All Wiccans are witches, but some of us are bad at it.

photo-1When I was in seventh grade, my deep-seated (but misguided) need to earn parental approval coupled with a complete disregard for personal dignity (or safety) drove me to join the middle school coed soccer team. I was fat and awkward, and engaging in rigorous physical activity for anything longer than a minute or two caused violent sweats and visions of my own death to flash before my eyes. They didn’t even stock uniforms in my size, and when the coach went to order one on my behalf the school initially turned down the request on the grounds that it was surely a mistake. Surely.

Yes, I was on the team. They put me on the field and I periodically got in the way of the ball, but was I really playing soccer? I mean, I sort of knew some of the rules. I owned shin guards (but not cleats because my father didn’t understand why I couldn’t just wear his old golf cleats). But mostly I was just a roadblock, impeding the game for my comparably tiny, impossibly fast teammates. One time, I kicked the ball into my own goal. Another time, I got hit in the head by a rogue ball after a faceoff and passed out in a dusty puddle of my own nose blood. Outside of practices, I didn’t train. I mostly just ate Pop Tarts and dreaded the next away game, because not only would I be forced to play soccer but I wouldn’t know where the bathrooms were for when I needed to hide or throw up.

My teammates hated me. My coach tolerated me. I made it more challenging for everyone involved—on either team—to actually play soccer. I bewildered my own parents and elicited concern from others.

I was on the team. I was at every game. I (eventually) had the uniform. I was in (the back of) all the yearbook photos. But I was not a soccer player according to any definition that actually has any real meaning or weight (haha see what I did there).

Wicca is like middle school soccer. We might all be on the team, but some of us are not playing soccer.

I have written before about my problems with the assertion that not all Wiccans are witches. The always delightful and thankfully more-direct-than-me-because-somebody-has-to-say-it Gardnerians make a much better case than my own here (go read it, because the following will make more sense). Wicca, while certainly not being the only kind of witchcraft available, is nonetheless the practice of a kind of witchcraft. The very rites that define the tradition are in and of themselves acts of witchcraft. So if you’re a Wiccan who doesn’t practice witchcraft, then what exactly are you doing aside from just using the word?

But the longer I’m a working priestess and the more Wiccans (initiatory and otherwise) I meet, the more I have come to suspect that the above is only an ideal (and only for some of us).

Is it still witchcraft if we’re not the ones actually doing the circle casting, the purifying, the invoking? If we’re only occupying the space while the leading high priestess and priest do their thing? What if our only experience of witchcraft is that coven meeting and we never do anything on our own time? What if we do attempt to call the gods and speak to spirits and perform acts of magic…and it just doesn’t work? What if the gods don’t hear us (or simply don’t answer)?  What if we fail to fulfill our obligations as priests or priestesses in a coven?

Ideally, of course, there are no bystanders in a Wiccan circle. It’s a coven, not a congregation.  And certainly one doesn’t make it very far in a training setting without engaging in acts of witchcraft, but is there a minimum? How much witchcraft is enough witchcraft to make you a witch? I mean, even I managed to play soccer once or twice, but it didn’t undo all of the destructive not-soccer I was usually up to.  I was a cautionary tale about childhood obesity, not an athlete.

So how much witchcraft do you have to do to actually be a witch, and does it matter how effective it is?

I guess it depends on where you’re standing, definitions, blah blah blah. I don’t have answers. I know that I don’t want to be a part of any soccer team that would let me join, that’s for sure. And I don’t want non-witches in my Wiccan coven. Where the line is, I’ve found, moves. I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe we’re all witches, but some of us are better at it than others. Maybe witchcraft, as so many of our traditional witch fellows insist, is in the blood, and the initiatory and training process only forces its development. Maybe we just have to trust that time will weed out those who really should have just remained outsiders.  Maybe we have to have tighter standards and higher expectations, particularly if we understand the tradition to be a priesthood and a calling rather than just one more feel-good, self-indulgent road on the map to personal self-discovery.

