As Wicca has grown in popularity, many innovations have arisen out of the original tradition, which was developed in the aftermath of the late-19th century British occult revival. Below are several of the most commonly practiced Wiccan traditions, including Gardnerian, Alexandrian, and Dianic Wicca, as well as other, newly emerging forms and solitary and eclectic paths.
The Most Popular Wiccan Traditions
What is now known as “Wicca” was initially developed in the UK in the mid-20th century. Gerald Gardner, often called the “father of Wicca,” founded a coven called Bricket Wood and based its religious practices on many sources, including experiences he had had years earlier with a group of self-described Witches known as the New Forest Coven.
Gardner did not actually call his coven’s practices “Wicca,” but rather “Witchcraft,” though he sometimes referred to the coven members collectively as “the Wica.” The use of “Wicca” instead of “Witchcraft” came about years later, once these religious practices had spread to North America.
Gardnerian Wicca is an initiatory tradition, meaning that one can only be initiated through another Gardnerian witch, so that every “true” Gardnerian can trace their lineage back to the original Bricket Wood coven. Gardnerian Wiccans traditionally work in covens of 13 members, although this number can vary depending on the circumstances of the group.
The coven is led by a High Priestess, with a High Priest as “second in command.” This dynamic mirrors the mythical story of the Sabbats, where the God dies and is reborn year after year, while the Goddess is eternally alive.
The Gardnerian deities are the Horned God and the Mother Goddess, and they have specific names that are supposed to be kept secret from non-initiates. There is a great deal of emphasis on using the original Book of Shadows that Gardner created for rituals and magic, which is also supposed to be kept secret, although it has been published in a few different forms over the decades.
Gardnerian rituals are highly elaborate in comparison to rituals in other traditions, and traditionally involved ritual sex, although this may or may not happen in present-day covens. Gardner was an enthusiastic practitioner of nudism, which is where this element of the tradition came from, and the more orthodox Gardnerian covens today still practice ritual nudity.
Gardnerian Wicca contains three separate degrees of initiation, and those wishing to start their own covens within the tradition are expected to have completed the third degree before doing so. This aspect of the practice is likely borrowed from the traditions of older secret societies like the Freemasons and The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Gardnerian covens are among the most secretive, making this tradition, at least in coven form, somewhat difficult to navigate for newcomers and curious outsiders.
The Alexandrian Tradition was created by Alex Sanders and his wife Maxine, who were members of the Gardnerian Tradition and initiated into one of its covens in the early 1960s. The tradition was named “Alexandrian” by a friend and fellow Witch, Stewart Farrar, in part because of Sanders’ first name, but also in veneration of the ancient Library of Alexandria, which held a legendary wealth of occult knowledge.
Alexandrian Wicca is similar to Gardnerian Wicca in many ways. There are three degrees of coven initiation, the coven is led by a High Priestess, and there is a belief in a supreme Goddess as well as a God. However, the Alexandrian tradition brings in an additional facet to the worship of deities: the ancient archetypes of the Oak King and the Holly King, aspects of the God who take turns defeating one another as the seasons turn from warm and light to cold and dark and back again.
Other differences between Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca include the choice to practice in clothing or ritual wear, and an added emphasis on ceremonial magic and Hermeticism. The Alexandrian tradition isn't necessarily quite as secretive or dogmatic. While there is some emphasis on respecting tradition and following protocol, there is a greater emphasis on growth and living out your own path, allowing for many changes and adjustments as practitioners see fit.
The Alexandrian Tradition is covered extensively in books by Stewart and Janet Farrar, authors and Wiccan practitioners who were both initiated into the main coven of the tradition by Maxine Sanders herself the 1970s.
Dianic Wicca differs significantly from the older traditions it grew out of. Originating in the United States as opposed to the UK, this is a feminist tradition, with a cosmology that focuses solely on the supremacy of the Goddess, rather than emphasizing the gender polarity of the Gardnerian concept of deity.
