*** In this post I'm going to give my answers to some questions that Pagans (including myself) commonly get asked. And if I offend anyone, remember - these are just my opinions... ***
1. What is the difference between Wiccan and Pagan?
"Wiccan" means a follower of Wicca, which is an actual, legal, officially recognized religion in the United States, UK, Australia, and other countries. "Pagan" is an umbrella term used to describe just about anyone who does not follow an organized or "institutional" religion, especially one of the Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.) In this context, I've heard Christians call Hindus "pagan" (note the lower case spelling of this usage.) This is the reason why some Pagans prefer to be called "Neopagans," as the word "pagan" is often used to refer to people thought to be "without religion." However, Pagans (Neopagans) are religious, they just follow Earth-centered and New Age religious traditions, some of which might have been practiced in ancient times, depending on which gods/goddesses are being worshiped. All Wiccans are Pagan, but not all Pagans are Wiccan.
2. What is a Witch?
While "Wiccan" and "Witch" are often used as synonyms, they are not the same thing. Witchcraft has become a way of life in its own right, which is why "Witch" is often capitalized. However, a "witch" is simply someone who works magic. This may take the form of spells (the most commonly associated form of magic) or may be more subtle, such as meditations, prayers, rituals, even lifestyle choices. You can follow any religion and also be a witch (and almost every culture and world religion acknowledges that witches exist.) A Witch (with a capital W) is usually not part of another religion, as Witchcraft is their religion, which may resemble Wicca, but is more personal, intuitive, and does not necessarily follow the same rules as Wicca. Also, there is the prevailing belief that to become a Wiccan, you must be initiated by a coven or another initiated Wiccan, whereas to become a Witch (or witch), all you have to do is want/seek to be one. Not everyone believes these things (as there are many self-proclaimed solitary Wiccans out there), but in general, Witchcraft works with nature and folklore, and may or may not include formalized or ceremonial ritual or deity worship. Wicca, on the other hand, is a more formalized, organized, often ceremonial and more officially religious form of Witchcraft.
3. Do you worship Satan?
This question always amuses me and royally pisses me off at the same time. I don't know whether to laugh or scream. I'm astonished that it gets asked as often as it does, because of the sheer ignorance of it - because my answer is:
No, if I worshiped Satan, I'd be a Satanist. Duh.
Having been a Christian once, however, I do know where this question comes from. Christianity, even in many of it's more tolerant forms, teaches its followers to view other religions based on verses like Matthew 12:30, where Jesus says "He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with me scatters." Most Christians are taught to believe that anyone who does not follow Jesus is automatically worshiping Satan, and most of them condescendingly believe that we're not doing it intentionally, we just don't know any better. I've encountered this belief many, many times (ironically most often from non-practicing Christians!) and believed it about others when I was a Christian more times than I care to admit. The best thing I can say about this whole situation is that you can say you don't worship Satan and explain that you simply follow another set of beliefs and hope for the best, and you will either be believed or you won't. And if you are not, then don't waste your time arguing over it, because you won't be heard, much less even listened to. The best revenge in this situation is to walk your talk. It will take some time, but actions speak louder than words, and if you hold your head high and stick to your convictions while at the same time behaving in a moral and ethical way in your daily life (which most Pagans/Wiccans/Witches that I know do!) it will bother and confuse the shit out of anyone looking for evidence that you are evil and are going to Hell.
4. How are Pagans "moral" or "ethical?"
Most Pagans believe on some level that "what goes around, comes around." Pagans are therefore careful what they say and do because they believe that this intent will come back around to them eventually. Along the same lines, some Pagans believe in reincarnation, and feel that they must be mindful of whatever they do in this lifetime because it will impact them in the next life; they will be reincarnated into a less desirable thing/being, they will have to redo the same situations until they stop making the same mistakes, or maybe they will be reincarnated in very trying or unpleasant circumstances in order to learn a lesson. (Holding this view also explains the age-old question of why some are born with advantages and good fortune while others are not.) Some Pagans believe that it is their responsibility to be moral and ethical individuals in the same way that it is every individual's responsibility, and that the human race as a whole will not evolve or progress until everyone does their part. Other Pagans make it more personal, believing that the reason we are here in this life and on this plane of existence is to learn and grow and become enlightened, so that we may transcend this existence and go on to something further, and that striving for what is right is part of this path to enlightenment. No matter what their personal beliefs are, most Pagans agree that everything is energy: thoughts, actions, feelings, words, and even physical existences are nothing but energy. And energy never goes away, it just transforms into something else, and there is no way to know what else the energy has influenced on its path or will ultimately manifest into. Therefore, it is always best to try to put out positive energy into the universe, as we would all rather that be circulating than negative energy, because everything is interconnected and (even on an infinitesimal level) affected by everything else.
