Interview: Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone Pt. I|
Author: Caroline Kenner [a WitchVox Sponsor]
Posted: June 14th. 2004
Times Viewed: 19,081
Prominent British authors Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, residents of the Republic of Ireland, will be traveling across the USA this summer to promote their new book, Progressive Witchcraft. Progressive Witchcraft continues Janet and Gavin's influence on Wiccan philosophy with a radical revisioning of Witchcraft, its history and practices. Progressive Witchcraft is a startling departure from a writing team known originally as Alexandrian Traditionalists. This is a brave book, a radical book, from authors well familiar with the founding of Wicca.
Janet was initiated into the Alexandrian Tradition by Alex and Maxine Sanders in 1970. With her late husband Stewart Farrar and her current partner Gavin Bone, Janet has co-authored over a dozen groundbreaking books on Witchcraft. Gavin Bone, an initiate of Seax-Wicca, joined the Farrars' writing team in 1992. He authored a book on Anglo-Saxon poetry and co-authored three books with Janet and Stewart before Stewart passed into Summerland in 2000. Progressive Witchcraft is Janet and Gavin's first book since Stewart's death.
In Progressive Witchcraft, Janet and Gavin advocate exploration into Hinduism, Voudoun, Santeria and shamanism. They focus on trance in their spiritual practice, and suggest that Wicca is evolving away from ceremonial practices and strict duotheism. They reveal their dedication to one deity, one Goddess Whom they serve as Priest and Priestess. They call for an end to Pagan dogma, and the further evolution of a spirituality based on Divine Nature and personal experience of deity. Most of all, they see the modern diversity of approach within Paganism and Witchcraft as a strength rather than a failing.
This refreshing book has many people nodding their heads in agreement while reading it. In their own words, here is an interview with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone about Progressive Witchcraft, an interview conducted over the Internet to herald their visit to America:
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Could you please define Progressive Witchcraft?
First of all, we think that we should make it very clear that it is not a tradition, nor are we creating a "new" tradition, nor do we personally label ourselves as "Progressive Witches" or "Progressive Wiccans". It is really a description of what has been happening within the modern Witchcraft movement since the 1980's. From this period there started to emerge a more experimental, creative and spiritual approach to Wicca, which discarded the dogmas of Ceremonial Ritual Magick that had been incorporated into Wicca early on.
One of the problems Wicca has had is this need to hang on to Judeo-Christian dogmas, which has resulted in an emphasis on ritual over individual connection with divinity. Those that have followed the progressive path within Wicca have realised that ritual is just a tool and put spirituality at its core rather than any tradition or system, encouraging this direct spiritual connection. With this comes the revelation that it is deity, not an individual, who initiates you. Again, this makes the idea of lineage redundant, although we accept that knowing your origins does give you a sense of continuity in practise.
We believe that this change has occurred due to Witchcraft being a nature-based religion. It follows primarily the laws of nature, which allows it to evolve to ensure its survival. We believe this cultural evolution is happening continually within all true spiritual paths and believe it should be encouraged in Witchcraft. Of course, this will not happen unless we are willing to admit the true origins of Wicca, which is from a group of very creative people, who had their flaws and eccentricities; they developed a new religion not an old surviving one, although to be fair, they drew from the wisdom of the past. If we do not accept this, Wicca will follow the same fate of the other dogmatic religions, just like the way we have seen Catholic Church decline in recent years.
This is not to say that the older traditions of Wicca, such as Gardnerian or Alexandrian do not have their place, and we know many in these traditions who we would call "progressive", just that they will not survive if they do not admit to their true origins or embrace spiritual creativity and the evolutionary process. By doing so, they will and in many cases have, evolved into a "new animal". Within a Progressive Witchcraft framework there is room for the old, the new, as well as those who decide not to follow any specific tradition at all. What is important is the diversity, which allows Wicca to evolve according to its social and physical environment.
We believe with progressive evolution comes the questioning of not just its origins, but also its place in the world socially and politically. We truly believe it is time for neo-Paganism to step out into the world and give it a good shake and this is what is now happening. Unfortunately, it has taken awhile for this to occur due to the need to shake off our monotheistic cultural programming, hence the pre-occupation with Christian concepts such as lineage, which derives from apostolic succession and Ceremonial magick of the Middle Ages. Sometimes we feel that we are paralleling Martin Luther's protest against the Catholic Church, which by using its dogmatic doctrine denied the common people direct connection with divinity. Of course, in this case, there isn't a church door to nail anything to!
