Sunday, October 17, 2010
An interview with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone by Bernadette Montana
An interview with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone by Bernadette Montana
October 17th, 2010 | Author: Bernadette-Montana
Today’s interview is with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. The contributions that they have given to the pagan community over these many years, are too numerous for me to mention here. I would suggest printing out this interview for future use as a teaching aid, or as adjunct to the course that both Janet and Gavin teach, here at Sacred Mists. Enjoy!
How do you feel Wicca has changed over the years? I know that your stance has changed over the years, how has your approach changed over these many years and why?
Janet and Gavin:
It’s changed considerably since both of us came into the Craft in the 1970’s and ‘80’s. When Janet came in there were hardly any books specifically on witchcraft/wicca. There were no contact networks, and very few open covens or study groups around. If you were interested in witchcraft and found a coven, you were lucky. Also, people didn’t differentiate between what was wicca and what was witchcraft. In everyone’s mind at the time, the 1960’s and ‘70’s they were the same thing. It was the same when Gavin joined the Craft in the early to mid eighties, although things were beginning to change, with more networks and open groups advertising. Regarding the practise in covens, it was pretty basic. What you got taught was simple circle casting, spellcraft, wheel of the year etc. It never went much deeper than that. We noticed this begin to change in the ‘80’s and into the ‘90’s with covens having more systemised systems of training. Now it’s taken as read, that if you join a coven then you can expect a more intense form of training than we both received. This has been one of the more positive things we have seen, but on the negative side, we have also seen growing divisions and semantics, even the terms ‘witch’ and ‘wiccan’ are now in many people’s minds beginning to mean very different things. This certainly didn’t exist when we came into the craft, nor did the emphasis of lineage or the term British Traditional Witchcraft exist, this seems to be being used today to separate the Alexandrian and Gardnerian traditions in the United States from solitary practitioners and other traditions of wicca which do not come from Gardnerian origins. We even heard recently that ‘you cannot be a wiccan unless you have received initiation in a Gardnerian or Alexandrian coven, otherwise you are just a witch’. Well, both of us remember when they use to say ‘anyone can be a wiccan but to be a witch you have to be initiated into a coven’. So somewhere along the line people keep changing the parameters.
In end we feel words like ‘wiccan’, ‘witch’ etc. are just words. What is important is actually what you do, and why you do it. We’ve met some ‘witches’ who’ve had all the correct lineage, initiations etc. but haven’t had a clue, and then we’ve met solitary self-initiates who just have it! Some people say that this is a change in stance, as you put it, but actually it’s not. We’ve always felt this way. Certainly Stewart did. He never judged anyone’s right to be a witch on whether they had been ‘properly prepared’ or initiated by the right person. For that matter, neither did the Mother of Wicca, Doreen Valiente. If we had taken a more dogmatic approach like this, we would never have written the books that we did.
Although our stance on such things as lineage etc. has stayed the same, certainly our approach and methods have changed. I think that this has occurred from the fact that we have been lucky enough to travel around the world meeting witches across the globe, and more importantly many native traditions. It’s made us more open and given us an overview which has allowed us to see that there is a common core of practise to all folk magic traditions, and all these traditions, worldwide have their mysteries. This has made us put more emphasis on spirit more than anything else in the way we work and teach. For us now, the most important thing is to teach witches how to connect and communicate with the Goddesses and Gods, knowing that once they have done that, it is the Gods who will teach them what they need to know. This doesn’t mean that training isn’t important, we just believe that the deities are better teachers than us.
In what direction would you like to see the pagan community go?
Janet and Gavin:
We both feel that people need to get over ‘the words’. Regardless of whether you consider yourself witch/wiccan, Druid, Asatru or Shaman, we have more in common than we do in differences. Our belief structures are basically the same, although we follow different paths within that structure of belief. So this is one direction we hope the Pagan Community will go in, less criticism of other paths and the realisation that labels should be just that, and should not dictate what your beliefs are, not the reverse. Although we agree with the idea of Pagan Churches for legal protection and as gateways for those coming onto the pagan path, we would hate to see them became dogmatic and doctrine orientated. We hope they will just act as Outer Temples for existing covens, groves etc. They should really just be useful umbrellas for the community. Most of all, I suppose we would like to see more tolerance in the community for other’s paths through the realisation that our real strength isn’t in us believing or doing the same things, but in our diversity just as you see in nature. After all, we are a nature based religion.
