About British Traditional Wicca
Wicca, sometimes spelled “Wica,” is the religion of witchcraft. Members of Wicca worship both a Goddess and a God, and hold religious rituals at the time of the Full Moon and at the beginnings and height of the seasons. At these times and others Wiccans practice magic to achieve changes in in the world: to heal the sick, to bring prosperity to themselves and their communities and sometimes for larger causes, such as the ending of a drought or the cessation of wars.
British Traditional Wicca (simply “Traditional Wicca” in Britain) is the oldest form of Wicca, having documented existence from the 1950s and believed by many to be much older (see our “Brief History of British Traditional Wicca”). Wiccans form groups called covens which usually meet outdoors or in one of the members’ homes. They are led by a High Priestess and a High Priest who conduct the rituals, provide study and training and initiate new members. Instructions for rituals and other lore is contained in the Book of Shadows, which is passed down to Wiccans from their teachers.
To become a member of BTW, one must be initiated by another Wiccan. Most BTW practice three levels of membership, called degrees. When a BTW is first initiated, they are at first degree, called “Priest” or “Priestess”. After training and study, the Wiccan may be ritually elevated to the second degree, “High Priest” or “High Priestess”. After additional experience and study, a Wiccan may be elevated to the third and final degree, called “Elder,” which authorizes them to hive, or form a coven of their own.
Requirements for for elevation to the degrees vary somewhat from coven to coven, but most require at least a year of study between. There are no higher degrees: a Wiccan Elder is considered largely autonomous, though in unusual situations they are expected to listen to counsel from their initiators and other Elders in their community.
There are a number of branches of BTW, called traditions. Oldest is the Gardnerian Tradition, which evolved out of the work of Gerald Gardner, a retired English customs official and rubber planter who was also an amateur anthropologist and archaeologist. Gardner claimed to have been initiated into Wicca in 1939. Another branch, Central Valley Wicca, appeared in central California sometime in the 1950s or 1960s. The Alexandrian Tradition, named after its founder Alex Sanders, arrived in England in the 1960s.
There is a degree of secrecy in BTW. First and foremost, for the protection of the membership, no one is allowed to divulge the fact that someone is a Wiccan without their express permission. While there has been little overt religious discrimination in recent years in Western countries, Wiccans have lost their jobs or custody of their children because of bosses and judges who disapproved of their religion.
The Wicca are taught that their traditional ways of making magic are truly effective, and do not wish them to be known by those who have not had the proper training in their use and their ethics. Also, BTW do not relish those who have not had the training in the religion and ethics of BTW to claim to be able to teach and practice it.
Many people call themselves Wiccan who have not had the opportunity to be formally initiated into BTW, often attempting to practice something like we do, with varying success. Still, if their attempts are performed ethically and inspired by the love of witchcraft and of the Gods, we wish them well, as there are many pathways to spiritual wholeness.
British Traditional Wicca has had a profound effect on religious belief around the globe. It has been the inspiration for most of modern Western paganism, which has grown from a few dozen traditions in the 1950s to hundreds of thousands today.