Over the past thirty years Wicca has been explored by scholars in a variety of fields. Anthropologists have found within it fertile ground for a new investigation of magic, a subject which has appeared in anthropological literature since its beginnings as a discipline,1 and Wicca has appeared in the ethnographies of Paganism which have emerged in the last decade.2 Historians have regarded it as an 'undiscovered country', a religion or spirituality with little knowledge of its own origins and thus ripe for investigation.3 Sociologists have categorised it in terms of earlier studies of occult deviance,4 or have regarded it as a signifier of closure in the late/high modernism-postmodernism debate.5 The present book is primarily a work of cultural and religious history. This is partly as a result of assessing the literature on Wicca produced over the past twelve years, and partly as a consequence of looking back at my own contribution to that literature. In the former, I detected a distinct tendency to sublimate or otherwise negate the role of Christianity in the historical and contemporary contexts of Wicca.6 In the latter, I recognised traces of an interest in the various contributions to Wicca that might be accredited to Christianity. The present study thus had a long gestation period, which with hindsight I am now able to recognise.
My first academic conference was also one that I organised - Nature Religion Today, hosted by Lancaster University at their Ambleside centre in April 1996. Here, the Christian theologian Linda Woodhead presented a paper in which she outlined an argument suggesting that Wicca was not a new religion, but a new reformation. Also present was the Wiccan priestess and scholar Vivianne Crowley, who delivered a paper on Wicca as Nature Religion. In this paper, she discussed the attraction of Wicca, speculating 'that Wicca's emphasis on the feminine in the form of the Goddess and its use of ritual might be more novel and therefore attractive features to those of a Protestant background' (Crowley, 1998: 171). In the process of editing the book that emerged from the conference, I was reminded of this again and became increasingly convinced that there might be something in it. Possibly this was because my own religious upbringing had been within a Methodist church which seemed to me to be devoid of any ritual. At the same time, however, I was receiving responses to a questionnaire I had circulated in 1995 and 1996, which seemed to suggest that it was not just my own personal feelings and that there could be some truth in Crowley's assertion. Aside from the early modern association of witches with a conspiracy against Christendom, and the identification of 'Pagan' as non- or anti-Christian, I was also becoming aware of the prevalence of esoteric and heterodox Christianity among key figures in the occult world of late-Victorian England and fin de siècle France.7 In this world, only Aleister Crowley and Helena Blavatsky seemed virulently anti-Christian, and even in these cases fault was laid at the door of the Church rather than at the foot of the cross.
In a paper delivered at the Sociology of Religion conference held at Exeter University in April 2000, I therefore raised questions concerning the relationship between Wicca and Christianity. I had noted the very small number of respondents of Catholic background to my questionnaire, together with the fact that responses from Europe outside Britain arrived from Wiccans in Scandinavia, Germany and the Netherlands rather than Spain, Portugal and Italy,8 and this suggested that Vivianne Crowley's speculation might be correct. I sought to explore the relationship between Wicca and Christianity in two ways. The first was to outline the location of Wicca in the religious milieu of the late twentieth century, noting the spectrum of Wiccan responses to Christianity, from outright rejection to involvement in interfaith forums. The second was to provide a few examples of the ways in which Christianity and occultism were either combined or considered compatible by members of those magical orders which were influential in the development of Wicca. Since it formed only a small part of a much broader paper - later published as a chapter in an edited volume from the conference proceedings in 2003 (Pearson, 2003 a) - this exploration was limited to a section of just over a thousand words. It seemed to me, even at the time, to warrant deeper investigation.
Processes of de-Christianisation in post-Revolutionary France and Victorian Britain have been well documented in scholarly and other literature.9 Likewise, the place of esoteric Christianity in the occult subculture of Britain and France from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries has been included in studies of occultism, witchcraft and Wicca.10 What is left unnoted, however, is the prevalence of practising and lapsed Roman Catholics within this occult subculture, and the latter's overlap with Anglo-Catholicism and heterodox forms of Christianity. The first omission may well be in keeping with the general tendency in British scholarship to dismiss Roman Catholicism as irrelevant and to ignore its influence on the development of modern society. As David Blackbourn has pointed out, the Roman Catholic Church has been consigned to an historiographical ghetto for the past two centuries:
[h]istorians in the mainstream have commonly considered Catholicism, if they considered it at all, as a hopelessly obscurantist force at odds with the more serious isms that have shaped the modern age.11
(Blackbourn, 1991: 779)
This situation, as he notes, is now changing, with studies being produced which do concern themselves with the interaction between church, culture and society in the years after the French Revolution, and it is of course an essential component of the study of sixteenth-century Europe. However, it is as a result of the ascendancy of Protestantism in England during that century that the impact of Roman Catholicism has tended to be marginalised or ignored. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that Roman Catholics and the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, equally as important elements in the Christian subculture of Victorian England as Christian esotericism, remain largely unconsidered in historical studies of Wicca's antecedents. Even less noticed are the heterodox variants of Christianity that also formed part of both the Christian and occult subcultures.
