Question: What’s the difference between Paganism, Wicca and Witchcraft?
A reader asks, I met a woman who is a witch, but she says she's not Wiccan. Then there's some guy I know who says all Pagans are Wiccans. Even more confusing, this site says Wicca AND Paganism, like it's two different things. What's going on?
Wicca is a tradition of Witchcraft that was brought to the public by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s. There is a great deal of debate among the Pagan community about whether or not Wicca is truly the same form of Witchcraft that the ancients practiced. Regardless, many people use the terms Wicca and Witchcraft interchangeably. Paganism is an umbrella term used to apply to a number of different earth-based faiths. Wicca falls under that heading, although not all Pagans are Wiccan.
So, in a nutshell, here's what's going on. All Wiccans are witches, but not all witches are Wiccans. All Wiccans are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Wiccans. Finally, some witches are Pagans, but some are not - and some Pagans practice witchcraft, while others choose not to.
If you’re reading this page, chances are you’re either a Wiccan or Pagan, or you’re someone who’s interested in learning more about the modern Pagan movement. You may be a parent who’s curious about what your child is reading, or you might be someone who is unsatisfied with the spiritual path you’re on right now. Perhaps you’re seeking something more than what you’ve had in the past. You might be someone who’s practiced Wicca or Paganism for years, and who just wants to learn more.
For many people, the embracing of an earth-based spirituality is a feeling of “coming home”. Often, people say that when they first discovered Wicca, they felt like they finally fit in. For others, it’s a journey TO something new, rather than running away from something else.
Paganism is an Umbrella Term
Please bear in mind that there are dozens of different traditions that fall under the umbrella title of “Paganism”. While one group may have a certain practice, not everyone will follow the same criteria. Statements made on this site referring to Wiccans and Pagans generally refer to MOST Wiccans and Pagans, with the acknowledgement that not all practices are identical.
Not All Pagans are Wiccans
There are many Witches who are not Wiccans. Some are Pagans, but some consider themselves something else entirely.
Just to make sure everyone’s on the same page, let’s clear up one thing right off the bat: not all Pagans are Wiccans. The term “Pagan” (derived from the Latin paganus, which translates roughly to “hick from the sticks”) was originally used to describe people who lived in rural areas. As time progressed and Christianity spread, those same country folk were often the last holdouts clinging to their old religions. Thus, “Pagan” came to mean people who didn’t worship the god of Abraham.
In the 1950s, Gerald Gardner brought Wicca to the public, and many contemporary Pagans embraced the practice. Although Wicca itself was founded by Gardner, he based it upon old traditions. However, a lot of Witches and Pagans were perfectly happy to continue practicing their own spiritual path without converting to Wicca.
Therefore, “Pagan” is an umbrella term that includes many different spiritual belief systems – Wicca is just one of many.
Think of it this way:
Christian > Lutheran or Methodist or Jehovah’s Witness
As if that wasn’t confusing enough, not all people who practice witchcraft are Wiccans, or even Pagans. There are a few witches who embrace the Christian god as well as a Wiccan goddess – the Christian Witch movement is alive and well! There are also people out there who practice Jewish mysticism, or "Jewitchery", and atheist witches who practice magic but do not follow a deity.
What About Magic?
There are a number of people who consider themselves Witches, but who are not necessarily Wiccan or even Pagan. Typically, these are people who use the term "eclectic Witch" or to apply to themselves. In many cases, Witchcraft is seen as a skill set in addition to or instead of a religious system. A Witch may practice magic in a manner completely separate from their spirituality; in other words, one does not have to interact with the Divine to be a Witch.