British Traditional Wicca & Witchcraft

Forest Walk
Many BTW groups trace their lineage to Britain's New Forest region. Photo Credit: Serg Myshkovsky/Vetta/Getty Images

British Traditional Wicca, or BTW, is an all-purpose category used to describe some of the New Forest traditions of Wicca. Gardnerian and Alexandrian are the two best-known, but there are some smaller subgroups as well. The term "British Traditional Wicca" seems to be used in this manner more in the United States than in England. In Britain, the BTW label is sometimes used to apply to traditions which claim to predate Gerald Gardner and the New Forest covens.

Although only a few Wiccan traditions fall under the "official" heading of BTW, there are many offshoot groups which can certainly claim kinship with the British Traditional Wiccans. Typically, these are groups which have broken off from a BTW initiatory line, and formed new traditions and practices of their own, while still being loosely connected with BTW.

One can only claim to be part of British Traditional Wicca if they (a) are formally initiated, by a lineaged member, into one of the groups that falls under the BTW heading, and (b) maintain a level of training and practice that is consistent with the BTW standards. In other words, much like the Gardnerian tradition, you can't simply proclaim yourself to be British Trad Wiccan.

Joseph Carriker, an Alexandrian priest, points out in a Patheos article that BTW traditions are orthopraxic in nature. He says, "We do not mandate belief; we mandate practice.

In other words, we do not care what you believe; you may be agnostic, polytheistic, monotheistic, pantheistic, animistic, or any variety of other classification of human belief. We care only that you learn and pass on the rites as they were taught to you. Initiates must have similar experiences with the rites, though the conclusions they come to as a result of them may be wildly different.

In some religions, belief creates practice. In our priesthood, practice will create belief."

Geography doesn't necessarily determine whether or not someone is part of BTW. There are branches of BTW covens located in the United States and other countries -- again, the key is the lineage, teachings and practice of the group, not the location.

British Traditional Witchcraft

It's important to recognize, however, that there are many people who are practicing a traditional form of British witchcraft that is not necessarily Wiccan in nature. Author Sarah Anne Lawless defines traditional witchcraft as "A modern witchcraft, folk magic, or spiritual practice based on the practices and beliefs of witchcraft in Europe and the colonies from the early modern period which ranged from the 1500s to the 1800s... there really were practicing witches, folk magicians, and magical groups during this time, but their practices and beliefs would have been tinged with Catholic-Christian overtones and mythology – even if thinly veneered on top of the Pagan ones... Cunning folk are a good example of the survival of such traditions even up to the mid-1900s in rural areas of the British Isles."

As always, keep in mind that the words witchcraft and Wicca are not synonymous.

While it's entirely possible to practice a traditional version of witchcraft that pre-dates Gardner, and many people do it, it's not necessarily true that what they are practicing is British Traditional Wicca. As mentioned above, there are certain requirements in place, put there by members of the Gardnerian-based traditions, that determine whether a practice is Wiccan, or whether it is witchcraft.