Druidry and Wicca represent the two main streams of indigenous ‘earth spirituality’ of western European culture. But though their roots are buried deep in the foundations of that culture, the ways in which they are practised today were formulated only recently, and as we shall see, there are many connections between the two approaches.
In the 1930s or 40s two men met and became friends and co-workers, probably first at the idyllic naturist community of Spielplatz in Hertfordshire. one was a Druid, the other a poet and historian. Gerald Gardner, a member of the Ancient Druid Order and the Folklore Society, met the poet and teacher Ross Nichols, and discovered that he shared his interest in magic, the occult and the pre-Christian past of Britain. After more than a decade of friendship, Ross became a Druid too, joining the Ancient Order in 1954. This was the same year that Gardner’s first work of non-fiction on Witchcraft was published – Witchcraft Today. This book heralded the popularisation of Wicca and began the process that led to it becoming such a significant and dynamic spirituality today.
At about the time the book was published, Ross took my father to meet Gerald Gardner at their naturist club. They lay in the sun, talked about history, and swam in the pool. My father, as editor of a history magazine, would later commission Ross to write articles, but at this time it was Ross who was the editor. He had just finished editing an English translation of Paul Christian’s massive History & Practice of Magicand had gone on to edit Gardner’s book – quite a task according to writers Francis King and Doreen Valiente, since Gardner was not a skilled author.
Already, before the book was published, Gardner had established a coven, and was hoping to start a Druid group on the Isle of Man. As far as we know Ross did not join his coven, and although interested in Wicca, never considered himself a Witch. Instead he continued to pursue his interests in mythology and the seasonal festivals, and began to develop a passion for Druidry. In the end, when Gardner and the old Druid Chief died in 1964, Ross introduced a new kind of Druid practice into the world. It was based on the old lore – on the mythology of Britain and Ireland, on the old Bardic tales, on the practices of the Ancient Druid Order, and on ideas drawn from folklore, depth psychology and legend.
But it was new because it took all of this material and presented it through the structure of a Mystery School that, like Wicca, drew much of its practical inspiration from the immense heritage of the Western magical tradition, which – in a perfect arc – connected the Pythagorean and Neo-Pythagorean roots of western magic to the Pythagoreanism of the ancient Druids. Just like Wicca, this Druidry worked with the magic circle blessed by fire and water, with the four elements and the fifth being aether, or Spirit, symbolised by the Pythagorean pentagram. It offered three grades or degrees, entered by initiation, of Bard, Ovate and Druid, as opposed to Wicca’s First, Second and Third Degrees. And it celebrated the same eight seasonal festivals.
Gardner, in a later book, The Meaning of Witchcraft, speculated that the ancient Druids represented the scholarly elite while Witchcraft was the religion of the peasants, and whether or not this is true, this perception has affected our views of the two paths. Druidry often appears to be the more scholarly or learned path, while Wicca appears to be the more earthy, intuitive or instinctual way. The two founding fathers of these types of practice certainly embodied these differences – Ross tended to be the dry academic, Gardner the earthy maverick. But things have come a long way since they presented their systems to the world – scholarly approaches in Wicca have developed in tandem with the development of instinctual and intuitive approaches within Druidry, and now many people creatively blend Wiccan and Druidic approaches and find them complementary.