So you’re into crystals, smudging, full moon rituals and Mama earth – your list of “you’re a witch if…” feels like its getting pretty long! But ARE you a witch? What IS a witch anyway? And is a witch a wiccan? And how does pagan fit into all this?
It can all be a bit confusing! Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most of us start out naturally drawn to certain things, and kind of stumble around in the dark until we figure out who and what we are. This article will help you understand what a witch, a wiccan and a pagan are, so you have an idea of the terminology. Remember that your spirituality is highly personal, and it can be fluid (it can change as you grow, develop, read, learn and experience). Also, this info is based on MY personal interpretation – others may have their own, different take. This is just to help you get a starting block on the witch sich.
1. DON’T GO CALLIN’ ME NAMES
WHAT DOES “PAGAN” MEAN?
The word ‘Pagan’ comes to us from the Latin ‘Paganus’, which means ‘country dweller’, or a person who lives in the country.
The country dwellers generally paid homage to the old gods or spirits of the ‘pagus’ (meaning ‘locality’). Since being a country dweller meant you were dependent on the land for your very survival, things like watching for the changing seasons and being in tune with nature meant a great deal.
WHAT DOES “WITCH” MEAN?
At a brief glance, The Old English ‘wita’ means ‘counsellor’, and ‘wis’ means ‘wise’. A witch was considered to be a wise counsellor who, before the interjection of Christianity, was an important community spiritual guide and healer, with a rich knowledge of plant medicine. ‘
Wicca’ and ‘wicce’ are themselves Old English words for ‘witch’, masculine and feminine respectively. During medieval times these became ‘wicche’, both masculine and feminine, denoting both a witch and a wizard.
Initially, there were no negative connotations attached to these words, nor even to the word ‘heathen’ (which was derived from the Old English word ‘heath’ meaning ‘uncultivated land’ so quite literally just meant ‘one who dwells in the heath or country’). A pagan or heathen was a person who lived in the country, worked the land, and communed with the spirit of the land. For a long time, the word pagan became something dark and unclean in the eyes of the church, but really, it was something very natural and organic.
“A Witch is a weaver of the worlds – this physical one and the ‘other’. A Witch is a catalyst for change. A Witch draws upon ancient knowledge and techniques that date back to pre-history. A Witch is deeply connected to the natural cycles and can control energy… I don’t shy away from the word ‘witch’. Witch meant ‘wise one’, it meant ‘weaver’. We have just had a couple of thousand years worth of bad PR is all.”
– Stacey Demarco, The Modern Witch
2. WHAT DOES PAGANISM MEAN TODAY?
Paganism is a very broad umbrella term that encompasses many different belief systems – much in the same way that Christianity has Catholics, Anglicans, Protestants, Orthodox, etc. They are all Christians, but have slightly different beliefs within that shared structure. Paganism includes such belief systems as Shamanism, Druidism, Wicca (including various traditions within itself such as Alexandrian, Gardenerian, Dianic and Correllian), Goddess Spirituality, Odinism (the Norse traditions) and Eclectic Paganism (which, as the name implies, is a ‘bit of this and a bit of that’), among many others.
Each of these branches of paganism have their own unique beliefs and ‘language’ in terms of how they describe and connect with their spirituality. But in general, they share similar core values that link them together. Here are some of these characteristics that (again, IN GENERAL) all Pagans share:
There is no single authoritative “official” book that sets out the rules and examples of how to practice the faith.
Christianity, Satanism, Islam and Judaism are examples of “book religions”. Book religions have an official book, for example the Bible, the Satanic Bible, the Qur’an or the Torah/Hebrew Bible. Pagans (and the respective types of belief systems under its umbrella) don’t have a ‘pagan bible’ equivalent. There are tons of books out there you can read on the subject, though.
They are all nature-based spiritual paths.
Pagans strive to attune themselves to the natural cycles of the earth, and recognize the earth as a living being, a spirit or a consciousness. Many pagans are concerned with environmental matters due to this belief. Pagans celebrate or place importance in the changing of the seasons, the lunar cycles and the natural cycles of life, death and rebirth.
Pagans believe in some form of afterlife or reincarnation.