In Dianic covens there is an emphasis on being politically and socially aware of the oppression and injustices faced by women. This tradition typically does not have a hierarchical structure and is much freer in terms of spiritual growth and movement within the coven. As in other traditions, Dianic Wiccans will meet on Esbats, Sabbats, and other significant times such as when a member or someone in the community is in need, but the work within these circles is very fluid and follows a woman-centered approach in all things.
The original and most well-known form of the Dianic tradition was founded in the 1970s by a woman named Zsuzsanna Budapest. Another form of Wicca sharing the name “Dianic” was later started by Morgan McFarland and her husband, Mark Roberts. This latter tradition does admit men into covens, as do other traditions inspired by the original Dianic Wicca. However, those initiated through Budapest’s lineage remain female-only.
Seax-Wica was also founded in the U.S. in the 1970s, by a British-born witch named Raymond Buckland. Buckland had been a High Priest in the Gardnerian Tradition and started the first Gardnerian coven after moving to New York in the early 1960s. However, he found that the hierarchical structure of Gardnerianism resulted in ego-battles among American initiates, so he founded Seax-Wica as a way of continuing what was useful about Gardnerianism but in a fashion that was more suited to American culture.
Seax-Wica is inspired by Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft as it was practiced in Anglo-Saxon England between the 5th and 11th centuries. Its main deities are Woden and Freya, who represent the God and Goddess as found in the original Gardnerian Tradition. There is an emphasis on studying herbal lore and several forms of divination, including Tarot and runes.
There are many differences between Seax-Wica and the more orthodox forms of Wicca. The biggest may be the lack of secrecy. There is no oath of secrecy for coven members, so it’s not such a challenge to find out what goes on in covens, how they approach their rituals, etc. In fact, rituals and Sabbat celebrations can be open, if the coven so chooses. There is also no Book of Shadows in this tradition, and adding new material to rituals, magic, etc. is welcomed if practitioners see fit.
There are no degrees of advancement within covens as there are in other traditions, and coven leaders are democratically elected, serving a term of one lunar year (13 full moons). There is also no emphasis on lineage—in other words, being initiated by another Seax-Wica witch is not necessary. Self-dedication is recognized as a perfectly acceptable entry point to this form of the Craft.
Raymond Buckland’s Book of Saxon Witchcraft (originally called The Tree) was written to serve as a guide to the Seax-Wica tradition for any who would like to explore it. If you’re not already fairly familiar with Wicca, however, you may want to read it in tandem with Buckland’s The Complete Book of Witchcraft for a more well-rounded picture of his form of Wicca.
A relatively new path within the Wiccan community, Norse Wicca is infused with the beliefs, practices, and deities of the ancient Norse traditions of Scandinavia.
Unlike other forms, it is not an “official” tradition with a single founder, but rather an emerging trend among Wiccans who wish to work with a specific pantheon of deities and may draw inspiration from the ancient Norse sagas such as the Eddas and the Grimnismal. It’s also common to adopt Germanic and Norse versions of Sabbats, such as celebrating the Horse Fest at the Autumnal Equinox (generally known as “Mabon” in traditional Wicca).
Since the pre-Christian Anglo-Saxon culture shares Germanic roots with the Norse culture of Scandinavia, and many similarities have been between the religions of the two areas, there is potential for overlap between Norse Wicca and Seax-Wica. For example, the use of runes for divination is found in both traditions.
One chief difference between what we might call “standard” or traditional Wicca and the Norse-influenced form is the potential for a richer and more nuanced sense of the afterlife. Indeed, the Norse religious belief system has a dense complexity that can make Wicca’s cosmology seem almost two-dimensional in comparison. However, many followers of Norse Wicca adopt a syncretic approach, weaving the elements of the Norse system that resonate with them into their personal practice. Norse Wiccans tend to be solitary practitioners, with known covens being rather few and far between.
