We’ve all heard it, or at least been asked it, whether by other pagans or by individuals.
“Are you Pagan or Wiccan?”
Now if you’re new to this, these words might be confusing. Aren’t they the same thing? You ask yourself. In fact, your pretty sure that there ISN’T a difference. This assumption might or might not annoy more ‘seasoned’ witches—who having made the exact same mistake as you when they were younger—and cause them to give you a long list of the differences. And it won’t be just about being Pagan or Wiccan, they might even delve into the more complex system that is the make up of the term ‘Pagan’. Words like Asatru, Dianic, Druid, and Hedge Witch will also come into play. Woah. You say. Woah, woah WOAH. How can there be so many!? What the heck is the difference!?
Let me make this as easy a transition as possible for you. “Pagan” is derived from the noun ‘paganus’, which means country dweller, and is an umbrella term that clumps together all who are non Judeo-Christian (this includes Buddhists, Taoists, and even Shinto). Under this umbrella are people who might follow traditions/religions from their heritage (like the Irish or Greek), things they feel more compelled to (like Egyptian or even Babylonian), or simply believe in a ‘great all’ and worship the earth and the elementals within them instead. At the bottom of this page I will give you some definitions to the other traditions. Needless to say, if someone says “I’m Pagan” That could mean anything from ‘I don’t believe in any one god/goddess, just elementals’, to a specific tradition “I’m Asatru!”.
Now, Wicca. It derives from the term “wicce”, a Norse word meaning “wise one”. Wicca is a bit more structured, with levels and degrees. In fact, to be considered a ‘true wiccan’ you must be initiated by a high priestess who in turn, had been initiated by a high priestess, and so forth (traditionally, it must be a priestess, not a priest.) There are also those who are solitary practitioners who dedicate themselves. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this, and I’m not here to get into that. Those who are wiccan have a clear belief in either both the goddess and god, or simply the goddess, and celebrate the Sabbats and Esbats. (Note: while both pagans—of the European descent—and wiccans celebrate the same wheel of the year, they might do it different ways. For instance, ‘pagans’ might simply give water and their first harvest of fruit/veggies/grains to the earth/gods, wiccans will do a ritual and create a sacred space, honoring the god and goddess and phase of life they’re in at that moment)
I hope this has cleared some things up for you, and believe me, I know the lines can be very blurry sometimes. For instance, for a very long time I used the terms ‘pagan’ and ‘wiccan’ interchangeably when I first started out, but as the years went by I realized there WAS a difference. Wicca is very structured, methodical, and highly secretive when it comes to what you’ve learned through your mentor. It’s not for everyone. ‘Paganism’ is where I more or less found myself leaning, because I could create my own rituals and place an alter the way I wanted to place it (yes, there IS a correct way to set an alter, I’m sure you’ve seen them in beginners books), and because my way of worshiping the gods was a bit different than the Wiccan’s set traditional rites.
Hopefully somewhere in these words you’ve found some sense of peace, so that when the next time you meet someone and they ask you what you are you can proudly say “I’m _____.” If you’re at a point in your life where you’re still learning, or are still trying to find a tradition that calls to you, I’ve made a list of some traditions you might want to look up. There is of course, Egyptian gods and magic, Santeria (which comes from Mexican traditions), and you might want to take a look into the Order of the Golden Dawn, which I BELIEVE was created during the Victorian era.
Now for a list of some of the traditions in the ‘Pagan Umbrella’
Asatru: This is the practice and traditions of the Norse. Odin, Freya, etc.
Dianic: Greek/Roman. This is the tradition that is almost strictly goddess only. The god is either non-existent or plays a very minor role.
Druid: (or more likely, ‘Neo-Druid’, as druidism was an oral tradition, and most of it was lost when Christianity came along) The practice of the old ways of Irish, English, and Scottish rituals and beliefs.
Hedge Witch: A witch who might or might not worship a god/goddess. More earth based in nature. They might be recognized for working with earth such as gardening, healing, divinations, and even craft making. They can also be a Kitchen Witch (one who practices magic with food. Very often they grow their own garden, and so could have both titles)
Gardenerian: The man who brought forth Wicca from a secreted Coven in England.
Stregha: Italian witchcraft. You may hear people of this tradition mention Aradia. She is not a goddess, she is a woman who preached the old ways to the people of Italy and formed covens.
Here are two links that I found super helpful and informative, if you want to read them.
On Wiccan: http://blessedbe.sugarbane.com/wicca.htm