Wiccans, Witches, Pagans and Magicians
How the terms are employed on this site
Language is a powerful tool. The application of words is one of the clearest ways in which we can identify ourselves. When definitions become blurred, meanings and identity become unclear. When someone identifies himself as a Christian or a Jew the average person has a general idea what he means. If he identifies himself as a Catholic the average person knows he is Christian and probably some of the things that define a Catholic from other Christians. But what is a Wiccan, and how do they compare to Witches? There’s a saying about if you ask 100 Wiccans, you’ll get 100 different answers. Pluralism is good, but only to a point. If one cannot clearly define himself, then he cannot possibly expect others to understand.
Because this site is specific to Wicca, I generally use that term even when other terms may be equally appropriate. For instance, a practice that I refer to as Wiccan may or may not be applicable to witches or non-Wiccan Pagans as well.
The definitions I use here are the ones that, in my opinion, are most widely used in our community. However, I certainly am not familiar with the entire community, and other people’s experiences may differ significantly. I have included what logic I can in support of the definitions employed, as I have no wish for anyone to use a definition arbitrarily.
Please also keep in mind that while some people distinguish between groups, others do not. Quotes from other sources will often mention witches and witchcraft when speaking of Wicca.
Like every religion, Wicca has a few core beliefs and a whole lot of trimming. The trimming may have considerable significance, but it is still, ultimately, trimming. One of the problems that newcomers sometimes experience is that they get so caught up in the details (what color the altar cloth should be, for example) that they lose sight of the bigger picture.
On the other hand, there is still debate within the community as to what exactly Wicca means. There are Fluffies who will literally tell you that is can be whatever you want it to be. Meanwhile, there are staunch Traditionalists who have a very specific list of requirements for one to be considered Wiccan, based upon Gardner’s original beliefs. In the middle sit the vast majority of self-described Wiccans, many of which subscribe to definitions describing what I personally consider legitimate, evolutionary development of the religion.
The Wiccan Church of Canada, which represents the Odyssean Tradition, provides what I found to be the most useful and workable definition:
- Wicca is an initiatory, oathbound mystery religion…
- …which is polytheistic, honouring a variety of gods and goddesses…
- …but also dualistic, seeing individual deities, at least to some extent, as aspects of one God and one Goddess…
- …and pantheistic, viewing divinity as immanent within the natural world.
- It centres around the mysteries contained within the Charge of the Goddess and the Legend of the Descent of the Goddess…
- …and encompasses the practice of magic…
- …as well as religious devotion.
- Its ethical basis is expressed in the Wiccan Rede (“An it harm none, do as ye will”)…
- …and the Threefold Law (“What ye send returns three times over”). [Referred to here as the Law of Return]
- Ritually, it involves casting a circle as the basic setting for spiritual and magical work…
- …and emphasizes the Platonic four elements of earth, air, fire and water…
- …plus some form of gender polarity, be that theologically in the image of the God and Goddess, and/or mundanely in the physical gender of participants as well…
- …and usually incorporates some form of the “Great Rite” (union of the God and Goddess), frequently symbolized in the blessing of the ritual wine by the conjoining of the athamé and chalice.
This is not, however, meant to be an all-or-nothing definition. As the WCC site explains:
Wicca itself contains a lot of diversity, and not all forms of Wicca include all these elements, but most include most of them to some degree, and the more of them a given tradition, group or ritual includes, the more sense it makes to describe it as “Wiccan” rather than simply “pagan”.
For example, as an Eclectic, I have not been initiated into a coven nor sworn any oaths to one. I clearly do not fall under rule #1, yet I identify myself as Wiccan, and a great many people acknowledge me as such. I do not see a problem with this. After all, members in good standing of many religions stray from canonical definitions. However, it is just as important that I recognize the points where I stray from the original theology, understand my reasons why, and consider just where that puts me in the overall scheme. It may not make me less Wiccan in the commonly accepted sense of the word today, and it certainly doesn’t not mean that my spiritual practice is less valid, but it just as certainly makes me less traditionally Wiccan, and it places me within a category that some people consider non-Wiccan.
For the purposes of this website, my use of the word Wicca generally follows the above definition, in the sense that Wiccans generally follow most of the things on this list, with a couple of exceptions. I expect that very few initiated Wiccans are reading this website looking for guidance, because they already have guidance through their covens. Moreover, the facets of initiatory Wicca that separate it from Eclectic Wicca are largely unknown by me because (wait for it) I’m not initiated (and if I was, I would have sworn oaths promising not to repeat such things.) So, this website is written from the perspective of a non-initiate to other non-initiates.
Second, magic is a sticky subject. Many equate the word specifically with spellcasting, and some Wiccans do not practice spellcasting. Partly for the sake of clarity, I deal with magic mostly as spellcasting, which I categorize under witchcraft. I also go into more detail in the magic section.
Finally, I have some complicated quibbles with #3, which become clear in my section on the God and Goddess. The Wiccan Church’s use of “at least to some extent” may or may not be meant to cover the points I make.