My own high priestess told me at one point that her job was more about recognizing witches than making them—that her real job was to make effective priests and priestesses to preserve the tradition. People already came as witches. I think she’s right in a lot of ways, but I can’t quite pinpoint the distinction beyond what I’ve already tried to do. At the very least, my seekers have to desperately want to be witches. We take it from there.

(Please enjoy the above picture from 4th grade.  I was already obsessed with witches, but not so keen on washing my hair or running.)

18 thoughts on “All Wiccans are witches, but some of us are bad at it.

  1. Isa

    Oh dear! I was a failing soccer kid myself around that age! I desperately wanted to stop but my mother wouldn’t let me. She had this idea that I would then let the team down, but obviously she never watched me play… I chuckled a great deal while reading this! 🙂

    1. Did you read the arguments presented in the original article and the prior blogs I referenced outlining my thoughts on the matter? I’m not making any kind of statement akin to all Christians are Catholic. It’s more like, “Do you need to be baptized to be Catholic? Hey! Evangelical Protestants don’t always consider Catholics to be Christian…I wonder what that’s all about. Hey! Are we all doing Catholicism right? Is there even such a thing? WHY DO ALL THESE NUNS WANT TO BE CLERGY.”

      Maybe you could elaborate on your sadness.

      1. It is the norm among Christians, mostly those who broke from the Catholic faith and formed their own groups. My point was regarding the title itself. I think that yes, many who follow Wicca are also witches, but those who are Pagan/Wiccan are not necessarily witches and do witch craft. Wicca to me centers not around the craft of magic but the deities which they follow. Magic is secondary and some don’t even do magic. Nothing against the article, just thing you might want to rethink the title.
        You ARE a good writer by the way.

  2. As usual, a great post!

    If there is one thing a careful observation of the natural world teaches us, it’s that change is the general order of things. With that in mind, I try to keep myself aligned by descriptions, rather than definitions – it makes it a little easier for me to keep my finger on lines that like to move.

    The post you linked to, on the Gardnerian blog, was also good. It was interesting to note that the article used ‘definitions’ from outside sources (dictionary and Bible); but did not really define anything from an inside perspective, so much as it described. What I have trouble understanding, as a non-witch, is that it seems to me witchcraft – historically speaking – was never a religion unto its own self, but rather a social function within various religions / societies. Therefore it’s perplexing to me that Wicca, a religious practice that actually does make extensive use of witchcraft to engage both the mundane and spiritual, would be populated by adherents who wish to have nothing to do with witchcraft, itself. It’s kind of like gravitating from Protestantism to Catholicism, with no intention of honoring the Saints.

    1. Thank you! Yes (and I’m about to say more on this to some other commenters), I’m perplexed by the same thing. It seems to me that Wiccan non-witches would be happier identifying with other categories, maybe. I also agree that witchcraft, historically, is primarily about social function rather than religion, per se.

    2. Now we’re busy thinking of what it means to give definitions of words, and what it means to define something internally. Is it rash to say that we simply use the external, agreed-upon definitions of English words within that language? Our goal was to display the common definition, and then give descriptions of Wiccan practices that fit it. We hope we succeeded in that.

      1. “Is it rash to say that we simply use the external, agreed-upon definitions of English words within that language?”

        From my perspective, not at all. But, if I understand the post I was commenting to, and the article Thorn linked to in that post, “agreed-upon definitions” would be the first thing that needs defining … that is to say, if the definitions were truly agreed-upon by all, there would have been little need to write the article or post in the first place. The comment I made, and its emphasis on description over definition, was intended to provide a possible compromise situation in which a greater consensus might be reached. If there is simply no way something like that might work for you, and I am keeping in mind you would have a greater knowledge of this than I would, then the suggestion I offered should be easily enough ignored 😉

        As for the goal for your article, I thought you did a fine job, and I believe I also said as much in my original comment when I said the article was a good one. When I mentioned the usage of definitions when looking at things from an external perspective, as opposed to when things were described from the perspective of someone who is ‘in it,’ description was favored over definition; and I was simply pointing out an observation I made while reading the article. I actually thought that the descriptions, to read about the topic from how you see it / live it, was a great touch.

