Ever hear that all Wiccans are witches but not all witches are Wiccan? What about witches are pagan but not all pagans are witches? Both of the latter statements are true and may leave you a bit unclear about just who’s who in the world of paganism! To sort things out it becomes necessary to look at the different definitions associated with witches, Wiccans, Pagans, Druids, Shamans, and other types of pagans so you can begin to recognize the sometimes subtle, but more often striking differences between pagans from around the world. Please bear in mind that the different types of religious understandings falling under the umbrella term of paganism is too large a scope to cover everything in this single article, so this body of work can in no way be considered all-inclusive, but should serve as a good example of how paganism and its various aspects can be broken down for ease of understanding.
As you will soon see, the differences between those who fall under the umbrella terms of paganism is a rather thorny knot to unravel!
Pagans, Pantheists, and Heathens: Umbrella Terms
We’ll start with some broad terms first, like pagan and heathen serving as larger terms which house under their definition a variety of beliefs and lifestyles. The word pagan originates from the Late Latin word paganus, and means non-combatant, civilian, rustic, and villager,” when used to reference people, but also “of the village or country,” when used as a word to describe someone. More loosely, paganus stems from pangere, “meaning fasten, or fixed,” thereby aptly describing the country people who were fixed and living outside of local villages. Prior to the rise of Christianity, the word pagan was in use in Rome when referencing members of society who were not members of the Roman army, with paganus meaning “incompetent soldier, or civilian.”
The word pagan was later in use referencing those who resided in rural areas and who, despite the rise and adherence to Christianity in the Roman cities and towns, still worshipped the old gods. Pagan theology usually encompasses features like animism, polytheism, and pantheism. Animism originates from the Latin word anima meaning soul, breath, or life, and is the belief that all things, even inanimate objects have a spirit, while polytheism, originating from the Greek polytheia or polytheos references the belief in more than one god. Oh, and we can’t forget about the word heathen, which originates from the old English language meaning non-Christian or non-Jew, or, in a more profane and not so friendly sense, “one who does not believe in God (with God referencing the Judeo-Christian deity), and it serves as a derogatory reference for pagans.
Paganism: The Breakdown
There are several types of paganism including Paleo, Civilo, Meso, Syncretico, and Neo-paganism. Paleo-paganism consists of a practice occurring within an undisturbed culture so that such practices are not tainted or “civilized,” in any way. With this definition in mind, we can consider Druidism (an ancient Celtic religion), Old European religions before various Native American religions before European settlers arrived in North America, and even the Bushmen living in Australia today as forms of paleo-paganism.
Civilo-paganism is those forms of paganism that have been exposed to the practices in civilized societies and are actually paleo-pagan practices that have changed over the course of time. Under this definition are the pagan customs of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptian, pagans from the Middle East, and the Aztecs. Many Native American nations still keep to the old ways and pagan practices which were custom before the influence of other cultures and the rise of Christianity: This is identified as meso-paganism.
Syncreto-paganism involves the merging of the customs of two cultures, whether such cultures are both pagan or one is pagan and the other is not. Such a definition embraces religions like Santeria and Voodoo. Finally, Neopaganism is the practice held by people of today who seek to live in reciprocity with nature as well as other modern pagans; under this branch one will find all of the following pagan paths: paganism, Asatru or alternative methods of Norse pagan practices, Hedonistic and Thelema Satanism, neo-Shamans, neo-Native American, Wicca, and more.
Since the early 1900s, the word pagan has been in use as a reference to all people who adhere to nature-based religions and some modern pantheists, with current use typically referring to all those who do not adhere to Judeo-Christianity and other mainstream religions.
And of course, the next question is “what is a pantheist?”
A pantheist is a person who holds the belief that God is the Universe and any and all phenomena associated with it. Essentially, the word pantheist stems from ancient Greek pan meaning everything and theos meaning “God;” in other words, the person holds the belief that the divine is all things and is in all things. There are several types of pantheists as well, wherein some believe that all of matter is God while others believe that matter is God, but God also transcends the physical. Pantheists do not believe in an anthropomorphic or personal deity, with anthropomorphic meaning a god that has motives, attributes, and behaviors that are human-like.
Now, it’s important to note while many pantheists are pagan, it doesn’t mean all pantheists are pagans; for instance, people like Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Albert Einstein were pantheists but were not pagan. Roddenberry, while rather hostile when speaking of organized religions and calling himself a humanist, actually said, “I think God is as much a basic ingredient in the universe as neutrons and positrons. This is the prime force, when we look around the universe,” thereby clearly conveying monistic panpsychic pantheist beliefs, just one of several types of pantheism; Roddenberry’s sentiments ring of someone who believes all of matter (and only matter or the physical realm) makes up a divine cosmos with a soul. Einstein falls into the same category, wherein he said, “Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvelous structure of reality, together with the single-hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature.” Meanwhile, a dualistic pantheist or panentheist is a person that believes the universe or divine cosmos is comprised of a spiritual AND a physical reality. Again, a pantheist may not be pagan, but some pagans are pantheists, wherein they see the divine in all things including nature.
