Growing up, I did not really have much of a choice in defining myself as a witch. I’m an African American from the south, and as things arranged themselves from the beginning, “follower” was nowhere in my personality, so no matter what religion I settled into, I would be a witch. My definition of a witch, and some may agree or disagree, is someone who consciously uses their knowledge of both the seen and unseen/spiritual forces and aspects of Nature to solve problems, change situations, thrive, and help others to thrive. A witch may come from or practice any religion, or no religion, and may even be an atheist.
So a person may be Pagan (originally defined as one whose primary spiritual practice is local/ancestral rather than state sanctioned, but now means polytheistic/polyentheistic/pantheistic or animist) without being necessarily a witch. Pagans tend to be more witch friendly these days in the west, but not always. In some places, even with mostly Pagans, there are practices or actions which are considered unsanctioned or criminal. So then witchcraft would be defined as any unsanctioned and particularly unwelcome spiritual practice, especially hostile use of the forces of Nature and will. In some cultures, one may accidentally do hostile witchcraft without consciously intending to.
The general definition of witchcraft is somewhat fluid, but not totally fluid. The wiggle-room in there though, has allowed many people to claim to be witches, who don’t actually do any conscious witchcraft or hold beliefs that would make them aware that they are capable of unconscious witchcraft or manifestation of will. In this, the postmodernist era, anyone can define themselves as anything they want, but since this site is about being effective witches, we are drawing the lines. Some will call them arbitrary, but if they can be, then so can I. Later in your practice, if you find yourself on the brink of getting into a silly argument with someone who has decided that you’re intolerant or whatever, blame me. I don’t mind being the villain who taught you that unless you’re living in a culture with a tradition of accusing people of unconscious witchcraft, a witch should actually be doing witchcraft and not just calling themselves a witch to look cool and rebellious.
Now, moving on to Paganism, though I don’t think Pagan is the most accurate term, it has become the general term for anyone theist but not not strictly monotheistic in the English speaking/western parts of the world. So I use it so as to avoid confusion. My personal definition of a Pagan is someone who views deity as varied and/or multifaceted and whose religious and/or spiritual practice reflects this belief. Now personally, I prefer to address or refer to someone’s spiritual practice or religion by the term evinced by their main pantheon. If their main pantheon is Greek, I would rather call them Hellenic than Pagan. If it is Yoruba, I would prefer to call them Orishan or Orisha-ist than Pagan. For me, Pagan is a general term or one that I use when someone prefers to be called this.
Where it gets a little trickier is with those who are in one of the monotheistic faiths, and believes in them strongly, just not in the state sanctioned or popular way. Much of the time, this is because there are different sects with different practices, and quite often it happens that a person will come to an understanding of Nature or the efficacy of giving spirits they may not elevate to deity, more appreciation for what they do. Some believe that there is only one Almighty or All-Father/Mother, but that other spirits are important and helpful too such as angels, Ancestors, faeries, etc. Are those people Pagans too?
My opinion: maybe. In those cases, I prefer to let them decide.
Next question: Can such a person be a witch?
My opinion: most definitely.
Growing up in a Christian family wherein my parents’ generation had less tolerance for the old ways or explicitly “occult” practices than the previous, there were many things they did which could be considered witchcraft. The laying on of hands for healing or bringing changes or injecting positive energy/blessings into objects, for instance, is using the unseen forces of Nature to channel or send energy. Prayer is that and projecting will. Tithing is giving offerings because it makes sense to support one’s temple and the people who maintain it, and hopefully the community around it as well. Pressing a flower from your date or boyfriend in your Bible is a love spell. The Holy Communion is an ebbo. Church potlucks are ebbos. Many Christian practices not only have their roots in polytheistic practices, but are actively carrying them on.
On a more sinister side, if someone belongs to a sect that sanctions or excuses the oppression or murder of others who are nonbelievers, they are doing hostile witchcraft on a regular basis.
So, one could ask who’s to say who is a witch and who is a Pagan? Who is to say what is red and what is green? Different people have different perspectives, and that’s okay. However, there’s a point where philosophy has to give way to practicality and usefulness. You decide where that point is for you, and if what I’m saying here does something good for you, feel free to stick around to learn more.
Blessings and Ase!
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Blessings and Ase!