However, while some Pagans are Witches, most are not.
Witches, like shamans are practitioners of specific rituals and traditions within the general framework of the tribal pagan experience.
The word "pagan" comes from the Latin word “paganus”, meaning “country dweller”, however, there is no consensus on the exact modern meaning of the word and the label of “pagan” has various meanings to different people. This causes misunderstandings whenever the word is used, as most people assume that the meaning that they have been taught, usually in the context of their religious upbringing, is universally accepted. Therefore one must judge the meaning implied within the context in which the word is used in order to guess at the intent of its usage. In common modern usage, it may be used in an attempt to stigmatize pagans as being anything from “Witches” to “Worshippers of the Devil”. However, within Western patriarchal religious societies, the most common interpretation is “heathen” and/or “heretic”.
In its essence, as practiced throughout the world, “paganism”, in its ancient and traditional sense, is a veneration of Nature. It is a spiritual way of life which has its roots in the ancient tribal beliefs of the world. Pagans celebrate the sanctity of Nature and believe in the sacredness of all things. Pagans see the divine in every object, in every tree, in every plant, in every living creature living creature and in the dark side of life as much as in the light. Pagans live their lives attuned to the cycles of Nature and of life and death.
Paganism is tribal in essence as the "old religion" or "old ways" of a local “homeland”. All pagan beliefs form a connection and reverence for their “local” natural environment. Pagans see this as their spiritual heritage and maintain the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors.
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Witchcraft is the name that was used by the Christian Church to stigmatize the practitioners of "The Old Religions". It is the continuation of the practices of the native spiritual and cultural beliefs of Europeans and others that existed prior to the advent of Christianity. The witch is a practitioner of a paganistic lifestyle, but the paths (traditions) that individual witches follow often vary widely. A witch will follow the principles and beliefs of the pagan philosophy, but not according to any set of parochial dogmas. A witch's individual path comes from the epiphany of their own individual experience and the exercise of their own given talents. Witchcraft is a considered a religion; however that classification is more a legal label rather than a definition of witchcraft as a congregational approach to spirituality.
To become a witch, one must become a practitioner of the “Old Ways”. 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.
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Neo-paganism is an umbrella term used to describe a wide variety of modern religious movements that profess to a revival of ancient mostly European and mostly pre-Christian religions and the term provides a means of distinguishing between historical pagans of ancient cultures and the adherents of modern religious movements.
As the name implies, these religions are paganistic in nature, but their relationship to older forms of Paganism is the source of much controversy.
One of the primary differences between Traditional Witchcraft and the modern neo-pagan movements is that these modern movements are all "hegemonic entities "of one sort of another, while traditional witches are more solitary in the nature of their practice.
These modern groups will generally refer to themselves in terms of being fraternal or even monastic orders, with Wiccan’s usually referring to their communities as “covens”.
The word “coven derives from the Latin root word “convenire”, meaning to come together or to gather, as in a group of believers who gather together for ceremonies of worship or celebrating the "Sabbats". Traditional witches however, when they do gather together in a group, usually do so as a “family” or “clan”, rather than as part of a structured religious congregation.
Wicca: Founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1950's is the most well known and popular of the neo-pagan religions. Wicca (, is comprised of western European folk traditions, Eastern philosophy, and Qabbalistic mysticism. Although initially Wicca was based more in magickal pursuits, it has since developed into more of a New Age spiritual movement. As a movement, Wicca can be seen as an eclectic system of beliefs with an underlying static ritual and a shifting ethics base.
Wicca, (the Old English word for wizard), is primarily an organized religion that emphasizes the role of witchcraft and ritual. It is an approach to spirituality that emphasizes a doctrinal set of principles and practices promulgated by an establishedhegemony with a structured form of ritual initiation or rite of passage within the laws of the “coven” or congregation.
Wiccans practice what are a fairly fundamentalist set of rituals which are administered by a set lineage of high priests and priestesses. The Gardnerian Movement or Wicca, came out of a mass media "spiritual revival" campaign, led by founder Gerald Gardner, in Europe in the 1950s. This new religion has lost credibility amongst traditional witches who see it as promoting the idea of "weekend witchcraft" and not an absolute and unmitigated dedication to a life in "The Old Ways".
Wicca, since its inception, has broken off into several different movements.
Asatru: Asatru is frequently regarded as one of the neo-pagan family of religions, which includes Wicca, Druidism, and re-creations of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other ancient pagan religions. However, many Asatruers prefer the term "Heathen" or "Pagan" rather than "neopagan;" they look upon their tradition as "not just a branch on the neopagan tree" but as a separate tree. Unlike Wicca, which has gradually evolved into many different traditions, the reconstruction of Asatru has been based on the surviving historical record. Its followers have maintained it as closely as possible to the original religion of the Norse people. During the early part of the 20th Century, the National Socialist Party in Germany attempted to pervert Asatru by grafting parts of the religion onto Nazis racist beliefs. Today, some neo-Nazis groups are attempting to continue the practice.
Cunning Folk: The term "cunning man" or "cunning woman" was most widely used in southernEngland , the Midlands and in Wales. Such people were also frequently known as "wizards", "wise men" or "wise women" or "conjurers". In Cornwall they were sometimes referred to as "pellars", which originated from the term "expellers", referring to the practice of expelling evil spirits. Folklorists often used the term "white witch", though this was infrequently used amongst the ordinary folk as the term "witch" had general evil connotations. The relationship between cunning-craft and witchcraft is controversial. The original cunning folk were oftentimes witch hunters; condemning an individual as a witch responsible for some evil or affliction and cunning crafters were called upon to perform curses against the supposed offender. Today” Cornish Witches” are often mistakenly referred to as cunning folk.
Druidry: In the Celtic religion, the modern words Druid or Druidism denote the practices of the ancient Druids, the priestly class in ancient Britain and Gaul . The historical knowledge of the Druids is very limited, as no Druidic documents have survived. Julius Caesar's ‘The Gallic Wars’ gives the fullest account of the ancient Druids and he describes the Druids as the learned priestly class, who were guardians of the unwritten ancient customary law and who had the power of executing judgment. To most people today, the Druids conjure up images of a mysterious, religious sect wearing strange robes and conducting archaic ceremonies out in the open air at Stonehenge . However, archeologists have shown that Stonehenge was built, over a period of centuries, from 2800 BC to 1550 BC, long before the arrival of the ancient Celts and there is no evidence that the ancient Druids ever used Stonehenge. Modern Druidism (neo-druidism) came out of the Romanticism Movement of the 18th Century and is thought to have some, though not many, connections to the Old Religion, instead being based largely on writings produced during and after the 18th Century from second hand sources and theories.
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