Personally, I am greatly thankful to have found our coven and its wonderful members. Initially, I too was drawn to Wicca and began to do a lot of reading on the topic, practicing and reciting rituals alone when the Sabbats arrived and passed. This quickly became difficult to maintain due to the lack of guidance and support; was I doing everything correctly? Did I truly understand? It was difficult to tell! Now however, I know that I always have support and somebody to help me along a path that I feel a true connection with.
Whilst stepping into our path with some fresh knowledge of Wicca will certainly be very useful, you will also soon discover that although there will be a level of familiarity, there will also be a significant amount of difference to the understanding that you have built of witchcraft.
To give you a little bit of background, our coven was formed in the early 1960’s by a group that held a significant interest in the local, traditional witchcraft of the Cotswolds. Looking at Gerald Gardner’s writings on Wicca, they were inspired to use some of the practices that he outlined as foundations on which to base Traditional Witchcraft practices from the Cotswolds.
Consistent with Gardnerian Wicca, our Coven has holds three degree levels after initiation that one can progress through within the coven, of course, having passed through the Probationer and Neophyte stages first. Pre-Initiation, teachings follow closely to those of Wicca, however post-initiation they deviate and become very different from Wicca, relating to Traditional English Witchcraft.
A good place to begin would be to take a look at our perception of deity. On our Path, we hold that there are two gods: one male and one female, harmonising to create perfect balance and that form two parts of one complete whole. To us, a monotheistic belief system lacks this and therefore does not sit comfortably with the dualistic balance of nature and the universe as a whole. Taking a look back to Wicca, we see that over the various different traditions, the Goddess is quite often seen to be dominant, and the God is sometimes ignored completely; take Dianic Wicca for example, a tradition where generally the Goddess is largely worshipped alone by all-female groups of coveners. On the front of our athames, you will find a symbol depicting a crescent moon, connected to a sun below, descending into an arrow (although a slightly wonkily one my case!). This is a polarity symbol, representing opposing forces combining to create power; God and Goddess, male and female, sun and moon, light and dark. On the reverse side is a full moon between waxing and waning moons, representing the connection between the lunar phases and ritual work.
We believe that the God and Goddess in reality, do not hold physical forms, but instead are conscious powers; we choose to assign them forms based on historic European Deities, this is for our benefit; it is much more difficult to form a connection with the Gods in their formless and nameless state, it makes them tangible. In Wicca, beliefs on deity tend to vary between individuals and covens quite widely. Some hold similar beliefs to ourselves, whereas others will believe in the Gods physical existence. Some practitioners will work with one deity, others a whole pantheon or personal selection; choosing any that they feel drawn to, from Diana to Anubis. Cernunnos is often chosen by Wiccans to represent the Horned God, although almost nothing is known of His ancient worship; Cernunnos is a simply means ‘Horned One’ and is not a name that we know was ascribed to him for certain.
A significant difference between our own path and a Wiccan one is a belief in the “Law of Threefold Return” which states that anything that you do, be it of good or bad intent, will come back on you three times over. Generally, Wiccans believe that if you do ‘good’, more good will come back to you; if you do ‘bad’, than that will too. According to occult author/researcher John Coughlin, the Law posits “a literal reward or punishment tied to one’s actions, particularly when it comes to working magic”. As written in the Wiccan Rede: “Mind the Three-fold Laws you should three times bad and three times good. When misfortune is enow wear the star upon your brow. Be true in love this you must do unless your love is false to you. These Eight words the Rede fulfil: An Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will”. On our path, we do not believe this law to be true, it was in fact jokingly mentioned to Gardner as a passing comment about harmful magic coming back upon you threefold, he however, took this seriously, providing us with the law that we see within Wicca today! It is much more important that we make our decisions fairly, basing them upon the feelings of coven members and general morality when faced with a difficult situation, opposed to a blanket ‘law’ for all scenarios.
In Wicca there are 8 Sabbats throughout the year: Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane, Litha, Lughnasadh and Mabon; in the 1960’s, Gardnerian Wicca began to use these Celtic names for the Sabbats whereas Traditional Witchcraft in England never did, henceforth on our path we refer to the Greater Sabbats as: Candlemas, May Eve, Lammas and Halloween, with the Lesser Sabbats being the Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Autumnal Equinox and Winter Solstice. Something that is common between Wiccan beliefs and our own is the significance of the Wheel of the Year. It is highly beneficial to ensure that your workings are in tune with the natural seasonal cycles; even things that we do in our daily lives can be influenced similarly. We believe that there is a power within these yearly cycles, by aligning our activities to them; we are able to produce the greatest results. An example being this Halloween, after our ritual we threw handmade papier mache skulls onto a large fire, focusing on elements that we would like to remove from our lives. Halloween is a time largely associated with death and the spirits of our ancestors, as well as being the witches’ New Year; it is a time representative of endings, but also new beginnings. By throwing the skulls and watching them burn, we were visualising the end of our chosen topic, and moving mentally into a more positive new beginning, free of it.
Our working tools will also be familiar to somebody holds some knowledge of Wicca as they are commonly used across a majority of traditions. On an altar, we will generally place a candle, censer, salt dish, pentacle and our athame(s). Tools associated with the God and masculine energies will be placed to the right hand side of the altar, and those associated with the Goddess and feminine energies to the left. In Wicca, the preferred layout of an altar will vary greatly depending on the tradition; however, it can be said that the altar will be laid out with one side representing the God and the other, the Goddess. A minor difference that we possess, is the fact that we refer to our own personal book of notes, rituals, spells and recorded teachings as a ‘Grimoire’ (a medieval term, simply meaning ‘grammar’), opposed to the Wiccan ‘Book of Shadows’, a term coined in the 1950’s by Gerald Gardner.
Personally, I am greatly thankful to have found our coven and its wonderful members. Initially, I too was drawn to Wicca and began to do a lot of reading on the topic, practicing and reciting rituals alone when the Sabbats arrived and passed. This quickly became difficult to maintain due to the lack of guidance and support; was I doing everything correctly? Did I truly understand? It was difficult to tell! Now however, I know that I always have support and somebody to help me along a path that I feel a true connection with; I appreciate all of the support that I have been given, both in my learning and even up steep hills!