with civilization and culture.
Q. What is a Witch? What is Witchcraft?
comes from the Anglo-Saxon wicce (meaning witch), which in turn derives from an Indo-European
root word meaning to bend or change or do magic/religion (making it related to "wicker,"
"wiggle," and even "vicar"). It is possibly also related to the
Old Norse vitki (meaning wizard), derived from root words meaning "wise one"
or "seer." "Warlock" (rarely used, for male Witches) is from
the Old Norse varðlokkur, "spirit song" (not "oath-breaker").
Related words are "Pagan," meaning a country dweller, and "Heathen,"
a dweller on the heath, both of which peoples were the European equivalent of the
Native Americans and other indigenous, nature-worshipping people.
a Witch is a woman or man who practices a life-affirming, Earth- and
religion, honoring Divinity in female as well as (or instead of) male aspects, and
practicing Magic (which some Witches spell "magick," to distinguish it
from stage illusions). There are many different traditions of Witches, encompassing
many beliefs in addition to these. Some traditions are practiced by women only, and
recognize only the Divine Feminine, the Goddess. Others include men and recognize
a male god in addition to the Goddess. Some traditions may date back to before the
Spanish Inquisition, others have been in existence for only a few years. The strength
of the Witches' religion (also called "the Craft" or "Wicca")
lies in its diversity; it is a living, growing religious tradition.
today may be seen as the sum total of all a Witch's practices, including but not
limited to: spellcasting, divination ("fortune telling"), meditation, herbalism,
ritual and ritual drama, singing and dancing to raise energy, healing, clairvoyance
and other psychism, creative mythology, and more.
As a religion, the Craft
is a revival and/or reconstruction of the pre-Christian religions of
especially Northern Europe (giving us Celtic or Norse traditions), sometimes
elsewhere (giving us Graeco-Roman, Egyptian, or Levantine traditions). Many of us
turned for inspiration to the still-living indigenous traditions of other
lands, such as Australia, Asia, India, and the Americas. Some of us , recognizing
that we are American Witches, work with deities and land-spirits of local Amerindian
tribes, though we do not claim to be members of any Amerindian tradition. As Margot
Adler, a Witchcraft authority, has written, "The real tradition of the Craft
Q. Do you pray? Who do you pray to?
Some Witches pray (in the popular sense of the word), some don't. Some Witches regularly
meditate on the deities of their choice; some only invoke deities to empower a ritual
or work of Magic. As to who or what our deities are, you will get nearly as many
answers as there are Witches. Consensus opinion seems to be that there is a transcendent
Divine, the sum of all that is and more, and that everything that is partakes of
that Divinity. However, that Divinity is more than the human mind can encompass or
experience. So the idea of Divinity is broken down into few or many "mind-sized"
pieces. One cannot look at the sun but through a filter; one can only experience
a piece of the Divine. These pieces are conceived of in many forms. One of the primary
forms Divinity takes for us is the Goddess, the Divine Feminine. She can have many
names and many aspects; some Witches worship only the nameless single Goddess, and
others worship Her under all the names by which she has been known to the ancients:
Ishtar, Diana, Ceridwen, Athena, Amaterasu, Brigantia, Venus, Hecate, Isis, Demeter,
and more. In addition, the Goddess can be seen in three aspects: the Maiden (youth,
self-sufficiency, often love), the Mother (nurturing, fulfillment), and the Crone/Wise
Woman (wisdom, mystery, initiation, and death/rebirth). The Moon, the Sea, and the
Earth can all be personified as Goddesses.
Some Witches stop there. Other
Witches include the Divine Male, the God. Our God is not limited to the Father aspect,
though there are Divine Fathers. The Sun is often personified as a God, as is plant
life; the dying and reborn Grain God is common to nearly all agricultural myths.
Some name Him merely "the Horned One;" others call him by the names he
had of old: Apollo, Osiris, Dionysos, Odin Pan Freyr, Adonis, Tammuz, and many others.
When we invoke deities and/or manifest them in ourselves, where do they
come from? Are they somewhere "out there" and do they come in? Or are they
inside us, in our psyches, and do they come out? Do we "put on" a deity,
or do we remove our shell of humanity to let the divinity show through? Nobody has
the answer, nor do we pretend to. Deities may be archetypes , they may be nature
spirits, they may be forces outside our ken. Who or whatever they are, they are.
Our deities are both transcendent ("out there") and immanent ("right
Q. Are you Satanists?
No. To be a Satanist,
one must believe in Satan. Witches do not believe in Satan, as such.
image of the goat-hooved, pointy-horned devil is a deliberate corruption by the early
missionary church of the European Pagan Horned God, who has been depicted in
as Pan, and in ancient Gaul as Cernunnos (who is pictured having a stag's antlers).
Making indigenous gods into evil beings was the early church's most reliable method
of gaining converts. Some missionary Christian groups continue the practice to this
day, in areas that have retained their old religions.
Our Horned God is
neither evil nor a source of evil; He is the energy of nature, of plant and animal
life, which energy manifests for people in music and dance, intoxication and ecstasy,
and all joyous activities, including lovemaking.