Celtic Wicca and Druidic Wicca
Also incorporating a belief system from the ancient world, Celtic Wicca and Druidic Wicca are technically two different traditions, but many Wiccans incorporate elements of both in their practice. The Druids were the priestly class of Celtic society, serving as healers, poets, and philosophers, who practiced divination and magic as part of their role. Therefore, they were part of the fabric of Celtic life, and would have influenced any practices that have survived over the centuries to become part of Celtic Wicca.
Of course, almost nothing is known about the specific magical and/or religious activities of the Druids, since they deliberately kept their knowledge in an oral tradition, so much of what is practiced today is inspired from Celtic mythology and the roles Druids play in these stories.
As implied by the name, Celtic Wiccans work with deities of the Celtic pantheon—whether Irish, Welsh, Cornish, or even Gaulish—and use Celtic names for Sabbats, such as Lughnasa instead of Lammas. Most of what we know about the ancient Celts comes from a Christianized lens, through monks recording the lore in medieval Ireland, and a solid amount from Celtic Wales has also survived. Therefore, Celtic and Druidic Wicca tend to have distinctly Irish and Welsh influences.
The Ogham—a Gaelic writing system with a similar function to runes—may be used in magical symbolism and divination, and some practitioners adopt the Celtic classification of elements (Earth, Sky and Water) rather than the standard Wiccan system. Celtic covens may or may not involve a hierarchy or degrees of advancement—it depends on how much of the Gardnerian or Alexandrian Traditions they wish to incorporate into their syncretic form of the Craft.
Druidic Wicca emphasizes the belief that all of nature is inherently divine, and all things as connected. There is more of a metaphysical and shamanistic bent than what is found in more traditional Wicca. Animals are important to this belief system, in particular the stag, the salmon, the raven, the boar, and several other animals indigenous to ancient Ireland. An emphasis on herbal magic and sacred stones is also often part of this tradition. Again, hierarchy may or may not be present in Druidic covens, but there is a greater likelihood of a more egalitarian structure than that found in more traditional Wicca.
Solitary Wicca simply refers to the practice of Wicca by individuals on their own, rather than as part of a coven. Solitaries may follow a single tradition, learning through books and/or through participation in informal Wiccan circles, or they may create their own unique practices out of a sort of “patchwork” of many traditions, while also adding elements of their own invention. This second approach is known as Eclectic Wicca (see below), and is quite likely the most common form of Wicca practiced today.
Many newcomers to the religion may start out as solitaries, learning and exploring until they feel drawn to explore practicing with others. Similarly, some coven members may ultimately decide to move to a solitary practice, whether due to the dissolution of the coven they belonged to or other circumstances. Either way, one type of practice is not superior to the other—while there are significant differences between coven membership and solitary practice, the essence of the core beliefs and rituals carries through both forms of Wicca.
There's a bit of irony in calling Eclectic Wicca a “tradition,” since the only thing eclectic practices truly have in common with each other is that they’re different from any other practice. In other words, the only tradition of Eclecticism is a desire to forge one’s own path to a unique Wiccan practice.
The degree to which eclectic Wiccans “invent” their form of the religion (and not all Wiccans in this category would even necessarily agree with the term “religion”) depends on the individual. Some might create highly unique ritual structures completely from their own inspiration and imagination, while others might simply blend two or more traditions with little to no original material added in.
The reasons for creating an eclectic practice are many, but it often has to do with being a solitary Wiccan with no immediate community to reach out to and learn from. Indeed, most Eclectics are solitary practitioners, though there are certainly covens and plenty of Wiccan circles that fit into this category.
Choosing Your Wiccan Tradition: Follow Your Heart
Wicca is and has always been a dynamic religion, changing and evolving over time as more and more people are drawn to learn, interpret and integrate its core tenets into their own experiences. While there are many traditionalists adhering as closely as they can to the “original” form of the Craft developed by Gardner, the explosion of interest in Wicca over the past several decades has led to new forms and pathways that continue to lead in new directions.
Indeed, the possibilities might even seem overwhelming to newcomers to the Craft. But all you need to do is remain open while exploring your options. Listen to your intuition and follow where your heart leads you. As long as you do so, there are no wrong turns.