The Difference Between Pagans, Wiccans and Witches

It's interesting how many people confuse the terms "Pagan", "Wiccan" and "Witch" to the degree that they use them as synonyms. Of course, nobody is going to burn you at the stake if you don't know the difference, but it may disturb some members of any of of these groups. I don't include myself in this category because I am aware that people don't have any bad intentions when they mix the terms, but I do feel obliged to explain the main differences...simply for information's sake.

I have to admit that I love researching the etymology of some words. :) So you can guess what I'm going to talk about next. ;)

Pagan - this word comes from the Latin noun pagus (14th century) which referred to country-dwellers, villagers/rustics/provincial people. The adjective paganus "of the country, rural" was derives from this word. All Pagan religions were banned in Rome in 392 AD, and in 380 AD, Christianity became the official religion. It is during this time that the pejoration of this word begins. Christians start calling themselves Christ's soldiers (soldier = lat. militum) so everyone else is the opposite - civilians/incompetent soldiers (lat. pagi). It wasn't until later that this word came to be associated with labels such as "infidel" or "heathen". In modern times, this terms is connected to all earth-based faiths which also often include a worshiping/respect for nature.
If you have a look at some dictionaries, you may find many negative definitions of this word. The following definitions were taken out of the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
 "pagan (noun): 1:  heathen 1; especially :  a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)
2:  one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods :  an irreligious or hedonistic person 
Synonyms: gentile, idolater (or idolator), heathen "
In some Croatian dictionaries, I found definitions including horrible descriptive words such as: uneducated, dirty, abominable, disgusting, feces, that which is dirty, spoiled, evil, disgraceful, raging, etc. 

Honestly, I have never been referred to as disgusting or dirty. I take a shower every day and try to be nice towards other people. I don't make people sick (at least now to my knowledge). I really don't know what more to say so let's go on to the next term.

Witch - is derived from the noun wicce (female) or wicca (male). The female word refers to a female magician i.e. a sorceress, but it was later used to refer to "a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural acts" (that were usually used for evil?...hmm). The male noun obviously refers to male magicians, men that practice magic/witchcraft. The verb wiccian also exists which means "to practice witchcraft" (the German verbs wikken/wicken mean the same thing). The Marriam-Webster dictionary gives the following definitions:
"witch (noun): 1:  one that is credited with usually malignant supernatural powers; especially :  a woman practicing usually black witchcraft often with the aid of a devil or familiar :  sorceress — compare warlock
2:  an ugly old woman :  hag
3:  a charming or alluring girl or woman"
What's interesting is that the terms "Witch" and "Wicca" are often used interchangeably and have the same etymological background, as you will see under the definition of the latter term.

Wicca - a name for the Neopagan faith which falls under the category of Paganism. The first person to have used it in this context was Gerald Gardner in his book Witchcraft Today from 1954. He says: "Witches were the Wica or wise people, with herbal knowledge and a working occult teaching usually used for good ...." (notice that "Wica" is spelled with one c and that it is in the plural form!). It is known that he used this term to refer to the practitioners of this path but not for the path itself. It was some of his students how started using it in this wider context. In his book The Meaning of Witchcraft, he says that the word wica was present in his initiation ceremony and that it thus played an important role for him.
"I realised that I had stumbled upon something interesting; but I was half-initiated before the word, 'Wica' which they used hit me like a thunderbolt, and I knew where I was, and that the Old Religion still existed. And so I found myself in the Circle, and there took the usual oath of secrecy, which bound me not to reveal certain things."
It was only in the late 1960s that this term was used as a name for the new Pagan path that was connected to Witchcraft. The first printed reference to this term can be found in Hanz Holzer's article entitled "The Truth About Withcraft" (1969). He writes:
"If the practice of the Old Religion, which is also called Wicca (Craft of the Wise), and thence, witchcraft, is a reputable and useful cult, then it is worthy of public interest."
I think that it is clear from all this information that the three terms don't mean the same thing. But I didn't decide to write this post just to give you an etymological background. My original goal was to elaborate on a claim which reads: "A Witch doesn't have to be a Wiccan and a Wiccan doesn't have to be a Witch". I really can't remember where I read it, but it just stuck with me and now I can't get it out of my head. 