Q. What about evil? What
are your ethics/morals?
We believe that life is essentially good, and
creation and destruction are part of natural
cycles. Clearly, though, there is
evil in the world. We believe its source is not any kind of
devil or demiurge,
but human action (note: not human nature). Evil is also subjective: what is good
for one may be evil for another and vice versa. For example, a tiger kills an antelope
- the antelope's death is bad to the antelope, but good to the tiger, who does, after
all, have to eat. The deities of the Craft, if they have any inclination at all,
incline towards the positive; most are neither "good" nor "evil,"
they just are, in the same way any elemental force, like fire or the weather, is.
Our deities give us power; how we choose to use that power is up to us.
That use is directed, first and foremost, by the Witches' Rede: "If it harm
none, do what you will." It is also directed in part by the Law of Threefold
Return: what you give out returns to you threefold. If you work ill, threefold ill
comes back to you. If you work good, threefold good comes back to you.
(and members of other indigenous religions) have known all along what science is
only beginning to acknowledge: that all systems on the planet are interconnected,
all life isone. When imbalance is caused in one area, the whole system is thrown
out of balance. Acts of evil cause imbalance. The works of Witchcraft are toward
balance and harmony. We are healers, protectors; we will act swiftly and forcefully
in defense against aggression, but we do not ourselves attack.
Q. Do you
do animal/human sacrifices?
No. Our own internal life-force is sufficient
to whatever task we may require; we have no
need of stealing the life-force of
another. As offerings to our deities, Witches may burn
incense or candles, pour
out libations, place sacred herbs or food in some outdoor spot,
or money. Some female Witches use their own menstrual blood in spells;
Witches may prick themselves (in these enlightened days, usually with sterile lancets)
and offer a drop or two of their own blood. But the only blood a Witch has a right
to offer is her/his own. The sacrifice of another's is against the Rede.
Do you have gurus, leaders, priests, masters?
Every Witch is her
or his own priest/ess. That's part of the point of the Craft. We need no
between us and Divinity; each of us can have our own personal "revelation."
Mostly, the Craft is too diverse and anarchic to follow any one leader. We all partake
of Divinity, and no one person has exclusive knowledge of the Divine or sole power
to decide the directions of our lives. We have no infallible leader, no Grand High
Exalted Poobah, no dogma. Nobody can have all the answers. So many of us have our
own ideas about what the Craft should be and how it works, that we can rarely agree
on points of religion - the idea of all of us agreeing to follow one person is manifestly
Each Circle or Coven may have a High Priestess or High Priest, or
it may be democratic
and operate by consensus. There will always be people with
leadership tendencies; these are people who tend to do outreach work, networking
between Wiccan groups or outside the Craft, or even teaching.
do you think happens after death? Do you believe in heaven and hell?
As it has been said, Witches don't believe in life after death, we believe in life
after birth. The emphasis of the Craft is on working to make this life good for as
many people as possible, oneself included.
We do not believe in a hell,
sin, or redemption. As mentioned above, evil is imbalance. But we have no concept
of original sin for which we must be redeemed - indeed, that concept has been the
source of oppression and even killing of women for centuries, since medieval Christian
philosophy had it that woman was the source of all sin and evil. Witches are reclaiming
Eve as the one who gave us self-knowledge through her courage and curiosity.
Nor, for that matter, do we believe in a heavenly reward for good behavior. Spiritual
bribery is not the way of the Witch; the results of good or evil acts are felt in
this lifetime. No celestial carrot or infernal stick.
On the other hand,
Witches have quite a few opinions about what does happen after death. Most believe
in reincarnation of some sort or other. Some have it that between death and rebirth
the soul undergoes some sort of transformation (for which there are a number of metaphors)
to prepare it for rebirth. Others believe that the dead join the Blessed Ancestors,
who watch over, protect and advise their descendants. Still others have it that the
souls of those who chose pain or evil when they were alive may be trapped after death
in a state of suffering because that is all they can understand. Most Witches are
honest enough to say, "We don't really know, and there isn't any way to know."
Q. What is your magic? Does it work? How?
There are a number
of sayings about Magic. It is "the act of changing consciousness by
It is "the science of coincidence." As the root word of "Witch"
indicates, we are
shapers and changers; what we shape and change is our own life
force, our own
consciousness, our health and that of the planet. We believe that
we can change our lives be spiritual as well as physical means. Very little is preordained,
except that we will die, some day. In the meantime, many Witches do divination to
find out the possible directions their lives might take, and then act on the information
It works. We can't turn people into frogs or levitate tables
by mind-power; we can work
healing, change our lives for the better, and discover
the workings and balance of the whole system. Our Wills are our tools. "Faith
without works is meaningless," and we work in the world, too; we are active
in our communities and for the environment, but we back up our actions with magical
intent. It is a potent combination.
Q. Do you do Black Magic?
No. Some of us do not even recognize "black" or "white" Magic;
Magic is Magic, and what its nature is depends on how we use it. Remember that we
try to temper all our Magic by the Rede.
