As it is currently understood and practiced, Wicca is a newer form of an ancient system and it does possess and blend some ingredients that don’t purely reflect its western and northern and western European roots. We can try to be purists and reconstructionists as much as we want, but there was a great deal lost and broken apart through the ages. Gardner understood that British Witchcraft was rooted in older traditions and ancient Pagan beliefs. He experienced these traditions and beliefs among other cultures and brought in the experiences, lessons, and practices to his tradition.
While I don’t agree that only those who are lineaged BTW have sole claim to the word Wicca, I also believe that Wicca only accurately applies to certain deities, practices, and traditions. It’s my personal opinion that Egyptian, Babylonian, Native American, Asian, Hindu, and other non-European deities don’t belong in a Wiccan structure.
I am not saying that one cannot work with or worship one or more of these deities, only that they are not Wiccan gods. The gods of those regions and cultures have their own rites, their own rituals and those aren’t based in the Wiccan tradition. They deserve the respect of their follower/devotee making the effort to honor them as they are accustomed and as is appropriate.
Wicca is NOT a ‘pick and choose’ religion. All religions have certain things that define them and if those things are not present, then what is practiced cannot be defined as that religion. The principles that define Wicca are more accepting than a lot of other faiths because Wiccans do not believe that there is only one right way to believe. But this has been misunderstood to mean that just any old thing can be labeled Wicca.
Eclectic used to mean simply ‘non-traditional/non-initiatory’ when it was coupled with the word Wicca or Witchcraft. The label or term Eclectic Wicca/Witchcraft was never intended to be a mish-mash of “do whatever you like and throw in any ol’ god or goddess from any of the world’s cultures. Shiva doesn’t mind being invoked in a non-Hindu western European-based ceremony or religion.” Nevermind that Hinduism is still a beautiful, thriving religion on its own and that Britain and India had issues with one another for many years to say the least. But unfortunately, that’s what the term has come to mean in popular usage.
We are an English-speaking country (at least I live in one being American). Because of this, the word Witch has come to be applied to magical workers of different traditions or beliefs by English-speaking people but that doesn’t mean that’s actually what they are.
It’s like the words ‘papasan‘ and ‘futon’ don’t have an English translation because they aren’t English inventions. In English we can say ‘bowl-chair’ or ‘fold-out bed’, or simply say chair or bed but our words chair and bed don’t accurately describe what a papasan or futon are because we don’t have a word to directly translate them.
People who practice Vodou, Santeria, or any of the African diaspora beliefs are mistakenly called witches. People who practice folk magic of other origins, or even Ceremonial/High Magick rooted more in Gnostic/Hebrew/Persian mysticism might mistakenly be considered witches.
These practices, beliefs, and traditions have their own words and names to describe members and practitioners. Witch isn’t accurate because it isn’t true to the actual root or meaning of the word.
I’ve heard it said, mistakenly in my opinion, that “Wicca is the religion and Witchcraft is the practice, the working or magic.” Or that a person is a Wiccan but not a Witch because they follow the religious ideals, but don’t work the magic. I think that’s a bit over-analytical and redundant because Craft means two things:
Main Entry: craft
Etymology: Middle English, strength, skill, from Old English crÃft; akin to Old High German kraft strength
1 : skill in planning, making, or executing : dexterity
2 : an occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill <the carpenter’s craft> <the craft of writing plays> <crafts such as pottery, carpentry, and sewing>
3 : skill in deceiving to gain an end <used craft and guile to close the deal>
4 : the members of a trade or trade association2craft
Function: transitive verb
: to make or produce with care, skill, or ingenuity <is crafting a new sculpture> <a carefully crafted story>
Really, what is one without the other? What’s the noun context without the verb context? What is a religion’s purpose if not to do it? To use it? To live it? What is the use of a belief if you don’t work with it? If Wicca is the religious belief and word to describe a member of that religion, and Wicca means Witch, then Witchcraft is the term to describe a religious practice. It’s simply a religion that practices magic.
“I’m a musician.”
“Do you play an instrument?”
“Do you sing?”
