I’m a Witch, Not a Wiccan: A Brief Summary of Broad Pagan Designations

I’m a Witch, Not a Wiccan: A Brief Summary of Broad Pagan Designations

Author: Treasach   

I have commented before on the usefulness of designations in the neopagan community. Though we are generally self-directed with many being solitary and “eclectic”, it is darn helpful to be able to declare certain predispositions, especially if one is interested in working with others. In joining an on-line group or planning a ritual, the use of categories can help determine if a great deal of negotiation, or only a little, is required to make your collaborations most satisfying.

One question often asked is the difference between designations in the neopagan community. Of course, there are a vast variety of answers, and as a very dynamic and vibrant community, these answers may be quite altered in a decade. However, there are some trends that seem to have settled out for the moment…

Earth Religions or Earth-Centred Spirituality is currently the designation for all those traditions that are outside most of the major religions, i.e. Abrahamics, Buddhists, etc., but that also follow an Earth based path. It usually encompasses folk traditions, like European peasant beliefs and practices, as well as native aboriginal spirituality. However, not all followers of those traditions would choose to call themselves pagan, especially if they also practice some form of Abrahamic religion as well. So it’s best to not to assume, which is why Paganism is a subset of Earth Religions.

Paganism, or Neopaganism, is the modern catch-all phrase for many organized and non-organized Earth based religions and spirituality. Often seen as based on European Aboriginal practices and beliefs, it can also be used to describe traditional African, Asian, and North American spirituality, though less so, largely due to its primarily English usage. By declaring oneself “pagan”, it specifically implies resurgence in traditional Earth Based beliefs, sometimes in defiance of Abrahamics, depending on the area, and a reconstruction of traditional wisdom, knowledge, and connection with Nature as a completion of self and humanity. It can be Deity based, supernatural, or atheistic.

Witchcraft is a subset of Paganism. Because of the etymology and use of the word itself, witchcraft usually means pre-Christian folk beliefs of Western and sometimes Eastern Europe. As a modern practice, it has two main elements, either one of which may be included. It is both tribal and a religious choice. For most, it involves the preference of using magic as meditation, prayer, ritual and empowerment. For a smaller group, they are born into families that are known for the “Gift”, “Second Sight”, or the “Eye” if you are less popular… In the past in most places, children born into these families or who showed potential would often have been trained and dedicated to help their communities. A few of these families that survived the Abrahamic purgings retained the gifts and occasionally the training and traditions that went along with them, though most rejected them, usually out of real fear and concern for their safety if they weren’t outright converted.

Like many reClaimed traditions, such as native spirituality, modern witchcraft is a combination of contemporary writings and current analysis of past traditions, as well as past and extant examples of country and folk rituals, and to a much smaller extent, of witch families and their practices. Due to recent advances in cultural archaeology, it is also undergoing the greatest updates and flux. Though most are not from family traditions, modern witches can follow the folk beliefs of the aboriginal Europeans, or practice magic, or both. They can also refer to themselves as witches if they come from a witch family or have the traditional innate abilities, without practising a folk religion or spellcraft. Or any combinations of the above, including practising witchcraft in other traditions, like Abrahamics. (Jewitches. Heh.) It’s a pretty broad category, but my usual test is – anything that can get you burnt as a witch by fundies usually qualifies you to self-identify as a witch. Spellcraft, Goddess worship, foretelling, healing… But not that heretic stuff. That’s totally different.

Due to its heavy reliance on magic and its European structure, Wicca is almost entirely a subset of Witchcraft, though there are a few practitioners who could be considered outside of it, such as high magicians. Wicca is a relatively new tradition, with its origins largely in the middle part of last century, with some of the structure extending back into the Victorian era. Drawing on what was known at the time of folk history and tradition, it is a conglomeration of primarily European beliefs, but also reflects turn of the century Orientalism with elements of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Asian references. Though slow to start, in the last few decades it has had hundreds of writers popularizing it, and has seen an explosion in individual sects. Because of its very modern feel and adaptations while retaining an aura of Romanticism, Wicca is one of the largest and best known segments of Witchcraft and neopaganism, and one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

Wiccans are almost always witches, but witches aren’t always Wiccan. Wiccan is not the ‘politically correct’ term for witch. It’s a sect of witchcraft, like Protestantism is for Christians. They have certain specific beliefs and rituals that identify them as a group. You wouldn’t call all Christians Protestants, would you? (*Hence, the Venn diagram.) I hope that clears things up, especially for the well meaning but less knowledgeable.

