It can be said that Traditional Witchcraft is folk-magic, yet there are some forms that are also of a religious or strongly spiritual nature. Here I emphasise the word "some" as there is no uniformity, each individual practitioner can only say what they do and cannot speak for other paths.
Indeed, in Gardnerian and Alexandrian practice I believe there is an element of standardisation. A coven in for example Glastonbury, will have a recognisably similar practice to a group in Edinburgh, bar the latter being in a foreign language (English joke). Traditional Witchcraft appears to display a far greater regional variation, between groups, counties and individuals.
Let me put it this way, from the social-psychological approach. The way the human mind works predisposes us to think and identify ourselves, not by what we are but by what we are not. It is the “us and them” mindset. There is nothing particularly wrong with this way of thinking, as it is simply how our minds generally work.
Attempting to define ourselves by what we are, by what makes us unique is often quite challenging. We will often read statements that say Wicca is different from Traditional Craft because of perceived differences. Actually trying to define what Wicca is and what Traditional is, by focusing on the actual praxis of each example; is not the obvious path and can as suggested, be quite difficult.
The matter here is complicated further by the enormous variety of practice and belief found within Traditional methodologies, so rather than looking at Traditional Craft as one whole or unified concept one has to look at each individualised approach to praxis. The danger of perceived generalisation is misrepresentation.
Just as there are subtle differences between Gardnerian and Alexandrian Witchcraft or Wicca, there are differences between the many different forms of Traditional Craft. There is no one singular example that can be presented as the quintessential model, so as a detached observer let me offer these observances on perceived or actual differences between Traditional and Wiccanesque Praxis.
My observances here; are made upon wide reading and a wide range of contacts, my approach here is that of Phenomenological Sociology. I do not pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of any belief system or practice, I observe and describe them.
Although some Wiccans do not identify themselves as either Pagan or as members of a religion, the majority appear to do so. Wicca focuses on the worship or veneration if you prefer, of a divine couple, a Lord and a Lady, a Great Goddess and a Great God as representations of all other known divinities. Sociologists and theologians therefore categorise Wicca as a Duo-theistic Pagan Religion.
Traditional Witchcraft is less clear cut, the approach can be that of sorcery or a magical arte that does not necessarily include divinity or one that does include spiritual and religious aspects of veneration if not necessarily worship. The latter would include at least some involvement of Gods, Goddesses, Spirits, the Ancestors and often there is an overlapping approach. Therefore, Traditional practices rather than being perceived as Duo-theistic are much more likely to display traits of Polytheism, Henotheism, Pantheism or good old-fashioned Animism.
There is less likely to be a standardisation of practise in Traditional Craft than in Wicca. The latter form of Witchcraft, with an origin traceable to one or more founders, has an identifiable set of core rituals and methods. Traditional practice is more often regional and idiosyncratic, often influenced by localised phenomenon and folklore.
Again, whereas Wicca is Duo-theistic and focuses on a divine couple, some Traditional covens or sometimes Cuveens, will focus on one totemic or tutelary Deity, this is an aspect of Henotheism, although some groups such as the Clan of Tubal Cain use the word Monolatry, which should not be confused with Monotheism. Some Traditionals or Traditionalists consider themselves to be Pagan, while some do not and it is therefore advisable to ask the individual for clarification.
In Wicca, outside of some references to the Aradia Mythos, Luciferian traits are not generally observable. However, there are some Traditional groups who are Luciferian in their approach, the actual manifestation of this influence will vary from group to group; it is far from standard and should not be confused with Satanism.
It is common knowledge that Wicca has a degree system, reflecting an early Masonic influence. Many Traditional groups do not have a degree system of such formality, one is either a member or one is not a member. Those that do have a degree system of sorts may use the term “admission” whereas the first admission is to an “outer court” or circle and the second admission to an “inner court” or core working group.
In Wiccan covens, the leading couple are known as a High Priestess and a High Priest. Traditional covens or cuveens display a varied number of titles dependent on the individual group or dispense with titles altogether. One may for example, hear references to Covenmaster, Mistress, Maid, Magister (Male) or Magistra (female) or any number of other titles.
The origins of the Wheel of the Year in its modern form, like the Wiccan Rede, can be traced to the late 1940’s. Although these festivals are indeed ancient, no one culture celebrated or observed all eight festivals at any one time. Therefore, although some Traditionals have adopted the modern eight, illustrating the active cross pollination of ideas, there are other groups that recognise a calendar of five, six or ten festivals. The Wiccan Rede is however, rejected by the majority of Traditional groups and solitaries.
This paper was first published in the Hedge Wytch as: Chattering Magpie (D.B. Griffith) (2012) Perceived differences between Wiccan-Witchcraft and Traditional-Witchcraft. The Hedge Wytch. February/Imbolc 2012 pp14-16.