Thursday, September 14, 2006

On Witch, Witchcraft, Magic and Definitions

In class we were talking about definitions of some words that come up pretty frequently in neo-paganism: witch, Wiccan, magic, witchcraft... You know the ones. My own definitions are pretty fluid. I never seem to quite manage to nail them down. How I define the words one day might be different days, weeks, months or years later as my own knowledge and understanding evolves.
Many definitions in the study and practice of religion, especially mystical traditions, are open to personal interpretation. Neo-paganism is no exception. In fact, I'd argue that finding consensus on lexical definitions in neo-paganism is probably more problematic than most religions because of the heterogeneity of beliefs under the neo-pagan umbrella, the general lack of formal structure, and its young age. Stipulative definitions are often much more helpful. Having said that, here are a few of my own. Your (and my) mileage may vary.

Religion: The expression of acknowledgment of the divine or something beyond 'physical reality,' usually incorporating a system of beliefs and practices relating to the sacred and uniting its adherents in some sense of unity or community.

Pagan: An umbrella term for folk religions and theistic nature religions.

Neo-Paganism: An umbrella term for a set of spiritual and religious traditions that incorporate the following set of beliefs: the world is holy/sacred and sacredness is imminent; a worldview that includes unseen realms or energies; religious tolerance; self-responsibility; right relationship with self, community and the sacred; personal relationship with the sacred; self-identification as a neo-pagan.

Wicca: An initiatory mystery tradition/religion with specific tenets of belief such as a belief in both a god and a goddess, reincarnation, and the natural law of threefold return.

Witch: (a) Primarily one who walks the edges, in-between, and liminal spaces, holding all possibilities within oneself. But also one who seeks to know his or her true self; who acknowledges and seeks to align with natural cycles, 'unseen' energies, and (often) the sacred or something beyond 'physical reality;' and who is willing to acknowledge and step into his or her own personal power. (b) Any one of the huge number of accepted lexical definitions of the word witch.

Magic(k): (a)The art of opening individual awareness at will to specific (or universal) consciousness, energies and patterns in order to effect some sort of transformation, usually one the 'material plane.' (b) The intentional manipulation of powerful symbols in order to produce predictable results within the psyches of the practitioners.

Witchcraft: (a) The practice of folk traditions that consciously work with consciousness, energies, patterns and symbols. (b) An ecstatic tradition usually employing magic that seeks to align an individual with natural cycles and energies, the self, and often the sacred or something beyond 'physical reality'.

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