Can you explain what “progressive witchcraft” means?
Janet and Gavin:
Well, it’s not a tradition! A few people have made that mistake, assuming we were describing a new tradition of witchcraft, we are not. It’s a philosophical approach more than anything; a way of looking at wicca in a new way (or an old way depending on your viewpoint). It’s a realisation that witchcraft is not a static tradition but one, which evolves and progresses over time. If you look at folk traditions around the world they are ALL eclectic, they all absorb magical techniques from wherever they can. It’s the same with modern witchcraft, wicca. If you look at even the Gardnerian and Alexandrian traditions they are a mixture of traditions from all over Europe cobbled together. There are elements of ceremonial high magick/Hebraic, Basque, Etruscan/Italian etc, all in what is supposedly called British Traditional. What is important is what you are trying to achieve in witchcraft, not the method – progressive witchcraft is a realisation of that as a process, summed up in one of the most important phrases used in wicca: ‘if it works use it!’ Gardnerian and Alexandrian witchcraft certainly aren’t at odds with this idea of an evolving tradition; both have evolved over the last few decades, and most sensible initiates of those traditions are aware of that.
A progressive witchcraft practitioner also realises that what is at the centre of witchcraft, is its heart. This is the most important thing, divinity and spirit. This is why the act of Drawing Down the Moon is so unique to the modern witchcraft movement. It has since the 1950’s been moving away from the doctrines and dogmas forced on it by the Judaeo-Christian culture it had been forced to grow up in; the idea that you can only reach God (or Goddess) through a priest (or priestess), and that the divine is not reachable for all. Progressive witchcraft puts the Gods and Goddesses as the centre of witchcraft. You’ll notice we use the terms Gods and Goddesses in the plural, because modern witchcraft has been slowly moving it’s way back to it’s polytheistic roots since the 1950’s as it grows more spiritually aware. This process has made it possible to connect individually and personally with deity – before the 1990’s you rarely came across people in wicca saying that they were Priest or Priestess of an individual deity – this is part of that evolution. Because of this connection ultimately initiation must be an act of personal gnosis with the divine as a God or Goddess, although this does not exclude the validity of the initiatory passage rites for entering covens or for advancing through the degree system, although clearly it is ultimately more important. Degree systems, styles of ritual and magic merely become aids to this process.
I was honored to have been able to take in a bunch of your workshops. There is more of a “shamanistic” feel to your classes and less focus on the “dogma” that I have seen in some traditions. Can you tell us why?
Janet and Gavin:
When both of us came into the Craft we were taught that Ceremonial High Magick WAS witchcraft. Some of this was because of a lack of training system in witchcraft, so the witches of the 1950’s and ‘60’s just used what was available – this does of course prove our above point regarding witchcraft adapting and evolving what works. The problem was of course, is that Ceremonial High Magick still hangs on to many Judaeo-Christian concepts which have to a certain degree held wicca back. Unfortunately, when you are taught that ceremonial magick is witchcraft anything that is actually more traditional witchcraft, looks shamanic from your viewpoint. We think that it’s also important to point out that the ancient practises of witchcraft derive directly from shamanic practise. If you look at what witches were accused of in the Middle Ages, the same could apply just easily to the shamans of today – communicating with spirits, and animal familiars etc. Witchcraft is really just the evolution of the shamanism of the hunter-gatherer culture when agriculture became the more predominant means of survival and man moved into permanent village structure.
We realised that if we took the approach that we did, that we would have to teach methods which underlined all magical practise, as we say ‘it’s not enough to teach the witch how to drive, they have to know how the engine works’. If you came and saw what we did in our coven it would probably be familiar to anyone with Gardnerian or Alexandrian backgrounds. What is important is what you aren’t seeing. The magical and spiritual work which is going on internally. This is what we now teach, by teaching two systems, which integrate with each other, magical energy work and spiritual cosmology. How you clothe your practise, whether in Egyptian symbolism, Celtic, Norse, Anglo-Saxon, Greek is really just the icing on the cake, which gets your magical saliva going! What is important is what is going on beneath. We found ourselves teaching so many people from different paths we felt it was important to create a system, which would work for all cultural magical backgrounds. Even in our coven these teachings are at the core, along with the essential deity connection work, which they complement.
What does the word “witch” mean to the both of you?
Janet and Gavin:
For us the word ‘witch’ means someone who is a Pagan Priestess or Priest of a divinity, who practises magic for the well being of their community. This traditionally takes the form of healing work, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. Everyone assumes, quite correctly that the word witch first appeared in the middle ages, but the concept of the witch goes back much further. In Greek literature the stygian and more importantly, the Lydian Witches are mentioned. The Lydian witches seemed to have much in common with the Pythoness of Delphi, as well as the Maenads of Dionysus. For us, a witch is therefore Dionysian in his or her practise rather than Apollonian. That the witch uses ecstatic states in magic as much as ritual.
What advice do you have for teachers and leaders today?
Janet and Gavin:
You are still learning, just as your students are. Also, it is not the role of the teacher or leader to encourage their student to take one specific spiritual path, particularly the path you are on but to encourage them to find their own path. If you don’t know something you need to say it, teaching and leadership isn’t about knowing things, it’s about leading, particularly by example and if you can’t be honest, then you can’t expect your students to be honest either. Personal integrity is therefore everything if you are a teacher or leader.
We both believe that good leaders are normally the ones who really don’t want the job. They get appointed by their communities and/or naturally evolve into the position. Just because you’re an author, that doesn’t naturally make you a teacher or leader, nor does taking a course in leadership or having degrees, wiccan or academic. It is something inherent in you, in your character, which has either been there since you were born or you has become instilled in you due to experience.
Ultimately though being a teacher or leader is about service, not self-service. There is no room for overblown ego. You are a servant of your community or group, and of course the gods you serve, and this needs to be something that you are always consciously aware of when you interact with your community.
I wanted to touch on a bit of history here. I feel that many people today know very little about who our elders are and know even less about history. You are a huge part of this history.
Janet and Gavin:
It worries us that the level of historical knowledge of the Craft among this new generation of Pagans, and witches is generally is so poor. It’s leading to some of the problems we are having particularly with an understanding of where the words witch and wicca come from. This lack of knowledge is resulting in some of the tensions and the prejudices that are emerging between those who claim to be traditional and those who follow a more organic path. I think we’ll probably go into a bit more on this in one of your later questions on Gardner and the origins of the word wicca. It will give you an understanding of the problem.
As for Stewart and my self’s history, we were both initiated by Alex Sanders in the early 1970’s. We took our first, second and third degree’s with him all within less than two years. That was pretty much the norm with Alex and Maxine in those days. He brought you and in, and then encouraged you to start new groups as soon as possible. Although we had received all the training material of the period, we were unhappy with what we were being taught and the lack of understanding, so we went off and pretty much did our own thing. We stayed Alexandrian in name only. In those days, the use of tradition names was about who initiated you, not what you did in circle. We dropped the name when this began to change, particularly stateside. We are still Alexandrian by initiation, but not in our practise.
Much of what people know of Wicca today stems from your book “a Witches Bible”. In fact, this is required reading in my own coven. Where did much of your information come from? How much of this information come from Doreen Valiente, from Gerald Gardner, or Crowley?
Well, I (Janet) think it’s important to point out that those two books that made up A Witches Bible are now 30 years old! What is in those books was what we did then, not what necessarily do now. Both Stewart and myself, and then with Gavin evolved our practises and our teachings.
Much of the material for the book in the way of the ‘frame’ for ritual structure, came from Doreen Valiente, and obviously what we had been taught by Alex Sanders. I should point out that Stewart and myself published this material not only with Doreen’s permission but with her assistance. Her view was that she wrote it, therefore she had the right to publish it or give permission to publish. Obviously, there were elements of Gardner’s rituals and those that came from Crowley’s works, which you can find in all Books of Shadows of Gardnerians/Alexandrian origin. What Doreen did is rewrite them, and make them work.
