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Understanding Wicca: Sorting Out Differences in Types of Wicca

Updated on August 11, 2016
WiccanSage profile image

A Wiccan of 25 years, Sage likes to put her background as a writer and teacher to use by helping people learn about this NeoPagan path.

Words have power all right, and not just within rituals or spellcasting. All of our understanding and communication comes down to the concept of language. If you remember the old Helen Keller movies, Annie Sullivan (the teacher) couldn't even begin to get through to Helen until she was able to give her a base of language from which to work.No one can forget that startling moment when Helen drops the pitcher at the pump and first realizes that all the finger games Annie has been playing with her were attempts to show her that everything has a name.

Once that realization is made, we can go from understanding concrete objects (like water, or doll) to the intangible but equally as important things and ideas that it's necessary to understand if we're ever to communicate effectively.

Since Wicca is not an organize religion, there can be some concepts that get a little muddy. One of these concepts, I noticed, revolves around what could accurately be called:



For Categorization Purposes:

Branches
Trads
Lineage
Systems
Flavors
Source

Sorting Out Wicca

Like any scientist will tell you, defining and classifying helps with understanding anything. Within the Wiccan community, a lot of buzz words are tossed around haphazardly-- and this leads to nothing but further confusion among ourselves, and among anyone learning about our religion.

So let’s attempt to define and classify these concepts as they apply to Wicca*.

* Note that this article refers specifically to Wicca, not necessarily to Witchcraft and Paganism in general. If you don't know the difference between Wicca/Wiccan Witchcraft and non-Wiccan Witchcraft and Paganism, you can read about it in this hub.

A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook
A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook

An excellent book for the uninitiated to begin to understand BTW.

 

Branches of Wicca

Wicca can be divided into two major branches: British Traditional Witchcraft/Wicca (BTW) and Eclectic Wicca.

BTW is the older branch. At one time, it was the only branch, as Wicca was originally an exclusively initiation-based mystery religion. BTW teachings include both inner-court (oathbound materials) that are passed on to those initiated, as well as outer-court (non-oathbound materials) that are available for the masses.

BTW is still initiation-based. Despite the fact that many inner-court materials have made their way into public publication, you cannot self-appoint yourself a BTW. You must be initiated by another initiated BTW.

Eclectic Wicca is the other branch. Some initiated BTW’s brought Eclectic Wicca to the masses (at the time before the internet, it could be very difficult for people in some areas to actually find a coven and be initiated). Most did not break their oaths, and did not reveal oathbound materials. They just dropped the call for secrecy, often changed some of the source materials, sometimes even dropped the necessity of formal initiation, and established their own traditions and groups. People could even learn without a group, through books, and thus Solitary Wicca was born.

Eclectics are sometimes referred to as “Neo-Wiccans” by people who want to distinguish between BTW and Eclectic Wicca; further, there are still some BTWs (staunch traditionalists) who argue that only BTW’s are Wiccan. Since Eclectics now outnumber BTWs so greatly, and were the first to actually call the religion ‘Wicca’ and themselves ‘Wiccans’, I include Eclectics as a branch of Wicca, though a branch separate from BTW.

Source

Lineage

Originally, lineage was specifically to verify that someone can trace their Wiccan line back in BTW. This is the line of people through whom you were initiated. So your lineage would be your High Priest that initiated you, his High Priestess that initiated him, her High Priest who initiated her, etc.—back to Gerald Gardner and his original coven.

All BTW’s can trace their lineage back to Wicca’s founder, Gerald Gardner. Therefore, all BTW’s have a lineage.

For strict BTW lineage to be intact, you must:

  • be initiated into a BTW trad coven
  • by someone who himself/herself has proper lineage
  • which can be traced back to the New Forest coven and Gerald Gardner (Wicca’s founder)
  • which adheres to the core, inner court source materials (groups may add to the inner court core materials, but may not subtract)
  • through a cross-gender initiation ritual (male-to-female, female-to-male)

Others have somewhat relaxed these rules. For example, Raymond Buckland was initiated by Gerald Gardner himself, however he went on to establish his own tradition and deviated from the original inner court materials, which he called Saex-Wica. He also dispensed with the cross-gender rule, so that he initiated some men, or would allow women to initiate women. Unheard of at the time, he even allowed for people to self-initiate.

Some of those more staunch traditionalists would then dismiss lineage through Buckland’s Seax-Wica trad; others would consider it a valid lineage.

As Eclectic Wicca has flourished, tracing lineage is no longer a concern of many people. Wiccan lineage doesn’t really matter anymore outside of a few specific groups. When joining an established trad or coven (even if it’s entirely Eclectic in origin), some people will keep track simply to understand their own coven roots. They’re not concerned if it’s ‘broken’ (or can’t be traced directly back to BTW).

If you have not been initiated, or you have been initiated by someone without lineage, you have no lineage. There is nothing wrong with that; you certainly don’t need to prove lineage to your Gods to worship them.

Unfortunately, there are those that would fudge lineage. It's not meant to be a game of one-upmanship; it's surely better to keep your integrity intact than to present yourself as something you're not. Achieving initiation into a lineaged tradition is an achievement that should be given the respect it's due, not cheapened by posers who want to pretend they're more Wiccan than thou.

The Original Book of Shadows

Gerald Gardner's Book of Shadows
Gerald Gardner's Book of Shadows | Source

Trad

Wicca is generally divided into different sects. Many of these sects are called trads. This is similar to the “denominations” found in Christianity. Within both branches of Wicca, there can be found many different trads.

The word ‘trad’ is derived from ‘tradition’. By definition, a tradition is something handed down. A trad is an established system that is passed down from teacher to student, usually in groups.

