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Article ID: 12456
Age Group: Adult
Posted: March 23rd. 2008
An Interview With Author Liz Guerra
The CWPN's President Mark Sosnowki sat down with the CWPN's President Emeritus and Co-Chair of the Harvest Home Gathering now author, Liz Guerra, for an interview (from the CWPN's Wiccan Read magazine) about her first book Stewart Farrar Writer On A Broomstick.
Mark: First off, congratulations!
Liz: Thank you.
Mark: And, now you can add another line to your resume as a published book author. Now, has that finally sunk in?
Liz: Actually, my copies of the book arrived today. A little while before you called, I sat on the couch and started reading the book. It's now setting in. It's now hitting me, like, oh shit, I wrote this, and I'm holding it in my hands, and, I did this, it's pretty cool.
Mark: Now, for those who are unaware, how did it all begin now that you have the finished product in your hand?
Liz: Well, I actually go into a little bit of that in the introduction that I wrote in the book. But basically, for the most part, folks who are practitioners of modern Wicca or Witchcraft and neo-paganism know who Stewart Farrar was. But in case they don't, he, along with is wife, Janet, wrote many books on the Craft. Within those many books are rituals that are used by many groups and traditions. Some people may not even be aware that the rituals they are performing were actually written by Stewart and Janet. Stewart was a real spear header in spreading Wicca especially in spreading the Alexandrian Tradition. In my early days in Wicca, the first book I ever read was Laurie Cabot's Power of the Witch. But, the second book I read was The Witches' Bible Compleat. After which I picked up all the other books that Stewart and Janet wrote. He was a very strong influence on me in my early years in Wicca.
As long as I've known Janet, which has been quite a few years, and as we've gotten closer, I would talk to her about her writing a book on Stewart's life, and also a little bit of her own history as well. She has also led a very interesting life. Many evenings she and I would talk about this and I would always kind of nudge her, saying, "You should do this, this would be really great." About two-and-a-half years ago, my then boyfriend, Michael, and I were visiting her and Gavin in Ireland. We had dinner, and afterwards Janet and I sat at the kitchen table, smoking and drinking wine (which is something that we never do, wink, wink). Michael and Gavin were in the living room watching the sci-fi network. I again brought the subject up to Janet stating that Stewart was such an influential writer on modern Wicca and such a strong force in the movement, and how strongly I felt that she should write his biography. She then looked at me and said, "I can't write that, I can't, I want you to write it." I laughed saying, "That's a good one Janet." She wasn't kidding. So exactly how this came about and why she asked me at that moment, I haven't a clue, but that's kind of how it all began. I said, "No, there's no way, I'm not experienced, there's so many more people out there that would be a better choice." And she insisted that I write it. She was serious about this and wanted me to do this.
Mark: And, of course it's interesting because you initially laughed it off or brushed it off?
What got you serious about it? What was the turning point from your having this conversation with Janet, and you could have just said, "That's nice, thanks, but no." What made you put pen to paper? What was the deciding thing?
Liz: Two reasons, she was very serious about the offer and immediately went into the mode of, "Well, we have all the archives here, and you have to spend time here, this is so you can get all the information." So, it was probably because I believed so strongly in the project, I felt this really needed to get out there. And secondly, I didn't want to disappoint her. She had asked me to undertake this task, and I didn't want to let her down. So, I agreed.
Mark: And now, as they say, the rest is history.
Liz: Or, herstory. And, literally it started the next day with collecting data, and we were only at their house for a few more days. So then, of course, the last few days we were there I started going through stuff. I also brought a bunch of stuff home with me, which consisted of old documents and Stewart's early journals. These were the first journals he started writing at the age of 17 in 1934. There are 8 volumes, they're all handwritten and I brought these home and started to read them.
Mark: So he himself was a writer from very early on.
Liz: Yeah, he started journaling from the age of 17. He came from a family of writers. His paternal grandfather, Frank Farrar, was a writer. He wrote a Greek novel about the Greek gods and goddesses, it looked like it was written for children. It's a lovely book about the various tales of the Greek gods and goddesses, called Old Greek Natures Stories. And, his paternal grandmother, Isabel, she wrote a novel herself called, Ruth Fielding, which is a love story. And, his aunt was also a writer, she wrote 3 novels.
Mark: Wow, so he did have writing influence right from the start.
Liz: Yes, and, it's all on the Farrar side. So there were 3 very strong personalities in his life that were writers. And what's interesting is when his mother was carrying him she believed in the folk tradition that when you are pregnant if you believe strongly in whatever profession you want your child to become, you focus your energies on that. She had decided that she wanted her son to be a writer. So, while she was carrying him she got a hold of every good book she could and read throughout the entire pregnancy and infused that energy into the unborn child. She had made up her mind that she wanted him to become a writer.
