What Is Witchcraft?
- Religion - from the Latin religio - (reverence for the gods)
- A system of religious belief, often involving a code of ethics
and philosophy. Any system of beliefs, practices, and ethical
- There is no universal meaning for what Witchcraft is. It
means different things in different cultures. But here I will
try to give as detailed a description as possible, with providing
as many views as possible. You may also want to look at the Additional
Reading list that expands on some of the information here.
- First let's make it clear that Witchcraft is the title of
the religion. Not Wicca. Here in the U.S. there is a large debate
about this. But if one is open to the historic evolution of the
religion; Wicca is a moderately new tradition within the religion
and not the religion itself. You can read much more about this
in the Is Witchcraft A Religion
- So what is Witchcraft?
- Witchcraft is a spiritual practice, a way of life, a belief
system and a religion. Witchcraft is the religion that sets the
foundation of belief. The denominations of Witchcraft are called
Traditions. They further define and implement the foundation
of beliefs into their own perspectives of practice. Defining
their own creed, troth or rede of faith to provide guidance and
principles for that tradition.
- "The Craft" is a much older way to describe what
is commonly known as Witchcraft. But some suggest "The Craft"
is actually the craft of Magik, or magikal practices which are
not specific to, or only used by, pagan religions.
- Some refer to their spiritual belief system by the name of
their particular tradition (ie: Wicca). We will discuss this
- There is no single Bible or sacred text defining all of Witchcraft,
in all its many sects or traditions. However each practioner
and/or coven has their own Book of Shadows
or Grimoire. The Grimoire contains rituals, invocations and charms,
experiences and journal entries from the coven as a whole. They
contain information and teachings learned from experiences and
from each other. Practioners often copy from each others books,
and more often students from their teachers. Often a teacher
will define exactly which entries a student must copy into their
own Grimoire before their initiation process into that coven
can be completed.
- Even though a coven has a base or official source of Grimoire,
no two Grimoires are ever exactly the same. Ideally a Grimoire
should contain only methods that have proven successful and have
been consistent in their workings or hold up to scrutiny. Failed
ideas are excluded. Along with the Grimoire, many covens see
other essential texts to the Grimoire: The Greater Key of Solomon
the King which dates from medieval times and The Book of the
Sacred Magic of Abra-Melin the Mage which was published in the
late 1900s. These two books are said to contain the basic lessons
and principles of magik that should be utilized in every coven.
Of course this is not a requirement and not all covens provide
these additional works.
- Witchcraft is a recognized religion by the United States
government. In 1985/86 the U.S. Army included a section in the
Army Chaplin's Handbook on Witchcraft/Wicca.
If you examine the entry, you will notice that the religion is
known by other names, and you'll find Witchcraft listed in that
section of the document.
- In the most simplistic definitions, Witchcraft can be described
- A nature based religion that believes in the balance of mind/body/spirit
within the divine multiverse. It is a religion and way of life,
honoring all things seen and unseen within that divine multiverse.
Practitioners strive to live in harmony and balance within nature,
believing we (human and nature) are all interconnected and parts
of the greater divine force. Some call this force, The GreatSpirits,
The Divine, God/Goddess, All That Is and so on. It's really up
to the individual and what label best fits their view of the
- Witchcraft comes in many forms or sects. As mentioned earlier,
these sects are called Traditions. Many are based not on book
or historical record, but rather oral tradition. Perhaps that's
where the label 'tradition' comes from. There are many Traditions
within the category of the religion. One of the more commonly
known today is Wicca which has become one of the most popular
traditions in America.
- Think of it this way:
- The tradition is to Witchcraft what a denomination is to
- That is to say: Wicca is to Witchcraft what Baptist is to
- You can refer to the Witchcraft
Traditions article for additional information.
- Practitioners of Witchcraft believe in a balanced polarity,
especially that of the feminine and masculine energy of the Divine
universe. These two aspects of nature are embodied in two deities,
known as the Goddess and God. Traditionally most Pagan deities
are considered to represent the different aspects of the God/Goddess.
- Most traditions honor the God/Goddess as equals where one
does not acquire more or less importance over the other. This
translates into a balance between the feminine and masculine
forces within the divine. Which God/Goddess a tradition honors
depends on their cultural heritage. Celts honor Celtic Gods,
Egyptian traditions honor Egyptian Gods and so on. These cultural
groups of God/Goddess are called Pantheons.
A few branches, such as Dianic, view the feminine aspect with
- There are many groups who are monotheists (there is only
1 god), polytheists (there are many gods) or duotheists (1 female
and 1 male god). Many regard the gods as real, not simply as
aspects of a male or female deity. Where other Traditions see
them as pantheons, just aspects of the Divine force in the universe.
