To make this section easier to follow, I’ve broken it up into more aesthetically pleasing tabs. In this section, you’ll find information about the origins of witchcraft as well as how witchcraft played a major part in the development of Wicca.

Fair warning: the historical topic of witchcraft & Wicca is a pretty meaty subject.  In the spirit of brevity, there are a number of topics that I haven’t covered in this section.  But you’ve gotta start somewhere, right?   Check out my blog, where I go into more detail about various topics.

With that being said, let’s dive in.

In order to fully understand what Wicca is, we must first take a look at its origins.  Although Wicca, as a belief system, has only been around since the mid-1950s, it is a belief system that has roots that go back hundreds of years, to pagan practices in England.

What is witchcraft?  It’s a fairly ambiguous term, and you’re bound to get dozens of different responses from different people.  Throughout history, there have been many things that we now consider “normal” that were attributed to witchcraft.

Many of these things will be explored in this section.  For instance, people used to think that a woman in “hysterics” was a witch.  Again we’re presented with a somewhat ambiguous term, but it basically meant any kind of odd behavior.  Flipping out on someone could very well land you on the business end of a noose back in the 1600s.

Just as we have evolved a better sense of understanding in things like “hysterics,” so, too, has the generally held definition of “witchcraft.”

Witchcraft Defined (well, sort of)

Dozens of books have been published to explore the definition of witchcraft in depth.  I list these books on this page if you really want to deep-dive into the subject.  But, rather than try to make witchcraft fit into a nice little well-defined box, let’s instead talk about what witchcraft is NOT.

Witchcraft is the same as the occult.

No, it’s not.  The occult is derived from the Latin word occultus, which means “knowledge of the hidden.”  In modern times, however, the occult has come to mean workings in “dark magic” or Satanism.

Witchcraft is the worship of the Devil (Satanism).

Wrong again.  Wiccans actually do not believe in the existence of the Judeo-Christian perception of the Devil (but more on that later).  Witchcraft has nothing to do with worshipping or clandestinely doing the “bidding” of any kind of supreme evil being.

Witchcraft involves human/animal sacrifices.

Only if you displease us.  Kidding.  While animal (and maybe human?) sacrifices are practiced in many cultures and different religions, witchcraft is not among them.

“But wait,” you may be saying, “there HAVE been reports of witches doing those things!”  Well, that may be true.  Certainly we’ve heard stories of the quintessential witch who lives in the woods and kidnaps children and sacrifices them.  I mean, we’ve all seen The Blair Witch Project, so it’s obviously true, right?

The simple fact of the matter is, however, that many stories of evil witches flying on their broomsticks at night are just that… stories.  Have there been people who have practiced occult-style practices, worshiped the Devil, then subsequently label themselves as witches?  Yes.  But that doesn’t mean that they are one.

Since we’ve visited a few of the “what’s NOT a witch” topics, let’s explore some of the “what IS a witch” topics.

Witchcraft is casting spells.

Witches use spells in their daily practices.  But they aren’t quite what Hollywood has made them out to be.  There’s relatively little “bubble, bubble, toil ‘n’ trouble” in spell work.

Think of spells as a hybrid of meditation and “prayer” (though witches don’t pray or otherwise supplicate to any deity, at least not in the conventional Judeo-Christian style) with some added props.  You can get an idea of what spells are in my Spells section.

Spells, for the most part, are done for good (and that holds true for most pagans who use spells).  Sure, there are those who use spells for less-than-honorable purposes.  But many modern witches (especially Wiccans) abide by the Wiccan Rede: “An harm to none, do what you will.”

Witchcraft is working with nature.

This is particularly true for Wiccans, but any pagan-type witchcraft generally deals very heavily in working in and with nature.  The pentagram signifies the four elements (earth, air, fire, water) with “spirit” atop the other four.

Fun fact: while the inverted pentagram has been vilified by Judeo-Christians (and even secular) historians as being “Satanic,” the pentagram (called a pentacle when it is surrounded by a circle) is not evil.  It signifies the oneness of all the elements, including spirit.

Witchcraft can be performed alone or in a group.

There are some witches that are just meant to fly solo.  By this, I mean that many witches prefer to practice their magick alone rather than in a group.  Others prefer to work in a group (generally a coven) when they practice their Craft.  It’s really just a matter of personal preference.

A coven has many benefits, including the whole social aspect of being around like-minded people.  I talk more about covens in my article “Flying Solo vs. Flying in a Group“.  However, just as there are benefits to being in a group, there are also benefits to working solo.  And it’s perfectly okay if you like a little of both.

Witchcraft is meant to enhance self and, as such, is not subject to the stringent rules that many belief systems contain.

Next Section: Witchcraft in History