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Is Witchcraft A Religion?
Or Is It Wicca?

The Start Of Debate
Is Witchcraft a religion or not is an argument that has long existed and will not be resolved by this article. There are groups of people who believe it is a religion, there are those who don't. Each person should examine both sides of the debate and decide for them self. That perspective should be derived from an academic approach and research of the practices, to the best of our ability for how they were established, used and practiced through out history.By Eric Tewder, 1996
This debate is one reason a new label is becoming popular combining the basic foundation of spiritual concepts with those of a pagan perspective; "Pagan Metaphysics." Metaphysics itself (as written by Aristotle) are pagan in nature as the Ancient Greeks were a Polytheistic culture.
From this starting point we can begin the with an academic approach and an examination of the labels/titles in order to understand the context of the discussion. What is meant when one says 'this' or uses 'that' title during the discussion. This is a concept of defining perspective was set forth by Greek scholars and can be very useful in debate. So if you've read Aristotle than you're familiar with this type of introductory foundation.
Defining The Labels
When we define the titles and labels used in a discussion we need to include the etymology of the word. How did the word come about, how was it used, when was it established and what was the environment or culture that it was used in. For instance, if we talk about cars and whither or not they are fuel efficient what are we talking about? Are we talking about all cars? Are we talking about compact or mid sized cars? What about SUVs, pickups or other types of cars? An exercise in defining what "cars" means when we use the word is the first step.
This allows us to have a meaningful debate by starting on the same page and limits the amount of discord over semantics. The purpose of this section therefore, is to clearly define and discuss the labels used in this debate.
Late Latin (LL) Latin language used in the 3rd to 6th centuries
Latin (L)  Italic language of ancient Latium and of Rome and until modern times the dominant language of school, church, and state in western Europe
Old English (OE) Indo-European Languages from the time of the earliest documents in the 7th century to about 1100
Middle English (ME)  Indo-European Languages from the 12th to 15th centuries.
Proto-Germanic (PGmc) Proto-Germanic is the stage of the language constituting the most recent common ancestor of the attested Germanic languages, dated to the latter half of the first millennium BC. The post-PIE dialects spoken throughout the Nordic Bronze Age, roughly 2500–500 BC, even though they may have no attested descendants other than the Germanic languages, are referred to as "pre-Proto-Germanic" or more commonly "pre-Germanic.
Old French The French language from the 9th to the 16th century
Anglo-French (Anglo-Fr) The French language used in medieval England, about A.D. 500 to about 1500
Old French (O.Fr.) The French language from the 9th to the 16th century; especially : French from the 9th to the 13th century.
c.1200, from Anglo-Fr., religiun, "religious community," from L. religionem (nom. religio) "respect for what is sacred, reverence for the gods,". Modern sense of "recognition of, obedience to, and worship of a higher, unseen power" is from 1535. "Religious" is first recorded c.1225. Transferred sense of "scrupulous, exact" is recorded from 1599.
1. A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
2. A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.
When we say religion we are talking about a group of people who have organized a fundamental set of common spiritual beliefs as the foundation for their religious practice.
c.1375, from L.L. paganus "pagan," in classical L. "villager, rustic, civilian," from pagus "rural district," originally "district limited by markers," thus related to pangere "to fix, fasten".
Religious sense is often said to derive from conservative rural adherence to the old gods after the Christianization of Roman towns and cities; but the word in this sense predates that period in Church history, and it is more likely derived from the use of paganus in Roman military jargon for "civilian, incompetent soldier," which Christians (Tertullian, c.202; Augustine) picked up with the military imagery of the early Church (e.g. milites "soldier of Christ," etc.). Applied to modern pantheists and nature-worshipers from 1908. Paganism is attested from 1433.
While pagan is attested in English from the 14th century, there is no evidence that the term paganism was in use in English before the 17th century. The OED instances Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776): "The divisions of Christianity suspended the ruin of paganism." The term was not a neologism, however, as paganismus was already used by Augustine.
By modern definition: any religion that does not espouse to the doctrine of Abrahamic religions, which include Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
When we say pagan we are talking about the 'rural adherence to the old gods', meaning religions that do not follow the doctrine of Abrahamic religions. This would include a large category of religions from ancient Buddhism to Shamanism.
Neopaganism: A movement by modern people to revive nature-worshiping, pre-Christian religions, or other nature-based spiritual paths. This definition may include anything on a sliding scale from Reconstructionist at one end to non-reconstructionist groups such as neo-Druidism, Witchcraft and neo-Norse movements.
When we say neo-Pagan we are talking about pagan groups that define themselves as nature or Earth based religions.
O.E. cræft "power, strength, might," from P.Gmc. *krab-/*kraf-. Sense shifted to "skill, art" (via a notion of "mental power"), which led to the n. meaning of "trade." Use for "small boat" is first recorded 1671, probably from some nautical sense of "vessels of small craft," referring either to the trade they did or the seamanship they required.
