Witch: A Beginner’s Guide (Some Terms to Know and Advice)

Know the risks.

Witchcraft isn’t just fun and games; perks like hexes and love spells can come with a price.

Choose your path.

There’s no shortage of types of witchcraft, meaning there’s also no shortage of choices for an aspiring witch. Rather than get overwhelmed, get your bearings by having at least a basic understanding of the terms below.

Paganism: An umbrella term for religions other than the Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam that typically places emphasis on the earth and nature. Its modern-day practitioners are known as neo-pagans.

Wicca: A religion that’s perhaps the popularized form neo-paganism, thanks in large part to the so-called Father of Wicca, Gerald Gardner, who cultivated his specific ideology, now known as Gardnerian Wicca, in the mid-1900s. Whereas witches are typically thought of as women, many Wiccans are men and worship both a god and a goddess. What was initially thought of as an anti-monotheistic gesture, though, has more recently been criticized for espousing heterosexuality and the idea of a gender binary, which was, in part, what led to the emergence of Dianic Wicca, in the 1970s, for those who chose to only worship the goddess and to do so only in the presence of women—a policy that’s since proven to be problematic, as many of its covens prohibit transgender women.

Ceremonial: The by-the-book practice of placing the highest value in—not to mention expertly executing—ceremonies and rituals.

Solitary: This group is made up of those who choose not to find a coven, but instead operate on their own with the type (or mix) of witchcraft that they choose.

Eclecticism: A more social route for those who choose not to stick to a particular category but instead mix traditions as they please.

*note: the above is by no means an extensive or complete list, but does provide several examples of existing paths.

Learn the terminology.
Before that deep dive, though, any beginner should have at least cursory knowledge of the terms listed below.

Initiation: The rites that put a budding witch on the path to making things official, by joining a coven after studying its practice, traditionally for a year and a day. The initiations that follow eventually allow the initiate the opportunity to become a high priest or high priestess; those with enough knowledge, experience, and dedication can become the leader of a Wiccan coven.

Coven: A gathering or community of initiated witches, usually led by a high priest and/or high priestess. If a coven is Wiccan, their meetings often involve sabbats, which are celebrations of the annual cycle of seasonal festivals known as the Wheel of the Year. (Non-sabbat meetings, such as the observation of a full moon, are known as esbats.)

Familiar: An animal-shaped spirit that serves as a witch’s spy, assistant, companion, and protector—the classic example of which is Sabrina’s black cat, Salem.

Altar: A surface that a Wiccan uses solely for activities such as casting spells, chanting, and worshipping the god and/or goddess. Typically, the altar is covered in a symbol-adorned cloth, which protects it from ash, liquids, and candle wax, as well as religious and ritual items like incense, wands, chalices of water, and cauldrons.

Pentacle: A magical tool such as an amulet or talisman that often appears on an altar, and is also often confused with a pentagram—a symbol popular in Wicca and, confusingly enough, the Church of Satan, which has pretty successfully taken ownership of its inverted version. (Inverted pentacles aren’t necessarily satanic, though Wiccans have recently largely strayed from using them to avoid that association.)

Baneful Magic: A form of magic used with dark, malevolent, and harmful intentions, commonly associated with Satanism. Spells have been used for a variety of purposes but those that are specifically used for negative and/or harmful purposes are known as jinxes, hexes, and curses. ( has a history rooted in racism as well)

Séance: A ceremony used to contact spirits, including the dead, usually with the help of a medium.

Grimoire: The umbrella term for a magic text, ranging from diaries to textbooks.

Book of Shadows: A Wiccan’s personal grimoire, used to store information they need, such as thoughts, recipes, and instructions for spells, rituals, and hexes.

Study up.

Even if you think you’re sure you want to proceed, it’s best to find out what exactly you’re signing up for. Before paging through your spell books, it’s wise to do your research—particularly since the modern-day idea of witchcraft has been pieced together by a mix of legends and existing translated historical documents, leading each of the pros to have a slightly different take on the subject.

Going back to the first step of knowing the risks.

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