For the first time in hundreds of years witchcraft is in the mainstream and in a positive light, offering a completely viable, and increasingly respected spiritual practice. Still, a person seeking the spiritual path that offers them their best connection to the Divine and a like-minded spiritual family may easily become overwhelmed by the vastness and complexity of, often contradictory, information available. This might seem especially so regarding Wicca, whose primary, mainstream presence lives online and in bookstores.
This article offers some general information, positive comparisons, and ideas that anyone might consider in their search for the path that's right for them. The first consideration, which dictates the spirit of this article, is that the stark contrasts one may find between the objective and subjective realities make it difficult to define any spiritual path or religion. Definitions can either facilitate or impede understanding. A helpful definition is one that is not overly simplistic, and one that mentions important distinctions as well as similarities between familiar and unfamiliar terms where they exist.
For example, witchcraft is generally thought to be polytheistic, but there are witches who are monotheists. The wonderful thing about that fact is that it creates very little division in witches' fellowship, and it's in that vein that this article is offered; that your analysis of witchcraft might be based on a fair assessment of the phenomenon as a whole.
With regard to comparisons made here, this article offers treatment to the most prevalent experiences that a seeker might encounter in the United States; specifically it addresses our similarities and differences with Christianity, and the uninformed association of witchcraft with Satanism.
What Witchcraft Is
Witches are people who revere, usually, both the God and the Goddess. They seek a more friendly relationship with their natural environment, endeavoring to recognize the sacredness of all of nature. Witches, further, seek to utilize cosmic or psychic forces to do create positive change. To this end, the practice of witchcraft involves knowledge and skill in appropriating the rituals that are believed to harness and focus these energies. Seeing themselves in stark contrast to other occult religions such as Satanism, witches seek to work these forces in order to enhance their own experience of life and to promote healing and community.
Do these rituals work? Is this even the important question to ask? What could possibly be wrong with such a seemingly benevolent religion? Witchcraft has something to say about who we are as humans, about what our relationship to our fellow humans and to the rest of the universe ought to be, and about how we should relate to the divine. You may be surprised to learn of the comparisons and contrasts that can be drawn from witchcraft and your experience with other religions.
Witchcraft Is Known by Many Names
When one begins to investigate the phenomenon of modern witchcraft, it does not take long to notice a range of terms associated with the practice: The Craft, Wicca, paganism, Neo-Paganism, and so on. This summary of certain distinctions between the terms Wicca, witchcraft, and Neo-Paganism may be helpful.
Neo-Paganism is the broadest category, encompassing a wide range of groups "that try to reconstruct ancient religious systems—such as the Norse, Celtic, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian religions—as well as…various obscure, forgotten, and neglected occult teachings from around the world."[ii] The prefix "Neo" in Neo-Paganism usually indicates an emphasis on one's practice in its contemporary manifestation while still hinting that it is perhaps a revival of, or connected to, something ancient.
Further, witchcraft is distinguished from Wicca (with Wicca being the narrowest category) along the lines of how closely one follows the specific teachings and practices of the English Wiccan Gerald Gardner, who more or less gave the term Wica (with one c) to his practice.[iii]
There may be subtle distinctions that some prefer to maintain when opting for one term over another, but for the most part these terms are used interchangeably. The term witchcraft is certainly the most familiar within and without the practice, but it is also the term that carries with it the most unwanted baggage. It often has sinister or evil connotations, and for those reasons many within the craft prefer the term Wicca (for the practice) and Wiccan (for the practitioner).
Witchcraft Is a Religion
As Americans, this is an important point to remember. We cherish our heritage of religious freedom, but in their enthusiasm to refute the beliefs of witchcraft, some have overstated the case. Historically, it may rightly be claimed that the United States was founded on the ethical concept of natural law (where morality is grounded in the nature of the creator God)[iv], but they wrongly conclude that witches do not have constitutional rights, since witches reject the traditional Christian notion of the creator God. Without getting into the tricky issue of how and whether religion should interact with government or public life, we should recognize that, within the limits of law, all Americans have the right to exercise their own religion in accordance with the dictates of their conscience.