It is an accurate statement that the followers of Witchcraft do not usually proselytize, which means you aren't going to find us standing on your local street corner thumping our Books of Shadows. Nor do you have to worry about jumping out of the shower to answer our serene and smiling faces at the door with your clothes stuck to various uncomfortable places on your wet body. But just because we (hopefully) aren't the forcible type doesn't mean we don't exist.
~ Siver Ravenwolf ~
What is Witchcraft?
Witchcraft is the name that was used by the Christian Church to stigmatize the followers of "The Old Religion". It is the continuation of certain practices of the native spiritual and cultural beliefs of ancient Europeans that existed prior to the advent of Christianity.
Even under Christian persecution, the people continued to worship their Gods and Goddesses. Though many were forced to masquerade under the cover of Catholicism, these older religions often dominated in the more remote regions and tended to localize themselves, or were kept within the members of a family. In these families, the traditions of the religion were passed down from generation to generation.
Most people who follow these pagan nature traditions religions do not refer to themselves as practicing witches. However, using the term "witchcraft" is an easy way for the fundamentalist Church to collectively demonize so called pagan religious beliefs and the people who follow them.
""Witchcraft offers the model of a religion of poetry, not theology.
It presents metaphors, not doctrines,
and leaves open the possibility of reconciliation of science and religion,
of many ways of knowing."
~ Starhawk ~
How is Witchcraft related to Paganism?
The term Paganism is used in contemporary times to refer to animistic, nature oriented religions which recognize the male and female duality which is found within nature. Paganism is an umbrella term which encompasses many religions including certain sects of Buddhism, Neo-Druidism, Wicca, and even some forms of the Abrahamic religions. Witchcraft is one of the many forms of rituals practices which area ssociated with Paganism.
Some of the practitioners of the older European traditions who would be considered to be "pagan" in religious practice do not refer to themselves as such. The reason for this is that in some cultures the term “pagan” refers to an unenlightened one. Instead, they will often refer themselves as “Heathens”.
“Great God! I'd rather be A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn”
For more information see our Paganism webpage.
Is Witchcraft the same thing as Wicca?
Wicca is not Witchcraft. Witchcraft and Wicca are two separate and distinct paths. Though many Wiccans often incorrectly refer to themselves as witches, those who practice the Traditional Craft will never say they are Wiccan. Traditional practitioners will either refer to themselves as being a witch, a heathen, or they will use another manner of description altogether.
The origin of Traditional Witchcraft probably goes back to pre-historic times and is a family of traditions that come from a common ethnic and cultural background and the Traditional Crafter (or witch) follows a folklore tradition that is reflective of that background. While as in every age, individual practices may be modified to reflect modern personal experiences, these modifications are done within the context of the customs of the ancient peoples. Wicca however goes far beyond modifying the traditions of these ancient practices.
Wicca is a modern organized religion developed around 1954 by Gerald Gardner. Wicca, as created by Gardner, is a concoction of ancient Western European folk traditions, mixed with ancient Egyptian and Kabbalistic mysticism.
The vast majority of Wiccan adherents themselves have never been a part of Traditional Witchcraft, although the general public, (and many Wiccans themselves), misconceive Wicca as having been brewed up over the millennia in the old witch's cauldron rather than it being a mid-20th Century contrivance. Historically speaking, there is no evidence of the usage of the word "wicca" prior to 1920 when it first appeared in ‘An Encyclopedia of Occultism’ compiled by Lewis Spence. The word was later usurped by Gardner as a label for his Wiccan Movement and erroneously claimed to be the derivation of and a synonym for the word witchcraft.
Although initially Wicca was based more in magickal pursuits, it has since developed into more of a New Age religious movement centered around a hegemony of priests and priestesses who administer rites and practices based on a doctrinal system of beliefs and a shifting ethics base within each individual gathering.
To be of Wicca you must swear an oath of allegiance and secrecy to the congregation or “coven" in a structured ritual initiation. In short, if no human being with proper training and initiation themselves puts you through the process, you are not Wiccan. This stands in complete contrast to Witchcraft's tradition of self-awakening and self-empowering in the craft. A Traditional Witch does not swear an oath to another human and is bound only by personal allegiance to their own moral codes and ethics.
Witchcraft is not a religion, but an individualistic approach to spirituality. Witchcraft is a way of being, predicated on the idea of a personal path of initiation into the Craft through individual existential experiences and the exercise of the person's own unique talents. Although the witch is a practitioner of a pagan tradition, the traditions that individual witches follow often vary widely. A witch will follow the principles and beliefs of an animistic philosophy, but not according to any set of parochial dogmas.
