Defining Pagan Terms

There seems to be a lot of confusion about the terms "Wicca", "Witchcraft", "Wiccan" and "Witch". It would appear that there are some who use the terms virtually synonymously, while others categorically deny a similarity, and yet others again admit that the terms are close but want to allow for some sort of distinction. This article will simply seek to present some of the various views on this subject by those in the Pagan community.

Maybe a good place to start is by looking at some definitions of the words "Witch, "Witchcraft", Wicca", and "Wiccan".

Wiccan authors, Janet and Stewart Farrar's, in their A Witches Bible trace the etymology of the word "Wicca":

"Like most modern witches, we call the Craft  "Wicca"...but we might as well be honest and admit that it is in effect a new word, mistakenly derived. The Old English word for 'witchcraft' was wiccacraeft, not wicca. Wicca meant 'a male witch' (feminine wicce, plural wiccan), from the verb wiccian, 'to bewitch, to practice witchcraft'..."The actual meaning of the word 'witch' is allied to 'wit' to know." Robert Graves (The White Goddess, p. 173), discussing the willow which in Greece was sacred to Hecate, says: "Its connection with witches is so strong in Northern Europe, that the words 'witch' and 'wicked' are derived from the same ancient word for willow, which also yields 'wicker'." (Janet and Stewart Farrar, A Witches Bible, p. 22, footnote 6.).

Similarly, Vivianne Crowley states:

"The word Wicca itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word Wicce, a Witch. Originally this was pronounced Witcha but in modern times it is pronounced Wicka." (Vivianne Crowley, Way of Wicca, p. 2, italics in the original).

The Snazzdragon Website states:

"Most modern Witches call themselves 'Wiccans' and their religion 'Wicca'. The Old English for Witchcraft was 'wicca-craeft', a male witch was a 'wicca', a female witch 'wicce' and the plural 'wiccan'. It is believed that all these words are derived from the verb 'wiccian' which means 'to bewitch' or 'practice Witchcraft', but the root of this word is obscure and there are many arguments among scholars about the accuracy of any of these derivations. Words such as 'Witch', 'wicked', 'willow' and 'wicker' all come from the root 'wit' meaning 'to know'. The name 'wizard' is from the Middle English 'wys' or 'wis', which means 'wise'. The name 'warlock', meaning a male Witch is an old Scottish word and is a derogatory term meaning 'traitor', 'enemy' or 'devil'. Many modern Pagans do not like to use the words 'Witch' or 'Witchcraft' because of the negative connotations they believe they hold whereas others delight in these names and are proud to call themselves 'Witch'."  (

Scott Cunningham, of the solitary Wiccan path, defines the words "Witch" and "Witchcraft" in the following ways:

"Witch: Anciently, a European practitioner of the remnants of Christian folk magic, particularly that relating to herbs, healing, wells, rivers and stones. One who practiced Witchcraft...It is also, somewhat surprisingly, used by some members of Wicca to describe themselves" (Scott Cunningham, Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, p. 204)

"Witchcraft: The craft of the Witch - Magic, especially magic utilizing Personal Power in conjunction with energies within stones, herbs, colors and other natural objects. While this may have spiritual overtones, Witchcraft, using this definition, isn‘t a religion. However, some followers of Wicca use this word to denote their religion." (Ibid.).

Some appear to use the terms "Witchcraft" and "Wicca" synonomously.

Kate West, author of, The Real Witches' Handbook, uses the terms "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" synonymously throughout her book. At the back of the book, under 'Terms and Definitions', she says:

"Wicca has largely adopted a more 'user friendly' term for Witchcraft. Personally I do not describe myself as a Wiccan, as it simply leads to the question 'What does that mean?' and then you will sooner or later end up leading to the word 'Witch'. There are some who consider that those who call themselves Wiccans are less traditional than Witches." (Kate West, The Real Witches' Handbook, pp. 192-193).

Likewise, other Pagan authors also use the terms "Wicca" and "Witch" synonymously:

"I use the term Witch and Wiccan interchangeably. They are the same word." (Judy Harrow, quoted in Wiccan Wisdom Keepers, p. 98).

"Wicca (both a specific tradition of Witchcraft and a popular synonym for Witchcraft; I use the term interchangeably in this book) is a beautiful, powerful spirituality..." (Phyllis Curott, Witch Crafting, p. 1).

The following Pagan websites also appear to understand the terms "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" as synonomous:

Notice with this first quote from The Pagan Federation website that they qualify the term "Wicca" with the words "Witchcraft" in brackets. They then go on to explain that Wicca is also known as Witchcraft. This is significant as the Pagan Federation is the largest Pagan group in the UK, so its definitions would certainly have wide reaching influence:

"Wicca (Witchcraft)
Wicca is one of the most influential traditions of modern Paganism. Also known by the name Witchcraft, it began to emerge publicly in its modern form in the late 1940's. It is an initiatory path, a mystery tradition that guides its initiates to a deep communion with the powers of Nature and of the human psyche, leading to a spiritual transformation of the self." (

From an "Interview with a Witch":

"OMC: What is Wicca?

L: Wicca is the name of a nature and goddess-based spiritual path. "Wicca" actually means "witch" and therefore, if you're a Wiccan, you're a witch who practices witchcraft." (

From the Witch on the site:

"What is Wicca?
Wicca, also known as Witchcraft, is an earth-based founded on the pre-Christian belief systems of European peoples..." (

From the Glass Temple website:

"What is Wicca? A Basic introduction.
Wicca is a type of Neopagan Witchcraft." (

Some, such as Teresa Moorey, seem to see the terms "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" as very close but with some distinction. Under the heading "What is Wicca?", Teresa Moorey defines Wicca in the following way:

"Wicca can be termed 'group witchcraft' but that is rather an oversimplification. There are other types of groups with a looser structure, a more open style, and often with community involvements, such as public festivals and courses. Wicca in its present form has been around since the 1940s. It is more regimented although the underlying beliefs are very similar. Wiccans form covens and call themselves 'witches'. They celebrate the eight seasonal festivals or 'Sabbats' and have a hierarchy of initiations. Wicca is both a religion and a magical system." (Teresa Moorey, A Beginner's Guide: Witchcraft, p. 17).

Others define Wicca as the religion of Witchcraft:

"Wicca is the religion of Witchcraft" (Vivianne Crowley, Way of Wicca, p. 2).

From the WiccaUK website:

"What is Wicca?
Wicca is an Earth-based, nature centered religion drawing on the ideas of pantheism, gnosticism, ceremonial magick, witchcraft and the pagan religions of our forefathers. Although the words "Wicca" and "Witchcraft" are often used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. The term "Wicca" is purported to be a modern version of the term of "Witchcraft", though even the etymology of the word Wicca is somewhat circumspect. Nevertheless, what we do know is that Wicca is a modern revivial of the old, Pagan religions, using magick, nature and a female Deity along with Her Consort, the Horned Lord, as its central core. The term witchcraft literally means the craft of the wise. In its original usage, witchcraft was practiced by those persons, generally female, who had knowledge of herbal lore, the law, psychology and physiology. It is important to note that not all Wiccans consider themselves witches, and not all witches are Wiccans.... The difference between Witchcraft and Wicca is, for many, a fine line. I think the two are best differentiated by the idea of religion vs. practice. Wicca is a religion which involves communion with the Earth, communion with a God/Goddess (or several of them if you're a polytheist), living in peace with yourself and others, and giving to those that gave to you. (Sounds kind of like Christianity, doesn't it?) Witchcraft, however, is what we practice. Witchcraft is the art of magick, the art of energy manipulation, the art of altered states of consciousness. This is not a religion in and of itself. In fact, not all people who practice witchcraft are Wiccans. Witchcraft may be practiced in many different forms, and admittedly, not all of them are positive. Satanist practices come to mind as an example of negative magick. A Witch in the Wiccan religion is someone who has studied very hard, committed the Pagan ways to memory, and has given his/her life over to the Goddess for protection and guidance. The term Witch for us is a high title--just because you are Wiccan does not make you a Witch. (Sort of in the same sense that being a Christian does not make you a priest) A Witch in other religions is anyone who practices magick. I use the term, however, to mean the former. (

Many seem to believe that most Witches are Wiccans but not all, as it is possible to be a Witch, but follow another religion.

From the website Mother's
"What is the difference between a Witch and a Wiccan? A Wiccan is someone who practices the religion of Wicca. We believe in communal healing, the immanence of the Divine, the sacredness of the mundane, are committed to knowledge and communication with Deity and they see Divinity in nature. A Witch is someone who practices the Art of Witchcraft, and who uses her will to bend or shape the reality around her. Most Wiccans practice witchcraft, and are therefore witches, but not all. Furthermore, not all witches are Wiccan. You can be a witch and follow another religion." (

From Cuina's Wiccan Library:

"What is Wicca, Witchcraft and Paganism.
Each person gives a different definition of what each of these terms are. All I can do is give you my definition from my own experience. In the most general of terms, a Witch is someone who casts spells and works Magick as a lifestyle. A Pagan is a person who worships or honors Nature Deities. A Wiccan is a Witch who is a certain type of Pagan. There are Witches who are not Wiccan. There can be Witches in every group in every culture in every society regardless of their religious beliefs. There are as many different types of Witches as there are Witches. Each one may define herself or himself differently. Anyone who casts spells and works Magick is a Witch...A Wiccan is a Pagan Witch (but not the only Pagan Witch). Wiccans believe in the Gods from any Pantheon (Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse, etc.) What make Wiccans different from other Pagans and other Witches are a common group of beliefs. There are very few things that someone can say ALL Wiccans agree upon, but these few things are very important." (

In summary and conclusion, it can be said that the words "Wicca", "Wiccan", "Witch" and "Witchcraft" are viewed in a variety of different ways by those in the Pagan community. Clearly there are some who view Witchcraft and Wicca as being synonymous, although it does seem that this is certainly not the majority view. Certainly, etymologically, there does seem to be some connection between the very words "Witch" and "Wicca". Many seem to hold that the two terms, should be viewed as separate and distinct, whereas others view the terms as being very close indeed but still want to allow for some sort of distinction. One way that some make this distinction is by calling Wicca the religion of Witchcraft, while Witchcraft itself is a practice. My own thoughts on this, after giving it a great deal of contemplation, is that Wicca is basically Witchcraft, but with a new label and a new image.

© Spotlight Ministries