Archives For TWH Greatest Hits

[I’m away at the Florida Pagan Gathering, and won’t return to normal blogging activity until November 10th. In the meantime, I’m presenting some of my favorite posts to tide you over, consider it a “greatest hits” of The Wild Hunt. Today, I’m re-printing an interview I did with ground-breaking Pagan author and journalist Margot Adler. Done way back in 2006, it was this blog’s first foray into doing regular long-form interviews with figures of note within the Pagan community, and I couldn’t have been more honored than to have the subject be the author of “Drawing Down the Moon”.]

The beginning of this month saw the publication of the third revised and updated edition of one the classic books on modern Paganism “Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America” by journalist Margot Adler. Originally published in 1979, “Drawing Down the Moon” was the first extensive look at the growing modern Pagan community, and has since become a touchstone for modern Pagans, academics hoping to understand our communities, and those outside our faiths curious about our motivations and worldviews. I was lucky enough to conduct a short interview with Adler via e-mail about the new edition of the book and her current views on modern Paganism.

Margot Adler

This is the third revised and updated edition of your seminal book “Drawing Down the Moon”. Do you think there will come a point where you will no longer desire to update and revise the work? Is this a life-work or do you think you’ll come to a point where the book is “finished” and you won’t feel the need to do more revisions or updates.

When I first wrote Drawing Down the Moon, I had no idea that it would become the main history of Paganism in the United States, and continue to be regarded as such a resource. The first serious revision which was done in 1985 and was published in 1986 was necessary because the movement had changed so much due to the festival phenomenon, the emergence of new groups like the radical faeries Now, it seemed necessary to revise again because the movement has probably tripled or even quadrupled in size; some festivals are huge; the movement has mainstreamed and opened itself to families and children. Also, the internet has brought huge changes to the movement. There are probably more than 5000 Pagan websites and there are people who come to Paganism completely through the internet, for good and bad. I could go on and on. So, I have no idea if this will be the last update or not. What might happen is that in a few years I will put out a new resource guide as I did in 97, with no other changes.

Despite the explosion of Pagan publishing since 1979, your work is still pretty unique. Did you expect the book to remain so important to our communities (and to outsiders looking in), and do you think with the growth of modern Paganism that such a work like “Drawing Down” would even be possible in today’s communities?

As I said, I never expected the book to have, as it were, a movement behind it to fuel its success. I do think it would be possible to do a completely new book today, but it would take even more time than my original work took, and that was three years. And remember that was the 70’s. You could actually live on a $7500 advance with a part time job. That would be impossible today. So the book could be written today, but it would be much harder to survive and do it.

One area that receives a sizeable update is reconstructionism. How have your feelings changed about religions like Asatru? Do you have much contact with other reconstructionist faiths like the Celtic, Hellenic, and Kemetic reconstructionist communities? What role do you think such movements play in the larger modern Pagan context?

My feelings have changed about Northern European Paganism, or Heathenism, including Asatru. I started with a pretty negative view about it, stressing the groups that were racist and so forth. But I have really come to see the movement as incredibly diverse, and growing! I have met Heathens from all kinds of ethnic origins, and gay Heathens. Heathenism is incredibly complex, with different strains philosophies, and shamanic practices. As for Hellenic Paganism, remember that was my first love, and is still really the deep Paganism of my heart. If Wicca hadn’t been the only thing in my back yard in 1971 and 1972, I would have ended up in a Greco-Pagan group, if such had been available. I have had very limited encounters with Kemetic groups, only a few contacts, so far.

You have listed yourself as not only a Pagan, but as a Unitarian-Universalist. Your book “Drawing Down the Moon” is listed in the Unitarian Universalist Association Ministerial Fellowship Committee Reading List (and is in fact the only book on modern Paganism in that list), and Pagan and “Earth-Centered” spiritualities make up around 20% of the UUA. What role do you see congregational religion playing in modern Paganism? Is our involvement with bodies like the UUA a positive thing? Where do you see that relationship developing?

I became a Unitarian-Universalist through the back door as it were. I was put on the board of CUUPS, the Pagan UU organization, and then from there sort of joined a church, and even was a delegate a couple of times to their General Assembly. But I am not a church goer, I may go to my local UU church a couple times a year at most. I mainly associated myself with the organization to fight for the sixth source, to have earth-based spirituality included as an important part of Unitarian-Universalism, and that fight was won. But I am not an organization type. I think having a congregational part of Paganism is mostly very good, particularly for people in small communities where Paganism is still in the closet; it provides a respectable cover for feminist spirituality, men’s spirituality, rituals, etc.

