There are some significant differences between traditional witchcraft
and modern Wicca. Below, I have listed some comparisons and descriptions
A "witch" is a person who practises a magickal art. Yes, a Wiccan may be a witch. However, to say that Wicca is witchcraft and vice versa......this is not wise.
Wicca is a relatively new religion. A man named Gerald Gardner
was mainly responsible for bringing it out from the shadows. Gardner
supposedly discovered a traditional craft coven in England and was
initiated into the coven- and oaths of secrecy prevented him from
going public with his practise. Eventually, Gardner did go public
with his supposed practise, but was forced to fill in, embellish,
and write in occult practises to make up for what he was not allowed
to reveal. His "creation" became what is known as Gardnerian
Wicca- a practise that combines goddess reverence, ideas borrowed
from the Ordo Templi Orientis of Aliester Crowley, the Golden Dawn,
and some ideas found within Eastern philosphy and Freemasonry. Many
others have contributed to the beliefs and practises of the many
traditions of Wicca, but most give Gardner credit for being the
first to bring it to public attention, and being the "creator"
of this modern religion. I will also add the the there is much debate
and skepticism concerning the coven with which Gardner said he was
a member....whether or not it truly existed, etc. Even so, Wicca
was successfully established in the early to mid-twentieth century.
Since Gardner did not establish his Wiccan religion until the twentieth century, it is not fair to say that Wicca is an old religion.
Most Wiccan practises originated with other religions and magickal practises (the tools, symbols, basic beliefs, etc.) but you will find no ancient cultures that incorporated Wicca into their lives.
The words "wicca, "wicce," and "witch," all have the same basic origins. But, through the ages, these words developed different meanings and now, signify different paths. This became especially apparent when Gerald Gardner, and others, borrowed the word "wicca" for their own religious creations. Today, witchcraft and Wicca define very different belief systems. That is why I feel it is not wise to use the words "Wicca" and "witchcraft" interchangeably, or saying that Wicca is witchcraft. Wicca has branched into traditions that are very different from the majority of witchcraft traditions- the Wiccan traditions are often called "British Traditional Witchcraft," as the founders were mainly British. So this label may confuse people even further.
There were many others who played a large part in the development
of Wicca. Gardner is not solely responsible (please see my Bookshelf
page for a list of books of reference). And there are so many different
traditions in Wicca. You probably have heard of Alexandrian and
Dianic Wicca- those are just two of the many traditions. Pick up
a book and read about them, this essay isn't intended to teach intricacies
of Wiccan traditions.
Most also believe that Wicca can be a personalized religion. Many "Wiccans" after Garnder contributed to the idea of solitary and eclectic Wicca, where followers pick and choose beliefs from different traditions within modern Wicca that "suit" their personal beliefs.
ABOUT TRADITIONAL WITCHCRAFT
For the most part, traditional witchcraft is a continuation of
the practises of native cultural beliefs of the Europeans- after
the advent of Christianity. The Christians were the ones to label
these practises "witchcraft." Most craft traditions cannot
honestly trace their beliefs and practise before the seventeeth
century. But there is history and folklore to suggest that some
traditions did exist before this time.
A "tradition" is a branch or system of witchcraft that a person follows. Most traditions were established by particular cultures or even specific families of the past. Some traditions have specific names, some do not. As with Wicca, there are many established traditions of witchcraft, as well as solitary traditional witches.
All traditions were developed to suit the families or groups who followed them. All traditions of witchcraft are different, however many have basic similarities. Some are religions, some are not, some are magickal practises, some are both religions and magickal arts.
Traditional witchcraft can also describe the solitary witchcraft of the past. Those pagans who practised alone- may have had a belief in a goddess or god, or both, some may have worshipped the earth or nature, followed the moon phases and practised some form of magick, etc. No, we cannot be certain of all of the beliefs of our ancestors, but we do have ideas and know that these solitary pagans did exist. Those practises of the past that, today, might be labelled "solitary witchcraft," can be considered a form of traditional witchcraft just as fairly as the family traditions of the past. This is just my personal opinion.
