There are so many questions asked, by those who are new to the Craft and even some who have been doing this for awhile. I'm going to just focus on some of the most commonly asked questions that I see, and my own personal take on them.
This list is not exhaustive; nor are my answers definitive. :)
Q: What is Paganism/Witchcraft/Wicca and how are they different?
A: Paganism is an umbrella term encompassing the earth-based religions.
Witchcraft is the practice of magic either in a religious sense or not.
Wicca is a modern religion, based on ancient pagan beliefs that incorporates the Goddess and God, practice of magic and reverence for nature.
Q: What is a witch/warlock/wizard?
A: A witch is a magic practitioner. While I am sure some traditions/people use the term wizard, I personally do not. Warlock is not often used, being considered an insult as in some cultures it means "oath-breaker".
Q: Are all Pagans witches/are all witches Wiccan/are all witches Pagan...?
A: No. Not all Pagans would appreciate being call a witch, and not all those who consider themselves a witch are Wiccan. There are also Christian witches, who blend the paths of mainstream Christian faiths with earth-based observances.
Q: Do Pagans worship Satan?
A: No. Satan is a construct of the Christian myths; therefore most Pagans not only do not worship any deity by that name, they do not even believe he exists.
Q: Is Witchcraft evil?
A: Again, no. Witchcraft itself is the practice of magic, or manipulation of energy, to achieve some goal. It is the intent of the practitioner that can be good or evil.
Q: Do you believe in God?
A: Yes, I believe in many. Goddesses, too. I believe there is a unifying Oneness with multiple facets that no-one can possibly fully comprehend; thus resulting in the myriad deities and pantheons we are familiar with.
Q: What is a coven?
A: A coven is a group of witches, as close as or closer than, family, who meet regularly to recognize, celebrate and worship nature and deity.
Q: How do I find pagans/witches/covens/teachers, etc in my area?
A: There are various websites, such as The Witch's Voice, where groups and individuals can post information about meetings, classes, etc. Meet-up.com is another place where groups will advertise, and checking the bulletin board at your local metaphysical shop can be an invaluable resource. Just be smart and exercise caution when meeting new people for the first time, and keep it in a public venue.
Q: How do I become a Pagan/Witch?
A: Study, read, learn and ask questions. If it is right for you, you will know.
Q: What book should I read?
A: There are so many good books, by many different authors. My best suggestion would be to go to your local library first and read any books they have on Paganism, Wicca or Witchcraft (usually found in the area devoted to books on religion). Then, head to your bookstore. There is also quite a bit of information available on the internet. Take everything you read with a grain of salt. It is not all correct information, and you want to be sure you don't get taken advantage of. Also, keep in mind, there is no "one true" anything when it comes to Paganism, and so you will sometimes find conflicting points of view.
Q: Is Witchcraft/Wicca/Paganism a real religion and is it legal?
A: Yes, and yes. Whichever variety of Paganism a person chooses to follow, as long as they are not breaking any existing laws, is legal. It is as real and legitimate as any other religion, mainstream or not.
Q: Do you have to be part of a coven to be a witch?
A: No, being in a coven is not a requirement of being a witch, or pagan. There are many solitary practitioners, either by choice or because there are no compatible groups in their area.
Q: What does it Solitary mean?
A: A Solitary is a person, who for one reason or another, practices their Craft on their own. There are several reason one might choose to be Solitary, including personal preference of working alone, there are no other Pagans in the area, there are no groups whose tenets and ideals reflect the beliefs of a practitioner, or they simply haven't found a group with the right fit yet.
Q: Do Pagans go to church?
A: Yes, and at the same time, no. Some groups do have brick and mortar buildings (temples) in which they hold services. Others meet at coven members' homes or a pagan-friendly establishment. However, most, if not all, Pagans are more comfortable outside, and prefer to hold circles and rituals outdoors when the weather permits and if they have a safe location to do so.
Q: What is a spell/do you cast spells/can I cast a spell/will you cast a spell for me?
A: A spell can be described as a petition to the gods or other higher power to effect a specific change. In working a spell, a witch is adding their own energy and exerting their will to create this change.
Yes, I do cast spells, when the needs arises. It is not done frivolously, though, and I make an effort to either exhaust mundane solutions or to have the spell work in tandem with more mundane efforts.
Anyone can attempt to cast a spell, however, usually only one who has a proper understanding of how to construct and carry out a spell may do so successfully.
No, I probably will not cast a spell for you. In some instances I may help someone (a friend or family member) write a spell or ritual, and give information and resources that may be beneficial, so that person can cast the spell themselves. Or, I may do a healing spell on behalf of a sick family member at their request, but that is definitely a case-by-case type of situation. I certainly am not going to advertise to cast spells for people- with guaranteed results, no less- and expect payment, as is frequently seen around the internet. If the person wanting the spell done does not invest some part of themselves into it, it cannot be successful.
Q: What is a Tradition and how many are there?
A: A Tradition is a specific sect, usually of Wicca, with a particular set of rules and dogma. Some examples are Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Dianic and Faery, to name a few. It is impossible to know exactly how many there are, especially as there are many groups that begin as Eclectic and evolve into something more lasting.
Q: What is magic? What is white/black magic?
A: Magic is the process by which a person exerts his or her energy and will to manifest a change. There is, in my opinion, no such thing as "white" or "black" magic; this goes back to the intent of the practitioner.
Q: Are Pagans anti-Christian?
A: Not really. There are some extremists in every religion, though, so I'm sure there are some Pagans who truly are anti-Christian. In general, though, Pagans promote tolerance of all religions.
Q: Do you follow the Wiccan Rede? What does it mean?
A: This usually means "An' it harm none, do what ye will". Essentially, this is a rule that says your actions should not cause harm. It is a reminder to be mindful of what you do and the consequences thereof. And, yes, I do try to follow this in principle; meaning that I do not (usually) intend harm to come from my actions. There is somewhat of a fine line, here, though. At what point does it become more harmful to try to avoid causing harm? Sometimes, inaction may be worse than intending harm, as in the case of a violent crime, to use an extreme example, when may be required to defend oneself. Not causing harm applies not only to your actions concerning others, but yourself, as well.
We have to also beware of taking this too literally; after all, even the smallest of actions or inaction may cause unintended harm. For example, when we eat, we, in effect, cause harm to the plant or animal that is providing our meal - on the flip side, if we refuse to eat to avoid harming plants & animals, we would cause harm to our own bodies.
I prefer "and it harm none, do what ye will. And it cause harm, do as ye must."
Plus, keep in mind that not all witches follow the Wiccan Rede.
Q: Is Witchcraft/Wicca a cult?
A: No. A cult is when there is one supreme leader, in whom the followers blindly believe. There is no room for free-thinkers and non-conformists. Paganism, on the other hand, is almost entirely made up of non-conformists; those who have been drawn to this path are the ones who never accepted that there is one, and only one, right or true way to believe.
Q: Why are rituals held at night/in secret?
A: There are many reasons this might be true. Historically, witches were hunted and burned or drowned for their beliefs, and that is the reason the Craft was kept secret and rituals were done away from prying eyes. Nowadays, busy work schedules often mean evenings are the only free time many practitioners. Also, many Pagans feel closer to the Goddess at night when the moon is out. Not to mention, there is still widespread fear and ridicule of Paganism, leading some practitioners to practice in secret as a means of self-preservation.
Q: What is a Book of Shadows?
A: It is a book, or books, containing a witch's rituals, spells, correspondences and other information important to his or her path.
Q: Can only women be witches?
A: No, the term "witch" applies equally to women and to men who follow a Pagan path and practice magic.