Today there is a belief that a tradition of Witchcraft must be
polytheists or duotheists to be legit. That is a total misconception.
Many early pagans were monotheists, who saw the Divine Spirit
as once force that lives within all things and connects all things
into one force in nature.
- For those that honor both the God and Goddess, the Goddess
is the existing force of all creation as in the Earth, nature
and life itself. The Goddess has three faces: the Maiden, the
Mother and the Crone. These faces correspond to the many different
cycles in nature: the waxing, full and waning phases of the moon;
the menstrual cycle and the cycle of life in birth, life and
- The God is less commonly defined across Traditions. He can
be a single view, such as Odin in Norse practices, The Horned
God Cernunnos in Celtic traditions, Ra in Egyptian traditions
and so on. In many sects, the God comes in two forms, the young
God who starts the year and works into the Summer when he becomes
the Old God into Yule when he has aged and grown old. At this
time he faces the young God who will begin the new year cycle
again. There are variations to this theme, The Holly and Oak
Kings, The Horned God, The
Sacred King are all examples of this.
- Practioners of Witchcraft hold a belief in Reincarnation
and do not believe in heaven or hell since death is considered
to be another form of existence. Some practioners believe that
a soul is continually reborn whereas others believe that once
a soul learns all the life lessons, it is granted eternal rest
in a place called the Summerlands,
which is also known as Valhalla
for the Norse, The Otherworld
for the Celts, Avalon for the Anglo-Saxons and so on throughout
each cultural Tradition.
- Practioners believe in Karma
as the result of an action brought through life time to lifetime.
It is the ultimate divine law that governs the use of magik and
behavior since it deals with the divine cosmic justice. In other
words a person is reborn in a position that befits their deeds
from the previous life. In addition, the deeds created in this
incarnation create the life experiences upon ones path through
- Practioners believe in Energy
and Psychic abilities. Believing
that we are all energy beings and connected through energy. That
through this energy we can connect to each other and all things
with our psychic senses and that these senses are part of all
nature and that all people have these senses within them.
- Practioners believe in Spirits, Spirit
Guides and Ghosts. Believing
that a soul never dies and has the ability to walk in all spiritual
realms. That they share knowledge and information, guide and
assist the living through their spiritual path.
- While most practioners believe in Magik,
not all feel the need to practice it's craft.
- Practioners honor the energy and flow of the Moon
as it relates to daily life. The phases of the moon are honored
and celebrated through rituals known as Esbats.
Additionally we mark specific cycles of nature and the changes
of the year through holidays we call Sabbats.
These cycles are celebrated though rituals
and ceremonies, most often in Magikal
Circles or Sacred Spaces.
- Practioners gather in groups called Covens
or Clans or alone in Solitary
practice. Each group may have it's own unique practices or rituals.
Covens range in number of members, but traditionally have a maximum
of thirteen which is the number of transition. When the number
of members in a coven exceeds thirteen, the common belief is
that the coven should split, to continue the self-perpetuation
- Practioners do not have specific structures of worship, though
some find the means and finances for constructing indoor altars,
some call them temples, while others practice their rituals at
outdoor altars. In reality, any place in contact with the Earth
will suffice. Rituals are practiced in Circles representing the
cycle of life, energy and the ever ending cycle of divine energy.
Group Circle Gatherings are similar
to Setting Circles for solitary practices.
The area is purified by the four elements and then the Circle
is cast , usually by a leader of the coven often known as a Priest
or Priestess who walks clockwise along its perimeter and drawing
an actual circle. Sometimes with a wand or athame which are two
common tools, a rope made of natural fibers, a vine or drawing
in the dirt. After this, many Covens call forth the four cardinal
directions and are greeted and invoked, according to the tradition
and preference of the practitioners.
- Other neo pagans practice entirely without formal circle-casting.
Some Celtic reconstructionists worship in a Nemeton, as they
believe the ancients did, within a ritual framework based on
elements earth, wind, fire, water. Others have adapted Native
American practices and invoke the directions, including Above
and Below. And some, meld all these aspects together and work
with the directions and the elements.
- Practioners conduct sacred rites within the Circle, invoking
the names of the Goddess and God along with the essences of nature.
Once the Circle has been cast, the space within represents an
altered consciousness that is "between worlds." The
Circle also serves to contain energy that is built up during
the rites until it is ready to be released in what is known as
the Cone of Power. When the Cone of Power is released, the energy
goes into the purposes that the practitioners have set forth
in their ritual.
