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Who is a Witch (Origins & the Modern World)

Updated on:

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Written by: Dawn Black (Witchipedia)

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Reviewed by: Tina Caro

A Witch is one who practices magic, particularly the sort of magic associated with spells and charms and various folk magic.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Witchcraft has ancient roots dating back to pre-Christian times, with practices like divination, herbalism, and folk magic playing a significant role in its historical development.

The term “witch” has evolved over time, with both positive and negative connotations. In some cultures, witches were revered as healers and wise women, while in others, they were persecuted and accused of malevolent magic.

Modern witchcraft, often referred to as Wicca, emerged in the mid-20th century and incorporates elements of nature worship, ritual magic, and a reverence for the divine feminine.

Contemporary witches reject harmful stereotypes and misconceptions associated with witchcraft, emphasizing the empowerment, self-discovery, and spiritual growth that it offers.

Historical Perspectives on Witchcraft

Time PeriodRegionCharacteristics
Ancient TimesVariousConnection to nature, herbal knowledge
Middle AgesEuropeAlleged pacts with the Devil, witch trials
RenaissanceEuropeIntellectual pursuits, alleged magical practices
Colonial EraNorth AmericaAccusations of witchcraft, Salem witch trials
Modern TimesGlobalWidespread acceptance of witchcraft as a religion

Witch in the Modern World

In the modern first world, the word witch describes anyone who practices this sort of magick, whether for helpful or harmful purposes.

In fact, there is some dispute among the general community of witches as to whether anyone who practices harmful magick has the right to call him or herself a witch at all. However, historically and in many third world communities, the term “witch” specifically implies someone who practices harmful magic whether or not they also practice helpful magic.

TraditionKey BeliefsPracticesNotable Figures
WiccaNature reverence, honoring the divineRituals, spellwork, use of symbolsGerald Gardner, Doreen Valiente
Traditional WitchAncestral connection, folk magicHerbalism, divination, ritual ceremoniesRae Beth, Nigel Jackson
Eclectic WitchPersonalized approach, individual beliefsEclectic practices, incorporation of other pathsSilver RavenWolf, Scott Cunningham
Table 2: Modern Witchcraft Traditions

Someone who practices helpful magic, usually in the form of undoing a curse or a hex brought about by a witch, would be known by a different term. Cunning wo/man, Juju wo/man, witch doctor, or Hexenmeister are some examples.

The word witch is possibly descended from the proto-Germanic *wikjô “waker of the dead”, in turn descended from the proto-Indo-European *weik- “to choose, sacrifice”.

Followers of the religion Wicca also refer to themselves as Witches. The term Wicca derived from the old English wiċċe (female) or wicca (male) which referred to a sort of cunning man or cunning woman who was skilled at undoing the effects of harmful magick, the words wicca and witch are etymologically connected but not synonymous.

Modern Witchcraft Stereotypes

StereotypeExplanation/Debunking
Evil and malevolentWitches do not engage in harmful or malevolent practices, but focus on healing, personal growth, and positive intentions.
Devil worshipersWitchcraft is not associated with devil worship or Satanic practices. It is a diverse spiritual path that varies from individual to individual.
Pointy hats and broomsThese are stereotypical images associated with witches in popular culture, but they do not reflect the reality of modern witchcraft practices.
Old, haggard womenWitches can be of any age, gender, or appearance. Witchcraft is not limited to a specific demographic.
About Morningbird (Witchipedia's Founder)

I am a homesteading hearth witch who grew up along the shores of the Hudson River and has lived among the Great Lakes for the past 20 years. Together with my musical husband and youngest child, I steward a one-acre mini homestead with herb, vegetable and flower gardens, chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits, and areas reserved for native plants and wildlife. 

I have three children; two are grown, and I have been practicing magick alone and with family and friends for over 30 years.

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