Calling oneself ‘Witch’ does not make a Witch – but neither does heredity itself, nor the collecting of titles, degrees, and initiations. A Witch seeks to control the forces within her/himself that make life possible in order to live wisely and without harm to others and in harmony with nature.
It may seem at times like Wicca is so flexible it defies limitations. Wiccans are frequently accused of being “self proclaimed” or “self-styled,” but let it not be forgotten that the term Witch is being used to describe the practices an individual holds as a valuable part of their craft and way of life. Someone calling himself or herself a Witch in title alone does not a Witch make. An individual’s deeds, beliefs, and actions must back this title to make it authentic. It is often believed that one can be given a title, degree, or “gifts” associated with Witchcraft simply by birth. While many religions have followers who believe in instilling a line of faith to next of kin handed down like a surname, Wiccan practice does not uphold this tradition. Perhaps because many Wiccans have come to the Craft of their own volition after spending time in faiths bestowed upon them from birth, it seems more common for modern Wiccans to want to allow those to come to this tradition who seek it for personal reasons, and not simply as a matter of family tradition.
This is not to say however that family members cannot introduce others to the Craft. It is possible that children raised in a Wiccan household will grow comfortable enough with the beliefs of their parents to which they cannot help but be exposed, to want to seek out their own practice in the Craft; however, this may not always be the case. In many Wiccan traditions children may be welcome at rites when appropriate, or will be exposed to discussion of their parents’ beliefs and practices, but will not be expected to engage fully until at an age to make a conscious commitment to study and practice as a Witch themselves.
There are also families wherein interest in parts of Witchcraft beyond the spiritual traditions of Wicca prevail sparking an interest in the Occult and supernatural that may yield a study of elements of Witchcraft. To briefly explain, Witchcraft is the practices involved in performing healing, divination, Magick etc., but does not necessarily embody the spiritual beliefs associated with Wicca as a religion. Therefore, some families define particular practices as being inherent in their culture: for example, Tarot reading or healing arts, and these practices are taught and fostered in other family members who show interest and potential.
Some families choose to continue the tradition of Wiccan practice throughout the generations; thus, individuals who do continue to follow Wicca as it was introduced to them by family members are known as “hereditary witches.” Nevertheless, regardless of family ties, for “hereditary witches” it is typically expected that they will need to learn, grow, and develop skills in practicing elements of Witchcraft and to grow spiritually as a Wiccan, just like anyone else. For comparison, if one is born to parents who speak German, one still needs to learn to speak German. It may be easier than someone growing up in a Spanish-speaking household who later wants to learn German, but it remains a learning process nonetheless. It is erroneous to assume that someone will have more potent Magick, more capacity for divination or healing or a better aptitude for telepathy just because their parents were Witches. There are certainly examples of families who have high numbers of individuals highly attuned to psychic phenomenon but the opposite is also found in some occasions to be true, and it remains controversial to what extent a genetic advantage is involved as opposed to openness, exposure, and practice. In all, it is how one lives, and follows the path of the God and Goddess, that wisdom to practice Witchcraft develops, not from family history alone.
Angela Kaufman is the coauthor of Wicca: What’s the Real Deal? Breaking Through the Misconceptions, along with Dayna Winters, and Patricia Gardner. You can find out more about the book at: http://www.wwtrd.webs.com.