- Or Is It Wicca?
- The Start Of Debate
- Is Witchcraft a religion or not is an argument that has long
existed and will not be resolved by this article. There are groups
of people who believe it is a religion, there are those who don't.
Each person should examine both sides of the debate and decide
for them self. That perspective should be derived from an academic
approach and research of the practices, to the best of our ability
for how they were established, used and practiced through out
- This debate is one reason a new label is becoming popular
combining the basic foundation of spiritual concepts with those
of a pagan perspective; "Pagan Metaphysics." Metaphysics
itself (as written by Aristotle) are pagan in nature as the Ancient
Greeks were a Polytheistic culture.
- From this starting point we can begin the with an academic
approach and an examination of the labels/titles in order to
understand the context of the discussion. What is meant when
one says 'this' or uses 'that' title during the discussion. This
is a concept of defining perspective was set forth by Greek scholars
and can be very useful in debate. So if you've read Aristotle
than you're familiar with this type of introductory foundation.
- Defining The Labels
- When we define the titles and labels used in a discussion
we need to include the etymology of the word. How did the word
come about, how was it used, when was it established and what
was the environment or culture that it was used in. For instance,
if we talk about cars and whither or not they are fuel efficient
what are we talking about? Are we talking about all cars? Are
we talking about compact or mid sized cars? What about SUVs,
pickups or other types of cars? An exercise in defining what
"cars" means when we use the word is the first step.
- This allows us to have a meaningful debate by starting on
the same page and limits the amount of discord over semantics.
The purpose of this section therefore, is to clearly define and
discuss the labels used in this debate.
Late Latin (LL)
Latin language used in the 3rd to 6th centuries
Italic language of ancient Latium and of Rome and until modern
times the dominant language of school, church, and state in western
Old English (OE)
Indo-European Languages from the time of the earliest documents
in the 7th century to about 1100
Middle English (ME)
Indo-European Languages from the 12th to 15th centuries.
Proto-Germanic is the stage of the language constituting the
most recent common ancestor of the attested Germanic languages,
dated to the latter half of the first millennium BC. The post-PIE
dialects spoken throughout the Nordic Bronze Age, roughly 2500500
BC, even though they may have no attested descendants other than
the Germanic languages, are referred to as "pre-Proto-Germanic"
or more commonly "pre-Germanic.
The French language from the 9th to the 16th century
The French language used in medieval England, about A.D. 500
to about 1500
Old French (O.Fr.)
The French language from the 9th to the 16th century; especially
: French from the 9th to the 13th century.
- c.1200, from Anglo-Fr., religiun, "religious community,"
from L. religionem (nom. religio) "respect for what is sacred,
reverence for the gods,". Modern sense of "recognition
of, obedience to, and worship of a higher, unseen power"
is from 1535. "Religious" is first recorded c.1225.
Transferred sense of "scrupulous, exact" is recorded
- 1. A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose
of the universe, especially. when considered as the creation
of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional
and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing
the conduct of human affairs.
- 2. A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally
agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.
- When we say religion we are talking about a group of people
who have organized a fundamental set of common spiritual beliefs
as the foundation for their religious practice.
- c.1375, from L.L. paganus "pagan," in classical
L. "villager, rustic, civilian," from pagus "rural
district," originally "district limited by markers,"
thus related to pangere "to fix, fasten".
- Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative
rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of
Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that
period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from
the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for "civilian,
incompetent soldier," which Christians (Tertullian, c.202;
Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church
(e.g. milites "soldier of Christ," etc.). Applied to
modern pantheists and nature-worshipers from 1908. Paganism is
attested from 1433.
- While pagan is attested in English from the 14th century,
there is no evidence that the term paganism was in use in English
before the 17th century. The OED instances Edward Gibbon's Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776): "The divisions of Christianity
suspended the ruin of paganism." The term was not a neologism,
however, as paganismus was already used by Augustine.
- By modern definition: any religion that does not espouse
to the doctrine of Abrahamic religions, which include Judaism,
Christianity and Islam.
- When we say pagan we are talking about the 'rural adherence
to the old gods', meaning religions that do not follow the doctrine
of Abrahamic religions. This would include a large category of
religions from ancient Buddhism to Shamanism.
- Neopaganism: A movement by modern people to revive nature-worshiping,
pre-Christian religions, or other nature-based spiritual paths.
This definition may include anything on a sliding scale from
Reconstructionist at one end to non-reconstructionist groups
such as neo-Druidism, Witchcraft and neo-Norse movements.
- When we say neo-Pagan we are talking about pagan groups that
define themselves as nature or Earth based religions.
- O.E. cræft "power, strength, might," from
P.Gmc. *krab-/*kraf-. Sense shifted to "skill, art"
(via a notion of "mental power"), which led to the
n. meaning of "trade." Use for "small boat"
is first recorded 1671, probably from some nautical sense of
"vessels of small craft," referring either to the trade
they did or the seamanship they required.