If you look at the picture with which I began this post, you can read three statements which will lead me from this point onward, all the way to the end of the post. They are:
  1. Pagans aren't automatically Wiccans.
  2. Wiccans aren't automatically Witches.
  3. Witches aren't automatically Pagans.
So let's get down to business. :)

1. Pagans Aren't Automatically Wiccans

It would be more precise to say "Neopagans aren't automatically Wiccans" because we are dealing with the revival of ancient Pagan beliefs but with a few "modern twists" in these recent times. However, one thing that Neopagan beliefs have in common with prehistoric belief systems is the worshiping of nature. Wicca is only one of many Neopagan religions that exist today. So if someone calls themselves a Pagan/Neopagan, then they follow a certain Neopagan path which doesn't necessarily have to be Wicca. Some of the most well-known paths along with Wicca are: Druidry, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Thelema, Asatru, Odinism, the Goddess movement, Progressive Witchcraft, Eco-paganism etc. You can find a longer list here
So basically, a Pagan is a person who follow any (Neo)pagan faith but not necessarily Wicca. On the other hand, Wiccans are Pagans because Wicca is, in fact, a Neopagan faith. 

In short: Pagans don't have to be Wiccans, but Wiccans are Pagans.

2. Wiccans Aren't Automatically Witches

Before explaining the difference between these two terms, I have to explain how the terms practice, religion and spirituality differ.

Practice is defined as a manner of action/working/practice, a custom, habit or action. It comes from the Greek word prȃksis meaning "work, business, action". 

Religion is defined as "an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods". Sometimes, an all-mighty force takes the place of the deity/ies. Monotheistic religions are centered around one God, while Polytheistic religions have several Gods/Goddesses. In most religions, these deities are also the creator of the world and that which decide over general events and the fate of the world, estimates the borders of good and evil. Religions always have their own moral codex and fixed ceremonial laws which are usually cared for by religious/spiritual leaders and priests (who are usually their subordinates).

Spirituality is the sensitivity or attachment to religious values. It is also defined as the quality or state of being spiritual.

According to the stated definition, neither Paganism nor Wicca (since Wicca is a part of Paganism, as I already said) are religions since they don't have strictly defined ceremonial laws, nor do they have a spiritual leader, a hierarchy or sacred texts. You could call them a religion because a certain belief system does exist, but even this system often varies among individuals and doesn't have strict boundaries as is the case with organized religions. These are only some of the differences that exist. What can be concluded from all of this is that both Paganism and Wicca are, in fact, spiritualities and not religions.

Witchcraft is a practice and as such doesn't have to fit into a religious context. A Witch is any person that practices magic/witchcraft and doesn't even have to define their religious views. This is why you will come across followers of many Pagan faiths (but also many other belief systems that have nothing to do with Paganism) who practice magic. Some will say that witchcraft is also a religion because it includes invocations of various deities or higher entities, but it is worth noting that these invocations are not necessary to perform magic.

To give you a specific example, I think of myself as a Wiccan (so I follow Wicca), but I do not practice witchcraft (at least not any more) so this is why I do not think of myself as a Witch.

In short: Wiccans can/don't have to be Witches and Witches can/don't have to be Wiccans.

3. Witches Aren't Automatically Pagans

We can refer back to the definitions of spirituality and practice for earlier on. Witchcraft is a practice and Paganism is a spirituality. Each Pagan decides for him/herself which path to follow and also has a right to decide whether or not to practice witchcraft. Also, each Witch decides if he/she wants to even follow any spirituality or religion (be it Paganism or not). 

In short: Witches can/don't have to be Pagans and Pagans can/don't have to be Witches.

I'm going to take a wild guess and say that this is new and confusing for a few of you, but it will settle down in time. :) Try reading the post a few more times; maybe that will clear things up for you.

For additional explanations of certain terms, you can have a look at the links that were mentioned throughout the text. I found his online etymology dictionary was very useful. If some terms are still unclear to you, I recommend you have a look at the Witch's Glossary on my blog. Since I keep adding terms to it, it is possible that you don't find what you are looking for. In that case, you can flip through the two books which are recommended in that same post (you can download them as pdf files).

Anyway, I hope I cleared some things up for you! :D
Until next time. Yours,
Witch's Cat

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