Art begins with craft, and there is no art until craft has been mastered. You can’t create until you’re willing to subordinate the creative impulses to the constriction of a form.Anthony Burgess

Churches, Incorporation and Ministries

I did not see why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster. Henry David Thoreau, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”

While Traditional Wicca has no laity, its priests and priestesses do often serve ministerial rôles to fellow priests, in such regards as performing nuptial and funereal rites, as well as some performing these rôles for cowans. Innovative Witches have not only followed suit, but are probably leading the trend in this regard.

The legal implications of doing so, varies considerably from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions allow people of any religion to register to be able to perform weddings, that are also recognised as state weddings, some allow for no such overlap between religious and state authority, and require all weddings to be registered separately to any religious ceremony, some jurisdictions have a state religion which has precedence over others, and some allow the ministers of the largest religions in their jurisdiction to register legal marriages, as a matter of logistical convenience.

The political implications of being allowed or denied to do so, necessarily depends on which of these cases is in effect. To not be allowed to where no other religious figure can, clearly involves no discrimination, whereas being denied this in a jurisdiction where other religious figures can, at the very least requires some further explanation from the authorities.

In serving people outside of one’s coven, witches are acting in the same manner as ministers serving a laity. Just as the circumstances of solitary practitioners leads them to abandon the coven model, so too can there be a desire to go in the opposite direction, and move away from small tight groups of priests, which are at least nominally or potentially secret, towards completely adopting the model of a lay congregation being served by priests acting as ministers. If nothing else, the fact that having such a model of ministers serving a congregation is common in other religions, could suffice to make adoption of this model attractive to those familiar with them.

Such models increase the advantages, or at the very least the perceived advantages, in obtaining whatever legal status other Churches have, in a given jurisdiction. Again, difficulty in doing so could be due to an instance of discrimination. However, even in the absence of any such difficulty, or in a jurisdiction where such difficulties could arise for other reasons, obtaining legal status, (of just about any sort), for organisations, for individual officers of an organisation, or for independently-operating ministers, is seen has having political value to the Pagan community.

While the examination of Identity Politics above focused on the question of representations of a given group, in the sense of how it is portrayed, two other focii of Identity-based analysis are representation, in the sense of the community in question being able to bring its concerns to various forums, and that of recognition.

Recognition is at the heart of the matter.… Identity turns on the interrelated problems of self-recognition and recognition by others. Recognition is vital to any reflexivity, for example, any capacity to look at oneself, to choose one’s actions and see their consequences, and to hope to make oneself something more or better than one is. This component of recognition may be the aspect of identity made most problematic by the social changes of modernity.1

As such, a license to perform a wedding isn’t solely of value because one can then perform a wedding, and obtaining a non-profit status for a religious organisation isn’t solely of value because one need then pay less tax. It is as important, if not even more important, in first requiring recognition from the authorities in question, and then standing as evidence of such recognition, that can be used in further battles for recognition.

Books aimed at beginners will often mention US Code 26 § 501(c)(3), the provision in the US Internal Revenue Code that exempts certain non-profit organisations from federal income taxes. The practical advantage of this is, of course, related to how much federal income tax an organisation is paying, in turn related to how much income the organisation has. For a small group where there is no tithing, and costs are met without the offices of a treasurer, (for example, by people merely topping up any supplies they realise are low, or by round-robin, or pot-luck approaches), the advantage is nil. Yet beginners are being presented with such details of federal taxation of Churches, with Amber K’s Covencraft2 even detailing questions her group had to deal with, in applying for 501(c)(3) status, from which one can only deduce, and expect the readers to deduce, that applying for such status is being encouraged, or at least suggested as likely to be of value.

Applying the same approach in other jurisdictions means doing so in a different context, where the value may differ. The Aquarian Tabernacle Church states that its Irish chapter, “received governmental recognition there as the first (and only) officially Wiccan/Pagan church in Ireland.”3 While there is such a recognised organisation in Ireland, how much can a state be said to recognise a religion when its constitution states, “The State guarantees not to endow any religion,”4 and in particular had removed previous statements recognising particular religions:

44.1.2 The State recognises the special position of the Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church as the guardian of the Faith professed by the great majority of the citizens.

44.1.3 The State also recognises the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland, as well as the Jewish Congregations and the other religious denominations existing in Ireland at the date of the coming into operation of this Constitution.5

In light of this, the removal of recognition of certain religions, by the Fifth Amendment, stands as an important step in bringing the Irish state to a position that is likely more comfortable for Pagans, than prior to 1972, and attempts to seek recognition from the state are perhaps a step backwards. American witches have sought to acquire artefacts of recognition that other religions enjoy, it does not follow that witches elsewhere should necessarily follow suit, given that the artefacts of such status will differ.

[Calhoun 1994]
[K 1998]
Article 44.2.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann.
Articles 44.1.2 & 3 of Bunreacht na hÉireann prior to their removal by the Fifth Amendment, 1972.