The actual festivals in the books, these came from us, as did also the Birth, Marriage and Death Rites. These were all written by Stewart and myself. Both of us found the Sabbats in the Book of Shadows we were given by Alex and Doreen extremely lacking in content. In some cases they were just a paragraph. Stewart decided, in his own words ‘to put some meat on the bones’! We drew inspiration for them from two sources, Robert Grave’s White Goddess and Maíra McNeill’s Festival of Lughnasa. It was from Grave’s that we incorporated The Oak King, Holly King Cycle. No one had written this into the Book of Shadows before our introduction of it in Eight Sabbats for Witches/A Witches Bible, although as a result of our work it was incorporated in to the practises of many covens, and Druidic Groves. The Irish Celtic Elements of the festivals we introduced from a book called the Festival of Lughnasa. This book was a rather obscure tome that most people had never heard of, but a goldmine of information for Stewart and myself, as it dealt with the traditional seasonal festivals here in Ireland.
We also introduced the Handfasting, the Requiem and the Wiccaning. In fact, Stewart coined the term Wiccaning. We wrote all these rituals in Eight Sabbats/A Witches Bible, as we felt it was important to have these passage rites included in the wiccan repertoire. Certainly people were already doing handfastings, but no one had introduced them into the Book of Shadows as part of the rites, but the wiccaning and requiem were both completely new and originated from us.
On one occasion I remember Stewart being presented with a Book of Shadows from an Alexandrian witch who had been told by Alex Sander’s that all the material in it was ‘from an old traditional source’. After flicking through it, it was obvious that inside it was most of the material we had researched and written in Ireland. Stewart was tickled pink at being called ‘an old and traditional source’. Later on though, we were faced with the odd situation of being accused by people using these rites of ‘breaking oath’ because we had published this material. They had been led, or rather misled to believe by their teachers that this was original BOS material. Although Stewart wasn’t really bothered by what people said, he always wished people would actually read his foot and endnotes, and then they would have been aware of where the material in Eight Sabbats/A Witches Bible had actually been sourced. Because of these accusations, I have always felt that Stewart has never really got the credit he deserved for introducing these rites or the Holly King/Oak King cycle into wicca and druidism.
It was my understanding that Gardner came up with the word “Wicca”, what influenced him?
Janet and Gavin:
We would disagree with the idea that Gardner came up with the word wicca, although he certainly popularized its use. The word already existed in old English/Anglo-Saxon and can be found in the Laws of Laws of Alfred which date to circa 890, as the word wicca (pronounced wysh–a) as the feminine form, and wiccae (pronounced wysh-ay) as the masculine. Clearly Gardner mispronounced it. He tried to apply the celtic hard ‘cc’, when in fact it uses the soft anglo-saxon ‘cc’. We have always used in its original ancient context, as did most of our generation. Obviously the word witch derives from it not the other way. So if you are a witch by pure etymology you are a wicca or a wicce. We think that Gardner was keen to use that word to try and separate the concept of the witch from the churches propaganda of the middle ages, not to create a new tradition – from his books he clearly thought he was following an old one.
Gardner’s keenness to ‘recreate’ an old tradition was probably spurred by his travelling around the world, to such places as Ceylon, Malaysia etc. where he came across the magical folk traditions still alive. After reading the works of Margaret Murry he became convinced that this tradition was still active in the British Isles, although in hiding. It is our viewpoint that he never found any complete tradition but fragments, which he welded together with the ritual magick of the period.
You were initiated by Alex Saunders, what were the main differences between the way these two men practiced? Can you talk a little bit about how Stewart felt about Wicca then and what direction, he would have liked to see it go?
