Classifying Witchcrafts

an excerpt from

Bonewits's Essential Guide to Witchcraft and Wicca

Copyright © 1971, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits

As with the words "artist," "doctor," "scientist," or "diviner," the word "witch" is almost meaningless without some sort of qualifying adjective in front of it. Here is a brief review, in alphabetical order, of the classification system I have created to distinguish the various European and American sorts of witches from one another. Note that several of these categories are capable of overlapping and/or of being mixed by living individuals.

Anthropologic Witchcraft
Anything an anthropologist calls "witchcraft," usually referring to either or both of the following meanings:
1. The practices of independent (real or supposed) magic users who are suspected of at least sometimes using their magic outside of their society's accepted cultural norms
2. A perceived state, often involuntary, of being a monster who can curse people with the "evil eye"

Christian Witchcraft, a.k.a. Christo-Wicca
The beliefs and practices of those who mix Neoclassic Witchcraft (see below) and/or Neopagan Witchcraft (Wicca) with a liberal form of Christianity, thus creating new Mesopagan versions of Wicca. Those who do primarily the former are often believers that "witchcraft is a craft," not a religion. Those who do primarily the latter are looked at askance by most Wiccans, who are inclined to think of them as "heretics."
Naturally, all but the most liberal of Christians consider people doing any flavor whatsoever of witchcraft to be heretics, since Christian priests, preachers, and ministers are supposed to have a complete monopoly on all performances of magic.

Classic Witchcraft, a.k.a. Cunning Craft
The practices of the people that many modern witches think were the original witches, but who are more properly known as the cunning men and women. These folk were seldom called "witches" (at least to their faces) and could have any or all the following in their bags of tricks: midwifery; healing with magic, herbs, and other folk remedies; providing abortions, love potions, and poisons; divination; and casting of curses and blessings. Classic Witches have continued to exist to this very day, in ever dwindling numbers, mostly in the remotest villages and among the Romany or other traveling peoples.

Criminal Witchcraft
Witchcraft as originally conceived by those who used the term first: the suspected or real use of magic for negative purposes -in other words, magical malpractice. This is probably what the word "wicce" originally referred to, annoying as that may be to modern Wiccans, and is very similar to the way anthropologists define witchcraft.

Diabolic Witchcraft
An imaginary cult of Devil worshipers invented by the medieval Church, used as the excuse for raping, torturing, and killing scores of thousands of women, children, and men. The cult was said to consist of people who worshiped the Christian Devil in exchange for magical powers they used to benefit themselves and harm others. I used to call this "Gothic Witchcraft."

Dianic Witchcraft
1. A postulated medieval cult of Diana and/or Dianus worshipers (Margaret Mur-ray's idea).
2. Term used by some henotheistic Neopagan Witches to refer to their concentration on the Goddess as more important than the God.
3. Term used by some Feminist Witches, especially those who are separatist, to describe their practices and beliefs.

Eclectic Witchcraft
The beliefs and practices of those on the liberal/heterodox end of the Wiccan spectrum. See "Traditional Witchcraft."

Ethnic Witchcraft
The practices of various non-English-speaking people who use magic, religion, and alternative healing methods in their own communities and who are called "witches" by English speakers who don't know any better.

Family Tradition or "Fam-Trad" Witchcraft
The practices and beliefs of those who claim to belong to (or to have been taught by members of) families that supposedly were "underground" Paleo- or Mesopagans for several centuries in Europe and/or the Americas, using their wealth and power to stay alive and secret. The overwhelming majority of the people you will ever meet who claim to be Fam-Trad Witches are simply lying, or have been lied to by their teachers. Family Tradition Witchcraft is also sometimes called "Hereditary Witchcraft" or even "Genetic Witchcraft." These latter terms are used by those people who think they must claim a witch as an ancestor to be a witch today or who think that such ancestry "proves" them to be better witches than those without such ancestry.

Fairy/Faery/Faërie Tradition Witchcraft
1. Any of several different (and sometimes conflicting) Traditions of Meso- and/or Neopagan Witchcraft started by the blind poet and "scoundrel guru" Victor Anderson (1917­2001) during the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. He mixed British and Celtic folklore about the fairies, Gardnerianism, Voodoo, Max Freedom Long's version of Hawaiian Huna, Tantra, Gypsy magic, Native American beliefs, and anything else he was thinking about at the time he was training the founders of each Tradition.
2. Varieties of Neopagan Witchcraft focused around homosexual, bisexual, and/or transexual images and magical methods rather than the heterosexual (and sometimes homophobic) ones used in most Wiccan Traditions.
3. Other sects of Neopagan Witchcraft focused around real or made-up fairy lore, often taken from romantic poems, plays, and novels about the fairies. In most of these Traditions, there is usually an assumption that the medieval assumed associations between fairies and witches were true, and that the fairies were "originally" the Paleopagan nature spirits and/or deities.

