Traditional Witchcraft

i‘ve heard many people trying to say what Traditional Witchcraft is and isn’t in the past few years. Most people think it’s a tradition like Wicca, but it is really an umbrella under which many witchcraft traditions flourish. Traditional Witchcraft has attracted many newcomers in the past five years as it is currently the “in thing” to rebel against Wicca and seek something that isn’t “fake”. This is a ridiculous mindset as the components that make up Wicca are by no means fake and many are just as ancient as the beliefs and practices of reconstructionists and Traditional Witches. Just because Wicca wasn’t your cup of tea, doesn’t mean Traditional Witchcraft will be either, it is not a refuge to run to, but an extensive and demanding path to follow. Now that I’ve added that disclaimer here is a brief introduction to Traditional Witchcraft:

Traditional Witchcraft in modern culture has come to mean any witchcraft or lore or practices associated with Robert Cochrane, Joe Wilson, Evan John Jones, Andrew Chumbley, Mike Howard, Nigel Jackson, and Robin Artisson. When people interested in the craft first start researching Traditional Witchcraft, it is the works and legacies of these people they discover. What they do not know is that Traditional Witchcraft is much bigger than any one tradition. It is an umbrella term much like “Pagan” or “Reconstructionist” to classify all the hundreds of traditions and practices that fall within its shelter.  Traditional Witchcraft, when not referring to specific traditions (1734, Clan of Tubal Cain, Cultus Sabbati, Anderson’s Feri, ), is an umbrella term for varying traditions of witchcraft – some are cultural-based (i.e. spaecrafte, seidr, brujeria, streghoneria); some are practice-based (i.e. hedgewitchery, green witchery, kitchen witchery) and can be found in other forms of witchcraft; lastly,  others are personal traditions unique to the individual. Traditional Witchcraft isn’t just what witchcraft “may” have been like centuries to millennia ago, but what it “was” like in cases with surviving documentation, oral lore, and practices.

Witch preparing a spell Most Traditional Witchcraft practitioner’s paths are of European origin, but not all. Core similarities would be working and communing with spirits, working with elements from nature, ancestor worship, a certain level of animism, and an overall use of folk magic (low magic) as opposed to high magic, but some traditions do use higher magics. Overall I would say Traditional Witchcraft is mainly a path of individuals, families, and very small groups. For me personally what sets Traditional Witchcraft apart is that the practitioners base their practices in the old lores – chants, incantations, ballads, superstitions, collections of oral lore, documented witchcraft practices and rituals… Whereas many Traditional Witches see Wiccans and Neopagans as practicing ceremonial-based lore as well as modern-based lore and practices – not necessarily fakelore, but rituals and beliefs stemming from modern day. Much of what we practice is from the Middle Ages and later, but many Traditional Witches do incorporate older traditions and beliefs into their craft. So if you hear any Traditional Witches or groups claiming ancestry back thousands of years or of descending from a continuing line of witches for hundreds of years, don’t believe it.

Overall, the essence of Traditional Witchcraft is taking things further in your path – advanced study, practice, and experiences. Trying to find the sources, the history, and the how and why for everything we witches believe and do. Most Traditional Witches I know don’t read pagan books – we read anthropological, archaeological, history, and religion texts – then like me, they may supplement this knowledge with folklore and practicing what they’ve learned in their daily lives. As a Traditional Witch I try to incorporate my craft and beliefs into every part of my life and everything I do no matter how seemingly mundane. There is a long history of magic to be found in any daily act – and I think the curious Traditional Witch knows this best.


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Author Sarah

Illustrator and weaver of words. Witch. Forest siren with talons, succubic tendencies, a love of otherworldly beauty, poisonous plants, wild places and dead things.

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  • “Most Traditional Witches I know don’t read pagan books – we read anthropological, archaeological, history, and religion texts – then like me, they may supplement this knowledge with folklore and practicing what they’ve learned in their daily lives”

    You are SO right! Every time someone asks me to teach them Witchcraft, I answer ” Go read the complete works of Robert Graves and then I’ll teach you” – nobody has ever come back LOL!

    Congratulations on such an inspiring post!

  • IntotheDawn says:

    I was very intrigued to see this post, perfect timing for me. I’ve been trying to explore traditional witchcraft, as I’ve been suffering from a bit of crisis of faith (so to speak) because so many things about Wiccan practices have just never felt right to me. I appreciate the info here.

  • Sarah says:

    Lol Carolina – I just made a friend read The White Goddess from cover to cover, she groaned and she moaned, but she did it!

    I’m glad this intro helped you out! I taught a class on all the different paths a few years ago as many people don’t even know many traditions exist let alone if they are the one for them. I had a good response to this post in email too, so I think I will post more about traditions and paths related to Traditional Witchcraft.


