For over a decade now, since I first rediscovered Paganism after a break from Catholic indoctrination led me initially to atheism which ultimately didn’t satisfy, I have walked a Druidic path. I have trained with several Druid orders and groups; I have gone to Druid camps and gatherings; I have worked with my local Druid Grove, growing it to a successful regular community.
So why now do I feel a different call?
A wilder call, intuitive and immediate. A call that feels more like a memory, a cry of the heart.
The call of the Witch.
My first encounter with the word Druid was through the Asterix comics, and I was surprised later in life to learn that there were real Druids in the world still. My first encounter with the word Witch was, as for many I imagine, through fairy tales and folklore. Where Druids were remote, historic figures, Witches lived in the closer realms of story, film, fantasy and dreams. Where Druids were (mostly) the good guys, Witches were (mostly) the villains.
Witches were dangerous, and therefore exciting.
I grew up with Witches. Not literally, although my grandmother knew her way around a herb garden and could read your tea leaves, but in pop-culture. A child of the late 80’s and 90’s, and a weird kid, I gravitated to Buffy and The Craft, Charmed, Sabrina, and Practical Magic. Witches were cool, and I wanted to be that cool.
But Witches were also girls.
And I was…what was I?
Bear in mind that it took me over thirty years to accept myself as trans, and that during most of those thirty years, even during my mini teenage-witch obsession, I was also deeply Catholic and therefore taught that both being queer and being a Witch were one-way tickets to Hell. So, I buried those thoughts deep.
Later, when I was really researching Paganism, having left the Church (but still with barbed tentacles of guilt and shame wrapped around my heart), I weighed up the paths open to me, and chose to explore Druidry.
I would never have realised it at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, I wonder if perhaps I made that choice because of those formative archetypes I once knew. Your pop-culture Witch is a woman. Your pop-culture Druid is a man. Could it be that, while still in denial of my gender identity, I turned to a more male-coded figure to try to distance myself from those wild women of the woods?
Now, of course, I know that in the real Pagan world there are plenty of women who are Druids, men who are Witches, and non-binary people who are both. But in the world of story and popular understanding, this tends to be the typical portrayal.
I could go on to talk about the 18th-19th century Romantic/Revival image of (at the time, exclusively male) Druids as Celtic equivalents of the Classical philosophers, all intellect and enlightenment, while Witches were being collected into folklore and fairytale as evil women lurking in dark forests to do unspeakable things, but there’s a whole essay in there to dig into.
Since beginning my transition, I’ve been engaged in this little project of dissecting my beliefs and ideas, to see what still holds meaning, and my Paganism has been no exception.
The Witch calls me, so how will I answer?
Druidry and Witchcraft can complement each other well of course (see Phillip Carr-Gomm’s book Druidcraft), and have historic connections (such as the friendship of Ross Nichols, founder of OBOD, and Gerald Gardner, founder of Wicca), but they also have their own distinct practices, characteristics, symbolism, language and feel.
While I am not turning away from Druidry as a grounding foundation to my spiritual connection with Land, Sea and Sky, I am open to exploring a more Witchy way of expressing that connection, at least in my personal (i.e. non-Grove) practice.
What this means for the future, I don’t know, but I remember what it could have once meant to the child hiding in the woods, far from prying eyes, pretending to “cast spells” to change their form, their life, their destiny. I remember what it could still mean.
And since the question “am I a Witch or am I a Druid?” has been running through my mind to the tune of “am I a man or am I a Muppet” from the 2011 Muppets movie for the past few days, I want to inflict this most excellent earworm to you all too: