An Introduction to Witchcraft

Updated on February 15, 2019
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Gemma is a mother, as well as a self-employed artist and self-published author. She's an avid reader and writer.

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What Do You Mean . . . Witchcraft?

Did I just put a spell on you? Highly unlikely . . . well, at least not in the sense you might be thinking. Not everyone can be 'Harry Potter'. Witchcraft used to be about healing and aiding others by providing herbal medicines, but in this day and age much has changed. Don't get me wrong, there are definitely rituals, spells and potions involved with witchcraft. However, waving a wand and reciting an incantation for instant magic? That is pure fiction.

There are many 'paths' one can take as a 'witch'. What is the collective noun for a bunch of witches? An argument! Just a little witch humour before we move onto more serious matters.

So, let me explain the meaning of ‘witchcraft'. Broadly speaking, it means the practice and/or belief in magical skills and abilities exercised by solitary or groups of individuals. However, this is not necessarily the case when dealing with other cultures, so be careful how you reference it. In some cultures and religions, it means to be a diviner or one who provides medicinal aid.

The word "witchcraft" derives from the Old English wiccecræft, a compound of "wicce" ("witch") and "cræft" ("craft") – Online Etymology Dictionary.

So, what is magic? It is said that it is the manifestations of ones will; whether it is used to hurt or to heal is up to the individual. To have a gift which can be wielded for the betterment of others or for ones self—though in Wiccan culture using your abilities for selfish purposes is frowned upon, as well as using said powers to hurt others. However, most people in modern days see magic as simple illusion; an entertainment for the masses, like Houdini and Penn & Teller. If you’re wondering whether entertainment magic and magic in witchcraft are the same, I would have to say no. However, I do believe that some magicians have abilities that can be related to witchcraft—though I doubt they would believe this to be true.

The word magic: late 14c., "art of influencing events and producing marvels using hidden natural forces," from Old French magique "magic, magical," from Late Latin magice "sorcery, magic," from Greek magike (presumably with tekhne "art"), fem. of magikos "magical," from magos "one of the members of the learned and priestly class," from Old Persian magush, which is possibly from PIE root *magh- "to be able, have power."Online Etymology Dictionary

Now, it is argued about all over the world, where witchcraft is said to have originated; however, what is mostly agreed upon is that as long as humans have existed there have been those that practice witchcraft—also known as healers or shamans. The true origins are hazy at best but what is known is that witchcraft can be found in every country all over the world, though it may be known as something else: voodoo, paganism, shamanism, etc.

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In Western European culture, witchcraft and magic grew out of mythology and folklore, which mostly came from other cultures like the Egyptians, Greeks, Hebrews and Romans. They developed their own unique traits within Europe, just like any other culture, leading to a ‘new style’ of witchcraft and magic. However, most were of Christian faith and so their views varied dramatically; some condemned any form of witchcraft as satanic, opening the way to demonic possession. Others saw it a simple superstition and then on the flip side you have some esoteric Christians that actively practice magic.

If we look at Islam, divination and magic encompass a wide range of practices, including: black magic, warding off the evil eye, creations of amulets, evocation, and astrology. Muslims commonly believe in magic (sihr), though they explicitly forbid its practice. Sihr translates from Arabic as ‘sorcery’ or ‘black magic’. The more commonly known reference to magic in Islam is surah al-Falaq of the Qur'an, which is known as a prayer to God warding off black magic.

“I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn from the mischief of created things; from the mischief of darkness as it overspreads; from the mischief of those who practise secret arts; and from the mischief of the envious one as he practises envy.” (Qur'an 113:1–5)

Magic is a fickle thing and though it can’t be quantified or proven with any scientific method, this does not mean it does not exist. So, does that mean that magic is just something out of fiction, like 'Charmed'? No, that is not the case. If we could wave a magic wand and fix anything or do anything, I believe it would cause more problems than it’s worth. Magic as described in the realms of witchcraft—in all its forms—requires a little more effort and knowledge. There are many differences and avenues that can be followed. Some create magic using circles, incantations, herbs, oils, amulets, candles, cards, pictures, blood, crystals ... the list is virtually endless. Yes, wands can be used but it’s more for focusing the mind and energies, not casting spells with an incantation.

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Deities Worshipped in Witchcraft

Honestly, when it comes to witchcraft, no God or Goddess is out of bounds. Pagans and Wiccan's, when following a more traditional path, have a specific set of deities to worship. However, over the years this has evolved and now 'witches' worship deities that they feel a strong connection to or who have spoken to them - either in dreams or using signs and symbols.

