May 5, 2010
Many sources use the terms "Witch" and "Wiccan" interchangeably, but there are notable differences. Wicca is considered a religion with a strong, personal relationship between practitioners and their deities. A Wiccan may or may not practice magic - meaning she may or may not be a Witch. Wiccans place great emphasis on ritual and ceremony, believe in the threefold-law and reincarnation, use specific tools (if they practice magic), and cast a 9-foot diameter circle of protection for their work.
Alternatively, Witchcraft is not a religion, it is the practice of magic - the "Craft of the Wise". To make things more confusing, a Witch may also choose to commune with deities in a religious fashion, but this does not make her a Wiccan. Witches utilize the tools they have on hand at the time for their magic, do not necessarily believe in reincarnation, believe the whole of the earth is their circle of protection, do not focus on ritual and reciting particular verses at particular times, and, rather than subscribe to the threefold-law, believe every action has a ripple effect or opposite reaction. See Witchcraft Origins.
In itself, the origin of Wicca is riddled with controversy. It is generally accepted that Gerald Gardner introduced the concept around 1950, but whether his version is based on fact, or fiction, is anyone's guess. At any rate, it's here to stay, and for thousands of individuals Wicca provides them with the deepest levels of inner peace, communion with the Divine, and unity with the natural world.
Digging deeper into the Wiccan paths things become more confusing. We have those practicing the Gardnerian Tradition, the Alexandrian Tradition, Norse, Celtic, and even incorporating Native American beliefs. Many are Eclectic, meaning they are able to take aspects from any number of earth-based paths, and mix and match ideas (and deities) from differing eras and pantheons to develop their own unique traditions.
Today, more than ever, self-proclaimed Witches and Wiccans are cropping up faster than we can say "Poof!". Simply reading a couple of books, browsing free spells online, or learning to text "Merry Meet" does not make one a Wiccan or Witch. There is a discipline that must be achieved, and a way of living that must be developed. It is an ongoing journey. One in which none of us ever has all of the answers.
We already see once heavily guarded secrets, and spells, appearing in thousands of groups, message boards, and blogs all over the Internet. There is such an overload of information that it's difficult to determine what is accurate anymore. For example, anyone can concoct a so-called "spell" and claim it is valid...such as "Become more psychically aware by placing three coffee beans under your pillow for three consecutive nights"...and it will be copied and pasted from here to there until the letters "C" and "V" are no longer visible on user's keyboards. It's a bit like witnessing a "copy/paste fest".
Some fear that this mass movement - without the discipline and experience required to develop and wield it - could have disastrous results. Advanced Witches and Wiccans may once again need to seek refuge, and to practice in secret, in order to avoid being aligned with some of the less-than-desirable actions of inexperienced, or "wanna be", Wiccans and Witches.
First and foremost, Wiccans and Witches are Pagans. In fact, we're ALL Pagan by Design. Even though people tend to want to define themselves with titles, there is an inherent danger in creating divisions and differences among ourselves. Argument will ensue at some point, and folks will be asking "which Witch is really a Witch?". Do we know the answer to this question today? Does it matter?
Look at the religious history of our world - the death, the wars, and the hatred - for a quick reminder into what can happen when we end up with 13,000 "versions" of Christianity, four types of Catholics, etc, and begin "comparing notes".
When someone asks your spiritual orientation, it should be sufficient to say, "I am a Witch", or "I am a Wiccan who practices magic", period. To differentiate ourselves from others by building as many "divisions" as possible goes against our number one priority: Unity.
In closing, I urge all of my friends to use caution and care, to help those interested in becoming Witches or Wiccans learn patience and restraint, and to set positive examples; especially in the often chaotic world of the Internet. My friend, Author of The Balanced Witch, touches upon this topic as well, reminding us that as we continue to learn and "evolve", so too does our spirituality.
Inspired by her Native American roots and Bradbury lineage, Polly Taskey is a writer and grandmother in the northern USA. She shares her wisdom and pagan interests through Pagan by Design and The Moonlit Grove.