Apologetics Index

A Note on Terms and Capitalization

The terms “Wicca,” “Witchcraft” and “Neopaganism” all refer to different aspects of the movement we are talking about in this book. Think of them them as a series of concentric circles. At the center is “Wicca,” the smallest circle. “Wicca” is the name that Gerald Gardner gave to the religion he and his associates created during the late 1940s and early 1950s. This is sometimes referred to as “Gardnerian” Witchcraft.

“Witchcraft” is the next and larger circle. The category of “Witchcraft” encompasses both “Gardnerian” Witches (or “Wiccans”) and people who call themselves “Witches” but are not “Gardnerian” — including some who began as Gardner’s followers and then broke away. There is a large number of sub-categories within this second circle, but they are not especially relevant to the culture-change we are discussing, and they are even losing their relevance within the Witchcraft movement itself. Modern Witches freely swap material between traditions and invent new materials with no tradition at all, so distinctions can get blurred very quickly. Margot Adler says, “In the past, most writers broke down the Craft traditions into “Hereditary,’ “Traditional,’ “Gardnerian,’ “Alexandrian,’ “Dianic,’ and sometimes “Continental.’ All these terms now have vague boundaries, and mean less as the years go by.” (Adler, 1986, pp. 113-114)

“Neopaganism” is the third and largest circle. This term encompassses not only “Wiccans” and “Witches,” but also includes the groups (and individuals) that try to “reconstruct” ancient, pre- and non -Christian religious systems, such as the Norse, Celtic, Greek, Roman and Egyptian religions, as well as the followers of various obscure, forgotten and neglected occult teachings from around the world. In that respect, Neopaganism could be described as “a congress of resurrected religious rejects.” But language and the rules of usage are always changing, and this simple picture of Wicca/Witchcraft/Neopaganism has been complicated recently by the slang usage of “Wicca” in teenage culture and in the popular entertainment media. In teenage culture, “Wicca” now routinely refers to almost any form of modern Witchcraft, while blockbuster teen TV shows like Charmed and Buffy the Vampire Slayer often use “Wicca” as a synonym for a kind of superficial, “dabbler’s” Witchcraft. In at least some pop-culture usage, therefore, “Wicca” seems to be turning almost into a term of derision.

In the meantime, I have tended to use the most inclusive term applicable for any given statement. When speaking of “Witches” (second circle), if my statement applies also to “Neopagans” (third circle), I incline to use the larger term.

I have capitalized Neopagan, Neopaganism, Witch and Witchcraft whenever they refer to the religion or religious movement, or to a follower thereof. Thus, as a thumbnail guide, I have capitalized Witch and Witchcraft in the same manner (and in the same places) that one would capitalize say, Buddhist and Buddhism, or Christian and Christianity. Neopaganism and Neopagan are almost always capitalized, since those words only refer to the modern religious movement and its followers.

This principle also means that while modern Witches and their religion of Witchcraft are generally capitalized, biblical witchcraft, African tribal witchcraft and European witchcraft — along with their practitioners — are not.

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Category: Witchcraft Goes Mainstream
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First published (or major update) on Sunday, October 16, 2011.
Last updated on October 26, 2011.

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