Traditional Wicca, Traditional Witchcraft, and British Traditional Witchcraft???

Traditional Wicca, Traditional Witchcraft, and British Traditional Witchcraft??? September 19, 2016

The word “Traditional” can lead to a lot of confusion if taken out of context.  This is my attempt to shed some light on the discussion.  I try to remain as objective as possible in my presentation.

Heathen Altar, photo by Rebecca Radcliff.  From WikiMedia.
Heathen Altar, photo by Rebecca Radcliff. From WikiMedia CC License.

A 2012 interview with the late Michael Howard, by Three Hands Press preserves an important distinction that I think needs to be reiterated.  For many modern practitioners, who weren’t there in the early days of the Witchcraft Revival, myself included; it can be difficult to sort out who is who, and who said what in our murky history.  It can be especially difficult when trying to find which tradition resonates with you when presented with so many similar, but distinct options.

Traditional Witchcraft can be defined by the combination of various magical systems in its praxis.  The traditional witch’s main focus is the attainment of esoteric knowledge and spiritual communion through tried-and-true methods passed down orally or recorded in occult documents.  The way in which traditional witchcraft is able to integrate the primitive folk practices of the heathen with the scholarly ceremonialism of the occultist spoke to me of an age old science of magical practice perfected over the centuries in dark forests and dusty libraries.

According to Howard, the terms British Traditional Witchcraft were first used in the US to describe the traditions of modern neo-pagan witchcraft that had originated in Great Britain with Gardner and Sanders.  Traditional Wicca was a term used to describe the various neo-pagan Wicca traditions that would emerge, including distinctions like solitary, kitchen and hedge witches.  It is this early distinction that has caused confusion among modern witches, Wiccan and non-Wiccan alike.

Gerald Gardner's Book of Shadows, photo by Midnightblueowl.  From WikiMedia.
Gerald Gardner’s Book of Shadows, photo by Midnightblueowl. From WikiMedia.

Today, British Traditional Witchcraft denotes those traditional practices from Great Britain during the medieval and early modern periods .  British Traditional Wicca represents the initiatory traditions of Gardner and Sanders, and their offshoots that began in the 1950s.  Traditional Wicca or just Wicca would be any other initiatory Wiccan tradition that did not originate in Great Britain.  Then there is traditional witchcraft, which we could consider folk magic that has been transmitted orally with specific cultural origins e.g. (Italian, British, Scandinavian, etc.)  Traditional Witchcraft with a capital “T” refers to non-wiccan initiatory traditions such as the Cultus Sabbati or Clan of Tubal-Cain; those traditions influenced by Robert Cochrane, Andrew Chumbley and Michael Howard.  There are also many solitary eclectic practitioners who practice witchcraft, but do not identify as specifically Wiccan or traditional.

The religion of Wicca has a definite system of beliefs that its followers adhere to; the Wiccan Rede, Threefold Law, and Charge of the Goddess are some of Wicca’s earliest doctrines.  As an initiatory tradition, there are certain mysteries that are kept from novices until completion of a probationary period of study.  Many Wiccan traditions follow this format, similar to the ancient mystery societies, which had a major influence on Western esoteric thought.  Some Wiccans focus solely on the religious aspects of their religion, many incorporate the practice of witchcraft, using spells and magic to achieve personal ends.  Wicca’s main focus is as a Pagan Fertility Religion; the rituals of the major Sabbats and minor esbats contribute to the majority of Wiccan ritual practice.

On the other hand modern traditional witchcraft is not a Pagan fertility religion, many traditionalists do not consider their craft a religion, but a magical system or occult path for spiritual development and esoteric knowledge.  Many followers of traditional witchcraft practice magic for both material objectives and also spiritual advancement.  There is a tendency to reject the modern notion of religion as an institution in traditionalist circles.  For example, imagery in (traditional) Sabbatic Witchcraft, draws on the medieval Witches’ Sabbath a source of inspirational symbolism that challenges psychological constructs taught to us by the early Church; such as concepts of original sin and good versus evil.

Hellen ritual performed by members of the YSEE, Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes.  From WikiMedia.  CC License.
Hellen ritual performed by members of the YSEE, Supreme Council of Ethnikoi Hellenes. From WikiMedia. CC License.

This division can be explained by the terms theurgy, which refers to the magical practice of working with deities for self-attainment, and thaumaturgy which we associate with the practice of witchcraft and material attainment.  The former is considered celestial in nature and the latter terrestrial by medieval occultists and modern practitioners.  In most traditions of witchcraft, there are various mysteries and practices depending on one’s individual involvement which are separated by inner and outer courts.  The outer mysteries of a specific tradition consist of the general practices of the tradition, usually one begins their work in the outer tradition which often serves as one of many symbolic veils leading to the inner mysteries of the tradition.  The inner mysteries are those secrets held and maintained by initiates, often the deeper meaning of outer ritual symbolism.  The inner mysteries serve to provide initiates with spiritual attainment through divine interaction.  These inner and outer divisions can be seen in both modern traditional witchcraft and Wiccan practices.




There are many similarities between modern non-Wiccan practitioners and those who follow some type of modern traditional witchcraft.  However, just because someone is not Wiccan doesn’t necessarily mean that they consider themselves a traditional witch.

I think a synthesis is coming between the old lore maintained by traditionalists, and the mysteries of neo-Pagan religions including Wicca.  Our roots and history are the same.  We are influenced by many of the same mythologies, as Pagans we are able to respect the gods of our brothers and sisters, recognizing the familiar faces of our own gods within them.  Every myth and tradition that has grown up around it is a veil for a greater, deeper mystery.  It is only in this modern time that we have divided ourselves, attempting to recreate the institutions and dogma we left behind.


Traditional Witchcraft: Historicity and Perpetuity.

Browse Our Archives