Pagan vs. Wicca: What’s the Difference? By Janet Webster

pagan religion

Religion and spirituality have a deep history that goes far beyond the mainstream. This is especially true of Wicca and Paganism. Both of these are age-old traditions that are often used interchangeably. Though the two have similarities, Wicca and Paganism are separate religions. The two are interconnected and woven together. But there are also key differences. So what’s the difference between Wicca and a pagan religion?

Here are the key differences between the two you should know.

What Is the Pagan Religion?

To answer the question of what is paganism, you have to look back at the history of the religion. Historically, Pagans were those who followed a polytheistic religion. These are religions with more than one god.

For example, ancient Romans and Greeks were pagans. The term often had a negative association with those who practiced monotheistic religions. Though now, “pagan” is no longer an insult in its primary usage.

First recorded around 1325, the Latin origins of the word meant rural or civilian from the word pāgānus. It later came to mean a civilian who wasn’t a soldier of Christ.

Pagan, from the Christian view, was someone who worshiped false gods.

In the present day, “pagan” is an umbrella term and influences many forms of spirituality. Though the practice is old, it’s not a lost belief. Neo-paganism focuses on pre-Christian rituals and traditions.

Spiritual movements and respect for nature are also major tenants of the belief. Paganism originally traced back to the 1800s.

Communities in the United States, United Kingdom, and Scandinavia in the 60s shaped modern neopaganism. Neopaganism in the 60s focused on the revival of nature and worshiping fertility.

Those who follow modern paganism believe in the connection of nature, the environment, and equality. Worshiping multiple gods and goddesses is common and depends on the choice of the individual or group.

Wicca is one of the practices under the broad category of neopaganism.

What Is Wicca?

Dating back to the 1950s in England, the religion of Wicca started as a popular movement from a man named Gerald Brousseau Gardner. Gardener worked throughout Asia and later published a book titled Witchcraft Today in 1954.

This started a movement that was based on pre-Christian traditions. The three main pillars of this movement were magick, a respect for nature, and worshiping goddesses and other deities.

Traced back to the 1970s, the word “wicca” has roots in Old English, meaning male sorcerer. This word witch also comes from this Old English origin. Wiccan traditions have a basis in beliefs that predate Christiniany.

From the outside, Wicca and witchcraft are often associated with Satanism and devil worship. However, there is no connection because the rituals existed before the belief in the concept of Satan and hell.

In the present day, Wicca is often practiced along with modern witchcraft. Ceremonial magick and rituals are key practices for a Wiccan. The focus on magick is what separates the practice of Wicca and Paganism.

Key Religious Differences

To keep the two religions straight, think of Wicca as a branch of Paganism. Christianity has many branches like Catholicism, Protestantism, and Baptist. This structure is similar for Paganism.

Under the term “Paganism” are other multitheistic religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Druidism, and Asatru. There are thousands of other religions under the umbrella term of Pagan.

What binds the Pagan religions together is the worshipping of multiple gods and goddesses. Worshipping nature and the four elements—air, water, fire, and earth—are important as well.

Because Wicca falls under Paganism, the above tenants are true for this religion.

Wiccans worship a single god and a single goddess. This practice includes worshipping five elements, the Pagan four plus the addition of spirit.

Pagan holidays are important to Wiccans, as are ancestry, personal responsibility, respect for other’s beliefs, and avoiding causing harm. Wiccans also believe in karma and the afterlife.

Witchcraft and Wicca

Terms that are used interchangeably are witchcraft and Wicca. The two are not the same but rather can be practiced together. Some Wiccans may practice magick, but it’s not a requirement of Wicca.

Witchcraft, however, is not a religion. Witchcraft is a practice of magick, including rituals and spells. Within witchcraft, there are guidelines but no concrete rules. You better your craft with experience and practice.

Unlike many religions, witchcraft is based on the individual. This makes one witch’s practice different from that of another. For example, witchcraft may be used for good or evil depending on who is practicing it.

You don’t have to be Wiccan to practice witchcraft. Many Wiccans practice both together, but it’s not a requirement.

How to Begin Practicing Wicca

For those who want to practice Wicca, the best place to start is with research. Wicca is a very different religion than the traditional monotheistic religions that have mainstream attention.

Doing a deep dive into the history and practices of Wicca is important when starting your practice. This research will give you the basic fundamentals of spells, rituals, and worship.

It’s important, though, to vet your sources to ensure you’re getting the correct information. First, learn the philosophy before you begin practicing rituals or magick.

You may also want to find a local community of practicing Wiccans. This support group can help you begin your journey through the religion. 

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