Facts about the Craft
The Craft is a general term for contemporary Witchcraft, which is part of a larger neo-Pagan spirituality that is often said to be the fastest growing religious movement in the world today. Although the words "craft" or "witch" may used in other contexts, or to refer to other practices, The Craft has become an alternative term for the specific spiritual path known as Wicca.
Wicca is an alternative name for the spiritual path of neo-Pagan Witchcraft. Wicca is distinguished from other forms of practice that may be referred to as witchcraft in that it goes far beyond folk magic to organized religion with commonly accepted beliefs, ethics and holy days of either group or solitary worship. Most Wiccans also proudly claim the title of Witch (note capital letter), but some prefer to the use the word Wicca as having less baggage of old negative stereotypes from those who have no real knowledge of the religion. The word "Wicca" is Old English for wicce or witch. Some call it "the Craft of the Wise," citing word derivations from wita or wis, relating to wisdom. Another often quoted Old English root word, wic, is often cited as the word from which Wicca is derived. Wic means "to bend." This suggests the ability to bend, turn or change energy according to one's will, which relates to the Wiccan practice of magick. Much of Wiccan practice is directed toward empowering the individual with the ability to create desired changes.
Witch, or Witchcraft The "W" word has an unfortunate knee-jerk connotation to a great many people, fed by centuries of misinformation shaped in the time of the Catholic Inquisition, when all manner of folk magic and pagan religion was demonized as evil in order to serve the quest of Church dominance. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, were tortured and burned as witches, even though a great many of them probably weren't, but rather were country wise women, healers, midwives, or just widowed land-holders. Since those tragic times it has been fairly common to erroneously translate most anything that suggests evil sorcery to "witch." Further fed by countless children's fairytales where the "witch" is evil, but the actual good witch is not called witch but instead "fairy godmother" or the like, the "W" word comes with a great deal of baggage. Still, when the feminist spirituality movement, in the 1960s and 70s, sought a feminine concept of God, and discovered the Goddess of the Wiccan religion, they adopted the word Witch (note capitalization) with a vengeance. They saw it as a badge of feminine power, the power to change oneself, and the status of women in general. The feminists added a great wealth of creativity to a Craft that had previously been, for the most part, relatively small in numbers and mostly secretive. Since then, interest in Wicca has grown rapidly and continues to grow, with hundreds upon hundreds of books readily available, explaining nearly every detail of Wiccan practice and the steadily reemerging Goddess worship within it. Women everywhere are empowered by the Goddess, and many men, strengthened by their new understanding of both Goddess and God within, now flock to the movement, as well. Old baggage is difficult to unload, however, in truth, it has to be said that although a Wiccan may call herself (or himself) a Witch, all witches (note lower case) are NOT Wiccan. The word "witch" has multiple meanings, and for this reason, many Wiccans prefer to identify their religion as Wicca.
Neo-Pagan: neo means "new" so neo-Pagan refers to a widespread revival of pagan belief, world-view, philosophy and practice in modern times. Ancient pagans saw deity or spirits within Nature, and in a more sophisticated modern understanding, neo-Pagan belief is quite similar, and indeed, supported by modern physics. The energy of life exists everywhere in our world, in the Universe, within ourselves. The Life Force is seen as divine; deity is immanent within Nature, not set apart from it. God, however one may wish to personify he, she or it, is within. The fact that deity has been called by thousands of names in many cultures is seen with a modern understanding of polytheism: reality is very diverse, and we see it according to our own perceptions, framed by our background and experiences. My perception is valid for my particular step on the path to spiritual understanding, just as yours is for you. We may look to different aspects of our gods or goddesses at different times in our lives, according to our needs at the time. We should respect each others' beliefs and practices, knowing that the Whole, the All, is no doubt beyond our mortal understanding… yet, in good faith, we seek and grow. An outgrowth of the neo-Pagan belief in the immanence of deity in Nature is concern for the preservation of Nature, particularly the Earth, our ultimate Mother. Pagan comes from the Latin word paganus, which originally meant "a person who lives in the country," as contrasted from the more sophisticated urban population. When Christianity became dominant in the cities of the Roman Empire, the pagans were the last to be converted. In those times, paganus took on a connotation similar to how one might now refer to a "hick." Later, as the Christians began to think of themselves as "soldiers of Christ," paganus morphed into a meaning more like "civilian," as opposed to miles, which meant "soldier." Eventually, with the dominance of Christianity in western culture, pagan came to appear in modern dictionaries as "one who has no religion," defining religion as "belief in or worship of God or gods." This is unfair, for both ancient and neo-Pagans most certainly do have a religion and a belief in an immanent deity manifest and active in all of Life.
