What is a Witch?
“I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too! The Wicked Witch of the
West… One of the most notorious and stereotypical witches in all literature.
She had green skin, a big wart- covered nose, and a wide-brimmed black hat. She
summoned a legion of monsters, stirred evil brews in her black cauldron, and
generally made life difficult for the fun-loving citizens of Oz. She, and her
fellow hags tend to be seen in a rather comic light, despite their appearance,
and are usually seen around Halloween. They are one of the two ideas that most
people hold of who witches are and what they do. The other is that of the
devil’s whore of Medieval Europe and Colonial Salem who were charged with
killing babies, celebrating black masses, and having sex orgies with Satan.
The modern Wiccan; a practitioner of the religion known as Wicca, Witchcraft, or
simply The Craft; resembles these Witches as much as a straw broom resembles
the Dirt Devil Upright. The Craft is a religion based on the worship of a
supreme divine creator, the practice of magic, and a reverence for the earth and
all her inhabitants. Deity Concepts and Worship Practices
“All religions are structures built on reverence of Deity. Wicca is no
exception. The Wicca acknowledge a supreme divine power, unknowable, ultimate,
from which the entire universe sprang, (Cunningham, 9). This is a Witch’s
concept of the Divine. However, it is a distant, powerful image that is not
easily understood. For the purpose of worship, the Wicca recognize the duality
of this power. It is both male and female, good and evil, and therefore is
worshipped in the form of a Goddess and a God. These are the primeval gods of
the ancient world, worshipped under names in many cultures: Odin, Freya, Ra,
Ma’at, Zeus, Diana, Apollo, Kali, Shiva, Pele, and countless others. Wiccans
believe that these are all, in reality, simply individual aspects of one God
and one Goddess, rather than individual Deities. Just as there are numerous
names for the Divine, so do Wiccans worship them in just as many ways.
There are many different branches, called traditions, of The Craft,
most of which are based on the religious practices of one or more ancient
cultures. There are Celtic Wiccans, Egyptian Wiccans, and Greek Wiccans. One
of the newest traditions is a hybrid of Celtic Shamanism and the tribal
religions of Ancient America. There is, however, a basic outline for conducting
worship services that is followed by all covens and solitaries. A standard
Wiccan worship service, or ritual, which takes place on one of the eight yearly
sabbats (the solstices, equinoxes, and four Ancient Celtic agricultural
festivals) or at an esbat (full moon), consists of the creation of sacred space
(called casting the circle; this is done through visualization), prayers, and
offerings (these are usually material possessions, plants, or handmade items;
Wiccans never sacrifice animals or people), and a sharing of a simple meal with
fellow witches (if a member of a coven) and the Deities. Worship services have
many important purposes, but the main reason Wiccans perform rituals is to gain
understanding of the energies of the divine and, ultimately, the energies
contained in the witch himself/herself. The harnessing and directing of this
natural, personal energy is what witches call magic (or magick). Magic
“Magic is a basic part of The Craft, but it does not have to be the same as
the religious aspect. In other words, Wicca may be considered a religion with a
Goddess and a God that uses magic in a religious framework, (Moura, 91). There
are two types of magic practiced by Wiccans: Religious (ritual) magic, and non-
religious (folk) magic. When casting folk magic spells, Wiccans combine the
energies within crystals, herbs, stones, and candles with their own personal
energies to bring about a desired effect. After the ingredients are gathered,
the energies are united and sent out to do their work. This sending out of
energy is accomplished through intense visualization that can take a few short
minutes or a few hours, depending on the skill and patience of the witch.
Wiccans feel that this visualization is the most important part of a spell. All
the other components of the spell are simply to assist the witch in raising
energy and to place him/her in the correct mindset for visualization. The other
type of spellcasting, ritual magic, is quite different. A ritual spell is only
done during a worship service and uses none of the assistants of the folk spell.
A ritual spell is simply the gathering of personal energy in the presence of
the God and Goddess. The Wiccan raises this energy through dance, music, or
other physical exercise. When the spellcasters feel they can hold no more
energy, they visualize the intent of their spell and release the energy to do
its work. Witches cast spells for many different reasons, but they never use
magic to hurt, control, or destroy. Wicca has no written laws of what is right
or wrong, no huge books of ancient dogma, but it does have one essential rule of
thumb: the Witches’ Rede. Simplified, it says: Do what you want, but harm
none. None includes people, animals, Mother Earth, and one’s self. In fact,
the majority of Wiccan spells are to heal friends, pets, fellow coven members,
and even the Earth. Environmentalism in Wicca
In a religion that sees the Earth as a physical manifestation of the
Goddess and God, a reverence for nature is a natural extension of reverence for
the divine. Most Wiccans are involved in a number of environmental causes, and
many belong to political action groups such as P.E.T.A., The National Arbor Day
Foundation, or GreenPeace. Wiccans never kill needlessly or take something form
nature without an offering or thanks. A witch never sacrifices a living thing
to the Goddess or God and whenever a branch must be cut from a tree or a crop
picked, the witch will thank the plant and leave a gift such as a crystal or a
coin. This gift is not actually for the plant, but to remind the Wiccan that
whenever we take, we must give in something in return. This maintains a balance
in the natural, and spiritual, world.
All of these aspects together–worship of the God and Goddess, the
practice of magic, and a reverence for nature–define the modern witch.
Witchcraft is not devil worship or a cult of sex orgies and drug abuse, but is
simply …a way of life for hundreds of thousands–perhaps millions–of well
adjusted adults who simply share a view of nature that is different from that of
the majority, (Cunningham, xi). This is who witches are and what they do.
Witches are good, moral, law-abiding people. Even those from the west.
Cunningham, Scott. The Truth About Witchcraft Today. St. Paul, Minn.:
Llewellyn Publications, 1994.
Cunningham, Scott. Wicca: A Guide of the Solitary Practitioner. St. Paul,
Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1988.
Moura, Ann. Green Witchcraft. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1996.
Walker, Barbra G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects.
San Francisco: HarperCollins Publishers, 1988.