Busted: 7 Myths About Witchcraft

For those of you who plan to come out of the broom closet or already emerged and struggle to defend your beliefs, I compiled the list below to help you address some common misconceptions and stereotypes about witchcraft with your loved ones and friends.

At some point, most serious practitioners of the Craft encounter an uncomfortable situation that requires them to either explain themselves or remain misunderstood.

Please note:  As witchcraft takes many forms in the modern world in many different cultures, I use the word “most” very frequently because there are naturally exceptions to every rule.

It is not my intention to speak for every practitioner or pigeonhole the diversity of witchcraft and paganism as a whole, but to provide meaningful counterpoints to common falsehoods about the alternative spiritual practices often labeled (and self-labeled) as “witchcraft.”

Please feel free to leave accurate, respectful, fact-based additions to this list in the comments.

Myth #1:  Witchcraft includes or is somehow related to devil worship.

The concept of the “devil” as Western society understands it emerged mostly from monotheistic Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam.  Belief in the devil as a opponent of the God of Abraham remains a tenant of many faiths, and as a non-Christian, I absolutely respect that.

However, most modern practitioners of witchcraft do not acknowledge a satanic being at all.

(There are some exceptions.  Witches of blended traditions wherein Christian influence imprinted the concept of the devil, or those who identify as “Christian witches,” may recognize an oppositional being known as “the Devil.”  Most mainstream Christians recognize the devil as an entity also—that doesn’t mean they worship him.)

Although Christian thought leaders throughout history sometimes labeled pagan gods as the manifestation of the devil, this approach largely aimed to discredit indigenous religious practices and encourage pagan populations to turn towards monotheism.

For more information on this, see How Witchcraft Became Associated with Evil.

Myth #2:  Wicca and Witchcraft are the same thing. 

Many non-practitioners use the word “Wicca” and “witchcraft” interchangeably.  Because Wicca enjoys relatively high popularity in the Western world, it’s easy to understand the confusion.

However, “witchcraft” is a blanket term, and under it, we find Wicca along with a whole host of other practices, including Afro-Caribbean traditions, Celtic traditions, Central American traditions, and many indigenous practices around the world.

To further the confusion, some Wiccans don’t practice witchcraft at all.  Spell casting is merely one component of many, including the honoring of the moon cycles, natural living practices and the Wheel of the Year.

Myth #3:  Typical Christians don’t practice witchcraft.

Well, they may not call it that.  But I would.

During a traditional Mass, the priest is said to turn wine into the blood of Christ, and bread into his flesh.  For some, this transition is meant to be symbolic.  Many Christian traditions even interpret this transformation literally.

Either way, many practicing witches would akin this and other common, mainstream Christian traditions to spell craft or at least magickal ritualism.

This comparison is not intended to offend Christians, but to point out that what practicing witches do really isn’t that different, at least in form.

We use ritual as a means to commune with the divine and spell craft as a means to express ourselves to a higher power.  We sometimes even use the words “spell” and “prayer” interchangeably.

If you’re Christian, and you’d rather not define your traditions as “witchcraft,” I mean no disrespect.  But if you’re asking me what I call witchcraft, I personally don’t see a whole lot of difference between saying the rosary and chanting over an altar.

Then again, “witchcraft” isn’t a blasphemous slur to me.

So it’s easier not to be offended by it.

Myth #4  Witchcraft is an ancient religion.

Witchcraft is an ancient practice.  The earliest cave dwellers left behind artifacts of shamanistic witchcraft (see The Sorcerer for a solid example) and it absolutely qualifies as a universal archetype.

If we accept Wikipedia’s eloquent-yet-simplistic definition of witchcraft as “broadly . . . the practice of and belief in magical skills and abilities exercised by solitary practitioners and groups” then all known cultures practiced some form of witchcraft at one time.

Your ancestors were witches.  Their ancestors were witches.  We are all descended from witchcraft.  No serious archeologist or credible human historian of any kind denies that.

Even the Bible recognizes humanity’s ancient roots in witchcraft.

But witchcraft isn’t a religion at all.  It’s a component of various religions, and many religions that acknowledge openly their use of witchcraft are actually quite modern (including and, perhaps especially, Wicca).

