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
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Pagans And Witches
Paganism And Neo-Paganism
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 Therefore, the term pagan meant one who clung to the "out-of-date", pre-Christian religion(s) of his/her ancestors.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.
Witchcraft Or "Wicca"
The Neo-Pagan Religion
The Neo-Pagan Religion
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.
Witchcraft/Wicca - Origins
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 Aidan A. Kelly's CRAFTING THE ART OF MAGIC: BOOK 1.
C.G.Leland & ARADIA
To study an earlier, documented, practice of Witchcraft as a religion, then one should read Charles G. Leland's ARADIA: GOSPEL OF THE WITCHES. This was Leland's findings of a witch-cult through his interaction with a Tuscany strega, or witch, named Madellana. His Vangelo (Gospel) describe the beliefs and practices of a group of people still adhering to La Vecchia Religione or "The Old Religion". Leland's book was first publised in 1890 and it shows the remnants of a pagan and magical religion, existing in 19th Century Italy.
While this religion was devoted to the ancient Roman goddess, Diana, and Her daughter Aradia, it does show the influence, even if negative, of Christianity. It contains references to Cain, The Church, Lucifer (including the Christian connotation of that name), Mary, etc. Furthermore , it can be readily seen that the theology of "La Vecchia Religione" is incomplete in the sense of a fully developed religion. Gardner was well aware of Leland's finding (which can be seen in his "Book Of Shadows") and perhaps he was attempting the "fill-in" the theological holes.
One of the two most interesting things about La Vecchia Religione, is the blend of magic working and religious devotion (see witchcraft in next section). The other interesting thing is it's understanding of "class struggle" and The Goddess's preference for the oppressed class. She (Diana) commissioned Her daughter (Aradia) to teach the oppressed the arts of poisoning and magical working against their oppressors. Even the practice of skyclad, or nude worship, (which Gardner adopted) has an earlier connection to class stuggle. Gardner conveniently omitted this reference in his version of "The Charge Of The Goddess".
To buy of the books mentioned above, visit our Bayou Saint John Catalog Page
What Is A Witch?
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 Witches.
These beliefs consisted of three basic ideas or "laws" about the universe - the Witch's cosmology, so to speak. The Laws are:
To paraphrase (very loosly) Jo Dixon, a High Priestess and early American Craft theologian, subscribing to all three of the above laws and the primary devotion to the Goddess are the defining factors of a Witch.
Aside from subscribing to the three Laws, Witches also had the Goddess as their primary focus of devotion. Some, even older Witches, will argue here that the God is equal. And so be it, but, on both sides of the issue, the Goddess is never less than equal. Even where Witches fell on the equality side of the issue, there was still a focus on the Goddess - if only to restore Her position after so many years of patriarchy.
The Witches' Rede
Witch Rede - Audio
The principal of the Witches' Rede is the basis of morality and ethics in Witchcraft. It states:
Witchcraft - The Magical Craft
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.
Other Witches & Witch Religions 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 Santerķa 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 Wicce.
One can buy books, occult items and supplies for spellworking, from Bayou Saint John Products Catalog Page.
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Audio By: SILVERMOON