Traditions & Paths
There are many paths that are considered “Witchcraft” and here we will cover some of the most common you will encounter. However, before you pick a “label” for yourself, consider that you are an ever-evolving individual. That which feeds your spirit now, may not suffice later on your path. Consider these path summaries as doorways that are open to you, but I always recommend that you save the labels for your herb cabinet.
Like you, Witchcraft is always changing and evolving. Witches incorporate new and old ideas into our practice. This is syncretism. Syncretism is an important concept we will be discussing further in this course. As a syncretic path, Witchcraft may incorporate the latest scientific research into wortcunning* and shadow work, or use color associations from other cultures for spellwork.
From Wikipedia: Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought… merging or assimilation of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths.
Different paths of Witchcraft are similar to different denominations in mainstream religious organizations. These traditions (or “trads” as you’ll hear discussed among other Witches) hold specific beliefs and follow specific rituals. This is not an exhaustive list, as new trads appear and disappear frequently. However, the trads covered here are the most steadfast, having been around for several generations, and the most popular.
Traditions are usually (but not always) religious, meaning that devotion to and worship of a specific deity or deities is central to the practice. Trads often have specific rituals and rites that are enacted or repeated for every Sabbat (high holy day/holiday).
Trads are fairly organized structures, usually with an international presence. You can usually contact one Gardnerian or Alexandrian coven, become initiated, and if you relocate you can reach out to a new coven within your trad at your new location.
Founded by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s, this trad recognizes a Horned God and Mother Goddesses. The organization is hierarchical with a High Priest and High Priestess presiding over groups (covens). Three levels of initiation are involved, 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degrees. Gender polarity is utilized, and skyclad (nude) rituals and rites are common.
Alex Sanders founded this tradition. He studied Gardnerian Wicca and his training echoes through the Alexandrian path. Like Gardnerian Wicca, only another person in the tradition can initiate a new Alexandrian Witch. Degrees and coven structures are similarly hierarchical like Gardnerian, but there is more flexibility in syncretic incorporation of other forms of magic. Gender polarity is utilized, skyclad rituals and rites are common.
British Traditional Wicca (BTW)
BTW is any tradition with roots in the New Forest region of England such as Alexandrian Wicca, Gardnerian Wicca, and less widespread trads such as the Mohsian Tradition, 1734 Tradition, and Central Valley Wicca.
There are three main types of Dianic Witches. The first are those who were initiated by the founder of Dianic Wicca, Zsuzsanna Budapest. Covens are female-only, and the Goddess or feminine divine is the only deity/deities. This trad is influenced by British Traditional Witchcraft, traditional Italian Witchcraft, and the women’s spirituality movement. Next, there are Dianic Witches who are self-initiated and are influenced by the writings of Budapest and other women’s spirituality authors. The third major Dianic Wiccan trad is McFarland Dianic, founded by Morgan McFarland and Mark Roberts. This last trad sometimes accepts male practitioners, but only female priestesses may take leadership roles.
With roots in Southern European Witchcraft, Stregheria is focused on Italian Witchcraft. Referred to as La Vecchia Religione (Italian for “the Old Religion”). The practice utilizes the writings of Charles G. Leland’s book Aradia (much like Dianic Wicca) and there are sometimes echoes of Catholic folk magic sprinkled into the practice. Most practitioners are Neopagan and honor a Moon Goddess and Horned God, but do not generally use the term Wicca, instead referring to themselves as Witches or Strega.
To clarify the often confusing list of traditions, we will separate the trads into a subsection of paths. Paths are loose terms, referring to the “flavor” or emphasis of an individual’s practice. Paths may be religious, secular, agnostic, or anything else. Beliefs and practices vary as widely as the individuals on each path, and some practitioners consider their path a tradition. You may see someone referring to the “Hedge Witch tradition” meaning that the individual follows the path of a Hedge Witch.
Like hedges at the edge of the woods, dividing the shadowy forest from the sunny field, Hedge Witches delve into the spirit realm. Working “between the worlds” or on the astral plane may be a focus of the practice. Hedge Witches may also follow the path of the village wise-woman, using herbal remedies and traditional folk healing and spellwork.