“No. Not really.”
“Do you write music?”
“What do you do?”
“Well, I studied it for a long time…”
How long would it take before you look at the musician with a skeptical view and think, “Well, if you aren’t doing anything with it, how can you call yourself a musician?”
If you aren’t living and doing The Craft, how can you call yourself a Wiccan?
The issue of Wicca and Witchcraft being considered different things also seems to be rooted in people thinking that Wicca is somehow less worthy of respect because it is newer and they want to be separated from Gardner’s creation.
Some Witches are quick to say at times that “I’m not Wiccan, I’m a Witch.”
If you claim that out of deference and respect to BTW, or because the system of European magical religion that you practice is completely different than the Wiccan system that is based a great deal in the Western Mystery Tradition, that’s one thing, and while I have stated why I don’t personally agree with it in most cases, I do understand it.
If it is for some other reason, I challenge you to really figure out why you feel that way. In my opinion and experience, it is mainly rooted in fear of not being taken seriously and having insecurity that since Wicca is the more talked about and accepted term, it is somehow lesser in power. You don’t want to be connected to Gardner, because he popularized the word Wicca only about seventy years ago or so and what you practice is much older. There is the feeling that being a Witch means you have the magical means to play dirty without being muddled by that bothersome ‘Harm None’ thing. So everyone better watch out for your temper or be wary of upsetting you. You aren’t one of those white light Wiccans and you have no qualms about flinging a curse or two about.
Grow up. Learn to handle difficulties or control your temper. Retaliation, binding, cursing, and revenge should be the last thing you try to resort to, not the first thing that comes to mind. Isn’t the world already messed up enough by people with the “I’ll get you for such-and-such” mentality? It is known and should be understood that practices and beliefs must be rooted in power within oneself. If you feel that you can’t be a Wiccan because it’s just too White Light and fluffy for you, then you have yet to understand what Wicca is and is meant to be.
On the other hand…
If you cling to identifying yourself as Wiccan without using the word Witch, you may also have some growing left to do. Witch has some nasty connotations to it. According to those outside of the Craft, a Witch makes pacts with the devil, has salacious sex orgies, curses people, kills children and cooks them; saving their fat to make flying ointment of course. A Witch is the bad guy in folk and fairy tales. A Witch is ugly, ill-tempered, vile. A Witch is the safe thing to call a bitchy woman on television — because gods forbid you use such foul language. Can you identify yourself by such a word and take on the monumental task of correcting millennia of negative, fear-based, misogynistic propaganda?
It is human nature to subdivide and separate everything into tiny little compartments. We come up with tons and tons of labels and names for things that are in essence and at their root, the same thing. This is dangerous when it comes to our community because we’re still fighting for our rights and freedoms.
Wicca has been granted acceptance into some of the ranks but it’s been a long, difficult battle to get there and it’s far from over. It took several years to get the pentacle approved for the gravestones of fallen soldiers buried in government cemeteries. Men and women had committed their lives and in the words of Abraham Lincoln “Gave the last full measure of devotion.” only to be scorned and denied a basic freedom.
Wicca is recognized as a religion for IRS tax exempt status — a major point towards seeking ordination and recognition for clergy work, and yet the priesthood of the faith are still considered second-tier when it comes to carrying out rites and rituals that should not be denied to anyone, such as last rites for the dying. People are told they cannot have a Wiccan priest or chaplain, but they can have a Christian one as they lay on their deathbed waiting to cross the veil.
What is going to happen when people who are determined to see Wicca returned to the status it had before our small triumphs were achieved have commentary from WICCANS, WITCHES, AND OTHER PAGANS saying that a particular form or practice isn’t Wicca, it’s Witchcraft and they’re not the same thing because this person wasn’t properly initiated in a lineaged tradition?
It’s a dangerous and pointless game to be playing and one that needs to stop. Wicca and Witchcraft are the same thing, by etymology, definition, history, practice, and belief. Please stop separating them incorrectly.
For more detailed information on the Wiccan Rede and the Three-fold Law, please see those sections in my post here — The Basics of Wicca.