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What is the Difference between Wicca and Paganism?

A Wiccan of 25 years, Sage likes to put her background as a writer and teacher to use by helping people learn about this NeoPagan path.

Wicca or Eclectic Paganism?

Wicca and Paganism are frequently used interchangeable, but they are not exactly the same thing. The reason there is confusion is because Wiccans are also Pagans… but Pagans are not always Wiccans.

There is also confusion because the biggest branch of Wicca is Eclectic (non-traditionalist, non-lineaged) Wicca. So how does one know if one is an Eclectic Wiccan or an Eclectic Pagan?

Some would argue that ‘real Wiccans’ must be initiated into a lineaged coven. I would argue that those people are flat-out wrong. But I still see a clear difference between Wicca and Eclectic Paganism.

Let’s have a look. But first, let’s clear up a few mistakes.

What's the Difference between Wicca and Paganism?

Wicca and Paganism

Wicca and Paganism

Wicca Does Not, And Never Did, Require Initiation

Does that come as a surprise to you? Before you protest, please read on.

Gardner never called his religion ‘Wicca’. He called it ‘Witchcraft’. If you were initiated, you were called a ‘Witch’.

He also occasionally used the term ‘of the Wica’, which referred to both initiates and non-initiates in Gardner’s time. This was common in the early decades as his religion formed. The word ‘Wicca’ was hardly ever used at all.

When traditional British Traditional Witches (or BTW; people initiated into oath-bound covens who could trace coven lineage to Gardner) started using the words ‘Wiccans’ and ‘Wicca’, guess who they were talking about? They were talking about the non-initiated Witches and Pagans who practiced outer-court teachings.

Anyone who claims the uninitiated are ‘not real Wiccans’ are ill-informed about the origins and terminology of their own religion. I’ll give you that Wiccans aren’t BTW without BTW initiation. But the truth is, Eclectic Wiccans have more of a right to the word ‘Wicca’ and ‘Wiccan’ than BTW’s do.

So when I refer to ‘Wiccans’ I refer to both inner and outer court practitioners of the religion Gardner developed.

What Is Paganism?

Paganism isn’t a religion—it’s called an ‘umbrella term’. That is, it’s a term that covers a whole bunch of different religions. Ancient religions (most of which died out at some point in history) are the original Pagan religions. They would not actually have described themselves as Pagans—the word was actually a derogatory term.

It's from the Latin Paganus and basically from the word 'peasant' or 'country dweller'. Calling someone a Pagan was basically saying 'worshiper of false Gods’ in those days.

As the word developed it came to mean any non-Abrahamic religion-- if you weren't Christian, Jewish or Muslim, you were 'Pagan' of some sort.

In the Victorian and Colonial eras, ancient Paganism was romanticized and eventually that sparked the 'Pagan revival'. People began worshiping the old Gods again, or began adopting some ancient religious practices, and proudly embraced the term ‘Pagan’.

So Pagan is pretty much a broad term. People who identify as Pagans usually follow a reconstruction or reinvention of an ancient religion, or they follow a modern religion that draws upon some of those ancient religions.

Wicca is a modern Pagan religion—that is, a Neo-Pagan religion. All Wiccans are Neo-Pagans, and so all Wiccans would fall under the umbrella of Pagan.

And Where Does Witchcraft Fit In?

That's a different story. To understand that, please read:

Wicca and Witchcraft- Which is Witch, What’s What?

What is Eclectic?

Eclectic means ‘taking from multiple sources’. Most Pagan religions are eclectic these days, because few of these systems remained intact and work in their entirety in this day and age. Unless a religion is strict Reconstructionist and has the evidence to back up that their practices come exclusively from one ancient source, it is eclectic to some extent.

Eclectic Pagans are Pagans who don’t adhere to any specific, strict Pagan religion. They draw from multiple sources. They may be influenced more by one source than the other, but generally when someone says they’re an ‘eclectic Pagan’ it’s like saying you’re a non-denominational Christian—you are a rouge of sorts.

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You identify with Pagan religions, and with the beliefs found in the Pagan community—but you don’t follow any specific one.

Here is where things get confusing.

Wicca is an eclectic Pagan religion. From the start, Gardner built BTW drawing from numerous sources: ancient Paganism, Pagan and Witch folklore, Freemasonry, Ceremonial Magic, Eastern philosophy—just to name a few.

So Wicca, in itself, is an eclectic religion.

Within Wicca (as I mentioned), there are 2 main branches: BTW and Eclectic Wicca. Both are actually eclectic. However, Eclectic Wicca is a bit more eclectic and a bit more personally driven than traditional BTW.