There are the many Gods and Goddesses which many follow and have a connection to. Some are more well known than others. I've learned a lot about these deities over the years after speaking with other witches, pagans, Wiccan, etc. I've also spent time reading about them online or in books. One such book is the 'Dictionary of God's and Goddesses' by Michael Jordan. Below is a list with just a basic description for said mentioned Deities:

  • The Triple Goddess - Represented by three women; the maid, the mother and the crone. The stages of life and death.
  • Hecate/Hekate - Goddess of witchcraft and crossroads.
  • Brigid/Brigit - Brigid is a multifaceted Goddess who was revered under many names throughout the Celtic world.
  • Cernunnos - Celtic God of the Wild Hunt, fertility and masculine energy
  • Rhiannon - Goddess of fertility, rebirth, wisdom, magick, transformation, beauty, artistic inspiration and poetry.
  • Dagda - Irish Father God, somewhat comical and bawdy
  • Diana - Goddess of the hunt, wild animals, wilderness and the moon; equivalent to the Greek goddess Artemis.
  • Hestia - Goddess of the hearth who gave up seat at Olympus to Dionysus.
  • The Morrigan - Shape-shifting Celtic Goddess of War, Fate and Death.

To name but a few. Though this isn't the whole list; it is easy to go on and on. Due to the inclusion of many people from different cultural backgrounds, the list of deities one can follow now encompasses any and all. Obviously, I'm just focusing on some of the well-known at this point. You need to be aware that other witchcrafts— including voodoo—worship saints and angels as well as gods and goddesses. In that sense, nothing is out of bounds for being worshipped.

So, how do you know who to follow or who you have a connection with? Not the easiest question to answer, as everyone is different and how they practice the 'craft' varies from person to person. As such, which deity you follow will also vary. Some worship deities based on who mentored them or from books they have read about the 'craft', however, this is not the case with all. There are even people who don't worship any deity at all and merely follow the practices of the craft, offering their thanks to all things relating to nature.

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What Types of Witches Are There?

Witchcraft is very wide and varied in what practices there are to follow and there are new witches created with continuing increase of people making the craft a part of their life. There are different types of witches, some more well-known and popular—like pagan and Wiccan—and some not so much. Below is a short list of well known:

  • Green Witch - Someone closely connected with nature and uses only natural items, and nature in their craft
  • Sea Witch - Someone closely connected to the sea and ocean life. They use items from the sea in their craft.
  • Kitchen Witchery - Someone who focuses their practice on the home and hearth and uses things commonly found in the kitchen as magickal tools

Below is a short list of the not so well-known:

  • Draconic Witch - Someone who choose to work with the primordial Gods and Spirits known as the Dragons.
  • Tameran Tradition Witch - Someone whose practice are grounded in the magical and ritual practices of ancient Egypt.
  • Faery Witch - Someone who seeks to commune with faery folk in its magic workings.

If you would like to read up on more paths, it would be best to speak to those who practice the craft in groups and social media. Though there are sites that provide lists and descriptions, they are not always comprehensive.

Obviously, these are just a few of the paths that people follow. Some will say they are 'White Witches' or 'Dark Witches', although many say there is not white or dark anymore and that the craft is instead seen in many different colours and shades. Why is this? These paths have developed and evolved over the years, which has changed the perceptions of many, as such only a few see the craft and these paths with such a monochrome distinction.

If you're considering taking the leap and learning more about witchcraft and it's many forms, I found it's best to join groups online and speak to those in the know or look for local gatherings, or even read many, many book. Which books? I hear you ask. To be honest, many have different ideas on what to read first as a beginner. You have 'Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft' by Raymond Buckland, or 'Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner' by Scott Cunningham, to name a couple of well-known books, but others might suggest some other book to begin with.

Learning the craft is all about gaining knowledge, figuring out who you are as witch and which path to venture down. I, myself, am an eclectic, solitary witch, or 'caster' as I prefer to identify as. I have my hand in many pots and like to explore all that there is to offer.

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Witchcraft, Spells, Potions and Rituals Go Hand-In-Hand

Do witches really perform rituals and spells? Yes, they really do. However, what they actually do and what people imagine they do are two totally different things. People imagine something out of 'Harry Potter' but really it's more similar to something like 'Charmed', with its herbs, potions and cauldron. Yes, they really do have cauldrons.