Feminist Witchcraft
Several new monotheistic or henotheistic religions started since the early 1970s by women in the feminist community who belonged to the women's spirituality movement and/or who had contact with Neopagan Witches. It is partially an outgrowth of Neopagan Witchcraft, with male deities booted unceremoniously(!) out of the religion entirely, and partially a conglomeration of independent and eclectic do-it-yourself covens of spiritually inclined feminists. The religions usually involve worshiping only the syncretic Goddess (who is all goddesses) and using Her as a source of inspiration, magical power, and psychological growth. Their scholarship is often abysmal and men are usually not allowed to join or participate.
Note, many other varieties of Witches also consider themselves feminists or act like ones whether they use the term or not.

Gardnerian Witchcraft
The originally Mesopagan source of what has now become Neopagan Witchcraft, founded by Gerald Gardner and his friends in the late 1940s and '50s, based on his alleged contacts with a surviving British coven of underground Pagan Witches. After he finished inventing, expanding, and/or reconstructing the rites, laws, and other materials, copies of his work were stolen by numerous others who then claimed Fam-Trad status and started new religions of their own. (See Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon for most of the messy details or Appendix 7 for an overview.) Though Gardnerians are sometimes called "the scourge of the Craft," together with the Alexandrians and members of some other British Traditions, most of them may be considered simply the orthodox branch of Neopagan Witchcraft.

Goth Witchcraft
People in the "Goth" subculture who practice one or more varieties of Neoclassic, Neopagan, or sometimes Neodiabolic Witchcraft. Goth Wiccans tend to focus on "dark" gods and goddesses (meaning ones that rule such matters as death and the underworld) and try to look scary.

Grandmotherly Witchcraft
Refers to the habit common among modern Witches of claiming to have been initiated at an early age by a mother or grandmother who belonged to a Fam-Trad but who is now conveniently dead, doesn't speak English, and/or is otherwise unavailable for questioning.

Immigrant Tradition or "Imm-Trad" Witchcraft
Refers to the customs and beliefs of postulated Mesopagan peasants and Fam-Trad members who immigrated to the Americas and mingled their magical and religious customs with each other, the Native Americans, enslaved African Americans, and the previous immigrants. Examples of such Traditions might include the dozens of kinds of American Voodoo and Hoodoo (see Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism, by Lilith Dorsey for details), Pennsylvania "hex" magic, and Appalachian magical lore. I don't use this term much any more since most of these people seem to be just eclectic cunning folk, who don't seem to consider what they do to be mostly religious.

Neoclassic Witchcraft
The current practices of those who are consciously or unconsciously duplicating some or many of the (real or assumed) activities of the Classic Witches/Cunning Folk and who call themselves (or are called by others) "witches."

Neodiabolic Witchcraft
The beliefs and practices of some modern Satanists, who work very hard to be everything that the medieval Church and current fundamentalists say they should be. Some of them perform Black Masses, commit blasphemy and sacrilege toward Christian ideas and objects, hold (or long to hold) orgies, and so on. There is some small overlap with the "Goth" subculture of the 1980s, but most Goths are not Satanists.

Neopagan Witchcraft or Wicca
Many new duotheistic religions founded since the 1960s, most of which are variations of Gardnerian Witchcraft but some of which are independent inventions and/or reconstructions based on real or supposed Fam-Trads, Imm-Trads, literary creations, and so on-just like Gardner's! Most groups who call what they do "Wicca" are Neopagan Witches, though some of the more orthodox may be considered Mesopagan ones.

Neoshamanic Witchcraft
1. The beliefs and practices of those modern persons who are attempting to rediscover, duplicate, and/or expand on the practices of (postulated) Shamanic Witches.
2. Neopagan Witchcraft done with feathers, drums, crystals, and other New Age additions of a vaguely shamanic flavor. Most use drums and chanting rather than drugs to achieve their desired trance states.

Shamanic Witchcraft
1. Originally, the beliefs and practices of members of postulated independent belladonna/Moon Goddess cults throughout premedieval Europe, remnants of which might have survived into the Middle Ages.
2. Currently, Neoshamanic Witchcraft as done by those who do not use the Neo- prefix.

Traditional Witchcraft
1. The beliefs and practices of those on the conservative/orthodox end of the Wiccan spectrum. See "Eclectic Witchcraft."
2. An extremely vague and badly abused term used by Gardner's competitors, supposed Fam-Trads, and other folks trying to make their practices seem older and more authentic than Wicca.

The beliefs and practices of those modern persons following one or more varieties of Neoclassic and/or Neopagan Witchcraft who refuse to admit it, usually while claiming to be Fam-Trad Witches.

1. An imaginary form of Paleo- and Mesopagan Witchcraft, supposedly practiced in ancient and medieval Ireland, yet called by a Germanic term.
2. A modern blend of Anglo-Saxon/Germanic Reconstructionist Paganism with Wicca.

Copyright © 1971, 2005 c.e., Isaac Bonewits. Unlike his other sharetext postings, this text file may NOT be freely distributed on the Net, since it is part of a published work—Bonewits's Essential Guide toWitchcraft and Wicca. Click here to buy it from If you would like to be on one or more of Isaac Bonewits’ emailing lists, click here to get subscription information.

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