Wicca is different from other religious belief systems for many reasons. Chief amongst them is the fact that there is no “central governing authority” or one “book” that tells you what to believe. Wicca is a religion of individuality, and it’s the reason it has become so popular in today’s society. The down side to that, however, is not knowing where to turn or what to do when you begin following the Wiccan path. Luckily for you, you’ve found this site.
There’s quite a bit of “homework” that must be done by new followers of Wicca. But before you start having flashbacks of midterms and all-nighters from college or high school, know that the homework of which I speak is less about memorizing information for a test and more about a journey of discovery and fulfillment! Studying all things Wicca has been one of the most fascinating and exciting topics I’ve ever studied, and it’s my goal to bring that fascination and excitement to you!
We could start our journey for knowledge and information in dozens of different places. However, I think that taking a look at the different traditions of Wicca is as good a place to start as any. Many traditions have emerged since Wicca went mainstream in the 1960s, but they all have their roots in Gardnerian Wicca (or “Wicca 1.0” if you want to “geekify” it).
Gerald Gardner is considered by many as the “father of modern Wicca” and with good reason. If you’re interested in Wicca’s beginnings, I encourage you to check out the “History of Wicca” section of the site, where you’ll find an extensive look at Wicca’s origin, as well as a look at how Wicca came to be.
Think of the different Wiccan traditions as different “flavors” of Wicca. You could also make the comparison to the different sects of Christianity (Baptist, Lutheran, etc.), though to a much less rigid set of rules and dogmas. That’s not to say Wicca doesn’t have rules (we do, and we’ll discuss them shortly), but the structure of Judeo-Christian faiths is much more stringent than with Wiccan beliefs.
Instead of getting into a long, drawn-out dialogue about the history of each tradition, I’ll touch on 3 different aspects of each: Origin & Founder(s), Core Beliefs, and a Summary, which is a very, very condensed version of some key points about the tradition. Let’s first discuss Gardnerian Wicca.
Origin & Founder: Founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1940s, the Gardnerian tradition was the first Wiccan tradition, although the term “Gardnerian Wicca” wasn’t used when it first began. Gardner claims that he was initiated into a coven known as the New Forest Coven in 1939. The Coven, according to Gardner, was a survival of what he called an ancient “Witch-Cult” (check out the sub-section Wicca & Witchcraft in the “History of Wicca” section). Gardner ultimately founded the Bricket Wood Coven, and it is through this coven that Gardner created the core beliefs of what eventually became known as Gardnerian Wicca.
Core Beliefs: Gardnerian Wicca is an “initiatory” tradition, meaning that one must be initiated into the tradition by a Wiccan High Priestess or Priest. The tradition believes in two main deities, generally known as the Horned God and Mother Goddess. The tradition uses a number of different names for these deities, the most common of which are Cernunnos for the God (which is Celtic for “The Horned One” — don’t freak out, it has nothing to do with the Christian concept of the Devil; more on that later), and Aradia for the Goddess (the name of a Goddess popularized by author Charles Godfrey Leland in 1899).
In coven practice, Gardner required participation in rituals while skyclad (that’s witch talk for “naked”). Although this is still a common practice with many covens (especially those who are strict adherents to the tradition), most covens practice with the use of ritual robes.
Gardnerian Wicca adheres to the Wiccan Rede, as well as the Law of Threefold Return (or the Rule of Three). You can read the Rede (heh, homonyms) here. The Law of Three states that whatever you do, whether good or bad, it will be returned to you threefold. The concept is similar to the concept of karma, but karmic teachings do not state that what you put out comes back to you times three. There are also three degrees of initiation once you’re accepted into a coven. It is thought that Gardner borrowed the concept from the Freemasons.
Summary: The Gardnerian tradition is the root from which most other traditions have sprung. Many Gardnerian witches are of the opinion that you cannot call yourself a Wiccan unless you’ve been initiated into a Gardnerian-based coven. It’s also important to note that, at least when Gardner was alive, Gardnerian-based covens do not allow for homosexuals (Gardner himself was actively homophobic).
Finally, since “hardline” Gardnerian beliefs require initiation into a coven, it’s typically not the kind of tradition that solo witches are drawn to. Nevertheless, the beliefs and information from Gardner and his tradition provide very valuable insight into other traditions, and into Wicca as a whole.
Origin & Founder: Alex Sanders, along with his wife Maxine, founded the Alexandrian tradition in the mid-1960s. Sanders was originally initiated into the Gardnerian tradition, but ultimately split off of the Gardnerian path to form his own tradition, which ultimately became known as Alexandrian Wicca.
Core Beliefs: The Alexandrian tradition has many similar beliefs to the Gardnerian tradition, such as worship of deity as dualistic (the Goddess and the God). Like Gardnerian, the Alexandrian tradition requires that one be initiated by someone already in the tradition. There are three degrees, much like its Gardnerian counterpart. Second- and third-degree Wiccans may initiate someone to be a first-degree initiate. Unlike Gardnerian, Alexandrian did not require coven members to practice ritual while skyclad.
Alexandrian also has the distinction of allowing “neophytes” to join a coven, which is essentially a zero-degree initiate. They are allowed to engage in many coven activities, but they are not considered to be part of the tradition until they are initiated into the first degree. This basically allowed a “try it before you buy it” opportunity for those who were interested in exploring and studying Wicca but who were not completely certain it was the path for them.
Summary: Alexandrian is very closely linked with Gardnerian in belief and practice. However, Alexandrians tend to be a bit more eclectic in the ways they practice, and they’re more welcoming of people in the LGBT community. In fact, Alex Sanders was himself bisexual. It is because of Sanders that Wicca became accessible to the LGBT community.