Are there trends and movements within modern Paganism that you wish you could have added to the updated edition of “Drawing Down” but couldn’t due to time or space constraints?

I think I did pretty well on some of trends, particularly on the changes in festivals which I think are huge… Some festivals are now so large, and there is so much new music and ritual, that we are fragmenting a bit which is complex. Once everyone knew the same chants, that’s impossible now. If I had had more time I would have expanded some of the sections, included more traditions and visited more festivals and groups to get a sense of what is new. And the 300 groups, festivals and newsletters in my resource guide would have been more than 600.

What are your current frustrations with the modern Paganism movement? What one piece of constructive criticism would you give our communities today? Have your frustrations changed over the last 30 years or are many of them the same?

Actually, many of my frustrations with Paganism are the same as always. Isaac Bonewits once said that the basic principles of a polytheistic outlook make certain abuses less common, but it doesn’t mean they don’t happen. I still find egos, guruism, arbitrary rules, “by the book” attitudes in a religion that is supposed to be in contrast to the religions of the book, and so forth. On the other hand, Paganism now has real leaders, people who are doing real work to heal the planet, real nature sanctuaries, seminaries, charitable organizations, and that was much less true when I started out. Also, the large Pagan organizations – places like Circle, EarthSpirit, that is something no one anticipated when all of us thought entirely of circles, covens and groves. There are now people who come into Paganism through these organizations, that is a new difference.

Which voices within modern Paganism today do you feel are shining a light towards our future? Who are we not listening to that we should?

I really don’t know how to answer this. I think we are beginning to have real elders, people who have been in this movement for 40 years, and some of them have real wisdom to impart. Then there are young people, often the third generation and second generation Pagans are a really interesting phenomenon, and some of them are dynamite!!!! I also love that there are actually books that are deeper than mine at this point…I started out when there were few books around, except for Murray, Gardner, Graves, Lethbridge, Justine Glass, and a few others. “Triumph of the Moon” is utterly brilliant! I think we have to keep true to the anti-authoritarian, pluralistic spirit at the heart of contemporary Pagansim. It is truly an antidote to the authoritarian religions of our time.

Do you think you’ll ever write another book on Paganism, or do you feel that “Drawing Down” is your definitive statement and contribution?

I might well write a totally different kind of book on Paganism. But first I have to stop being a wage slave and get my 10th grader into and through college.

Since the first edition of “Drawing Down” academic works about(and by)Pagans have expanded considerably. Do you keep up much with current scholarship within Paganism? If so, what works have impressed you?

Triumph of the Moon by Hutton, some of Chas Clifton’s works, there are many works I like that are recent, including “Witching Culture” by Magliocco and “Coming to the Edge of the Circle,” by Bado-Fralick, in fact my bibliography is about double the size it was last time. But Triumph is my favorite book.

Where do you see yourself within the world of modern Paganism? How has that conception changed since 1979? As one of the most “famous” modern Pagans, what role do you envision for yourself in the years to come?

Heavens! I don’t have a clue! I hope to keep a bit of humor and humility, and tell people that this is a hugely important movement for changing the world and ourselves but that doesn’t mean we should take ourselves overly seriously. I think some of the things I emphasize in speeches, that the sacred is in the hear and now, that you don’t have to die to “get the good stuff,” that everyone’s ancestors way, way back were Pagan, and that every person in the U.S. had their ancient traditions torn from them, whether through slavery, colonialism or by assimilation, and that it is possible to combine ecstasy and rationality, body and mind, and that reality is like a jewel, more paths mean a richer deeper reality, those are the kinds of things I have always emphasized and continue to. Other than that, I am still a minstrel, singing, chanting, doing ritual and believing in the polytheistic vision, and being involved in less magic and more earth reverence.

Previous Wild Hunt interviews: Starhawk, Gus diZerega, Jeff Sharlet, Brendan Cathbad Myers, Rita Moran, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Phyllis Curott, Tim Ward, Lupa, J.C. Hallman, Margot Adler.

[I’m away at the Florida Pagan Gathering, and won’t return to normal blogging activity until November 10th. In the meantime, I’m presenting some of my favorite posts to tide you over, consider it a “greatest hits” of The Wild Hunt. Today, I’m re-printing an interview I did with author and journalist Jeff Sharlet. Since first conducting this interview in July of 2008, his book “The Family” has become a New York Times best-seller, and he’s appeared several times in major media outlets like the Rachel Maddow show and the Bill Maher show. Enjoy!]

