Witch 101: Defining Witchcraft

Welcome to Witch 101! If you are not already aware, there is a rise in witchiness in our modern culture. From the crystal babes, to Halloween hotties, to the cottage-core cuties, the aesthetic is rampant. But, what about the practical side of this witchiness? The craft part; witchcraft. It doesn’t seem like people are just buying into fashion, but the lifestyle as well. What the lifestyle entails has roots in spiritual, and witchcraft practices.

But what exactly is Witchcraft?

Image from Merriam-Webster.com

A good first thing to know is that Witchcraft is not a religion, or a type of people. Witchcraft has its basic form in the name, it’s a craft! Witchcraft is a craft just like any other craft; artist, cook, carpenter, the list goes on. Merriam-Webster has two definitions for craft, one as a verb and one as a noun. The verb craft means “to make or produce with care, skill, or ingenuity”. The noun’s first 3 definitions are 1. “skill in planning, making, or executing: dexterity.” 2. “An occupation or trade requiring manual dexterity or artistic skill. Articles made by craftspeople” and 3. “Skill in deceiving to gain an end.” 

Interestingly enough, Merriam-Webster does not use the definition of craft in the term witchcraft. In fact, Merriam-Webster’s definition still enforces the patriarchal, pre-modern christian approach to the terms witchcraft and witch for its first 2 and 3 definitions respectively. Witch, according to Merriam-Webster, only applies to women (definition 1 of witch. “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.”) who are either one of the two follow definitions: “an ugly old woman” or “a charming or alluring girl of woman.” Even in the verb tense witch means “to affect injuriously with witchcraft” and “archaic: to influence or beguile with allure or charm.” The only definition from the term craft that could relate is its third definition “skill in deceiving to gain an end.” 

In the Merriam-Webster’s definition of witchcraft, there is a slight nod to the fact that it is, indeed, a craft, but this is completely negated with the second part of the definition. Definition 1 of witchcraft is “a: a use of sorcery or magic, b: communication with the devil or with a familiar.” And definition 2 is as follows, “an irresistible influence or fascination.”  which much more closely relates to craft definition 3. 

The only time there is a respectable definition for Witchcraft is in definition 3, which is just a link to the definition for Wicca. Wicca is defined as “a religion influenced by pre-Christian beliefs and practices of western Europe that affirms the existence of supernatural power (such as magic) and of both male and female deities who inhere in nature and that emphasizes ritual observance of seasonal and life cycles.” I’d say that is a pretty accurate one-sentence definition of Wicca. It is important to add to that definition that “pre-christian” is a less intimidating way of saying “neo-pagan” because our society thinks of paganism as a bad thing. 

In using just the three definitions of Witchcraft, the only one that really encompasses the term in its truthful totality, and is useful a modern day colloquialism is definition 1a, “the use of sorcery or magic”. You do not have to be Wiccan, or commune with the devil or have a Witch familiar to partake in witchcraft. All you need is a little magic, baby.

So what does me tell you all about these scary, sexist witch definitions do for you? Well, first off: they’re not true… well not 100% true. And without getting into a full on religions/philosophical/history lesson, the idea of the Witch and Witchcraft was used to persecute pre-monotheistic pagan civilization (a term to defined at a later time, but think Ancient Greece, Norse or Viking, Native and Meso-American religions), and women who did not adhere to the strict rules of pre-modern, and even modern, society. These definitions of Witch are used to insult the divergence in power that is innate to women. This power does not even have to be “magic”. Mostly it is the woman having autonomy and not having need or dependence on men. It is also to create the ostracizing of the different and the evil of the appealing to men in particular. 

Think about it, definitions like “old hag” or “alluring young woman”? Why are those the only two types of women who can be witches? Because they’re the biggest threat to pre-modern ideals. A woman’s place unfortunately was and sometimes still is only reproduction and child care. The old hag no longer has, or did not have, or can no longer have children. The young woman has never birthed a child; she is virile, coquettish, and full of carnal sin. It’s funny how they “conveniently” left the Mother figure out the “Maiden, Mother, Crone” Witch depiction. Can’t have Mother Mary look like a Witch with her immaculate conception, can we? 

To diverge off that note of men and women, women are not the only ones who can participate in witch or witchcraft. Women, men, gender-non-conformant, whatever you identify as does not stop you from being able to participate. I do, and will talk about the idea of an “us and them” (e.g. women, p.o.c, LGTBQIA+ versus white, straight, cis, monotheistic men)  through my witchcraft articles, but this will mostly be in a past tense. Sometimes it will be current. Unfortunately our world hasn’t been revolutionized in totality. I feel like it should go without saying, but I also do not want someone to think they are unwelcome because of this: you can absolutely be a white, cis, straight, monotheistic man and still be a Witch (and be a good person, and be an ally in the change.) Anyone can be this. You can be of any creed, religion, path or persons and be a Witch.  I feel that is one of the most basic parts of wanting to be a Witch. A big part of being a Witch, to me, is to realize our one-ness, but respect and love each other for our differences. 

Image from IG: @witchbabysoap art from IG: @brooklynnmusic

 There is also a sliding scale of “witchiness”. You simply do not have to identify as a witch to partake in the craft, just like you do not have to be an artist to doodle in a sketchbook, or an athlete to go workout at the gym. They are just tools to make ourselves and our lives better. On the flip side of that, do not be afraid of identifying as a Witch because of the previous listed definitions. They are outdated. And of course, how could they really be changed until now? Women, LGBTQIA+, people of color, neuro-divergent, anyone who was not the societal norm is still on the dawn of having their day. There is a renaissance of Witch culture arising. 

I have not even touched on the magic aspect of Witchcraft yet. But, I believe it is important to have an origin story to some degree. Research is a form of respect. Many times people are conditioned to think their preconceived, subconscious ideas as correct, even though that is not always the case. Both are very important in Witchcraft: research and the subconscious, so it is crucial to consider then both equally. To be a Witch is to be accountable for yourself.

The Spell Sum Up: The textbook definitions of Witch and Witchcraft are outdated and patriarchal. Witchcraft, in its broad modern use, is a craft that uses magic as its primary tool to produce a genuine end product. Anyone can be a Witch or practice Witchcraft regardless of creed, religion, path or persons. Witchcraft can be incorporated into many facets of life just like any other craft.

Make Moves and Magic, Witches!

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