The Path and the Craft
Witch? Warlock? Wiccan? What’s in a Name?
There is a lot of debate and confusion about what to call yourself when you start down the path of what I call the Craft.
First and foremost: It is your choice.
Second: Whatever you choose, it is not carved in stone. The name or description you use for yourself may evolve over time, depending on your comfort level and the comfort level of those around you.
Most practitioners of the Craft simply call themselves “witch.” The word applies whether you are male or female, or don’t identify with a specific gender.
The word witch derives from Old English wicca (the masculine form) or wicce (the feminine form of the word). Arguments about the original meaning of the word are long and get complicated, but essentially a wicca/wicce was someone who could “bend” or “turn” the world to their will. To many, it simply means “wise.” As anyone who has spent time in the real world knows, the term “witch” has often been applied in very negative ways. Images of warty old hags spring to mind. It is used as an alternative to “the B word.” It is also, as I have said, the most commonly used term of identity among practitioners of the Craft. I recommend it as a label if you need one.
The term warlock is said to derive from the Old English word waerloga, meaning “oath breaker” or “deceiver.” There is some debate about this.
Many simply use warlock to mean a male witch.
Other terms such as wizard and sorcerer have been used to make the “male” part clear when talking about a practitioner of magick. The term warlock took on a negative meaning in the last century or so, used for someone who had been banished from a coven or followed a “left-hand” or dark path. In short, it was not used except in a bad way. Warlock is being reclaimed, and with good reason. It implies masculinity (although historically this is not entirely accurate). It also has connotations of being related to a warrior, someone who gets it done. It is a powerful name for those who dare to claim it, but they often find themselves defending their choice.
A lot of people will simply call themselves Wiccan. It is polite and sanitized, as crafty words go, but I suggest caution. Wicca is a religion. It is part of a belief system that we will be exploring in this blog series. The majority of witches are Wiccan or Pagan. “Pagan” is a broader umbrella. An easy way to understand the difference is to remember that Wiccan is to Pagan as Baptist is to Christian.
Pagan is used a lot. The U.S. military now allows members to list Pagan (or Heathen) as their religion. Other people are catching on. Pagan may be a box to check on a hospital form, for instance, if you are being prepared for surgery. Paganism is a general term for earth-based religions. Pagans usually observe and celebrate the changing of the seasons, often in ways that hark back to their ancestry. A pagan is not necessarily a witch, or magickal practitioner, but most witches do identify as Pagan. Heathen is another term used by Pagans and other “lesser known” faiths, including Asatru and Odinism.
Magic or Magick?
This one is simple. For those who want to make it clear in writing that they are referring to the Craft, they will often use the spelling “magick.”
“Magic” is the stuff Chris Angel does in Vegas.
I often slip. I will write “magic” when I mean “magick.” When I’m speaking, I rarely think of the spelling. I’ve been at this witchy stuff for more than 30 years. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you mess up.
Other Labels and General Advice
Other terms come and go. Many will simply say they are “spiritual.” I have also heard allusions in uneasy company ranging from “crafty” to “fae.” The arguments about which of these terms is “correct’ in any given situation can get vicious. If you are going to use a word to describe yourself, know that many will take it as a label and make assumptions based on that word.
In short, do your research before publicly using any label, and know your reasons for choosing it. Be open to discussion but don’t be afraid to stand your ground. If there are good reasons for abandoning your favorite term or label, don’t be afraid to do so.
Witches by any name often dislike labels in general. Many will use a specific term for themselves only if they are forced into it, or to make their position clear. Others proudly claim the label of their choice. There is no right or wrong there. These decisions are personal. Respect them. Polite inquiry and discussion should always be welcome, but anyone insisting they know the answer is fooling no one but him- or herself.
A Note on Christian Witches
Are there, Christian witches? My answer is YES. I have known people who were devout Catholics or of other Christian denominations who practiced what I would call witchcraft, or who were just naturally “gifted” in witchy ways. Many will argue that it is not right to call someone a Christian witch, that the Craft is a faith as much as a practice. My take? If I meet a guy named William and he says, “Please call me Bill!” I’m not going to argue with him. Bill is what I will call him, and what he will be in my mind. So while the arguments rage about what is a witch and even what is a “real Christian,” I let the Christian witch smile wisely, toss some salt over her shoulder, and go on her merry way with the love and guidance of her Lord.
Blessings now and always,
For a general overview of witchcraft in modern life, I strongly recommend Scott Cunningham’s The Truth About Witchcraft Today. It is also good for readers who just want to know “what it’s all about” and offers down-to-earth information and may ease concerns for family and friends who are leery of a new witch’s interests.
For a casual but directed approach to learning the craft, Silver Ravenwolf’s series beginning with To Ride a Silver Broomstick is helpful and enjoyable. It is meant for a mature-minded reader. Ravenwolf also offers Teen Witch, which explores traditions and practices for a younger reader. I have not read Teen Witch myself, but knowing the author’s work well I would not hesitate to recommend it to younger people interested in exploring the craft.
This blog series is a general introduction to the Craft. It is not meant as an exhaustive resource. Further study is strongly encouraged. Many teachers make a well-rounded student.