Wiccans go a step further and believe in what is called the Wiccan Rede, which states "an' ye harm none, do what ye will." This is part of a longer poem that includes other instructions on how to be a Wiccan, such as "mind the threefold laws ye should, three times bad and three times good." This illustrates a much more formalized idea of how to behave morally, in that Wiccans believe that as long as you are not actively seeking to cause harm and you think about the consequences of your actions before you act, you may go ahead and do whatever. Wiccans also believe in what is called "the Threefold Law," which is where the other excerpt from the Rede comes in: whatever energy you put out into the universe, whether bad or good, it will come back on you three times. (Note: not all Wiccans believe either the Rede or the Threefold Law, and many Witches do not, although some do.) Also, both Pagans and Wiccans believe that we are each responsible for our own actions and pride ourselves on being able to THINK for ourselves. Because we do not believe in Satan or another similar embodiment of pure evil, you won't ever hear a "the Devil made me do it" argument when one of us has done something wrong. Everyone makes mistakes (even really, really big ones) but you should at least have the guts to own up to it, not blame it on someone or something else.
5. What about spells?
I think as soon as someone figures out that you are a Wiccan/Pagan/Witch, the first thing they ask about after they get over the shock (if any) and decide not to condemn you for it is SPELLS. People are always so fascinated by the subject of spells. What are they? Do you cast them? Aren't they bad? Can anyone do it? Do they work? Can you do them for other people? Will you cast one for me? Can I have a spell for love/money/sex/power/wealth/revenge/blah blah blah...? etc.
First of all, not every Wiccan/Pagan/Witch even casts spells. Some of us take the idea seriously that we should do all we can to help ourselves with whatever we want in ordinary ways before we go around messing with the natural flow of energy around us. And some of us do cast spells, but only on occasion or for emergencies and only after some some deep thought and/or soul searching, because we have the mentality that maybe things happen they way they do for good reasons. I mean, spells can be like a kind of petition, where you are asking something or someone on a higher plane to help you out, but spells can also be strictly the manipulation of energy to achieve a particular end. In this case, you better be sure you are not trying to thwart the will of the Gods or upset the balance of the universe in casting your spell. Remember the idea that everything is interconnected and everything is affected by everything else? That means that your spell, no matter how small or insignificant, will release energy that will ripple outward like a pebble thrown into a lake, and that whatever gets rocked by these waves might become unsettled, causing unwanted consequences. In every thing we do in life, and I mean EVERYTHING, there are unseen effects and results. Spell casting is no exception, because it is the deliberate act of working magic.
Which brings me to the subject of magic. You have to believe in magic for a spell to work, even if you call that magic "the hand of God" and the spell a "prayer." Many people believe that "spells" are bad because they believe that magic is bad. While it is true that many organized religions preach against using magic, that does not make magic itself bad. Magic is a force, like electricity is a force, that can be used for both good and bad, but that in existence is completely neutral. Electricity is good when it powers machines and lights, and bad when it causes electrocutions or fires. All forces of nature, like electricity, are neutral, and can only be good or bad depending on how they are used. Magic is just another natural force, and it's one that "science" doesn't fully understand yet. People used to think the sun rising and setting or the seasons changing were "magic" too, right?
As I mentioned above, you don't have to work a spell to cause magic to happen. Magic is in prayer, magic is in meditation, magic is in positive thought and willpower and self-help and even just making a wish. We are all working magic on a regular basis, whether we know it or not, and when viewed in this light, it seems silly to get hung up on it just because it is called a spell. My warning against spell-casting above is not meant to frighten as much as to say "watch what you wish for, because you just might get it." Because spells do actually work if you believe in them. (It's arguable that the belief, just like the "power of positive thought," is what actually makes a "spell" work, but this is a whole other subject for another time.)