- Rituals often also include an honoring of the God/Goddess
with wine and cakes. A goblet of wine is raised and an Athame
is dipped into it to represent the union between the Goddess
(the goblet) and the God (the athame). The cup is then passed
around the Circle to be drunk by the practitioners. The ceremonial
cakes are then passed around as well, to complete the socializing
and fellowship that is present in the circle. Sometimes rituals
are also conducted skyclad (naked) or in special costumes, depending
on the tradition. The purpose of both these practices is to increase
the unity with nature.
- Practioners have a set of tools commonly
used for casting circles and during rituals.
- The broom, serves the purpose of purifying a space before
casting a circle.
- An altar where the rite is focused.
- The wand and athame which are masculine tools.
- The cup and broom which are feminine tools.
- These objects also represent the elements, fire, earth, water
and air. In some traditions, the wand is the symbol for air and
the athame a symbol for fire. The practioner (if a solitary)
or the priest/priestess stands in the center of the circle to
represent the 5th element, the divine spirit. This combination
of elements and nature perfectly complement the image of the
Goddess and God during the ritual.
- Some Wiccans have alternate associations with elements and
directions, especially those based on Norse or Welsh covens.
The Athame in some groups is a white-handled knife used in ritual,
the black handled athame might be used outside the circle for
magically related work such as gathering herbs or cutting candle
wicks. Another tool used for these purposes is the boline, a
crescent shaped knife.
- There are three types of gatherings: Sabbats, Esbats and
special purposes. In a special purpose gatherings, a coven meets
to deal with a common goal or issue that needs immediate attention,
such as casting a health spell to aid a sickly friend. Most magikal
rites are performed at Esbats, which are small gatherings that
correspond to the phases of the moon.
- Sabbats or Holiday festivals also take place during the year.
These holidays are divided into the sections of the seasonal
year, spring, summer, fall and winter. They are also divided
- Quarters and Cross-quarter ceremonies.
- Quarter ceremonies,
- these are also called the Fire Festivals.
- Midsummer - Summer Solstice
- Cross Quarter ceremonies.
- While many traditions use Initiations to acknowledge the
progress of a practioner through knowledge and learning, not
all traditions follow this concept. Initiates are considered
to be priests/priestess after a full cycle of learning is acquired.
Often, a Priest/Priestess takes on the role similar to other
clergy, performing blessings, weddings, eulogies and so on. Many
practioners are fighting to gain state recognition for their
status as clergy within the pagan community.
- What Witchcraft and A Tradition Are
- Kitchen Witch
- This label pops up every now and then. More closely related
to the Hereditary sect, these witches are practicing healing
and ceremonies based on family tradition. "Old wives tales",
Grandma's healing concoctions and special family traditions all
make up this sect of the craft.. However, since these beliefs
are often handed down from generation to generation, the label
Heredity is more appropriate. But there is a nice warm feeling
about calling your grandma a "kitchen witch" and referring
to her old remedies that helped you feel better when you got
a bad cold.
- A mis-labeled sect, based in South Central Pennsylvania.
It is based on a 400 year old German magik system and has deteriorated
into a a simple faith healing. The mis-use of the term maybe
offensive to the original practioners of a true Pow-Wow, the
Native American nations. It is advised that this term remain
connected to the originators and not to this adopted society.
Even at 400 years old, the Pennsylvania/German system is new
in comparison to the Native American beliefs. See "Similarities in Beliefs" for a further
discussion of this topic.
- Devil Worship
- An important NOT!
Craft practioners do not worship "the devil", because
pagan Witches do not belief in the devil. The misconception was
mainly created by the Christian Church as a means to destroy
Craft beliefs which were often perceived to be at odds with what
the "Church" wanted spread across the world. Many detractors
of the Christian faith often site this type of propaganda as
an example of the "Churches'" attempt to gain control
over the people.
- An other important NOT!
Craft practioners are not Satanists. Satanism is also a pre-Christian
pagan religion, however there are significant differences between
these two faiths. Many people often confuse Satan with the Christian
devil. Again, this is due to Christian propaganda. Satan is the
translated name of the Egyptian God Set, who was the deity of
ego and confidence. These traits when taken to extremes are similar
to Lucifer and thus the association stuck. Satanists however,
do not believe in the existence of the devil, and do not worship
that being. They see themselves as the God force and practice
a faith of eye for an eye. If you'd like to learn more, I strongly
suggest you visit the University Of Virginia's Religious Freedoms
site and review their study on Satanism.
- Additional Reading
Witchcraft A Religion?
Creation of Modern Witchcraft
- An Evolution
of WitchCraft (Timeline)
Witch is Which? - Labels & Titles
Source: 1, c3,
- Created: 10.02.1996 Updated: