British Traditional Wicca
British Traditional Wicca (abbreviated BTW) is the set of Wiccan traditions originating in the New Forest region of England. The most prominent of these traditions are Gardnerian Wicca and Alexandrian Wicca, but other traditions (either derived from them or claiming a shared New Forest history), such as Central Valley Wicca, are also considered to be British Traditional Wicca. In the case of some traditions (such as Blue Star Wicca), some lines are considered to be British Traditional Wicca and some are not.
British Traditional Wicca is not to be confused with British Traditional Witchcraft (as explained below).
History of the term
The term "wicca" is well-attested as the Old English word for "[male] witch", the female form being "wicce" both older forms of the Modern English "witch". In modern usage, however, it came into the public lexicon with the works of Gerald Gardner, with the spelling "wica". Gardner's apparent spelling error was corrected by one of his rivals, Charles Cardell, who began referring to the neopagan witches as "Wiccens", and possibly used "Wicca" to refer to neopagan witchcraft. The term "Wicca" became increasingly popular in the 1960s, as neopagan witches learned of the Old English term "wicca", the etymological origin of the Modern term "witch". Stewart Farrar, initiated into the Alexandrian tradition, described "Wicca" as "the witches' name for their Craft" in his book What Witches Do (1971). The widespread adoption of "Wicca" in reference to neopagan witchcraft would have brought benefits to its practitioners, who were widely maligned and faced persecution for their practice of "witchcraft"; an emotive term often associated with Satanism that had negative connotations in the Western imagination. By presenting themselves as "Wiccans" rather than "witches", he argued it removed some of the social stigma that they faced.
This led to three groups using different terminology:
- The New Forest-descended covens were using the term "Wica" solely to describe themselves.
- Neopagan witches were using the term "Wicca" to describe all or nearly all neopagan witches, including the New Forest-descended covens, and often including those witches that disassociated themselves from the term. In many cases arguing that "Wiccan" and "Witch" were synonymous.
- Some who would label themselves "witches" would be aware of the term "Wicca" but, however they understood it, not consider themselves Wiccan.
The introduction of Wicca to America led to a new development. Americans used the term "Wicca" to refer solely to British traditions of neopagan witchcraft. As the term "Wicca" was increasingly understood to refer to all neopagan witches, the term "British Traditional Wicca" was adopted for New Forest-descended covens. In Britain however, the term has not gained popularity, as being "British" is unremarkable in Britain.
Recognition as British Traditional Wicca
For someone to be recognised as practising British Traditional Wicca by another practitioner the most basic requirement is that they were initiated into the tradition by someone who was themselves a BTW initiate of sufficient degree - and hence having an initiatory heritage traceable back to someone indisputably of the Tradition, generally being traced as far as Gardner.
However, it is also a requirement that the training they received, and the tradition they continue to work, remain consistent with BTW practice. The exact requirements of this are not well defined, and apparently contain at least a few oath-bound matters not discussed with non-initiates.
British Traditional Wicca has been highly influential upon other Wiccan traditions, with several non-BTW traditions modeling themselves after the BTW. Even the importance of initiatory lineage is found in some - whether because they are traditions descended from BTW, but having departed from it, or because they have a similar, but unlinked, place for initiatory lineage.
Geographic distribution of usage
The term is most commonly used in the United States, whereas Britain and Ireland tend to use the term "Wicca" in a more inclusive way, referring to the entire neopagan witchcraft community. British witches have been using the term "Wicca" in this way since the early 1960s, when it was used by various groups and publicised through use in adverts, magazines, and other literary sources. It was later adopted by figures like Alex Sanders and Gavin & Yvonne Frost, who took the term "Wicca" to the United States. Witches in the USA used the term "Wicca" to refer to British initiatory traditions. The generic use of the term "Wicca" for all neopagan witchcraft was popularised by authors such as Raymond Buckland, Scott Cunningham and Silver RavenWolf. The term "British Traditional Wicca" is becoming more common in Britain and Ireland, despite the fact that being "British" is unremarkable in England and has negative connotations in Ireland and Scotland for historical reasons.
- New Wiccan Church International. British Traditional Wicca FAQ.
- Gerard Gardner, Witchcraft Today, ISBN 0-8065-2593-2
- Gerard Gardner, The Meaning of Witchcraft, ISBN 1-57863-309-5
- Bonewits, Isaac. Defining Paganism: Paleo-, Meso-, and Neo-