Just as Christianity encompasses a variety of faiths such as Protestantism and Catholicism, Wicca also has several denominations, which are called traditions. In recent years there has been an explosion of new traditions within the Wiccan community, too many to list here. The following is a brief overview of some of the more common traditions practiced today.
The oldest of all the Wiccan traditions, the Gardnerian tradition was established in the 1940s by Gerald Gardner, who is considered the Father of Wicca. Founded in England, where witchcraft was still illegal, the tradition is secretive, involves a strict hierarchy and dogma, and includes extensive training. Gardnerian covens are difficult to locate because they tend to keep to themselves and do not advertise their presence.
Gardnerians offer three degrees of training and initiation. Those who reach the third degree are ready to become high priests and priestesses. Doreen Valiente, a prominent Wiccan author, was Gerald Gardner's first high priestess and played an important role in shaping the beliefs and practices of Wiccans.
Alex Sanders established this tradition in the 1960s. The rituals are modified versions of Gardnerian rituals, and much of the belief system is the same, but Alexandrians place a stronger focus on ceremonial magic. The covens have the option of working skyclad, but it is not a requirement. Some of the other rules are more liberal as well.
Alexandrians tend to be less secretive about their practices and will occasionally allow noninitiates to attend their gatherings. They may also allow students to attend rituals before they have completed their first-degree initiation. Janet and Stewart Farrar are perhaps the most well known initiates into the tradition and have written several influential books on Wicca.
Most of the practitioners of the Dianic tradition are women, although some men do follow it as well. That's because Dianic rituals are frequently closed to men as well as male-to-female transsexuals, although men have gained admittance to some Dianic groups. Dianics welcome lesbians, but being gay is not a requirement to join the group.
The tradition is based on the teachings of Margaret Murray's 1921 work The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Many within the Craft consider it to be “Feminist Wicca,” and it has been the subject of some undeserved scorn. The movement has become political in recent years, and one of its main proponents is Z. Budapest, another prominent author.
Dianic covens tend to work on a consensus basis with no hierarchical structure. They worship the goddess alone, and exclude all male deities. As such, they have modified the sabbat cycle to relate to the female cycle of life: the cycle of maiden, mother, and crone. The menstrual cycle and the close relation of women to the phases of the moon are honored and considered the source of women's power.
Feri Tradition of Wicca
The Feri (pronounced fairy) tradition began its evolution in the 1930s when Victor Anderson began working with an Oregon coven whose tradition included American folk magic as well as African-American and Native American beliefs and practices. The tradition was expanded to include southern folk magic when Victor married Cora in 1944. Later students would incorporate Hawaiian Huna and Celtic magic into the tradition. The goddess is central to the Feri faith, which is quite complex.
Feri covens are autonomous and unstructured. Students receive only one initiation, but study is quite lengthy and arduous. Purification is of extreme importance. The Feri tradition is considered to be continuously evolving, and current offshoots of the tradition include Starhawk's Reclaiming tradition and Francesca De Grandis's Third Road.
The Faery tradition is completely different from the Feri tradition. This tradition has no direct lineage or known date of founding, but it has become very popular among Wiccans. In Faery covens or circles, the members base their practices on Celtic faerie lore, legends, and beliefs; to them, reverence for the earth is very important. Wiccans who adhere to the Faery tradition work with the wee folk in ritual.
There are a few books on the subject of Faery Wicca, as well as Internet correspondence courses, but the tradition is largely self-taught and there are no formal rules regarding the formation or management of covens and working groups.
One subgroup of the Faery tradition is known as the Faerie Faith. The Faith is based out of Georgia and it is Dianic in nature, although men are allowed to participate. The Faery Faith involves extensive training that lasts for several years, degreed initiations, and a hierarchical coven structure. It is not strictly Wiccan and incorporates many shamanic elements.
According to legend, a woman named Aradia established Stregheria (also known as Italian witchcraft) in the fourteenth century. The tradition came to public knowledge in 1890 with the publication of Charles Leland's Aradia: Gospel of the Witches and is enjoying amodern resurgence. Strega incorporates both Roman and Etruscan deities and has a modified Wheel of the Year to match more closely with their practices.
Strega Wiccans operate in covens, which they call boschettos, but they allow solitary study as well. In their tradition, Wiccan practices are combined with other practices and beliefs that differ from traditional Wicca. Moreover, Strega in Italy practice the faith differently from those residing in the United States. The leading figure to emerge from Stregheria is author Raven Grimassi, who has written several books on the topic.
Eclectic Wicca is an all-purpose term applied to NeoWiccan traditions that don't fit into any specific definitive category. Many solitary Wiccans follow an eclectic path, but there are also covens that consider themselves eclectic. A coven or individual may use the term "eclectic" for a variety of reasons. For example:
Because there is often disagreement about who is Wiccan and who isn't, there can be confusion regarding existing lineaged Wiccan traditions, and newer eclectic traditions. Some would say that only those lineaged covens are permitted to call themselves Wiccan, and that anyone who claims to be eclectic is, by definition, not Wiccan but Neowiccan. Bear in mind that the term Neowiccan simply means someone who practices a newer form of Wicca, and is not meant to be derogatory or insulting.