Janet and Gavin:
From the research I have been involved in over the years I have begun to realize that although there were differences between them, there were also similarities. From my own experiences with Alex and from conversations with Doreen, both men clearly loved the Goddess, although they also both loved the attention of the media, and at different times it got them both into trouble! As for their motivation, I think that may have been slightly different. In the case of Gardner I think he was keen to put forward a positive view of witchcraft, while in the case of Alex it came over quite strongly that most of his involvement with the media seemed to be primarily about self-promotion. To be fair, I did think this changed, as he got older and a bit wiser. The major difference was magically. Gardner was definitely more folk tradition orientated – low church, as opposed to Sander’s who definitely leaned more towards Judaeo-Christian ceremonial magic – high church. I think we still see this today in the two major strands of wicca, Gardnerian and Alexandrian which still follow the paths set by their founders, although from what I can gather, Gardnerian has slowly moved more towards High Magick over the years.
Doreen once said to me that Gardner had said to her that he believed that wicca was going to die out by the end of the ‘60’s, because there were ‘too many chiefs and not enough Indians.’ Oddly, I think Sander’s also recognised this, and compensated for it by initiating as many people as possible. I don’t think if the two men had ever met they would have necessarily been at odds with each other, but there would definitely have been problems between them due to their class difference. While that may not have been an issue in some places, it was in Britain in the 1960’s. Alex did not have the best of educations, being from a working class background, as opposed to Gardner’s Middle Class upbringing.
Stewart always leaned towards the mid-ground between Sanders and Gardner. He loved ritual and ceremony, and it being done correctly, but also loved the folk tradition aspect – he liked ‘tradition’. Regardless, Stewart always believed in wicca becoming more open and all encompassing, he believed in the concept of ‘The Global Village’ as he called it. He thoroughly supported such organisations as the Pete Pathfinders Aquarian Tabernacle Church, and he was proud that we were members. He felt such organisations were the future of witchcraft, and would lead it into this new millennia.
Gavin, can you tell us what where some of your main influences where? I’d love to hear about your beginnings as a pagan, and how things have changed for you over the years?
Janet and Gavin:
Well, my mother always called me ‘her little heathen’ because somehow I was never baptised. My mother was a lapsed Roman Catholic who always had a love of ceremony and ritual, although I also have fond memories of her, when I was young going to psychics, tarot readers etc. We use to go to Unexplained Festivals together, where all sorts of subjects were covered from UFO’s and Roswell, through to crypto zoology and psychic research. She always had an interest in ‘the unknown’ so some of that rubbed off on me.
When I reached the point in my life where I started to examine my beliefs, well, Christianity simply didn’t work for me. It made no sense whatsoever in how I viewed the world. My earlier interests led to an obvious interest in magic and psychism, which eventually led to me becoming involved in our nearby Spiritualist Temple. I use to go there regularly for healing, and it was there that one of the healers picked up on the fact that I was a natural (empathic) healer; I was the kid who had animals follow him home! Alongside the spiritualist influence, I also read on just about every aspect of occultism. I had my own belief structure, which had aspects of several traditions in it, polytheism and karma from Hinduism, reincarnation from Buddhism, the concept of polarity (yin and yang) from Taoism, plus that interest in psychism and magic.
Very soon my book collection began to grow. I didn’t consider myself pagan at this stage, not until I picked up my first serious book on modern witchcraft, Doreen Valiente’s ABC of Witchcraft. You have to remember that back in the early ‘80’s there were very few serious books on the subject of wicca. It was Doreen Valiente’s book which gave my own belief structure a name – wicca. From that point on I knew what I was, that my beliefs had a name. For several years, I literally just read everything I could and practised by myself, then in the mid ‘80’s quite naturally, people around me seemed to gather around me who had the same interests. We ended up going out one windy Samhain night, scaring the living daylights out of each other attempting to perform a ritual in our local woods. That group of people eventually formed the core of the first coven I was in. You have to bear in mind, there were no contact networks, magazines or easily accessible magical groups back then, not like today. You took what you could find or you carried on and did it yourself.