  3. Chris Mann

    One way that I can think of to make sense of the idea of being Wiccan without being a witch is that Wicca is something that you believe while witchcraft (and thus being a witch) is something you do. I suspect this might be what people mean when they say “wiccan but not witch”, but it contradicts what you’ve said numerous times about Wicca being orthopraxic.

    I suppose there could be a middle ground if either there are rituals that are not witchcraft or there are non-witchy ways of being in a ritual. Your soccer analogy would suggest the latter. If you can be in a soccer uniform and in a soccer field during a soccer game without actually playing soccer, perhaps you can be in a Circle without actually doing witchcraft (or too little witchcraft to consider oneself a witch).

    I don’t know what to make of the idea that being a witch is in the blood. If it’s true, you may have to start saying that Wicca is an orthosanguic religion.

      1. Fun note: Research (and Gardner’s own words) indicate that the idea that witchcraft was passed by blood was evident in the New Forest Coven that initiated him. He was offered initiation into the Craft by them because he “had the witch blood” due to one of his ancestors having been persecuted in the witchcraft hysteria of the early modern period of Europe. Gardner is a revolutionary in regards to this due to his desire to open up the Craft to all those who are called to it rather than only those born to it, indicating that the blood calls to the Craft from outside of then existing/known family witchcraft lineages. From there, we get into theological and cosmological banter about who gets reincarnated where and why and how they come home, etc…

  4. Oh gods, I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who went through an awkward stage in middle school. In my case I hadn’t a clue on how to deal with my frizzy ultra curly hair, and I literally wore whatever with no care if it matched or not.

    As for the article you linked to, I have a bit of a problem defining witchcraft solely by Wiccan and Abrahamic standards. By that standard, many religions (many which pre-date and/or have little to nothing to do with Wicca or the Neopagan movement in general) would get defined as witchcraft. Indigenous religions come to mind. I live in the Southwest, and around here there is a religion/spirituality called Danza Azteca. The best way I can describe them is as some sort of Aztec religion reconstruction. This group isn’t associated with the local pagan community at all, yet they open their ceremonies by cleansing the space and the participants with copal and by calling the four directions. Non-Abrahmic spirits and gods are definitely involved. Yet they don’t call this witchcraft, it’s just a part of the ceremony. Many of the practices listed are not unique to and didn’t originate in Wicca, so I don’t get the logic that Wiccans have the authority to define these as witchcraft.

    1. Chris Mann

      I had similar problems with that article. Many people will cleanse and purify the space and the practitioners but not call it witchcraft.

    2. I had a mullet. It was so not okay.

      Yes, I think that’s the problem that we’ll always run into. I feel like the underlying theme of my blog is, “Oh jeez but maybe witchcraft isn’t really a thing at all and what even does that word meannnnn!!!”

      1. I actually had a friend pull me aside for a fashion intervention. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, it really was done from a place of kindness. She didn’t want to see me get teased anymore. My father grew up dirt poor, so to him clothes are just something to keep you warm. I picked up my lack of caring from him. LOL

        I haven’t really come across that problem. What I’ve seen is more of an over zealousness in defining everything as magic or witchcraft. Maybe that’s just how my local community is, or how it goes down in the corners of the online community I visit. Or it could be my bias as a pagan who rarely practices magic. *shrugs*

      2. Chris Mann

        Then is also how many Christians will use divination, but they definitely don’t call it witchcraft.

        Which are you more inclined to do: say that witchcraft is that which witches do and then define “witch”, or say that a witch is one who does witchcraft and then define “witchcraft”?

  5. Pingback: All Wiccans Are Witches. Period. | gardnerians

  6. I just discovered your blog. I’m liking it. I can agree that all witches are not Wiccan, but the reverse seems odd to me. If Wicca is just about belief, when did it get divorced from practice and why? What good is belief without application? With so much about Wicca being about embodiment, this doesn’t even make sense to me.

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