Wicca and Paganism - Is there a difference?
When I first placed my foot on the path of Wiccan spirituality some 33 years ago, there was a saying I was taught that has stuck with me all these years, "A Witch is always a Pagan, but a Pagan isn't always a Witch."
In today's magickal community, for many, that differentiation has been lost. More to the point, no one wants to be a Pagan, but everyone wants to be a Witch. The sad part is that because the difference between the two has been lost, the meaning of being a Witch has become diluted. What many define a Witch to be is really what a Pagan could be, by the definitions I learned all those years ago.
So what is the difference between the two? Let's begin with the word "pagan". It comes from the Latin, paganus, meaning peasant or, pagani, which referred to someone who dwells in the country. It came to mean someone who lived close to nature irregardless of their religious or spiritual beliefs.
In today's world this could mean a follower of Wicca, a Native American, an ecologist, or anyone else who believes that this planet deserves our respect and who enjoys spending time communing with Nature.
It still refers to no one specific spiritual path but can encompass any spiritual path which believes we should live in harmony with the Earth and all its creatures and that we should be good, responsible stewards of this planet.
Wicca, on the other hand, comes from the Old English, wicca (masculine) or wicce (feminine), whose meaning has been up for debate for years. Some say it means "wise one" and others feel it means "to bend". My personal feeling is that if you are truly wise, you can bend things to your will. Thus, one of our other sayings, "As my will, so mote it be."
The roots of the Craft (as it is referred to by many) for those of us here in the United States is the British Isles. It, therefore, means the "Old Religion", that is, the one many followed and practiced before the coming of Christianity.
Wicca, the Old Religion, is a spiritual path. It has beliefs, tenets, holy days, clergy, religious rites and more that belong specifically to this path. Unfortunately, that also is being diluted and lost in our modern world. In a time when everyone is moving too fast, not sure where their lives are headed, few are willing or have the desire to follow this spiritual path as it was meant to be followed.
One of the main requirements placed on a follower of Wicca is "Know yourself" and to do this before you do anything else. This, obviously, is not something you can do in a day, or a week, or even a month. It takes years of being willing to turn your attention inward and look at who you really are as opposed to who you have been taught you should be and now think you are. It can be enlightening and also shocking when you begin your journey inward to discover the real you.
Wicca also requires that its followers take responsibility for their own lives. In other words, blame for the condition our lives are in lies on no one but us and the choices we have made throughout that life. In today's world, it has become so much easier to point fingers and foster blame on those around us. Few would be willing to accept that responsibility willingly.
Contrary to the belief of many of other religions, Wicca is not a religion of vengeance. Although we have no one holy book, we do have our One Law, "And ye harm none, do what thou will." That means we cannot intentionally harm anyone, including ourselves for any reason. We don't seek revenge and only defend ourselves (should someone seek to harm us in some manner) when all other methods of resolving a situation have been tried.
The term "wise one", one of the definitions of Wicca, requires not just the gathering of knowledge but the practical application of that knowledge in our lives and in the world around us. One cannot become wise without life experience, so we seek to be helpers of our fellow Man and Planet Earth.
For the younger generations, Wicca has become more about magick and spell casting than about spiritual development. To me, without the spiritual aspects, the practice of magick becomes sorcery for, once again, anyone of any belief can practice magick (and therefore become a sorcerer or sorceress) just as anyone of any belief can have a reverence for Nature and be a Pagan. Without the spiritual guidelines, this kind of magick can and will be used to gain power over people, to hurt people you believe have wronged you and so much more.
What part does magick play in Wicca? If you've seen the movie The Secret, or read the book of the same name, then you know about the Law of Attraction. Others, like Ester and Jerry Hicks, have been writing about it for years. Well, followers of the spiritual path of Wicca have known about it for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years. We know that "like attracts like" and so you must be the change you wish to see in your world. The "magick" is about changing yourself into a more positive person; leaving the past in the past; and, opening your heart to love everything and everyone unconditionally. When you begin to do that, it's amazing what good things will manifest in your life!
Yes, Wiccans do have a reverence for Nature. Many are active participants in ecology movements and organizations or at least very aware of the impact their actions have on the planet. If they don't live in a country setting, they try to get out in Nature as often as their schedules allow. They plant gardens, adopt animals, have house plants, recycle and more.
From a standpoint of spiritual practice, the rituals of Wicca are celebrations of the changing of the seasons, of planting and reaping, and of birth, life, death and rebirth (the cycles of life).
In a group of Wiccan practitioners, there are two spiritual leaders - one male and one female - who lead the performance of the celebratory rites and perform other special rites of passage such as handfastings (marriages), infant blessings, funerary rites and more. For those on the path of Wicca, the goal is the same: to become a more positive, spiritually evolved person and to become a spiritual leader and teacher of Wicca.
We are often called upon by non-Wiccans (Pagans and others) to perform special rites or lead them in the celebratory rituals of the season.
So you can see, there truly is a difference between being Pagan and being Wiccan. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to dance in the light of the Full Moon, hug a tree, take a hike in Nature, or help preserve the planet, but you don't have to become a Witch/Wiccan to do all those things. The path of Wiccan is not for everyone and should be approached only with a sincere desire to help improve the quality of life for yourself, others and the planet you live on through years of study and dedication to this very old spiritual path.