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Quick Look at Witchcraft
- What: Contemporary Witchcraft is one of many types of neo-Paganism. It is religion within the broader context of occultism.
Also known as Pagan- or Modern Witchcraft, it is the largest contemporary pagan religion. Witchcraft is often called Wicca, though the latter term commonly refers to one of the largest movements or ‘traditions’ within Pagan Witchcraft.
There is a certain amount of confusion, disagreement, and even infighting among Witches and Wiccans regarding the terminology — with some preferring the term ‘Witchcraft,’ others ‘Wicca,’ and yet others who use both terms interchangeably 1 Note: while all witches are pagans, not all pagans are witches. Likewise, while all Wiccans are witches, not all witches are Wiccans.
- Traditional Witchcraft: Traditional Witchcraft, such as performed by shamans or witch doctors, is a magical practice — not a religion. However, it can have religious elements.
- No Central Authority: This is a diverse movement that knows no central authority or authority figure.
Lacking a commonly agreed-upon set of key doctrines, practitioners do not all have the same views, beliefs and practices. But most forms (or ‘traditions’) of Modern Paganism do have a number of core beliefs or principles. 2
- Alleged Witches: In many countries people are falsely accused of being witches — almost always in the sense of traditional witches.
Throughout Africa, in India and Pakistan, as well as in Papua New Guinea, many are tortured and murdered — or cast out and banned from their families and villages — after they were falsely accused of practicing witchcraft. 3
- Christian Witchcraft: There are people who claim to practice ‘Christian Witchcraft’, or ‘Christian Witchery.’ This is a form of syncretism or eclecticism. 4
From the perspective of historical, biblical Christianity, witchcraft — in all its forms and traditions — is incompatible with the essential doctrines of the Christian faith.
- Witch or Wiccan? An Historical Overview and their Use Within Contemporary Paganism Anonymous essay: “Today, the words “Witch” and “Wiccan” are often used synonymously, though they really, initially, should be considered two different things. There are a few reasons why this confusion has happened, and it is the focus of this little commentary to explain them. “
- See, for instance, this practitioner of ‘Traditional Witchcraft’ who makes a distinction between her beliefs and practices versus those of Wiccans. ↩
- See, for instance, this discussion of Core Beliefs of Wicca at Beliefnet. Many Wiccans look to a series of basic books on Witchcraft — some of which are updated from time to time — for initial guidance in determining their beliefs and practices. Popular authors include Margot Adler, Scott Cunningham, Starhawk, and Doreen Valient. See Classic Pagan Books. ↩
- Frequently, such accusations are leveled when a neighbor dies. However, it has also been documented that often accusations are made by those who wish to take possession of a person’s land. Note that in many Western countries there have been cases of criminal abuse on the hands of those who claimed they wanted to rid a person of witchcraft, voodoo or demonic influences. ↩
- Craig Hawkins defines syncretism as
The combining or merging and synthesizing of religions or religious beliefs, practices, and philosophies. This results in new or hybrid religions that are composed of diverse elements of the religions from which they were derived.
– Craig Hawkins, The Modern World of Witchcraft, part 2, glossary Christian Research Journal, Winter/Spring 1990
Merriam-Webster says eclecticism is
1: selecting what appears to be best in various doctrines, methods, or styles
2: composed of elements drawn from various sources
– eclectic, an entry in Merriam-Webster Online