I recently finished reading Wicca and the Christian Heritage by Joanne Pearson (Routledge, 2007). As far as I know, Pearson is the first scholar to address the involvement of many early folks within the neo-pagan movement – Gerarld Gardner (founder of Wicca), Ross Nichols (founder of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids), etc. – with what we now call independent sacramental churches. She also examines points of connection in ritual and teaching between Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca on the one hand, and various forms of fringe Christianity and western esotericism on the other. To say the least, it is an interesting read.
Unfortunately (but perhaps unavoidably) Pearson draws heavily on an earlier generation of scholarship regarding independent churches – Anson, Brandreth, and the like. Thus, some of their mistakes and questionable (hostile) interpretations have crept into her work. I have written to her in hopes of starting a conversation about some of these matters. I also want to encourage her to provide copies of documents (ordination certificates and the like), whether in a future edition or on a website. For example, Pearson’s account of Gardner’s ordination is different from that of Morgan Davis – and only documentary evidence will finally sort it out.
Christian and Pagans are all too often hostile to one another. It is within the independent sacramental movement that I have seen some of the most hopeful signs of dialogue, understanding, reconciliation and/or cross-fertilization across this great divide. (See, for instance, the work of David Kling – “Fortitude of Spirit” on the blogroll.) Thus, it is very interesting to know that those who began the modern Pagan revival were often simultaneously taking some part in independent Christian groups – and apparently did not regard these traditions as mutually exclusive. In addition to those persons discussed in depth by Pearson, I cannot help but recall Dion Fortune who was resurrecting the Rites of Isis at the same time that she was celebrating the mass with the Guild of the Master Jesus!
To offer only one final tidbit – Most traditions within Wicca ordain most or all initiated members as priests and priestesses. Pearson engages in some intriguing speculation about the development of this practice, and its possible connections to Gardner’s experience in independent churches with a similarly mostly-ordained constituency. The possibility of historical causal influence in this practice had never occurred to me. However, I have often thought we might be able to learn something from our Wiccan cousins about how to run a religion with a volunteer clergy that includes most members. Pearson indicates that her next book is going to be about priest/esshood in Wicca, and I eagerly look forward to her further examination of these issues.