Now, rituals and spells are created by an individual and written down in their Book of Shadows (BOS) - an A-Z of personal spells, potions, incantations, etc, that the witch has cultivated through their time studying and practicing their craft. Every witch has a BOS in some form or another. As their skills develop so too do their spells and rituals.

From speaking with witches from all different backgrounds, these spells and rituals are mostly used for personal use or for help and healing, however, this is not the case in all instances. There are those that prefer to the 'eye for an eye' creed, and so they produce rituals and spells that cause harm; whether that is physical or psychological. Whether they are seen as being bad or dark is down the individual to decide.

You may be wondering: 'Do you have to perform spells and rituals to be a witch?' The answer is no, but more than likely a person practicing the craft will, even if it's out of sheer curiosity. If there are any out there that practice the craft without perform any type of spell or ritual, I have yet to come across them. If you think about it, creating and developing recipes for cakes and such can be seen a potion making. You are bringing together ingredients to create something different. I've found Witchipedia is a great place for information on herbs, potions, information and such—it's a resource that should remain as one of your bookmarks, just like me.

The Witches Calendar

The witches calendar—the wheel of the year—is important to many paths and individuals, though not all. It showcases important celebration times of the year, much like Easter and Christmas. Remember, many celebrations which are seen as the norm, i.e. Halloween and Christmas, were originally Pagan festivals which were incorporated into the Christian belief system.

These 'festivals' are celebrated differently by different paths, but most follow this calendar which is representative of time as a perpetual cycle of growth and retreat tied to the Sun's annual death and rebirth. The festivals, being tied to solar movements, have generally been steeped mythology and symbolism, centred on the life cycles of the sun. But what do each of these dates celebrate and why? Below is listed each celebration and a brief description about them.

  • Yule (20-23 December) - It is a time to celebrate a significant turning point in the yearly cycle. It acknowledges the reversal of the suns ebbing presence, and a return of more fertile times ahead. Practices vary, but sacrifices, feasting, and gift giving are common elements of Midwinter Festivals.
  • Imbolic (2nd February) - This marks the first stirrings of spring. It is associated with purification and spring cleaning; preparing for the coming of a new year. For Celtic pagans, the festival is dedicated to the goddess Brigid.
  • Ostara (20-23rd March) - Also known as the Spring Equinox,
  • Beltane (30th April) - Marks the start of summer and rebirth. The earliest celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times with the festival of Floralia, the Roman goddess of flowers.
  • Litha (20-23rd June) - Also known as the Summer Solstice, it is considered the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the sun shines longest. It is the pinnacle of the festivals, showcasing when life is the fullest.
  • Lughnasad (1st August) - Is the first of the three harvest festivals for Wiccans. Wiccans mark the holiday by baking a figure of the god in bread and eating it, to symbolise the sanctity and importance of the harvest. Celebrations vary, as not all witches are Wiccans
  • Mabon (20-23rd September) - Also known as the Fall/Autumn Equinox. It is a modern Pagan ritual of thanksgiving, celebrated with fruits of the earth in recognition of the need to share them to secure blessings of the Goddess and the God during the coming of winter.
  • Samhain (31st October) - More commonly known as Halloween. It is considered by Wiccans to be one of the four Greater Sabbats. Samhain is considered as a time to celebrate the lives of those who have passed on, and it often involves paying respect to ancestors, family members, elders of the faith, friends, pets, and other loved ones who have died.

These are the main, well-known festivals; there are others throughout the year that are just as important but not classified as one of the major celebrated festivals. How a witch decides to celebrate these particular festivals is down to them. Some gather together, some are part of a coven and have specific celebratory rituals that they follow, and others celebrate by themselves.

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If You're a Witch, Can You Be Part of Another Religion as Well?

This question is asked so many times of forums and in groups by new 'witches'. To be a witch doesn't mean that your other faith/religion has to take a back seat, on the contrary there are many out there that are both Christian and a witch, etc. Being brought up with one religion but realising another calling isn't a bad thing.

From speaking with others on forums, social media and other chat apps, witchcraft is made up from those who practice other religions. Modern witchcraft doesn't forbid other practices or religions, which gives a person more flexibility in their religious practices. This and other aspects is probably the reason why it's becoming more popular in recent years, and why it's seen as a more accepted practice and religion.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Gemma Newey

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      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 

        4 months ago from Norfolk, England

        Thanks for such an interesting topic. I know next to nothing about Witchcraft, but find it all very interesting.

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