Druidry and Witchcraft
(or why some witches are Druids and some Druids are witches)
THE DRUID NETWORK (2003)
It's quite funny, really. To write about the strong link between witchcraft and druidry I feel the need, initially, to talk to you about the differences between witchcraft and wicca simply to round the whole thing off as there is so much misunderstanding about these two separate, if linked, ways of the sacred.
Currently many druids realise that they are also witches (and vice-versa). This has probably always been so, but since the British Commonwealth laws repealed the Witchcraft Act in 1951, and the subsequent build-up and dissemination of relevant information that has allowed for freer dialogue on both topics on a public platform, a collective 'Ahh!' has been heard in the so called voices of deep mystery.
And yet things are still strange and strained, because our freedom is still young. Some may not see it as such, but then I was born in thee same year that the laws ceased their ability to prosecute us for our affiliation to other than what was considered as mainstream. I had been an initiate of the Craft for eleven years when Neville Drury (author, editor and anthropologist) compiled Other Temples, Other Gods and I declined participation out of a very honest angst that going that public could bring harm to my child (this was the same year that a witch in the western suburbs of Sydney had her caravan (her home) burned to the ground because she had trusted that it would be okay to mention her way to others).
Gerald Gardner gave the public wicca, or Wicca, along with an entire system that has been both emulated and transformed (in various ways) ever since. Wicca, in its more traditional sense, has clear boundaries of grade and rank, is a religion in the accepted sense, and draws heavily on the ways of both witchcraft and certain aspects of ceremonial magick for both its ritual and its extra-curricular activities. There were, close to its inception, three schools of wicca - Guardinarian (formulated by Gerald Gardner), Alexandrian (formulated by Alex Sanders) and Traditional Wicca (said to stem from Old George Pickingill). From them sprang Seax Wicca, Dianic Wicca, the Faerie Traditions, neo-Paganism and many variations of the same theme. Most schools incorporate the five-fold kiss and the laws of both 'An it harm none, do what thou wilt' and the law of the three-fold return. Many traditions of wicca draw on certain of the practical workings of either/both Thelemic magick or the Golden Dawn ceremonial systems as an adjunct to their trainings.
What we have in common are esbat (the lunar rites that honour the night) and the eight seasonal sabbats, certain sacred objects used in our rites and an alliance with the déithe [day-ha] - gods (plural/multiple) including those of earth and air, fire and water.
Many wiccans are also witches and many witches are also wiccan. The differences between wiccans and witches are in the structure, 'religiosity', hierarchical necessity and formality (or in the case of witches, the lack of the need for such) and the fact that whereas witchcraft is a way, witches are a generic (I'll get to that later).
Of course I'm generalising. With so many variations having sprung into existence since the 1950s there are sure to be exceptions, but the need for public acceptance as an orthodox religious institution (particularly from the 1970s onward) has led many down the path of becoming 'ministers' and to establish 'churches' which have absolutely no relationship to the mysteries whatsoever as too much organisation and regimentation, too much public interaction, dilutes the draíocht [dree-uckht] - magic and its attending mysteries leaving enactment in its place (which is a pretty dry and lifeless 'thing'), let alone turning out white-as-snow, febrile, fluffy-bunny-rainbow, 'goddessy' wannabe-witches (excuse me if I offend those who are not like this.)
Moreso, in relation to druids that I know personally, it is actually the differences, at a core level, between witchcraft and wicca that are the alikenesses between witchcraft and druidry, although there are, also, differences between certain 'schools' of druidry and those differences are similar to those between wiccans and witches - namely grading, ranking systems, concepts of hierarchy, ideology and intent.
Witchcraft is not a religion in its contemporary interpretation as we do not worship, rather we align. The word 'religion' has as its etymological root the word religere (Roman), meaning to bind back. In the deeper sense, then, witchcraft could be said to be one but only in the ancestral sense.
And witchcraft is, primarily, animist, ancestral and totemic in its nature. Druidry is blest insofar as it actually has a word - Awen - to describe what witchcraft doesn't have a word for. The closest description we have for that which inspires awe and wonder is anima - the vital principle; source of energy and creative action; soul; life. The word 'soul' is an interesting one - in certain tribes among the Amazon the word soul is the same for the word child and that makes more sense than any nebulous Christian concept as it links us with the continuum of forever (but that's another HUGE topic). Our totemic affiliations are based on each witch's unique connectedness to whatever species: plant, animal, insect, reptile etc with whom they resonate at a deep familial level.
The way of a witch cannot be truly taught from books or by correspondence - a witch can merely be given guidelines from such - as its complexity lies in its realisation that each witch is individually, circumstantially and, most importantly, environmentally different and must be trained with this in mind.
The way of a witch does not consider that all gods are one god and all goddesses are one goddess … (Dion Fortune), although, in terms of Anima Mundi that could be said to be so - and we don't collect them (is this understood? If not please feel free to discuss the implications). After all, Herne is not the In Daghdha, In Daghdha is not Govannon, the Mórrígan is not Breosaighit and Breosaighit is not the Scáthach.
All witches are 'solitaries' (in distinct difference to traditional schools of wicca) insofar as they are not bound, nor obligated, to attend rituals with their coven. The coven is a 'the gathering place' much like a temple, a grove, a sanctuary, a nemeton. All of our interactive training takes place at the specified covenstead which is always a home as the hearth, and all that is implied by that, is considered as most sacred, although many of our seasonal rites take place in relatively wild and remote places.