Magick, or Magic Magick, magic with a "k" on the end, is often used to differentiate Craft practices involving focused will and intent from the trickery or sleight of hand, or just the "sparkly feelings" more commonly associated with the word magic. Those who practice magick train their ability to focus their minds and will such that they can effect desired changes, in the belief that all is made up of energy, both seen and unseen, and energy can be moved. To work magick, then, is to be, with will, intent and purpose, the cause of a desired effect. Most traditions of the Wiccan religion place great emphasis on "positive" magick, teaching that the ethical use of magick seeks primarily to create changes within oneself. "As within, so without" suggests that when one changes for the better within, one's environment and relationships improve, as well. In the practice of positive magick, it is considered unethical to use magick to harm (see Wiccan Rede) or even to direct magick toward another person with any intent to manipulate his or her free will. An exception might be made if the other person specifically asks the magickal practitioner to work a spell for them.
Spell This is simply another term, often used in Wiccan practice, for the working of magick, and specifically to the particular form or design of how the magick is to be done. A Witch may keep a spellbook in her Book of Shadows or grimoire (handbook of magick), outline the procedure she or he has used to work various spells, so that these can be referred to if they are needed at another time. Such spells may call for certain times, procedures, tools, colors, herbs, oils… the possibilities are endless. Many books on Wicca contain instructions for spells, and these can be useful to spark one's creativity, but there is no single "right" way to do a spell, nor is following someone else's recipe (or your own) likely to work for you if your intent is wrong or your mind is not focused. The primary tool of spellwork is your mind, and in the final analysis, the mind is the only tool you need. With strong enough focus, one can work a magical spell with nothing but the mind. The other trappings are just that: they can assist your mental focus, because they engage your subconscious mind (sometimes called Young Self) and your High Self (God/dess within) to work in sync with your conscious will.
Book of Shadows is a term for the personal book of rituals and spells, as well as of the thoughts, beliefs and ethics of a " Witch or priest/ess of Wicca. In that sense, The Witch's Circle is a published Book of Shadows. In the old traditions, the Book of Shadows was kept secret, either by the solitary Witch, or in the keeping of the High Priestess or High Priest of a coven, but in recent years many Books of Shadows have been published. In the old ways, the books were written in one's own handwriting, and either destroyed when the Witch dies, or handed down to a daughter or successor in the Craft. Some still like to do it that way. There is no standard Book of Shadows, other than perhaps the small-group standard of one copied by members of a coven. Today, the Book of Shadows, while perhaps still quite personal and unique in content, is quite often in the form of a "disk of Shadows" written on a computer hard-drive.
Coven is a common term for a group of Witches or Wiccans practicing regularly together in the same tradition, led by a High Priestess or High Priest or both. An alternative word for coven is "circle." Coven may derive from the word "convene" (meeting) or "convent" (religious meeting). While it is often said that covens have traditionally 13 members, this is seldom the case. Some covens are smaller than 13 and some are larger. More likely the numbers relate to personal choice of the High Priestess (most often the spiritual leader of a coven) and possibly also the available space she has in which her group can comfortably meet. Usually coven meetings or ceremonies of worship (called rituals) are held in a private home or outdoors.
All of the explanations in this "Facts" section are more fully developed within The Witch's Circle: Rituals and Craft of the Cosmic Muse by Maria Kay Simms , Llewellyn, ©1998.