Courtesy Of Janet and Gavin Bone ©
Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have skillfully put together a guide which grants the reader the capability to learn in ways never before possible, they have created a powerful tool that embraces and opens new doors to Progressive Witchcraft for all who wish to enter.
Excerpt from Progressive Witchcraft:
“You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.” ~ Mahfouz Naguib
It is evident that both Janet and Gavin are both clever and wise…
Janet and Gavin were so gracious as to allow us this magnificent interview probing into their personal journeys of spirituality, life, and work. The past few weeks I have spent talking with Janet and Gavin have been not only a blessing from the Goddess and God but spiritually educational as well.
Interview with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone
PP: Whenever one talks about Wiccan books, it is to be anticipated that one of the many books you wrote with Stewart Farrar is brought up. Looking back, how have your personal views have changed?
Both our views (mine and Gavin’s) have changed over the years, but the same is true of anyone who practices a spiritual path. Certainly I am not as traditionally orientated as I use to be. Stewart and I really ceased calling ourselves ‘Alexandrian’ when we moved to Ireland in 1976. It was impossible to practice in an Alexandrian fashion and connect with the mythology and spirit of the land here. I think I’m broader in my outlook, but that comes I think from meeting witches all over the world as well as having contact with several native cultures, such as the Lesotho Sangoma, genuine Native American and Maori. I think having contact with these cultures has put my practices and beliefs into perspective. What sticks out in my mind most is the comment they all make regarding western neo-pagans. They all say we tend to be in ‘our heads’ too much – we tend to be intellectual over spiritual.
PP: Janet and Gavin do you still consider yourselves to be a “Witch or ‘Sorceress/Sorcerer’”?
Janet and Gavin:
These are just words; useful descriptions of what you do, not who or what you. We do witchcraft, so we are witches. We also do sorcery – we work with energies and spirit forms, so we could easily also describe ourselves as ‘sorceress’ and ‘sorcerer’. The same applies to the way we should apply such terms as Wicca. It is important to remember what the word actually means; someone who ‘shapes or bends’ natural forces using their wisdom. There is always the danger that these can become titles, that being a Wiccan means that you are only from a specific collection of traditions within witchcraft’ We do not believe this to be true. There is always the danger that the label will become more important than what you actually practice or the spirituality associated with it.
We are, all of the above; witch, Wiccan and sorcer(ess) but foremost we have to say that we are Priestess and Priest. Again, a description or in this case a job description of someone who connects with a divinity for the benefit of their community. We are that before anything else, the rest are just useful descriptions.
PP: Who, would you say, inspired you the most in your own path through the Mysteries?
Janet and Gavin: Well there have been different people at different times for both of us.
Janet: Certainly for me, Doreen Valiente. I’ve always considered her my spiritual mentor. She was humorous, educated and down to earth.
Gavin: I can run off a whole list! Some you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Witchcraft, including Brian Bates (author of The Way of Wyrd), Stephen Hawkins, and Ray Buckland.
PP: Janet how do you feel your work to date was influenced by Doreen Valiente?
Janet: I don’t think Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches Way (compiled as A Witches Bible). Would have been as successful as they were without the input and support we received from Doreen. She helped us through the maze of writings and contradictory histories of modern Wiccan and the Book of Shadows, so that we could produce something which was genuinely of benefit to those out there searching for Wicca.
PP: What advice would you give to someone newly interested in Paganism or Witchcraft?
Janet and Gavin: Shop around! Stewart and I joined witchcraft and Alex and Maxine’s coven because that’s all there was around at the time. Now there’s much more choice: Druidism, Asatru, Chaos Magic and several different forms of Wicca. Don’t try to fit yourself in the box – find the box that fits you. Unfortunately, there are still the egomaniacs setting themselves up as teachers who have only read a few books and have no experience, but you find that in every field. If you’re looking for a teacher they must have humility, a sense of humor and more importantly say ‘I’m still learning’! But the most important teachers are yourself and the Gods; you can learn more from life than you can from any book or training course.