Heathenism is a collective category of paganism who follow the Old Religion and who will sometimes consider themselves Wiccan if they practice magic but usually don’t identify as witches at all. Primarily men, they can be of a more structured faith, like Druids, or more folk based, like Odinists. They often identify with warrior culture and value traditional knowledge, self-reliance, personal strength and honour.

This is a very brief sketch, of course, and some in the community will dispute these categories. There are lots of others as well. Wizards, or High Magic practitioners, for example, deal with the Other World and its denizens in a rigid, formalized manner, and so can be from nearly any religion, including Abrahamics. From what our current literature refers to, these are the general starting points and what most persons will intend to convey when they use these terms at the moment. As neopaganism is one of the fastest growing religions on the planet, however, I have little doubt that these terms will alter considerably in the next decade or so.

 

_________________________________________

Footnotes:
*Venn diagram is here:
http://gifts-of-nature.blogspot.ca/2012/10/im-witch-not-wiccan-brief-summary-of.html

Earth Religions on Earth Day

Earth Religions on Earth Day

Author: H. Byron Ballard 

It used to be that the media only wanted to hear from folks like me–you know, Witches, Pagans, Wiccans–once a year. Like clockwork, the phone would start ringing around 20 October, and every reporter and her brother wanted to talk to a “real” Witch about “Sam Hane”. Well, no more! That’s old hat now–the media is so savvy they’ve done articles on Beltane and the Winter Solstice, along with the seemingly ubiquitous Samhain pieces. And that’s in a newspaper here on the Buckle of the Bible Belt. The press in other locations has been even more astounding.

But the phone’s been ringing at another time of year, too, for a holiday that doesn’t appear on my charts of the Wheel of the Year, and that holiday is Earth Day. It’s a little tricky for those of us who celebrate Beltane because it’s only a couple of weeks before, but I’ve grown to love the inherent possibilities of such a secular holiday.

Earth Day is a good interface between the dominant culture and the Pagan one. You don’t have to be a bona fide dirt-worshipper to enjoy the parades with giant puppets and the lectures on recycling and the pretty blue flags. You can be a school-aged child or a soccer mom or a dreadlocked activist. Of course, some of us wear Birkenstocks as well as pentacles, so we move easily through these peaceful waters. Earth Day presents a lot of opportunities to talk to our neighbors–as well as the media–about our love and reverence for the Big Blue Ball. While everyone’s feeling warm and fuzzy (or ashamed and guilty) about the planet, we are often encouraged to talk about Gaia-focused theology. A couple of years ago, I was even asked to do an interfaith Council of All Beings. Amazing.

I encourage all of you “Earth religionists” to write letters to the editor and op-ed pieces, to take leadership in your interfaith communities. Our time has come to talk clearly and sensibly (maybe even poetically) about one of the things we do best–loving the biosphere.

There’s a catch, of course, at least in my community. Mainstream and liberal Christian churches–bless them!–are taking up the cry of “stewardship” and earnestly reading books by Berry and O’Murchu (even Thomas Merton, who went to his reward decades ago, has a new book about environmental justice) and attending meetings. I was part of an interfaith dialogue on the subject in which we were asked to brainstorm some scenarios. #3 began, “If you had a magic wand…” and the facilitator went round the focus group so each could speak. When my turn came, I carefully explained that I actually had a wand (polite titters) but what was really needed was energy and courage and a strong stomach. Less talk and more action. But we weren’t there to discuss action–we were only there to talk about guilt and sin and stewardship. We didn’t even go out and clean-up the roadside after the meeting and, as I recall, the coffee was served in styrofoam cups.