While Witchcraft is sometimes seen as a "church" that classification is often a legal label used for legal purposes rather than a true description of witchcraft as a dogmatic or even congregational approach to spiritual practice. Traditional Witches will sometimes form churches so as to establish a system of "ordination" that will to legally allowsuch clerical privileges as performing marriages and pastoral confidentiality.
"When looking at the real differences between Wicca and Witchcraft, it's hard to believe that people can think that they are one in the same. It's easy to see how Traditional Witches can become often irritated with Wiccan followers constantly calling themselves Witches. While using the term Witch to describe oneself, many Wiccans are trying to get away from the new age stereotype that has come along with the terms Wicca and Wiccan. However, a Witch is something else entirely. As the path of Witchcraft becomes more or more popular among people searching the Pagan religions, the terms of Wicca and Witchcraft to describe ones religious position will hopefully become more clear in time."
Of interest to note here, the public’s belief that witches hold their ceremonies “dancing naked in the moonlight” is a Wiccan contrivance. A clue to how this came about may be found in Gerald Gardner’s background. Gardner was a devoted nudist and owner of Five Acres Nudist Club in Herefordshire, England. This leads to speculation that while nudity may not be exactly help in the Wiccan rituals, it certainly did help Gardner’s business.
Do all Witches practice magick?
Magick is a tool. As a tool, it can be used within any religion. Some people who follow the religion of witchcraft do not practice magick. It would be inaccurate to say that magick has nothing to do with witchcraft. Still, there are those who choose not to practice magick. Foremost, “magick” as practiced within witchcraft ceremonies is not dissimilar in idea from that of the concept of “transubstantiation”, the miraculous change by which, according to Christian dogma, the Eucharistic elements at their consecration become the body and blood of Christ while keeping only the appearances of bread and wine.
"Magic's just science that we don't understand yet"
~ Arthur C. Clarke ~
Some "magicians", like artist and writer Alan Moore believe that any act of creation is an act of magic and that Michelangelo sculpting “David” was as much a magical act as any spell work. Michelangelo himself said he did not sculpt “David” but “released him” from the marble, which implies he himself saw that “ART IS MAGIC”.
For more information on the tradition of magic and witchcraft
please visit our "Traditional Magic" webpage.
Are there valid scientific principles behind Witchcraft?
Traditional witchcraft often is found to have science, history and the arts at its foundation. Modern scientific understanding of quantum physics, especially in the theories of quantum mysticism, supports the ideas of the interconnection and interdependence of energy and matter and this scientific concept of an interconnected universe is at the heart of the mystical, spiritual system of Traditional Witchcraft.
What Deities do Witches worship?
The Gods and Goddesses are seen as the male and female aspects of Nature. They do not reign over the Universe; they instead are the Universe itself. Most of the early inhabitants of ancient Europe followed one God and one Goddess, even though there might be many more deities in their particular pantheon. Often times the particular pair of deities someone followed would reflect some important aspect of their life such as their work, their home, their family, or their path in life.
The God is usually represented a protector or warrior and the Goddess often related to fertility or the land. The Gods and Goddesses are not omnipotent beings, they have egos and what we would consider to be human characteristics and failings.
*For more information on the Goddess movement
please visit our "Earth Mother" webpage
What is "The Homeland" in Witchcraft?
A deep spiritual connection to the ancestral homeland lies in the heart of the true witch and "The Homeland" is quite possibly the most important aspect of Traditional Witchcraft. The ancestral homeland is the home of the Gods and Goddesses, and in many beliefs the two are synonymous. The early inhabitants of Europe believed that the spirits they venerated inhabited the land itself. Many were migratory people, and when they traveled across the continent they took their deities with them. When these early Europeans wished to honor their deities, they created a connection between their ancestral homeland and the land where they now stood. In this way, the new land becomes a part of their ancestral homeland along with its spirits and when a Witch wishes to connect with these spirits they evoke (or invoke) the spirits of the land itself.
"The 'Art' of Traditional Paganism and Witchcraft is an art of the spirit;
the Traditional worldview is a "way of seeing"
that places the power of the Land, and the unseen places within the Land,
first in all a person thinks and feels" and the "Craft"
is the Craft of living in accordance with the Land,
with the source of dreams, and the deeper urgings of Fate."
~ Robin Artisson ~
Do all Witches meet in "Covens"?
