We will be covering so many different things that I thought I should begin by talking about the different traditions and some of the history of Wicca. I will be using the same notes that I used to teach to my in person classes. Remember, if you have questions about the lesson, please e-mail them to me and put the lesson number followed by a question mark in the subject line.
Modern Witchcraft has been around since the 1950's. It is considered a neo-Pagan religion or new Pagan religion that involves the worship of a God and a Goddess. An English man named Gerald Gardner has been credited with the revival of Witchcraft and is often called the "father of the new Witchcraft". It was during this time that the Craft laws and ethics took shape. The Wiccan Rede of "An it Harm None, do what ye will", stipulates that Witches may use their magical powers only for good, never to harm any living thing. The actual age of this rede is unknown, but it does predate the fifties. Since this time,
Wicca continued to grow, but only in a coven situation. It was not until the late 1980's that the Solitary Movement began with books by Scott Cunningham, "Wiccan A Guide for the Solitary Practioner" was a ground breaking work that gave detailed instructions for all those who wanted to practice Wicca but did not have access to covens, or preferred to practice alone. The Solitary Movement was not well received in the Wicca community, and we were labeled such things as "Kitchen Witches" or "Betty Crocker Witches", yet the movement continued to grow as the number of Solitaries began to mount. Today we are the fastest growing religion in the world.
If you are interested in learnuing
This is only a partial list and new traditions are established constantly, but it is a brief summary of some of the them.
The Gardnerian Tradition
This tradition is named after Gerald B. Gardner. It is centered on the worship of the Goddess and her consort, the Horned God, represented by the high priestess and high priest. It emphasizes polarity in all things manifest in the universe; fertility; and the cycle of birth-death-rebirth. Nature is honored, and one accepts oneself and all other living things as part of Her. Eight seasonal Pagan sabbats are observed. The Wiccan Rede of harming no living thing is the guiding principle.
Formal initiation into a coven by a high priest or high priestess is stressed, though there are rituals for self-initiation. A person enters the Craft in "perfect love and perfect trust". A woman must be initiated into a coven by a man, and vice versa.
The Gardnerian hierarchy has three degrees of advancement, traditionally separated by a minimum of a year and a day. Only a third-degree Witch may become a high priest or priestess. The high priestess is the head of the coven, yet some covens may reverse this or make it an equal task for the high priest and priestess together. The deities are called by a multitude of Pagan deity names, depending on the coven and the rituals being performed. Rituals are performed within a "Magic Circle". Witches work with a set of tools: an athame, or ritual knife; a wand; a sword; cords; censer; pentacle; and chalice.
One of the hallmarks of the Gardnerian tradition is worship in the nude, or skyclad. Some Gardnerians have broken away from this and now worship in ritual robes.
Magic is performed with the aid of beneficent spirits such as ELEMENTALS and the Guardians of the Watchtowers, and the deities themselves.
The raising of power is done by meditation, chants, spells and invocations, astral projection, incense, dancing, and blood control through the binding of the body with cords.
The Alexandrian Tradition
This tradition is named after it's founder, Alexander Sanders, the British self-proclaimed "King of the Witches", the Alexandian tradition was the second largest tradition to come out of England. It is based heavily on the Gardnerian tradition, with greater emphasis on cord magic and ceremonial magic. This tradition did not find much favor in the United States, but is stronger in Canada.
The Dianic Tradition
This is a broad tradition that includes covens that are feminist and/or strongly matriarchal in orientation. The name is taken from Diana, Greek goddess of the moon and the hunt, and one of the priniciple names for the Goddess in Witchcraft. The Goddess is worshipped exclusively. The emphasis is on rediscovering and reclaiming female power and divinity, and consciousness raising. Some covens are all-female while others will admit men. Some covens are lesbian. The Dianic tradition sets itself somewhat apart from the mainstream Craft. It espouses a feminist spirituality and sisterhood that must struggle against an oppressive, patriarchal society in an effort to bring about positive social and political changes for all.
