral Path, I will continue to adapt my practices keeping in-line with my own personal evolution.As for the Pungent Pagans I met earlier on in life, I certainly don’t intend any offense in sharing that story – if anything, I share it as a means to pointing out my own ignorance at the time, and an example of how ignorance can shield us from the very thing with which we seek to connect! I am proud to be able to count myself amongst their legions these days, and chuckle at my youthful assumptions those 20 years ago… That said, I do still plan to take advantage of modern-day conveniences such as deodorant. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s better that way for all of us.