The Problem with Words
We witches love labels. Don’t deny it. We love to find those perfect descriptors to help flesh out our practice and tell others what exactly it is that we do. Sometimes labels are helpful and descriptive, sometimes they are divisive. Most of the time they can be confusing. I thought it would be helpful to define some terms that I choose to use because they are sometimes at odds with how other practitioners may use them.
I started using the term folkloric witchcraft to describe my path because of two major reasons. The first is that I am inspired primarily by the folklore surrounding witches, my home, and the supernatural. So if folklore composes the primary source for my witchcraft it only makes sense for me to use this word. The other reason is because the term I had been using was getting tumbled up with another very similar term.
The terms Traditional Witchcraft and traditional witchcraft are only differentiated by their capitalizations and yet they both capture very different streams of practice*. Capital T Witchcraft refers to lineaged, initiatory witchcraft that is non-Wiccan in nature. This includes traditions like 1734, Cultus Sabbati, and the Clan of Tubal Cain. These often include group work, ritual structures, and specific tradition mythology.
Then there is lower case traditional witchcraft which looks to folklore, historical documentation, and folk magic practices to drive their witchcraft. This is the label I used to describe myself for a while, but the constant battle of capital letters drove me batty. I started using folkloric witchcraft as an alternative, but I do think there are some distinctions between this and historical witchcraft.
Folkloric witchcraft contains a philosophy that the beliefs surrounding witchcraft are more important to constructing a practice rather than their historical validity. This means that to incorporate a practice the validity does not fall on “was this practiced” but rather on “was this a belief held to be true about witches”. The next line of thinking is “Is this appropriate for a contemporary practice?” and then “is this a valid practice for me?”. Folkloric witchcraft, as I term it, has an inherent assumption that just because folklore talks about it does not mean it was actually practiced. Folkloric witchcraft also assumes that a lack of historical verification does not demean something as a valid contemporary practice.
Historical witchcraft stresses the importance of verification or attested practices, but does not erase beliefs from the equation. Historical witchcraft is much closer to a reconstruction from archeological and historical records of what a witchcraft practice may look like if they were continued into the contemporary era. Historical attested practices get front line seats, while folklorically attested practices fill in the gaps. The two paths have a lot of overlap, and the use of one term over the other really depends on the individuals focus and underpinning worldview.
Bioregionalism within witchcraft can be a part of ANY STREAM OF WITCHCRAFT. I focus on its role as a stand alone practice or within folkloric craft because that is what I do personally. That doesn’t change the fact that Bioregionalism is not a static or exclusive practice. Bioregionalism fuels my folkloric practice as it does to many others. Really none of these are exclusive, but I think Bioregionalism really needs that distinction.
Bioregionalism is the basic principal that your local bioregion is a sacred and powerful place. I like to think of bioregions as regions defined by the land rather than regions defined by politics. Bioregionalism has its own post here for more details.
Ancestral Practices are practices that come into your craft through ancestral lineages or from a land distinct from where you live. Most of the time I use the term ancestral practice to refer to a non-bioregional aspect of my witchcraft, primarily coming from Europe. Examples of ancestral practices can include burning juniper for smoke cleansing because that was done by your ancestors in Scotland, or growing rosemary by the front door because your Southern grandmother told you it brought good luck to a household. So it’s not exclusively about European magical practices and is rather broad on its own. Like bioregionalism it does not stand in opposition to any witchcraft system and often times flows in and out of other approaches.
Why Go Through the Trouble?
I took the time out to create these neat labels, which constantly bleed into each other, because giving meaning to these labels helps facilitate a larger conversation. I don’t use these labels as a way to quantify what I do, they are there just to help and remember where things come from. I think they are very helpful in abstract explanatory arenas like the internet but ultimately futile in actual practice.
When people are reading my words, I want them to be able to see my perspective. If I am constantly using a phrase that others use differently, then everything becomes muddy and confusing. So having this page to outline everything will help with that perspective and allow readers a link if they have questions about the terms.
These labels are used as ways to help communicate practices in a concise manner. They are not about drawing lines in the sand, stating superiority, or boxing people away. I call myself not just a folkloric witch but also a swamp witch because thats where I live and practice and thats where I go to be with my spirits. So the use of labels is also not a limitation to how expansive your witchcraft is. It just helps people understand your focus. I live ten minuets from the beach and work with spirits there, but I don’t call myself a sea witch because those spirits aren’t the major focus of my particular path.
I also want to note that this list may grow and change because in the same way that witchcraft is alive and changing, so am I. My ideas may change in regards to these words and I intend to make note and track those changes if they happen. I never want to be so rooted that I can’t bend a little with the wind.
Cut to the Chase (TLDR)
TRADITIONAL WITCHCRAFT: Upper Case Traditional Witchcraft. Linegaed, Initiatory, non-Wiccan.
traditional witchcraft: lower case traditional witchcraft. Folklore, historical attestation, folk magic.
Folkloric witchcraft: draws on the beliefs surrounding witches and the stories told about witches to inspire witchcraft. Other related term: traditional witchcraft
Historical witchcraft: draws on historical attestation and archeological evidence to reconstruct practices of witchcraft. Other related term: traditional witchcraft
Bioregionalism: a distinct focus on local areas in regard to spirit work, spell ingredients, tool creation, and all other aspects of witchcraft. Other related/interchangeable term: Local witchcraft
Ancestral Practices: an action or belief that comes into use through ones ancestors or ancestral lands. This can include family specific practices or historically attested practices. Often used specifically by the author to refer to witchcraft practices that originate from European countries. Improper to use with wide strokes as everyone comes a different ancestral line, meaning all ancestral practices are inherently personal and unique.
Labels: descriptors used in witchcraft to help communicate in as few words as possible the general focus of an individual persons practice.
My writing focuses almost exclusively on witchcraft within an American context. Specifically, living in the United States. This means that some of my work is inherently ethnocentric. A clear example of this is my use of the term ancestral practice as primarily used to refer back to European witchcraft. Ethnocentrism is an incredibly important conversation to have in regard to witchcraft, especially where it interests with colonialism and cultural imperialism. The attempt to focus on a specifically American witchcraft colors all of the writing that I do, as does my background and personal experience. There are many fine sources on European witchcraft practices out there and I will gladly help anyone looking for sources in any way I can but those practices will very rarely find their way onto this blog.
Photo taken by Aaron Oberon. All images and content copyright by author Aaron Oberon, 2018. All rights reserved. Mangroves in Sanibel, Florida.
*Side Note: why did we as witches think differentiation via capitalization was an effective way of communicating differences? Because it's not.