Q. Do you cast spells?
Yes. That's part of being a Witch. There are those who wish merely to worship the
Goddess (and God), observe the turning of the seasons with ritual, and honor the
Earth. These are what may be called "Neo-Pagans" (to distinguish them from
indigenous, aboriginal pagans). Nearly all Witches are Neo-Pagans (believe it or
not, a few Witches are Christian or Jewish); not all Neo-Pagans are Witches.
For us, spells and rituals are a matter of arranging elements to encourage a frame
of mind conducive to working Magic. This may involve burning candles and/or incense,
making talismans of stone or wood or paper, chanting rhymed formulae, using herbs
or essential oils, turning down the lights and playing some atmospheric music, or
whatever the imagination of the Witch can devise.
The Threefold Return works
powerfully here: if someone wishes to curse someone else, the curser must first build
up the curse within her/himself - guess who gets to feel it first! Acts ofhealing,
on the other hand, are acts of profound love, and the healer often finds her/himself
healthier after healing someone else. It is always easier to cast a spell on oneself
than on another. Only in very limited circumstances, if at all, should a spell be
cast on another without that person's knowledge and consent.
Q. How do
you worship? What are your holidays? What do you do then?
as many ways of worship as there are traditions of the Craft. Most rituals involve
consecration of the ritual space in some way, invocation of a Deity or Deities, and
a communal meal. Rituals can include music and/or dancing, poetry, masquing and drama
(often in enactments of myth), and even props and special effects. Again, creativity
is the watchword here. There are eight holidays.
1 Nov., Samhain
known as Hallowe'en. The Feast of the Ancestors and Witches' New Year. Trick-or-Treating
evolved from Pagan "Souling," when children representing ancestors collected
food and blessed the houses they visited.
22 Dec., Yule/Midwinter
Winter Solstice. Longest night of the year, Feast of the Rebirth of the Sun, after
which the days begin to grow longer again. Many Christmas customs have a Pagan origin:
the Yule Log, Christmas Tree, Evergreen Decorations, Wassailing.
Feast of Returning Light. Also called Candlemas. In honor of the
Irish Brigid, Goddess of holy wells, fire, healing, smithcraft, and poetry. Brigid's
Fire warms the Earth after Winter.
22 Mar., Eostre
Named after the
Anglo-Saxon Goddess of the Dawn; origin of the word "Easter." The Vernal
Equinox, Feast of Planting and Rebirth.
1 May, Beltaine
May Day. The first day of Summer, the beginning of the light half of the year. A
feast of fertility and burgeoning life.
22 June, Litha/Midsummer
Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Feast of the Sun on High or
the Solar Hero; activities are mostly those to do
1 Aug, Lughnasadh/Lammas
Lugh," or "Loaf-mass." Feast of the Hero-God Lugh, who undergoes a
shamanic death-rebirth initiation, and/or the Barley God, who dies and is transformed
into beer. Festival of the First Fruits, the first harvest.
22 Sept., Harvest
Celebration of the Harvest. Has its analog in the American Thanksgiving,
which was indeed originally a harvest festival.
Q. How many of you are
there? Do you raise your children in this?
Conservative reckonings estimate
200,000 Witches and/or Neo-Pagans in the US alone. There could be many more, who
are simply more private about their religion, for the very real fear of persecution.
Witches are still working hard for our First Amendment rights.
parents allow their children to become involved in the Craft or learn about Paganism
if the child wishes; few, if any, require of their children adherence to any particular
path. There are indeed Pagan/Wiccan children and young adults. They're just like
other kids. They go through adolescent rebellion and life crises just like other
kids; they may even be slightly more well-adjusted than non-Pagan kids, if only because
the Craft provides rituals and/or recognitions of Life Passages.
do you become a Witch?
The Craft does not actively seek converts. We
do not proselytize. We are willing to inform when asked, and training is available
in varying degrees of formality. Some Witches believe that one must be born with
the talent to become a Witch. Others believe that all people have the ability, and
that becoming a Witch is simply a matter of training. Some people know from an early
age that they are Witches; others come to the Craft as adults - most of us grew up
in a tradition other than the Craft. And there are many out there who do what we
would call Witchcraft who have no idea what to call it, or even that there are others
like them in the country or the world. Being a Witch, like doing Magic itself, is
"a matter of symbolism and intent."
Q. Where can I find out
There are a number of good books available on the Craft. Here
are a few of them:
Adler, Margot. Drawing Down the Moon.
Janet and Stewart. What Witches Do.
Starhawk. The Spiral Dance.
Matthews, Caitlin and John. The Western Way, Vol. I: The Native Tradition.
Valiente, Doreen. Witchcraft for Tomorrow.
Weinstein, Marion. Positive
The Covenant of the Goddess, a non-profit religious organization
incorporated in California in 1975, can also advise you on contacts and reading material,
and provide speakers and information. The Covenant's Newsletter, published eight
times a year, is available for a donation of $25.00 to Covenant of the Goddess; sample
issues are $5. CoG has members all over the United States, in Canada, Britain, and
This FAQ was originally produced
and published by Homebrewed Productions
Reproduction authorized for purposes
of public education at cost of printing only.
Last updated September 8, 1999