The Wiccan Rede is often used (by Wiccans, Witches, and Pagans alike) as a guide when contemplating working a spell, which is why most Wiccans believe it to be ethically wrong to cast a spell that interferes with someone else's free will, such as a love spell directed at a specific person or a malevolent spell, such as for revenge. Interfering with free will is considered to fall outside the "harm none" clause, and many will not consider it. Rather, they will cast a love spell to attract "whichever person is right for them" or attempt to shield or protect themselves from negativity caused by another instead of seeking revenge. However, some Witches don't follow the Rede at all, and believe that "a Witch who cannot hex cannot heal," which I guess means that they have no scruples about casting manipulative spells. And then there are some who believe that there's nothing morally wrong about trying to manipulate another's free will, because free will is too strong and spells of this kind simply won't work and are a waste of time anyway. I will admit that this whole topic is a huge gray area, and that almost everyone has a slightly different opinion.
6. Why is "magic" spelled with a "k" ("magick")?
BEATS THE HELL OUT OF ME.
Ok, seriously though, the answer is supposedly so that people will distinguish "magic(k)," as in, "the art of using directed thought and will to cause change" from "magic," which is a show full of tricks done on stage for entertainment.
Oh, c'mon... people really confuse these two?
English is full of homonyms (look it up) and "magic" in this sense has become another one of them. But unfortunately, there is a large segment of the Pagan population that believes that "magick" is the historically accurate way to spell it, or worse, doesn't care about accuracy but just wants to spell it differently because they want attention. CUZ THEIR SO KEWL!!!1 ^_^
Whatever. I don't see what is so cool about advertising your ignorance and inability to spell.
7. Why do so many Pagans keep their religion a secret?
This is what we call being "in the broom closet." The phrase started as a sort-of joke, comparing being Pagan with being LGBT, in that sometimes it can be extremely scary to "come out" as a Pagan, just like people have a hard time admitting to their family and friends that they are LGBT. (I read somewhere that some people in the LGBT community resent this comparison, stating that we are not born Pagan, and can stop being that way or at least hide it without a lot of effort, but I've never personally met anyone who feels this way.) Pagans have the same fears as anyone else who feels "different;" we don't want to be shunned or rejected by our family and friends, and we don't want to be told that we are evil or wrong or going to Hell because of who we are. In some cases, (small, tightly-knit communities, areas where fundamentalist religion is the norm) Pagans do not want to go public with their beliefs because they fear even worse repercussions, like being beat up or having their property vandalized, or losing their jobs or even custody of their kids. I myself have reason to suspect that I might have been let go from a particular job because of my beliefs, which is one reason why I use a pen name when I publish and tend to be private about being Pagan.
However, there are some Pagans that argue that it's high time for all of us to "come out of the broom closet." They say that unless we start being vocal no one is going to listen to us (which is quite literally true as much as being good advice) and that we will remain an often unheard religious minority. These same people also say that others will be less suspicious of us if we stopped hiding things and that being open about our beliefs and practices inspires confidence that we're not bad people or that there is any reason to fear us or what we do. Openness also encourages curiosity, which in turn leads to healthy discussion, which might then lead to the dispelling of false information about Paganism. This is all true, and all well and good, but not everyone feels the need to wear their heart on their sleeve. Just like any other faith, some people are not comfortable advertising their religious convictions. And some flat-out think it's nobody's business but their own.
*** The fact is, Paganism is a highly personal, extremely diverse and and very accepting way of life, with a rich variety of spiritual beliefs, traditions, and practices. For this reason, I won't even go into who we worship or how we practice, because if you ask 100 Pagans the same questions, you will get 100 different answers. (Also, this post got away from me and turned out way longer than I meant it to!) Therefore, if you would like more information, do a general search or look for a specific question online or visit The Witches' Voice at http://www.witchvox.com/ where you can read all about Paganism from other Pagans in their own words. ***