What is Witchcraft?
Witchcraft is the name that was used by the Christian Church to stigmatize the followers of "The Old Ways". 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.
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 associated 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”.
Is Witchcraft the same thing as Wicca?
"Traditional Witchcraft" is not Wicca. Witchcraft and Wicca are two separate and distinct paths. Many Wiccans often incorrectly refer to themselves as witches, but those who practice Traditional Witchcraft will either refer to themselves as being a witch, or will use another manner of description altogether. Traditional Witches will never say they are Wiccan.
Traditional Witchcraft existed for thousands of years before the establishment of Wicca. Traditional Witchcraft is a family of traditions that come from a common ethnic and historic background and the Traditional Crafter (or witch) follows a household tradition that is reflective of that background. While as in every age, individual practices may be modified to reflect personal experience, these changes and modifications are done within the context of the ancient traditions and customs.
Wicca however goes far beyond modifying the traditions of the “Old Ways”. Wicca is a modern organized religion developed in the 1950's by Gerald Gardner. Wicca, as organized by Gardner, is comprised of a jumble of Western European folk traditions, Eastern philosophy, and Kabbalistic mysticism, with many of their practices never having been a part of Traditional Witchcraft.
Although initially Wicca was based more in magickal pursuits, it has since developed into more of a New Age religious movement. As a religion, Wicca can be seen as an eclectic system of beliefs with changing rituals and a shifting ethics base.
As an organized religion, Wicca is an approach to spirituality that emphasizes a doctrinal set of principles and practices promulgated by an established hegemony with a structured form of ritual initiation or rite of passage within the “coven” or congregation.
Witchcraft is not a religion, but an individual spiritual lifestyle. Witchcraft is a way of being, based in the customs of "The Old Ways" and it maintains an adherence to the ancient ideas of self-initiation and solitary practice.
The witch is a practitioner of a pagan tradition, but the 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. While Traditional Witchcraft is sometimes seen as a religion; that classification is more a legal label rather than a description of witchcraft as a congregational approach to spiritual practice.
What is "The Homeland" in Witchcraft?
A deep spiritual connection to the ancestral homeland resides 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.
What Gods do Witches worship?
The God and Goddess 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 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 occupation, location, or 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.
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.
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.
(For more information on the tradition of magic and witchcraft please visit our "Traditional Magic" webpage.)
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.
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 can be a coven. Coincidentally, in the U.S. a group of at three "congregants" is required in order to be recognized as a tax exempt church
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.
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 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.
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. Though there are many who describe themselves as "Christian Witches", given the historical animosity of the Christian Church toward witchcraft, that is as much an oxymoron as someone professing to be a "Jewish Nazi".
During many ages there were witches. The Bible said so. The Bible commanded that they should not be allowed to live. Therefore the Church, after eight hundred years, gathered up its halters, thumb-screws, and firebrands, and set about its holy work in earnest. She worked hard at it night and day during nine centuries and imprisoned, tortured, hanged, and burned whole hordes and armies of witches, and washed the Christian world clean with their foul blood.
Then it was discovered that there was no such thing as witches, and never had been. One does not know whether to laugh or to cry. There are no witches. The witch text remains; only the practice has changed. Hell fire is gone, but the text remains. Infant damnation is gone, but the text remains. More than two hundred death penalties are gone from the law books, but the texts that authorized them remain.