[I wrote this article after one of my students was asked to teach our tradition at a pagan temple. ]
What is the Braided Wheel Tradition?
Braided Wheel is a Wiccan tradition. That means we are part of the community of religious traditions that practice in the way popularized by Gerald Gardner.
Who is Gerald Gardner?
Gerald Brosseau Gardner (1884–1964) was a retired English civil servant, an author, and an amateur anthropologist.
Some people say that Gerald Gardner invented Wicca. There are problems with that argument. Wicca is not like Scientology; Gardner did not make it out of whole cloth. There is good evidence that he patched it together from existing material. If you read "A Witches' Bible: The Complete Witches' Handbook" by Stewart and Janet Farrar with commentary by Doreen Valiente they document where most of the text comes from and which parts can not be attributed to published works or are not known to be written by Valiente or Gardner. Gardner never claimed to have invented Wicca; he claimed to have been given it by older practitioners although he admitted to adding to what he was given.
The word Wicca itself is the Old English spelling of the word Witch, which was pronounced "witche" for men, "witcha" for women, and "witchen" for plural. Because wicca is a historical word no one can really own it, and no organization can decide who is or is not a "real" Wiccan. Gardner also gave us the unique word "athame" for ritual knife from his misunderstanding of a modern French version of the Key of Solomon.
Gardner didn't invent Wicca, but he did design the ritual form, cribbing many elements from Masonic rituals and adding other parts from his research into British folklore, Western Esotericism, and Ceremonial Magick. Personally I believe the influence of his research into the native religion of Malaysia, while he was there, is greatly underrated. He was personally experienced in the beliefs and practices of the paleo-pagan religions of Indonesia. That might be why modern Wicca has so much in common with modern Hinduism.
On the one hand Gerald Gardner did not invent Wicca. On the other hand the relationship between Wicca and pre-Christian paganism is not like the relationship between Christians and the teachings of Jesus. No authoritative institution governing European pagan practice survived the introduction of Christianity so Gardner's Wicca has no institutions to break away from, but also no authority to govern others and no authoritative source text to refer to. Despite the title of the Farrar's book, there is no Wiccan equivalent of the Christian Bible.
Gardner didn't claim any special divine revelation. The Gardnerian Book of Shadows is not the "Word of God". It is just the record of a traditional practice.
Many of the people who claim Gardner invented Wicca cite Ronald Hutton and "The Triumph of the Moon" to support their position. But Hutton knows the difference between an opinion, even an educated opinion, and a fact.
"Even if he had compiled the rituals himself and founded the first modern pagan coven, however, it would still not be wholly just to describe him as having 'invented' or 'made up' modern pagan witchcraft. In religious terms, it might be said that he was contacted by a divine force which had been manifesting with increasing strength during the previous two hundred years, and that it worked through him to remarkable effect. A secular way of saying the same thing, more commonly found among historians, is that the cultural forces which had been developing for a couple of centuries combined in his emotions and ideas to produce a powerful, and extreme, response to the needs which they represented. It is the capacity, or destiny, to function in this sort of way that makes certain human beings especially significant in the historical record. I would emphasize again, however, that it has not been proven here that he did in fact fulfil such a role. In the last analysis, the old rascal is still in charge of the early history of his movement." p238-240
Wouter J. Hanegraaff in "New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought" (Suny Series, Western Esoteric Traditions) documents how Wicca is part of a five hundred year old tradition of Western Esotericism. It is probably even older but Hanegraaff only researched back five hundred years.
Modern Wicca is a practice of European paganism because we choose to make it that way. We choose to follow in Gardner's footsteps by continuing to research our pagan ancestors and incorporate new information into our daily practices creating a living tradition of European pagan witchcraft.
How is Braided Wheel Different from Other Wiccan Traditions?
Braided Wheel is an offshoot of the Blue Star Tradition. We practice a fairly common form of American eclectic Wicca similar to most American traditions. The Blue Star influence is mostly visible in the round altar in the center of the circle, as opposed to the rectangular altars at the side of the circle used in British Traditional Wicca. The round altar has radial symmetry and re-enforces the circular symbolism of the Wheel of the Year and the general emphasis in Wicca on egalitarianism and cyclical time.