Something you might find when reading about different established traditions in witchcraft- many refuse to share the "secrets" of their craft, the secrets of their true beliefs and lore. This is just an ethic many traditions have adopted. Some believe that only the followers of their tradition have the need for this information, and some simply will not offer their secrets because they feel each individual should seek out his or her own knowledge on his or her own- not just be handed the information so easily (so to speak). This is not true of all traditions, of course, but some do feel this way.
Below are a few general differences between beliefs of modern Wicca
and beliefs within some traditions of witchcraft that incorporate
both magick and religion:
THE HIGHER POWER
Many Wiccans believe in a higher, supreme universal power (usually). Some traditional witches do not believe in a supreme power. Instead, some witches simply believe in an equality of all spirit and that all spirit is a part of the universal energies, or gods and goddesses.
Wiccans also buy into the notion that "all gods are one god," which is a modern concept and has no origins with any witchcraft traditions. Many witches of the past believed in and revered the pantheons of their ancestors and believed each god and goddess was a separate entity, not that all were "aspects" of one great universal god. "The One" is a modern, new-agey concept of monotheism.
Some witches of today do accept the "all gods are one god" concept, but this belief did not originate with witchcraft traditions of the past. All views are different, but generally, the "One" concept and concept of supreme beings separates Wicca from witchcraft.
Wiccans generally cast a circle before performing any rituals or magickal rites. This circle casting is simply creating a sphere of energy surrounding yourself and all things that will be involved in the ritual or spell- or a rite of protection. This is a concept based on Hermetic circles found within grimoires such as the Key of Solomon and used by the Golden Dawn, among others. The traditional term for casting a circle is "compass round" and some traditions of witchcraft do incorporate this idea and do have ceremonies for this, but they are not similar to most Wiccan circle casting. Generally, to a witch, all space is sacred and no circle is necessary for most magickal rites.
Also, Wiccans generally have a heavy emphasis on words, 'sometimes' rhyming, and also memorization of rituals. This is not always the case in traditional witchcraft. Witches are, often, known more for using what they have whenever they feel it is right- for emphasizing "why" a ritual is performed rather than "how" it is performed. Ceremonial practise is more a part of modern Wicca.
HARM NONE AND JUSTICE
Most Wiccans follow the law of "harm no one" that is written in the "Rede of the Wiccae," or the Wiccan Rede (more about the Rede and it's origins at The Harm None Scare.) Most agree that this rule was adapted from Aliester Crowley's Great Law, however, the Great Law does not have a siimilar concept.
In most traditions of witchcraft, a person's intent rules whether an action is "ethical" or necessary- not a "harm none" law. Also, most Wiccans believe strongly in the threefold law, which states that any energy you send out will return to you three times as strong. Most witches do not agree with this law and feel it is completely illogical. Rather, most witches agree with the basic law of cause and effect. "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." Some also call this type of concept the "Ripple Effect." Witchcraft also can encompass dark arts- not all witches are practitioners of "white" magick.
Wiccans generally honor the "Wiccan Rede," which is a poem developed in the twentieth century (most agree it was created about 1975). Witches do not have a written law to follow, unless established by their tradition. Witches do not rely on a "Rede" to define what is ethical and what is not, what is proper at what time, and what is not. As stated above, some witches practise dark arts and do not follow an ethic that involves performing magick only when it's for "the good of all."
Wiccans usually hang on to the eastern Hindu/Buddhist concepts of reincarnation. The idea is that each human spirit is reincarnated time after time into new physical bodies until a type of "spiritual enlightenment" is reached- each life being a new lesson and making the spirit "wiser." This is not a belief associated with witchcraft traditions. Traditionally, witches believe the afterlife is a mystery and that such an exact idea of what we encounter after death is not possible. Witches usually believe the spirit, or soul, will pass on and become a part of the spirit of the land or universe, become a spirit guardian or dwell with the guardians, and may possibly one day be reborn into the extended family in some form. This rebirth may not necessarily be physical, but spiritual, and in the form of a protector or guide. There are many variations of beliefs, but reincarnation is not a part of traditional witchcraft beliefs- it is a concept of Eastern philosopy and religion that was adopted by Gardner and others within modern Wiccan tradition.