What is Traditional Witchcraft? How to Know if You are a Wiccan or a Traditional Witch
What is traditional witchcraft?
The answer to this question seems to depend a lot on who you ask, however, to those who consider themselves traditional witches, traditional witchcraft might, also, be called historical witchcraft. Moreover, traditional witchcraft is a world-wide practice; it is not a religion.
In recent years, the term, “traditional witchcraft,” has developed to distinguish those who practice old folk magic or historical witchcraft from those who are members of the Wiccan religion or other neo-pagan religions, who, also, sometimes refer to themselves as witches and refer to their religions as witchcraft.
While there is no universal definition of the term, “traditional witchcraft, “Michael Howards, gives an interesting one in his book, “Children of Cain: A Study of Modern Traditional Witches,” when he refers to it as, “any non-Gardnerian, non-Alexandrian, non-Wiccan or pre-modern form of the Craft, especially if it has been inspired by historical forms of witchcraft and folk magic.”
Furthermore, traditional witchcraft is not any form of neo-paganism, which encompasses a variety of modern pagan religions, including Wicca.
Much of the confusion about the meaning of the term, “traditional witchcraft, seems to arise from the usage of the term “traditional” within Wicca. Often Wiccans use the same terms as those used in traditional witchcraft, but ascribe a different meaning to them. Within Wicca and neo-paganism, the term “tradition,” refers to the version of Wicca or other form of neo-paganism a person is pursuing. They sometimes refer to this as a “path,” which means a course of study. In Wicca, this might mean that the person is involved in the study or worship of various pantheons. Often, Wiccans choose a pantheon that is in alignment with their own national or cultural origins.
Also, within Wicca, the term “tradition” is used to describe various brands of the Wiccan religion, such as Cochranian, Alexandrian and Gardnerian. You may hear a Wiccan say, “traditional Gardnerian Wicca” or “traditional Alexandrian Wicca.” But, this use of the term has nothing to do with traditional witchcraft, itself, and is only a term used within the Wiccan religion to distinguish various subsets of itself. In this way, the use of the term “tradition” within Wicca may be likened to the use of the term “denomination” within Christianity.
Some Wiccan writers seem to resent the term “traditional witchcraft,” because they hold that their religion is very old and, itself, traditional. But, a little research into the origins of Wicca and its evolution shows that it is a very new phenomenon and while it is a witchcraft-based religion, much of Wicca has little or no resemblance to traditional or historical witchcraft, either here or elsewhere in the world.
By contrast, traditional witchcraft is a worldwide practice, which bears some commonalities based on an ancient esoteric science known the world over. While it may be involved in religion – in fact, there is quite a bit of witchcraft going on in Christianity, although they prefer to think of it as something else – witchcraft is not a religion. People who practice traditional witchcraft include a wide range of people around the world who may be part of a religion that recognizes a supreme being or not or they may simply be atheists.
Differences Between Being a Wiccan and Being a Traditional Witch
Because Wicca, like Christianity, is a religion, the people who get involved in it often enjoy a sense of belonging to a group – if not a coven or a congregation, then, at least, to some identifiable sub-culture. Christians wear their crosses and Wiccans wear their pentagrams to help themselves recognize each other in public encounters.
By contrast, traditional witchcraft has no such recognizable symbolism.
Wiccans, Christians and members of neo-pagan orders usually have sort of initiation rite or a baptism rite, through which you become a fully-fledged member of their group.
By contrast, there is no moment at which you officially become a traditional witch – it’s not like becoming a Christian through baptism or a Wiccan by means of an initiation ceremony or simply taking a spirit “into your heart,” through sincere belief. Another major difference, of course, is that there is usually no group to belong to.