Use of the word in modern contexts: another name for Witchcraft.
When we say Craft, we are talking about the practice of a skill utilizing the Science of Energy Manipulation; also called Magik.
OE - a wise woman, shaman, or priestess in Germanic paganism, later in Norse paganism, and are a recurring motif in Norse mythology.
Derived from PGmc - The Old Norse word Völva meaning "wand carrier" and it continues Proto-Germanic *walwo-n, which is derived from a word for "wand" (ON völr). Vala, on the other hand, is a literary form based on Völva. Other names were seiðkona for women and seiðmaðr for men.
When we say Wicce, we are speaking of a woman who utilizes her knowledge and skills of Energy Manipulation to provide guidance to those who seek her counsel.
An O.E. noun meaning "male witch, wizard, soothsayer, sorcerer, magician;" the male form of wicce.
Use of the word in modern contexts traces to English folklorist Gerald Gardner (1884-1964), who is said to have joined circa 1939 an occult group in New Forest, Hampshire, England, for which he claimed an unbroken tradition to medieval times. Gardner seems to have first used it in print in 1954, in his book "Witchcraft Today". Gerald Gardner's followers (c.1954) established the tradition of Wica as a form of Witchcraft. In later years, one of Gardner's students assumed he spelt the word incorrectly Wica instead of the 'old world' spelling of Wicca and that he chose this word because of it's 'masculine association for a male witch'. Today his tradition is known as Wicca.
When we say Wicca today, we are talking about the modern tradition of Wicca established by Gerald Gardner.
OE - wiccecraft. The practice and beliefs held by the Wicce. A magical religion or the religion of the Wicce.
Witchcraft was first declared a crime in Eng. law in 1542; trials there peaked in 1580s and 1640s but fell sharply after 1660. The last, in 1717, ended in acquittal. The Witchcraft Act was repealed 1736. Earlier documented use of the word occurs c1480 in OE papers documenting the negative influences of the Wicce and her efforts to consort with the devil. Some believe this to be the precursor or beginning movement against neo-pagan practices and the start of the Inquisitions of Europe.
When we say Witchcraft, we are talking about a religion that holds a common set of Nature based fundamental beliefs and practices. These beliefs include a deep desire to live in harmony and balance with ones natural world (seen and unseen), a respect for all things, reincarnation and karma, the believe that all things are connected on both a physical and spiritual/soul level through energy and the God/Goddesses or Divine, that this energy can be utilized to advance the soul toward spiritual enlightenment. This certainly isn't a complete list of all the practices and beliefs of the religion, but is offered as a general synopsis.
c.1380, from O.Fr. tradicion (1292), from L. traditionem (nom. traditio) "delivery, surrender, a handing down," from traditus, form of tradere "deliver, hand over". The notion in the modern sense of the word is of things "handed down" from generation to generation.
Traditional is recorded from c.1600; in ref. to jazz, from 1950. Slang trad, short for trad(itional jazz) is recorded from 1956; its general use for "traditional" is recorded from 1963.
1. a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting.
2. a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.
3. Theology:
a. (among Jews) body of laws and doctrines, or any one of them, held to have been received from Moses and originally handed down orally from generation to generation.
b. (among Christians) a body of teachings, or any one of them, held to have been delivered by Christ and His apostles but not originally committed to writing.
c. (among neo-Pagans) a body of teachings, or any one of them, held to have been received from family/clan/cultural group ancestors and originally handed down orally from generation to generation.
When we speak of Tradition in the neo-pagan community we are speaking of a specific group that implements the beliefs held by the religion of Witchcraft and further defined and put into practiced by a specific set of activities held in troth to that group. In other words, a Tradition of Witchcraft further defines the beliefs and put those into practice based on their own troth, creed or rede of faith.
c.1384 from O.Fr. magique "art of influencing events and producing marvels"; from L. magice "sorcery, magic"; from Gk. magike female form of magikos "magical," from magos "one of the members of the learned and priestly class".
Practitioners of Witchcraft adopted the Greek spelling "magike" and later "magik" to differentiate between stage magic and the science of energy manipulation. The practiced faded and was repopularized in the first half of the 20th century by Aleister Crowley when he introduced it as a core component of Thelema.
1. The science of energy manipulation. A conscious direction of will to accomplish a goal.
2. An action or effort undertaken because of a personal need to effect change through energy, spells or ritual.
3. Any act designed to cause intentional change. To change nothing into something and something into something else. To cause in any object any change of which that object is capable by nature.
When we speak of Magik we are talking about the science of energy manipulation through ritual, ceremony or spell as a conscious direction of will to accomplish a goal.
O.E. wicce "female magician, sorceress," in later use "a woman supposed to have dealings with the devil or evil spirits and to be able by their cooperation to perform supernatural acts."
