British Traditional Witchcraft (BTW) is dying. You have been hearing it for the better part of the last decade. Young witches are turning to newer, less dogmatic sources of pagan practices. They are turning shamanism, yoga, and music festival culture to get their fix for a deeper connection to the Earth, the Universe, and everything else. They are turning away from BTW because of the hierarchy system, the wishy-washy system of degrees, and simply the generational gap in values between the elders and the younger general.
I have always been a child of nature and I came to Wicca when I was 15 years old. I had to learn from books and what I could find on the internet. I had figure out what was the proper way to practice witchcraft. Eventually, I met a coven and started to learn more about how a Wiccan tradition works. That’s when I started to feel like there was something missing from the practice. Eventually, I left that coven and spent some time finding a new path.
I think there are some solid bones in BTW, like the ritual format, the wheel of the year, and the story of the Goddess and Horned God. I actually got my foundation in Wicca as a solitary and I still use many of these elements in my personal practice. It’s the hierarchy system for Coven work that turns me off of it.
There are three degrees to coven work for most BTW traditions. The first degree is your initiation into the tradition. The second degree is learning to assist the High Priestess, call the quarters, and facing your shadow self. There’s no secret about what you have to do to complete your third degree, you and a high priest (or priestess) have to be embodied with the spirits of the Goddess and God respectively and complete the sacred union (sexually). In theory, you should be in, “perfect love and perfect trust,” with your respective member of the high priesthood of your coven but I have to say, most of the members of the high priesthood in the tradition I was initiated into are getting up there in age and if I am not sexually attracted to someone, I am not going to be able to complete this sacred union to my fullest. As it stands now, if I were to invoke the spirit of the Goddess into myself and complete the secret union, I would rather do it with a partner who is also sexually attracted to me and is spiritually inclined to invoke the spirit of the Horned God into themselves.
This brings me back to my first point about the lack of younger people wishing to follow the BTW traditions. If I were a similar age to the high priest in my former coven, then I might have been able to move past it. I have found that most of the elders in the Wiccan community are between the ages of 40 and 60 and most of the newer pagans are between the ages of 20 and 35. It’s basically the difference between late baby boomers/Generation X and the Millennials. The previous generation puts more focus on structure and hierarchy and the newer generations put more focus on personal growth and community. I could go on at length about the differences here but for the time being, I will keep the focus on Wicca.
My point of conflict with the hierarchy system is the actual degrees themselves. It creates a structure where in someone who hasn’t received their third degree is considered to be less important. For me, I ran into some major conflict with this when the Wiccan tradition I was in was blowing up. There had been a power struggle between members of the high priesthood as to who should be the leader of the coven. The current high priestess had been named the high priestess until she choose to pass it on. The problem was, she was neglecting some of her duties since she was very busy and other high priestesses were wishing to take up the mental. Instead of having a group conversation about it, they pulled a coup and removed her administrative abilities from the main Facebook group that the Wiccan tradition used to communicate with members. When those of us who were of lesser degrees tried to voice our concerns and opinions about the issue, we were basically told to shut up because we were not “elders”. This made me really upset so I figured that I needed to just leave to tradition all together. I had gained enough knowledge about how a coven works that I figured, I could just find people to work with and start a new tradition.
For the last three years, I have been working with a couple other pagan friends of a similar Wiccan background as I to form a new tradition. We all have eclectic pagans who have backgrounds in Wicca, Druidism, and Heathenism but we consider ourselves to be hedge witches. We keep a circle casting system, call the elements of Earth, Sea, and Sky, and summon the Goddess and God. We don’t have the designation of High Priestess or High Priest, we tend to have the person leading the ritual summon the elements and gods. However, sometimes we call them all together as a group and that’s really powerful.
I still do my own solitary work when I have need of it. Lately, I have been working a lot of ritual on my own because I have had my whole life tipped upside down and flipped back up. I am basically putting things back into their place. I started with my physical environment by turning my bedroom into my sacred space where I practice yoga, meditate, and do my rituals. I would like to have a whole room dedicated to this but I share living space with a roommate.
My suggestion for those who wish to practice Wicca but don’t wish to become involved with a hierarchy system, is to stay solitary and develop your own practice. Then, when you are ready to practice with other, find people who are of a similar mind and practice to you and then work together to blend your Wiccan practice and form your own tradition! I will do another post about working with a coven at a later time and some of the best practices for that.
If you are already in a BTW Wiccan tradition and you are seeing a drop in new members and youth looking for a different experience, you might want to consider dropping your hierarchy system and more towards more of a cooperative structure. Keep your traditions but change them to accommodate new points of view. It’s like the old saying goes, “That which does not change, dies.”
If you have any comments about BTW Wiccan either for or against what I have written here, I would love to hear your thoughts and concerns.
Priestess Spiritsong Dreamweaver