As I’ve said before, it’s vitally (and I mean that quite literally) important that the majority religions in our culture realize the extent of environmental degradation and begin to speak publicly about it. I applaud them for their efforts. No one does conferences, workshops and teach-ins better than those well-intentioned and passionate liberal Christians. Maybe they’ll even convince the Methodist-in-Chief in the White House that caring for the environment is what his god would like for him to do. Now, that’s a tall order.

And though I don’t think the notion of stewardship goes far enough regarding respect for and love of nature, we members of earth-based religions are certainly here to share our knowledge and experience. To be there when the discussion about “magic wands” finally turns to action. I encourage those who can to take opportunities by the media to make points about the interconnected web and the natural world. Fill in those gaps between “taking care of God’s creation” and “this earth is not our real home”. Be helpful and knowledgeable–remind them of the power and bounty of the natural world and how we are part of it, not separate and superior. And to be a part of such a complex and beautifully balanced system is paradise enough.

If you belong to an interfaith group (and I suggest you check out your local Cooperation Circle of the United Religions Initiative), watch the reactions of your colleagues when you speak about the planet and the concept of connection. Another interfaith meeting found us discussing what we nurtures us most about our spiritual path. A Jewish friend talked about the tradition of learning and scholarship in her chosen religion. A colleague from the United Church of Christ spoke movingly about the concept of grace. When it came round to me, I talked about the joy I find in waking each morning, connected to the world around me. As I spoke, I looked at the outdoors through the nearest window and explained why I always take a seat near a window for our interfaith gatherings and why the moment of silence never works for me because it’s too short for a deep meditation and too long to just practice deep breathing. My colleagues laughed. Then I talked about the deep peace I feel when I look out the window at a tree. Any tree really, I’m quite the tree-hugger. I like them in all seasons and I’ve been known to talk to them and listen intently for their reply. I told the group that I never felt alone and rarely fearful because the earth was so strong, so powerful, so giving. And that I am part of all that. When I turned back to the folks assembled at the table, I noticed tears in some eyes. And a retired Episcopal priest said, “I want what she has.”

Earth Day is another educational opportunity for the Pagan community. So take advantage of the heightened publicity, my tree-hugging dirt-worshippers. Right wing talk radio may think anyone who’s environmentally canny is a Satanist, but this holiday is a chance to connect with other people in your community on a subject you know well. Let them know it’s okay to love our home–there’s no place like it! Happy Earth Day!

H. Byron Ballard

I’m a Witch, Not a Wiccan: A Brief Summary of Broad Pagan Designations

I’m a Witch, Not a Wiccan: A Brief Summary of Broad Pagan Designations

Author:   Treasach   

I have commented before on the usefulness of designations in the neopagan community. Though we are generally self-directed with many being solitary and “eclectic”, it is darn helpful to be able to declare certain predispositions, especially if one is interested in working with others. In joining an on-line group or planning a ritual, the use of categories can help determine if a great deal of negotiation, or only a little, is required to make your collaborations most satisfying.

One question often asked is the difference between designations in the neopagan community. Of course, there are a vast variety of answers, and as a very dynamic and vibrant community, these answers may be quite altered in a decade. However, there are some trends that seem to have settled out for the moment…

Earth Religions or Earth-Centred Spirituality is currently the designation for all those traditions that are outside most of the major religions, i.e. Abrahamics, Buddhists, etc., but that also follow an Earth based path. It usually encompasses folk traditions, like European peasant beliefs and practices, as well as native aboriginal spirituality. However, not all followers of those traditions would choose to call themselves pagan, especially if they also practice some form of Abrahamic religion as well. So it’s best to not to assume, which is why Paganism is a subset of Earth Religions.