If you have been around the religious blogosphere for awhile, you have most likely heard of Jeff Sharlet. An author and journalist, he helped found two seminal web sites full of insightful commentary on faith in today’s world (Killing the Buddha and The Revealer), co-wrote a book about religious subcultures in America (which included a trip to a Pagan festival), and filed dispatches on the intersections of religion and power for such publications as Rolling Stone, Harpers, and Mother Jones. His most recent book is “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power”, an expose of elite fundamentalism’s avant-garde.

Jeff Sharlet

Jeff Sharlet

I was lucky enough to conduct a short e-mail interview with Jeff about his new book, what Pagans have to fear from The Family, and what we can do about it.

Some members of modern Pagan faiths have long warned of a theocratic Christian cabal bent on taking over America, often with the usual suspects of conservative Christianity playing a part. These fears have often been debunked, but your book “The Family” seems to in part vindicate those voices, albeit not in the ways they imagined. Who are “The Family”, and are they really trying to take over the government?

They’re not trying to take over government; they’ve been a part of government for almost seventy years. The Family is a network of conservative Christian elites in government, military, and business bound together by what The Family’s founder, Abraham Vereide, called simply “The Idea.” The Idea came to Vereide one night in April, 1935. God, he’d later say, revealed to him that Christianity’s emphasis on the poor, the suffering, the weak, the down and out, was all wrong. God wanted Vereide to minister not to the poor, but the powerful. He called them the “up and out” — corporate executives, politicians. The Idea was that if you could win the hearts of these “key men,” they, in turn, would dispense blessings to the masses. It was, in effect, trickle down religion, and it’s been the creed of religious conservative elites ever since, the justification for their war on organized labor and their support for foreign dictators, from Papa Doc Duvalier to Suharto to the thugs supported through the Silk Road Act, sponsored by Family politicians Senator Sam Brownback and Rep. Joe Pitts.

Domestically, The Family have long been at the heart of the Christianist assault on the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause – “Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion” – which is the guarantee of the Free Exercise Clause that makes America free (in theory, at least) for Pagan. In 1953, The Family established the National Prayer Breakfast; in 1954, Family politicians led the fight for “Under God” in the pledge and “In God We Trust” on our currency. More recently, Representative Tony Hall, a conservative Democrat from Ohio, made the National Day of Prayer a fixed, permanent affair, with White House observance orchestrated by Shirley Dobson – wife of Christian Right leader Jim Dobson.

Faith-based initiatives was first theorized by Family politicians such as Ed Meese in the 1980s; the legislation that opened the door for it, the 1996 Charitable Choice Provision, came from the offices of two Family politicians, John Ashcroft and Dan Coats.

Historic members have included men such as Strom Thurmond, William Rehnquist, and Senator Homer “Snort” Capehart, inventor of the jukebox (good) and defender of Nazis (not so good). (There have never been a lot of women involved.)

Which is all to say that the question we need to ask about fundamentalists is not, “What are they going to do?” but “What have they already done?” Fundamentalism is not a cabal or a conspiracy; it’s an ideology, and for nearly 70 years it has led America away from democracy and toward empire.

The theology of The Family seems quite different from the usual Christian conservatives and fire-breathing fundamentalists we often see covered in the news (though some of them are members or associates of The Family as well). Can you expand on what they believe, and what “Jesus Plus Nothing” means to them?

I first heard the phrase “Jesus plus nothing” at a spiritual counseling session The Family’s longtime leader, Doug Coe, was giving Representative Tod Tiahrt, a Kansas Republican. Tiahrt was going on about the usual Christian Right concerns – abortion, queers, and Muslims. Coe waved it all off. He agreed with Tiahrt across the board, but he saw that list as too limited. What, he asked, does Jesus have to teach us about Social Security? About building roads? The Family’s vision of “Jesus plus nothing” leads them to seek a government conformed at every level, in every department, every office, to the will of their totalizing Jesus. There’s a sense in which this is a weirdly bureaucratic Christ. He doesn’t stand on street corners and shout about revelation; he whispers his message in the ears of his “New Chosen,” as some Family members call themselves. And the message is almost always the same: “privatize.” For seventy years, The Family has been dedicated to deregulating markets in order to free up the “invisible hand” of God.

