Thursday, June 2, 2011

Paganism, Wicca, and Witchcraft - What's What?

Paganism
Paganism is not a specific religion in itself (although some do choose to identify simply as 'pagan'), but rather an umbrella term that covers many different religions - religions which can be vastly different from each other. For example, an individual pagan could self-identify as a pantheist, panentheist, polytheist, animist, duotheist, or even agnostic or atheist in some cases. They may have very different moral values, ideas on the afterlife, ritual structure, holidays, and so on. Since paganism covers such a broad grouping of traditions and individuals, there really are no beliefs or practices that are common to all pagans. You might find things common to many pagans, but nothing is truly universal.

There's a little joke among pagans that should always be kept in mind - if you ask 5 different pagans a question, you'll get 6 different answers.


Wicca
One of the most well known pagan religions. It was founded by Gerald Gardner, and popularized by him in the 1950s. Although Gardner claimed it was a continuation of an ancient pre-Christian religion, there is no real evidence to support this. Instead, Wicca is now seen by most as a modern tradition that pulls from several ancient religions, as well as some forms of ceremonial magic. While it is a young religion, this is no reason to dismiss it outright - after all, all religions were young at one point. Wicca is the name of the tradition, a Wiccan is a practitioner of Wicca. (Think Christianity/ Christian - Wicca/ Wiccan)

Wiccans often (but not always) worship a God and Goddess, honor the cycles of nature, adhere to the threefold law, and follow the Wiccan rede to some degree. There are quite a few traditions of Wicca, including Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Seax, Georgian, Blue Star, eclectic... - the specific beliefs of each will vary from tradition to tradition. (Similar to the various sects of Christianity - Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Lutherans, etc. All slightly different, yet all still Christians.)

All Wiccans are pagans, but not all pagans are Wiccan.


Witchcraft
Most Wiccans also consider themselves witches, but not all witches are Wiccans. There are a growing number of non-Wiccan witches within paganism. There are a number of traditions of witchcraft - such as hedgecraft, green witchcraft, and kitchen witchcraft.

What follows is what I would hope is an obvious statement, but... Witchcraft is not how Hollywood/the media frequently portrays it. As much as I wish I could, I can not wiggle my nose or wave a wand around and turn someone into a newt. (Rest assured, if you are ever turned into a newt by a witch, you'll probably get better.)

At it's core, witchcraft is a practice (a craft), not a religion. You do not have to be a specific religion, or even any religion, to practice witchcraft. That said, to some practitioners, witchcraft is a spiritual practice that is inseparable from their religion/spirituality. Like many things, it depends on the individual witch and the tradition they might be following.

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