What do the words Pagan and Wiccan mean? And what is the difference between them? These are questions we have all asked ourselves and been asked when starting our spiritual journey, or when we first started to be interested in magic. In this article I will explain the definitions of these terms, and explore the similarities and differences. I will also discuss other related terms.
Paganism at its simplest is an umbrella term which can be used to describe many a diverse group of different religions. Traditionally Christians have seen anyone who is not Christian as a Pagan. Many religions which are described as Pagan existed long before Christianity existed.
Modern Paganism is also known as Contemporary Paganism and Neo-Paganism. It can describe modern Pagan religions which are derived from traditional Pagan beliefs. Paganism encompasses a diverse community. Most Pagans believe that the Earth is a sacred space, and contemporary Pagan religions are based on a reverence for nature. Druids, Shamans, Odinists , Heathens and Wiccans amongst others make up the Pagan community. In the 2011 Census there were estimated to be more than 50,000 Pagans in the UK.
Wicca is a religion which falls under the umbrella term of Paganism. It is a belief system and way of life which is peaceful, balanced and harmonious. Some Wiccans are solo practitioners, others belong to a Coven. Theological views can also differ greatly between Wiccans. However most Wiccans believe in reverence for both the Goddess and God and a belief in reincarnation. Other common beliefs are the ritual observance of astronomical and agricultural phenomena. Wiccans celebrate the eight Sabbats that make up the wheel of the year, most notably Summer and Winter Solstice.
Practices common among Wiccans include Crystal healing, Tarot reading and other forms of divination, meditation, herbalism and types of magick such as Earth Magick, Nature Magick and Elemental. These are just some of the practices of Wiccans, and practice can vary greatly between different individuals as well as between different Covens.
The word “Wicca” is derived from the word “Witchcraft”. Because the word witchcraft has negative and satanist connotations to it for some, the word Wicca was created to describe the religion of witchcraft.
Similarities and Differences
I have already covered many similarities and differences above. A way of summing up could be that most Wiccans are Pagans, however not all Pagans are Wiccans. Paganism is a group of religions, whilst Wiccan is just one.
A similarity between Wiccans and Pagans is the misconception about what they are not. They are not terms to describe sexual deviants, devil worship or the practice of harming people or animals. Another similarity it that Wiccans and Pagans practice earth based worship. Most Wiccans practice witchcraft, however not all Pagans do.
The word witchcraft is used to describe those who practice magic, including those who invoke spells, practice nature worship or perform rituals. The term is sometimes associated with black magick. However the majority of people who practice witchcraft are not practicing black magic. The difference between Wicca and witchcraft is that Wicca is a religion, witchcraft is a practice. However you can practice witchcraft without associating yourself as a Wiccan.
Druids and Druidry
Druidry is a form of spirituality or religion that generally promotes harmony and the worship of nature, the earth, and respect for all beings. Druids were members of the learned class among the ancient Celts. They seemed to have frequented forests and acted as priests, teachers and judges. The earliest known records of the Druids came from the 3rd century BC.
There are some similarities between Wicca and Druidry, Both religions emphasise the importance of developing close links with nature, and their rites frequently take place outdoors. Both religions stress the importance of guardianship of the Earth.
A difference between the religions is that Druidry is more Celtic than Wicca and there is less of an emphasis on magick. In Druidry music and poetry are associated as paths to spiritual growth.
Whilst writing this, I am very aware that not everyone will agree with my definitions for these terms. These terms have different meanings depending on the source, and according to different peoples beliefs. People may interpret these different terms differently to how someone else may interpret them. I suggest that the more you develop in your spiritual journey, the more you try to learn about the history of Wicca and how it is connected or different from other religions.
Knowing more about the different meanings to these terms, and the history behind them will only help you give more meaning to your Wicca practice. The more knowledge you have will also help you to explain your beliefs to others, and answer peoples misconceptions to them.