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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.


  1. Alice Y.
    Posted December 3rd 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I have met a fair number of gay and queer druid folks through the Druid Network, and at least one trans person. One thing about druidry is its diversity – I know rationalistic types doing psycho-drama; folks who manage their life by throwing imaginary coloured intentional visualizations at other people; to folks who are determined to find a way to live in spiritual continuity with the folks who built megalithic arrangements and other sacred stones on the islands now called the UK; or who cast bronze or do other serious historical practical crafts as a spiritual practice. I’ve met a sizable christian contingent amongst druids as well, though no obviously homophobic ones such as I’ve encountered in for example evangelical fellowships. Some flavours of drudiry are v respectable for example the welsh ones who initiated the current Archbishop of Canterbury.

    There is a spectrum from folks who are practicing an indigenous spiritual path to people who emrace the 18th century creation of druid revivalism (which I think has a more philosophical, intellectual flavour). I’m not an expert on druidry, but I don’t think druidry necessarily has any one defining feature, and the different orders have different teaching content. Another thing is most of the druid stuff I have encountered is designed to be daylight, open, accessible – you can turn up to public rituals and join in without needing to make a commitment, whereas I get the impression Wicca is different, with more initiatory secrecy as so on? I have to say I hardly know anything about Wicca.

  2. Yvonne
    Posted December 4th 2011 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    There has been considerable discussion about gender and sexuality in Wicca in various places over the years, and I have contributed to some of it. See for example: GLBTQ Encyclopedia: Wicca for my article on LGBTQ and Wicca, and Pagan Theologies: Sexuality for a collection of articles on this topic.

    I think the concept of the Divine Androgyne in Wicca has queerness potential – but not enough groups honour it. I think many Pagans have a tendency to reify gender and regard it as essential. We need a more nuanced model of gender. We also need to recover queer mythology (Randy Conner’s Encyclopedia of Queer Myth and Symbol is an excellent resource) and use it in ritual. Don’t let the heterosexuals grind you down! As you say, many heterosexuals in Wicca are equally bored of the dominant myth cycle.

  3. anonyQ
    Posted December 5th 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I want to thank you for writing such a thoughtful and interesting article, but I also wanted to touch on a point that I don’t feel is made clear in the post itself. While there is often a conflation of the trans and queer communities, there is a difference in their internal experiences. A queer person might be fine with a skyclad ritual, but a transwoman might find the role of a Divine Androgyne distasteful. On the other hand, she might enjoy the role of a traditional Goddess. Now, I admit I’m coming at this from the perspective of a queer trans person from a mid-size city, and I expect (hope) there is more overlap in the two groups in one of your big metropolitan areas. In my town, transfolks are more likely to hold up binary gender models as the ideal, as does everybody around here (‘cept me as I said). My point is that Wicca could be (not is but could be) an inviting place for transfolks (if allowed some modesty). I offer this from the completely humble perspective of a hermit that doesn’t go to ritual much, but it seems to me that transfolks might be capable of singularly compelling ritual performances. Transfolks have been forced to think about gender more carefully and deeply than most, and if allowed to channel their emotional intensity about it into a ritual, I think the result could be quite potent.

  4. Phil Hine
    Posted December 5th 2011 at 2:51 pm | Permalink


    Some initial observations…Whilst acknowledging that attitudes have changed enormously since the time when I was actively engaged with Wicca – late 1970s to mid-1980s, when, as far as I can recall, gender-diversity & inclusiveness wasn’t even an issue – it simply wasn’t discussed (at least not amongst the Wiccans I knew), it still feels to me that there’s a long way to go. As you’ve pointed out, different covens deal with these issues in different ways – I can recall visiting a coven in the early 1990s and finding that they’d more-or-less abandoned the fixation on identifying as “a fertility religion” (which was a very dominant idea in the 1970s-80s) and no longer insisted on gendering everything; but equally, I visited a local London coven about six years ago and found that even for an informal party, they insisted on everybody getting into a male-female circle just so’s we could have a few drinks (passed with a kiss of course).