Mark: Interesting, interesting. And, so he did.
Liz: And, so he did, absolutely. And, it wasn't a profession that was forced on him, and it wasn't a profession that he wasn't comfortable with or interested in, he grasped it immediately. He was reading Kipling, which was his favorite poet and writer, at a very, very young age. Actually, before he could read himself, his mother would read Kipling's Merrow Down which is a beautiful poem.
Mark: And, of course, it would go along with having so many family members being writers, that any type of literature would always be present, prevalent throughout his years.
Liz: Right, so he was influenced from very early on, in the womb you could say.
Mark: Really, literally. What was the most interesting thing you discovered about him in your research that maybe you didn't know before?
Liz: There's actually quite a bit that I didn't know about Stewart that I discovered when I was reading his journals and interviewing various people that knew him well. He's somebody that I'd wished I'd known better. He just seemed to be a very intelligent, distinguished, kind, kind-hearted man, very, very intelligent. He had an interesting life. He loved the ladies let's say. He was married 5 times before he met Janet. Janet was his 6th wife. And some of those marriages didn't last long at all. One of them lasted only a year, most of them lasted only 3 or 4 years. He had 4 children from 3 different wives, and what I also discovered was that he was never a faithful man to any of his wives. He was faithful to one of his wives, Barbara her name was, but she left him for another man.
Mark: Got a taste of his own medicine on that one.
Liz: I guess you could say that. He had a very active, full life. When he was in the throws of his journalist career, he was a scriptwriter, he was not only a news journalist but he wrote scripts for BBC television, he wrote radio plays, he wrote a movie script in 1963; a movie which I have yet to get my hands on called "It's all over town", which starred Frankie Vaughn, and the British rock group, The Hollies. He won the Writer's Guild award for a radio series, he wrote called, Watch The Wall My Darling, he won that in 1968, I believe.
He was very successful; he met a lot of noted celebrities throughout his career. He met the Poet laureate John Betjeman, but this was before John became the Poet laureate. They teamed up in writing a play for BBC called Pity About The Abbey, which was a humorous slant on how Britain, at that time was destroying their natural landscape by building motorways and tearing down old buildings, etc. So, the premise of Pity About The Abbey was about the Westminster Abbey, and how it was going to be demolished to make way for a new roadway. You know, oh, my God, how could that happen? It was Stewart's way, along with Betjeman, of expressing his sense of humor and love for Britain's ancient architecture.
So, he had a very full, full life, and full career, very active and this was well before he found witchcraft.
Mark: Which, actually he found rather late in life.
Liz: He was 53 years old when he met Alex and Maxine Sanders back in 1969. He met them in December 1969. They had just filmed Legend Of The Witches, which Alex and Maxine were a big part of. When the movie came out, Stewart was working for Reveille at the time as a journalist and he was sent to interview Alex and Maxine at the press preview of the film. This is how he first met Alex and Maxine. At the press preview he asked for the interview and a week later went to their home in Notting Hill Gate to interview the pair. It was for a 2-part article for Reveille that came out in January 1970.
Mark: And, the rest as they would say, is history.
Liz: Yes, because shortly after meeting Alex and Maxine and interviewing them, he reaLized that Wicca was for him. He really, truly grasped onto the concept of Goddess and God worship, the duality of nature, the history of an earth-based religion, and that really spoke to him. Prior to that, he considered himself and interested agnostic. He was baptized Presbyterian but raised Christian Science. His parents converted when he was very young. When he went to college he decided to leave behind the practice of Christian Science and became an atheist. Actually, he considered himself an agnostic; the term he used was an interested agnostic.
Mark: How interesting that his career in our area basically started with him violating the cardinal rule of his profession as a reporter is getting involved in your subject.
Liz: Right, right, and actually he wrote in his journals that when he first went to a gathering at Alex and Maxine's home that's when he first experienced sky clad practice. And, he decided, well I'm a journalist, and I'm trained to keep my interviewees at ease. So, I'm going to join in, and he stripped on down and he fully participated and joined in and he was hooked ever since.
Mark: What did you learn about yourself in this process?
Liz: Oh god, that I am crazy.
Mark: . . . in terms of your own practice, or as a person with goals, desires, interests?
Liz: Well, I will share an experience I had with Stewart, actually. While I was into writing the book and doing all the research and all the work that goes into doing that, many times I felt why did I do this? I felt very self-conscious, I felt that I wasn't qualified; I felt that I was not worthy of writing the story of Stewart Farrar. Many times I wanted to give up. Last February, I was staying at Janet and Gavin's because I was doing some more research and I remember sharing my insecurities with Janet. And, she said, I want you to talk to Stewart. So, I was in the kitchen at her home and I was in tears, because I felt so frustrated at the time, and really down on myself about the whole thing. I was alone, and I just started talking to Stewart, and just said, "I'm not worthy to put your life down on paper." And then I heard his voice. I kid you not, the word I heard was "Nonsense." In a very schooled, British accent, "Nonsense, nonsense." And, when I relayed that to Janet and Gavin, Gavin said Stewart would always say that, "Nonsense."