By definition, a coven is a gathering of witches, though historically the word "coven" did not come into common usage until 1921 when Margaret Murray promoted the idea, now much disputed, that all witches across Europe met in groups of thirteen which they called "covens". In Wicca and other similar forms of modern neopaganism, a coven is a gathering or community of witches, much like a congregation in Christian parlance. It is composed of a group of believers who gather together for ceremonies of worship or celebrating the Sabbats. The number of persons involved may vary, though any group of at least three Wiccans can become a coven. Coincidentally, in the U.S. a group of at least three "congregants" is required in order to be recognized as a tax exempt church.
"The natural size of a coven is one.
Witches only get together when they can't avoid it.”
~ Terry Pratchett ~
What is the ethical standard for Witchcraft?
The life of a witch teaches that you should follow your heart and take responsibility for your actions. There is no good or evil. There is only the intent that one has when committing an action. Emphasis is thus placed on the intent of the action. This concept can be seen within a quote from a magical tradition that says, "The whole of the action is the sum of its consequence". Energy is not constant and in terms of returned energy, this means that the energy can have many things happen to it along the way including deflection, absorption or transformation. Things are often viewed in the perspective of survival and some witches see this in terms of protection of home, family, clan and self and they may take action if wrongfully provoked.
Is Witchcraft a form of Satanism?
'Witches do not worship Satan' Satanism is a concept of Christianity and Witchcraft has nothing to do with Satanism.
"The major misconception about Witchcraft today is that Witches worship Satan, which is just not so. We do not believe in Satan. That is a Christian creation. We don’t worship evil. Indeed, to give evil a name is not a real intelligent thing to do, because then you give it power."
~ Silver Ravenwolf ~
Can one be born a Witch?
To become a witch, one must become a practitioner of the religion. Different traditions have different methodology for becoming a part of their tradition. For most, this involves some form of self-dedication to the Gods and Goddesses of the Earth. Even for those born into a family tradition, a conscious decision to follow the "Old Ways" must be made.
"Witchcraft is a craft,
meaning that it is something that must be learned.
It is not an innate skill,
although it does rely on your ability to be in tune with all you senses...
Witchcraft is also a journey.
It is about discovering and nurturing your spiritual side.
You can not be born at the end of this journey."
~ Silverlotus ~
Are Witches only Women?
Although women do seem to predominate in the Craft and some traditions have only women practitioners, just as many others have men. Though in common usage a male practitioner of the Craft is often called a "warlock", both a male and a female practitioner is called a witch. The word "warlock", as derived from the ancient Scottish word "waerloka", actually means "liar and oath breaker" and it is considered an insult to call a male witch a warlock.
"The search for alternative images of male divinity begins for many men with the pagan gods and mythical figures suppressed by Christianity. Celtic mythology and Western occultism underlie several recent attempt to re-vision masculinity. To sense 'Male Power on Earth' or contact 'The God Within' brings home the reality of maleness in the modern world, while giving us the visions - from the past, the unconscious, or the realm of the gods - of a different way of being men."
~ John Matthews ~
Can one be a Christian, or a Jew, or a Muslim,
or other religious affiliation, and still be a Witch?
Witchcraft is a practice within Earth based religions. It is a re-linking with the life force of nature, both on this planet and in the stars and space beyond. Witches are women and men who gather on the new and full Moons and at festival times to join energy and bring themselves in tune with these natural forces. They honor the old Goddesses and Gods, including the Triple Goddess of the Moon and the Horned God of the Sun and the spirits of the animals as visualizations of transcendent nature. If these concepts are not a part your religious belief system then you cannot consider yourself as practicing the basic credos associated with witchcraft.
The month of October culminating in Halloween is known as the season of the witch. And while we all might think we know what a witch is — thanks to The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, and other onscreen interpretations — the stereotypical green skin, pointy hats, and blood-red fingernails are more fiction than fact. A Wiccan herself, author Judika Illes knows a fair amount about witch folklore and the modern witch, and in her new book, Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z For the Entire Magical World, she explores the history and mysteries of witches. Here she shares 13 of the most unusual facts about witches paired with excerpts from the book:
"Whether one admires, detests, or fears powerful women will have a lot to do with how one defines and perceives the witch."
"Witches around the world participate in all kinds of activities, ranging from healing to divination, from spell casting to spiritual guidance and leadership."
"Catherine de , mother of the French king and an alleged sorceress herself, sponsored a dance company, La Ballet Comique de la Reine, whose first production was an over six-hour-long extravaganza featuring dance, songs, and elaborate floats devoted to the saga of Circe."
"Elegant, masked observers of witches' balls learned the dance and began enjoying it elsewhere. . . . The dance was called shameful and indecent. Dancers were warned that it would stimulate miscarriage and murder."