ANSWER - I think it is certainly the case that Witchcraft is in the spotlight now more than ever. It is unsurprising that whenever popular entertainment chooses to depict Witchcraft in a positive light there is a surge of interest. Think the film “The Craft” back in the nineties or more recently the followers of “Charmed.” The television and film industry have played a part in demystifying witchcraft and changing the perception of craft practitioners from the wizened crones of old to attractive, confident and (usually) young people. It is unsurprising that with this change in perception the view of witchcraft has changed from derisive to aspirational.
At the same time that the media has been giving witchcraft the glamour treatment there has been a renewed interest in spirituality and New Age beliefs. This has marked a turning away from the conventional religious paths (in particular Christianity) and given rise to a generation who define themselves as spiritual rather than religious but who may lack a framework to practise within. Wicca for many has filled this void by bridging the gap between the modern revival of magic and spirituality and the convention of a formal religious structure.
This new social acceptance of Wicca is perhaps one of the reasons why we are seeing more witches claim a Trad path rather than an adherence to Wicca. It has been very interesting watching the evolution of Wicca which started as an informal belief system and is now fast approaching a religion with dogmatic doctrine to rival any of the world religions. I’d argue that the more socially accepted Wicca becomes and the more mainstream, the more structured and formal the less it is going to appeal to the freethinkers, those who want to forge a path rather than follow one.
Wicca is often the first introduction to witchcraft and the first confirmation that witches do exist and that the practise of witchcraft is alive and taken seriously in the 21st century. However the individual beliefs of many witches do not fit the belief structure of Wicca. For a witch who does not believe in deity Wicca is not a good fit. Although there are many “Wiccans” claiming to be atheists they are missing the point entirely of the religion they purport to follow. You can no more be a Wiccan without belief in deity than you can be a Christian without believing Christ was the son of God. You can however quite happily be a witch without believing in deity. These witches who do not conform to the Wiccan structure often end up seeking out a traditional path.
I think it is important to point out that even though Wicca can be (and often is) a stepping stone on the path to Trad craft for many witches this doesn’t diminish Wicca as a religion in its own right. But as with any religion it is only going to appeal to people who share the core beliefs. For those who do not share the core beliefs but still practise witchcraft there is no formal structure or path to replace Wicca. The essence of the traditional path is a witch who goes it alone.
I do think that the more prescriptive modern Wicca becomes the more it is going to switch off the witches who want to use traditional methods of working and perhaps more crucially those witches who want to use the elements of magic prohibited by the harm non rules of Wicca. It may not be a popular viewpoint but it could be argued that no witch adhering to the Wiccan religion is going to be able to fully actualise herself as a witch as the limits on her power are too great. A witch on a traditional path will use all parts of who she is and not confine herself to what might be termed the “white” side of magic.
Do I think a lot of those people turning from Wicca to Trad Craft are wannabes? No I honestly don’t. I think most people who are open minded enough to look to embrace a lifestyle of magic and witchcraft are also the kind of people who don’t want their path dictated to them. The very prescriptive nature of the Wiccan witch simply doesn’t appeal to all witches. For those it does work for, that's great and they are to be respected. The world is a big enough place to cater to both Wiccan and non Wiccan witches without need for conflict or controversy.