Pagan Politics, Part Whatever

John Beckett asks an interesting question: Must Paganism be Transgressive?

Do we lose something when a radical spiritual movement starts to be accepted by the mainstream? Or is it more complicated than that?

Beckett looks at a few other discussions going on in the Pagan blogosphere in examining this question. I saw a few themes that I’ve talked and thought about before, so I felt the need to open my big mouth.

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Witches in Popular Culture

Steven Posch has a brief article on what he calls witchsploitation.

You know the genre. Wicker Man I (“the one without Nicholas Cage,” as a local movie marquee put it during the midnight Samhain run last year), To the Devil a Daughter…so many to choose from. Somewhere off in the sticks there are (bwa-ha-ha) still real, live witches (or left-over pagans) and they still practice…(shudder)…human sacrifice. Whoa, dude, way scary.

A coven-sib recently confessed to me that her bookshelves are filled with trashy novels with the word “witch” in the title. Magenta, you’re not alone. I resemble that remark myself, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

The most amusing are the ones written by people who have done just a little research. Remember that 1964 cauldron-boiler Book of Shadows? In the opening scene, police are called to a gruesome murder in NYC’s Central Park. A man has had his belly ripped open, his guts nailed to a tree, and he’s been forced to walk around and around the tree wrapping a grim maypole with his own intestines.

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Witch Questions 3

3) What kind of witch are you?

I don’t really consider myself a “witch.” Because reasons and fuzzy lines.

I suppose I’m very technically minded.

As far as what kind of magic I do well, I think there are three basic fields I excel in (if I may presume to brag).

I do wards pretty well. I’ve watched people bounce off of them. I’ve had other magicians comment on how they reacted. And on at least one occasion, they’ve intercepted some pretty strong hits (I once had a guy try to drop a tree on my house. True story).

I do talismans pretty well. I’ve mentioned my best success in which I made a ring of protection for a soldier, and it worked so well that his unit suffered no casualties when he was with them.

I’m pretty good at candle magic, or at least my method of candle magic, which is more of a cross between candle magic and sigil magic. I’ve done some pretty interesting things.


I’ve also had some interesting successes with weather magic, as well as some spectacular failures. But I’m working on that.

Witch Questions 2

2) How long have you been practicing witchcraft?

I am turning 36 years of age in about a month. I started getting into magic the summer after I turned 17. So that puts it at about 18 years, as of right now.

And I don’t consider what I do “witchcraft” per se, although there was a time when I did. And the magic I did back then was a bit different from what I do now. And a lot sloppier.

If anything, I’ll say that my magic now is more precise and specific. I don’t know about “better,” although I get better results now than I did then.  But more refined.

Witches and Wizards

I am not a witch.

Why aren’t I a witch? Because I’m a sorcerer. Or at least I practice sorcery. Well, I’m pretty sure it’s sorcery and not witchcraft. I think.

But I’m also a magician, I know that. And I think I might be a wizard, because my Mentor told me that I was, and that what we did was wizardry, which is still magic, but somehow different from being a magician or a sorcerer or a witch.

I’ve also read that Wicca teaches that all witches are their own priest(ess/s/esses), and I don’t think I’m a priest, although I do petition the gods on my own behalf, and perhaps on occasion for others., which I think is what a priest does.

Confused? Because I’ve been doing this magic thing for a while and I don’t really have a handle on this yet myself.

So what makes one a witch, or a magician, or a sorcerer, or a wizard, or a priest?

Academia really didn’t have an answer there. The difference between a witch and a sorcerer seems to have little real difference other than what culture the term is being translated from, and occasionally whether or not the magic done is seen positively or negativity. Witchcraft (Sorry Wiccans, but “witch” has always been a pejorative term.) and sorcery seem to be terms connected to Bad Things, while magicians and wizards seem to be the good guys (and yes feminists, they’re usually men). These terms seem to have a flavor or connotation that we attach to other cultures.

I’m doing this unsourced, and I apologize for that, but based on the impressions I’ve gotten from my academic work, depictions in cultural media, and assumptions I’ve observed both within and without of the pagan community, I’ve come up with some running ideas. Please keep in mind that I am not in any way advocating these as hard or official definitions in any way but this is how I personally conceive of these different categories. Also keep in mind that these classifications are in no way rigidly or mutually exclusive. And when in doubt, defer to whatever term the person you are talking to or about prefers. And by all means, I encourage any readers to offer criticisms or any other input on these.


A person who performs magic by taking power from ingredients found in nature, especially obscure ones. Is in tune with natural cycles and can readily access that to enhance magical working or assist in finding certain ingredients (i.e. what is in season or locally found). Attuning to natural cycles or patterns through representation is also common. A witch is a technician, and I do not regard “witchcraft” as a religion but as a skill set. As such, a person of any religion can practice witchcraft. By partner is ostensibly Catholic, but is a very powerful witch, and can whip up potent (and delicious!) herbal remedies for what ails you on the fly. Regards magic as a natural force made manifest. D&D analog: Druid


A person who performs magic by means of ritual designed to access and direct divine energy. There’s kind of a blurry, perforated line between a magician and a witch, because witches perform rituals too, and magician can use natural objects. What I see primary to being a magician is the implementation of a complex ordering system that allows the mage to correlate and assign anything and everything to categories, that make interacting with the powers of the universe easier. A magician’s work is essentially classifying everything in the universe and internalizing that classification, connecting to the divine without while realizing the divine within. (Lon Milo DuQuette essentially says that the job of the magician is to explore the connection of everything to everything else until your mind snaps and you see the underlying reality of the divine. Ouch.) Magic is usually performed according to set and well-tested criteria, and everything is systemically and rigorously verified and checked. Regards magic as a state of mind or being. D&D analog: Wizard


A person who uses a wide range of magical techniques, especially those that are free-form or improvised. Tracing on-the-fly sigils in dust or dirt, made up chants, improvisational rituals, directed energy work, or other improvised acts using whatever is handy are what I’d consider sorcery. A sorcerer would employ whatever techniques are available and appropriate, and might appear as a magician in some circumstances or a witch in another. Regards magic as a process or activity. D&D analog: Sorcerer.


This is a hard one to pin down. Part of that is due to the confusion of the Harry Potter universe that posits wizards as male witches. I’ve also been mentored by an individual who described himself as a wizard, and his definition was, well, unique. The way I’d describe it is this: a wizard is a person who has mastered the skills of the magician and the sorcerer, and combined them under the aeigis of the mystic. My mentor described it as “a being who does not do magic, but who is magic.” This is a bit esoteric for me, but also describes how many magician approach magic, as relating to a state of being rather than a process. I would posit wizardry as a magic of thought, where ritual, action, and even correspondence and association are unnecessary, as the wizard simply has the thought and the result occurs. Gnosis and magical link are essential here, and attainable without ritual aide. No D&D analog, parts Wizard, Sorcerer, and Cleric.


A priest is someone who petitions the gods, especially on behalf of others. If you make your own offerings, you are your own priest. If this were to involve any sort of magic, I would imagine a person praying or petitioning the gods for a certain effect, or for the power to induce such an effect. I do not consider the roles of counselor or minister to be inherent to the role of priest; such associations are a holdover from Christianity. I would expect a priest to be versed in the lore and stories associated with the deities he serves. D&D analog: Cleric, Bard

So that’s really what I’ve got. As I said, it’s pretty sloppy and based in large on my own experiences and biases, and I welcome any input. But these terms that we toss around, often undefined, describe things that are different in some way, and thinking about those differences is important if we are to work together.