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Defining Wicca

by Michael Ragan 1999

Pagan, Wiccan, Craft, Reconstructionist? Just what are we? Such questions have arisen
increasingly over the last months as the broader so-called "Pagan" community has suffered considerable turmoil. From our perspective, this confusion of identification has in itself been a major contributor of the chaos.
       In retrospect, we have created much of the problem ourselves. By we, we mean you, us and whatever author has failed to properly define terms. Almost daily, we receive a message from one or another reasonably intelligent writer who uses the terms Pagan, Craft and Wicca interchangeably. The terms are not necessarily synonymous.
       The term "Pagan" is derived from the Latin "paganus," meaning "of the country, of a village, rustic, etc." Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary confuses the issue by defining the word to mean "country dweller, heathen, a follower of a polytheistic religion" or "one who has little or no religion" In common belief among the greater community, the pagan label seems to include polytheism, new-agers, some Christian, most non-Christians. No wonder we seem confused. We are!
       The Wiccan label is as confused as that of Pagan. The unenlightened Webster's doesn't' treat the word "Wicca," but does give the definition of Witch as "one that is credited with: malignant supernatural powers," etc. The term "Witchcraft" is defined as "the use of sorcery or magic: communication with the devil, etc. Well, what did you expect?
       Modern writers, who should know, seem to be as confused as we are. They define Witchcraft (or Wicca) as a religion (or religions) and sometimes "the Old Religion." One noted Wiccan author asks the questions "What is a Witch" on page one of a book. But only on the final page does he provide a firm definition. "Witchcraft is a living positive religion."
       Our view is somewhat at variance. In no way does this mean that we necessarily disagree with any particular path or belief, as we believe all paths are sacred. We simply view things in a different light. Here are our definitions;

Pagan: A person sensitive to his or her environment and nature. As such, included may be Witch, Christian, Muslim, Hebrew and members of many omnitheistic and poytheistic religions.
Witch: A Witch is one that follows the path of Witchcraft.
Witchcraft: Many consider the terms Wicca and Witchcraft to be interchangeable. We disagree. Witchcraft is actually the remnants of the pre-Christian religions of Europe that was brought to these shores by early immigrants. Followers are generally secretive with outsiders and have little contact with Pagan or Wiccan communities. They do not parody Christianity and they are not "Satan Worshippers!"
Wicca: We consider the term to be generally synonymous with Witchcraft up until the turn of the century until the times of Pickingill, Gardener, Crowley and other innovators in the 1950's. Thus, Wicca is a relatively modern movement and can be rightfully considered neo-pagan.
Neo-pagan: Those sensitive to the Earth Mother and seek to live in harmony with nature. Many look to the old pre-Christian religions of Europe, Native America and mystery religions as a source of inspiration and symbolism. We would include such terms as "neo-Wiccan," Neo Witchcraft, etc. A majority mix symbols and pantheons of disparate cultures in their ritual and worship.
Craft: A derivative of the term "Witchcraft," this term seem to be redefining itself. There is a growing number of followers of the old traditional schools of Witchcraft who wish to distinguish themselves from the self-made "Witches" and Pagans with little or no training. Thus they call themselves "Craft." There are generally of a historical tradition, usually capable of tracing their spiritual roots and lineage back for centuries. They have stringent training programs, strong codes of honor, duty and discipline.
Tradition: The word "tradition" is from Latin "traditio," meaning to hand over. It means to hand down information, beliefs and customs from one generation to another.
Eclectic: We would include Wicca and any group who uses the defining term "neo." Such groups as the latter generally have no historical tradition. Rather they borrow symbolism and pantheons from various cultures and mix them generously with new-age philosophy.

       Again, our view is not one of criticism. We respect and defend the right of anyone to follow his or her chosen path. We also do not consider any path, including our own, to be superior to another.
       So what are we in the Temple of Danann? Are we a Tradition, Craft or Wiccan? Technically, we could be called Reconstructionists. For through our own study and research we are reaching back through the centuries to uncover the lore of our ancestors, whose traditions we hold sacred. In the traditional sense we are not Wiccan. Though we have walked that path, we have been drawn into different dimensions. Though we have walked this path for just a quarter-of-a-century, we are a tradition by definition. We are teaching knowledge, lore and mythology that extends back over five thousand years. Also, by definition, we teach ancient concepts. We hold to ancient Laws, Principles and Code of Honor. To us, this is not a "festival only" practice. We believe in living by our beliefs, mores and codes on a day-in day-out basis. Thus, we are Craft.

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