PP: Janet, as one of the best known Priestesses in the modern Pagan community, how do you think that public opinion of Witchcraft and Paganism has changed over the last few decades?
Janet and Gavin: This really depends on where you are? Every country is different. Certainly in the UK, Ireland and some areas of the US it has become much more acceptable amongst the general public. Certainly the man or woman in the street is more familiar with the word ‘Wicca’ and generally realises it isn’t devil worship. This certainly wasn’t true in the ’70’s. As a movement, we are doing better with public relations than ever but we still need to get ‘out of the closet’ and realise that we are part of a bigger society.
PP: If either of you could go back in time and change one thing you did,
what would it be?
Janet : Hard question. All experiences are learning experiences. So, if there was only one (and I presume the question is Craft orientated), it would be that I could have learnt not to be so soft on people who technically needed a good kick in the Yesods! It has taken me the best part of 50 years to really say ‘No!’ to people. That is what I would want to change the most. As Doreen put it to me ‘sometimes the Lords of Karma where blue uniforms’. If a person steals from you go to the police, even if that person is Craft. If it is not a police matter, a good kick in the Yesods will suffice! Well, there is one other thing. Back in the ’80’s Stewart and I appeared on BBC show one Halloween with several well-known witches as well as born again Christians. I was asked by the presenter: ‘so, what do witches actually do at Halloween?’ and I replied ‘Well we call back the dead ritually and then we play with our nuts…’ I think I might change that!
Gavin: I’m not sure I’d actually change anything. I believe everything that has happened to me has happened for a reason. I’m a strong believer in the concept of weird, that although we have free-will there are something’s that are supposed to happen to us if we are to learn and grow.
PP: What do you consider the highlights of your own writing careers to be?
Janet: I don’t think there’s ever been just one highlight as such. Definitely co-authoring Eight Sabbats for Witches, it was such a wonderful book to research. The wealth of folklore we discovered and experienced here in Ireland was breathtaking. The market at the moment is flooded with witchcraft books, some good, some appalling. 9/11 in the US had a terrible effect on the book market in general, and sadly many publishers are under pressure from Christian fundamentalism to stop publishing books on the subject. In the long term, however this may have a positive effect. It may mean that only truly new concepts in Craft literature will be published, that gives many of us old writers time to draw breath, learn new skills and ideas and hopefully publish books that will be as challenging for all of us as I have found Eight Sabbats to have been. It will also pave the way for some bright young minds to make names for themselves in Craft literature.
Also, Stewart and I were very proud to be asked by Hayley Mills (the actress) to do a piece on the Craft to go into her book My God. We were in the book alongside such famous people and Religious leaders as the Dali Lama. All the proceeds went to the Save the Children Fund. But of course, it’s not just a writing career anymore. It’s now also a career as an international lecturer on the subject. It feels weird just saying that, as it was something I never dreamed of happening when I first came into the Craft. In which case, I think I think it also has to be being made honouree Lesotho Sangoma, the traditional healers in South Africa. I was very touched by what they said to Gavin and me. There was recognition that we were the same regardless of culture or race or practise. The singing and dancing went on for two days, and we were presented on the first day with our elders staffs. I keep my beaded staff proudly next to our altar.
Gavin: I should point out that I’m not sure I’ve ever really considered myself a writer, not in the same way Stewart was, anyway. A researcher, yes, a person with ideas ‘outside the box’ he’s wanted to convey, also, yes, but not a professional author. I’m just not that talented. Lecturing and workshops, well, that’s a bit different. There are some things you know you are good at, and I can say (with a bit of ego, probably) that I am good at structuring and teaching practical workshops. So, I think the highlight for me has been to sometimes ‘teach the teachers’. We’ve had several well known authors at our lectures and talks over the years, and it’s gratifying to know that you have taught them something that they can pass on.
PP: How does working with Gavin compare to working with Stewart? And Gavin how does working with Janet compare to working with anyone else?
