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Witch, spells, hex, sorcery, magic, magick
© 1998 By John R. Milam
This page is dedicated to the broad subjects of witchcraft and witches, both from a religious and magical perspective.
Paganism And Neo-Paganism>
Witchcraft & Wicca - The Religion(s)
Witchcraft - The Practice
Links, Etc. Etc.
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What is paganism and what is a pagan? If one
reads various Neo-Pagan publications or goes in
one of the "pagan" chat rooms, one might get the
idea that paganism is a single religion or, at
least a group of similar religions. There are
even some dogmatic souls who would have us
believe that there is a pagan orthodoxy, eg.
environmentalism, pacifism, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth. <
So, what is paganism? I believe that there are two definiions that would apply. Pagan comes from the Latin word, paganus/-a , which means a villager, peasant, yokel - or the adjective meaning: of a village, rustic, ignorant, untaught. The word, heathen has similar root meanings in English.
This was the meaning of paganus/a until the arrival of Christianity as a major, and later, the official religion in the Roman Empire. Christianity initially came to Rome and the other cities in the Empire. Those people in the country or rural areas (the yokels, peasants, etc.) were among the last to be converted to the new religion. Therefore, the term pagan meant one who clung to the "out-of-date", pre-Christian religion(s) of his/her ancestors.
The second, and more modern, application of the term paganism refers to religions which are not Abramaic, eg. Judaism, Christianity and Islam. So. in theory, a pagan might be one who worships a goddess of war, a god of strip mining or the spirits of nuclear waste dumps - so much for "pc" paganism!
Since the late 60's and early 70's, there seems to a Neo-Pagan renaissance in the West which consists of an attempt to return to the earlier pre-Christian religions of our ancestors - more or less. A close examination of many of the neo-pagan religions often claim an orthodxy of the past while clearly throwing-in many modern, pc adaptations that probably never occurred to their forefathers/mothers. This may not be a bad thing in itself. if the revisions were acknowledged as such and not cloaked in supposed ancient traditions.
Definition Of Terms
If the reader will notice, I have divided the subject of witchcraft into two parts. When we speak of witches and witchcraft, we must consider both generic (lower case "w") and a proper noun (upper case "W") definitions of these terms. In this section, the latter terms will be considered. I will use Witch to mean a person (male or female) who follows the religion of Witchcraft or Wicca (more about this usage later). The terms: Witchcraft, Wicca, The Craft will all refer to the religion, as opposed the practice (discussed in the next section).
Wicca, Wicce & Wiccan
Before going on into the religion, I should make some comments on the terms: Wicca, Wicce & Wiccan. These terms came into vogue only very recently, possibly to avoid the negative connotations of the "w" word (witch). The only problem I have with the new terms is that their use is more often than not grammatically incorrect. Wicca is Anglo-Saxon or Old Englsh for a male witch (feminist practitioners, please note) and Wicce is a female witch. Wiccan is plural. "Wiccans" is incorrect, like "geeses", "womens", "mices", etc.
Similar to Neo-Paganism (of which Wicca is a
part), Wicca or Witchcraft is a relatively new
religion which has dubious claims to ancient
origins. This is not to say that there is not an
"Old Religion" (actually more than one religion)
whose adherents are witches.
G.B.Gardner & D.Valiente
Much of what passes for Witchcraft today owes its origins to Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884-1964) and Doreen Valiente. Modern Witchcraft began no earlier than 1939 and it developed into the modern pagan religion from that time until Gardner's death in 1964. Even though Gardner may have exaggerated The Craft's origins in antiquity, he must be credited with the beginning of not only modern Craft, but also the Pagan Renaissance itself. We are all indebted to him and Valiente.
The above Craft mini history, that does not mean to imply that there were no Witches before Gardner & Valiente. Quite the contrary, but those Pre-Gardner Witches did not contribute significantly to the modern Craft movement. Most were either individuals, families or small groups who worked in private. They generally avoided revealing their practices to the outside world. Often their knowledge was passed on to only one other person. After Gardner, many of these older tradition Witches did graft some of Gardner's contributions onto their own practices.
If one is interested in further study of modern Witchcraft (the religion), read:
In recent years the answer to the above question has become more confusing as the number of popular books on "Wicca" increases. There was a time, in the 60's, 70s' that the question could be more easily answered. There was more or less a standard of beliefs held or aspired to by most
These beliefs consisted of three basic ideas or "laws" about the universe - the Witch's cosmology, so to speak. The Laws are:
The Witches' Rede
Witch Rede - Audio
The principal of the Witches' Rede is the basis of morality and ethics in Witchcraft. It states:
"An' it harm none, do as ye will."This may need a little clarification, because some have taken it to mean, "do as you damn well please.", while others fall on the side of extreme pacifism and/or vegetarianism (both of which may be very commendable). Well folks, we cannot always avoid causing harm to someone or something. As we can see from Leland's ARADIA, Witches have not always been pacifists. On the contrary, the Witches in ARADIA are taught by the Goddesses, Diana and Adradia, to practice class warfare against their oppressors. While we are liberated from many of the senseless taboos of the Judio-Christian tradition, we still must take responsibility for our deeds. Witchcraft is not a religion for the irresponsible hedonist nor the lawless sociopath.
Now we come to witchcraft and witches (lower
case "w") alluded to earlier. Dictionary
definitions do not serve well our purpose here. I have chosen to look at common meaning of the
term, sans the prejudice, its meaning in the
Craft and the generic meaning implied by Leland.
The first thought that often comes to mind in
association with "witch" is magical work and
spells. However, ceremonial magicians, wizards,
etc. also have this association. There is the
religious practice, eg. Witchcraft & Wicca, and
also described by Leland. But, does that mean
that priests and priestess are necessarily
witches? - and, of course, the answer is no.
Although, within the religion of Wicca its
devotees are considered, at some point, to become such (more on this later).
A witch (again, lower case "w") does practice magic, as does a magician. A witch also adheres to a religion and often acts as intercessary on behlf of others, as does a priest/ess. So, it appears that a witch may be something between a magician and a priest/ess. A "witch" is a person who practices magic in tandum with his/her relationship with the divine. A further distinction between the relationship of the priest/ess and the witch with their deity is the nature of that relationship. The priest/ess is the agent of the god/s and defender of the religion's teachings. The witch, on the otherhand, is either the agent of his/her client or acting on his/her own behalf. This can be readily seen in some of the conjurations by the Tuscany witches, in ARADIA.
In the religion, Witchcraft/Wicca, the devotees would seem to wear two hats - that of priest/ess and that of the witch. That is assuming, of course, that the witch religion being practiced is closer to Leland's witches than to weird church in the woods or a getting together to do spells group. Therefore, we might arrive at a definition where Witchcraft and witchcraft converge by stating that, Witchcraft is a religion whose adherents are also witches.
I realize that the above definitions of a witch and of witchcraft may exclude some very religious and devoted pagans. It may also include some who may worship gods of the Christian pantheon as well as other non-Euro ethnic religions. I can think of the followers of Santería and Voodoo, to name two
examples. And by the definition set forth here,
one might say that Marie Laveau was America's
greatest witch - even if she wasn't a Witch or
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