… What are you, exactly?”
Or, even better: “You’re not a witch.”
There’s an unfortunate tendency to conflate the (related, but very much separate) ideas of witchcraft and Wicca. It seems to be a mistake a lot of new practitioners make, and it’s pretty understandable. The difference between witchcraft and Wicca is easy to illustrate, in theory:
- Witchcraft is a practice that is not tied to any particular religion. Some witches are atheists.
- Wicca is a religion in which a large portion of adherents are witches.
- Not all Wiccans practice witchcraft, and not all witches are part of the Wiccan religion.
… But, in life, the distinction isn’t always as simple to suss out.
Nine times out of ten, it comes up in discussions of morality. When questions like, “Is it morally questionable to curse?” or “Are love spells immoral?” pop up, part of the chorus of answers will always consist of part of the Wiccan Rede. Considering the number of witches who are also Wiccans, this is to be expected and nothing to get up in arms about. What is frustrating is the number of people who conflate the moral philosophy of a single religion with some kind of “witches’ law.” What’s even worse is the (fortunately smaller) number of people who insist that, if you aren’t following this particular moral code, you are either a bad witch or not a witch at all.
This is something that could easily be dismissed as either an odd species of puritanism or a newbie’s mistake. The thing is, it points to some far more insidious problems:
- The number of books about the practice of witchcraft, not the religion of Wicca, that still piggyback on the Three-fold Law. This is a philosophy that borrows heavily from a very Westernized interpretation of karma. While I, personally, see no problem with the portions of this idea that revolve around doing no harm, it’s still a concept that belongs within the religion that adheres to it– not decontextualized and presented as a rule for secular witchcraft.
- The fact that colonialism and religious hegemony have rather enthusiastically stamped out native traditions all over the place, many of which formed the roots of modern traditional witchcraft. This, coupled with the presentation of Wicca as “the witches’ religion,” has greatly contributed to the erasure of people who follow a non-Wiccan path.
When you have a cultural context where witchcraft is all but stamped out as an uninterrupted traditional practice and a number of books reinforcing the idea that witches adhere to a heavily Wicca-based moral code, it makes it easy to assume that all witches are: A) Wiccan or B) should be held to the same moral philosophy anyway, so close enough.
That said, how do you correct this misconception when you encounter it in the wild? Ultimately, I usually take the lazy way out– I don’t. There are very few instances where I feel obligated to explain myself, so I definitely don’t blame other witches for wanting to avoid an argument. In a lot of cases, going into the reasons why it’s wrong to hold witches to a Wiccan moral standard can become exhausting.
If you end up in this position, try not to sweat it. Most of the time, it isn’t really something worth getting angry over– not at the speaker, at least– because it so often comes from an otherwise well-meaning person who doesn’t yet know better. In some cases, the speaker might double down and insist that those who don’t follow the Rede are wrong, evil, or not “real witches”.
Save yourself a headache (or a few) and remember, you aren’t obligated to justify your path to them.