Is Witchcraft really a religion?
Yes. Witchcraft is one of the pre-Christian religions grouped under the umbrella 'Paganism.' The word 'pagan' springs from an ancient root word which meant 'country-dweller.'
Witchcraft is recognized by the US government as a valid and constitutionally protected religion.
What kinds of clergy do witches have? Who is the head of witchcraft?
Most Witches believe that all of us who feel called to the faith by the Gods can rightly consider ourselves Their priests and priestesses. To become a Priest/ess-with-a-capital-P, however, usually requires a lengthy period of study and training under the tutelage of a High Priest/ess who was qualified in just such fashion. The process is completed with a rite of initiation.
Although there are certainly a number of well-known and influential High Priests and High Priestesses, there is no central head of Witchcraft. Witches' religious congregations, called 'covens,' are autonomous and each operates solely under the leadership of its own High Priestess and High Priest.
Do all witches have to belong to covens?
While many are coven members, there are also Witches called 'Solitaries' who do not belong to a coven. Some are forced to practice their faith as Solitaries because there are no covens near their homes, but others find they prefer to practice on their own. Most Solitaries are familiar with other Witches and Pagans in their area and may gather with them for ritual on the major Sabbats. Solitaries may also attend open rituals offered by local covens.
Do witches worship the devil?
No. Witches do not believe in a devil. The concept of a devil is part of the later Judeo-Christian traditions.
Do witches try to convert other people into witchcraft?
No. Witches are generally convinced that if you have a religion that's working for you, then you should stick with it -- no religion is inherently "better" than another, and there is no one-and-only-one "right" way. If you ask a Witch about his or her religion, honest curiosity will usually be met with honest answers, but you'll never find Witches knocking on your door and trying to get you to join the club!
Do witches really cast spells? Do they use spells on people?
We do cast spells, but not usually 'on' others. What we call spellwork, or magick (frequently spelled with the final k to distinguish it from sleight-of-hand stage show magic), is similar to what other religions might call prayer or meditation -- it is just a way of focusing our natural energies to bring about a desired result.
Witches believe that the use of magick carries with it a certain responsibility, and magick is not used for trivial things. The vast majority of Witches will not use magick to attempt to influence another person's free will or to cause any ill to befall someone, because it is believed that any energy they send out into the Universe will return to them three times as strong. In other words: Sure, I could cast a spell to give your car a flat tire. But my own car would end up with three!
The kind of magick employed on others' behalf is usually the direction of non-specific helpful energies, often called 'white light,' to a person in need. This way, the energy is available for whatever may be the person's most pressing need at that moment.
What kind of god do witches believe in?
Witches may believe in many different gods and goddesses. These deities are all strongly rooted in the natural world, of which Witches feel themselves an integral part. The Earth or the Moon are often personified as the Goddess, and the Sky or the Sun as the God.
The names by which Witches know the gods will vary from one 'tradition' -- think of it as something like a denomination -- to another. While most traditions honor the God and Goddess as equally important partners in the endless cycle of creation, life, death, and rebirth, there are also some traditions which place the Goddess in a more central role.
What is the difference between witchcraft and paganism?
Simply put: all Witches are Pagans, but not all Pagans are Witches (just as all Catholics are Christians, but not all Christians are Catholic). Paganism is a broader term that encompasses many pre-Christian religions, such as the Celtic Druidism or the Norse Asatru, and arguably some more modern religions such as Thelema.
Are "witch" and "wiccan" the same thing?
The ancient Anglo-Saxon word wicce, or 'wise,' is believed to be the root word of both our modern words 'witch' and 'wicca.' They were once used pretty much interchangeably, but in recent years 'Wicca' has become specifically associated with a particular branch of Witchcraft known as British Traditional Wicca. When in doubt, go with 'witch' and you shouldn't step on anyone's toes.
If there are so many witches around, how come I haven't met any of them?
Well, despite the stereotypes, you can't tell who the Witches are just by looking at us. Unless you live in a non-Pagan religious community or you carefully restrict all your contact with people to those whose religion you know, you probably have met some without knowing it. Most folks are not likely to announce their religion to a casual acquaintance, and Witches are no different -- perhaps we are even less likely to, because some communities are still so religiously bigoted that Witches feel it's in their best interest to lay low about their faith rather than risk persecution. It may be illegal in the US to discriminate on the grounds of religion, but it still happens every day.
I'm interested in learning more firsthand, but I don't know any Witches. What can I do?
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Check the bulletin board in your local New Age bookstore to see if any teaching covens in your area hold open meetings or workshops. Many do, and some even offer public rituals on the major holidays.
The Internet is a fabulous resource. The local listings at Witchvox can put you in touch with Witches in almost any part of the world. Meetup.com organizes monthly Witches' and Pagan get-togethers. Search Yahoo!Groups for the words pagan or witch and the name of your area; many local groups have mailing lists to keep in touch.