In BTW, the original trad is Gardnarian. Another well-known BTW trad is Alexandrian, which was established by an initiated Gardnarian. Some better known Eclectic trads include Saex-Wica and Georgian Wicca.

Not everyone has a trad, though, and the word is often misused. The key question is this: was your specific system of worship taught to you by a specific group, who passed it down? If not, it’s not a trad. More likely it is a personal system, or a particular flavor of Wicca.

Once again, though, a trad is not necessary for you to be Wiccan. It’s just really helpful if we all know what we mean when we use these words.

The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition
The Circle Within: Creating a Wiccan Spiritual Tradition

An excellent resource when trying to establish your own spiritual system.

 

Systems

A lot of solitaries might say, “I have my own trad,” or, “I follow a Celtic trad”. A small group of people that started practicing together may say, “we have made an eclectic trad that draws from Greco-Roman Paganism”. This is technically a misuse of the word trad and should be avoided.


As mentioned before, trad means something passed down— a set of traditions that have already been established.

If you are a true eclectic, and your practices and ways are ones that you yourself developed (or you and a few friends are developing and practicing together), what you have is a system.

If you upheld your system for a couple of decades, passed it to your kids, who in turn established a coven and passed it on to more people— well, then you have the makings of a trad. An established system develops into a trad once other people are learning and practicing it fairly intact.

Wicca is Flexible

Source

Flavors of Wicca

If you have no set system, but follow a specific Pagan religion or worship a pantheon under the framework of Wicca, these are the many flavors of Wicca. They generally operate under the influence of a particular culture or interest. For example, Celtic Wicca, Roman Wicca or Hellenistic Wicca are among the various flavors of Wicca.

People often confuse flavors with trads as well, but the key thing to remember is a trad is an established system passed down; a flavor of Wicca is more about the influences you bring into your own personal practices. Greco-Roman Wicca, for example, is not a trad because different people following Wicca who are influenced by Greco-Roman sources are practicing a wide variety of different systems rather than a single, coherent set of ways that have been passed down to them.

Trads do often also have a particular flavor or influence, though. For example, the Chthonioi Alexandrian trad is a Greco-Roman Wicca trad; it has established ways that are taught and passed down. But as Greco-Roman Wiccans don't all follow the same handed-down teachings, but simply draw from a variety of Greco-Roman influences, it's not in itself a trad.

Documentary on Origins of Wicca

Let's Learn from Others

The Tower of Babel
The Tower of Babel

Is it important to make distinctions?

No—distinguishing between the differences in Wiccan paths is not important; we shouldn’t be making distinctions as if one is better than the other.

Knowing the differences, though, is important. Wicca is a young religion, barely out of its infancy and teetering on wobbly legs. It needs stability if it’s going to continue to strengthen and thrive.

Wicca has had the blessing and the curse of becoming a ‘fad’. It was a blessing because it brought Wicca into the spotlight, helping a lot of people find their way to it who otherwise might never have stumbled upon it. It was a curse because a lot of people tried to exploit it in fiction, or selling books that would claim anything, and it has created a lot of confusion about Wicca (even among Wiccans).

If Wicca is to survive as a religion, we have to at least have a foundation of understanding. Language is a powerful tool in creating a common base of understanding; even if we’re to argue and debate about things, we have to have a firm foundation of words and agreed-upon definitions. After all, how can we expect anyone else to know what we’re talking about if even we don’t know among ourselves?


Image Credits:


Attributed Images can be found at Flickr and Wikimedia Commons.

Non-attributed photos are Public Domain images.

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    • WiccanSage profile image
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      Mackenzie Sage Wright 16 months ago

      Keith; true, absolutely you're right. In Gardnerian trad, men can't even initiate men. Gardner was present in the coven and his HP though, but of course did not directly perform the initiation. Thanks for bringing that up.

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      Keith64 2 years ago

      RE: Raymond Buckland was initiated by Gerald Gardner himself. Buckland was not initiated by Gardner, he was initiated by Monique Wilson, Gardner's HPS at that time. Gardner was present though, as this was the first time the two had met. Previously they had corresponded by mail. This is a very good article, and I reference it many times to my students to gain a better understanding of how wide the umbrella is. However I just think this minor error should be corrected.

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 4 years ago

      Thanks so much Nell Rose. I think it really depends on whether you're using Wicca & Witchcraft interchangeably or not. While they used to be thought of as the same thing, historians began debunking the "Old Religion" theories almost 50 years ago. Witchcraft (in the modern sense of the word-- practitioners of magic) will probably always be around in some form or another; it always has. Wicca, the NeoPagan 20th century fertility religion, still remains to be seen being 3/4 of a century old. Growing, changing, evolving of a religion is inevitable. But there's always the chance that what we know today as Wicca may not survive the test of time, particularly if sources continue to use the phrase generically to apply to anything magical, occult or New-Age.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 4 years ago from England

      Hi Wiccan, its great to read all the differences, but I do think that Wicca will always survive under one guise or another. For example my mum always said she was a witch, even though it was said in fun, she really was psychic, and I have grown up since a kid believing in witchcraft as a fact, so even if its only people who believe and carry on the traditions or their own it will be fine, great hub and loved reading it, nell

    • WiccanSage profile image
      Author

      Mackenzie Sage Wright 4 years ago

      Heh, I never really thought about that! Thanks!

    • That Grrl profile image

      Laura Brown 4 years ago from Barrie, Ontario, Canada

      Funny how the names keep changing. I hadn't heard of the short name BTW until reading it here. I think of BTW as " by the way".