So, at that moment I felt like he was hand holding me and helping me and guiding me through the whole process and giving me strength.
Mark: Now, as anyone knows, who does write, it doesn't just happen. There's a lot of work, and there are those frustrations and things, and sometimes you don't know who or what to turn to, and obviously you got it straight from the horses mouth there
Liz: I guess you could say so, from beyond the grave.
Mark: And, as we know, there are many things that are beyond the bonds of physicality.
Liz: I'm a very humble person. Many people may not reaLize this, that I'm a very shy person. Even though I do have a lot of friends and can be very social, I'm very much an introvert and very shy about things. Especially, I'm not one to boast or brag about achievements, or accomplishments or anything like that. I'm very humble, so being out there with something like this is a frightening, frightening experience. It's a terrifying notion to have my name out there attached to something like this. But, I gained some inner strength, and some good will, good advice from Stewart and I persevered and I went forward, and now I have the final product in my hands.
Mark: Yes, we do, and the world does. I mean you are on barnesandnoble.com; you are on amazon.com. That everyone in this border-less-world knows amazon.com
Mark: After this, what is next?
Liz: Well, I really would love to continue to write. Right now I'm riding the wave, I need to take a break. I was involved with this project for over two years and it took a lot out of me. My energy, my drive was focused on this, and I kind of let other things in my life go by the wayside. And as a result, my 8-year relationship ended. I'm not saying that my writing the book caused that relationship to end. But it certainly contributed. I was just so focused on this project that it became my whole being.
In spite of this, I still would like to continue writing. I have some ideas, I would love to write a book about the sacred sites of Ireland, based on the tours that I do, and the research and the visits to Ireland that I've done over the years. It would be something along the lines of the "Lay person's guide to the sacred sites of Ireland". And, I would love to do the project that you and I talked about, "Forging the Flame of Brighid", there's really no work out there dedicated solely to the Goddess, Brighid.
Mark: What did you feel, when you were sitting on your couch today opening that box and fingering those copies of your book, your baby, your creation?
Liz: The first time I saw the book was this past weekend when my friend Ruth came over and she had a copy of it. She said, "I've got your book, I've got your book." I held it for the first time and began to skim through the pages, it didn't feel real, it was surreal, and she had me sign it, but again it didn't connect.
Mark: But, that must have been so funny to, that here someone came up to you with your book who had it before you, the author?
Liz: Right, I know, a lot of people did. Todd did, too. Later this afternoon, when I was sitting on my couch with a copy in my hand and I started reading from page one, that's when it really did finally connect, that wow, I did this. And, that's pretty cool.
Mark: ...Has Janet or Gavin seen it yet, or no?
Liz: They haven't seen it yet because I have to mail them copies. So, I don't think that they've seen a copy yet. We have a website up. My friend Brian set up a website www.writeronabroomsick.com, which includes the picture that's on the book's cover, the book's synopsis, as well as my bio and how to order copies of the book. Gavin added a photo archive that shows pictures of Stewart from childhood onward. Even though Janet and Gavin haven't actually seen the finished product, they saw everything that went to the publisher, Janet especially. Nothing was going to go to the publisher without her approving what was written. They saw the proofs and everything.
Mark: What was it like on the business side?
Liz: Scary as hell. I've never dealt with a publisher. I dealt very closely with this woman Alicia, who works for the publisher, R. J. Stewart. She's the book designer. I had most contact with her and sent all the chapters to her as well as the photographs. She took care of the entire layout of the book and sent me back the proofs. I always wanted an actual photograph for the cover of the book and not an artist's depiction or anything like that, which was originally suggested so I'm glad I got my way on that. Originally the title I wrote down was Writer on a broomstick: biography of Stewart Farrar. R.J. Stewart, the publisher, said no, he wanted Stewart Farrar: Writer on a Broomstick, and that made more sense. He's a professional and I'm a first timer here, but I was intimidated in dealing with the publisher for the first time. And being clueless about the process but Alicia the designer was great and R.J. was very good too, but I'm still intimidated by him.
Mark: So, it was quite an experience all around.
Liz: Money was not at all on my mind, and I've probably invested well over $2,000.00 of my own money into this by purchasing books, and traveling to Ireland to do the research and many, many phone calls. I've invested a lot of my own money because it was a labor of love. I wanted to see this happen, this man is deserving of having his story told, so I'm not in it for the money. Whatever money does come my way probably won't even cover the cost of having my new bathroom installed. Authors make very little money on the books they write, unless you're someone like Stephen King. You'll see some of this in the book. Stewart, himself, was broke. He was always broke, and the man wrote tons of books. He was also not real good at managing money.
