Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Are you a Pagan, Wiccan, or a Witch? What's the difference?

About a week or so ago my girlfriend, her best friend, best friend's little brother, and I were in the car trying to find a suitable place to park and get into the north fork of the Coeur d'Alene river to swim. My girlfriend and I had just come from another friend's house, a friend who I met via Witch Vox- a social networking and informational site for those of the Pagan, Wiccan, Witch persuasion or for people just seeking understanding and knowledge of the aforementioned things.  Anyway, my girlfriend was telling her best friend how pretty this other friend had decorated her house, that this other friend was a Witch or a Wiccan, she didn't know which or something to that effect. Her best friend jumped on her rudely stating that we had better find out because there is a difference.

How critical, how annoying, and how frustrating! My reply was that I met this other friend on a website and I couldn't remember if she'd told me what she was and that it didn't matter to me. I said that it is personal information and if said other friend wishes to impart that information on to me then she can and will do so when she feels it's necessary. Until then it doesn't matter and I'm not going to push to ask.

Well that made for a short and awkward silence. But it shut my girlfriend's friend up and my girlfriend got to finish describing how pretty our other friend's house is. However, while my girlfriend was regaling her best friend in all the neatness of this trinket or that picture, I got to thinking. I have never really, truly known the difference myself and I have actually read a little and done some research into Witchcraft/Paganism for a school paper and because I was simply curious. So I've been doing some research the last couple of days (when not dealing with some rather unfortunate turns of events) and this is what I have come up with, as I understand it. I could be wrong so don't quote me.

According to Dictionary.com the word Pagan has several different meanings. 1. One of a person or community observing a polytheistic religion, as  the ancient Romans and Greeks. 2. a person who is not Christian, Jew, or Muslim. There are two other definitions but they hardly apply as far as religion is concerned.

The word Witch means: 1. a person, now especially a woman, who professes or is supposed to practice  magic, especially black magic or the black art; sorceress. Compare warlock. 2. has nothing to do with religion either. 3. a person who uses a divining rod; dowser.  And further down the page: a Wiccan priest or priestess.  

The word Wicca means: witchcraft, especially benevolent, nature-oriented practices derived from pre-Christian religions. Or the cult or practice of witchcraft.

Those definitions aren't entirely true. In fact the term or label Pagan is actually an umbrella term, kind of like Christian is for those of the Christian faith, i.e. Protestant, Catholic, Lutheran, Quaker ect...
However, you can call a Wiccan a Pagan, but you can't call all Pagans Wicca and there is a reason for this.
Wicca was founded or rather 'brought to the public' by Gerald Gardner and as Jamie at Witchfulthinking writes, "is a dualistic religion which believes that all Gods are one God, and all Goddesses are one Goddess." She goes on to explain more differences but the point is: "Wicca is a specific body of ritual and liturgy with its own system of symbolism and ethics."

So in other words, if you are Wicca, or talking about someone who is Wicca, then you or they had better be practicing the way a Wiccan is supposed to or else you're or they aren't really Wicca. Also,  Not all Pagans believe, worship, or practice Wicca.

Pagan is a little bit more tricky to explain, as I am discovering. Pagan originally meant someone who was from a rural area but as Christianity came about, it meant people who (as I have seen mentioned in many places) fled to the hills to keep their own religious practices and not convert or be forced to convert to Christianity. Jamie wrote: "At minimum, Paganism is a earth-centered spirituality- that is, Pagans believe the earth is a sacred place."  That said/quoted, what most people think of as 'Pagan' doesn't mean that they can be defined as 'Pagan' just because they do not believe, ascribe, or practice Christianity, Jewish, or Muslim religions. And as far as Witches and Wiccans are concerned 'Pagan' isn't quite the right terminology, it's actually a shortening from 'Neo-Pagan'. Relax, 'Neo' only means new.

Now, when it comes to Witch, first and foremost, I have never encountered or spoken to anyone in person or via the Internet who believes in and or practices 'black' or 'dark' magic/arts. That's not to say there aren't  any people out in the world who don't or people who don't play with negative energies. And a lot of Wicca or Witches will say they don't believe in black magic or the devil. Jamie wrote: "Witches are folk healers and mediators who practice folk magic." 

Well, 'folk' typically is in reference to a particular people or region or culture of people and their practices. Ever heard the term 'folk music'?  I don't necessarily believe you can say a Witch is a person who is a folk healer, mediator, or a practitioner of folk magic. Not all Witches are from the particular culture of which ever type of label they have donned or even practicing in that region. However, they may have adopted or adapted to the particular set of rules or ideas of the type of Witchcraft they have decided to become. 

All of that being said, there are so many different types of Witches. There are the Strega, Egyptian, Solitary, Pow-wow, Pictish, Green, Kitchen, Celtic, British Traditional, Caledonii Traditional, and Wicca. The list really goes on and on and there are even Witches who practice a mix of a few to many and take on the label of eclectic. It's really easy to get lost in all the nomenclature and semantics especially since most of this stuff is 'new' and only been around for a few decades and new facets are popping up all the time. But at the end of the day, as I understand it, as I have been made to believe by what I have read, a Wiccan is a type of Witch but a Witch nonetheless and both those terms fall under the 'umbrella' of Neo-pagan.  

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