Janet: Stewart was an old school writer. Dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. Gavin isn’t and he’s the first to point out that he regards himself as a researcher rather than a writer. His real forte is in teaching, and this is obvious if you’ve ever been in one of our practical workshops. He has an ability to simplify difficult subjects so that any can understand, making them interesting. Stewart saw this immediately in him when they worked together on the first collaborative book The Pagan Path, so much so that he left all the material content of The Healing Craft to Gavin, apart from some of the rituals. Stewart would also sit down every day and write a piece, plodding along whilst Gavin is a spontaneous writer. He gets sudden rushes of inspiration from goddess knows where and doesn’t stop writing until he’s finished.
PP: Janet and Gavin, you have travelled all over the world teaching and promoting your work. Do you think that the views held in here in the USA, compared to that of the UK, Europe, etc are significantly different from each other?
Janet and Gavin: Considerably, but that is something that we should expect within Wicca. It isn’t a stagnant tradition; it’s shaped by the societies and attitudes it comes from. For example, the US is a young vibrant culture; therefore we can expect Wicca there to be enthusiastic and forward thinking. That is not to say that this isn’t true amongst some people in the UK, but it is certainly more noticeable; and there are of course ‘old Guards’ in the US who make most traditional Gardnerians in the UK look positively revolutionary! Australia has an extreme culture and has had to deal with the whole Southern hemisphere issue regarding Circle Casting and Festivals. This has developed in different ways to the UK. No one-way is right, just different according to cultural needs.
PP: How do you deal with people who criticize you for your views and practices?
Janet and Gavin: To those people who criticise us or anyone else in the Craft just for the sake of criticising, I say ‘get a life!’ If someone has a genuine criticism then I welcome that, it leads or should lead to positive discussion. Unfortunately, in the British Craft scene particularly there is a tendency to ‘begrudgery’; criticism behind people’s backs purely out of envy because someone is perceived as having achieved some sort of higher status. This has come about because individuals have come to see Wicca as some sort of social ladder rather than a spiritual path.
I once heard a wonderfully funny statement: ‘The Farrar’s are famous, for being famous’. I thought that was hysterical. I always thought Stewart and myself were well known for writing books on witchcraft!
I am well known amongst those who do really know me for having a wicked sense of humour. I enjoy ‘shaking the tree’ to see what falls out! But if someone wants to truly discuss or criticise Stewart, Gavin or myself then I will address his or her criticism seriously. I am happy to answer genuine questions and am willing to back up my arguments. But I will not get involved in interpersonal conflicts or ‘bitchcraft’.
An example, the classic criticism against Stewart and myself is ‘They gave away the secrets of the Craft in Eight Sabbats (A Witches’ Bible) and the contents of the BOS!’ The Sabbats and most of the rituals in these books were constructs’ of Stewart and myself, with added material from the original BOS. It was Doreen Valiente who wrote the BOS material we were given and it was she who gave us permission to use it. As Doreen said to us in a letter at the time: ‘Some pieces of Gerald’s and much of it mine; as I technically own the copyright PUBLISH AND BE DAMNED’ Doreen wanted it published so we went for it! As for the technical info on the Sabbats most of it came from an Irish writer called Maire McNeill and her book Festival of Lughnasa.
It is an old writers saying: ‘Those who can, do. Those how can’t criticise’. Most of the movers and shakers in the Craft get criticised. It’s par for the course, and I think I speak for all of us. Positive critique is good for the soul, it makes us think about our work. Criticism for the sake of itself is water off of a Duck’s back! If you want to criticise someone because they do something different to you, go back to a Christian Church where you belong!
PP: Do you feel that the Wiccan Tradition is in jeopardy of becoming a “Religion of the Book” with all of the emphasis placed on “Craft Laws”, lineage, and “traditional” teachings found in some circles?