A Witch born into a family practice. Traditions, spellwork, and ideas are passed down through generations and may vary widely from other forms of Witchcraft. The term is sometimes adopted by newcomers to add validity and legitimacy to their eclectic path, despite the term’s ambiguous meaning. Most hereditary paths prior to the 80s were fragmented folk customs and superstitions that survived the days of persecution through oral history. Modern Hereditary Witches (specifically after the 1950s, but especially after the 1980s) may have a more cohesive tradition passed on from parents and relatives who developed their own paths from those outlined in this lesson.
A Witch whose main practice is in the Kitchen. Herbal arts and wortcunning are often included in this practice, as well as the magic of food for healing and energy work. Prominent in the practice is a deep respect and reverence for the ingredients used in a recipe, and food is cooked with magical intention. Hearth and home are central to the practice.
Green Witches often focus on nature, the changing of the seasons and Sabbat celebrations. Herbal studies and wortcunning are often prominent areas of study.
A person who utilizes a wide variety of beliefs, ideas, and materials in their practice. The path is highly syncretic and individualistic. Some eclectic Witches are devoted to deities, while others take a secular approach to their practice. Most modern Witches are eclectic in one way or another.
Trad/Path Hybrid Labels
Some labels refer to trads and paths. Faery or Fairy Wicca/Witchcraft is a perfect example.
As a path, Faery/Fairy Wicca is any modern Witchcraft path that emphasizes the Fae (fairy realm of elves, sprites, faeries, etc.).
As a tradition, there are a few with similar labels:
- Faery Wicca was founded by Kisma Stepanich and is influenced by Irish mythology.
- The Feri Tradition founded by Victor Anderson is influenced by ancient and modern Celtic practices.
- Mark Roberts (mentioned in the Dianic Wicca trad above) also created a Faerie Faith, an off-shoot of McFarland Dianic Wicca.
All of these traditions and paths are different still from Radical Faeries, a movement seeking to redefine queer consciousness through secular spirituality and sometimes Pagan ideologies.
There are words and phrases referring to Witchcraft that you may encounter. Witchcraft is also referred to as the “Craft of the Wise”, “the crooked path*”, “the Old Religion”, or simply “The Craft”.
Solitary: A Witch who practices primarily alone, not in a coven or group.
Look up and read about Syncretism
How is Syncretism different than Cultural Appropriation?
*Wortcunning is the knowledge of the properties of magical and medicinal properties of herbs, plants, and botanicals, the understanding of how to use these natural materials (such as making tinctures, mojo bags, potions, ointments, poultices, etc.) and the wisdom of when and why to use botanical assistants. “Wort” refers to plants, and cunning refers to cleverness and skill. For more information, check out the Wortcunning course here in the Academy.
*The crooked path refers to Witchcraft and Wicca, and it is also a term used in reference to Sabbatic Witchcraft; a path influenced by the writings of Andrew D. Chumbley, Daniel Schulke, and many ancient and modern ceremonial magicians.
- Witchcraft is not a static path and your practice will change with you, growing and evolving throughout your life.
- There is no “one true path” of Witchcraft.
- A path that does not resonate with you now may become relevant later on in your journey.
End of Lesson
Reference/Cite this Lesson
In Books, Articles, Websites, Journals, etc. When possible, please link to this lesson: “https://www.witchacademy.org/course/witchcraft-101/lessons/many-paths-of-witchcraft/” or Witch Academy: Traditions & Paths of Witchcraft Formal examples are below, please replace DAY MONTH YEAR with the actual date you accessed the lesson for use in your writing.
Modern Language Association (MLA) Citation:
Gladheart, Friday. “Traditions & Paths of Witchcraft.” Witch Academy, 15 January 2020, https://www.witchacademy.org/course/witchcraft-101/lessons/many-paths-of-witchcraft/ . Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR
American Psychological Association (APA) / Chicago Style Citation:
Gladheart, Friday, 2020. Traditions & Paths of Witchcraft. Retrieved from https://www.witchacademy.org/course/witchcraft-101/lessons/many-paths-of-witchcraft/
Gladheart, Friday. “Traditions & Paths of Witchcraft.” Witch Academy. Accessed MONTH DAY YEAR https://www.witchacademy.org/course/witchcraft-101/lessons/many-paths-of-witchcraft/