Defining myself was pretty easy fifteen years ago. When someone asked what I practiced I tended to reply with “Wicca” or “Witchcraft.” I used them both interchangeably back then, and a lot of other people did to. Before anybody was using the word Wicca they were using the words Witch and Witchcraft. Gerald Gardner’s Witchcraft Today (1951) and The Meaning of Witchcraft (1959) most certainly kicked off the Wiccan Movement, but those books didn’t actually use the word Wicca.
People have long been protective of the words Witchcraft and Wicca. Many people define the former as a practice and the later as a spiritual path. I certainly don’t disagree with such an interpretation, after all there are lots of Witchcrafts and varying types of Witches. I think most modern practitioners share some traits, but our ritual systems and terminologies
sometimes often differ. But even with those differences I tend to find useful bits in most Witchcraft books, even those that are radically different from my own ways of doing things.
The last few years has seen a huge rise in Traditional Witchcraft, and many who identify with that path are often among the loudest in yelling “You aren’t a Witch, you are a Wiccan.” I actually read a lot of Traditional Witchcraft stuff these days (though I’d never claim to be an adherent), mostly because it syncs up pretty nicely with what I already do and believe. Despite arguments to the contrary, those of us from Wiccan backgrounds are channeling many of the same ritual techniques and practices those in the Trad-Witch community do. (And many of the “founders” of Traditional Witchcraft have backgrounds in Wiccan style practice, I think it’s really just two sides of the same coin.)
Over my 23 years as a P-and-W-word person I’ve generally used three words to define myself depending on the day: Wiccan, Witch, and Pagan. My first books and my first rituals were all of the Wiccan-Witch variety and when someone asked me what I practiced I generally replied with Wiccan. At the time I was looking for my beliefs to been as socially acceptable, and Wiccan felt a lot less threatening to me than Witch (though I still used Witch amongst close friends and in private). Wicca also just seemed cool to me, since at the time I truly thought it was the Old Religion and that it was what every English peasant was practicing in the year 800 CE. (On this, I was very very very wrong, but a lot of us were.)
In the early ’90’s there were certainly people outside of our greater Pagandom who were familiar with the word Wicca, but there weren’t that many. By using the word Wicca I could control the conversation and paint a picture free of the broomsticks and pointy hats that come up when people use the word witch. Besides, all the books I was reading at the time were freely interchanging Wicca and Witchcraft without much of a second thought. I could use Wicca when wearing my cloak of hoped for social acceptance, and Witch in private.
As I began to venture out of my solitary-shell I began to meet more and more people who didn’t identify with the words Wicca or Witchcraft. I met Heathens, lots of Druids, people involved with Asatru and the O.T.O. and even just a few general New Age practitioners. (The New Age/Pagan movements were wary allies and friends at one point, as we’ve grown the last 30 years I think we’ve gotten away from that alliance). This was my first real introduction to Paganism, and for a short time I practiced with a Druid grove and counted an O.T.O. initiate among my best friends.Because I was now a part of this bigger grouping I began to use the word Pagan far more often to describe myself. Because I was practicing with Druids, not a part of our coven, and actively involved with a group that used the word Pagan to describe its self this felt pretty natural. Though the ritual I generally practiced in public and alone was certainly Wiccan, it felt right to engage and identify with the much larger Pagan world.
This lasted for quite a few years, until my wife and I began training in a Gardnerian Outer Court. The way they practiced ritual made me feel more and more like a Witch than anything else. Several years after our first exposure to that Outer Court my wife and I were initiated into the Gardnerian Craft, and it was then that I really began to find myself re-resonating with the word Witch. Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente identified as Witches, and Patricia Crowther still does, and suddenly that’s the current I felt most connected to. It felt good and right to use the word Witch to describe myself considering the circumstances.
Witch is also a hugely powerful word. Just dropping a few mentions of Witch and Witchcraft into ritual gave my rites a little extra kick. (I think of them both as Tabasco Sauce words*, meaning a few drops can go a long way .) I try not to over use the words too much in public and and in my writing, but Witch and Witchcraft are what shake around in my head most of the time.
Since progressing on the Gardnerian path I’ve begun to identify even more with the word Witch, and much of that identification has eroded my former identification as a Pagan. Pagan is a word I still use on occasion, but I don’t really practice anything these days other than Wiccan-Witchcraft. My experiments with Greek Re-con are mostly a thing of the past, and while I might become a dues paying member of ADF one of these days, I have no desire to really practice Druid ritual.
Despite my love of the word Witch I’ve mostly begun prefacing it with the word Wiccan these days. When someone asks me what I practice I find the least confusing reply to be Wiccan-Witchcraft. Wicca alone doesn’t work for me anymore because I think I’m completely justified in my use of the word Witch. However, because I don’t want to step on too many toes, or gods forbid confuse anyone with exactly what I practice I add the Wiccan preface. Living in California’s Bay Area, a spot with many different Witchcrafts, that’s probably for the best anyways. I’d hate for anyone to think I was teaching the Feri Tradition or something else, and that’s because I have a lot of respect and admiration for all the other Witchcrafts out there.
There are still a lot of days when my inner Pagan comes out. I feel it most intensely at Pagan Festivals when I get to play in a whole lot of different sandboxes, and when I’m communicating with people outside of the Witch-world (though I’ll say that we share a lot of stuff with most Druid orders). But for the most part these days I’m really content with just being a Witch, but if you need something more specific than that, I’ll happily tell you I’m a Wiccan-Witch.
*Also acceptable here Frank’s Redhot words and Crystal Hot Sauce words.