In the magickal community, there is some controversy regarding the validity of family traditions, or “Fam Trads” as opposed to standard ‘traditions‘. What’s the difference? There are many traditions, such as the Gardnerian Tradition founded by Gerald Gardner or the Cabot Tradition founded by Laurie Cabot, named after those who developed these particular traditions. Many traditions are usually taught with a specific focus. For example, the Cabot Tradition teaches Witchcraft as a Science, an Art, and a Religion. There are other cultural and deity-specific traditions, such as the Italian Tradition and the Dianic Tradition. On the other hand, a family tradition is one in which magical knowledge is passed down through the generations of the same family. It is debatable whether this could still be called a family tradition if this knowledge is given to those outside the family. Many claim to be Hereditary Witches who allegedly learned a form a Witchcraft as it was passed down through their ancestral line. I have no doubt that some have, while there are others who have completely fabricated their story of inherited family magick. Some of these fraudulent “family traditions” consist of members who are in no way related to one another and are not actually family at all. I know this to be true because I was once part of one. I ended up leaving, rather abruptly so, after a number of conflicts with the leader, and was subsequently “banished” and ex-communicated in typical cult-like fashion. Since then, several other people were “banished” with no explanation whatsoever. I knew it was only a matter of time, and I expect the banishings by this local leader will continue on a regular basis. Thankfully, in the town where I live, word of these things travels fast, and the other leaders and shop owners here are well aware of this leader and her antics, and they keep her at arm’s length. For more information about recognizing possible cult behavior in your pagan group, click HERE.
It has been said by a few authors that family traditions did not exist before the establishment of Gardnerian Wicca, although I find this a little hard to believe. Although there may be very little documented proof of pre-Gardnerian family traditions, there is no reason to assume that some families did not pass along magickal knowledge to their descendants, long before Gerald Gardner came around. I believe that while there may be a few valid family traditions, there are even more that are completely false. There is no shortage of people claiming to be part of a family tradition that was passed down for several generations, but more often than not, they have no proof to back their claims. You’re just supposed to take their word for it. I don’t think so.
There are also those who want to draw a definitive line between who can call themselves a Witch and who cannot. Some say you are not a Witch unless you have been initiated by another Witch. Some say you are not a Witch unless you belong to a particular tradition. Both of these views are incorrect. Only you know if you are a Witch. It is not for someone else to tell you.
Many solitary (not belonging to a coven or tradition) Witches are self-initiated, and this is perfectly acceptable and valid. Still others believe that only women can lay claim to the word ‘Witch‘, and men must be referred to as Magician, Wizard, Mage, etc. I’m sure Scott Cunningham and Raymond Buckland would disagree. Even Gerald Gardner, the “father of Wicca”, considered himself a Witch. I am a Witch, and I am male. The concept of male Witches is not a new one. We have been around just as long as our female counterparts. I was told by a woman that it was “historical fact that only Women can be Witches”. She then quoted Starhawk, as if that made it final. Sorry, no.
Some magickal traditions consider all others to be invalid. Some Witches consider themselves superior to others, for various reasons. For a community that supposedly views everything, even ourselves as expressions of the divine, we are setting a poor example when we allow our ego to get out of control. It doesn’t matter how many years of training you’ve had in Witchcraft, how many traditions you’ve been initiated into, or how many of your ancestors were Witches themselves. When you begin seeing other Witches as inferior to yourself because of your knowledge or status, you have stumbled out of wisdom and into dangerous territory. . Even those who are in leadership positions such as High Priest and High Priestess should be examples of humility and grace, while at the same time upholding what is right and speaking out against what is wrong. Don’t be afraid to question authority. I don’t claim to be an expert on everything, but I am willing to share from my experience what I have learned with others. Yes, I am a High Priest in my tradition, but it’s only a title. There are valuable things I can learn from you too.
Some Witches in leadership positions are causing a lot of damage to their local communities because of ego, jealousy, fear and a desire to control. Even in the Witchcraft community, there can be a lot of drama, so be very careful who you choose to study with. Get feedback from others in the community about local teachers before you decide to learn from them.