So, you found a path that seems to fit you and satiate your spiritual hunger. You have probably read a couple of books, skimmed through a couple of sites, talked with a couple of people and feel a genuine, honest and strong pull towards religious Witchcraft. Thus you proceed to call yourself a Witch. Right?
Before you pause in disbelief and stare the screen calling me all sorts of... names (mehehehe) for my apparent "bigotry" stop and think. What does calling yourself a Witch entails? Is it just a name for this spirituality that anyone delving into can take up? Or does it mean something more, something deeper?
Well, I'd say the second. Why you ask? Because any name or title of any empirical, practical and knowledge-filled system has specific connotations and denotes an understanding and a form of capability in the name's/title's fields. For our own example, what does one profess, even unknowingly, when taking up the name of a Witch? Well, you'll find that views differ on this (just as they do on any other subject) , so I'll present my own view here.
I believe that by calling one's self a Witch, that person professes a level of mastery, understanding and experience in a variety of fields. Specifically, it denotes a range of various experiences, a degree of mastery over various arts of Witchcraft, a developed and well-grounded spirituality and an effective relationship with deity. I doubt any newbie that starts studying or is at the first few months of their studies have attained or reached any of those things.
I'll provide a list of requirements that one should meet before they can take the name Witch for their path.
1. Sabbats: One should have acquired an understanding and comprehension of what the Wheel of the Year and its Sabbats deal with as well as have observed it wholly (without having missed any of the sacred days) at least once (meaning, throughout at least a year) .
2. Seats: One should have acquired an understanding and comprehension of what an Esbat deals with as well as have observed any number of Esbats between 4-7 or more within a year.
3. Arts and Crafts: One should have acquired an understanding and comprehension of a number of arts of Witchcraft of their choice and preference as well as have attained a level of mastery in those.
4. Deities: One should have acquired an understanding and comprehension of the deities of their choice and preference or calling as well as have built a working relationship with them.
5. Organization and Structure: One should have formed and follow a standard, stabilized and concrete path, with regular observances, rites and practices.
Of course, those apply on a specific form of religious Witchcraft, one that is influenced heavily by outer court Wiccan material (known as Neo-Wicca or Dedicatory Religious Witchcraft) or has Celtic influences. If you find yourself drawn to another form of religious Witchcraft, simply replace the sacred days, the requirements etc with the appropriate ones. In addition, this is geared mostly towards solitaries and not people under training with a traditional coven. If you happen to fall under the latter, please consult with your uplines/High Priest/ess regarding the requirements that specific Tradition has set.
Why do I say all this? What does it matter whether you meet certain requirements or not? I say all this and it matters because to call yourself something you have not yet attained, have not yet fully understood and have not yet fully realized will cause issues.
First of all, it will deceive and trouble those that seek you out for help be it practical or spiritual. Second of all, it will confuse you since you'll find yourself unable to neither meet the expectations of the community nor help those in need. You'll say, "But I don't intend doing so!” I know you probably don't wish to deceive others or find yourself in a tough position.
I'll give you an example: let's say you have a medical issue and want to find what it is and how to treat it. What will you do? You'll probably seek out a doctor. Now, think for a moment how you will feel if the person you found calls him/herself a doctor but in all actuality is still only a sophomore of medical school. Won't it cause you problems? It's something similar with calling one's self a Witch.
After reading all this you'll most probably feel confused, lost and wondering, "What the heck do I call myself then?" Call yourself a Seeker. Call yourself a Student. Or find another term that fits your case better. However, I ask that you do not mislead others and burden yourself by calling your path something it isn't yet or something it might never be.
NOTE: Due to the fact people might overlook this part of the essay: this refers only to Wiccan-influenced paths. If your path is different, more power to you. I am not Wiccan-influenced either. I simply understand that the majority of people are indeed on such a path, at least while in their Pagan "infancy". These are completely my own views of the "basics" of such a path. I am in no way an authority on a subject. My word is not law; it's not written on stone.