Before I start, can I just say that I am not anti ‘Wiccans’. So prior to people getting their knickers in a twist (ouch!) please read the whole post before commenting. Thanks!
Please note, this was originally published in 2005 on my old original blog, then updated in February 2011 and part excerpt published in both the Daily Mail and Fate & Fortune Magazine later on.
It was updated again to this slightly newer version in November 2020.
When I tell people I am a Witch, about 95% of the replies I receive say “So you’re wiccan? No. I am a traditional witch, but what is a traditional witch? Before we get into all that, let’s look at our history…
Witchcraft dates back thousands of years, almost (if you look at what we do) back to when time began, to it’s roots in herbal healing by village wise women and cunning folk. who, before King James rewrote the Bible and hunted and murdered our kind, were very important and incredibly useful people in the villages, towns and settlements. A wise woman (or man) had many hats. They were the doctors, midwives, herbalists, police, counselors, therapists and more. There were sought after people because they could help the village in so many ways.
The line in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible that states: “
“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” was originally “Thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live.”
In the original Hebrew Bible the author of that passage use the word “m’khashepah”. And translated this word means “poisoner”. Now, you don’t have to be a witch to poison someone. And witchcraft was never mentioned in the bible until King James rewrote it to serve his own purpose because he was scared that witches were trying to kill him and his wife, Anne, as they thought they were being targeted by witches because there were storms on the North Sea when they were travelling and he thought that witches controlled the weather. But of course, this was just the weather and he needed someone to blame, so, hysteria ensured and witch hunts followed (and sadly, still happen to this day).
Witches are not evil, but just like in any path or faith, there is good and bad in all, even Christianity. Not all Christians are 100% nice either. As I said, good and bad in all and that is just because we are indeed, human. I have a foot in both the witchy camp and the church, with friends and family also in both. Both sides have part of my heart but I was born and raised a witch… who also went to a church school 😉
But there are many variety of witches and the two main strands are traditional witches (like me) and wiccans (not me).
Witches, wise men and women and cunning folk, as I have mentioned above have existed as almost as long as history began and this is where the first big difference between traditional witchcraft and wicca is. Traditional witchcraft is ancient, wicca was created in the 1950’s by Gerald Gardner.
A traditional witch is still the wearer of many hats today. We still use nature to help and heal. We still try and live off the land as much as possible. Many of us have professions in natural health or natural living. And even those who don’t, still love to be outside in nature when we can. We still embrace the seasons. We still help other people and we still care about our communities. Nature is our church. The trees, flowers, stones, dirt and herbs are our ingredients. Our hands and minds are our tools. Witches do cast spells but spells are just the same as a prayer or a wish. It is wanting something to happen and asking for it to happen. So when Christians mock witches for casting spells, then they are also mocking their own practice of prayer, as the intent behind a spell is the same as a prayer. Spellcasters of the conjure/hoodoo path also use the Bible and psalms within their spells, thus proving that everything is in fact, entwined.
Witches are not scary, wand flinging, Satan worshipers. In fact in traditional witchcraft the Devil doesn’t even exist. So not Satanism here either, just good old fashioned wholesome natural living.
A traditional witch does not follow a doctrine or rulebook, whereas wiccans have the wiccan rede ‘an ye harm none, do what ye will’. Traditional witches believe that you do what is necessary and take responsibility for our own actions. Whereas wiccans do not tread both sides of the path.
The term pagan and neopagan also get mixed up. The true meaning of pagan is anyone who is not a Christian AND/OR people who live off the land. Neopagans (or modern day pagans) are those who worship a pantheon of deities (i.e. Wiccans). I am pagan as I live off the land as much as possible but I am not a neopagan as I do not worship a pantheon of deities. I hope we are getting a bit clearer on this folks? Hold on to you girdles, ladies and gentlepeeps, we have more to go! So back to traditional witchcraft and wicca….
Wicca is a neopagn religion that worships a pantheon of deities, traditional witchcraft does not. Wicca is a faith or a belief system, traditional witchcraft is a way of life. You can be both of course, you can believe in wicca and practice witchcraft so you are a wiccan witch, but traditional witches have no ‘faith’ indoctrinated within us so we can either have no faith OR have a faith of our choosing alongside traditional witchcraft. We do not worship a pantheon of Gods & Goddesses. We work with energies, spirits and our ancestors. We don’t cast circles, whereas most wiccans do. We don’t plan spells or anything like that, if something needs doing it just gets done. We don’t care about the day of the week or the moon phase. as we believe every day and every phase of the moon (and sun) is just as important as the next. We don’t have to follow ‘magical correspondences’ either but some do.
We don’t do any chanting/wailing/arm waving or dancing naked (I mean come on, I live in the north of England, I would literally freeze my tits off if I did!). We don’t say Blessed Be or Merry Meet or any of that. We do however generally swear a lot and eat an absurd amount of cake! We don’t have to use altars or altar tools (although some do and this is of course up to them), we don’t celebrate the ‘Sabbats’ in the same way as wiccans as we seem them based on the old Celtic farming calendar and their traditional meanings. Lots of traditional witches do not cleanse or protect themselves either, whereas a wiccan would spend a lot of time on this.
We do not have covens either, we DO work in a group if we choose to but there is no hierarchy like a coven and it is not formal, generally it is just a group of friends getting together if extra ‘oomph’ is needed for a spell.
Wiccans have a Book of Shadows, trad witches have a Grimoire. A book of shadows is more like a journal and a grimoire is like a bunch of notes, scraps, ideas, spells and more. BUT the biggest difference between this style of note taking is that there are lots of books on Wicca but few on traditional witchcraft and even those that are on the market, have been either written by wiccans or have a very wiccan style about them. If a traditional witchcraft book mentions the goddess, moon phases, altars etc, it’s not a traditional witchcraft book 😉 This is because the traditional witchcraft ways are taught orally and not written down apart from notes and scraps found in old grimoires.
We don’t need to wear ‘witchy’ clothes or act ‘witchy’ to get something done. I am a witch, it’s there all the time. I don’t have a magical name, I am just me, because that is who I am. Being a witch is something that is within me, I know no different, it’s just me. Although I do study my path and have done since I was born (I was born into a witch family – 9th generation, my daughters being the 10th generation), I feel that traditions are not only upheld but also created and evolve as generations go on.
The great thing about wicca which I think all traditional witches should be happy about (and if they are not, they are just being stubborn), is that it allowed us to be more open about practicing traditional witchcraft and that can only be a good thing. For many years we were (and in some places, like where I live, still…) persecuted for our craft.
I am a traditional witch. I am not a wiccan… And I am very proud of my heritage and hopefully the legacy I will leave for future generations.