They evoke images of mystery and magic, of ancient knowledge of the Earth and her seasons, of star-lore and herb-lore, of primal wisdom and inner knowing. But they are words that can also evoke anxiety. Some people believe that Witches and Druids are members of dangerous cults, and even though we may know that this is nonsense, there is no point in pretending that the words ‘Witch’ and ‘Druid’ are not loaded. Some people think at once of sorcery and Satanism – they see the Witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth tossing bats’ wings into bubbling cauldrons, and Druid priests raising gleaming blades above the bodies of virgins sprawled across the ‘Slaughter Stone’ at Stonehenge.
These negative images of Witchcraft and Druidry come mostly from the scaremongering of fundamentalist Christian groups and from the tacky products of the movie and publishing industries. The genre of the horror movie needs constant feeding, and Shakespeare, together with later writers about ‘spooky Witchcraft’, have provided them with ample material.
It is true that Roman writers talked of Druids being present at human sacrifice, specifically at the execution of criminals, but we need to put this in context: Christian priests are present at executions today, and in ancient times human sacrifice was a feature of many societies. The Romans themselves sacrificed people until the first century BC. After that, they secularized the activity, built the Colloseum, and turned death into public entertainment.
It is also true that during the witch-hunts of the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, people confessed to being Witches, cursing others and having sexual intercourse with the Devil. But only the most obtuse people fail to see a connection between these confessions and the fact that they were extracted by torture.
Every religion or spiritual path has its share of insane and unpleasant people, and there are likely to have been some malevolent Druids and Witches, just as there have been malevolent Christians. But with the Inquisition and the Crusades, a body count would undoubtedly stack up unfavourably towards the latter.
Another misconception is that Druids and Witches practise Satanism. To do this you must believe in a being called Satan, and to practice it involves performing a reverse Christian ritual known as a Black Mass. Druids and Witches do not believe in an entity called Satan, or one who acts in the way he is supposed to act. They certainly do not perform reverse Christian ceremonies of any kind. In fact, some Druids are Christian and would be deeply offended by being tarred with this brush. The Archbishop of Canterbury is a druid, after all, of the Welsh National Eisteddfod.There have been conferences on Druidry and Christianity held at Prinknash abbey in Gloucestershire, and also conferences in Oxford and Lewes where Witches, Christians and Druids have shared their ideas in a spirit of tolerance and understanding. The two seminal thinkers who developed Druidry and Witchcraft in the modern era, Gardner and Nichols, were both ordained Christian ministers. So, if you want to be spooked, you need to look elsewhere!