This is a look at the many varied traditions in the Wicca Family and The Old Religion of Faiths. Whilst there is, indeed, a large number of groups who profess one set of tenants, or ideas; one soon begins to see why they may all be lumped together as one Religion.
Obviously, to start, one must define Religion as it applies to these groups of people. Next, a listing of some of the more popular traditions, giving a basic description of each. Lastly, some comments on the "cords which bind these groups together", i.e.. a discussion on the underlying philosophies of the New Age Movement, Neo-Paganisms in particular.
I. What is a Religion?
A dictionary definition of religion looks something like: Religion, n.; An organized system of beliefs and/or rituals, centering on a supernatural being or beings.
Everyone with me so far? Good. I think we can all agree on definitions for "Beliefs" and "Supernatural", so the only sub-definition will be "Ritual": any ordered sequence of events or actions, including directed thoughts, especially one that is repeated in the 'same' manner each time, and that is designed to produce a predictable altered state of consciousness, within which certain magical or religious results may be obtained.
Now, by using these definitions, the astute reader may realize that one need not "believe" in anything in order to belong to a religion, although most 'established' churches do require that one has conforming beliefs in order to become 'accepted into' that Religion. One of the beauties of the Pagan/NeoPagan/Wiccan Religion is that the majority of the sects do not require one to have 'conforming' beliefs. One need not believe in the God/dess in order to worship them, and this is the key to being a New Age type religion.
New Age religions acknowledge that there are many paths to Godhood, and that each person should find his/her own way. Thus, while there is communication and discussion between the diverse ways of Wicca, there is generally no cause for religious persecution or Holy Wars. Also, there are very little 'missionary' type efforts, since there is no Prime Directive stating that everyone who does not believe a certain piece of dogma is wrong, and will burn in hell forever, unless saved, or made to see the light.
Contrary to most religions, it is not the shared set of beliefs, or similar dogma which holds the Wiccan religions together. Rather, it is the attitudes of the people involved, and their common heritage which provide the bonds of cooperation among the Pagan peoples. These points of agreement shall be further addressed following a brief list of some of the more popular Traditions, with a description of each.
Traditions/Branches/Gatherings/Sub-Groups/Interpretations/ect [nb. This is not, by any means, an all inclusive list]
Started about the same time as Gardner's, this tradition is fairly similar, with a little more emphasis upon ceremonial magick. Alex Sanders founded this path in England during the 1960's. There are numerous covens in both US and Europe.
Like Dianic, this is a sub-class and a mix of Celtic and Gardnerian beliefs (and others). Each traditionalist group is usually based upon the traditions, literature, myth, and folktales of that particular geographic/demographic area (However There can be Traditional Eclectic Witchcraft as well as in my traditions). This is evident in the names of the God/dess used by individual groups. They usually tend to be fairly structured in their beliefs, and train through the degree processes.
C. Celtic Wicca/and/or Witchcraft
The use of a Celtic/Druidic pantheon and heavily stressing the elements, nature and the Ancient Ones. They have a vast knowledge of and respect for the healing and magickal qualities of plants and stones, flowers, trees, elemental spirits, the little people, gnomes and faieries.
D. Caledonii (Hecatine)
Also known as Hecatine, this denomination is Scottish in origin, and still preserves the unique festivals of the Scots.
This is more of a sub-class, rather than a particular tradition pinpointed by Margaret Murray in 1921 in "The Witch-Cult in Western Europe". Focusing on Diana, a Roman Moon goddess(corresponding with Artemis(Greek)), Queen of the Fae, and Mother to Aradia (Queen of the Witches...see also my links section on my Referencium page for more info on "Aradia: Gospel of the Witches" by Leland) There are several feminist traditions which are considered dianic. This sub-class tends to emphasize the female aspect of the Goddess, sometimes to the exclusion of the male God.
Basically, it indicates that the individual does not follow any particular tradition, denomination, sect or magickal practice. They learn and study from many magickal systems and apply to themselves what appears to work best.
G. Frost School of Wicca:
Headed by Gavin and Yvonne Frost, this school is the largest correspondence school of Witchcraft in the US. Numerous covens have resulted from this school, although it is somewhat unconventional (if, that is, anything dealing with Wicca could be called conventional). The Frosts' views on Wicca as a religion do differ with the majority.. in that they do not consider Wicca as "Pagan", but rather as Monotheistic.
Started by G. Gardner, in England, in the mid 1950's, this tradition claims to have existed, in secret, since the Witch-Burnings began during the Middle Ages. While there is some doubt as to whether or not it is as old as it claims, there is no denying that the Gardnerian sect has been one of the most influential of the traditions. In fact, many of the groups which follow were started by people who had been introduced to Paganism and the worship of the Lord and Lady as members of a Gardnerian group. A structured religion with definite hierarchy within each group (known, as a coven), but little to no authority of one coven over another. Within the coven, a matriarchy exists, with the High Priestess generally being considered the leader (there are, of course, exceptions to this, but these descriptions are, for the most part, only generalizations based upon information gathered from many sources). The typical Gardnerian view of the God/dess is that of a Dominant three-faced Goddess (maiden, mother, and crone) with a male consort (who has many names.. the Young Summer King, and the Old Winter King). Ceremonies include a series of initiations into higher levels of the craft, various holiday celebrations (based, of course, upon the "Wheel of the Year" calendar of Feast days.
Scottish Witchcraft that attunes itself to all aspects of nature: animal, vegetable, and mineral. It is a solitary form of The Craft and mainly magickal in nature with little religion
J. Seax-Wica (or Saxon) Wicca:
Started by Raymond Buckland, who was originally a leader in promoting the Gardnerian tradition, as an alternative to the existing covens. Unlike most traditions, which consider the coven group to be the normal unit of division (i.e.. all ceremonies/rituals = group rites), the Seax version has provision for lone witches (often referred to as Solitaires). Another thing which sets this particular brand apart is its non-reliance upon being properly initiated into the Wiccan community.
Many of the other groups require that new members be brought to existing covens to be ceremonially initiated into that tradition, and that only after years of study within the group is one ready to start a new coven. The Seax tradition, recognizing that there may not be a friendly, neighborhood coven, allows for self-initiation, and auto setup of a coven.
Follows a tradition seated in Italy that began around 1353 with a woman called Aradia. Of all the traditional Witches, this group appears to be the smallest in number in The United States; however their teachings are beautiful and should not be missed.
L. Teutonic (Nordic)
From ancient time the Teutons have been recognized as a group of people who speak the Germanic group of languages. Culturally, this included the English, Dutch, Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish peoples. This is also called the Nordic tradition.
As stated earlier, it's not doctrine/dogma similarities which tend to hold these diverse groups together, rather, it is the common ideals and feelings expressed by the Pagan peoples themselves.
Here are some examples:
The Wiccan Rede: "An it harms none, do what thou will." is almost universally accepted amongst the groups.
Most groups tend to be polytheistic, animists, pantheists, et. One is not "converted" to Wicca, rather, the new comer feels a sense of "coming home", or, more poetically, "The Goddess calls to her own". Nature plays a big part in most traditions, either as direct personification of the God/dess, or as aspects of them. There is no counterpart to the Devil, as such, in the Pagan religions... no personification of 'all evil', rather, the choice is there for all to make. However, there is the Law of Three Fold Return, which states "That which thou dost send out shall return three fold", so good begets good, and evil befalls those who are evil (a horrendous understatement / simplification, but true).