Janet and Gavin: There’s been a tendency by some to see these as being essential to being a Wiccan. This has resulted over the years in conflicts and ‘witchwars’ between individuals, covens and traditions on who is and isn’t a Wiccan. I certainly don’t believe just because somebody has the right lineage, a word for word handed down Book of Shadows, and follows the Craft Laws word for word that this makes automatically makes them a ‘Good Wiccan’. Wicca has to be more than just these practises. We have met many people who call themselves ‘Wiccan’ who do not have any of these but to quote Doreen Valiente ‘They have that look in the eye! Wicca has to be about spirituality, and your practises should reflect that, not the other way around. If not, we fall into the same mistakes monotheism made, going first into fixed doctrines and then into dogma. We have seen this already occurring in some areas of the Wiccan community. I’d rather taken on someone in my coven that has that look and no degrees or lineage, than someone who has a 3rd Degree from a good source, but has no understanding of the spirituality of witchcraft in their soul!
Apart from anything else, none of what you have mentioned is really that old: Lineage, Book of Shadows, Craft Laws, etc in witchcraft, don’t go back before Gardner and the 1950’s. They aren’t traditional to witchcraft. Gardner brought lineage in from Freemasonry; the term Book of Shadows is Middle Eastern and Gardner created the Craft Laws after an argument with Doreen Valiente! As for the ‘traditional teachings’ it’s never occurred to a lot of people that these have changed over the years with material added and taken away by various people, which is what should happen. Most of the ‘traditional material’ I have seen over the years, and we do have quite a collection of BOSs from several traditions, was all incorporated from the literature of the period and not from any ancient handed down source. We can’t count the amount of times I’ve seen ‘traditional teachings’ which have included material taken from our books as well as other authors, which they or we had written themselves! Alex once tried to pass off a handfasting ritual written by Stewart as from ‘an old traditional source’ claiming that it was ancient and handed down through his family! We need to stop this sort of self-deception and accept that Wicca is a new and still developing tradition, which is only 50 years young.
We believe that we’re supposed to be emulating Gardner, Sanders etc. not dwelling on their every word as though they were prophets in the same way that Christianity does. If they can create rituals, create systems, why can’t we? Wicca is supposed to be a religion of life, of creativity, of connection to Spirit. It is not suppose to be about replacing old dogmas with new ones because people are not willing to let go or deal with the norms and values they were brought up with in a Christian culture. Once you have come face to face with the underworld mysteries, and have made that connection to a specific face of the divine, you begin to realise that all of these things, lineage, BOS etc. are just a system; icing on the cake, but not the cake itself.
PP: On your website you said that your group is associated with the Aquarian Tabernacle Church in Ireland. Can you tell us more about this?
Janet and Gavin: We were involved in the setting up of ATC Ireland to get Wicca and paganism in the Republic legally accepted. Ireland, regardless of its Roman Catholic past is a very progressive country. Most people don’t realise that unlike the UK it is actually a secular state. Church and State are not linked legally. We cannot be attacked for our religion here as the constitution protects us under a law forbidding ‘incitement to religious hatred’. Ireland is also a signatory to the EEC and UN’s charters on human rights.
It was necessary for us though to define Wicca as a religion, which we did under law. Now if Wiccans or pagans are discriminated against or have any form of malicious behaviour used against them, the perpetrators are actually committing a crime.
We are clergy in ATC Ireland. I rarely use the term Reverend to describe myself though. I do describe myself as ‘Clergy’. I consider that to be a job description rather than a hierarchical title. Perhaps I might call myself ‘the Irreverend Janet Farrar!’
PP: Could you please define Progressive Witchcraft?
Janet and Gavin: Both of us think it’s really important to point out that Progressive Wicca/Witchcraft, as we talk about it in our book is not a tradition in the generally accepted use of the word, nor did we ever intend it to be seen as a tradition. If it was seen this way this would really be a dichotomy, as if anything, it ‘a traditional’. The term ‘Progressive’ is used in a descriptive way. It is a way of looking at Wicca/Witchcraft, an attitude towards it. Someone who might want to use the term is describing his or her belief that Wicca, or for that matter all spiritualities are not static. They look to the future; they develop, change and evolve over time. Saying this, they will look back to the truths of the past, but discard those things that they feel are now irrelevant to their spiritual growth. A progressive Witch is therefore someone who questions and challenges the dogmas and doctrine that they see in Wicca and asks the question ‘are they relevant to me in the 21st Century?’ They believe that Witchcraft is a living, evolving tradition, which changes over time.
