A typical social media conversation in Druid groups these days goes somewhat like this:
Person 1: I am new to Druidry and would like to know if Druids cast circles or call upon the elements.
Person 2: No, that’s Wicca practice, which was made up by Gerald Gardner in the 1950s.
And right there and then, we are already in the thicket of murkiness. Not like the mist of Avalon, more like the fog of Chernobyl.
Yes, Gardner created Wicca. And yes, Wiccans draw circles and work with the alchemical elements. That we can say is true. But it’s only the half-truth. What is left out here, but must be considered, is the Gardner didn’t come up with this practice out of thin air. He studied what witches have done for centuries, particularly what hints at practice has been available in records from witch trials. In fact, I once saw a reader of one of his main works complain on an online shopping platform — named after South America’s largest river or a female warrior from Greek mythology — that the book was boring because it was practically a litany of witch trials rather and a how to cast a spell in 12 steps guidebook.
I don’t know where Gardner learned about drawing circles. But I do know that in old Alpine tales, and in 19th century anthropological works, there is mention of something that is called Kreisstehen in German. The practice is basically to go to a crossroads, draw a circle (Kreis) around you and stand (stehen) in there over night. If you are able to stay there (and don’t run out of fear of what you might experience there), you’ll be able to learn something about whatever question about the future you have. Also, Grimm’s sorcerers frequently draw circles around them when the brothers penned down the old German fairytales in the mid 1800s. All that long before Gardner made his first beeps.
Thus, drawing circles is much older than Wicca.
And so are the four elements. It’s basically alchemy, and that concept was already used by Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus, in the 16th century. Again, long before Gardner and his Wicca.
So, the truth is that Gardner gathered information about old practices, created a spiritual path rooted in these practices, and called it Wicca. Quite a feat, mind you. But he didn’t invent all of it.
It’s also true that we don’t know whether or not the Druids of old cast circles or worked with the alchemical elements. The latter is less likely than the former. Ancient Druids must have been aware of the concept of the importance of a circle. Some knew about the stone circles (like Stonehenge, Avebury, or new Grange). And even though these (or any) Druids didn’t build these stone circles, one would wonder if they weren’t aware of what their forebears wanted with these. Or did they just discard the whole idea as “Meh, circles, whatevs”?
True is that knowing, being aware of, the sacred geometry of a circle does not allow the conclusion that they also cast circles. But I would be careful with categorically discarding that idea.
In the end, it doesn’t matter, though. And here is why:
- There are spiritual paths. Druidry is one. Wicca is one. There are also others.
- And then there are tools. Like casting a circle.
The big question is, can one path (Druidry) use a tool that comes from a practice which has become the core — but not the invention — of another spiritual path (Wicca)? Does a Druid using that tool turn them Wicca?
Obviously not. It would be like saying: If a shoe maker uses a hammer, they become a carpenter. Both use the same tool, but while the shoe maker might use the hammer sporadically in their trade, hammering in nails is essential in carpentry. And who knows who invented the hammer in the first place.
The third bullet point is therefore:
- A tool can be used in more than one path, without the tool defining it. Or defining you and your practice.
So, it is important to differentiate between what is a path, what is a tool, and is that tool proprietary to the respective other path. If not – and Magic as practiced in Wicca, including casting circles and invoking the alchemical elements simply isn’t – all one has to ask is: “Does that tool help me on my own path?” And there is no right or wrong here (common sense assumed!) If you are a Druid today (which means that you are a contemporary Druid, no matter what) then you and only you can choose your tools. Wisely, for on the other end of the spectrum of “do whatever you want” you will find some dangerous traps, like cultural appropriation and abuse of power. But if you steer clear of them, your tools enrich your path, and don’t define it.