Witchcraft’s Obsession with Labels

Witchcraft's Obsession with Labels: Is It Doing More Harm Than Good?

Is the witchcraft community’s obsession with labels creating division where it should create unity?

Maybe you identify yourself as a green witch or a kitchen witch.   Maybe cottage witchery best describes your home-based practice.

Perhaps you reject the term witch altogether and prefer to call yourself a neopagan—though even this declaration is frequently followed up with “Pagan?  What kind?” 

As if we’re all domesticated canines in progressively reductive categories.   

But is what was once an attempt to distinguish ourselves and our spiritual practices become a way to divide us?

What’s with the labels, anyway?

There are literally dozens of widely used labels that people who consider themselves practitioners of modern witchcraft employ to distinguish themselves from each other.

From pantheons to general philosophies to regional identities, we tend get very specific about who we are and what we do.

So, why?

Isn’t being a self-proclaimed witch far enough removed from the mainstream?

Well, no. 

Because witchcraft isn’t a religion, a philosophy, or even, in any clearly defined way, a group of people.

To say I practice witchcraft is no less general than a member of another faith community saying I pray.  Okay.  Do you pray as a Muslim, Christian, or Jew?  Or none of those?  Does it matter to you?  Is it anyone else’s business?  

Do you consider yourself united with other followers of faiths because you pray as they do?  One might arguably say that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are more unified because, after all, they all worship the God of Abraham.

Whereas a self-proclaimed witch might devote herself to any number of hundreds of deities, or none at all.

Is this why we feel the need to make much of exactly how we practice witchcraft, and what we call it?

Maybe.  But who does it serve, exactly?

The general public doesn’t care what you call yourself.

Let’s just get this out of the way.

People outside the witchcraft community typically don’t give a flying broomstick whether you consider yourself Strega or a devotee of Cerridwen.

They hear witchcraft, and that’s all they hear.

You might have some luck explaining to them that you’re not the same as Wiccans, but I’m not sure it matters to most of them, even if you want it to.

Most of them have no idea what any of it really means, and they don’t care.

Don’t get mad about sub-category “stereotypes.”  After all, we created most of them.

If you get annoyed that witchcraft, on the whole, is stigmatized, feared without warrant, or otherwise misunderstood, you may have a point.

But when it comes to specific paths, it wasn’t the general public who decided to associate Dianic witches with man-haters or conflate Strega with lapsed Catholicism.  

Most people in mainstream faiths would not even understand where we got those stereotypes.  Frankly, I think a lot of us would celebrate a general public that even cared enough to know the difference.

We (as in self-proclaimed members of the modern witchcraft community) make those generalizations about each other, and I don’t think it helps any of us.

It’s fine to have an identity.  

There’s nothing wrong with considering yourself a green witch or an alchemist or a devotee of Hellenism or whatever.

(Although even this seems to lack enough specificity for many—it’s more likely to be a “tarot-reading-green-witch-empath-with-Hellenic roots-who-also-happens-to-be-a-wiz-at-magical-cooking.”)

It’s fine to correct misunderstandings.  It’s fine to educate people who want to be educated.

But getting all bent out of shape because someone outside your practice doesn’t understand (or necessarily care) that Celtic magic is totally different in context and practice from Wicca is a little self-focused if you ask me.

After all, do you know the difference between Vaishnavism & Shaktism?  Digambara & Svetambara?  Orthodox versus Conservative Judaism?  Unless you’re actually of one of those faiths, most people just say “Hindu” or “Jewish.” 

And my guess is, no one gets mad at you about it.

Maybe we can take a lesson from that.

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