Paganism, or Neopaganism, is the modern catch-all phrase for many organized and non-organized Earth based religions and spirituality. Often seen as based on European Aboriginal practices and beliefs, it can also be used to describe traditional African, Asian, and North American spirituality, though less so, largely due to its primarily English usage. By declaring oneself “pagan”, it specifically implies resurgence in traditional Earth Based beliefs, sometimes in defiance of Abrahamics, depending on the area, and a reconstruction of traditional wisdom, knowledge, and connection with Nature as a completion of self and humanity. It can be Deity based, supernatural, or atheistic.

Witchcraft is a subset of Paganism. Because of the etymology and use of the word itself, witchcraft usually means pre-Christian folk beliefs of Western and sometimes Eastern Europe. As a modern practice, it has two main elements, either one of which may be included. It is both tribal and a religious choice. For most, it involves the preference of using magic as meditation, prayer, ritual and empowerment. For a smaller group, they are born into families that are known for the “Gift”, “Second Sight”, or the “Eye” if you are less popular… In the past in most places, children born into these families or who showed potential would often have been trained and dedicated to help their communities. A few of these families that survived the Abrahamic purgings retained the gifts and occasionally the training and traditions that went along with them, though most rejected them, usually out of real fear and concern for their safety if they weren’t outright converted.

Like many reClaimed traditions, such as native spirituality, modern witchcraft is a combination of contemporary writings and current analysis of past traditions, as well as past and extant examples of country and folk rituals, and to a much smaller extent, of witch families and their practices. Due to recent advances in cultural archaeology, it is also undergoing the greatest updates and flux. Though most are not from family traditions, modern witches can follow the folk beliefs of the aboriginal Europeans, or practice magic, or both. They can also refer to themselves as witches if they come from a witch family or have the traditional innate abilities, without practising a folk religion or spellcraft. Or any combinations of the above, including practising witchcraft in other traditions, like Abrahamics. (Jewitches. Heh.) It’s a pretty broad category, but my usual test is – anything that can get you burnt as a witch by fundies usually qualifies you to self-identify as a witch. Spellcraft, Goddess worship, foretelling, healing… But not that heretic stuff. That’s totally different.

Due to its heavy reliance on magic and its European structure, Wicca is almost entirely a subset of Witchcraft, though there are a few practitioners who could be considered outside of it, such as high magicians. Wicca is a relatively new tradition, with its origins largely in the middle part of last century, with some of the structure extending back into the Victorian era. Drawing on what was known at the time of folk history and tradition, it is a conglomeration of primarily European beliefs, but also reflects turn of the century Orientalism with elements of ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Asian references. Though slow to start, in the last few decades it has had hundreds of writers popularizing it, and has seen an explosion in individual sects. Because of its very modern feel and adaptations while retaining an aura of Romanticism, Wicca is one of the largest and best known segments of Witchcraft and neopaganism, and one of the fastest growing religions in the world.

Wiccans are almost always witches, but witches aren’t always Wiccan. Wiccan is not the ‘politically correct’ term for witch. It’s a sect of witchcraft, like Protestantism is for Christians. They have certain specific beliefs and rituals that identify them as a group. You wouldn’t call all Christians Protestants, would you? (*Hence, the Venn diagram.) I hope that clears things up, especially for the well meaning but less knowledgeable.

Heathenism is a collective category of paganism who follow the Old Religion and who will sometimes consider themselves Wiccan if they practice magic but usually don’t identify as witches at all. Primarily men, they can be of a more structured faith, like Druids, or more folk based, like Odinists. They often identify with warrior culture and value traditional knowledge, self-reliance, personal strength and honour.

This is a very brief sketch, of course, and some in the community will dispute these categories. There are lots of others as well. Wizards, or High Magic practitioners, for example, deal with the Other World and its denizens in a rigid, formalized manner, and so can be from nearly any religion, including Abrahamics. From what our current literature refers to, these are the general starting points and what most persons will intend to convey when they use these terms at the moment. As neopaganism is one of the fastest growing religions on the planet, however, I have little doubt that these terms will alter considerably in the next decade or so.

_____________________________________

Footnotes:
*Venn diagram is here:
http://gifts-of-nature.blogspot.ca/2012/10/im-witch-not-wiccan-brief-summary-of.html