Use of the word in modern context refers to any person, female or male, who practices the science of energy manipulation/magik. It has been associated primarily with the religion of Witchcraft, but the label is used amongst other practitioners in other religions, including Christianity, especially Christians from northern Spain, Latin America and various Celtic regions.
When we speak of witch we are talking about any person who practices magik along with their own personal spiritual belief, be it Witchcraft, Christian, or some other form of religious practice. Those that do not practice magik with or on a spiritual path are not witches, but rather Ceremonial Mages. The label "witch" distinguishes a person who practices magik with religion, vs. one who only practices magik.
Is Witchcraft A Religion?
If we look at the origins of the word and how it was used, then yes, Witchcraft is a religion. Wicca as it is used today is a modern denomination of that religion. It's important to understand that Wicca in it's original form was not a tradition at all. And those who claim Wicca is the older base of the religion are not accurate in their assumption. That does not diminish the value or stature of Wicca.
There have been many Traditional practices of Witchcraft handed down among families and cultures long before these words and labels were established. The earliest we can go back in time is to the Late Latin period of the 3rd century AD and the use of paganus by the scholars of that time. Even then we know from the writings of Caesar's Commentarii de bello Gallico (52–51 BC; The Gallic War) that there were pagan practices in place in the Celtic lands.
Because of this, modern attempts to suggest that Wicca is the original religion doesn't take into account these earlier practices of the faith. We know the Druids and Celtic Shamanism existed and were practiced long before the Wicce and Wiccecraft were labeled by the old English.
We certainly know the Norse practiced earlier forms of Norse Shamanism that evolved into Odinism, Asatru and neo-Pagan Witchcraft traditions. We also know these early forms of Norse paganism influenced other regions of the world as the Vikings traveled, conquered and settled in new lands. That is certainly true of their invasion and influence in the Celtic lands.
We also know that Native American pagan practices in North, Central and South America existed long before Indo-Europeans invaded those lands, bring Christianity to the 'new worlds'. These forms of Shamanism are also the pre-cursors to modern neo-paganism. And in many instances heavily influenced modern pagan beliefs and practices. Calling these early traditions "wiccan" degrades the contributions these early people made to our belief systems today.
Taking all this into account, modern practices cannot be labeled or generalized as 'Wicca'. The historical evolution of the words, and their associated practices pre-date Wicca as a practice or tradition. Because of this, we cannot say Wicca is the religion. Rather it is a denomination of the religion.
In or about 1100AD practitioners of nature paganism adopted the label Wiccecraft and later Witchcraft as the title for their religious beliefs. As with all things, that large category of practitioners developed their own doctrine of practices, or ways of implementing those beliefs based on their own generational or cultural perspectives. Traditions became the denominations of the faith and there are many of these within the global religion of neo-paganism.
Many of the Traditions we know and practice have greatly evolved since these earlier times. In part because of the time and general evolution of thought, in part because of the eventual secrecy that blanketed earlier practitioners who were forced to hide from Inquisitions and death. Sadly much of this secrecy caused a large portion of information to be lost and forgotten over time. Even before the Inquisitions we know a large amount of information and documentation was lost as conquers destroyed villages and cultures as they took over the lands and people they invaded.
But the evolution also occurred because the more the human culture learned from science and scientific exploration, the more our understanding of the universe and our place in it also evolved. We no longer see the need or value in sacrificing a life as an appeasement or in honoring our Gods/Goddesses. Today we see greater value in life and caring for the life of nature and the world around us. Because we have grown as a species, our religious values have also grown.
Today modern Traditions are based on advancements in science, merging practices from two or more traditions into one, or even taking aspects of beliefs from other religions and merging them with neo-pagan traditions to create new traditions of the religion.
Through all this, there is one constant - Witchcraft is the religion that sets the foundation of belief and the Traditions further define and implement those beliefs into their own perspectives of practice. Defining their own creed, troth or rede of faith to provide guidance and principles for that tradition. Wicca is a tradition of Witchcraft, along with a large number of other Traditions that existed before the creation of Wicca.
It's understandable therefore, why many are trying to get away from the debate and dropping the label "Witchcraft" for that of "Pagan Metaphysics". But the change in name may also help to drop some of the centuries of negative propaganda heaped on the practice from the early Church. What ever you choose to call your religion is up to you. But do some academic research behind the name and it's etymology so you have a good understanding of the label you're choosing to connect with.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Covenant Of The Goddess
Merriam-Webster's 11th Collegiate Dictionary
WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.
 Additional Reading
 What Is Witchcraft?   
 Is Witchcraft A Religion?
 The Creation of Modern Witchcraft
 An Evolution of WitchCraft (Timeline)
 Which Witch is Which? - Labels & Titles
What Is Pagan Metaphysics?
What Is Paganism? A Basic Description of Paganism & Pagan Metaphysics

Source: 1, s1, s2, s4, s5, s6, s7, s11, s14, m1, m4, m5, m7, m10, m16, m18, m23, m36
Created: 10.17.2008         Updated: 10.18.2008


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