Essentially there are three main forms of initiatory Witchcraft in the UK, the Gardnerian Craft, Alexandrian Craft and Robert Cochrane inspired traditions such as the Clan of Tubal Cain.
Gardnerian Craft began in the late 30’s through to the 50’s. It grew out of the Western Mystery Tradition (with influences from the work of Aleister Crowley and Dion Fortune) via alleged early 20th Century Witches. It is derived from a synthesises of traditional folkloric beliefs about Witches, the traditional year, Margaret Murray’s ‘The Witchcult in Western Europe’, Leyland’s ‘Aradia Gospel of the Witches’ and the works of the romantic poets and the Western Mystery Tradition.
Gardnerian Craft in Europe tends to be unorthodox with each coven being idiosyncratic in character. This is because each coven is autonomous (as is in Alexandrian Craft), there being no central authority. The emphasis is on practice rather than belief allowing each Witch to have their own interpretation of their experience if the mysteries and what the mythology of the Craft means to them.
In my experience, in Europe, the Gardnerian rituals tend to be rather un-wordy and more rustic in character, although this is a generalisation based on the Witches I know. Gardnerian Craft covens are led by a High Priestess supported by the High Priest and maid. The rituals are performed skyclad that is naked with an emphasis on sexuality and fecundity. Its mythology is based around the Mother Goddess and the Horned God of Death and the changing seasons of the year.
Alexandrian Craft is an off shoot from Gardnerian Craft and is based on the teachings of self-styled king of the Witches, Alex Sanders and his wife Maxine in the 60’s though to the 80’s. He reintroduced ceremonial magic into his version of the Craft, including rituals such as the Qabbalistic Cross and the lesser banishing ritual of the pentagram. Sander’s version of the Craft had more emphasis on ‘psychism’ and ceremonial magic and covens tend to be more hierarchical than that of the Gardner’s Craft (although this is a generalisation). Over the years Gardnerian and Alexandrian Craft have grown much closer together and the two traditions now enjoy a friendly relationship. I have never been initiated into the Alexandrian Craft but I do enjoy friendships with some folk who have and have been fortunate enough to have been a guest at their rituals. They are great people and excellent Witches.
The third set of traditions are based on the work of Robert Cochrane (aka Roy Bowers). These include the Clan of Tubal-Cain and the 1734 tradition. I have not had any personal contact with this tradition, however I have been fortunate enough to have taken part in a Cochrane inspired ritual. Cochrane was originally a Gardnerian initiate who fell out with that tradition; in fact he invented the term Gardnerian as a pejorative. He founded his own coven and was heavily influenced by traditional folklore on witches, Robert Graves’s myth-poetic ‘the White Goddess’ and the magician Bill Gray. Sadly, the tradition fell into abeyance after his suicide although it influenced a group called the Regency, and was later taken up in the 90’s by Evan John Jones, Shani Oates and Robin the Dart. It had been subsequently influenced by the Luciferian and angelic work of Dolores North via Michael Howard. The Clan of Tubal Cain is organised with Shani Oates leading the tradition as the Maid. As such in covens (covines) in the Tubal Cain tradition are not autonomous.
For the sake of space, I shall also include the Sabbatic Craft of Andrew Chumbley (90’s) and similar forms of witchcraft, within this category. Chumbley was also heavily influenced by the work of the 20th Century artist and magican Austin Osman Spare. Unlike Gardnerian and Alexandrian Craft, Witches of the Cochrane inspired traditions tend to work robed and covens (covines) are more likely to be led by men. Although being founded more recently than the Gardnerian Craft, Cochrane inspired traditions often refer to themselves as traditional Witches.