The way of the Witch
The term Ban Draoi, as Gaeilge (in Irish), means female Druid, or druidic priestess. The etymology of the word has a long and complex past, there are some wonderful texts available that explore this. For now, I would like to share with you its meaning within my personal practice. As a modern day Witch, this term is central to my identity and is at the heart of my healing craft. To connect with the depth of the word wholeheartedly, offers a medium for weaving my magic into the world around me. Language is magic and Gaelic, evolved from a powerful root race language, is filled with potent energy. The power within the word Draoi echos all of the magical men and women who carry this mantle throughout time.
I was born in Ireland, in the 1980s, with my family tree going all the way back to the times of the High Kings of Ireland, perhaps further back still. Shifting through Drennan, O'Riordan, O'Driscoll on my mother's side, from Coyle, through McCarthy and O'Sullivan on my father's side. My blood is Celtic through and through. I have been raised on this land connected with its Faery, nature spirits, animal kingdoms, hedgerows, folklore and mythology since the moment of my first breath. My name, Cathy Coyle, in Irish is Cait Mac Giolla Chomhgaill.
Those that know me well will tell you, that I live and breathe myself into learning and reawakening the ways of a shamanic mushroom path. This is my craft, and I have dedicated myself to understanding, evolving, and establishing a strong lineage of mushroom medicine. This is the way of the hedge witch and her chosen poison path. A magical craft that is native to my lands. An ancient tool for communing with the divine, traveling beyond the veil, and accessing deep visionary states. This way of working with mushroom, many would argue, forms a cornerstone of a long lost Celtic Shamanic tradition.
In Europe today, the concept of witchcraft offers a platform for understanding our European shamanistic practices. In light of this I wanted to write this article to explore two concepts that are relevant to my personal witchcraft. The pillars of my craft are two-fold, at once Ban Draoi and also a Hekatean Witch. For many, these two pillars may at first seem at odds. For me, it is as natural as the air that I breathe.
In the beautiful book, "The Mist Filled Path" — Frank MacEowen, tells us, 'Undoubtedly, the terms draoi and ban-draoi are umbrella terms. A ban-draoi can be a midwife, a counselor, herbalist, a mediator, a diviner, a visionary guide, a bonesetter, or a healer. The same is, of course, true of the draoi.'
Similarly, in the book "Irish Witchcraft by an Irish Witch" renowned Ban Draoi, Lora O'Brien reflects: 'One term for the word witch, a female user of magic, is Bean Draoi (pronounced Ban Dree).'
To put it simply, I offer these previous two quotes to reflect my position. I am an Irish woman of Irish birth, descent and ancestry, who lives and works as a Witch on the land of Ireland. The word and energy which would be used to describe me in my native tongue is Ban Draoi. I wish to clearly put this forward for those gatekeepers that may question my entitlement to express myself through this term. On a practical level, my work in Ireland, as Ban Draoi, is deeply linked to my work with three principle markers; The Plant Kingdoms, The Sidhe & The Land itself — her rivers, mountains, forests, and sacred sites. My craft is deeply rooted within Faery tradition, with the Sidhe, being a key element in my continued initiation into the mysteries. While the deities of Ireland, such as the Morrigan, Airmed and Danu, continue to offer me guidance, mentorship, and blessing as I strive to remember my unique way of working with the magical currents of Eire.
When I was 16 years old, the Morrigan first appeared to me. Over the years, as I stepped in and out of my calling, she stayed with me, and I felt very strongly that she would be the Goddess that I would eventually pledge myself to. She taught me many things and was an ever-present guardian through some of the most challenging stages of my life. The Morrigan first brought me crow medicine. And Crow continues to be one of my core allies, spirit guides, totems, and familiars. Crow, is my eyes in the unseen, my messenger in all realms, my wings, my prophetic vision, and my healing touch.
