I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about how witches, in general, are misunderstood. And also about how in the witchcraft and pagan communities, a lot of ignorance abounds and unintentional racism and cultural appropriation takes place. So! The point of this post is to address some of the most common misunderstandings about witches and witchcraft, to clear the air, and set some things straight.
- Not all witches are Wiccan. Wicca is a religion, Witchcraft is a practice. That’s like saying all doctors are Christians. Medicine is a practice. Christianity is a religion. The two are totally unrelated. Traditional Wicca is a closed religion, meaning that unless you are initiated by a priest or elder, you cannot practice it. Neo Wicca is an open religion, however, and is free for anyone to take part.
- Not all witches have sold their soul to Satan. Again, Satanism is a religion, Witchcraft is a secular practice. Many witches I know keep their witchcraft completely seperate from their religious belief system. That being said, the Satanist Witches that I have met are very polite and nice people, and I’ve never actually met one that has sacrificed a goat.
- Next to no witches harm animals or make blood sacrifices. Most witches actually regard nature and therefore animals as holy and sacred, something to be protected and to learn from.
- There is no such thing as ‘Black’ or ‘White’ magic, and therefore there is no such thing as ‘black’ or ‘white’ witches. The concept of ‘black’ magic, aka magical practices that hail from African and African American cultures and is often seen as negative, evil, bad and dark in general, is an incredibly racist term. While ‘white’ magic is the mainstream idea of magical practices hailing from European cultures, and is often thought of as good, positive, light and healing magic. These racially charged terms are not just referring to two binary sides of magic, but are deeply social and racist terms that are incredibly offensive and inappropriate. Also, there is no binary of magical types. There is no light or dark magic. Magic and witchcraft in itself, is not good or evil. It is a practice, a tool. A curse can be used for good intentions. A love spell can be used with a bad purpose. The magic itself is not one thing or another, its the intentions of the caster that determine its use. Therefore, there is no such thing as bad or good magic, black or white magic, or light or dark magic. Instead, it should be looked at like you would look at a chess board. You have pieces that play on the offense, and pieces that play on defense. Chaotic magic, or Baneful magic, are curses and witchcraft that focuses on an attack strategy. While Protection and Healing magic is a style of magic that focuses on a defensive strategy. Keep those negative and racially charged terms out of your practice and go with the alternatives!
- Witchcraft is not a religion. It is a secular practice, devoid of its own belief system. Many witches do involve religion, but any religion can go hand in hand with magical traditions, while many witches do not involve religion at all.
- Witchcraft and Hoodoo are two very different things. Hoodoo is a magical practice with African (specifically Yoruba), African American, Haitian, Mexican Catholic, Jewish and Native American (specifically Muscogee, Choctaw and Cherokee) roots. It is still practiced today in much of the Southern US and in Africa. Witchcraft is a general term that is commonly thought of as the Wicca style of magic and refers to the European styles and ideas, but has no real tangible specific cultural heritage, since most cultures on earth have some magical traditions.
- Not all people who practice Hoodoo are followers of Voodoo. Hoodoo, like witchcraft, is a practice. Voodoo is a closed religion. Voodoo involves mostly the worship of deities such as Oya and Ogun, while Hoodoo focuses on personal energy.
- Not all witches curse. While a lot of witches, like myself, are pro-curse, not everyone is. And most witches who do curse only curse for a good reason, and are very careful about it. We call this practicing safe hexing and cursing responsibly.
- Not all witches believe in the ‘three fold law’ or in ‘the law of return’. These are both Wiccan beliefs and many witches are not Wiccan, therefore do not follow those strict code of moral guidelines.
- The concept of Karma is not what you think it is. Also, unless you are a member of the religions that observe Karma, such as Hinduism and Buddhism, the use of Karma is cultural appropriation. As is the use of Chakras. Karma is “ the belief that a person’s actions in life will determine their fate in the next life”, the Western idea of Karma is actually Dharma, which is “the moral force that orders the universe and is maintained through personal duty”.
- ‘Spirit Animals’ and ‘Totems’ are not a witchcraft thing. In fact, unless you come from a Native American culture that has a history with these practices, you literally cannot have a spirit animal or a totem. While there are similar beliefs in different cultures, such as the Nordic ‘Clan Animals’, these specific terms, Spirit Animal, and Totem, refer directly to the traditions of Native American cultures.
- ‘Smudging’ is also not a witchcraft thing. Again, this is a sacred religious ritual in most Native American cultures. Native American cultures are closed to outsiders, that is to say that unless you are recognized and accepted by the tribe, you cannot be Native American. Smudging is a term that specifically refers to a holy smoke cleansing ceremony that takes place in Native cultures. The term is often used to refer to ‘Censing’ or ‘Saining’ (in Celtic traditions), which is to say that it is a secular ceremony using burning herbs or smoke to purify an area. Please use these alternative terms in your craft, and keep cultural appropriation and the negativity it brings out of your practice!
- Shaman is not what you think it means. Shaman is a word that has its origins in German and Russian cultures, but is often used to refer directly to the Native American ‘Medicine Man’, therefore please try to keep the term out of your practice unless you are in fact a German Schamane or Russian Shaman. Modern New Age religions have completely stolen many Native American religious beliefs and ideas and combined them into this culturally appropriative idea of ‘Shamanism’. If you are not German or Russia, you cannot be a Shaman, and if you are not Native American, you cannot be a Medicine Person.
Please note this list is in no way all inclusive. These are just examples I have seen personally. Please remember in your practice to be respectful of other cultures, especially closed cultures and religions, and their wishes.