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What is the Difference between Wicca and Paganism?
Wicca or Eclectic Paganism?
Wicca and Paganism are frequently used interchangeable, but they are not exactly the same thing. The reason there is confusion is because Wiccans are also Pagans… but Pagans are not always Wiccans.
There is also confusion because the biggest branch of Wicca is Eclectic (non-traditionalist, non-lineaged) Wicca. So how does one know if one is an Eclectic Wiccan or an Eclectic Pagan?
Some would argue that ‘real Wiccans’ must be initiated into a lineaged coven. I would argue that those people are flat-out wrong. But I still see a clear difference between Wicca and Eclectic Paganism.
Let’s have a look. But first, let’s clear up a few mistakes.
What's the Difference between Wicca and Paganism?
Wicca Does Not, And Never Did, Require Initiation
Does that come as a surprise to you? Before you protest, please read on.
Gardner never called his religion ‘Wicca’. He called it ‘Witchcraft’. If you were initiated, you were called a ‘Witch’.
He also occasionally used the term ‘of the Wica’, which referred to both initiates and non-initiates in Gardner’s time. This was common in the early decades as his religion formed. The word ‘Wicca’ was hardly ever used at all.
When traditional British Traditional Witches (or BTW; people initiated into oath-bound covens who could trace coven lineage to Gardner) started using the words ‘Wiccans’ and ‘Wicca’, guess who they were talking about? They were talking about the non-initiated Witches and Pagans who practiced outer-court teachings.
Anyone who claims the uninitiated are ‘not real Wiccans’ are ill-informed about the origins and terminology of their own religion. I’ll give you that Wiccans aren’t BTW without BTW initiation. But the truth is, Eclectic Wiccans have more of a right to the word ‘Wicca’ and ‘Wiccan’ than BTW’s do.
So when I refer to ‘Wiccans’ I refer to both inner and outer court practitioners of the religion Gardner developed.
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What Is Paganism?
Paganism isn’t a religion—it’s called an ‘umbrella term’. That is, it’s a term that covers a whole bunch of different religions. Ancient religions (most of which died out at some point in history) are the original Pagan religions. They would not actually have described themselves as Pagans—the word was actually a derogatory term.
It's from the Latin Paganus and basically from the word 'peasant' or 'country dweller'. Calling someone a Pagan was basically saying 'worshiper of false Gods’ in those days.
As the word developed it came to mean any non-Abrahamic religion-- if you weren't Christian, Jewish or Muslim, you were 'Pagan' of some sort.
In the Victorian and Colonial eras, ancient Paganism was romanticized and eventually that sparked the 'Pagan revival'. People began worshiping the old Gods again, or began adopting some ancient religious practices, and proudly embraced the term ‘Pagan’.
So Pagan is pretty much a broad term. People who identify as Pagans usually follow a reconstruction or reinvention of an ancient religion, or they follow a modern religion that draws upon some of those ancient religions.
Wicca is a modern Pagan religion—that is, a Neo-Pagan religion. All Wiccans are Neo-Pagans, and so all Wiccans would fall under the umbrella of Pagan.
And Where Does Witchcraft Fit In?
That's a different story. To understand that, please read:
What is Eclectic?
Eclectic means ‘taking from multiple sources’. Most Pagan religions are eclectic these days, because few of these systems remained intact and work in their entirety in this day and age. Unless a religion is strict Reconstructionist and has the evidence to back up that their practices come exclusively from one ancient source, it is eclectic to some extent.
Eclectic Pagans are Pagans who don’t adhere to any specific, strict Pagan religion. They draw from multiple sources. They may be influenced more by one source than the other, but generally when someone says they’re an ‘eclectic Pagan’ it’s like saying you’re a non-denominational Christian—you are a rouge of sorts.
You identify with Pagan religions, and with the beliefs found in the Pagan community—but you don’t follow any specific one.
Here is where things get confusing.
Wicca is an eclectic Pagan religion. From the start, Gardner built BTW drawing from numerous sources: ancient Paganism, Pagan and Witch folklore, Freemasonry, Ceremonial Magic, Eastern philosophy—just to name a few.
So Wicca, in itself, is an eclectic religion.
Within Wicca (as I mentioned), there are 2 main branches: BTW and Eclectic Wicca. Both are actually eclectic. However, Eclectic Wicca is a bit more eclectic and a bit more personally driven than traditional BTW.
Recommended Reading for All Pagans
So what’s the Difference between Eclectic Wiccan and Eclectic Pagan?
Thus, we come to the crux of the matter. The truth is, the lines here are a little blurred. But if you know what to look for, you’ll see them.
In a nutshell, the biggest difference is this: Wicca is a specific religion… while Eclectic Paganism is not.
Not that there is anything wrong with eclectic Paganism at all. But your religious practices are personal and draw from your own devices. It’s a general religion in that you are really the only practitioner of a system of your own invention.
Wicca is a specific religion in that it is an established religion generally accepted by a community of autonomous groups and individuals adhering to a similar structure (even if non-dogmatic and not organized).
Here are some key defining factors of Wicca (or at least that most Wiccan sources would agree on to some extent):
- It’s polytheistic, or at least duotheistic. Wiccan generally focuses upon patron deities, personal experience with deity, and worship generally revolves around at least one God and at least one Goddess.
- The emphasis in Wicca is on balance, mainly in the interaction between the masculine and the feminine (and all they are symbolic for). They are seen as complementary (rather than opposing) forces in nature. Wicca is ideally about striving to live in harmony with the world around you (both in nature, as well as other humans).
- There are no arbitrary rules of behavior in Wicca. Morality is Wicca is most often seen as subjective rather than objective—we are encouraged to always ponder and think about the ethics and morals of our behavior in terms of the situation. Wiccan liturgy generally encourages us to take responsibility for ourselves, try to avoid doing unnecessary harm and think about the consequences of our actions (or inactions).
- Wiccan ritual structure, influenced by Ceremonial Magic, generally involves a specific set of tools (each of which have symbolic meaning) and certain rites (such as casting a circle, invoking elements, the Great rite, etc.).
- Wiccans generally observe the cycles of the moon and sun, and time their rituals by them. Wiccans generally celebrate eight sabbats on what is known as the Wheel of the Year (which is an originally Wiccan construct-- not an ancient calendar).
Eclectic Paganism, on the other hand, has no key defining factors other than falling somewhere under that loose, broad Pagan umbrella. Again—nothing wrong with that. Some people will get far more out of forging their own path than following in the footsteps of others.
Granted, there can certainly be overlap between eclectic Paganism and Wicca. Eclectic Pagans and Wiccans can borrow from the same sources. Eclectic Pagans can even borrow from Wicca. But when you move further and further away from a certain place, eventually you’re just not in Kansas anymore.
Quiz: Are You Wiccan or Eclectic Pagan?
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Why Is It Important to Distinguish Between Wicca and Eclectic Paganism?
If we don’t make distinctions, then we’re simply going to have 2 terms for eclectic Neopaganism, and Wicca as we know it will cease to exist as a specific religion. If we keep trying to pull the blanket to cover everything, it’s going to rip to shreds.
Wicca is non-dogmatic, and because there is no central authority, it’s even more important to hold on to at least the core of central concepts together, even if loosely— or else, it falls apart. I’m just hoping that doesn’t happen.
© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright