Tradition is a big deal among Pagans. Your tradition defines your religion, how you practice, what you practice, your morals – sometimes even your lifestyle. It’s divisive and inclusive all at the same time.
That way of casting a circle, that method of purification, that ritual for blessing an athame – there is more than one way to do all of those things. Do each one according to set words, set rituals – each one of those steps and choices makes up a tradition.
It’s also an artificial construct. None of these rules are divinely handed down. They are created by people, guided by the gods or not, to deal with immediate concerns. Sometimes the practice stays after the concern has gone. Sometimes it creates additional concerns.
I’ve always found the popularity of tradition in a religious grouping that cherishes so much nature peculiar. Tradition isn’t physics. It’s not about whether the magic works or not – it’s about upholding inventions that work until they don’tanymore. Some traditions, even among Pagans, go so far as to say things like “Christian prayer doesn’t have power,” or “Science will catch up to magic!” as part of their official beliefs. It’s strange, inappropriate to the big picture religious people ostensibly uphold. Sometimes it feels like the clamor for tradition has gotten so loud that few people actually practice any actual magic – it takes too much energy to practice a tradition instead.
I’ve always seen tradition as a double-edged sword.
It preserves. It also limits. Limitation can help set boundaries. It can also prevent learning when applied wrong.
The insistence that tradition matters isn’t appropriate to all situations. To insist on following a “tradition of my ancestors” would be as much of a disaster as declaring Christianity the state religion in the US. My ancestors did a lot of stuff that does not fly in the 21st century. It served then but just because it did doesn’t mean it applies to now. Oh, some stuff does – like pausing to remember the ancestors. But reliving their lives does not seem like a good way to learn anything.
To insist that one Wiccan tradition is more correct than the other also troubles me – it seems that if the gods show up, it’s not for the page justification or because the athame got dunked in the chalice just right.