Pagan Paths for a Gay Man: Wicca or Druidry?
I was recently asked by a young gay man if I thought Druidry or Wicca was more gay-friendly. The answer isn’t simple, but I think it merits some discussion, so I decided to spend some time collecting my thoughts on the subject in writing.
I think the ritual/mythological cycle and deity characteristics most commonly presented in literature about Wicca are both hetero-normative. The main two deities are the God and the Goddess, both gender-binary descriptions who enact an incestuous mating, death and birth cycle with each other. The two deities are modelled somewhat on a nuclear family, but in the cycle, the father impregnates his regenerated mother and then dies and is reborn to the mother, after which the mother then immediate regenerates as a young virgin girl. I’m not making value judgements about the morality of the cycle itself, though it sounds quite harsh when stated so plainly (as do many myths if condensed tersely), but will instead try to draw attention to what’s missing for me as someone interested in sharing his spiritual life in a group context.
I have failed to find much queer-friendly symbolism in Wicca, despite some enthusiastic searching, but don’t think it’s so much a deliberate exclusion as a focus on self-similarity in the creators of the religion. Gardner was presumably straight and sexually interested in women, and created a God who had those characteristics alongside a Goddess who served very well as the all encompassing recipient of that love. Sexual diversity was not an interest of his, and he would probably have been quite hostile to its inclusion, given some of the things he wrote, and some of the things written about him by people who knew him well. There are credible accounts by people around at the time that gay people were not welcome in Wicca during its early years.
Things have changed when it comes to welcoming gay, lesbian and bisexual people, in some groups. I have deliberately excluded trans people and those who are genderqueer, for reasons that will become apparent below. GLB people are now welcome, but the roles, deities and mythical cycle have not changed, and queer people in Wicca (along with some of their straight colleagues) can find the model restrictive and exclusive of the diversity reflected in the world around them. How covens deal with this depends on the coven, but it’s not unusual for gay and bisexual men to be asked to embody a role consistent with the deity and ritual/mythological cycle, essentially meaning that they are expected to take part in ritual drama in which they portray the straight god lusting after and winning the straight female Goddess. Lesbian and bisexual women are expected to embody the Goddess in this cycle. This is neither empowering nor diverse, and I personally take issue with it on the grounds that it’s actually quite disempowering for GLB folk seeking a safe, affirming place for spiritual sharing.
In my opinion, sharing spirituality is about bringing your own spiritual life to the table, each person bringing a flavour that makes a dish that all can savour and enjoy. If I am supposed to put mine aside, and pretend to enjoy the dish because that’s how we always used to cook it before you were welcome at the table, then there really is a problem. It’s not a sharing, but rather force-feeding of something that does not relate to me or come from me. It’s not sustaining for my spiritual life, and denying myself is not going to lead to greater spiritual fulfilment or happiness. It’s not that the dish is vile – it’s that the sharing isn’t one unless I can bring myself to it, and not the ‘myself’ that is made up of the assumptions of others, but rather the ‘myself’ that actually exists as itself.
That the gods are described as the gods of nature makes it even worse, because we are ostensibly portraying nature, and I don’t have a place in it. This is unhelpful and inaccurate, and unworthy of a religion that ostensibly venerates nature. I am certain that a little bit of thought can diversify this, but not without pretty significant changes in the structure itself, given the binary nature of the primary deities. Athropomorphisation is part of the issue, but even without this, simplifying and distilling ‘nature’ to a not particularly diverse set of behaviours is as problematic in a Pagan context as it is in other religions.
Druidry and Wicca essentially draw from the same mythological cycle, primarily due to the merging of their respective calendars several decades ago, and the ritual cycle is extremely similar, though perhaps less obviously a gender binary of two. In Druidry there are more deities, but Father Sky and Mother Earth are very similar to the Wiccan ones in many respects, and are perhaps the most important deities, particularly given the Druidical focus on the solstices and equinoxes. There does seem to be conflation into God and Goddess in some groups and people, but this varies depending on the cosmological model applied by people/groups. Monists will conflate more often than polytheists or pantheists, so cosmology is an important factor here.
So I think perhaps my answer is that they are both friendly to gays, but I’m not sure that either is particularly queer, which is a significant distinction. I have yet to encounter a particularly queer myth/ritual enactment that was queer in either religion, and I have yet to encounter a role in a ritual or myth for a queer person that was reflective of that queer status. Any role not reflective of a strongly hetero-normative model would most likely be a supporting role, in support of this model and ritual/mythological cycle, which is not the same as creating a central myth/ritual concept that includes queer identities.
For trans and genderqueer people, this situation is even more pronounced, as all of the models are heavily gendered, and Wicca’s practice of conducting rituals naked is potentially problematic, as many trans folk find it very difficult to be naked around other people whilst transitioning. The reasons for this are pretty obvious, but probably not to be underestimated in their ability to turn trans people away from Wicca in a group context. In Druidry this would perhaps be easier, as I believe that naked rites are much less common, and suspect that declining to participate at a rare occasion involving ritual nudity would be rather easier.
I have more experience of Wicca than Druidry, so my answers to this question are slanted towards Wicca, primarily because I feel like I can answer the questions and address the issues more accurately. I would certainly be interested in the views of other queer people (particularly trans folk, who are probably under-represented in their views), as well as the views of people heavily involved in Druidry, who can comment on a broader experience base than mine, and hope this is found to be interesting and worthy of discussion by members of all of these communities. That the question came from a seeker is not unimportant, so I would ask that anyone commenting please do so with sensitivity, as people trying to make important decisions about the direction of their spiritual lives may well read comments to this article.