The Dianic Witchcraft is largely a phenomenon of the United States, where it has emerged as an outgrowth of the feminist consciousness movement. Rituals are eclectic; some are derived from Gardnerian and Faery traditions, while others have been created anew.
Many Dianic Witches are political activists for women's and civil rights, pro-environmental issues, peace and anti-nuclear issues.
The Celtic Tradition
This is a category of traditions based on ancient Celtic myth, magic, rites and beliefs. Most rituals resemble Garderian rituals, covens may be organized differently than Gardnerian ones. The deities are known by Celtic names.
Hereditary and Traditional
These are two overlapping, secretive forms of Witchcraft which predate the Gardnerian revival. Most Hereditary and Traditional Witches are found in the British Isles and Europe, though covens in those traditions have been established elsewhere. Traditional Witches are those who follow practices established before Gardner. Hereditary Witches also follow old practices and claim an ancestor or a lineage of ancestors who were initiated Witches. They are likely to be born with psychic gifts. Hereditary Witches may be initiated into the Craft by their family members. Unlike the Gardnerian tradition, mothers may initiate daughters and fathers may initiate sons. Hereditary and Traditional Witches work with ceremonial robes. Covens are generally led by the high priest, not the high priestess.
Some modern American Witches claim a Hereditary tradition of a different sort, saying they are descended from families steeped in rural folk-magic traditions, in which family members may or may not have been called "witches". The Pennsylvania Dutch HEXENMEISTERS and "power doctors" also have a Hereditary heritage, which falls outside the revivalist Witchcraft.
Some Witches feel the only "true" Witches are hereditary. Others, however, hold that there are many legitimate paths to the Craft, and those who are meant to be a part of it will find their way to it, whether through family, friends, books, or spiritual transformations. Many Witches who recall past lives say they have been Witches, adepts, or spiritual leaders in other times.
This is an ecstatic and magical Craft religion founded and developed by Americans Victor Anderson and Gwydion Pendderwen. Faery is spelled in various ways, including Faerie and Fairy. Initially this was a small and secretive tradition, many of the fundamentals of the Tradition have reached a wide audience through the writings of Starhawk.
Like all Craft traditions, the Faery Tradition honors nature and reveres the deities (the names of which are secret) that personify the forces of nature, life, fertility, death and rebirth. It is polytheistic rather than dualistic, and while it does recognize the male-female and other polarities, it does not emphasize polarities as much as the Gardnerian tradition. It emphasizes pragmatic magic, self-development, and theurgy.
There is no standard book of shadows but instead an approach to working the Craft and living life. Like most of the English traditions, the Faery Traditions provides for a passing of power upon initiation, which links the initiate to the power of the group and those who have gone before.
This tradition identifies different currents of energy within the universe, which are used in magic. Faery power is an ecstatic energy of attunement that is beautiful and sensual but goes beyond the senses. There is an awareness of the unseen reality, a respect for the wisdom of nature, and a sensual mysticism that involves a celebratory embracing of life and a love of beauty.
The Tradition permits eclecticism. Rituals are offerings of beauty to the gods and goddesses. Most initiates are in the arts and incorporate their own poetry, music, and invocations into rituals. (To learn more about this tradition read "The Spiral Dance" by Starhawk - 1979)
This tradition was founded in 1973 by Raymond Buckland. It has a Saxon basis but is not a continuation or re-creation of the original Saxon religion.
Seax-Wica is more egalitarian and democratic than the Gardnerian tradition, with only one degree of rank, not three. The coven is led by a high priestess nd/or high priest, who are chosen in annual elections. The high priest and male deity are equal to the priestess and female deity in importance. Covens decide for themselves most of their ritual practices. The tradition is open to anyone and provides for self-initiation as well as initiation by a coven, and for solitary practice. (For More on this tradition read "The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft" by Raymond Buckland - 1974)