Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), , at sacred-texts.com
[An article which attempts to make sense of all the various Traditions, Brands, Denominations, ect., which may confuse the unwary new-comer to Neo- Paganism (Wicca in particular).]
Greetings, and Bright Blessings... Welcome to this, the next in a series of introductory pieces on Alternate Religions. Today, we shall take a look at the many varied Traditions in the Wicca Family of Faiths. Whilst there is, indeed, a large number of groups who profess one set of tenants, or ideas; one soon begins to see why they may all be lumped together as one Religion.
Obviously, to start, one must define Religion as it applies to these groups of people. Next, a listing of some of the more Popular Traditions, giving a basic description of each. Lastly, some comments on the "cords which bind these groups together", ie. a discussion on the Underlying Philosophies of the New Age Movement, Neo-Paganisms in particular.
A dictionary definition of religion looks something like:
Religion, n.; An organized system of Beliefs and/or Rituals, centering on a Supernatural Being or Beings.
Everyone with me so far? Good. I think we can all agree on definitions for "Beliefs" and "Supernatural", so the only sub-definition will be "Ritual": any ordered sequence of events or actions, including directed thoughts, especially one that is repeated in the 'same' manner each time, and that is designed to produce a predictable altered state of consciousness, within which certain magical or religious results may be obtained.
Now, by using these definitions, the astute reader may realize that one need not "believe" in anything in order to belong to a Religion, although most 'established' churches Do require that one has conforming beliefs in order to become 'accepted into' that Religion. One of the beauties of the Pagan/NeoPagan/Wiccan Religion is that the majority of the sects do not require one to have 'conforming' beliefs. One need not Believe in the God/dess in order to worship them, and this is the key to being a New Age type Religion.
New Age Religions acknowledge that there are many paths to Godhood, and that each person should find his/her own way. Thus, while there is communication and discussion between the diverse ways of Wicca, there is generally no cause for religious persecution or Holy Wars. Also, there are very little 'missionary' type efforts, since there is no Prime Directive stating that everyone who does not believe a certain piece of Dogma is Wrong, and will burn in Hell forever, unless saved, or made to see the light.
Contrary to most religions, it is Not the shared set of Beliefs, or similar Dogma which holds the Wiccan Religions together. Rather, it is the Attitudes of the people involved, and their common Heritage which provide the bonds of cooperation among the Pagan Peoples. These points of agreement shall be further addressed following a brief list of some of the more popular Traditions, with a description of each.
Started by G. Gardner, in England, in the mid 1950's, this Tradition claims to have existed, in secret, since the Witch-Burnings began during the Middle Ages. While there is some doubt as to whether or not it is as old as it claims, there is no denying that the Gardnerian Sect has been one of the most Influential of the Traditions. In fact, many of the groups which follow were started by people who had been introduced to Paganism and the Worship of the Lord and Lady as members of a Gardnerian group.
A structured religion with definite hierarchy within each group (known, as a Coven), but little to no Authority of one coven over another. Within the coven, a Matriarchy exists, with the High Priestess generally being considered the leader (there are, of course, exceptions to this, but these descriptions are, for the most part, only generalizations based upon information gathered from many sources).
The typical Gardnerian view of the God/dess is that of a Dominant Three-Faced Goddess (Maid, Mother, and Crone) with a Male Consort (Who has 2 sides.. the Young Summer King, and the Old Winter King).
Ceremonies include a series of initiations into higher levels of the Craft, various Holiday Celebrations (based, of course, upon the "Wheel of the Year" calendar of Feast days.
Started about the same time as Gardner's, this tradition is fairly similar, with a little more emphasis upon Ceremonial Magick. There are numerous Covens in both US and Europe.
This is more of a Sub-class, rather than a particular Tradition. There are several Feminist Traditions which are considered Dianic. This sub-class tends to emphasize the Female aspect of the Goddess, sometimes to the exclusion of the Male God. Some feel that these groups are rather reactionary and self limiting. Be that as it may, the Dianic Covens tend to be more politically active.
School of Wicca:
Headed by Gavin and Yvonne Frost, this School is the largest correspondence school of Witchcraft in the US. Numerous Covens have resulted from this School, although it is somewhat unconventional (if, that is, anything dealing with Wicca could be called conventional). The Frosts' views on Wicca as a religion do differ with the majority.. in that they do not consider Wicca as "Pagan", but rather as Monotheistic.
Seax (or Saxon) Wicca:
Started by Raymond Buckland, who was originally a leader in promoting the Gardnerian Tradition, as an alternative to the existing Covens. Unlike most traditions, which consider the Coven group to be the normal unit of division (ie. all ceremonies/Rituals = Group Rites), the Seax version has provision for lone witches (often referred to as Solitaires). Another thing which sets this particular brand apart is its non-reliance upon being properly initiated into the Wiccan community. Many of the other groups require that new members be brought to existing covens to be ceremonially initiated into that Tradition, and that only after years of study within the group is one ready to start a new coven. The Seax tradition, recognizing that there may not be a friendly, neighborhood Coven, allows for self-initiation, and Auto setup of a Coven.
As stated earlier, it's not doctrine/dogma similarities which tend to hold these diverse groups together, rather, it is the common Ideals and feelings expressed by the Pagan Peoples themselves. Here are some examples:
The Wiccan Rede: "An it harms none, do what thou will." is almost universally accepted amongst the groups. Most groups tend to be polytheistic, animists, pantheists, ect. One is not "converted" to Wicca, rather, the new comer feels a sense of "Coming Home", or, more poetically, "The Goddess calls to Her own". Nature plays a big part in most Traditions, either as direct personification of the God/dess, or as aspects of them. There is no counterpart to the Devil, as such, in the Pagan religions... no personification of All Evil, rather, the choice is there for all to make. However, there is the Law of Three Fold Return, which states "That which thou dost send out shall return three fold", so good begets good, and evil befalls those who are evil (a horrendous understatement / simplification, but true).
Whew! That was a long haul of writing in one sitting... if there are any big errors noticeable, mail me, and I'll make a second draft of this.. or perhaps even expand it some.. (my time is limited in as far as when I have opportunities to just sit down and write something like this, but I can usually squeeze in some time, here or there.)
I hope that this is somewhat enlightening... there are some other files, here, which give more basic explanations of the terms used.. (Witch, Coven, Magick, ect..) ... I did assume a small amount of familiarity present within the reader... if anyone wishes, I can append a Preface covering that which was presupposed knowledge.