Ritual, Sex and Magic

By Joanne Pearson

Review by Sorita d’Este for Avalonia.co.uk
Reviewed December/January 2008

The title of this book, together with the fact that it was written by one of the leading “pagan” academics in the UK got me rather excited. In some of the research I have been conducting into the origins of the practices of the Wiccan Tradition I have found many surprising correlations to material found in Christian practices, more surprisingly some of the practices, invocations and rituals of Wicca seem to be directly “borrowed” from that found in Christianity. I assumed that this book would address some of these and many more issues, but that was not quite the case as Joanne Pearson’s research seems to have gone down a similar, yet parallel path to that which I expected to find.

The book has some unfortunate factual errors, which regrettably detract from its value as an academically sound work. For example on p.5 the author writes about Gerald Gardner’s library: “Twelve of Crowley’s works are listed among the library’s contents, along with Mather’s translation of the Key of Solomon (1888), Elic Howe’s The Magicians of the Golden Dawn (1922) …” The author Ellic Howe was born in 1912, he was 10 years old in 1922, the book in question was published in 1972 by which time Gardner had been dead for 8 years! On p.77 the author states that Aleister Crowley got involved with the O.T.O (Ordo Templi Orientis) in 1910, when in fact he first became involved with this order which he is now synonymous a couple of years later. On p.23 the author discusses the usage of the term “Old Religion” seemingly unaware of its use by Scott in 1582, which is a rather shocking oversight for a book on Christianity and Witchcraft, as Scott (Discoverie of Witchcraft) in my opinion is one of the standard texts from which to start such a project.

Nevertheless, the book does provide some interesting material for readers interested in theology or in some of the lesser known religious and spiritual affiliations of Gerald Gardner, who is generally acknowledged today as the “father of modern Witchcraft” as he was, in part, responsible for the revival thereof. Pearson explores in depth the involvement of Gerald Gardner in the “Ancient British Church” believed by some to be the only Christian Church in the British Isles during the first five centuries CE, and the influence this experience could have had on the development of Gardnerian Wicca. Likewise his friendship with Ross Nichols, the man responsible for the modern revival and popularity of Druidry, as well as Gardner’s own interest in Druidry is explored.

I found the chapter on Sex and the Sacred to be interesting for the authors views on the subject. In this chapter she supports her own views with quotations from a number of esoteric authors, though personally I find the conflation of the use of the scourge, ritual nakedness and bondage to be a bit confusing. Though these may on a superficial level hint at sexuality, they don’t in reality reflect sexual practices or beliefs in the tradition. It is refreshing to see them addressed from a different angle however. Even here though, it is frustrating to note some obvious oversights in regards to research which could have supported the author’s theories even more – for example, she links the idea of scourging to Christianity, but seems to be unaware that the use of 40 strokes (as used in initiation ceremonies) has its parallels in Judaism, where 40 was the maximum number of times someone would be whipped as punishment. But to be fair, this is an obscure bit of biblical information we unearthed as part of our own research on the origins of Wiccan practices.

This book for me makes an interesting addition to the work and research done by Prof. Ronald Hutton (Triumph of the Moon) and Philip Heselton (Gerald Gardner & the Cauldron of Inspiration; Wiccan Roots). It compliments and adds to the material made available by these two authors and in my opinion, regardless of the factual errors, provides additional material for consideration and study for practitioners of Wicca and is certainly a book I would recommend to initiates wishing to explore the origins of their tradition in more depth. It provides a great deal of interesting tangential research, ideas and opinions – certainly worth getting, and in my opinion keeping.