The present work thus seeks to explore a part of Wiccan history that has only recently come to light. The involvement of Gerald Gardner in traditions of Christian heterodoxy has been noted only to be dismissed. However, with the work of Jone Salomonsen (2002) revealing the dual religious identities of Jewish and Catholic witches, and Kathryn Rountree's recent study of witches and pagans operating within the mainstream Roman Catholic culture of Malta (2006), it seems to me to be time to explore the Christian inheritance of Wicca in greater detail. At the same time, expressions of marginality by Anglican priests perhaps indicate that the borderlands traditionally associated with the 'other' have shifted, and that it is time to explore these marginal regions.
I should like to thank the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) for providing me with a grant under their Research Leave Scheme that finally gave me the time to complete this work, and my former colleagues at Liverpool Hope University who enabled me to take this leave despite having been there for a very short time. Jennifer Monds and Helen Tandy at Sarum College Library have been immensely helpful, as have staff at Cardiff University Library in facilitating access to early books in the Salisbury Collection. I should like to thank the Dean and Chapter of Salisbury Cathedral for granting access to the Cathedral library, and Suzanne Edward for being so accommodating. At Routledge, my thanks to all who have contributed to the book's production, especially Lesley Riddle, Senior Editor for Religious Studies and Theology, and Gemma Dunn, Editorial Assistant; both have been immensely supportive and encouraging.
Ronald Hutton has supported and encouraged my career since postgraduate days. My thanks to him for sharing ideas, for his willingness to offer comments and feedback on drafts, and for opening up the field of Wiccan history to an extent that I had not imagined possible back in 1995. Although far removed from the thesis submitted for my PhD at the end of 1999, my supervisor Richard H. Roberts will no doubt understand how much he not only helped me through that process but also enabled the present work to be conceived. Geoffrey Samuel and Santi Rozario have been great friends and inspiring academic companions now for over a decade, and I thank them for many conversations, and for Geoffrey's willingness to respond to emails simply entitled 'Help!'. Kathryn Rountree shared with me some of her thoughts on witches and pagans in Malta at the tail-end of the process of writing this book, which provided me with an invigorating boost. I very much look forward to the publication of the book based on her fieldwork.
My thanks for the encouragement of the Church of England clergy who took part in my workshop on 'Pagans and Christians in the Twenty-First Century' at the Diocese of Salisbury Conference in Derbyshire in July 2006, as this book was drawing to a close, and to all at Salisbury Cathedral from whom I have learned so much. Long live bonfires at dawn! Thanks to Dave, Allan and John who shared memories of earlier forums that enabled Wiccans and Christians to talk together, and to Steve, Fred, and Fiona for useful comments along the way, and particularly to Philip Heselton, who provided me with valuable information as well as copies of Gerald Gardner's ordination certificate. Indeed, to those who trained me and to all the Wiccans whom I have met and worked with over the past twelve years, my heartfelt thanks.
I acknowledge here a great debt to my parents. I have only recently come to appreciate what a gift it is to have been given time and space to read, think and study, which they always ensured I had. Without their encouragement and belief in me I would not be where I am today. To my beloved husband, Paul, I owe a huge debt of gratitude. It was he who first showed me that ritual does indeed exist within Christianity, and without the constant ability to ransack his brain as well as his library, this book simply couldn't have been written. This book is dedicated to him.
Pages 2-6 of the Introduction to this book contain a proportion of material previously included in a chapter entitled 'The History and Development of Wicca and Paganism' in Joanne Pearson (ed.) (2002b) Belief Beyond Boundaries: Wicca, Celtic Spirituality and the New Age. It is reprinted here by permission of Ashgate Publishing Ltd. A small amount of the material in Chapter 4 was originally part of a conference paper for 'William James and The Varieties of Religious Experience: Centenary Conference in Celebration of the 1901-1902 Gifford Lectures', held at Old College, University of Edinburgh in July 2002. It was later published in CrossCurrents, Fall, 2003, 53(3): 413-23. Part of Chapter 5 began life as a paper delivered at the conference 'Dangerous Sex: Contesting the Spaces of Theology and Sexuality', held at the University of Glasgow in April 2002. I should like to thank Alison Jasper and Heather Walton for providing me with the opportunity to air my thoughts in such an encouraging environment. The paper was published in an article entitled 'Inappropriate Sexuality? Sex Magic, S/M, and Wicca (or "Whipping Harry Potter's Arse!")', in Theology & Sexuality, 11(2): 31-42. Material drawn from it is reprinted here by permission of SAGE Publications Ltd (SAGE Publications, 2005). A portion of Chapter 6 was delivered as 'Magic, Witchcraft and Occultism in Contemporary Paganism', a keynote lecture for the Dutch Association for the Study of
Religion Annual Conference, in Utrecht, in May 2003. It was subsequently published in the association's newsletter, Nederlands Genootschap voor Godsdienstwetenschap, Nieuwsbrief 2004/2, pp. 3-16. I am deeply grateful to Wouter Hanegraaff for inviting me to this stimulating conference.
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