If you kept your ears open in certain circles in the mid 1960’s you may have heard rumors about a Big Wave of Witchcraft rolling behind the scenes. While there have been similar waves since then, parts of this article will be based on my personal experiences as an initiated witch of thirty-three years. I am a High Priestess from the Old Religion tradition who teaches the Craft for initiation only. My covenant is clearly defined in order to keep our ancient Rites alive and protected.
"What was this Big Wave in the 1960’s?" you might ask. It was a projection of the future of the Craft. The rumor mill was hard at work in those times before computers and cell phones were invented. While Witchcraft may not have been in the spotlight as much as it is now, it was alive and thriving—part of the heartbeat of every Witch content to be in the shadows.
Traditions were, and still are, very important in Wicca as well as Witchcraft. It is important to note that not all Witches are Wiccan. Wicca is just one of many traditions under the Witchcraft umbrella. For the purpose of this article, I will condense as much as possible while attempting to remain steadfast on the topic.
Gen-Xers, Millennials, and even Gen Z have all at least heard about Wicca. There is a very large debate about the origins of Wicca. It was brought to public attention with the aid of male figures like Gerald Gardner (born in 1884) and Alex Sanders (born in 1926), and their roles in helping a create one of Witchcraft’s major waves is undeniable. Still, it must not be forgotten that this was originally a female Craft. While Gardinarian and Alexandrian Traditions were based on things found in the Old Religion, now men had the final say in coven issues, flipping the matriarchal origins of the Craft on its head.
The debate of when Wicca began continues to this day, with the newer generations especially feeling it started with the afore mentioned fellows blazing the way. There is also a debate on what the word Wicca means. It used to refer specifically to practices that required initiation into their mysteries. But since then, a hodgepodge of branches have sprung up, all with their own flavors.
Sometimes mentioned alongside Wicca, Druidry is a neo-Pagan religious practice that utilizes magick as well. According to the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (also called OBOD and one of the most well-known Druidic groups) while many Druids study Wicca and vice versa, each is a complete system on its own. Some Druids combine elements of Wicca in their practice, while others don’t. Reverence of nature is a big part of the Druidic belief system, which is why some of the rituals and Earth-based practices mesh so beautifully together. While neo-Celtic beliefs play a role in many Druidic practices, Druids can be found around the world, as solitaries or as part of larger groups like OBOD, Ar nDraiocht Fein (ADF), the Reformed Druids of North America (RDNA), British Druid Order (BDO), the Ancient Order of Druids in America (AODA), and the Henge of Keltria.
Greek Pagan traditions are frequently called Hellenic Paganism or simply Hellenism. Based on ancient Greek polytheistic traditions, Hellenic groups are widely diversified in their traditions and rituals. They are often praised for their scholarly works as well as their initiations into various tributaries of Hellenistic worship. The Goddess and her Rites flourished here. Now for the sake of trying to maintain on topic, I'm not going to go around the world explaining the Goddess’s history and why she is an intricate piece to Wicca/Witchcraft.
The Hedge Witch is a classic figure who understood nature and her Craft very well. Traditionally, she aided in the birthing process for many women. The hedge witch improved her skills by studying plants and practiced healing with herbs. Normally she lived alone, provoking perhaps the idea of a solitary Witch. Nowadays, modern society lends itself to more solitaries who find comfort on social media as well as online groups or zoom covens. Some modern groups who want to get together to share their ideas, their holidays, or Moon work will connect online.
So what exactly is a Coven? Modern covens appear to have evolved by grassroots strategies based on whatever is available online, in books, or such things as TikTok, YouTube, videos, or even movies. This is a relatively new development in the practice of the Craft.
Keep in mind that there are much older established covens who do not use any social networking sites or websites for their groups. Their rituals are written by their High Priestess and High Priest or are passed down to the High Priestess by the Queen who initiated her. In these traditional covens, neophytes are taught hands-on, with no books. Prior to initiation, the only written word they use are the notes they take themselves.
Learning the fine art of the Craft is almost like cooking in the kitchen with your grandmother. It is an enriching experience that must be felt to be truly understood. Traditional covens usually have a degree system. In order to earn a degree, one must continue their education and pass a series of tests.
There Are No Shortcuts
Before I go any farther, I feel I must address the issue of those who sell memberships into covens and/or sell degrees or titles. These are typically cash grab schemes, preying on people’s desires to be part of something unique while by-passing the hard work that goes into achieving real proficiency in a magickal practice. Any printed certificate you would receive from such places wouldn’t be worth more than the ink it cost to create it.
The reality is if a person with one of these purchased degrees showed up at a true, old, well-established coven, say one with documented linage for over 100 + more years, the individual would be turned away from ritual. “Boy that's rude,” one might say. I would answer that it isn’t. It’s just protocol. The coven would have no way of knowing what you know, or knowing what you are ready for, unless they were part of your training.
I want to also address a term that I hear a lot lately in Witchcraft/ Wiccan spaces: gatekeeper. Some seem to be upset that Old Religion Traditions are not more open to them. To that I say, we value our oaths of silence, and yes, we will be protective of our traditions and pass them on only to those we know will be respectful of the work involved. We do not take the sharing of this knowledge lightly and acknowledge that there is much that will never be published or verbalized outside of our circles. The few that have the knowledge take on the responsibility of protecting that knowledge,
Initiation and Lineage
You may be curious about initiation and the difference between initiations into solitary practice, informal covens, and lineage covens. Solitary initiation is just as the word implies, alone. This is between you, the powers of nature, and the goddess. In ancient times, one may have never understood initiation to be a formal process. They may have simply dug their bare feet into the rich loam, reached out to the mysterious sky, and allowed words to flow.
There are some informal, modern covens who have less strict initiation or participation rules. Some of them meet via computer, on platforms like Zoom. These groups do have their own ways of declaring their commitment to being part of a greater community of magical practitioners. They also agree to follow a schedule of pre-arranged meeting times to participate. Very informal on-line groups sometimes gather around a leader who sets the time and the agenda for the meeting. The leader keeps an eye on the names of the people entering the live event and picks the point they want to start things. People can enter and exit randomly during these events.
There is nothing random about the way lineage covens operate. All initiates have a very specific process of learning and hands-on experience they need to complete to become full members of the group. Events are scheduled way ahead of time, with all the attendees accounted for and everyone understanding what their part in the ritual will be. When the time for the ritual arrives, it starts whether you are there or not. Once it starts, the entrance is both literally and metaphorically shut, like a lock down. No one else is allowed in until the ritual is completed.
To conclude, in my opinion, while society seems to have embraced a pop culture idea of witches and witchcraft, it hasn’t embraced the sacredness, mystery, and plain old hard work that goes with it. People rush into exploring and participating in events they don’t fully understand. They dabble in practices that are the most easily available to them, developing spaces based on what feels comfortable or right in the moment. That’s OK. I have several questions though, like will this exploration last the rest of their lives? Will society discover something else that ignites curiosity in future generations? Goddesses worship has been going on for nearly 30,000 years. From country to country, alone or with others, the Craft is alive and well.