Most Pagan belief systems trust in a karmic implication to actions.
Best illustrated through the Wiccan “Law of Three” (whatever you put out returns to you threefold) or the idiom ‘the Wheel Turns’ (the implication that what goes around comes around, also meaning what you put out is what you get back). This is similar to the Hindu principle of karma, and the concept of “what you reap is what you sow”.
That is, strong emphasis is usually placed on the intuitive mind and body, and the belief that the physical and non-physical worlds are equally real and interconnected. This means that spiritual work (ie energetic or non-physical), whether called ‘meditation’, ‘prayer’, ‘energy work’ or ‘magic’ and whether it is done as ‘ritual’, ‘ceremony’, ‘worship’ or ‘celebration’, is effective in resulting in changes in the physical world.
Many Pagans believe that everything has a soul. This is called Animism.
There is no ‘ONE GOD’ and ‘ONE PATH’.
Some pagans are ‘Polytheistic’, which means that they believe in and worship many gods and goddesses, such as the ancient Greek or Roman pantheon, or Hinduism.
Or, they may believe in a single God and Goddess (most often the spirit of the earth – Mother Earth or Mama Gaia).
Others still are ‘Pantheistic’, which means they believe that a Creator or Great Spirit is in everything and everyone, and that everything and everyone is therefore an extension of Creator.
Pantheism might sound a little confusing – like how is everyone Creator? Allan Watts fills in this theory SO beautifully with a thought experiment, in an excerpt from one of his talks, titled ‘The Dream of Life’. It’s one of my favourites – I get goosebumps every time I hear it:
3. OK NOW LET’S BRING IT BACK TO WHERE WE STARTED
SO: To answer the question “Am I a Wiccan, a Witch or a Pagan?”
You now know that a Wiccan is a type of Pagan (like an Anglican is a type of Christian) – it’s a spiritual path. If you are interested in Wicca, you can learn more about it through books and websites, and develop your spiritual path as a Wiccan.
A Witch is a word that described a particular kind of person (one that practices magic, herbal lore and so forth), the word ‘witch’ is not related to a specific spiritual path or religion.
Can you be a Witch and not a Pagan? Yes, you can. You can practice magic and herbal healing with no spiritual or religious ties. It is more common to find that witches do practice a pagan spirituality, because the nature of a witch generally relates strongly to the values of paganism. Pagans who are witches and practice witchcraft do so with and through their spiritual beliefs. It relates to where their power comes from, and the structure of how things work in the world and the world beyond.
4. WHAT TO DO NEXT
Well done for making it through the whole article!
Now that you have a clearer idea on the terms and what it means to be a Pagan and to practice the Craft, you can decide for yourself what you feel drawn to. Read up on different spiritual belief systems to see what resonates most with you. Since paganism is not a book religion, there is no set “right” way to do it. You can build your own unique spirituality based on what feels right to you personally. It doesn’t have to happen overnight! Start small with what you know. Keep reading, keep learning and keep growing! Take your time and add to your practice organically, as you find new things that resonate.
Check out my recommended reading list if you’d like some suggestions on where to start:
A BIT ABOUT ME:
My Journey: I started out by studying a branch of Wicca called Correllian Wicca, which I really enjoyed. I was initiated through the 3 Wiccan Degrees to High Priestess, and led my own coven. I also studied under another Wiccan High Priestess who practiced a mix of Wiccan traditions and a smidgeon of African traditional magic. I then went on to study under a Native American Shaman as a Shaman’s apprentice. Aside from these wonderful teachers, I have read (and continue to read) many books and articles as I get older. My spiritual practice evolves with me.
My Flavour: A few things about my spirituality.
- Am an eclectic solitary shamanic witch.
- Deeply called by the natural world and consider myself an Earth Steward – I have a sacred responsibility to care for the land around me as best I can, and to work with the land in symbiosis.
- Work with plants, crystals and the elements.
- Dabble in divination, sigil work (specifically runes), cards, wyrd and general psychic-ness (third generation, that I’m aware of).
- Believe we live multiple lives, in multiple incarnations, across various dimensions and realities. I am a traveller, and do a lot of dreamwork.