There are many definitions of what witchcraft is. Many of these definitions are imprecise and contradictory. I am going to first start off with listing what some of the definitions of witchcraft are that, can be found floating around out in society today.
Let's start with the definition of Witch found in Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary;
WITCH (n ME wicche fr. OE wicca, masc. wizard and wicce fem. witch; akin to MHG
wicken to bewitch, OE wigle divination, OHG with holy- more at victim)
1a. Wizard, Sorcerer
1b. a woman practicing the black arts: SORCERESS
1c. one supposed to possess supernatural powers esp.
by compact with devil or familiar.
1d. or Witcher: Dowser
2. an ugly old woman: HAG
3. a charming or alluring woman
Talk about your contradictions! Going by this definition, I can be insulted, or take it as a compliment, or I could be someone who is in allegiance with the devil, or simply looking for water! Although many newer dictionary definitions will add: a practitioner of Wicca, you will find that this to be a narrow definition in the wide-world of witchcraft and only part of what witchcraft can be.
In the same dictionary here is the definition of WITCHCRAFT:
1a. the use of sorcery or magic
1b. intercourse with the devil or with a familiar
2. an irresistible influence or fascination: ENCHANTMENT
Defining witchcraft as the "use of sorcery or magic" is an agreed upon, universal belief. Where many people get into some disagreement in their perceptions is whether this "Craft" is good, noble, and ethical, or evil, wicked and sinful. As you gain more knowledge about sorcery or magic, you will find that this knowledge in itself is neither good, nor bad, but the practices and the effect on your life will be more about the choices that you make.
Here is another definition from Raymond Buckland , an author and authority on magic, divination, and witchcraft
stating the original, Anglo-Saxon meaning of WITCHCRAFT:
"Witchcraft, the craft of the wise, the knowledgeable."
But what exactly does that mean? If witchcraft is the craft of the wise, and the use of sorcery or magic- How much, or what kind of magic does one have to practice or use in order to be a witch? Does this mean you have to study a year and a day? Does it mean you have to join a wiccan coven, practice high magic, low magic, hoodoo, or have seances?
Raymond Buckland again gives us another definition of witchcraft:
"an ancient pagan religion with a belief in both male and female deities,
with a reverence for nature and all life, and recognition of a need for
fertility among plants, animals and humans. In western Europe Witchcraft
grew into a loosely formalized religion with it's own priesthood."
So then is witchcraft a religion? This definition would indicate that witchcraft is a specific religious path with doctrines and practices just like any other religion. Those who define witchcraft in this light- as a suppressed pagan religion- also might practice witchcraft as a nature/ earth based religion without the use of magical practice.
Famous author and anthropologist, Margaret Murray observed that the word "witchcraft" was used to define many different concepts. What she did was create two different terms to distinguish the meaning of witchcraft.
One was "Operative Witchcraft" meaning- "the casting of spells or charms for either good or ill and common to every nation as part of our shared human heritage." And "Ritual Witchcraft"- meaning the "ancient religion of Western Europe."
Am I able to offer one, single definition of the words witch and witchcraft? No. I don't think anyone can. Historically the word witch has been used to define sorcerers, wizards, healers, magicians, wise women, conjurers, rootworkers, priestesses, and shamans. There are too many aspects to witchcraft.
In the lessons that follow, I focus on mainly "Operative Witchcraft"- the "Craft" that utilizes the development of our psychic senses, of knowledge, and of the casting of charms or spells, but I also incorporate aspects of Ritual Witchcraft.
The Witchcraft lessons that follow are derived from various magical/ cultural/ and spiritual/ religious traditions. My philosophy surrounding the use of diverse magical influences is simple- I believe in using what works. I also believe that all magical practices and traditions are descended from and rooted in that first ancient shamanic tradition that still resides in all of our DNA.
Just to keep things clear, here are some useful definitions of terms from the Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft by Judika Illes:
*Wicca: a narrow definition- the modern religion deriving from the pre-Christian spiritual traditions of the British Isles, what some would call Gardnerian Wicca; Margaret Murray's "ritual witchcraft." spelled with a capital "W".
*Wicca, wicce: the Anglo-Saxon root words, mascline and feminine respectively, from which the modern words Wicca, witchcraft, witch, wit, wise and wisdom may derive. Spelled with a lower case "w".
*Wiccan: a narrow definition: one who follows the path of Wicca; a practitioner of Margaret Murray's "ritual witchcraft." Spelled with a capital "W".
* Witch: a broad definition: a practitioner of witchcraft as defined below; also someone perceived and identified as a "witch". Spelled with a lower case "w".
*Witchcraft: a broad definition: the magical arts, encompassing shamanism and traditional healing; Margaret Murray's "operative witchcraft". Spelled with a lower-case "w".
Much of the above information was adapted from the Introduction to The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft by Judika Illes, 2005 and The Witch Book by Raymond Buckland, 2002.