Like Gardnerian, there is much that can be learned by studying the beliefs and practices of the Alexandrian tradition; however, because of the initiatory requirement, it’s not a tradition that solo witches will find themselves completely following.
Origin & Founder: In 1973, Gardnerian-initiated Raymond Buckland established the tradition of Seax-Wica (also known as Seax Wicca or Saxon Withcraft). Buckland is considered to be the pioneer of Wicca in the United States, since he was the first Gardnerian Wiccan duly authorized by Gardner to bring Wicca to the USA. Buckland went on to found the Long Island Coven which he ran with help from his then-wife Rosemary.
Buckland has published a number of books, including the 1974 work The Tree which in 2005 was republished as Buckland’s Book of Saxon Witchcraft. The book is a definitive guide to practicing Saxon Witchcraft. In addition, Buckland devised a self-study book entitled Buckland’s Complete Book of Witchcraft which discusses in detail the different key aspects of practicing Wicca.
Core Beliefs: The Seax tradition recognizes four principal deities which are representations of the Goddess and the God. Woden (or Odin, a Greek mythological deity) and Thunor (or Thor, a Norse deity) for the God. For the Goddess, Freya (from Freyja in Norse mythology). A third god, Tyr is recognized, again from Norse mythology.
One of the big differences between Seax and its predecessors is that Seax is a completely open tradition, meaning there are no secret initiatory rites and the tradition is very open about its practices. This tradition continues to be one of the fastest growing traditions within the Wiccan community.
Summary: The Seax tradition is one that is highly accessible in terms of information, and it is the first tradition we’ve discussed so far that allow for self-dedication. Solo witches are more than welcome in this tradition. The good thing about Seax is you can begin practicing solo and ultimately decide you want to link up with a Seax coven if you ever decide to practice with a group. Finally, the Seax tradition is LGBT-friendly.
Origin & Founder: Wicca is a very Goddess-centric belief system at its core. However, Dianic Wicca takes it a step further and only recognizes the Goddess aspect of deity. Dianic Wicca was founded during the second wave feminist movement by Zsuzsanna Budapest (also known as Z. Budapest). Dianic Wicca became a popular tradition amongst the feminist movement and there have been many covens who have hived off of Budapest’s original coven.
Core Beliefs: Dianic Wiccan practice is unique in that it does not acknowledge the God aspect of deity. In addition, Dianic covens are female-only. Budapest has stated that “[the Dianic tradition is a holistic religious system based on a Goddess-centered cosmology…” The Dianic tradition uses similar tools as other Wiccan traditions.
At its core, focusing on the Goddess aspects of Wiccan belief is a common practice amongst many Wiccan traditions. After all, most Abrahamic-based religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) are heavily male-centric, completely disregarding the importance of the female. While most Dianic practitioners are part of a coven, it’s possible to espouse the beliefs of Dianic Wicca as a solo witch.
Summary: The Dianic tradition is one that has a rich history in America, and it’s got many great qualities. It is especially popular amongst the lesbian community. However, I would be remiss if I did not bring to light a particularly glaring issue specifically related to Z. Budapest. While I personally see nothing wrong with having a “female only” coven or tradition, Budapest has a history of making blatant anti-transgendered comments in recent history. Budapest has called transgendered women “transies” and has accused the transgender community of “attacking” her for not allowing transgendered women into her coven.
I should note, however, that this is not necessarily the views of ALL Dianic tradition practitioners, and many covens are much more progressive and tolerant than Budapest. Moreover, it would be unwise to judge an entire tradition based solely off the actions of its founder (for instance, Gardner was homophobic and a bit of a misogynist, but not all Gardnerian practitioners share his less-than-tolerant views). Nevertheless, in the interest of full disclosure, I felt it important to bring this to light.
Origin & Founder: Eclectic Wicca doesn’t have one specific founder, and its origins aren’t really documented. Eclectic Wicca is just what it sounds like; it is a “tradition” only in the sense that it’s a well-known term and it is widely espoused by many Wiccans who don’t “fit” into any other tradition. Eclectic witches tend to learn from all of the different Wiccan traditions, as well as from other pagan, druidic, and shamanistic faiths.
Core Beliefs: Eclectic Wiccan beliefs vary widely as you can imagine. The average eclectic witch is usually self-taught, practices solo or with a close group of like-minded friends & family, and doesn’t adhere strictly to any one tradition. As such, Eclectic Wicca is a very popular choice for solo witches, and also for many modern covens. Wicca is a belief system that is constantly evolving, so it’s no surprise that many people who begin following the Wiccan path choose an eclectic approach. If Wicca was a restaurant menu, Eclectic Wicca is a buffet.
Summary: Eclectic Wicca has become one of the most popular forms of Wicca in the last fifteen years. Eclectic Wicca allows the practitioner the flexibility of incorporating different traditions and different belief systems into their practice.
zOMG, How Do I Choose?!
There’s a lot of information to digest when it comes to the different traditions of Wicca. Take heart, though! There’s nothing that says you MUST choose a tradition before you start doing any kind of Wiccan practice. In fact, there’s nothing that says you have to choose a tradition, period. Personally, I consider myself an eclectic Wiccan, as do most other solo witches. And if the time comes when you decide you want to start more closely following another tradition, that’s okay too. Wicca is less about whether you identify as Gardnerian or Alexandrian and more about how you identify with yourself and what you feel is the best path for you. So as you continue on your journey, it’s a good idea to study the history and other specifics of the different traditions, but you’ll do just fine as a witch if you never choose “one” path.