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Article ID: 2666
Age Group: Adult
Posted: February 12th. 2000
Stewart Farrar: A Man of Letters...
by Peg Aloi
My pagan path in this life was irrevocably altered by the magic of Stewart Farrar. His words, his vision, his gentle wisdom and his tireless devotion to his craft leave a legacy which touches every modern Witch, whether they have read his books or no. His collaborative work with his partner Janet, and in more recent years with author Gavin Bone, represent some of the finest books available to the modern magical seeker. In this age of "quick-fix" magic and watered-down pagan "scholarship," the books of the Farrars remain classics.
Rich with details of history, mythology, archeology and theology, not to mention fascinating anecdotes, these books are intelligent, accessible, and crackling with the vitality of authors who live their words. The unapologetic worldview that colors these books is refreshing and, I believe, crucial for our community. For in standing up for what we believe, we grow strong and confident, and, believing in ourselves, learn to love and accept others. We serve no true purpose by candy-coating who we are; we attain no wisdom unless we seek for knowledge.
The romantic image of the spiritual seeker bent over thick books, who burns the midnight oil, reading tirelessly, questing for truth, is one we witches know well. Many of us are bibliophiles and information junkies, lovers of the arcane and rare, preferring dusty shelves of used books to the mahogany shelves and coffee bars of the big corporate bookstores. But the realm of the seeker is being irrevocably altered by a changing world, for better and worse. In these times, as the light of the lamp is slowly usurped by the glow of the computer monitor, we would do well to reclaim and rediscover that romance. We would do well to revisit the realm of books.
I have always found solace and strength in books, like so many of my brothers and sisters of the Craft, and some of most powerful experiences on my pagan path involved the words of Stewart and Janet Farrar. Thirteen years ago, when I first discovered the pagan community and the religion I had always recognized but could not name, I found a world of books that filled me with wonder and excitement. Now, many years and many books later, some familiar "old friends" are still among the most treasured volumes in my (rather vast) occult library: A Witches' Bible Compleat (which comprises two books: What Witches Do and Eight Sabbats for Witches). The Witches' Goddess. The Witches' God. These books are among precious few that I can only describe as having a "vibe": a feel to them that imparts an alchemical excitement which literally makes my heart beat faster. Precious few occult books have affected me in this way: authors like Sybil Leek, Hans Holzer, Patricia Crowther, Colin Wilson, Dion Fortune, and Ron Hutton to name a few. With so many books on magic and witchcraft available now, it is a rare feeling indeed, to be awed and inspired by a book.
I own one of the original paperback Magickal Childe editions of A Witches' Bible Compleat; it is now published by Phoenix Publishing, the company that has published the Farrars' books for the last few years. It was the first "real" witch book I bought, in terms of having practical advice for doing magic and ritual. At that time I also owned Diary of a Witch by Sybil Leek, Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler, Witchcraft: The Old Religion by Leo Louis Martello, and The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. All important books for witches embarking on the path, to be sure, but A Witches' Bible Compleat represented, to me, a commitment. It was a scary-looking book, for one: a black cover. A pentagram not only on the cover but on the spine! It was a book which I might have to answer questions about, if others saw it: Why do you have this? they might ask. Well, because I'm a...a witch, I would answer. A witch. This book was instrumental in my decision to call myself a witch, and to never step foot into the broomcloset.
In my first year of graduate school, I discovered the pagan/New Age community through my work for Greenpeace. I soon after discovered a pagan student organization, and met my first real practicing Witches. From there, I attended rituals at the home of a couple well-known in the Northeast for their colorful, authentic, rustic celebrations. Their vast occult library fascinated me, and it was one of their young friends who first recommended A Witches' Bible Compleat to me. This young man drew many of his Wiccan rites from it (like many modern Witches, my early practice was primarily based in Wicca). I flipped through his copy, drawn to the beautiful rituals and poetry. When I bought my own copy (at Abyss, when they still had their store in Easthampton--wonderful bygone days!) I was surprised and delighted to find the writing full of humor and insight. My interest in Celtic myth and culture was blossoming at this time as well, and Janet and Stewart's connection to this magical tradition spoke to me.