When the mushroom first spoke to me, I was in the South African desert, dancing under the starlit sky. I was a million miles away from my homeland, when the visions came. Dancing around the flames of a giant burning effigy, I remembered. As I was catapulted through space and time, I suddenly found myself in a deep green forest, inside a sacred grove of Oaks, standing in a circle of hooded robed figures. At that moment, I knew, I had full recall of myself as a female druid. My body coursing with energy as I stood working in unison with my kin, working with pure untapped magic, on the land of Eire. That was the moment I came home, while dancing in the cradle of humanity, the birthplace of the world, in Africa. Here I remembered my true home, my lineage, and my gifts.
Over time my teachers appeared, and I went through training, initiation, and healing with the mushroom. The traditions of my brothers and sisters in the Americas, offering me the guidance of the Red Road, the vision quest. Where I could find space and time to commune with my own ancestors, to request their guidance, to honor their messages, and to listen to the secrets sleeping in my bones. When searching for pieces of a broken lineage, a lineage ripped from us, raped from us, starved and drowned out of our awareness, it is natural to look to the still intact traditions of our shamanic cousins around the world for guidance and tools. The pipe, the drum, and the rattle offer sacred blessings that can mirror our forgotten paths to us as we strive to align to the way of our ancestors. Great gifts of tobacco and concepts of dieta that can be applied to our own sacred trees, such as the oak, the Holly, Yew, and Hawthorn, are most honored and welcomed. The fine line here is not cultural appropriation. Instead, we recognize we are people trying to revive and re-learn a lost shamanistic tradition. This allows one to drop all judgment, to find reverence and respect as we strive to figure out how we can work with our lands in a way that is true to our unique calling.
And so I traveled, and I learned, and I searched, and my teacher came not in the jungles of Peru, or in the tundras of Siberia. It came through the mushroom's teachings at the feet of the mighty Holly, it came in the vastness of the desert where only the sky could call my name. Africa and Ireland, holding unique magic all their own, offering me vast spaces to remember my magical gifts and to unlock my practices as a Draoi.
Some time back, I was in conversation with a Khoi medicine man, and he told me of the druids visiting Africa, long before the Americas were founded, in a time when the Bushman held dominion over Southern Africa. Their medicines were revered across the globe. The druids traveled across the oceans long before De Gama sailed the Cape of Good Hope. These great wisdom keepers gathered around the fires, in the desert, in deep caves and atop mountains, to share their teachings and lore. This always struck me, despite the very little we know about the druids, we do know that they were scholars and mages of note. Who indeed traveled far and wide to collect and study vast systems of magic and healing. This energy of exploration is one I can deeply resonate with.
It is important here to note my path does not follow a neo-pagan system of Druidry. I also do not work under the patronage of a Celtic deity. For me, Ban Draoi is a fluid term. Reflecting my roots as an Irish healer and visionary medicine woman. I work with a system that is a culmination of traditional witchcraft — using folk magic, herblore, and nature-based traditions taught to me by the guardians and nature spirits of my place of birth. The term Draoi for me, at the most quintessential level, is about paying homage to my ancestral line. To the magical women who came before me, the cunning women, the midwives, healers, wise women, Faery women, and powerful women who could not stand in their true light because of the Catholic Church's dogma in this country. "Female user of magic."
Draoi is my way of honoring my bloodline while cultivating a collective awareness around the role of the Ban Draoi as a shamanistic/ witchcraft path. While also offering an expression of love for my mother tongue and country. There is often an assumption that as a Draoi I should craft within a certain framework, and primarily work with a Celtic deity. Perhaps were the dark mother to express herself through me in the form of the great Phantom Queen of Ireland, it would have opened me up to an entirely different way of working, but alas, it was not meant to be. I say this in light of some previous critics disapproval, that I didn't choose one of the "perfectly fine Irish Goddesses". Given the great pantheon at my 'disposal'! Anyone who comes with such a line of thought, please rest assured that a priestess does not choose the Goddess. The Goddess summons her daughters.
- The Mist-Filled Path: Celtic Wisdom for Exiles, Wanderers, and Seekers by Frank MacEowen
- Irish Witchcraft from an Irish Witch: True to the Heart by Lora O'Brien