So what’s the Difference between Eclectic Wiccan and Eclectic Pagan?

Thus, we come to the crux of the matter. The truth is, the lines here are a little blurred. But if you know what to look for, you’ll see them.

In a nutshell, the biggest difference is this: Wicca is a specific religion… while Eclectic Paganism is not.

Not that there is anything wrong with eclectic Paganism at all. But your religious practices are personal and draw from your own devices. It’s a general religion in that you are really the only practitioner of a system of your own invention.

Wicca is a specific religion in that it is an established religion generally accepted by a community of autonomous groups and individuals adhering to a similar structure (even if non-dogmatic and not organized).

Here are some key defining factors of Wicca (or at least that most Wiccan sources would agree on to some extent):

  • It’s polytheistic, or at least duotheistic. Wiccan generally focuses upon patron deities, personal experience with deity, and worship generally revolves around at least one God and at least one Goddess.
  • The emphasis in Wicca is on balance, mainly in the interaction between the masculine and the feminine (and all they are symbolic for). They are seen as complementary (rather than opposing) forces in nature. Wicca is ideally about striving to live in harmony with the world around you (both in nature, as well as other humans).
  • There are no arbitrary rules of behavior in Wicca. Morality is Wicca is most often seen as subjective rather than objective—we are encouraged to always ponder and think about the ethics and morals of our behavior in terms of the situation. Wiccan liturgy generally encourages us to take responsibility for ourselves, try to avoid doing unnecessary harm and think about the consequences of our actions (or inactions).
  • Wiccan ritual structure, influenced by Ceremonial Magic, generally involves a specific set of tools (each of which have symbolic meaning) and certain rites (such as casting a circle, invoking elements, the Great rite, etc.).
  • Wiccans generally observe the cycles of the moon and sun, and time their rituals by them. Wiccans generally celebrate eight sabbats on what is known as the Wheel of the Year (which is an originally Wiccan construct-- not an ancient calendar).

Eclectic Paganism, on the other hand, has no key defining factors other than falling somewhere under that loose, broad Pagan umbrella. Again—nothing wrong with that. Some people will get far more out of forging their own path than following in the footsteps of others.

Granted, there can certainly be overlap between eclectic Paganism and Wicca. Eclectic Pagans and Wiccans can borrow from the same sources. Eclectic Pagans can even borrow from Wicca. But when you move further and further away from a certain place, eventually you’re just not in Kansas anymore.

Quiz: Are You Wiccan or Eclectic Pagan?

For each question, choose the best answer for you.

  1. Which best describes your belief about deity?
    • I’m a polytheist (soft or hard), believing in different Gods and Goddesses
    • I believe all Gods and Goddesses are aspects of one divine source
    • I believe in God (the Father), the Goddess (the Holy Spirit or Mary) and Jesus.
    • I worship nature alone.
    • I’m an atheist and don’t believe in any Gods or Goddesses at all.
  2. What best describes a typical religious ritual for you?
    • Casting a circle, calling elements, invoking deities, great rite/simple feast, etc.
    • Casting spells or magical workings
    • Both 1 and 2
    • There is no 'typical' or 'standard' for me—I like to plan different things each time or just be spontaneous
    • I have some standards/structure that are traditional but I mix it up a lot with other influences.
    • I don't hold rituals
  3. Which types of tools and supplies do you in general include in your religious practices?
    • Traditional ceremonial tools (athame, pentacle, chalice, wand, etc.)
    • Magic and Divination supplies (Tarot, crystals, pendulums, herbs, etc.)
    • Both 1 and 2
    • Anything I find that I like - Whatever Works
    • All of the above
  4. Which best describes beliefs on the nature of the universe?
    • The spiritual and the mundane are always overlapping.
    • Forces in the universe are complementary and are at their best when in balance
    • Forces in the universe are opposing and engaged in a battle between good and evil
    • Both 1 and 2
    • Both 1 and 3
    • 1, 2 and 3
  5. Do you observe the Wheel of the Year and the 8 sabbats in any way?
    • Yes, strictly, with rituals every sabbat
    • Yes, generally, I mark sabbats in some way (formal or informal)
    • I have adapted the Wheel of the Year to suit my local area but I stick to the basic idea of the agricultural cycle
    • Very sporadically, if I feel like it. They’re not very important to me.
    • Some of them; plus some other holidays (such as Christmas, Rush Hashana, Dwali, or any others)
    • I don't celebrate any of the Wheel of the Year, I have other holidays.
    • There’s 8 of them?!! o_O

Scoring

For each answer you selected, add up the indicated number of points for each of the possible results. Your final result is the possibility with the greatest number of points at the end.