    There’s an interesting study by Jessie Sloan (2008) The Gendered Altar: Wiccan Concepts of Gender and Ritual Objects (PDF) which also draws attention to the heteronormativity of Wiccan ritual ecology – specifically, how the gender binary is reified through the enactment of ritual, the seasonal cycle; the understanding of how male & female polarity “operates” at a social & ritual level, and the gendering of ritual objects. Sloan notes the influence of Feminist authors such as Starhawk on Wiccan discourse on gender & polarity – but I think that the influence of feminist critique on Wicca as whole, is probably uneven as well. Susan Greenwood (see Witchcraft and the Otherworld: An Anthropology) notes a tendency amongst british wiccans to be wary of feminist witchcraft – due to its (presumed) emphasis on the political and seperatism – there is a tendency to emphasise “balance” in order to shut down anything that gets too provocative or challenging. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to find, from Susan’s research (published in 2000), that there still seemed to be a notion that for a man to invoke (into themselves) “the goddess” or a woman “the god” was viewed as “unorthodox”.

  5. Phil Hine
    Posted December 6th 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink


    It seems to me that there’s an increasing tendency nowadays towards representing Paganism (in general) and particular traditions (such as Wicca) as being inclusive and accepting of all gender-identifications (sometimes with the assertion that this has – unlike mainstream religion – always been the case). Assertions such as this strike me as being somewhat reductive, if not to say downright evasive of a much more complex situation (see this post for some previous observations). It’s frequently asserted that if one does encounter homophobia, sexism, racism, etc., then it’s because of a few unrepresentative “crackpots” or an anachronism from the “early days of Wicca” (Deborah Lipp, The Study of Witchcraft (2007). Much of this is coming out of the USA – so its entirely possible that this is reflective of differences between American and British experiences. But it could equally highlight a disjuncture between public discourse and actual social practice. Whilst there’s been a good deal of critique applied to macroaggressions (for example, the way appeals to myths, “tradition” ritual practices etc., produce and reify heteronormativity) – there seems to have been less attention paid to microaggressions – one of which, of course is denial.

    Susan Harper-Bisso (2005), in her fieldwork study of Pagans in Texas, points out that “whilst tolerance and openness are two of the most frequently mentioned ‘neopagan values’ … in fact there are numerous instances of intolerance.” Which is, after all, hardly surprising. It’s not difficult, after all, to find plenty of evidence for discourses which blatantly abject those who are perceived as not conforming to gender norms within pagan/occult texts. Whilst such blanket abjections may may be less commonly trotted out these days, I’m suspicious when it is implied that no one takes them seriously any more.

    You might find Harper-Bisso’s study interesting in her nuanced discussion of gender-orientation. She explores, for example, the idealisation, performance (and objectification) of the “image of the nonmonogamous, promiscuous, adventurous “hot bi Pagan babe.”” And also notes that: “While lesbian and bisexual women have long held a place in the NeoPagan community, gay and bisexual men occupy much more contested roles.” And finds that: “Gay and bisexual men, then, do not find their experience of sexuality validated within NeoPagan theology.”

    Although she says that: “NeoPagans tend to outwardly reject the polarity of genders, instead invoking a spectrum of gender. In practice, though, they often fall into polar thinking, seeing things in terms of masculine and feminine, male and female, active and passive. The upshot of this polar thinking is sometimes a form of benevolent or even reverse sexism in the construction of men and women.” She qualifies this by noting how “traditional” conceptions of gender are being re-interpreted and developed in order to more accurately reflected the complexities of their lived experience – but this is, she feels, something which is only just underway – rather than a project which is complete.

  6. Joseph De Lappe
    Posted December 6th 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    I think one of the great difficulties is that, for LGBT pagans, heteronormativity as a practice doesn’t require overtly negative actions in Wiccan or Druidic rituals (people expressing homophobic sentiments or transphobic interpretations of myths). It’s the microaggressive nature of how certain gender identities are better; how this goes without saying, without needing to be reflected upon, that remain insidious in much Wiccan and Druidic tradition.

    Actually, it’s the plethora of public Druid rituals I’ve been to where, at some point, the ‘men’ will be asked to go stand in one spot and the ‘women’ in another. It’s the number of Wiccan rites where you feel the words ‘heterosexual reproduction’ should be substituted for ‘nature’ in ‘nature-based religion’, as that what’s really being worshipped (and only that).

    I think what’s really frightening is that, like much microaggression, it’s only when you ask heterosexual Wiccans and Druids to reflect on this, that they become angry. How dare you say they’re homophobic, etc.! Aren’t they friendly, tolerant; not like the mainstream religions! It’s often this very friendliness which is the most oppressive aspect of mainstream Wicca and Druidic practice; because of the constant myth (and it is a myth) of almost universal tolerance, LGBT pagans are expected to tolerate behaviour, including in rituals, they would never accept of other faiths.