- Use of the word in modern contexts: another name for Witchcraft.
- When we say Craft, we are talking about the practice of a
skill utilizing the Science of Energy Manipulation; also called
- OE - a wise woman, shaman, or priestess in Germanic paganism,
later in Norse paganism, and are a recurring motif in Norse mythology.
- Derived from PGmc - The Old Norse word Völva meaning
"wand carrier" and it continues Proto-Germanic *walwo-n,
which is derived from a word for "wand" (ON völr).
Vala, on the other hand, is a literary form based on Völva.
Other names were seiðkona for women and seiðmaðr
- When we say Wicce, we are speaking of a woman who utilizes
her knowledge and skills of Energy Manipulation to provide guidance
to those who seek her counsel.
- An O.E. noun meaning "male witch, wizard, soothsayer,
sorcerer, magician;" the male form of wicce.
- Use of the word in modern contexts traces to English folklorist
Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), who is said to have joined circa
1939 an occult group in New Forest, Hampshire, England, for which
he claimed an unbroken tradition to medieval times. Gardner seems
to have first used it in print in 1954, in his book "Witchcraft
Today". Gerald Gardner's followers (c.1954) established
the tradition of Wica as a form of Witchcraft. In later years,
one of Gardner's students assumed he spelt the word incorrectly
Wica instead of the 'old world' spelling of Wicca and that he
chose this word because of it's 'masculine association for a
male witch'. Today his tradition is known as Wicca.
- When we say Wicca today, we are talking about the modern
tradition of Wicca established by Gerald Gardner.
- OE - wiccecraft. The practice and beliefs held by the Wicce.
A magical religion or the religion of the Wicce.
- Witchcraft was first declared a crime in Eng. law in 1542;
trials there peaked in 1580s and 1640s but fell sharply after
1660. The last, in 1717, ended in acquittal. The Witchcraft Act
was repealed 1736. Earlier documented use of the word occurs
c1480 in OE papers documenting the negative influences of the
Wicce and her efforts to consort with the devil. Some believe
this to be the precursor or beginning movement against neo-pagan
practices and the start of the Inquisitions of Europe.
- When we say Witchcraft, we are talking about a religion that
holds a common set of Nature based fundamental beliefs and practices.
These beliefs include a deep desire to live in harmony and balance
with ones natural world (seen and unseen), a respect for all
things, reincarnation and karma, the believe that all things
are connected on both a physical and spiritual/soul level through
energy and the God/Goddesses or Divine, that this energy can
be utilized to advance the soul toward spiritual enlightenment.
This certainly isn't a complete list of all the practices and
beliefs of the religion, but is offered as a general synopsis.
- c.1380, from O.Fr. tradicion (1292), from L. traditionem
(nom. traditio) "delivery, surrender, a handing down,"
from traditus, form of tradere "deliver, hand over".
The notion in the modern sense of the word is of things "handed
down" from generation to generation.
- Traditional is recorded from c.1600; in ref. to jazz, from
1950. Slang trad, short for trad(itional jazz) is recorded from
1956; its general use for "traditional" is recorded
- 1. a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting.
2. a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.
- 3. Theology:
- a. (among Jews) body of laws and doctrines, or any one of
them, held to have been received from Moses and originally handed
down orally from generation to generation.
b. (among Christians) a body of teachings, or any one of them,
held to have been delivered by Christ and His apostles but not
originally committed to writing.
c. (among neo-Pagans) a body of teachings, or any one of them,
held to have been received from family/clan/cultural group ancestors
and originally handed down orally from generation to generation.
- When we speak of Tradition in the neo-pagan community we
are speaking of a specific group that implements the beliefs
held by the religion of Witchcraft and further defined and put
into practiced by a specific set of activities held in troth
to that group. In other words, a Tradition of Witchcraft further
defines the beliefs and put those into practice based on their
own troth, creed or rede of faith.
- c.1384 from O.Fr. magique "art of influencing events
and producing marvels"; from L. magice "sorcery, magic";
from Gk. magike female form of magikos "magical," from
magos "one of the members of the learned and priestly class".
- Practitioners of Witchcraft adopted the Greek spelling "magike"
and later "magik" to differentiate between stage magic
and the science of energy manipulation. The practiced faded and
was repopularized in the first half of the 20th century by Aleister
Crowley when he introduced it as a core component of Thelema.
- 1. The science of energy manipulation. A conscious direction
of will to accomplish a goal.
- 2. An action or effort undertaken because of a personal need
to effect change through energy, spells or ritual.
- 3. Any act designed to cause intentional change. To change
nothing into something and something into something else. To
cause in any object any change of which that object is capable
- When we speak of Magik we are talking about the science of
energy manipulation through ritual, ceremony or spell as a conscious
direction of will to accomplish a goal.
- O.E. wicce "female magician, sorceress," in later
use "a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or
evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural
- Use of the word in modern context refers to any person, female
or male, who practices the science of energy manipulation/magik.