  • Maeve says:

    I must thank you for clarifying that Traditional Witchcraft is an umbrella term, and is not exclusively for the followers of a few specific branches such as RC and Sabbatic, cotc,etc. Although I own and have indeed read most every book on your list, it is out of curiosity mostly, and a serious bibliomania on the subject,lol. I have two copies of some as they are valuable first editions ya know,hehe.
    I am, and have always been a very solitary Baltic traditional witch, and I venture to speculate I am not really unique in that regard. I follow my ancestral traditions (Lithuanian, Romuva), in regards to seasonal and household practices,deity,ritual, etc. and incorporate these into my modern life and my current location which is in the national forests of northern MI,USA. My pagan religion is blended seamlessly into my witchcraft, though they are not one and the same. I could not separate them as they are both intricate parts of my whole. My Romuvan pagan associates would share quite a lot of my household practices,holiday rituals, festivals and practices, but would be unfamiliar with others such as my trancing, my use and associations with some of the vele’ realm deities, some “workings” and my ability to trance with drum and jaw harp deep skull resonance just to name a few.
    As you are familiar with the Black Books,Leechcraft, etc. you might agree that many folk practiced spellwork, healings and protection,etc., though they did not consider themselves to be witches,cunning folk or anything other than simple people getting by in the world they knew. It was just their way.
    An odd syncronicity has arisen in that the local topography, flora and fauna are so very much like my ancestors part of the world. Now why Fate chose to have me here? I cannot fathom, but here I am.

    I do so enjoy your blog, and enjoy someone who gets out of her chair and into the woods, and shares with us. I tend to do the same, though I am not as good at sharing as you. Your greatest magic in my opinion is how you manage to do so much! I get exhausted just reading of all you accomplish in some short spans,lol. These days I am very deep into a new learning curve of 3D modeling, illustrating and watercolor, and my attention span is definitely not as broad as yours,lol.
    Do keep writing, painting, gatheriing and manifesting all that you are given, and
    May Laima Bless all your endeavors,

  • Cory says:

    Love this post, Sarah!

    I especially like what you point out about avoiding the “pagan” section of the bookstore or library in favor of the botany, folklore, and anthropology sections. Those areas almost always yield richer fruit than picking up the latest Llewellyn title, I find.

    I’m sort of sad though, to read what you said about Traditional Craft being the new “in” pagan thing. I’m still fairly new under the umbrella, but I had the impression it wasn’t all that crowded yet. But hopefully anyone looking for another fad to follow will move on fairly quickly.

    I bet one red cap or a glass of good absinthe would send a lot of them running. I should probably stock up on those… 🙂

    Thanks for a great post (as always), and keep up the good work!

  • Sarah says:

    I am the same Michelle, I do not separate my pagan religion from my witchcraft, for me they go hand in hand. I also work with genius loci, the local plants and spirits. I found it adds much more meaning to my magic to use ingredients I harvested respectfully myself from the land that I live on. And like you also, the local plants and trees are uncannily similar to my ancestor’s homeland… Thank you for your kind words and blessings! I only manage to do everything I do because I have a very understanding witchy hubby! That and I currently work from home, LOL!

    Hello Cory! It is sad but true, TW has become a fad. When I started out within it there were only a couple websites and no books to be found. In the last five years websites have popped up like weeds and books too, and unfortunately few of them contain good information. But it’s normal, hey it could be worse! The wannabes serve a purpose, they distract from what us real witches get up to… And you know most of ’em would go running just hanging out with folks like you and I for a few minutes, muahahaha – oops the cackle escaped!


  • “And you know most of ‘em would go running just hanging out with folks like you and I for a few minutes”


    • Andy says:

      Seriously! Every time I describe to someone what my beliefs are (usually the person is “aware” of Wiccan beliefs and various neo-pagan beliefs) they are like “What you are practicing is evil!” and all I can do is laugh in their faces and say how ignorant they are. xD

  • Hans says:

    Two major differences that I have noted between Wicca and Traditional Witchcraft are these: Wicca claims to contain elements that have remained unchanged for centuries. Traditional Witchcraft however has adapted over the centuries, being influenced by Christianity, Old Testament imagery, eastern thought via the Crusades, etc. An ancient essence is still at the core, but veneers and layers of symbolism from the cross currents of various streams make Traditional Witchcraft something far different than it may have been centuries ago, in an external and practical sense.

    The second difference is this: Wicca tends to define itself as a religion. In ancient times however, “religion” wasn’t compartmentalized as it is today. Witches – gifted men and women who were privy to some “hidden” or arcane knowledge – nevertheless followed the “religion” of their respective tribe or group. Traditional witches today (in my experience at least) do this as well. They may attend a Christian church for example, but privately adapt it’s imagery in pre or non-Christian ways. The image of the Virgin Mary stepping on a snake becomes an image of the Goddess, walking the Crooked Path. This fluidity is one of Traditional Witchcraft’s strengths.

  • Jim says:

    I don’t know weather witchcraft is right for me or not, I’m still trying to figure that out for myself. Although I can see that it’s an irritation (if not danger) to have the foolish and naive stumbling clumsily into this beautiful and deeply meaningful spiritual practice and way of life, I just wanted to relate a possible up side to it. I’ve been noticing reports of children in Africa being accused of witchcraft and persecuted as a result, and I know that there are some extremely nasty and harmful religious criminals out there who’s goal is to destroy what they don’t understand. to have an up surge of interest in witch craft is encouraging in that at least you would have more people on your side in adverse times instead of against you. I can understand making a point to discourage a person from pressing on if you see obvious signs that your practice is just not right for someone, and I hope that you won’t make them so mad that they end up turning against you. Maybe Witches need all the friends they can get even though those friends might not be right for joining you.