Wiccans often identify themselves as being part of subgroups within Wicca. The two biggest divisions are between Traditional and Eclectic Wicca, with Traditional Wicca further broken down into traditions.
Traditions are similar to the denominations of Christianity. Each Tradition, or Trad, has its own distinct beliefs, and those beliefs differ to some degree from the beliefs of other Traditions. Joining a Tradition generally requires a considerable amount of training provided (for free) by a coven in order to properly pass down the teachings of the specific Tradition. Membership also generally requires initiation, in which the initiate is formally welcomed into the group.
Membership in these groups is therefore limited. Traditionalists are organized into covens, which are small, tightly knit groups of people. Attendance at Sabbats and Esbats is generally expected because of our emphasis on every member having active purpose rather than having a leader performing rituals on their behalf.
While anyone can be Wiccan, not everyone can be a part of the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca, for example. To be a Gardnerian, one must be trained by Gardnerians and initiated into a Gardnerian coven, and Gardnerian covens are comprised entirely of those initiated as Gardnerians.
Those of us outside of a Tradition are Eclectics. They most often learn from books, websites, and personal experience, finding particular practices that are meaningful to them and constructing their own unique forms of worship. Eclecticism is not a Tradition: there is no tradition being passed between practitioners, and two Eclectics may have nothing in common outside of their basic understandings of Wicca.
Eclecticism is most often embraced by those who have no access to covens or more formal training, although some specifically prefer Eclecticism over more structured practices. Eclecticism is not, however, in any way a shortcut. Quite the opposite, serious Eclectics frequently get frustrated because they are forced to study entirely on their own, have only themselves to depend upon, receiving no positive reinforcement, and having no instructors to whom they can bring questions.
There is a real responsibility to being Eclectic. As you study and form your own personal practices within Wicca, you should be basing it on careful thought and research, not the first cool-sounding idea that comes your way. Eclectic Wicca should still be about what you believe, not just what you want to believe, and it should still be true to the basic concepts of Wicca.
Eclectics are most often Solitaries, meaning simply that they work outside of a coven and generally on their own. However, there are more informal gatherings of Eclectics, generally referred to as “open circles,” meaning that are all welcome. These are most heavily frequented by Solitaries precisely because they do not have covens within which to work. The drawback to open circles is they frequently attract significant numbers of people, demoting most attendees from participants to spectators, which I find to be counterproductive.
Some books speak of “self-initiation” for Solitaries, but a more appropriate term is “dedication.” Merriam Webster defines initiation as “the rites, ceremonies, ordeals, or instructions with which one is made a member of a sect or society or is invested with a particular function or status.” It is, by definition, something conferred upon you by others. Therefore, it is appropriate within a coven but not appropriate for Solitaries, as you cannot invest yourself with a particular status. Dedication is exactly what it sounds like: your personal dedication to your gods and to the principles of Wicca.
Read more: Validity of Eclecticism and Non-Initiation
Things that Aren’t Traditions
The term Tradition sometimes gets thrown around rather haphazardly. I suspect it comes from a desire for membership within something. However, there are a variety of things sometimes described as Traditions that really aren’t anything close to a Tradition.
The most important thing to remember when identifying a Tradition is that it does, in fact, have to be passing down traditions.
Being a member of a Tradition is in no way required within Wicca. If the teachings and practices of a particular Tradition appeal to you by all means pursue it, but do not think it will make you special, and certainly don’t ever feel that you are less of a Wiccan or less religious because you cast your circle alone on the living room floor instead of among coven members. Conversely, do not diminish the accomplishments of those who have been initiated and who do follow particular Traditions by claiming membership to things that you have not earned.
Adjectives Do Not Make Traditions: Celtic Wicca
There are a variety of people who take a cultural name and use it to describe their “Tradition,” with Celtic Wicca being perhaps the most common. There are certainly Wiccans who draw upon Celtic culture: calling upon Celtic deities and their mythology. That doesn’t make it a Tradition. There is nothing uniting such people (including myself) within a framework beyond Wicca itself and bits of Celtic culture that are in no way universally adopted.
Just because I am doing something (theoretically) Celtic and someone else approaches another aspect of their practice in a (theoretically) Celtic manner does not mean that we are actually doing anything in common. I say “theoretically” because in the case of CEltic culture, there are plenty of things out there labeled Celtic that are not actually in any way Celtic.
Recently Formed “Covens” and “Traditions”
There is a tendency for people who come together to immediately label themselves a coven, and sometimes they take another step and label what the coven does as a Tradition. This approach has two significant flaws.
First, covens are tightly knit groups. Generally, experienced members bring in newer members and train them. A group that formed last week does not have that sort of connection by any stretch of the imagination.
Moreover, we need to go back to what a Tradition is: things specific to the group repeated over time in a predicable manner. By definition, that takes time. If I served meatloaf on Monday, it would be absurd to state I have a tradition of serving meatloaf on Monday if I’ve never previously served meatloaf on Monday.