Differences Between Traditional Witchcraft and Wicca: How Wicca Became Mainstream Modern Witchcraft
by Sophia diGregorio
There are many differences between traditional witchcraft and Wicca and while there are numerous articles on this subject – in fact, I’ve written a couple of others on this topic elsewhere – it doesn’t hurt to stress it all the more, especially for newcomers to “the craft.”
The term “traditional witchcraft” is one that has evolved in recent years to try to distinguish more historically-based and folk practices from the modern witchcraft-based religion Wicca, which has become very popular in recent decades. Wicca began in Britain in the 1950s, but was not fully exported to the U.S. until the 1970s. Wicca was first very popular on the west coast, in Colorado, Massachussetts and a few other isolated regions until it became part of mainstream pop culture with the release of the movie, “The Craft,” in 1996.
At this point, Wicca became the loudest and proudest voice among those who practice witchcraft, which has generally remained a secret or, at least, private practice for most people. But, this movie made witchcraft – or, at least, a form of it – popular, especially among high school and college aged people. Since then Wicca has remained relatively popular and it is now very often the first introduction many people have to the occult.
But, there are fundamental differences between this modern form of witchcraft, Wicca, and traditional witchcraft.
Those who wanted to take witchcraft mainstream created a “kinder, gentler” form of witchcraft for mass consumption back in the 1970s.
How Witchcraft in the Form of Wicca Entered Mainstream Popular Culture
In 1974 there was a meeting of some neo-pagans in Minneapolis, Minnesota at which they attempted to codify the beliefs of witches, but they weren’t really talking about witches as much as Wiccans. These people claimed to speak for all witches, but they were actually a group of Wiccans looking for a way to make witchcraft more palatable to Christians.
The following is the result of their attempt to codify and define the beliefs of witches:
“Principles of Wiccan Beliefs” 1974 Council of American Witches
We practice rites to attune ourselves with the natural rhythm of life forces marked by the phases of the Moon and the seasonal Quarters and Cross Quarter.
We recognize that our intelligence gives us a unique responsibility toward our environment. We seek to live in harmony with Nature, in ecological balance offering fulfillment to life and consciousness within an evolutionary concept.
We acknowledge a depth of power far greater than that apparent to the average person. Because it is far greater than ordinary, it is sometimes called supernatural, but we see it as lying within that which is naturally potential to all.
We conceive of the Creative Power in the universe as manifesting through polarity — as masculine and feminine — and that this same Creative Power lies in all people, and functions through the interaction of the masculine and feminine. We value neither above the other, knowing each to be supportive to the other. We value sex as pleasure, as the symbol and embodiment of life, and as one of the sources of energies used in magickal practice and religious worship.
We recognize both outer worlds and inner, or psychological, worlds sometimes known as the Spiritual World, the Collective Unconscious, Inner Planes, etc. — and we see in the interaction of these two dimensions the basis for paranormal phenomena and magickal exercises. We neglect neither dimension for the other, seeing both as necessary for our fulfillment.
We do not recognize any authoritarian hierarchy, but do honor those who teach, respect those who share their greater knowledge and wisdom, and acknowledge those who have courageously given of themselves in leadership.
We see religion, magick and wisdom in living as being united in the way one views the world and lives within it — a world view and philosophy of life which we identify as Witchcraft — the Wiccan Way.
Calling oneself “Witch” does not make a Witch — but neither does heredity itself, nor the collecting of titles, degrees and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within her/himself that make life possible in order to live wisely and well without harm to others and in harmony with Nature.
We believe in the affirmation and fulfillment of life in a continuation of evolution and development of consciousness giving meaning to the Universe we know and our personal role within it.
Our only animosity towards Christianity, or towards any other religion or philosophy of life, is to the extent that its institutions have claimed to be “the only way” and have sought to deny freedom to others and to suppress other ways of religious practice and belief.
As American Witches, we are not threatened by debates on the history of the Craft, the origins of various terms, the legitimacy of various aspects of different traditions. We are concerned with our present and our future.
We do not accept the concept of absolute evil, nor do we worship any entity known as “Satan” or “the Devil”, as defined by the Christian traditions. We do not seek power through the suffering of others, nor accept that personal benefit can be derived only by denial to another.
We believe that we should seek within Nature that which is contributory to our health and well-being.