    • Phil Hine
      Posted December 8th 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink


      Thanks for that – you’ve clarified for me much of what I find troubling about Pagan discourses of “tolerance” and inclusiveness. Also, you’ve raised another issue which I’ve been mulling over lately – which is that of how contemporary Paganisms are represented as being outside the “mainstream” of society (although there are, I feel, some clear ambivalences or tensions between identifying as “counter-cultural” and simultaneously agitating for public recognition – but that’s probably something for another time). This in itself is obviously a complex issue, but it seems to me that there is sometimes an expectation that – because Paganisms (or other subcultures) are represented as counter-cultural and utopian (i.e. “not mainstream”) then heteronormativity “should” not be found therein – and thus when it is encountered, it’s a surprise; a shock. For instance, I’ve some friends who have expressed surprise in regard to encountering homophobia within Occupy spaces. It seems odd, when I reflect on this that there’s a tendency to expect that counter-cultural spaces (and subjects) – Paganisms in this particular instance – should be less subject to the heteronormative hegemony which is everywhere else in western culture. Going back to what you were saying about tolerance, it’s as though when we don’t expect “intolerance” to be present in a space, it’s as though practices/behaviours which – in another space would be clearly marked as repressive are either “forgiven”, pass unnoticed, or are viewed as isolated incidents rather than as evidence of entrenched institutional patterns.

      Just to clarify matters for myself, I went back to Michael Warner’s original explanation of heteronormativity, and my reading of Warner is that heteronormativity is not just about heterosexism (the privileging of heterosexuality over same-sex relations) or homophobia but a much more pervasive phenomena – the way that sexuality in general is produced, normalised and disciplined – and reifies (as “normal”) a particular form of heterosexuality (assertive man, passive woman, white, middle class, etc). So heteronormativity is not limited to social practices, but also structures:

      “gender, the family, notions of individual freedom, the state, public speech, consumption and desire, nature and culture, masturbation, reproductive politics, racial and national fantasy, class identity, truth and trust, censorship, intimate life and social display, terror and violence, health care and deep cultural norms about the bearing of the body.” Warner, Fear of a Queer Planet

      What strikes me here is that heteronormativity (as a hegemony) is everywhere in our culture, and that we all, to various degrees, participate in it (even via resistance) as it is always present – particularly in contexts that have no obvious relation to sex practice. Moreover, despite the gains made in the last few decades in terms of civil rights, decriminalisation, etc., it’s arguable as to the degree to which these changes have had any impact on the heteronormative matrix.

      That’s enough queer theory for now. I want to move on to Yvonne’s point about queer myth. I agree that the recovery/production of queer readings of mythologies (and the creation of new narratives) is important (and there have been some stunningly beautiful queerings of mythology performed at QPC over the last decade or so – a lovely retelling of the story of Diedre last year by Jojo and Lindsay, for example), and yes, it can be wonderful both for self-affirmation and exposing the historical/cultural contingency of universalist assumptions of subjectivity and gender-identity – and (hopefully) the recognition that the interpretation of myth is never a neutral exercise. Having said that though, I equally have a few concerns with this project. One is that I would argue that the recovery/reading of queer myth itself requires a queer intervention in terms of analysing how myth operates within contemporary Paganisms. Secondly, that the interpretation of myth needs to avoid replicating the colonialist assumption that all mythic narratives reflect western subjectivities and concerns. Moreover, I don’t think that the recovery/reading of queer myth in itself will necessarily perturb the dominant heteronormative mythic discourses already present in contemporary Paganisms – if only due to the kind of ghetto-isation whereby they could be bracketed as “queer mysteries” of no interest or relevance to non-LGBT or queer practitioners.

  7. Joseph De Lappe
    Posted December 8th 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    “they could be bracketed as “queer mysteries” of no interest or relevance to non-LGBT or queer practitioners.”

    And that is their choice. My only regret is that so many LGBT practitioners spend so much time trying to cut off their corners to fit into the round holes mainstream paganism expects them to fit.

    Actually, as we’ve learnt at QPC over the years, polarity needn’t be a project if you don’t choose it to be…

  8. Rob
    Posted December 31st 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    Whereas Euro-centric pagan traditions do seem to have a more hetero-normative ideal, there are other traditions that are more open to transgender people. I have recently been reading an interesting book about third and fourth genders in different Native American tribes. It’s by a guy named Will Roscoe, the title is Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America.

    Often these individuals, far from being ostracized by the society they lived in, were embraced as having deeply spiritual roles to play within the community. A person transcending hir sexuality has a connection to certain shamanic mysteries, if only there is an accepting community in which to explore them.