Monism, Dualism, Polytheism, and More…
We’ve already covered the meaning of polytheism as a belief in more than one deity, and many pagans hold this belief. Monism is the idea that only matter or the physical is what makes up the Divine, while dualism suggests there is a spiritual component to God, while also representing the distinction between spirit and mind. When speaking of Christianity, dualism is the understanding of the existence of conflicting powers of good and evil. Theism describes when a person believes that there is at least one God, but who might also believe in more than one god: This contrasts the meaning of atheist who is a nonbeliever in any gods whatsoever.
Hard Polytheism, omni-theism, or integrational polytheism involves an understanding of the Divine as consisting of separate beings. Some pagans believe that all gods from all cultures are a single god, whereas those who are hard polytheists believe that all gods are distinctly separate or that not all gods from every pantheon are valid or equal. Soft Polytheism is the belief that all gods from all pantheons are one god or that god has many aspects, not just one.
Henotheist is one who understands there is more than one god, but who chooses to maintain a focus on a single deity. Kathenotheistic ideas are along the same lines, wherein the individual worships more than one deity but only one at a time. Meanwhile, a number of people practice Tritheism in which they define the Divine in three aspects: In Christianity, this would be God, Christ, and the Holy Ghost, but in some pagan circles people reference the Maiden, Mother, and Crone as the Goddess, and the Father, Son, and Sage as the God. There are also Reconstruction Polytheists who seek to practice the old religions as they were originally practiced without the merging of more modern practices. Still, others practice Eclecticism which involves using any number of systems, rites, practices, or beliefs that serve one’s purpose regardless from where the practices or beliefs originate: The merged ideas and practices tend to complement each other and work well together.
And just how far down the rabbit hole are we?
Wiccans, Druids, Shamans, and Witches…Oh My!
Druids: This is a magician, priest, and one who might also be called a soothsayer; one who practiced a Celtic religion before the dawn of Christianity, particularly those from ancient Britain, Ireland, and Gaul. These men and women gave counsel, educated, and were the philosophers, history keepers, musicians, poets, and storytellers of their time. The group shared their tradition orally and were secretive so there is no known documented writings of their practices. They were also healers. There are modern practitioners who call themselves Druids who practice Neo-Druidism who revere nature and look to live in reciprocity with the environment and world. There is no connection between the ancient Druids and the Neo-Druids today, although they do attempt to reconstruct the practices of old.
Shamans: If you are referencing shamanism before it became syncretic with other traditions, than Shamanism refers to practices stemming from Siberian tribes as well as the medicine women and men from the Americas and Asia. Are people who have the ability to walk between this realm and the world of spirit, and they are healers. Shamans can be male or female, and there many people today who pursue the path of the shaman as a way of life which has changed the meaning of the term to what some might call “core shamanistic practices.” Such practices include dancing, drumming, and the of substances in an effort to alters one’s state of conscious, journeying through three worlds: the underworld, the physical realm, and the celestial realm, working with spirits for healing power and information, and working with plants as well as animal. Shamans also practice divination. There is a path of shamanic witchcraft, with one contemporary author of greater than 20 books, Christopher Penczak, founder of the Penczackian tradition, who writes of the practice in his body of work The Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft. There are traditions of Wiccan, Norse, and Celtic shamans, as many practitioners of old conducted the same practices without calling themselves shaman.
Witch: A person who practices the magickal arts and studies the occult without referencing a religious system during the process. There are various traditions of witchcraft. The definition of witch and the person’s practices changes depending on the culture you examine, whereas witchcraft in the West is far different from other countries, and in regions of Africa even today, being accused of witchcraft can still cost a person their life!
Warlocks: A practitioner of the craft who is male or a sorcerer. However, Wiccan witches do not call themselves warlocks. Both male and female practitioners of Wicca are simply called witches and/or Wiccans.
Wicca: Defining Wicca is a bit tricky, since some will assert Wicca stems from the cultures in which the divine feminine was worshipped before being conquered by patriarchal societies (See the book: When God Was a Woman By Merlin Stone), and some will clearly claim Wicca as a relatively new establishment brought to life by Gerald Gardner in the early 20s. Wiccans typically worship a God and Goddess, but this God and Goddess can also be seen a single deity broken down into God and Goddess aspects for ease of human understanding. The religion is a nature-based, pantheist, polytheistic religion. Wiccans are witches who adhere to religious principles while using the magickal arts to enhance their life and the life of others. Under the umbrella of Wicca there are many traditions (denominations). Again, not all witches are Wiccan.
At, this examination of different pagan practices, systems, and beliefs is no way all inclusive, but you should have a fair idea of how various systems of belief differ as well as how many of the systems overlap.
Temple of Shamanic Witchcraft by Christopher Penczak