The major difference is that the progressive Witch puts spirituality and therefore divinity at the centre of their practice. This means all else follows from this, including ethics, morality, magical practice and even their life-style. Connection with the divine as one of the many deities it manifests as becomes the most important aspect of their practice and life. It is therefore a commitment, a vocation, to serve deity. This does mean that deity is seen very differently to traditional Wicca. The ideas of the Triple Goddess and Dual God, the standard archetypal way of viewing deity remains valid, but they are just seen as useful magical concepts. What is important is that emotional connection. This means that a progressive Witch is likely to be polytheistic in their outlook, believing that every path is valid and not necessarily believing that theirs is better than anyone else’s.
They are also likely to adopt techniques, which may not necessarily be seen as Western Tradition. Progressive Witchcraft therefore sticks to one of the oldest Craft axioms – if it works use it!
PP: You have retained a three-degree system of initiation in your coven. Please tell us more. How much emphasis do you put on life experience in training a Witch?
Janet and Gavin: For a while we very concerned that the degree system as we had been taught it was becoming hierarchical. You have to remember that its origins are not in any form of traditional European pagan practise but from Ceremonial Ritual Magic and Freemasonry. Our experience was that the degree system had become more about how long you had been in the Coven rather than how much you had learnt or how much spiritual connection you had made during that time.
First we tried to do away with the degree system completely, going to a one-initiation system. Very quickly we found this wasn’t enough; it didn’t fulfill the needs of the coven, so we introduced a dedication ritual, and eventually a third level – an eldership. Well, we ended up eventually not with three levels but four! We began to look at why this was. It really gets down to human psychology and the need for all of us to achieve goals. If we don’t have them part of our own psyche sets them for us anyway, a process the psychologist Abraham Maslow called Self-Actualization.
Our ‘degree’ system, if you can call it that is very different to the one we were actually taught. It is based not just on the accumulation of knowledge and magical skill but also on spiritual achievement. For us, initiation must be a spiritual experience, a spiritual ‘epiphany’ so to speak. As Janet mentioned earlier, we strongly believe in the concept of ‘there is only initiator’ and that is the divine manifest as God or Goddess not ourselves. This means that we believe that initiation can take place in the mundane life of the witch; in fact we don’t separate the mundane from the magical. All life is magical; therefore an experience that changes you spiritually can take place in any area of your life, not just in the magic circle. We try to reflect this in our initiation rites, and therefore also recognize that magical and spiritual wisdom can be obtained outside of circle.
The other thing is that we teach that this system is irrelevant outside the circle. It is not intended to be a system of hierarchy, which should be accepted by the wider pagan community. All our initiates know this and don’t make a big deal out being first or second or third degree out in the wider community. There is no ego attached to the system.
PP: How do you see Witchcraft being passed on in the future? Will there be more worship circles led by priests and priestesses or will there always be covens? Will there always be the goal of a universal priesthood within Witchcraft, or will people content to be congregants?
Janet and Gavin: All of the above, and that’s how it should be! By nature Witchcraft is diverse. This isn’t its weakness, but its strength. There is room for all. Witches by nature are Priests and Priestesses; we will see this role taken more seriously with witches ‘ministering’ in their communities, but we doubt if there will ever be a ‘Universal Priesthood’. Priest and Priestess will cease to be a title but become a job description. Ultimately a Priest/ess serves divinity and their community. This does of course mean a certain level of commitment is required which not everyone can give, so there will always be worship circles led by those more dedicated than others.
PP: When did Gavin join the writing team of Janet and Stewart? How has Stewart influenced Gavin’s writing? How do you work as a writing team? Do you two always agree on everything you write?
