I was going to go hear who the ACLU and the Southern Baptists thought today’s witches were last night, but I couldn’t find my pointy black hat and so I refrained. Still, it makes me think that there really must not be a whole lot of pagans in Nashville that one could ask that question and not have any actual witches on the panel, just for some perspective.
But maybe folks don’t know that there are witches and Witches and witches again of various sorts and so I thought it might be useful to have a reference guide to witches. And who better than me to write one?
Ha, anyway, here we go.
There are three, maybe four types of folks who call themselves Wiccans. Wiccans will often call themselves Witches. But not all Wiccans are Witches and not all Witches are Wiccans. Hell, not even all Wiccans are Wiccans, as you’ll see.
Traditional Wiccans meet in a coven, worship a Lady and a Lord (under various names), and can trace the lineage of their high priest and high priestess back to Gerald Gardner, a British civil servant. There are, loosely, two main traditions of traditional Wicca–Gardnerian and Alexandrian. I don’t know what the differences are, but they’re there. Maybe some Wiccans of this sort will come by and straighten this out.
Feminist separatist (at least theologically) witches. They draw from some of the rituals and beliefs of traditional Wicca, but for the most part, they are concerned with the worship of the female divine by female females for the betterment of women.
These Wiccans don’t meet in regular covens and don’t necessarily follow the rituals or theology of traditional Wiccans. There’s a lot of debate about whether these “eclectic Wiccans” are actually Wiccans or if they’re just witches who don’t get that they should be calling themselves “witches” not “Wiccans.” I think they call themselves Wiccans, though, in order to indicate that their practice is religio-magical or magio-religious–meaning that they practice magic, but in the framework of their religious beliefs.
I don’t know if this term has fallen out of favor, but I love it. There’s a lot of overlap between eclectic wiccans and the fluffy bunnies, but fluffy bunnies tend to be young women who have watched The Craft, Charmed, or Harry Potter one too many times and decided that that’s them. These are the folks most likely to go on about the outrageousness of the “Burning Times” and to believe that they are part of some centuries’ old underground religious tradition. In general, they tend to either outgrow this stage or they go back to church.
Non-Wiccan Witches (eh, that’s kind of an unsatisfying catch-all title, but what can you do?)
Hedge witches and kitchen witches
These are witches who have incorporated the practice of magic into their everyday lives. Speaking broadly, these are folks who believe that influencible forces are all around us and constantly at work and they spend their time doing what would appear to be ordinary things in order to exert influence on those forces. This is not necessarily a religious belief (though it can be) and so you can find pagan witches of this sort and Christian witches.
Some folks claim to be from a long line of witches who have been practicing witchcraft for generations with only minimal outside interference. As you can imagine, these kinds of claims are met with skepticism. On the other hand, who knows? Again, not necessarily a religious thing.
Other folks who practice magic but don’t call themselves witches
A lot of pagan faiths have a role for someone in them who practices what we might consider magic. They might not call themselves witches, but they might be typified as such. You also might lump folks throughout the ages who practiced magic but didn’t consider themselves witches (by the definition of ‘witch’ at the time). And folks like hoodoo practitioners or folks who curse or bless in African-Hemispheric-American religions.
People around the world are still accused of witchcraft in the traditional, traditional sense of the word–in that they consort with the forces of evil in order to place magical spells on people that will harm them. And there are people who do do this.
It should be obvious, though, that most folks in this category are there for political reasons.
Have I forgotten anybody? Let me know.