Myth #5:  If you let your kids spend time with pagan children, they may be converted or enticed into practicing witchcraft.

In a broad sense (but with a few major exceptions, like Buddhism) proselytism or “enticed conversion” is a feature unique to, or at least most frequently employed by, monotheism.

For cultural as well as theological reasons, a monotheistic child is actually much more likely to try to convert a pagan child than the other way around.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that.

I’m just saying, that’s generally not how we roll.

Your kid might end up doing super scary things with his pagan friend, like stop playing video games for a half hour to go watch the stars, or learn how to compost properly.

But spell casting?  Probably not.

Pagan parents usually feel a sensitivity as a community to non-pagan parents and we recognize that you may not appreciate us exposing your child to our beliefs.

We generally don’t even assume it’s okay to conduct a ritual with a pagan child who isn’t ours.   We have no central doctrine; our traditions can be extremely personalized, varying widely from family to family even within the same coven or group.  Therefore, we usually don’t assume what’s okay for our family is okay for someone else.

But if you have any doubts, a simple “We’re happy to send little Jimmy to your house, just please avoid any spiritual topics, as we prefer to discuss those things with him ourselves” will almost certainly go over just fine and get the point across effectively.

Most importantly, it’s not cool to exclude kids because of their parents’ religious or spiritual beliefs, no matter how much you disagree with them.   So don’t.

Myth 6:  Pagans/Witches are unattractive, ugly, socially awkward or otherwise make undesirable friends/partners.

Damn.  Some people can be harsh.

For hundreds of years now, society invested a lot in creating powerfully negative images of pagans and witchcraft in general.

Think for a moment about the old, wart-speckled woman with gnarled, horrifically arthritic knuckles and bad taste in hats.  (Can you stick a feather in that thing?  Some ribbon?   A little color goes a long way, girl).

Now, the super nerdy, overweight, pock-marked middle-aged woman embodies the new stereotype of a sad, delusional person with a limited social life and nothing better to do than adorn her parade of house cats with exotic crystals from around the world.

Like any other stereotype, those people exist somewhere to confirm this image of witchcraft for you if you look hard enough.

The most open, flamboyant or expressive pagans present themselves like the most open, flamboyant or expressive people in any culture.  They tend to go over the top.  They tend to be very public.

And yeah, sometimes, they come off as kind of weird.

You notice these people because they are so public and loud, and you may get the impression that they are representative of the whole witchcraft world.

But the practitioners you might find more relatable often don’t have the luxury of identifying themselves publicly or even privately.  They work in law, politics or public school teaching jobs that prevent them from speaking openly about their practices.

Or, they may just think it’s nobody’s business.

They dress like you do, they go to Starbucks, they’re obsessed with their !Phones, they set unrealistic New Year’s resolutions and they fret about their dating lives (aka “The Basic White Witch”).

In short:  they’re mostly “normal” in every other respect.  Or as “normal” as any of us get.

Myth #7 Witches are resentful of, or generally intolerant around Christians.

First of all, some practitioners of witchcraft consider themselves Christian.

However, if you had the unpleasant experience of being lectured as a Christian by a pagan witch, then I am very sorry about that.  I find this hypocrisy embarrassing.

I hope it’s not common..

At the very least, know that we’re not all like that.

If it helps, please bear in mind that many people adopt a practice witchcraft after a bad childhood or early adulthood experience with Christianity.  That experience, not the practice of witchcraft itself, informs their ideas and attitudes about Christianity.

I know of no formal tradition that teaches the hatred or intolerance of any religion, including Christianity.

I tell my pagan friends the same thing I will tell you:  the best way to heal other people’s wounds or misconceptions about your spiritual tradition is to be the finest example you can humanely be.

It’s easier to swallow a tiny drop of compassion than ocean of bitterness or contempt.

Let’s all try to love each other a little better.

Blessed be.

 

 

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7 Comments

  1. Great examination of stereotypes and myth-busting! I love this: “Your kid might end up doing super scary things with his pagan friend, like stop playing video games for a half hour to go watch the stars…” Haha! Blessed be.

      1. Same here. I am hoping to post more after the new year. I had a bit of a shock this year … Since I hurt my shoulder my husband had gotten into baking! I love it because he does very well with it! Hope he keeps up the shared work! 😀

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