Janet: Gavin started writing with us the moment he moved to Ireland. Stewart wanted to integrate him as ‘part of the team’. He immediately went to work with us on the Pagan Path. I don’t think you can really say that Stewart ‘influenced Gavin’s writing’. He certainly taught him the basics, but Gavin was already naturally gifted in research and putting ideas to paper. Occasionally Gavin and Stewart did ‘bang heads’, mainly over style. Stewart was from a ’40’s generation where you ‘crossed all your “t’s and “dotted all your I’s, whereas Gavin was from that ’70’s generation where language was seen as being more fluid; generally any arguments, which were quickly settled, where over these generational differences rather than content. I never had any problems with what Gavin has written; we always referred back to each other over everything.
PP: Tell us more about Stewart. Stewart was greatly admired by all who knew him or of him. He will forever be missed.
Janet and Gavin: Stewart had an amazing life. When he was born man was just taking to the air. He witnessed the rise of Nazi-Germany, fought in the Second World War, witnessing firsthand the futility and barbarity of war, including entering Auschwitz. Watched the beginnings of the Cold-war, joined and left the Communist Party, worked as a journalist, a scriptwriter for TV and film, and as an author of Thrillers. He witnessed man walking on the moon and at the end of his life the plans being put under way for travel to Mars. He had breadth of experience most of us will never have, and it was this that drew him to witchcraft as spirituality; the need for spiritual creativity to overcome the negative things he had seen during his lifetime. He could be generous of heart sometimes to the detriment of his own needs. Yes, we will miss him too!
PP: What are the biggest changes in the Wiccan or Pagan community that you have seen over the past twenty years? What are the challenges we face in the years to come?
Janet and Gavin: Things have changed very fast in the last decade, let alone since when we both first came into the Craft. The new generation coming in know much more about the Craft before they find join a coven than we did. For us there were just a handful of books, if we could find them. Now there is information freely available to everyone on the Internet on Witchcraft and the magical arts. This means the new generation have higher expectations of those teaching them, plus in many cases they don’t have to throw of the monotheistic baggage that we did. They’ve been brought up in pluralist a society, which makes them more open to concepts within paganism.
Both of us had to search to find groups. Now there are contact networks, open meetings, organisations such as the Pagan Federation and even in some countries Pagan and Wiccan Churches. Now the witch has a choice; they can be solitary or they can join a coven to train. When we both came into the Craft we took what we could find, and you had to join a coven and be initiated before you were accepted as a witch. Now you can pick and choose what tradition or way of working you would like.
We believe that some of the major changes that occur in the Craft in the next decade will be in the way it is practiced. Certainly the Craft is moving away from Ceremonial High Magic towards a more Shamanistic approach. We believe this will continue and result in a more spiritually orientated Wicca with direct connection to the gods being the principle teaching. We have already moved this way ourselves as have several other Covens and individuals that we know about. There will certainly be more emphasis on the Mysteries being taught because of this directional change. The biggest challenge is going to be the avoiding of a ‘generation gap’ as the younger generation is already starting to move in this direction. They want more than just Circle Casting, The Wheel of the Year and the Four Elements as part of their training. They’re hungering for deeper teachings, and if witches of our generation don’t give to them, they will reject Wicca and create their own paths causing a schism in the witchcraft movement, if this isn’t happening already.
PP: Are you currently working on any new exciting projects that you would like to share with the readers of Pagan Pages?
Janet and Gavin: We obviously are now up and running in cyberspace with our on-line course. The Progressive Magic course has now been running for over 10 months, and we hope to add some more modules to it. As we said previously, we are now concentrating on working with deity particularly in the area of Trance-Prophesy. We are currently are working on a book on the mechanics of this practice, and how to interact with the Gods on a personal level.
Bountiful Blessings and Thanks go out to both Janet and Gavin, for your mesmerizing insights from Witchcrafts past, present and future.
Collaborative Works of Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone
Janet and Stewart Farrar:
Eight Sabbats for Witches
The Witches’ Way
The Witches’ Goddess
The Witches’ God
Spells and How They Work
Life and Times of a Modern Witch
Janet and Stewart Farrar and Gavin Bone:
The Pagan Path
The Healing Craft
The Dictionary of European Gods and Goddesses
Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone: