Thursday, 14 February 2013

Europe vs USA

For many years, the most outspoken voice about Wicca on the Internet were the people in the American Yahoo group called Amber and Jet. It has been running for over ten years and has quite a number of prominent American Craft members writing on it, such as Deborah Lipp (Gardnerian HPS/Author) and Dave Finnin (Roebuck Tradition / Author). They have done a great job, and the Wiccans on the list dedicated much time and energy to answering questions of the Yahoo group members.

The downside of the Yahoo group is that the views on Wicca in America and in Europe are not identical. We obviously have more in common that we have differences, but the differences are there and some of them are significant. Some of those differences are really only relevant for the Initiated, but this article is an attempt to highlight those areas that are relevant to the seeker.

First of all, Gardnerian Wicca was brought to the USA by Raymond Buckland and his wife Rosmary in the early sixties. In the beginning there was only one coven, with one Book of Shadows and one practise. There seems to be an emphasis in the USA to stay with this one practise, and not to deviate from it.
Around the same time, Gardner worked with several different covens and High Priestesses in Europe. Each of these High Priestesses had their own particular interpretation of the rituals and though the basic structure remained the same, the rituals were added to and expanded resulting in similar yet different Books of Shadows. Each particular 'down line' from these High Priestesses has its own flavour, its own emphasis. Many covens in Europe from different backgrounds work together, and celebrate the differences between the groups. European Gardnerians and Alexandrians frequently work together, and many people have been initiated in both traditions.

The Wicca across the pond are relatively small in numbers. The USA is a huge country, and there are considerably less of the Wicca in the USA than there are in Europe. The Wicca in the USA have also had to deal with the fact that the Goddess revival movement and the New Age movement have started using the name Wicca on a large scale. In the USA the words Wicca and Pagan seem to be used interchangeably. As a result, the Wicca in the USA have had to define themselves and their Craft much more explicitly to differentiate themselves from other groups.
The Wicca in the USA have started using the term 'British Traditional Wicca', also known as BTW. It is used to distinguish Wicca that can trace their initiation lineage back to Gardner and at the same time have not made major changes to the rituals. Strangely enough, some groups are considered BTW in the USA that wouldn't be classed as Wicca in Europe, while other groups who have left the BTW path would be happily designated Wicca by Europeans. In Europe, the term is not used at all - there is no confusion with large other groups who call themselves Wicca, and we all know that Wicca derives from Gardner in Britain.

Another striking difference is the way that the Gods are generally viewed in the USA. There seems to be the general opinion that the Wicca have their own God and Goddess, separate from all other religions, which you are only able to meet and serve after you have been initiated. Wicca is orthopraxic, so views of what and who the Gods are depend completely on the individual.  
Though some of the Wicca in Europe might share this view of Gods which are exclusively of the Wicca , the general accepted feeling is that people should have a connection and link with the Gods *before* they get initiated. Most people experience a calling well before they ever meet their coven, and feel they have been serving the Gods for years before being initiated in the Priesthood of the Wicca. The Wicca in Europe generally feel that anybody can connect with the Gods of the Craft, and that this connection is not exclusively dependant on initiation. Many Europeans even view this connection to the Gods of the Craft as a prerequisite to initiation so as to be sure that a candidate can connect with the Gods through similar symbols and associations that are used within the Craft.
The view in Europe seems to be that by entering the Priesthood the Wicca are Priests of all Gods, and the Divine energy that is part of all existence. Quite a few covens in Europe also work a lot with the local Gods that are connected to the Land rather than just the names of the Gods given in the Wicca Book of Shadows.

Many of the initiated people who write on Amber and Jet seem to be of the opinion that there has been some form of Wicca passed on through the centuries until Gardner came across it in the late forties in the the UK. Most of the Wicca in Europe think that Gardner came across something genuine, but that he and Doreen Valiente fleshed out the rituals and created a practical system: Wicca as we know it now didn't exist before Gardner. They also pretty much feel that it isn't relevant if any of Gardner's views and practices have historical value: it works in present time, and that is what counts.

Wicca in Europe is different from Wicca in the USA. Does that make one better than the other? Obviously not - Wicca is flexible because it is an orthopraxic belief system. We can and have learned things from each other. Over the last few years I have seen the Wicca in the USA become more flexible, more open to the diversity that comes from the European community. I've also seen the Wicca in Europe become more aware of their practices, lineages and what it is that defines us. Defining parameters can be very useful: it helps to realise who you are and possibly more importantly what you are not.
It is my hope that now that the virtual distance between the USA and Europe is much small and the exchange between the Wicca on Facebook has become more open and frequent, that the exchange between with our brothers and sisters across the big pond will lead to even more fruitful cooperation.

For those interested in Wicca on Facebook, some of the more useful groups that are:
Gardnerian Wicca
British Traditional Wicca (Seekers in the USA)


  1. Thanks for your post Sophia,

    Yes we encourage people to follow their private practice before and after initiation.
    The connection with the Spirit of the Land is paramount to our path.

    This also means connecting with the Spirits of the City, Town and Village.. wherever you live.

    There are some wonderful magical places even in the biggest of cities. Think of the Healing Angels and Guardians of hospitals.

    I think that the Witch of today should be there, in the community, helping and supporting people.
    There is far too mush valuable time wasted on arguing about who has the *authentic* Book of Shadows.
    As you so rightly pointed out Wicca is an orthopractic tradition. Blessings to you and the work you are doing in your community!

    1. I can't agree more with you.
      What's the purpose of having "oh the mega-secret name which you only know after initiation" if, when arriving there, you can recognize on the God and the Goddess those who have been with you since the beginning of your life and have lead you there. Or having a "mega-book of shadows" of you are unable to see the obscene amount of knowledge that you have around, about your own land and your are just ignoring as "local folk".

      What's the purpose of all this (whether it is wicca or not) if it isn't the own experience?
      What's the -benefit- of "Oh, that's not Wicca?"

      It is so funny, because then, when you come with Tales about Anatolia, or similar, people get surprised an *nod nod*. But the don't dare to do the same! :D

      Hugs <3!


  2. Hi Sophia!

    It is really nice to see an article like this, I guess many people wouldn't touch such a controversial issue, and IMHO, it is something that requires consideration.
    Sometimes, it is a bit shocking to see a US Gard. to point a UK one, in a group that affirming that there are different versions of the BoS can be considered oathbound.

    In my opinion, the big problem here is how does this affect to people outside the community (like me, for example) who see all those differences. If the first approach of the person is with a US Wiccan, they may think that Wicca is something defined, unchangeable, external (with nothing to do with oneself), and...stiff. And that was my personal experience before meeting many wiccans from Europe.

    Even though some may argue that Wicca in Europe (because of what you pointed out in the article) it's more chaotic, I think that there is a very subtle but noticeable pattern. Even if A, B and C disagree on their views about certain topic, you can *feel* this subtle connection. It is even more obvious if the belong to the same group or line. It's about beliefs, but about *the way*. *The way* the do, *the way* the approach, even *they way* they apply their own personal points of view.

    Thank you very much for the article, really enjoyed it!


  3. I've long realised there were differences between US and UK Wicca, often from reading blogs and other posts by US Wiccans, but it is really good to have those differences explained.