As spirituality manifests in so many of the different gods and goddesses, diversity of practise and thought is therefore seen as strength rather than a weakness and encourages acceptance and co-operation; this is the basis of true polytheism, which Progressive Witchcraft embraces, that there are truths for each individual which itself, is the one central spiritual truth. This is of course, a paradox, and it is from such paradox that magical power often derives.
Many people I know have found themselves nodding in agreement while reading Progressive Witchcraft. Has the response to the book been generally positive?
Generally the response has been very positive. Nearly all the reviews have been good. Of course, people have had to get use to the fact that we now have a different writing style than before; it is more subjective as we wanted in Progressive Witchcraft to put in more of our own personal experiences for people to draw from as spirituality is such a subjective thing. For some though, who are comfortable in dogmatic systems of magick, this book is quite threatening as it challenges the individual to question the knowledge they have accumulated, and embrace spirituality and spiritual experience over any dogmatic, intellectual system. This is quite hard when you see your power as deriving from that knowledge; we're just saying that a true spirituality derives from the divine and the experience of it. Not everyone, even in the positive reviews has agreed with everything in the book, but this was the whole point of it. There would be no diversity if everyone did agree with each other, no creative process, and no evolution. It is the debate and discussion, not the argument and disagreement which has moved Witchcraft forward. What is important is our ability to respect each other's viewpoints with understanding that is our strength. If we had wanted to write a book which everyone agreed with we could have, but what would have been the point? It would certainly not have contributed to the debate which is necessary for growth. We wanted to write a work which made people question and think about what Witchcraft really was, as well as inspire them to think for themselves. It is one of the reasons why we put in the piece about Witchcraft and Wicca being really the same thing. We knew some would disagree, but we don't mind people disagreeing with us as long as they first question why they are disagreeing. We wanted to challenge people's conceptions of what Witchcraft was and more importantly what it could become: "Challenge your pre-conceptions, before they challenge you" was part of the ethos of the book. We knew this would make it controversial, but there has never been a worthwhile book that hasn't been!
Could you discuss deity-centered Witchcraft and personal life guides? Please tell us more about Freya and Her role in your lives. How does one go about developing a personal life guide relationship with a deity?
We believe that deity should be at the centre of practise, as it is linked strongly to personal spiritual development. If you are a Witch you cannot divorce yourself from the divine, it is with you everyday of your life. Many people do not realise that individual connection with deity in modern Witchcraft was not something that was encouraged in the "original" traditions of Wicca where there was a fixed duo-theistic system of divinity. Again, this duo-theism, (which by the way again has its origins with a Ceremonial Magician, Dion Fortune) is not Pagan in nature but a progression from monotheism. It was therefore another phase Wicca had to pass through in its development. To connect with deity you must first accept that they are real individuals, real personalities, not psychological constructs or symbols ö this is at the crux of polytheistic thinking. Once you have connected with deity you can, if you wish, take the next step with the god or goddess becoming your life guide, as we have called it and become their Priestess or Priest.
We are Priest and Priestess of Freya and we have dedicated our lives to her service and to her love. It is a one on one connection, which is at the centre of our everyday lives. She has become our friend, confidant, and muse; she in no small way contributed to the book with the odd bit of guidance and material! She occasionally kicks us up the arse when we need it and has taught us not to take ourselves too seriously. For us being Priest and Priestess is a title not a job description. This intimate connection with her has also made us look at the "boxes" we put ourselves into. She had taken us "out of the box" seeing that it doesn't matter whether you call yourself "Witch", "Wiccan", "Druid" or "Asatru". They're just names for ways of working and connecting with the divine, but it is that connection which is important, not the method of connecting. Understanding of this makes you much more accepting of others paths, more polytheistic in your approach and certainly more ecumenical.
