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Deep beginner's witchcraft: is witchcraft a religion?

a witch wearing red with a point hat talking to a witch wearing a feathered cap, blue robes with fur trim, and carrying opera classes
image sourced from the Graphics Fairy

One of the early and tough questions that arise in beginner witchcraft: Is witchcraft a religion? Witchcraft can be a spirituality, a religion, or a cultural practice. The major difference between religion and spirituality is that no central authority exists. But if you read our post on cults and did any exploring about high-control groups, aka cults, you know that no matter what the interest, there's always someone who wants to be a central authority. That's especially true when it comes to Witchcraft.

Buckle up because here comes some context and a few quiet parts out loud that don't typically get said.

Officially, Witchcraft has no dogma. It has no central authority. There is no person with the official power to say what Witchcraft is. There are, however, people who certainly try to be a central authority. as happens with every possible interest of any kind, ever.

Here is a distinction some people lose: specific groups, especially certain styles of covens, have something akin to central leadership and authority within their covens and traditions. The High Priest and High Priestess titles are baselines with how they are organized. For small group leadership's sake, people have centralized authority strictly within the confines of their coven and tradition affiliation.

But that authority stops at their coven or perhaps their specific cultural tradition of Witchcraft. It becomes obvious that some of these folks wish that authority was extended to people outside their coven and annoy those of us doing our own thing by getting up in our business and attempting to assert that particular consent violation. Remember, a healthy spiritual group can tolerate and process criticism and regulate emotional responses.

There are people out there who call Witchcraft their religion and others who refer to Wicca as the religion of Witchcraft. Neither Nikki nor I are inclined towards those approaches, but we do not dismiss them. We both take the attitude of "you are valid and respected until you get on my lawn." Do we see Wicca as a religion that allows for Witchcraft? It depends on the tradition - otherwise known as denomination - of Wicca, but yes. Wicca's a religion. If Witchcraft is a religion to you, if you are practicing a specific lineage or tradition, we support you, but we do not defer to you. Respect from us is not deference; it is strictly honoring boundaries.

I personally view Witchcraft and shamanism as anthropological phenomena - every culture has witches and shamans in some capacity. Quiet part out loud: In the West, the fluidity of what Witchcraft is may come with some outright bullshit for reasons forgivable and not. A lot of the Puritan culture was all about suppressing anything that wasn't about it, as happens when narcissism mixes with religion. Most of what pop culture and mainstream religion teach society about Witchcraft is wrong or just off the mark and has just enough how-to information that is effectively wrong that we're forever getting fix my Ouija board requests now.

When someone insists their way is the only correct way, it immediately sparks deep mistrust, especially around something as experiential as Witchcraft. Is Witchcraft a religion? Yes, it is, and no, it is not. There's some discernment to exercise here - Witchcraft being a religion or not doesn't mean you get to make up something about it to suit yourself. When you get into spellcasting, you'll find concepts parallel to gravity that give you a framework, whether you need the stories and cycles of religion to feel magickal or not. We'll talk more about calling and how that works another time.

There is more in the darker histories of Witchcraft and colonization to be plumbed on how witch became such a globalized label. The label was used to justify the murder of spiritual healers and leaders throughout all the inhabitable continents. (Obviously, it wasn't just them that suffered.) Witch is a word that has been paid for in blood, usually shed by imperialists. Those murders are blood magick, and ownership of the words witch or Witchcraft was sacrificed to that injustice.

For now, part of the justice comes in the open claim of the word to people who practice their spiritual work with physical arts. Yes, Witchcraft is a religion, and no, it is not.

You'll find out what it is for you as you go.

In my personal practice, I began with the conversion to the religion of eclectic Wicca. Over the decades I became something not Wiccan, and witchcraft is my core culture but no longer my religion. To be honest, I'm not sure I have a religion at all anymore.

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