Witchcraft is rooted in Paganism and the ancient cultural traditions of the many different groups who held the title. Paganism seems to be the one most linked to modern witchcraft, but it is also an umbrella term for most witch based practice. Ancient and modern witchcraft have more similarities than differences, but there are substantial differences between magickal practice periods. All witchcraft archetypes have different paths and doctrines, such as Voodoo tying to ancient African religions and so on. Modern magick fundamentals are rooted in the same values as ancient cultures, even if the rituals and laws change slightly. The variety is the same in ancient Paganism, and that is the focus since it is tied the most to modern witchcraft practices. Ancient mysticism was mainly based on nature worshiping rituals and did not have much to do with what we now consider spell magick.
The misconception that all Pagans were witches was created primarily by Christians who did not understand the connection to nature or multiple deities the Pagan belief systems encompassed. A very ironic fact because much of Christianity’s holidays and belief systems have roots in Paganism. Modern witches may express themselves with Wicca and Neopaganism doctrines, but one does not have to be a Pagan to be a witch and visa versa. Magickal practice and spell casting has always been prevalent in many diverse cultures, not just ancient Pagan beliefs. Pagan means one who dwells on the earth, which means any of us, not only witches. The main difference between the Wiccan and Pagan beliefs is that Paganism is a culture, and witchcraft or Wicca is a spiritual practice or religion.
One can see the difference between new age witchcraft and old-world practice by studying Paganism and Wicca’s differences. Paganism is one of the oldest religious and spiritual paths globally, and Wicca is one of the newest forms of neopaganism. They happen to both be apart of earth worship spiritual paths, but they are different in how Wicca has set doctrines like a religion. Neopaganism is the modern pagan cultural system of worshiping the forest and various nature deities. Wiccans are the magickal casters and practitioners who worship nature and forest magick and multiple Gods, focusing on Goddess energy.
A large difference with ancient Pagan culture was the division of the sexes and the different magick items each would rule. Modern witchcraft embraces both male and female energies equally and the fact both sexes are witches. In older times, a lot of witches were men, and famous witches were rarely ever women. When witchcraft became more prevalent in the 70s and 80s, the differences between the sexes’ powers and the division of the different sexes magick abilities were common. Men ruled items like knives, wands, and anything that was a phallic type symbol, whereas women ruled cauldrons and vessel magickal items. The sexes governing specific tools are ancient beliefs but do not have any basis on practicing magick or how rituals work. Men and Women can work with whatever tools they need and get the same results as the opposite sex, and modern witchcraft has embraced this aspect full-hearted.
Paganism originated in ancient times, centuries before Christianity, but Christians coined the term Pagan. Christians referred to the people who have polytheistic religions meaning that they have more than one deity, Pagans, so the ancient Greeks and Romans are considered Pagan. Pagan belief systems were less about magick and more about worshipping the Earth and living alongside our planet’s divine nature. Pagan culture celebrated the earth, fertility of nature, moon cycles, and believing in the natural life cycle. Pagan beliefs have embraced these types of practices for centuries, and it is still a part of modern witchcraft.
Pagan belief systems varied for each country where the ancient Pagan worshipers were found, with these practitioners sometimes referred to as Heathens or Druids, depending on the documentation. Even the Vikings, Greeks, and Romans were considered Pagans, but select Pagans had benefits rarely granted to other heathens in person and the history books. Even between Pagans, there were considerable differences with Celtic Pagans celebrated different rituals and Gods than the Norse or the Germanic people. They were all considered Pagans, though, and there is confusion about where modern witchcraft originated. Still, the contemporary witchcraft holidays were through the Celtic people, and therefore much of new age witchcraft is tied to the Celts.
Wicca is a newer spiritual path developed in the 1950s from the neopagan movement of that time. Wicca is a nature-oriented religion that takes many rituals from ancient Pagan belief systems and connection to the Earth. The founder of and creator of the Wicca religion was Gerald Brousseau Gardner. He started the movement with the three main pillars in mind: magick, respect for nature, and worship of a goddess and other deities. Wicca in old English means male sorcerer, which is the same derivative for the word witch. Many modern witches reject Wicca because it is very similar to the religions that have ostracized witch kind for so long. Wicca has strict doctrines and tiers of worship where a practitioner who does not follow the path could end up feeling left out, similar to the religions witches have tried to escape.
Paganism may seem romantic to many modern witches, but it was also a dangerous spiritual and religious path for the time. The practices included violent rituals, human or animal sacrifice, and brutal treatment of women. Many other doctrines had these same structures, and it was more a testament of ancient times than Paganism itself. Still, Pagan culture gets grouped with these ancient taboo practices more than most past cultures creating a bad Paganism reputation. The early magickal beings were ahead of the time, focusing on worshiping nature and taking care of the planet. Many other cultures could learn from the messages Pagans had about the real deities to worship, like the Earth and the Sky.
Modern witchcraft is a lot more free-flowing than any type of practice. It can integrate many different parts of spirituality, including new-age metaphysics, Native America, African, South American, and many other belief structures. Some Christians and Jewish practitioners have embraced a witchcraft path, with those religions inventing a new type of modern witch practice. Modern witchcraft can integrate these because all spiritual paths have similar foundations. Any background and creeds can practice the many witchcraft belief systems as long as they respect the culture and stay humble to each practice. All witchcraft beliefs should be working together because of the ostracized history witches faced for centuries. Also, the community is essential for all spiritual belief systems. Modern witchcraft as a belief system has many new techniques like chaos magick, metaphysical, and many other variations. Sex Magic, crystal magic, and the numerous divinatory practices are all significantly removed from ancient Pagan structures and belief systems, and they all need to stand together.
Witchcraft’s older beliefs were much broader and culturally focused on Paganism. Modern ideas have streamlined these worship practices into individual doctrines and paths. Paganism loosely referred to anybody who didn’t practice a Christian, monotheistic worship structure, and witchcraft was the ultimate evil. The modern witches have very close ties to Paganism, but their new practice is of their own, and there are only a small number of proper Pagan belief systems in modern witchcraft. These systems are much more closely tied to those with the Celtic or Norse cultural revitalization who may consider themselves Pagans but not witches. Pagans may have done rituals and worshipped nature gods, but they indeed laid the foundation for witches. Witchcraft has come and taken the mantle of working for the Earth with spells and rituals. Witches take active roles to make sure they complete spells and worship to better themselves and the world. For ancient Pagans, it was just a way of life, and that part of life sadly was extinguished with time and the many years of being targeted by other religious groups. Luckily their magickal, nature-loving ways have survived through modern-day witches.