Being the Northern Goddess of trance she has also guided us in this direction, into the practise of Seith, the tradition of Trance-Prophesy in the Northern Tradition. She has also made us realise the importance that the Norse and specifically Anglo-Saxon traditions have had in the shaping of Witchcraft; something which is often overlooked in favour of the more fashionable Celtic. She has assisted us in understanding exactly what it is that is going on in the practise of Drawing Down the Moon and allowed us to adapt it into a more potent trance-prophesy technique.
Developing such a relationship with a deity is not going to be instantaneous. For us it took several years to understand the impact she was having on our lives, and how she was guiding us. She was also responsible for our "initiations" in a spiritual sense. This is a very subjective, intimate thing, and there are no hard and fast rules. Some will connect with a deity as a life-guide instantly, others it may take a lifetime. The work really begins once you made that connection, and the relationship develops just as it does with any friendship. It really is no different.
How do you feel about the mixing of pantheons? You have many shrines to many deities in your home. Do you consider yourselves polytheists or duotheists?
This is in fact an incredible generalisation. "You mustn't mix pantheons" actually has its origins in the statement "you mustn't mix traditions". Very few people have actually questioned why you mustn't do this! It is possible to invoke two deities who are not of the same pantheon BUT you must make sure they get on! It's rather like inviting two people to a party who don't get on, or who compete with each other - if you do this you just know there's going to be trouble! Sometimes it's not even advisable to invoke deities who are from the same mythology. Ask anyone who is Asatru what happens if you invoke both Loki and Thor at the same time, but they're the same pantheon. We have had to be very careful about where we place our different shrines in our house for this reason. But saying all this, until you have really researched deities and understood the many Gods and Goddesses that you have chosen to work with it is a good rule; if you invoke two love Goddesses from different pantheons they will of course, energy wise, be vying for your attention. This results in what is best described as a "psychic grating"; they end up having a "cat fight" as they clamour for the attention of the magickal practitioner. The only people who enjoy this situation are the various voyeuristic male gods who are "hooting" on the sidelines!
Please discuss Drawing Down the Moon, the assumptive process and its role in ritual. How does it compare to full trance possession? As a priestess of Freya, does Janet always aspect Freya, or do other deities come through sometimes?
When you start to look at ancient witchcraft you find that trance and the channelling of divinity is at the heart of nearly all forms, be it in the Italio-Etruscan Strega where the term Drawing Down the Moon was first coined, in Anglo-Saxon and Norse, Seidr or Seith which is northern tradition witchcraft or further back with the ten oracle of Siwah, Delphi, and the Island of Samos, Cimmeria , Erythraea, Tibur, Marpessus, Phrygia and Persia . Even Shakespeare realised the link in "the Scottish play" with the invocation by the three-wyrd sisters of Hekate. What has become apparent to us is that western Witchcraft is no more really than a form of evolved shamanism. The role of the Witch was that of the Oracle of old who channeled the wishes of the divine. Isn't it time we started listening to what the deities want? For us, in ritual it is the central rite and we do not differentiate between full trance possession and the Wiccan "Drawing Down the Moon" of Gardner and Valiente. It is not the route you take that is important but that you bring the deity through, so we have experimented in other techniques, drawn from out study of Seith and Voudon "Riding the Loa". We also now do rites which bring specific deities through for particular purposes; for example, if we want to bring Isis through we do an Egyptian style ritual. Just because we work with Freya does not mean can not work with other divinities, just that we are specifically her Priestess and Priest. As Freya is a trance goddess it is not surprising that our emphasis has become on trance, but if you look at all true goddesses of Witchcraft they are all deities which have a trance component; Diana, Hekate, Isis etc.
Please explain the differences between deities that have been worshiped continuously for eons, and deities that have been eclipsed by monotheism and are now being worshiped again after a long hiatus. Many of the deities commonly worshiped in the American Pagan community are northern European ancestral deities from before the advent of monotheism. What should our relationship with these deities be, in your opinion?
The deities of our ancestors have become "disempowered" and need to be literally woken up! This is why there has been a strong draw by some towards the contemporary Pagan and magical traditions of Santeria/Voudoun and Hinduism in recent years. When you approach the deities of these traditions they are very much alive and any magical work with them is instant - in an "instant self-gratification" society, such traditions can be very alluring. The main problem of course is the social and cultural differences which exist, for example in Voudoun and Santeria the Loa or Orisha are very demanding compared with Western deities and expect you to give your lives over to them if you become a Priestess or Priest of them. We don't know many western women who would be willing to shave off their hair to become a Priestess of Ezulie!
