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Dictionaries Defining Stereotypes: Pagans and Witches

Updated on August 1, 2017

Recently, I was researching pagan and witchcraft material for something I am working on. I decided to be accurate with the definitions of pagan, I went to the Webster's online dictionary. I was very surprised at what I found. Then I decided to see what they said about Witch. I was pretty shocked at that result as well. The following are the definitions of both...

Definition of pagan

  1. 1: heathen 1; especially : a follower of a polytheistic religion (as in ancient Rome)

  2. 2: one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods : an irreligious or hedonistic person

  3. 3: neo-paganwitches, druids, goddess worshippers, and other pagans in America today

Definition of witch

  1. 1: one that is credited with usually malignant supernatural powers; especially : a woman practicing usually black witchcraft often with the aid of a devil or familiar : sorceress — compare warlock

  2. 2: an ugly old woman : hag

  3. 3: a charming or alluring girl or woman

  4. 4: an adherent of Wicca

Do you see what is concerning as a pagan or witch? With Pagan, it isn't offensive, but it is very outdated since most pagans know, there are enough that are not polytheistic and one does not have to believe that way to be pagan. So this definitions big problem is just an outdated term.

As for the Witch definition, it is not only outdated, but it is EXTREMELY offensive. Let us break it down. I think we can agree the main definition is very outdated, but also, written in such a way that clearly shows a biased towards the term. This is a dictionary and there shouldn't be biased towards a term. The first issue I saw was malignant. Now as a witch that is part of a huge community, I know the majority would be very upset to see this term as the main definition. This is a common theme in this definition that a witch is a bad person, specifically female. There are no bad witches, just bad people. Stating that someone who practices witchcraft is "malignant" is so offensive and very much based on the stereotype that generally came from Christian beliefs and media, such as movies. Real witches aren't the witch from the wWizard of Oz. We do not sit over our cauldrons whispering "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble." The majority of individuals who identify as true witches are your everyday Jacks and Jills of the world that you would never know that they were witches. So to use this term against an entire community is quite disturbing.

The second issue is that they state only women are witches, which in fact, is not true. Though we are the majority, there is a large male community as well. But that term doesn't use the proper context to show that there is also a male aspect to the community.

The third issue is the statement of black magic. Though many witches like to define their their magic by white or black, mainly due to the stereotypes put upon us by Christians that there are good and bad witches. I would like to say, witchcraft has no color. As I stated before, there are good and bad people. What you do with your practice is based on what type of person you are. But many witches do not follow the idea that witchcraft has a color.

Lastly, stating we are aided by a devil or our familiar? This part proves the bias more then anything else, because they use the term devil. The Devil or devils are a Christian construct. Pagans or witches don't generally believe in them. Now some may feel the "Horned God" is the devil, but it is not. Not even close. But I can understand those whoare not educated on pagan mythos could beconfused. But unless one is a Christo-pagan (Christian Pagan), which are a minority within the community, devils are not part of our practice as a whole.

I decided to check out another dictionary website to see if they were using the stereotypes and outdated terms. I was actually plesantly surprised. Below is the definitions from


1.(no longer in technical use) one of a people or communityobserving a polytheistic religion, as the ancient Romansand Greeks.2.a member of a religious, spiritual, or cultural communitybased on the worship of nature or the earth; a neopagan.3.Disparaging and Offensive.

  1. (in historical contexts) a person who is not a Christian,Jew, or Muslim; a heathen.
  2. an irreligious or hedonistic person.
  3. an uncivilized or unenlightened person.


1.a person, now especially a woman, who professes or issupposed to practice magic or sorcery; a sorceress.Compare warlock.

2.a woman who is supposed to have evil or wicked magicalpowers:witches in black robes and pointed hats. ugly or mean old woman; hag:the old witch who used to own this building.

4.a person who uses a divining rod; dowser.

With the term Pagan, they make it clear it is an old definition, which is good. The original definition I showed, they did not make this clear. As for the term Witch, the clearly use words that show women are not the only one's who practice witchcraft, which I give kudos for. They do not use any negative connotations or terms in describing the individual. A very unbiased definition. Also not using any stereotypes either in the main definition.

With both sources, they have older definitions below the main one or alternative meanings of the term, which shows often the historical definition where they no longer use the term in that way. For example, the term gay has gone through a very diverse road on it's way to the current definition, but the definitions show the older interpretations of the word.

Some may say remove the bad definitions completely? I do not agree. I feel the historical meanings should be sourced, however, they need to be stated as such if they are no longer used in those ways. I also think that using stereotypes and biased perspectives to define words just compounds the stereotypes towards words like pagan or witch and exacerbate discrimination and misinformation.

What are your thoughts on this? Leave a comment down below!

© 2017 Tara Cochran


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