Mark: What do you want people to know if they know nothing else about him, about what he wrote?
Liz: What he really contributed to the Craft, the fact that his influence was felt so strong, worldwide, literally. His books were printed in many other languages. If it weren't for Stewart Farrar, and his writings with Janet, you would not see the amount of practitioners that you have today. I really believe that. I might be pissing a lot of people off when I say that but if it weren't for Stewart, many people wouldn't even know who Alex Sanders was. Yes, he was well-known within Britain, but Stewart brought him much notoriety worldwide, beginning with his first book, What Witches Do.
Mark: He was one of the first ones to really cross the Atlantic outside of Ray Buckland.
Liz: Right, right, you would have had a few small groups in America predominantly of the Gardnerian trad. But they would have been rather quiet unto themselves. Stewart really mainstreamed it. Alex mainstreamed it too, because he would initiate anybody. It was pretty much an assembly line principle with his initiations. The joke was he would have initiated the milkman if he stood on the front stoop too long. He would initiate people by the dozens. He put the word out, but it was within a regional area. It wasn't until Stewart came down the pike that it really blasted across the Atlantic and other parts of Europe. It was an interesting relationship between Alex and Stewart. They really kind of needed each other. They had a love-hate relationship and you'll see that in the book, but push come to shove, they really needed each other. Alex needed Stewart, and Stewart needed Alex. And, their odd partnership sometimes as volatile as it was, was what really set the force out there. It really set the pace for the spread of Alexandrianism and Eclectic Wicca.
Mark: After writing about him, how has your opinion changed of him from beginning to end?
Liz: He was a human being with faults, like any of us. I think a lot of people tended to put him up on a pedestal, and he made mistakes. He was human. He was imperfect, and especially in his interpersonal relationships. I did have a nice chat with his second wife on the phone. She's still carrying a grudge, God bless her, she's well into her '80's.
I was one of those people too who put him on a pedestal because of his position in the Craft movement. And I remember when first meeting him, it was like, he was like a god. But no, he was a human being, a man. He was funny. He was kind. He was intelligent. He made mistakes just like the rest of us. In doing all the research, I think I saw a humbled side to him, a human side. Really getting to know more of who he was, not just this name on a book with pictures. I really got to know more of the human side of Stewart.
Mark: So, it sounds like you like him more after the project?
Liz: I definitely like him more after the project. Because I got to know more of who he was, what he was about. And I really wish I had the opportunity to get to know him better when he was alive. I only met him twice, once in Connecticut a lecture, and the second time was when we were all in Ireland on that first trip in October 1999. And that was only a few months before he died. I just wish I had the privilege of getting to know him more.
Mark: And, it sounds like you have.
Mark: In a way, you're a lucky link, for a lot of people who still hold Stewart on that pedestal and as we all know good, bad, indifferent, all people known, widely or not are people and they have their faults, foibles, idiosyncrasies, and this will definitely help people understand more about the man behind what he produced. So, in that way they are very fortunate.
Liz: I feel very honored to have been a part of this. I feel humbled by it, and very honored to be a part of this.
Mark: And so you should be, so you should be.
Liz BIO: Born in New York City, ELizabeth Guerra grew up with a family from varying ethnic and spiritual backgrounds. Her father was born in Puerto Rico, as was her paternal grandmother, who was an Espiritista (Spiritualist) speciaLizing in exorcisms. Her maternal grandmother emigrated to the U.S. from Barbados as a child during the early part of the twentieth century, and her family was very much involved in the Spiritualist movement of the post-Victorian era. ELizabeth's family's experiences on both sides exposed her to the occult sciences from a very early age. Spiritually, in 1989, Ms. Guerra discovered Wicca and was initiated into both a traditional group and an eclectic group. In 2000, she received her Third Degree Initiation from Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. Over the years, she has written many articles in local periodicals, has appeared on radio, a local news program, and has been interviewed in two documentaries. After years of running a coven, her interests and spiritual journey led her to a practice and study of Irish Pagan history, and today she considers herself a Priestess of Brighid. ELizabeth conducts sacred site tours to Ireland each year (www.sacredsitetour.com). She also co-chairs a Pagan festival each September in Connecticut (www.harvesthomegathering.com).
Professionally, Ms. Guerra holds a degree in Human Services from Springfield College and is certified in addiction counseling. She is employed as the Northeast Senior Marketing Representative for a well known alcohol and drug treatment center. She currently resides in New England. Stewart Farrar: Writer On A Broomstick is Ms.
Guerra's first major book.
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