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Defining Witchcraft


How do Modern Witches define themselves?  Since the Craft is decentralized and each coven is autonomous, no single definition applies to all Wiccans.  In the United States, most attempts to create a set of common principals and definitions have met with failure.  Most of those who join Wicca, do so in part, because of its implicit autonomy.  "It is a religion without the middleman" to repeat the words of one craft priest.  Despite this, there have been numerous United States witches to try to meet and define the slippery term "witch."  One attempt to create an ecumenical definition of modern Wicca that would be acceptable to many traditions began in fall of 1973 when Llewellyn Press, the occult publishers, sponsored a meeting of witches in Minneapolis.  Seventy-three witches from different traditions attended.  They formed the Council of American Witches and, during the winter of 1974, began collecting statements of principal from various groups.  These were printed in the council's newsletter, Touchstone.

Carl Weschcke, publisher of Llewellyn, wrote in Touchstone, that many witches felt a common definition was necessary as a "self-policing" mechanism "to protect ourselves from misunderstanding brought about by those whose personal power trips have exposed all of us to ridicule and injury."  It was also felt that a common statement would help dispel the sensationalist image published in the media, which continued to link Wicca and Satanism.

It turned out that there were many differences among Wiccan groups, a few of them conflicting.  Here are some of the answers to the question:  "What is a Witch?"

A Witch above all worships the Triple Goddess and her Consort, The Horned God, in one form or another.  A witch works magic within a very definite code of ethics.  A witch acknowledges the male-female aspects in his/her rites.  A witch takes total responsibility for her actions, herself, and her future.
-- NROOGD (New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn)

Witchcraft is an initiatory mystery religion whose adherents seek, through self discipline, to live a life dedicated to the pursuit and practice of knowledge, wisdom, and compassion under the guidance of the Gods.
-- Coven of Gwynvyd, St. Louis, Missouri

A Witch is a member of a religion by which its own internal definition is monotheistic.  [This definition was obviously in conflict with the others.]
-- School of Wicca

Wicca can be defined as a pagan mystery religion with a polarized deity and no personification of evil.
-- Lady Cybel

Some witches refused to take part in this process of defining the Craft, feeling that a common statement of principles implied an unacceptable degree of centralization.  One Witch wrote to Touchstone

In the early days of the Church, we of the Wicca were persecuted for not joining with the common belief of the Church fathers because we refused to join, be baptized or pay our tithes to their God.  We were tortured, burned, hanged, and placed in vats of ground glass.  We preferred to live simply, worshipping our old Gods of Harvest, and doing as we had for years before, and as our fathers had done….

The Church sent in spies who reported on us into our worship circles, and those of us who were caught were humiliated and killed because we were as we were… and of course the Church wanted the money and wanted to oppress the people.

Now it seems to us old Wicca that that is what you younger's are doing… oppressing us, trying to force us to join in an organization and criticizing us for wanting our freedom and our belief in freedom….

Let us not quarrel among ourselves.  Leave us be and we shall do the same for you.  Worship as you see best and allow us also the same right.  This is the true Wicca way… and the free way.
-- From an anonymous Witch

Other conflicts arose between people bound by strict oaths of secrecy and others who wished to share their information openly.  Some felt that little should be "secret" except for the names used for deities and initiation rituals, so that their psychological impact would not be lost.  Another problem was "validity."  Many felt that initiation was an internal process and that one could receive a valid initiation in a dream or vision, or even at the hands of frauds.  Others felt that only certain traditions were "valid."

The groups were closest on ethics.  All agreed with the basic Wiccan Creed - "An ye harm none, do what you will."  Most affirmed Aleister Crowley's famous statement:  "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.  Love is the law.  Love under will."  Most agreed that it was unethical to "forcefully violate a person's autonomy."  Most affirmed the divinity of all living beings.  NROOGD's statement was the strongest:

An it harm no one, do what ye will.  You may not alter another's life/karma without their permission.  Solve the problem, no more, no less.  All power comes from the goddess.  You must help brothers and sisters in the craft as best you can.  If you stick your hand in a flame, you'll get burned.



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This page last updated March 10, 2004