After that night I felt that I needed to find people who could actually teach me, which coincided with an occult shop opening up in my hometown, Fifth Dimension. Initially I went there to get a tarot reading and a healing done, but soon ended up becoming part of the Ceremonial Magick group, which worked in the back room. It was quite an eclectic group, with a Golden Dawn style ritual magician, a norse based earth magician, plus a Sufi practioner and several traditional style mediums. I was the youngest in the group, so absorbed information and learning from everyone who was in it, particularly the earth, and the ceremonial magician. Eventually, the earth magician suggested that I get together with the other people I knew and found a Seax-Wica based coven, which is what we did. We all initiated into that tradition, but quickly moved on from Buckland’s Book The Tree into using material from Doreen Valiente and Janet and Stewart’s books. Eventually that group broke up, but my then wife, Tania and I carried on practising. Eventually we got initiated into another tradition Dorset Traditional, which was really no different to Gardnerian. Again, this group broke up and we continued by ourselves, until we became contacts for Pagan Link and the Pagan Federation in the late ‘80’s. Eventually a group of people coalesced around us, and we ended up teaching them. Some of them also asked us to initiate them, which we did. We naturally ended up as a coven, even though we were taught on several occasions ‘we weren’t properly initiated’ or that we hadn’t had proper training. My favourite was being told that I ‘didn’t understand the mysteries’ when I had assisted four mothers to give birth, and helped dozens of people to pass over to the other side in death. Certainly on the latter occasions I felt what was happening because of my empathic nature, and felt this assistance in passing others over was part of being a witch. I always found it odd that my life experience as a Staff Nurse didn’t count for anything in the occult world, while many supposed teachers in wicca who claimed to be experts on such things, had never experienced two of the most basic of mysteries that I had, that of life and death.
It was during this period that I had what I call my real initiation. That was my self-dedication and connection with the Goddess Freya. I made the decision to dedicate myself to her as her Priest. I sent though a period of six months after of serious life change, including changes in consciousness, and I suppose you could say personal enlightenment. The word epiphany comes to mind. I began to realise that real initiation can only really come from the divine, not from an individual or a group, although that is not to say group joining initiations or level initiations aren’t valid. It was shortly after this experience that I met Janet and Stewart. What struck me with them was that our origins really weren’t that different, neither were our beliefs.
It is interesting that over the years, that I seem to have actually cycled back to my original belief structure that I had right at the beginning of my journey, although my knowledge and my wisdom seems to have grown. One of things I have realized is that you don’t stop learning.
What are you working on at present, and can we see some more books soon?
Janet and Gavin:
Well, the amended version of Progressive Witchcraft is going back into print next year. It’s being re-titled as it’s going to a new publisher, Acorn Press. What Witches Do has being re-released as its fourth edition, with extra material from our archives. This has included some previously unreleased interviews, notes and teachings of Alex Sanders.
As many know, we began to specialise in teaching trance-prophesy and Drawing Down the Moon techniques over the last decade. We’ve had several highly successful workshops and have several groups set up based on our training techniques. We’ve drawn from our experiences as well as those of the classical world, Delphi, the Sybil’s and Anglo-Saxon/Norse Seith etc. Not surprisingly, we have been working on a book about this. This is our most exciting project, and will be a unique work when it is published. We touched briefly on this subject in Progressive Witchcraft but this goes much more in depth. At present we are about half way through and hope to have a finished manuscript by mid next year.
Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone Bio
For all those who don’t know who we are, we are practising Wiccans (modern witches) and authors who publish books on the subjects of Paganism, Magick and Witchcraft. Prior to Stewart’s death on the 7th February 2000, Janet and Stewart had published their works since 1971, and are recognised as experts on Witchcraft and the Occult. Gavin joined them in 1993, and have since worked with them on The Pagan Path, a study of Paganism worldwide, The Healing Craft, a healer’s worksbook for Pagans, The Complete Dictionary of European God and Goddesses, and our most recent Progressive Witchcraft. To date, we have had eleven books between us, on the subjects mention, published in the United States, Britain and as far afield as Brazil, Japan and the Czech Republic.
We are active members in The Aquarian Tabernacle Church Ireland and have links with several covens in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. We run a progressive coven in Ireland called Coven Na Callaighe which is part of Teampall Na Callaighe which includes as an open worship group.
Our current practical work is in the areas of Spiritism and Trace Prophesy. We regularly conduct practical Workshops in these fields for the Pagan Community. Janet is also a professional Tarot Reader and Gavin, an Empathic Spirital Healer.
We are also now looking at video as a training medium and hope to relase several training DVDs in the near future.