We believe it is the responsibility of the modern Neo-Pagan movement to 're-awaken the gods' and this is not going to be a quick process, but the first steps must be to throw off the Judeo-Christian concepts which have held us back from making direct connections with them. It is time we understood that divinities are spirit forms with which you have a one on one relationship, not just symbols derived from our unconscious minds. That is not to put down the work of such psychologist such as Jung, quite the reverse, we quote him a lot in the new book, but we have to understand that psychology is just one way of looking at things; Jung even categorized personality traits as archetypes but that doesn't make us just symbolic constructs does it? For the last fifty years we have been inviting the gods and goddesses round for tea, and when they've turned up we've treated them as though they weren't real, which to us seems incredibly rude!
Could you talk about the relationship between Wicca and Santeria/Voudoun and Hinduism? How do you feel about offerings to the Gods and Goddesses, such as food, beverages, flowers, etc? Many other polytheistic religions have more of a focus on ritual offerings to the deities than Wicca does, is that a problem?
The biggest problem within neo-Paganism in general has that it has been trying to return itself to a past written about by scholars who by nature are subjective, be they Imperial Roman, Christian or the Victorian romantics. Do we really want to return to the practises of our ancestors? Janet much prefers reading Tarot Cards to slitting open the guts of a cow and reading its entrails! If the Paganism of our ancestors had survived it would not be the same now as it was in the past - it would have evolved and changed. It was for this reason that we started to look at contemporary Pagan/magical traditions, such as Santeria/Voudon and Hinduism. What we discovered is that we have much more in common with them than we first thought and that they can help us understand our own belief structure better and how to interact with divinity. For example, people don't realise that Santeria and the survivals of Irish Paganism are very similar, with the deities being hidden behind Saints and with systems of offerings. Hinduism has deities who have their origins in Assyro-Babylonian and Persian cultures - they even have triple gods and goddesses! One of the things we have embraced from these traditions is that if you have direct connection with a divinity you don't have to do all the magical hoo-ha that derives in Wicca from Judeo-Christian Ritual Magick.
Once you have connected with a specific God or Goddess and have their attention you just have to go "Oi! Sort this out for us". The reason complicated magical practise developed was because of Judeo-Christian cultures belief that you couldn't directly face the divine. This is certainly true in monotheism, but not in polytheism where it is possible to directly connect with divinity. In Ritual Magick therefore you really have to go "round the houses" and in many cases, by pass divinity altogether to do it, something which is ethically dangerous. We therefore believe it is a lot more ethical to go through a deity as they will decide if what you wish is more appropriate. The offerings you make (which are appropriate to the deity) is not prostrating yourself before them as you would in a Christian Church, but "paying the workman his due" - a natural exchange of energy. Actually, if you go back to nearly all the ancient pagan forms of magic in western and northern Europe they nearly all revolve around systems of libations and offerings. Even Runic Galdr requires the intercession of a God, Odin, to make it work.
In our own home we have shrines to several deities, as we mentioned in the book. Each requires specific offerings each week: On Monday Bast requires milk, cat biscuits and flowers; on Friday Freya likes flowers, mead or beer and we always give her amber from all the places we have visited overseas. Even our cats get in on the act and leave offerings of mice and rabbits at these altars. One of the joys of living in the countryside!
What should be happening in Wicca, is that we should be now be at a stage where we can now start to make this level of connection with the Gods and Goddesses. It is this, which allows direct intercession, not just in the Circle after the Goddess has been invoked has been drawn down into the Priestess, but also in everyday life.
(Continued... Read Part II )
Farrar and Bone Bibiliography:
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 Farrar and Virginia Russel:
The Magical History of the Horse
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:
Article ID: 8507
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Bio: Caroline Kenner is a Pagan Witch and shamanic healer living in Silver Spring, Maryland. She is a graduate of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies Three Year Program in shamanism and shamanic healing. Find out more about Caroline at www.mythkenner.com.
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