I quickly bought their other popular books, The Witches' Goddess and The Witches' God. The former yielded many great resources, including rituals, recipes, and a wonderful encyclopedia of goddess names. This helped me discover a name for my magical but weird kitty Trivia (found in the snow as a tiny kitten at the home of my friends who first introduced me to the Farrars' books). Her name is the Roman name of the goddess Hecate: tri via means three roads, or crossroads, associated with the dark goddess of magic. The word "trivia" later came to mean "nothing of consequence" because followers of the old religion used to insist "nothing of importance happened at the crossroads" when of course the opposite was true! This seemed to fit my cat perfectly. I found this information fascinating, its combination of history, myth and etymology: typical of the Farrars' scholarship.
I have consulted the encyclopedia of names countless times since, knowing it is a useful and fast resource for research while writing. It came in handy when I went searching for the name of a Celtic deer goddess (Sadhbh) for a poem I wrote. And The Witches' God yielded some valuable information about Herne for that same poem; not to mention a wonderful recipe for Herne incense which inspired me to develop my own line of magical herbal incenses. The wealth of experience and information in these books is incredible: and very few authors before or since have matched the Farrars for the sheer wealth of material contained in each volume.
I remember the first time I heard the Farrars speak, in Amherst, Massachusetts. It was one of their first appearances stateside, sponsored by the UMASS Pagan Student Organization. I had to arrive late, because I was working that day. As I entered, I heard Janet speaking about the lifestyle habits of American witches, in particular, "You all drink that Coca-Cola, it's disgusting!" Everyone laughed, recognizing ourselves, and that was my first taste of Janet's funny, forthright way of communicating. It was a thrill to be in the room with these famous (to us, anyway!) authors, and the first of several times I was privileged to attend workshops or talks they gave in the U.S. The respect and awe we felt in the presence of these authors whose words had changed our lives was palpable, to say the least.
Years later, the Farrars visited Boston with Gavin Bone, with whom they wrote The Pagan Path and, later, The Healing Craft. They appeared at Arsenic and Old Lace to sign books all day, and all three of them were kind enough to grant me an interview for Obsidian Magazine. I must now say that, sadly, I discovered soon afterwards that the tape-recorded interviews were completely destroyed in my recorder; to this day I do not know why. And, wishing to hang on every word, I did not take very good notes. But perhaps I was more gifted to share that time listening and talking, and not madly scribbling to get every word. I talked with them all separately, so visitors to the shop would not miss them; they each accompanied me down to the basement, one by one, a dark but quite cozy place smelling of the marvelous oils and incenses mixed there.
I remember Janet telling wonderful stories, particularly what happened to one John Z. Delorean after he ordered a major construction project on top of a sacred fairy site in Ireland... I remember asking Gavin what he thought of the state of contemporary pagan publishing, and enjoying his passionate opinions and "rants"...and I remember Stewart, several years before his failing health began to make him more frail, speaking softly about his work and his thoughts about the "new" pagans... His way of communicating was subdued but sincere. When we had finished, I watched as he tore a tiny piece of paper from his notebook, and wrote upon it in tiny lettering: his name and address. "You will send us a copy, won't you?" he asked, handing it to me (sorry the tape recorder ate the interview, Stewart!). I was touched. Here this prominent author and pagan elder thought the best way for me to find him was for him to write his address down on paper! How charming and down-to-earth: qualities he possessed in abundance, and easily forgotten by those of us who saw him as larger than life and somehow untouchable.
I will cherish my memories of Stewart's wonderful talks on Fairy Lore and other workshops given at gatherings, and his approachability to those who wished to speak with him and ask questions afterwards. I only wish I had been able to spend more time talking with him, but of course he (and Janet and Gavin) was always much sought after at public appearances. For me, Stewart's magic lives on in his words, captured in fine books on magic and the Craft, as well as novels (which I now hope will become more widely available).
Stewart's magic also continues on in the words of those of us who knew him, loved him, respected him, honored him, and looked up to him as a great writer, witch and poet. And last but not least, he lives on in the collective consciousness of our community, as one of the Fathers of Modern Witchcraft. For surely he was that, and much more.
Stewart, may you find peace and comfort in the Summerland, reunited with those who have gone before, until we all meet again.
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