Braided Wheel places the athame in the south with fire, and the wand in the east with air. This is one of the few disputed issue between Wiccan traditions, with some traditions associating the athame with air and the wand with fire. Our tradition also resulted in Braided Wheel using the wand for the Great Rite instead of the athame. If you think about it, having sex with a knife is just a bad idea. Some people would argue that the symbolism of the chalice and the blade represents the union of both creative and destructive forces. But the Great Rite is supposed to be the act of creation. In the Braided Wheel tradition we complete the balance by using the athame and the pentacle to bless the cakes, so the wine represents life and the cakes represent death.
Braided Wheel also follows the Blue Star tradition of viewing the tradition as a lineage with familial relationships.
Blue Star is an initiatory tradition, meaning they have a degree system. Braided Wheel is also an initiatory tradition, although Braided Wheel has only three ranks compared to the five levels of Blue Star.
Blue Star has an emphasis on community service. Braided Wheel continues this tradition by requiring all third degree initiates to demonstrate that they have used their craft to the benefit of others. Although Braided Wheel is very flexible about what form this service may take.
Braided Wheel has no orthodox position on theology. Practitioners are free to believe whatever they want to and choose what gods they want to work with. Though the tradition has a strong preference for feminine/masculine balance in ritual, invoking deities in female/male pairs or triads.
Braided Wheel has no vows of secrecy beyond the injunction to hold other people's private information in confidence. We feel that the mysteries of the craft have to do with experiences that can not be conveyed in words so they can not be divulged by words, only transmitted by direct experience.
Braided Wheel has official initiate vestments and cords: a white robe, a red tabard, and a black shawl with matching cords that are braided together. Or alternately a green robe, a blue tabard, and a gold shawl with matching cords. White, red, and black are the colors of the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Green, blue, and gold are the colors of the Youth, Father, and Codger (the Green Man, the Horned God, and the Sun God).
First Degree initiates are considered qualified to perform rituals and are called both Priestess (or Priest) and Witch. Third Degree initiates are titled High Priestess (HPS) or High Priest (HP). But, in the same way that the title Captain applies to the person in charge of the ship regardless of their normal rank, the titles High Priestess and High Priest are also used to indicate the people who are leading a particular ritual regardless of their normal rank.
The Second Degree training program is based around Anodea Judith's associations with the Chakras. Gardner used the Kabbalah, an early modern Jewish system, to flesh out his tradition. Because the Kabbalah is neither ancient nor pagan the Braided Wheel tradition uses the Hindu Chakra system instead. The Chakra system is entirely based in the human body; in contrast to the Kabbalah where only the lowest level corresponds to the physical plane. This is also more consistent with the embodied, "this world", views of pagan sophiology. There is no one official version of the Chakra system so Braided Wheel uses the system taught by Anodea Judith, primarily "Wheels of Life: A User's Guide to the Chakra System". Students who wish to pursue deeper study of the Chakra system are encouraged to seek out older primary sources.
Third Degree initiates are entitled to style themselves Lord or Lady. Some Wiccans prefer Reverend, but Reverend is a Christian title. And Lord and Lady are not really any more pretentious than "Revered One" which is what Reverend means. The word Lord comes from Old English hlafweard, literally "one who guards the bread". The word Lady comes from hlæfdige, literally "one who makes the bread".
It has not come up yet but someone who is uncomfortable identifying as either feminine or masculine could style themselves Androgyne and wear vestments in shades of lavender and purple.
Wicca has a strong emphasis on feminine/masculine duality which has alienated some LGBT people. There is no denying that most life on earth uses two sexes to reproduce and this is a handy and intuitive symbolism. But there is a place for sacred transgender in Wicca. As with the Ardhanārīśvara in Hinduism, and the Yin/Yang of Taoism, the Wiccan feminine/masculine duality represents a greater unity. Transgender individuals perform the sacred function of reminding us of this greater unity. The existence of feminine and masculine archetypes does not limit individuals to those roles, we are all ultimately seeking wholeness which transcends duality.
As a practical matter the Braided Wheel tradition does not restrict what roles a practitioner may take based on sex or gender identity. And we have an alternative Great Rite that uses two chalices and two wands to symbolize that both participants both give and receive.