Throughout history, these two terms have been used in a variety of ways in regards to spellcasters. Among those actually involved in The Craft, the two terms have distinct meanings.
Witches are individuals who acquire their magic either through Hereditary Magic or Imprinting.
Hereditary Magic: Magic runs in some families, with the magical power passed down to children from their same-gender parent. Hereditary magic still requires training to use effectively, and if a witch refuses to train and never develop his or her powers, over a few generations the magical energy can die out.
It is rare for hereditary magic to “skip” a generation. This usually happens when the parent is untrained or has not used magic for several years. The gift may appear again in a later generation, however. It is almost unheard of for hereditary magic to skip one child but not the other. All children that are the same gender as the witch parent will have magical aptitude, though the power levels can fluctuate greatly based on raw talent and training.
Imprinting: Some supernatural entities have the ability to grant magical power to Mundanes. In some cases, an imprinted witch can pass on the magical power to offspring as hereditary witchcraft. A shaman that gains access to abilities through communing with spirits, a Seer than gains abilities through prayer to divine entities, or a warlock that gains abilities through a bargain with a demon are examples of Imprinting.
Wizards are individuals who acquire their magic through research and study. Theoretically, any mundane who was willing to put in the time to research and study the occult could become a wizard. In reality, the ability to become a wizard is no different than the ability to become a physicist. Sure, people can and do succeed at it, but the amount of work involved is such that most people simply can’t.
A person who spontaneously develops innate magical ability without the benefit of imprinting or study. Most prodigies are psions who develop their abilities after a traumatic experience involving a supernatural entity. But a mundane could also gain magical talents from a sudden exposure to magical energies or even from living in close proximity to a cairn.
Witches Versus Wizards by Julie Ann Dawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.