Defining the Word “Witch”

With the knowledge that 1950’s pagan authors may have got the history of witchcraft wrong doesn’t mean that we have to do away with the word “witchcraft” altogether.

I have a scholarly anthology on witchcraft called The Witchcraft Reader edited by Darren Oldridge. I saw it on a bookshelf while working a college textbook store. I had to get it because all my life I read Neo-Pagan books on their account of history of witchcraft and I had to know what the experts had to say.

As it turns out, according to The Witchcraft Reader, Margaret Murray* is not a credible source. While she referenced witchcraft confessions, she used some bits and left the rest to give the idea that the confessed described real events.  There’s no evidence of these witch meetings. The rest of the confessions included flying on broomsticks and transforming themselves into animals, which aren’t physically possible** (pg. 7).

What does “witch” mean?

We already use the word ‘witch.’ Why do we need to define it?

As I’ve said, evidence suggests that there wasn’t a witch cult. Knowing this, it’s possible that the entire history told to us pagans through introductory Wicca books were wrong. (I think they’re wrong.)

Since most witches depend on that history for their identity, spirituality, and religion, it’s possible such a path would collapse if they sought what historians said.

After reading some of the entries in the anthology and discussing the craft with other members, I’ve come to a definition of witchcraft that I think most could agree on.

Witchcraft is a magical*** practice that involves rituals and spells.

Witchcraft can be religious, but it’s not a religion. Rituals are a series actions written or told for others to follow (Google define).  Spells are forms of enchantments. They are words written or said with the goal in mind (Google define).

There are so many different kinds of witches – Wiccan, Pagan, Satanic, Mexican, African…The list goes on. Whether they are bad or good, there are witches.

*Margaret Murray

**[without the use of psychedelic drugs…] I’m inclined to believe that Murray purposefully left out the bit about drugs, which leads me to believe that she did not have an objective perspective on the history of witchcraft. But this is my personal account. I’m not a historian.

***Magic is another word that can become just as confusing and irritating to define. While the Aleister Crowley definition is almost always used, “…the art of changing consciousness at will..” it doesn’t describe what magic is or what it does. For me, I see magic as a way to transform my perspective, make myself become more human, and make my inner child very happy.


Oldridge, D. (2002). The Witchcraft Reader. London: Routledge. Print

(n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2017, from

(n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2017, from definition

3 Replies to “Defining the Word “Witch””

  1. As far as I know the whole witch thing was manufactured by Christians, but despite that the underlying thing that remains is the ‘old religion’ the pre-christian beliefs that they desired to stamp out. Whether they were dark or innocent practices it didn’t matter, they ALL threatened Christianities attempts to sink its roots into foreign countries. It’s more than a little interesting as a subject to pursue.



    1. I think Christians didn’t want to “stamp out,” pagan religions, but were legitimately fearful of diabolical sorcery and accused other Christians. At least that’s what I believe I’ve read from the books mentioned above. And the word witchcraft came from an old English word that meant divination. Again, I got that from the book by professors who study history.

      This is a good reference from a Wiccan historian on the “burning times.”

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