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Do you know the difference between Witch Magick, Paganism, and Wicca?
One of the first things I wondered, when I started on this magickal journey, was what the big deal about Wicca was. Of course, I’d heard it so many times. I’d seen people on television who called themselves Wiccan and seemed very silly. I’d seen people who were very smart and called themselves Wiccan, too. But one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is not to trust portrayals of anything on TV.
Wicca intersects between two related subjects: paganism and magick. And they intersect with each other, as well. But if they’re so similar… what’s the difference between magick, paganism, and Wicca?
Well, let’s start by making the clearest distinction, the one between paganism, and between magick.
What’s Magick? What’s Paganism? What’s The Difference?
Magick is relatively easy to define: It’s imposing your will onto the world.
In some ways, everything you do is magick, because everything you do is ultimately driven by your desires. So when you, for example, buy a latte, you may think that you did it with money—but in reality, you bought your overpriced, but oh, so delicious coffee with the power of your mind. Your mind just needed to spend a little money along the way.
Paganism is a category of religious practice, and part of that religious practice may involve magick. But it may not.
There’s a lot of division in paganism, regarding whether or not the practitioner cares much either way about history, whether they accept personal revelation, whether they actually hang out with other pagans, whether or not they have to stick with just a few, pre-selected Gods and Goddesses, or whether Marduk can actually hang out with Mithra and with the Morrigan at the same time, all there on the same altar.
In short: they’re totally separate. There’s a little overlap, but there are fields of magickal practice that don’t really overlap with paganism, like a lot of right-hand-path type stuff, and there’s fields of paganism where the closest they get to magick is prayer, like Nova Roma.
What all of this adds up to is, paganism is about the Gods, and magick is about the ability to create desired effects in the world. Maybe the Gods are willing to create that desired effect for you; maybe you can create a desired effect to please the Gods or with their help. But there’s more space where they don’t overlap than where they do.
Is Wicca Different From Paganism And Magick?
All of that is well and good, but it doesn’t answer the central question. What’s the difference between those two things and Wicca?
Is it a magickal tradition? Sure it is. One of the central parts of any wiccan’s life is the altar work. Purifications, self-dedications, divination, all the -ations. Maybe not libations—I haven’t met one yet, but I’d put actual, physical money down that there are dry Wiccans out there.
Is it religious? You better believe it, buster. There’s a lot of ties in with traditional folk religion with even the stuffiest, most conservative Wiccan… though I’m not sure how stuffy anyone can be when they’re following an alternative religious path.
If you trust intro-to-Wicca books like Scott Cunningham’s excellent Wicca: A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner, the fundamental belief is in a duotheistic world, with a God who is reborn with each year, and a Goddess who is maiden, mother and crone.
There are a dozen or more different traditions of Wicca; some are lineages, where a Witch can trace their teacher, who learned from their teacher, who learned from Gerald Gardner himself. Others are defined more by their beliefs, like Dianic Wiccans who really only worship the Goddess, and traditionally don’t really recognize men or the male God.
But that’s getting into hair-splitting territory. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, as a baby witch, it’s that pagans and wiccans and witches can get into all the navel gazing that they like. It’s one of my favorite qualities! But it’s not what I’m here to do today.
What Is An Eclectic?
The real difficulty in distinguishing the three comes in with eclectic Wiccans. I’m not about to criticize them, but I am about to say, the difference between eclectic pagans and eclectic wiccans is how many letters they felt like writing in their title.
Both are free-thinking folks who decided that they wanted to pick and choose what their belief system was. Which means that ultimately, you can’t differentiate because they’ve chosen to remove the walls that separate one thing from another thing.
And guess what? Almost all eclectic practitioners apply this same syncretism to magick. So you’ll find people who get a little qabalah in their herbology and a little sex magick in their energy work, and it’s all fine as long as it works for you, you feel me? But because you can’t put a cage around a wild horse like that, I won’t even try to put our eclectic readers into a box!
The Difference Between Magick, Wicca, and Paganism
Wicca is not the biggest movement in alternative spirituality. I think it’s the one with the most visibility, and I think it’s the most accessible in some ways.
I think, if I went back to my factory job and started asking around, ignoring the fella who used to date a witch, I’d get more people with a good idea of what Wiccans do than who have a good idea what, say, Druids do. And I think you’d get a lot more people who know basically what Wiccans get up to than would know, say, what the 10 Sephiroths are, except maybe they’d seen a Tree of Life before.
But if you were to draw circles for this venn diagram, Wicca is the biggest circle of the three. It encompasses the most “stuff.” It’s explicitly religious. It’s explicitly magickal. To say that they’re completely distinct is… well, it’s just not correct! But we can try to draw some lines.
Traditional Wicca is centered around a coven. Most traditional schools of magick don’t rely on large, multi-person ceremonies—they gather together because they’re mystery cults in the traditional sense, and you don’t know everything until you’re a 9th-degree such-and-such and you’ve ascended the Tree of Life, and you’ve personally met the deity and had a beer with him.
Sorry, dry-Wiccan readers, but I guess you’re just never going to make it to the top of the OTO. Then again, maybe deity can understand your dedication to good behavior, and gives you a pass.
This also separates out Wicca from other neo-pagan practices, which don’t necessarily require groups, either. There are learned people, and there are celebrations, but there’s no priests, and there’s no covens needed.
If you do some Googling, you can find out how to make a great, correct sacrifice from the safety and comfort of your living room. At that point, Covens for, say, Druidry or Asatru start approaching social clubs, where the central connective tissue is your shared religious belief rather than the need to have other folks around to do rituals with.
Now on the other hand, let’s make a quick exception, and talk about where you can’t draw a line. You can’t say, “Wiccans worship The Goddess and Paganacht is for worshiping Brighid and the Morrigan!” The Goddess, in Wiccan thought, is like… all of ‘em. The God is also all Gods. If it’s a little confusing to you, it’s a little confusing to me, but if I think pretty hard, I feel like I can get it just on the tip of my tongue.
So let’s get this all wrapped up, because I’m worried that if I’m not careful, I’ll overstay my welcome here.
If we have to keep things simple, then there are three major points to remember:
- Magick is about cause and effect.
- Paganism is about following and revering the deities of the old world.
- Wicca is about honoring the God and Goddess like Paganism, and doing spells like Magick, but not all spells, and not all ways.
If it seems like I’ve glossed over a lot, it’s because I have. Like I said before: I want to look at the big picture, and that means that it’d be very slow and inefficient for me to say, “Well, on one hand, Z. Budapest’s Dianic Wiccans practice in this way, and that’s different from Gardnerian and Black Lodge Wiccans, and most clearly aligns with such-and-such magickal tradition…” because it’s outside my realm of knowledge, it’s insulting to people who I’m doing research on rather than getting to know, and worst, I could totally bork the accuracy!
Which means that I had to be pretty vague! I would love to get into a serious deep-dive into any of these subjects, though some are going to be harder for me to get into than others, since some have requirements I simply won’t be able to meet.
Others are going to be complex enough subjects that they’re not going to be accessible to me for a very long time! For now, though, I hope that you’ve learned a little about the differences, because I know that when you’re just starting out, a lot of this stuff can be confusing.
If you’re struggling with anything, don’t be afraid to reach out, whether that be to us, or to the broader internet.
There are so many people online who want nothing more than to help you, and some of them are going to disagree with each other, but they all mean really well, even if sometimes it’s hard to see how. We’re all in this together, and you can find the path that’s right for you.
Don’t be afraid to dive in: there’s always someone around ready to throw you a life preserver.
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