The Council that came up with this supposedly did so to counteract misinformation and dispel stereotypes, but actually they succeeded in making more of this very thing. Interestingly, this witches’ council was assembled by Carl Llewellyn Weschcke, President of Llewellyn Publishing. They have been the primary publishers of books on Wicca and Neo-paganism since, at least, the 1970s. And, it is their books that are common sources of confusion about what witchcraft -at least, traditional witchcraft – is. This is because their Wiccan authors do not usually acknowledge and have even worked to deny the truth about witchcraft.
Not surprisingly, this Council of Witches, which was founded in 1973 ceased to exist by 1975 because of differences among its members.
Black Magic, Demons and Other Spirits
“Bide the Wiccan Rede, ye must; in perfect love and perfect trust.”
A fundamental difference between traditional witches and Wiccans is that traditional witches do not acknowledge or accept the Wiccan Rede or any other moral code. The Wiccan Rede became popular with many non-Gardnerian Wiccans. Gardnerians have never acknowledged it, their “code” is the Charge of the Goddess.
The Wiccan Rede has roots that stretch all the way back to the late 1960s and seems to stem from something said by Doreen Valiente in speech she gave.
On the other hand, traditional witches are entirely self-autonomous and do not acknowledge any code or authority, therefore, they usually have no problem with the practice of black magic. In fact, traditional witchcraft is quite a lot darker than Wicca and the the slick, glittery popular culture conception of modern witchcraft from the movies.
In contrast to traditional witchcraft, Wiccans eschew black magic. Some go a little further and declare that anyone claiming to practice black magic or work with demonic entities is not a real witch. Some, also, claim that Satanists and Luciferians are not real witches. Some Wiccans are very reactionary to this aspect of traditional witchcraft and expend a lot of energy trying to convince people that real witches don’t practice black magic or commune with the devil.
The irony is that many traditional witches don’t consider Wiccans to be real witches. And, in recent years, some Wiccans do not consider themselves to be witches and do not practice spell casting, rather they celebrate the earth and its yearly cycles.
As stated in the “Principles” above, Wicca does not recognize evil, ascribing these characteristics to forces of nature. Furthermore, most Wiccans do not believe in the existence of demons or devils. By contrast many traditional witches work with spirits of all kinds and of different natures.
Traditional witches, also, employ familiars, but they are not cats or dogs – they are spirits. By contrasts, many Wiccans translate “familiar spirit” to mean a pet.
Traditional Witches Look and Act Like Everyone Else
Most traditional witches, unless they’re in business as witches, do not dress any differently from other people. They, also, typically do not use telltale phrases like, “Merry Meet” and “Blessed be.” The closer we fit to the witch living alone on the edge of town with a black cat stereo-type, the more circumspect we tend to be with regard to our lives and our activities because people knowing anything about our personal business has not worked out well for us in the past.
By contrast, Wiccans tend to be very social and they dress in certain ways and use certain phrases so they can recognize each other in social settings. They are the vocal majority who are “out of the broom closet.
Wicca and the Self-help Movement
Traditional witchcraft is not a self-help movement. It is not about personal empowerment through positive thinking or affirmations. It about changing the outer world. Traditional witches are very serious about altering circumstances in the outer environment, yes, even manipulating other people. Traditional witches understand that there is a an occult science that makes this possible. Witches have a natural power to cause changes in the outer environment and they spend a lot of time studying the occult and trying to improve upon and perfect their natural abilities.
By contrast, many aspects of Wicca focus on self-help and changing things about one’s self as opposed to changing things in the outer environment. Some even forbid using witchcraft for healing without the subject’s permission.
Unlike Wicca, traditional witchcraft is not an earth-centered religion or, for that matter, an earth-centered anything else. In fact, it’s not a religion, either. Traditional witches do not worship anyone or anything.
Traditional witches tend to rely more on history, old documents and old practices, whether from old grimoires, the writings of the Hermeticists or from folklore.
On the other hand, Wiccans tend to rely more on their own books on the subject of Wicca, which is really a completely different thing. The Llewellyn Publishing Company is probably the most important publisher to shape present-day thoughts about both Wicca and witchcraft. But, Wicca is in many ways the converse of everything that both traditional witchcraft and historical witchcraft represent.
Another closely related article to this one at this blog is: What is Traditional Witchcraft? How to Know if You are a Wiccan or a Traditional Witch.
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