A Gathering of Witches

The other week, my partner and I were in a tent, in a field, somewhere in deepest darkest Oxfordshire. The past couple of years we’ve attended the marvellous Druid Camp, but this year fancied something a bit different. Browsing through a copy of Pagan Dawn Magazine, an advert for something called the Artemis Gathering caught our eyes, so we booked our places there and then and prepared for a weekend in a field, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by witches. What could go wrong?

The camp is organised by the Children of Artemis, a Wiccan/Witchcraft organisation known for its public advocacy of Paganism, and its large gatherings. Now, neither my partner nor I are Wiccans, but this wasn’t an issue.

I’ve never felt called to Wicca as my personal spiritual path, but I have always been fascinated by Witchcraft. Healing with herbs, chanting spells under the full moon, dancing round a fire, stirring a cauldron – this sings to my soul, and even though my path is Druidry, I think that there is a lot of overlap between the two. The work of the Ovate especially with its focus on healing, divination and natural lore, seems very similar to what would have been carried out by the old cunning folk, or village witches.

Of course, there is a great deal of historical connection too: Gerald Gardner and Ross Nichols, the founders of modern Wicca and the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, were close friends and contributed ideas to each other’s works.

There were practical workshops (I got to make a wand!) and the speakers at the Gathering were excellent, including people I’ve been wanting to see give a talk for some time. Cat Treadwell, the self-described “token Druid”, gave a deeply inspiring and honest talk about mental health and finding magic in the mundane, and Professor Ronald Hutton was, as expected, a deeply compelling and brilliantly funny storyteller, taking us on a journey to the time the Mabinogion was first written.

With music from Damh the Bard and The Dolmen, the evenings in the main marquee/bar were rocking, even if I did have to head off early to bed on our last night!

But what left a lasting impression was the ritual element. I observed my first ever Wiccan ritual, which I won’t go into details about, but which was fascinating to watch. There were a lot of similarities with Druid ritual, and also some subtle differences in liturgy and theology.

There was an absolutely beautiful ritual by night with a fire procession, and a deeply moving fire and water working (and an amazing water goddess sculpture*), which was perfect. The rain which had been heaving down earlier cleared up just in time for the rite, and then started up again just as we got to our tent afterwards. If I were more inclined to believe in such things, I’d have said it was magic.

Unfortunately, the rain later got so bad that we packed up early and so missed some activities on the final day, but it was still a really worthwhile experience. I know that Children of Artemis do other events throughout the year in different regions, and I’d happily pop along to another in future.

Going to the Artemis Gathering hasn’t made me decide to become a witch, and it has confirmed for me that Druidry is the right path for me to walk, but it was great to experience another branch on the Pagan tree, and explore the more “witchy” side to my own practice.

*The Artemis Gathering had a no photography policy, so I wasn’t able to take any images of this, but you can see professional photos from previous years gatherings on the Event page here.

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