When compared to Wicca or any other religion, traditional witchcraft tends to be a much lonelier occupation and often a far more secretive one. The fact that we have no moral doctrines or dogma and that many of us are atheists, makes us unacceptable to many members of the broader society, including many Wiccans and neo-pagans. (As an example of this kind of intolerance, see the requirements for being a member of the large, popular site, supposedly devoted to witchcraft, called WitchVox, – traditional witches, Satanists, Luciferians and atheists are excluded – only Wiccans or other members of a neo-pagan religion with a moral code are allowed to participate. See their rules here, particularly #8, as follows. When you join, you must promise the following: “I follow a positive code of ethics such as The Wiccan Rede or The Troth’s Nine Virtues. …- I also understand that Witchvox does not list Christian/Satanic listings.. “)
Both Wiccans and other types of neo-pagans tend to focus heavily on a region of the world or a culture, which they call a “tradition” or a “path.” They often feel a connection to a particular place or land. All forms of neo-paganism seem to focus heavily on the earth and create a worship of things associated with it.
By contrast, traditional witchcraft is a universal practice and an esoteric science, which transcends all notions of place, race, nationality, politics or anything else. While practices around the world are of great interest to many traditional witches, they generally make practical use of whatever the encounter. Lacking any prescribed ethics or moral authority, they are often very open to what they find.
How to Know if You are A Wiccan (and, Therefore, Not a Traditional Witch)
To alleviate the confusion, here is a quick guideline for how to know if you are a Wiccan or a traditional witch:
1. If you call yourself a “Wiccan,” then you are probably a Wiccan. Although, there are traditional witches who will call themselves “Wiccans” if cornered by someone because Wicca is well-known and is more socially acceptable, but some will, also, try to pass as Catholics or a member of any other accepted religious group, if cornered by a religious zealot. Nonetheless, traditional witches are not Wiccans.
2. If you belong to a Wiccan coven, then you are a Wiccan and not a traditional witch.
3. If you participate in Wiccan rituals centering around a goddess, god or some combination thereof, then you are a Wiccan.
4. If you have a Wiccan world view, ie. the earth is a goddess. She is our mother. There is no evil because nature is neither good nor evil. All gods are one. Everything you do comes back to you ___ -fold, etc., etc., then you are a Wiccan and not a traditional witch.
5. If you have a cat or other pet, which you call your familiar, then you are a Wiccan. In traditional witchcraft, familiars are spirits, usually demonic spirits.
6. If you believe in the Gardnerian “Charge of the Goddess,” the “Three-fold Law,” or the “Wiccan Rede,” then you are most certainly a Wiccan.
7. If you accept the “Principles of Wiccan Beliefs” codified in 1974 by the Council of American Witches headed up by Mr. Carl L. Weschcke Llewellyn, owner and publisher of Llewellyn Worldwide, which defines Wicca (and uses the term interchangeably with witchcraft) as an earth-centered pagan religion, then you are most definitely a Wiccan.
8. If you use the term “dark witchcraft” to describe any aspect of witchcraft, then chances are you’re a Wiccan. The usage of this term is a relatively new phenomenon on YouTube in the past couple of years and the source of some witch warring between some moralizing Wiccans and some less-moralizing, more open-minded Wiccans and traditional witches. “Dark witchcraft” is a newly made-up term. (Witchcraft is pretty much all dark, if you’re doing it correctly!)
9. If you have an altar in your home and seasonally “decorate” it, then you are probably a Wiccan or other neo-pagan. (See the article, “Traditional Witchcraft: How to Create an Altar,” for the purpose of an altar in traditional witchcraft.)
See the next article in this series: How Can I Become a Traditional Witch?
About What’s Next After Wicca?
Wicca is the most accessible and acceptable form of witchcraft in existence in English-speaking countries today. It can be a doorway to the the riches of the occult or a trap for the mind and spirit, depending on how it is approached and the knowledge with which this is done.
In “What’s Next After Wicca?” the author answers the question she often heard from her metaphysical bookstore customers who had studied Wicca, but felt dissatisfied with it and wanted to learn more about the subject of witchcraft, in general: “What else is there?”
This book represents the opinion of the author after 25 years of experience in the occult and several years of owning a store that was, also, a networking center for neo-pagan groups. It is written in an informative, yet conversational style, just as she would speak to friends and customers who would ask for her opinions about witchcraft and the occult.
It includes a discussion on the origins and the present state of Wicca, other alternative religions and philosophies including Satanism, Luciferianism, Germanic Occultism, Gnosticism and traditional witchcraft. Throughout are recommendations for other courses of occult studies, including a categorized bibliography.
Note: This is not a spell book or a manual on how to do witchcraft.