  1. Which best describes your belief about deity?
    • I’m a polytheist (soft or hard), believing in different Gods and Goddesses
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • I believe all Gods and Goddesses are aspects of one divine source
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: +1
    • I believe in God (the Father), the Goddess (the Holy Spirit or Mary) and Jesus.
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • I worship nature alone.
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • I’m an atheist and don’t believe in any Gods or Goddesses at all.
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
  2. What best describes a typical religious ritual for you?
    • Casting a circle, calling elements, invoking deities, great rite/simple feast, etc.
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Casting spells or magical workings
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Both 1 and 2
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • There is no 'typical' or 'standard' for me—I like to plan different things each time or just be spontaneous
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • I have some standards/structure that are traditional but I mix it up a lot with other influences.
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: +1
    • I don't hold rituals
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
  3. Which types of tools and supplies do you in general include in your religious practices?
    • Traditional ceremonial tools (athame, pentacle, chalice, wand, etc.)
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Magic and Divination supplies (Tarot, crystals, pendulums, herbs, etc.)
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Both 1 and 2
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Anything I find that I like - Whatever Works
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • All of the above
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: +1
  4. Which best describes beliefs on the nature of the universe?
    • The spiritual and the mundane are always overlapping.
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Forces in the universe are complementary and are at their best when in balance
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Forces in the universe are opposing and engaged in a battle between good and evil
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Both 1 and 2
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Both 1 and 3
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • 1, 2 and 3
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: +1
  5. Do you observe the Wheel of the Year and the 8 sabbats in any way?
    • Yes, strictly, with rituals every sabbat
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Yes, generally, I mark sabbats in some way (formal or informal)
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • I have adapted the Wheel of the Year to suit my local area but I stick to the basic idea of the agricultural cycle
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: +1
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: 0
    • Very sporadically, if I feel like it. They’re not very important to me.
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: +1
    • Some of them; plus some other holidays (such as Christmas, Rush Hashana, Dwali, or any others)
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: 0
      • on the fence.: +1
    • I don't celebrate any of the Wheel of the Year, I have other holidays.
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0
    • There’s 8 of them?!! o_O
      • leaning more toward Wicca.: 0
      • leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.: +1
      • on the fence.: 0

This table shows the meaning of each possible result:

leaning more toward Wicca.

You lean more specifically toward Wicca. Even if not strictly following the religion, you appear to fall more in line with it than not.

leaning more toward Eclectic Paganism.

You might like and respect some Wiccan practices, but you definitely go with your own instincts and are on a unique spiritual path.

on the fence.

You're definitely influenced by Wicca, but you're not quite there. You might want to take more time to learn about it, or consider whether your beliefs fall under the broader eclectic Pagan spectrum.

Words Matter

Definitions matter. It may be a feline, but it's not a panther. Why call it one?

Definitions matter. It may be a feline, but it's not a panther. Why call it one?

Why Is It Important to Distinguish Between Wicca and Eclectic Paganism?

If we don’t make distinctions, then we’re simply going to have 2 terms for eclectic Neopaganism, and Wicca as we know it will cease to exist as a specific religion. If we keep trying to pull the blanket to cover everything, it’s going to rip to shreds.

Wicca is non-dogmatic, and because there is no central authority, it’s even more important to hold on to at least the core of central concepts together, even if loosely— or else, it falls apart. I’m just hoping that doesn’t happen.

© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright

Comments

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on November 07, 2017:

Personally I like modern creations, lol; I can only relate so much to 2200 year old paths that we (as you've pointed out) have little info on.... so a modern religion that is inspired by and influenced by some of those older concepts we know of, but that have been reworked to relate to modern day is very up my alley and works for me.

Our ancestors were practical people. They didn't try to do things because of some romanticized notion of the past; they did what works for them. They were flawed. They could be cruel (ruin their environment, attempt genocide, misogynistic behavior, etc.). I find it hard to blame all this on monotheism since it all existed before monotheism.

Many did worship Gods-- worship means 'to revere' or to 'express reverence', so we don't disagree here -- but they worshiped the Gods in a way that made sense in their time/place/understanding of the world. Likewise with their rituals, rites, traditions, ethics, etc. I think we have to do the same. I am much more of the 'reinventionist' mind than the 'reconstructionist'.