It has been associated primarily with the religion of Witchcraft,
but the label is used amongst other practitioners in other religions,
including Christianity, especially Christians from northern Spain,
Latin America and various Celtic regions.
- When we speak of witch we are talking about any person who
practices magik along with their own personal spiritual belief,
be it Witchcraft, Christian, or some other form of religious
practice. Those that do not practice magik with or on a spiritual
path are not witches, but rather Ceremonial Mages. The label
"witch" distinguishes a person who practices magik
with religion, vs. one who only practices magik.
- Is Witchcraft A Religion?
- If we look at the origins of the word and how it was used,
then yes, Witchcraft is a religion. Wicca as it is used today
is a modern denomination of that religion. It's important to
understand that Wicca in it's original form was not a tradition
at all. And those who claim Wicca is the older base of the religion
are not accurate in their assumption. That does not diminish
the value or stature of Wicca.
- There have been many Traditional practices of Witchcraft
handed down among families and cultures long before these words
and labels were established. The earliest we can go back in time
is to the Late Latin period of the 3rd century AD and the use
of paganus by the scholars of that time. Even then we know from
the writings of Caesar's Commentarii de bello Gallico (5251
BC; The Gallic War) that there were pagan practices in place
in the Celtic lands.
- Because of this, modern attempts to suggest that Wicca is
the original religion doesn't take into account these earlier
practices of the faith. We know the Druids and Celtic Shamanism
existed and were practiced long before the Wicce and Wiccecraft
were labeled by the old English.
- We certainly know the Norse practiced earlier forms of Norse
Shamanism that evolved into Odinism, Asatru and neo-Pagan Witchcraft
traditions. We also know these early forms of Norse paganism
influenced other regions of the world as the Vikings traveled,
conquered and settled in new lands. That is certainly true of
their invasion and influence in the Celtic lands.
- We also know that Native American pagan practices in North,
Central and South America existed long before Indo-Europeans
invaded those lands, bring Christianity to the 'new worlds'.
These forms of Shamanism are also the pre-cursors to modern neo-paganism.
And in many instances heavily influenced modern pagan beliefs
and practices. Calling these early traditions "wiccan"
degrades the contributions these early people made to our belief
- Taking all this into account, modern practices cannot be
labeled or generalized as 'Wicca'. The historical evolution of
the words, and their associated practices pre-date Wicca as a
practice or tradition. Because of this, we cannot say Wicca is
the religion. Rather it is a denomination of the religion.
- In or about 1100AD practitioners of nature paganism adopted
the label Wiccecraft and later Witchcraft as the title for their
religious beliefs. As with all things, that large category of
practitioners developed their own doctrine of practices, or ways
of implementing those beliefs based on their own generational
or cultural perspectives. Traditions became the denominations
of the faith and there are many of these within the global religion
- Many of the Traditions we know and practice have greatly
evolved since these earlier times. In part because of the time
and general evolution of thought, in part because of the eventual
secrecy that blanketed earlier practitioners who were forced
to hide from Inquisitions and death. Sadly much of this secrecy
caused a large portion of information to be lost and forgotten
over time. Even before the Inquisitions we know a large amount
of information and documentation was lost as conquers destroyed
villages and cultures as they took over the lands and people
- But the evolution also occurred because the more the human
culture learned from science and scientific exploration, the
more our understanding of the universe and our place in it also
evolved. We no longer see the need or value in sacrificing a
life as an appeasement or in honoring our Gods/Goddesses. Today
we see greater value in life and caring for the life of nature
and the world around us. Because we have grown as a species,
our religious values have also grown.
- Today modern Traditions are based on advancements in science,
merging practices from two or more traditions into one, or even
taking aspects of beliefs from other religions and merging them
with neo-pagan traditions to create new traditions of the religion.
- Through all this, there is one constant - Witchcraft is the
religion that sets the foundation of belief and the Traditions
further define and implement those beliefs into their own perspectives
of practice. Defining their own creed, troth or rede of faith
to provide guidance and principles for that tradition. Wicca
is a tradition of Witchcraft, along with a large number of other
Traditions that existed before the creation of Wicca.
- It's understandable therefore, why many are trying to get
away from the debate and dropping the label "Witchcraft"
for that of "Pagan Metaphysics". But the change in
name may also help to drop some of the centuries of negative
propaganda heaped on the practice from the early Church. What
ever you choose to call your religion is up to you. But do some
academic research behind the name and it's etymology so you have
a good understanding of the label you're choosing to connect
Of The Goddess
11th Collegiate Dictionary
- WordNet® 3.0,
© 2006 by Princeton University.
- Additional Reading
Witchcraft A Religion?
Creation of Modern Witchcraft
- An Evolution
of WitchCraft (Timeline)
Witch is Which? - Labels & Titles
- What Is Pagan Metaphysics?
- What Is Paganism? A Basic Description of
Paganism & Pagan Metaphysics
- Source: 1, s1,
- Created: 10.17.2008 Updated: