Which Is the Witch?
Despite the ugly face that other religions have tried to put on witches, historically most have been concerned with helping individuals and communities. Of course, there are some “wicked witches” just as there are greedy evangelists and pedophile priests. It's important to remember that fear and misunderstanding underlie the misconceptions many people hold about witches. Once you get to know them, witches and Wiccans are pretty much like everyone else; they just see the world a little differently.
The words Wicca and witch come from the Anglo-Saxon term wicce meaning “to bend or shape.” The term was used to refer to a female witch. Wicca referred to a male witch; the plural is wiccan. The Old English word wiccacraeft meant “witchcraft.”
In the past, many witches learned their art as part of a family tradition in which they were carefully trained. (For more about the history of witchcraft, see Chapter 2.) Villages and cities alike had their honored cunning folk to whom people would turn for all kinds of help, from encouraging crops to grow to fixing a broken heart. Healing made up a large part of the witch's work, and many witches were knowledgeable herbalists and midwives. In exchange for such services, the witch might receive a chicken, a measure of grain, or other necessities. (The barter system is still alive and well in witchcraft.)
Witches learned their skills as a craft, just as someone might learn carpentry or masonry. Religious constructs weren't linked with the practice of witchcraft itself, though individual witches may have followed the beliefs of their families or culture. Witches do not need to believe in divine beings in order to use magick. They do not necessarily have a dogma to which they adhere in order to perform their work, just as computer programmers and auto mechanics don't have to be members of a particular faith to do their jobs.
Witches are not necessarily Wiccan. Witchcraft implies a methodology (for example, the use of magick), whereas the word Wiccan refers to a person who has adopted a specific spiritual philosophy. Witches can follow any religion, or none. Wiccans practice specific rituals and moral codes just as people of other world faiths do.
However, the lack of an ethical or religious construct does not mean witches are without ethics or religion. The use of magick is simply a means to an end and is, in itself, morally neutral. Ethics get involved only in how magick is wielded. (More about this later.)
For the most part, both witches and Wiccans believe in religious tolerance and respect every path as having potential for human enlightenment. Most Wiccans have come from other religious backgrounds and believe that people must choose their own paths. You're not likely to find a Wiccan standing on a street corner trying to convert passersby to her faith.
By the way, it's good to remember that a male witch or Wiccan is not called a warlock. He is a witch or Wiccan, too. Warlock derived from an Old English word for oath breaker; later, during the mid-1400s, the word came to mean liar (whether the person was male or female). So to call a male witch a warlock is a nasty insult. For the purposes of simplicity, this book will use the word witch for both male and female witches or Wiccans.
The words wizard and sorcerer can be used for a man or a woman. Wizard derives from a term meaning “wise,” and sorcerer means “witch” or “diviner.” Writers Gerald Gardner and Sir James Frazier are commonly given credit for coining the term Wiccan and kick-starting the modern movement in the 1950s. The word magician is also appropriate for both sexes and for both witches and Wiccans.
Zoroaster, in ancient Persia, taught priests called magi who relied heavily on astrology as an art. The “wise men” mentioned in the Christmas story are sometimes referred to as magi — they gained knowledge of Jesus's birth by watching the stars. Depending on the cultural setting, magician came to mean people adept in astrology, sorcery, or other magickal arts. Note that the word magick in Wicca and witchcraft is spelled with a k, to differentiate it from stage magic (or sleight of hand).
Wicca and witchcraft share some core concepts, and practitioners use some of the same tools. However, witches come from a wide array of schools, belief systems, and traditions of magick that are distinctive and unique.
Gods and Goddesses
Another difference between witches and Wiccans is that many Wiccans recognize a specific god or goddess, or honor several deities. Which beings or personages someone follows may be chosen by the individual, or dictated by a group, magickal tradition, or cultural standard. Wiccans look to “the Divine” as the source of life energy, a guide in the spiritual quest, and a helpmate in the use of magick.
Several divine figures show up as popular favorites in the Wiccan community.
Among them are:
Apollo (Greece and Rome)
Brigid (Celtic Europe)
Ceridwen (Celtic Europe)
Ishtar (Middle East)
Kuan Yin (Asia)
Tara (India and Tibet)
Wiccans tend to see a particular divine energy expressed in many faces; for example, the Eleusian mother goddess Demeter was called Ceres by the Romans. The Triple (or Tripart) Goddess is depicted as the three phases of womanhood: maiden, mother, and crone.
A third distinction is that witches may or may not concern themselves with the potential results of a spell or ritual. Wiccans are bound by what's known as the threefold law. Thus, Wiccans and witches may view the cause and effect of their magick differently. This doesn't mean that witches don't respect magickal power, however, nor does it suggest that they are unethical.
The threefold law has similar overtones to the concept of karma. The law basically states that whatever you do, whatever energies you “put out,” return to you threefold (three times over) in this lifetime or the next.
The threefold law translates as What goes around comes around, not just once but three times. This seems to be a very good reason to make sure your motives are positive. Although karma is an Eastern term, you can see versions of karmic law expressed in the Christian concept that what you sow so shall you reap. Essentially, it's the idea that for every action there's a reaction, and that your individual actions will redound to you, if not in this incarnation then sometime in the future.
Wiccans believe you create your own destiny with your thoughts, words, and deeds. Because they subscribe to this idea, Wiccans tend to be more conscious and conscientious in their behavior and thinking than many other individuals are. Although the idea of reincarnation cannot be validated, many Wiccans and witches seriously consider the karmic implications of their actions or inactions.