Popular Traditions - Wicca Demystified

Seasons of Wicca: The Essential Guide to Rituals and Rites to Enhance Your Spiritual Journey - Ambrosia Hawthorn 2020

Popular Traditions
Wicca Demystified

Since the 1950s, Wicca has continued to evolve from its original Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions into newer traditions (Dianic, Celtic, and Solitary, for example) that are sometimes referred to as Neo-Wicca or modern Wicca. In this chapter, I’ll explain the background of these particular Wiccan traditions to help you find a path that’s right for you. More traditions are waiting for you to discover them.


The Gardnerian tradition, also called British Traditional Witchcraft, Gardnerian Wicca, or Gardnerian Witchcraft, refers to a group of individuals who follow the teachings of Gerald Gardner. The Gardnerian tradition, developed by Gerald Gardner in the United Kingdom in the 1950s, is often considered the earliest Wiccan tradition. At the time, however, Gardner referred to his teachings as witchcraft, not Wicca.

Gerald Gardner was born in Lancashire, England, in 1884 but spent many of his early years abroad, where he gained an appreciation for native cultures, rituals, and ceremonies. Gardner returned to England in the 1930s and began to study occultism and witchcraft. He was initiated into the New Forest coven, a group of witches who focused on beliefs and practices believed to predate Christianity. Much of the New Forest coven’s work was inspired by Egyptologist Margaret Murray, who in the 1920s wrote about European witch cults. Gardner took his practices and experiences of ceremonial magic, his work from the New Forest coven, Kabbalah, and his occult findings and combined them to create a new tradition. The Gardnerian tradition worships two principal deities: the Horned God and the Mother Goddess.

Gardnerian tradition has three degrees that mark a Wiccan’s journey of learning and practice. The First Degree is the initiation into the tradition, often in the form of a ritual and dedication ceremony. A year and a day after the First Degree, the practitioner can have a Second Degree. This degree represents advancement beyond the basics. After five to seven years of rigorous study and practice, one can achieve the Third Degree. The Third Degree often elevates a member to a leadership role in their coven or brings them one step closer to becoming a High Priest or Priestess. If and when the member becomes comfortable leading others, they may branch out and start their own coven.

Gardnerian tradition follows karmic law and focuses on not harming others. The practice is kept secret and bound by oath, so not many outside of Gardnerian tradition know the specifics of their practice. Gardnerian rituals are very elaborate and commonly involve ritual sex or nudity; in the tradition, nakedness is a sign of freedom and equality. Gardnerian tradition varies widely, with each coven having its own specificities and levels of observance, and is practiced all over the world.


The Alexandrian tradition, also called Alexandrian Wicca or Alexandrian Witchcraft, was founded in the United Kingdom and gets its name from its founder, Alex Sanders, and his wife, Maxine Sanders. The Alexandrian tradition has its origins in Gardnerian tradition; Alex Sanders was a member of a Gardnerian tradition before leaving it to start his own sect in the 1960s. Alexandrian tradition incorporates Gardnerian teachings with ceremonial magic and Qabalah.

Like the Gardnerian tradition, Alexandrian tradition also focuses heavily on ritual and ceremony and has degrees and initiation ceremonies, but it is not as secretive or strict with the rituals and rules. However, you will not find the Alexandrian tradition’s Book of Shadows or rituals online; the only way to learn more about the practices of this tradition is to join it.

Alexandrian tradition is known for being eclectic, following a “use it if it works” philosophy and prioritizing the practitioner’s growth. The tradition also emphasizes the polarities of masculine and feminine and honors the Horned God and the Mother Goddess. This tradition often involves ritual nudity (also called skyclad); however, practicing naked is optional in some covens. The Alexandrian tradition is practiced all over the world.


The Dianic tradition is a feminist practice that focuses on the Goddess and often has women-only membership. This branch of Wicca uses the writings of author Zsuzsanna Budapest and originated in the United States during the 1970s.

The major difference between Dianic tradition and other traditions is that it honors only the Goddess deity, not the God. Dianic tradition emphasizes egalitarian matriarchy and gets its name from the Roman Goddess Diana. Members of the Dianic tradition will honor other Goddesses as well, but they treat them as parts of a single, monotheistic Goddess. The Dianic tradition focuses on the importance of womanhood and pulls from folk magic and various teachings of Gerald Gardner and Charles Leland, author of Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. Some Dianic covens reject transgender women, but there does exist a branch, founded by Morgan McFarland and her husband Mark Roberts, that accepts trans members.


The Celtic Wicca tradition, like the Gardnerian tradition, follows two main deities—the Horned God and the Mother Goddess—but many practitioners of Celtic Wicca also follow other deities in the Celtic pantheon. One divine force celebrated in Celtic Wicca is the Triple Goddess, the female aspect often represented as Maiden, Mother, and Crone. This tradition combines the modern Wiccan tradition with Celtic mythology, history, and beliefs. Celtic Wiccans still use rituals and energy and celebrate nature, as do other Wiccan traditions.

Closely related to Celtic Wicca is Druidry, a spiritual path that embraces both the spiritual world and holistic medicine. Historically, Druids were priests, healers, poets, and philosophers, and much of Celtic Wicca incorporates elements of Druidism. Druidry and Wicca are two entirely separate paths, but they both honor Earth and the eight sabbats. Druidry is more focused on solar rituals, whereas Celtic Wicca often focuses on both solar and lunar rituals and deities. Wiccans who have an interest in the Celtic Wiccan tradition may find themselves looking into Druidry. Those who combine Wicca and Druid traditions sometimes call their practice Druidcraft.


The Solitary tradition is a very popular way to practice the Wiccan craft. Solitary Wiccans practice Wicca alone, as an individual. Many who are new to Wicca start out as Solitary Wiccans while they develop their own path and study different traditions. Some later join traditions and others continue a solitary practice. Solitary Wiccans often adopt an eclectic path that is a collection of different traditions.


The best tradition is the one that feels right to you, so when you’re starting out, it’s important to explore Wiccan traditions that you feel will meet your unique needs. If you have an interest in feminism, you might be drawn to Dianic Wicca, or if you have an interest in Celtic mythology and deities, Celtic Wicca may be more suited to you. Wherever your interests lie, the most important thing is to ask questions and learn as much as you can. If you’re interested in learning more about a specific tradition, I recommend reading books about that tradition and reaching out to the magical community. Facebook groups, online forums, local meetups, and countless other sources of community can help you connect with Wiccans from different traditions or paths. Wicca is dynamic and always evolving, which means that as the tradition grows, new paths will continue to emerge. Finally, don’t give up; if the first tradition you try doesn’t feel right, keep looking and follow what feels good to you.