What is Traditional Witchcraft and how is it different from Wicca?
This is something I am asked a lot! And as with all Witchcraft paths and Traditions, this is not an easy question because Witchcraft is truly the path for the renegade free spirit within the Pagan/Spirituality community. Drawing Witches into a cohesive identifiable group of any sort is truly like herding cats! And Traditional Witchcraft is no exception! So to cover my ass I think it best to state that all I can share is my own perspective based on my own practices, beliefs and understandings. These I have gleaned over more than 4 decades as a Traditional Witch and over two decades of leading a Coven and Tradition as well as teaching and presenting Trad Craft to the general public. All that said, there are many others with valid experiences and credentials who, coming from other Traditional foundations, would present Traditional Witchcraft in quite a different manner. As with all such explorations, look for multiple, diverse sources and find what speaks to you personally. That is in fact an approach that would be perfectly in accord with Traditional Witchcraft practices, as I present it. As Traditional Witchcraft is rooted in one’s personal senses or rather extra-sensory abilities, built upon one’s intuition, we call it “The Sight” aka “The Gifts”. Informed through direct communion with the many forms and expressions of Spirit, a Traditional Witch is then guided by their own sense of right and wrong employing what one might call one’s Ethical Compass. It is this personal and direct communion relationship a Traditional Witch has with Spirit that sets them as a Heretic: meaning outside of all forms of organized religion and circumventing any priesthood authority mediating Spirit or imposing a codified “One and True practice” or belief with regards all things related to Spirit. Hence, over the ages, since Religion in its many forms has become such big business, the worst of all crimes against the Church or Temple has been that of Heresy. Therefore Witches have been identified as key Heretical practitioners, because of their engagement in direct communion, circumventing all forms of priesthood. Such Witches are impossible to control or direct, as they have a straight line to God/dess in all its aspects. We are the epitome of artistic free spirits within the arena of Spirit-based practices, such as religion. For this reason, we see our form of Witchcraft as the Olde Arte of Witchery. To call it a faith would be incorrect, as it’s based upon personal experience of interactions with Spirits and Gods, and so faith doesn’t enter into it. However, those who are not born Witches or don’t have the Gifts, have identified Witches as practitioners who deal with Spirit and Gods and as such: those one may go to when in need of such an intermediary, circumventing the mainstream church or priesthood. And so such Witches have been identified as practitioners of what others may call The Elder Faith or the Old Religion.
How is this different from Wicca? Wicca has its modern day roots in a Tradition brought into its clear formation by a Witch of the 1950’s called Gerald Gardner. The Tradition he formed after the Witchcraft Laws were repealed in Britain has become known as the Gardnerian Tradition, which is still very much thriving today. Gardnerian Wicca is an initiatory tradition that keeps its practices secret until after initiation into a working coven. That said, some beliefs and practices have been published over the years either by Gardnerians or by associated Traditions such as Alexandrian Wicca which has published quite a deal of basic material. Foundational practices taken from these Traditional Wiccan publications have given us within the Pagan Community some basic tenets of belief and a basic structure for community rituals. As Wicca spread, the later eclectic Wiccan publications further embellished a myriad of forms for the Wicca. But more commonly it has become accepted that Wicca is a form of Goddess-based religious or spiritual practice, with a ruling High Priestess as final authority. Wicca has a structured working system based upon the elemental system as taken from Ceremonial practices. It sees itself as a religious practice, often seeing itself as an Elder religious system with Priestesses and Goddesses at the centre.
The Ceremonial ritual structure employed by Wiccans, being a more structured ritualized magical system, lends itself better to people of all walks of life, from those who purely seek a spiritual practice and connection to those who seek magical manifestation through a formula approach. If one does this and that, certain results can be expected. If one trains and perfects through practice certain ritual actions etc., then one can ascend through a hierarchy into a recognized position within the attendant magical community. Specific actions, codified and perfected through practice, serve anticipated results. This requires of the practitioner only faith in the system they are taking on and faith in the results they seek: basically faith in those who have worked this system out and are presenting their experiences and the system they have enfleshed as holding valid results if pursued.
This is not the case with Traditional Witchcraft. How can you tell a person to now follow instructions and paint a Mona Lisa? Or please follow the instructions and give birth to a Mozart Requiem? Now a Wiccan practitioner may also hold the Gifts and approach the Wiccan practices as an Arte of Spirit, and through their Witch’s Arte bring life to that system and prove its validity. And on the other hand, an ego-driven Traditional Witch may in no manner be able execute the things they may be presenting. It all comes down to the true Virtue of the practitioner. Whether you’re a Wiccan or a Traditional Witch practitioner, the Virtue of your Spirit is the only currency that finally counts. For some, this relationship with their own Witch’s Spirit and the importance of Virtue to their ethical compass, is something they clearly see because it’s part of who they are. Such Witches follow a hunger that can never be satisfied and they hold their feet to the coals of Truth because they know the danger of illusion will destroy all they hold dear in life. They live in a world as true free spirits and heretics without bounds or limitations, where reality itself is mutable. As such they understand how important a compass of spirit is, as it casts its light into the dark unknown.
At the end of the day, there are those who identify as Wiccan for religious, political or philosophical reasons. There are those who identify as Traditional Witches for many of the same reasons. There are those who seek academic recognition and serve the crowd just as any religious celebrity would. Then there are some who wish to further their minds, immersing into the well of mystery–which if they’re not careful, will drink their wits into itself. But for the most part, people are somewhere in between all these states of seeking or pursuit. They are looking to find their path and their way, and what is most important is for them to find within themselves what speaks to them. Because if what you seek to hold is not true by your spirit, then it will never serve you truly and you will fall short of your true potential.
Regardless of how we identify ourselves, we can only be truly identified by others by visible mundane markers or keys. For Wicca it’s a Goddess religious spiritual path, casting a circle and working an elemental Earth-based magical system, incorporating elements of Magic–though Magic is not a requirement by all Wiccan traditions. For Traditional Witches I would say working in an Airts Compass, which is to say Spirit-based, using the Sight, to commune directly with Gods and spirits and in particular one form of spirit as a working partner. But regardless of the system or form, the one defining earmark of all Witches, as I see it, is Heresy. We are the Heretical Arte of Witchery.
*Please note each Blog is the unique expression of the Blogger and does not speak for The Green Man as an entity, but rather is one of the many diverse colours that make up our Green Man Tribe.