The trainings in the ways of witchcraft, other than in the workings or rite and ritual, are very much focussed on life-skills (which do involve sorcery) and what is learned is mainly learned by word-of-mouth. It is not necessary for us to agree on all things as one person's 'talent' may be accessed very differently to another's. There are many tasks required of each initiate but that's no different to druidry.
The rite of initiation is the individual's decision to 'walk-across-the-line' and devote their lives, with guidance, to the way of either 'priestess' or 'priest' (for lack of a better word) because they have been called by déithe and have answered.
Witches do not rely on a 'belief system'. Inherent in the word belief is the concept of doubt ("I believe that to be true" implies that the person speaking is not 100% certain).
In the way of witchcraft there is only ever one initiation. There are rituals that mark the journey of the witch through his or her training culminating as high priesthood/elder (always marked by a rite of transition), a place of honour amongst equals. This rite is always in recognition that the individual has trained to a degree that they are capable of passing on the learning to others. Many remain as elders within our clan - a rare few leave to form their own coven, usually because of distance and circumstance.
Having strong elders ensures the newer initiate a sound variety of opinion through the first several years of their training (the actual number of which is a variable). The work of high priesthood is first and foremost that of responsibility and dedication to other initiates and to both clan and community. In actuality the term 'high' is misleading as it tends to lead one to the idea that they are grand in some way when in actuality the title should be deep priesthood.
Witches acknowledge the traditional eight seasonal celebrations of the solar calendar, and are aligned to our ancestral déithe and do not consider those déithe as 'apart' from ourselves, or omnipotent - and, at this particular phase of forever, are very much in need of our alliance due to the incalculable threat of that species of two-legged that we refer to as The Blind.
Our gods (déithe) are invariably associated with the earth and its immediate environmental conditions and the déithe are not 'made in our image' even though they have, in my opinion, been incorrectly anthropomorphised over several hundred years.
We do not have the three-fold law ('whatever you do comes back at you three-fold') to fall back on that can (and does) prevent many a justifiable geis or restraint.
We do not avow to the 'An it harm none …' theory as it is unnecessary.
Wicca does not recognise the profundity of the geis.
Witches do not believe in reincarnation in the commonly-accepted mode although we do accept immortality as normal.
I can only speak for myself and for those with whom I am affiliated. Please understand that nothing of what I share with you is generalisation. What I am aware of is that the word 'witch' is a generic rather than a title, like the word 'shaman' or 'sorcerer' (pretty much the same species of practitioners). Just as the word 'artist' resonates a talent, and 'poet' resonates a talent, so also does 'witch'.
Circumstantially the Covenant of WildWood Gate is a bunch of Celts (again, excuse me, a generic term), therefore it is the Celtic déithe with whom we resonate and are, consequentially, aligned.
We do not 'work' with the gods of Egypt, or the gods of the Maya, or the ancestral deities of the Koori, the Chinese, the Norse, the Hindu, the African, the Native American, the Maori or Australian First People. We know they are there and we honour them greatly and we learn, as an aspect of our training, as much about how they live with the earth, or amongst the stars and with whom they dwell as a matter of respect for both the differences and the likenesses of many of them. We also learn a great deal about the invasion of the monotheistic traditions into the common psyche as the thoughtforms invoked by this common psyche are very dangerous entities (such as the cruel god, the devil, the perpetual sacrifice and the obligatory virgin).
Living in Australia, and as a result of the originally invading hegemony, it is a mater of necessity to understand the sacredness of the pattern of this land's immortals so that we do not disturb, or walk heavy-footed.
A momentary side-track: in the 1970's I was sent a letter from an Englishman running a magazine devoted to paganism in one form or another who inappropriately proposed that as we lived in this part of the world we should 'drop' our association with 'the European gods' and 'work' with the gods of the Aborigines. That was a sick letter. As Lupas, a tribal elder now living in Canberra, said to me several years ago "Haven't these whities taken enough? Now they want our magic?" (this was in disgusted response to the trendiness of acquiring 'all things Aboriginal'). The colonisation of Australia was a barbaric piece of history where a people gripped by poverty were enslaved to the gulags of a hostile land far from the hearth of their ancestors, in the name of the law and for mostly contrived crime (easy pickings, the poor!). Could anyone doubt that they brought the spirits of their ancestors with them? As such this land is peopled with the déithe of many indigene … but a dog can be born in a stable - that doesn't make it a horse..
The ways of druidry that I have come to know over the years are not those practiced by the white-robed old men who have coerced the authorities into allowing them Stonehenge at the Midwinter Solstice - it is not a good 'ol boys club invented in a pub in 1717 because generic druids are alive now who know that they are druids and who seek to train with those in whose eyes and principles they see themselves mirrored. What I know of druidry is that its very sacredness comes from its connectedness and its determination to throw off the white-washed, christianised mediocrity that has remained, as with witchcraft, its garment of both invisibility and self-preservation through the centuries of discrimination, bigotry and danger. What I understand of druidry is its earthy richness, its lack of denial of the wild, 'the mud and the blood' (Bobcat, BDO), the seasons of life and death (which are one thing anyway) it's artists and, no matter what the academics say, its ancientness.
Gate Coven is also known as a Covenant insofar as many of its members
are not initiates, nor even witches but are, definitely, clan, and their
affiliation is based on certain codes of honour and mutuality. The workings
and trainings of the actual Coven itself are not shared with these people,
neither do they want it to be shared. Our deep connection is based on
mutual work within the world, spiritually, politically and/or environmentally.)