I was intrigued by the notion of The Family performing “spiritual assassinations” on political leaders (making them “die in spirit” to Jesus), getting close enough to perform their “hit” through innocuous-seeming events like the National Prayer Breakfast (which they organize). Who are some high-profile “hits” we may have heard of?

Just to be clear – they’re not killing anybody. You’re referring to Chapter Eight, “Vietnamization,” in which I write about The Family’s admiration for the guerilla warfare tactics of the Vietcong. In 1966 – the same year Family leader Doug Coe announced that The Family was going “underground,” erasing its public profile – another Family leader, Clif Robinson, met with the U.S. ambassador to Laos, William Sullivan – strategist of the “secret” – and illegal – air war against that country. Robinson reported back to American Family leadership on what he learned.

“He said the strategy of the VC was the same as International Christian Leadership’s,” gushed Robinson, “except applied physically and militarily. They spend hours, days, weeks, what ever time is necessary setting up for the LEADERS and then either by ambush, assassination, or other intrigue, they do away with them—not the people, the leaders. He said to kill 32 top level people”—as the Vietcong had done the previous month—“was tantamount to immobilizing thousands.” The lesson was that the Fellowship should understand itself as a guerrilla force on the spiritual battlefield.

They wanted their “victims” to “die to self” – that is, to commit themselves totally to Jesus plus nothing. One of their greatest “hits” was Chuck Colson, the Watergate felon. In his mega-selling memoir, “Born Again,” Colson writes of being recruited into The Family, which he describes as “a veritable underground of Christ’s men all through government,” through Doug Coe and the CEO of missile manufacturer Raytheon. Colson would later declare that through The Family’s religion, he was able to accomplish much of what he had once hoped to do politically. “Dying to self” paradoxically gave him a supreme sense of self-righteousness, a confidence – and a political network – through which he’s built up one of the most powerful Christian Right organizations in the world.

Some journalists and bloggers focused quite a bit of attention on the fact that Hillary Clinton is a “friend” of The Family. That through her, The Family would have access and influence. Should we have been worried if Clinton won the Democratic Presidential nomination? How deep are her ties to the family, and are they already looking to become “friends” with Obama?

The Family’s faith is a religion of the status quo. We shouldn’t be worried about what MIGHT happen; we should be worried about what has happened. If you look around the world as it is and think, “A-Ok!”, then you’ve no problem with The Family. If you look at Washington and see a healthy, happy democracy, then you’ve no problem with The Family. But if you’re disturbed by a government that’s more responsive to corporations than to people, by a two-party system in which both sides vote for a war the public didn’t want, by a politics of private influence and quiet deals, then yes, we should have been worried about The Family’s influence in a Clinton administration. We should also be worried about its potential influence in an Obama administration. The Family has endured for 70 years, longer than any other major Christian Right organization, not through doctrinal purity but by compromise with the powers that be. Power is their bottom line.

When Hillary had it, they wanted in. As she writes in her memoir, “Living History,” she joined a Family prayer group comprised of conservative politicians’ wives in 1993. She calls Doug Coe – a man who claims that Hitler, Stalin, and Mao understood the New Testament better than almost any other leaders in the 20th century – “a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide.” And she used The Family to tack right, teaming up with men such as Senator Sam Brownback and former Senator Rick Santorum on legislation that subtly redefined human rights as Christian issues.

This is not to say Hillary is a stealth fundamentalist. She is what she appears to be – a centrist Democrat. To be honest, I voted for her in the NY primary, because of her health plan. I’m glad Obama won; but I’m worried about his willingness to discard principles in pursuit of a false unity. The most troubling example of that is his plan to actually expand faith-based initiatives. Of course, he adds that organizations won’t be allowed to discriminate. But anyone who’s reported on faith-based initiatives firsthand will tell you that such regulations are impossible to enforce. Some Obama supporters say he’s just doing what he has to do to win. That’s exactly the way elite fundamentalists want it – to “win,” you have to play by their rules. I don’t think that’s true. I’m hoping that ultimately, Obama doesn’t, either.

You talk about the differences and similarities between the “populist” and “elitist” branches of American fundamentalism (together forming a “popular front”). With The Family typifying an elitist manifestation, and evangelical mega-churches like Colorado’s New Life Church (formerly headed by disgraced pastor Ted Haggard) typifying the “populist” branch. I was struck by how New Life actively worked to drive out Pagan Witches and other undesirables from their city. Is driving out the “Witches” (the religious “other”) a shared goal between the populist and elitist branches? Or simply the consequence of fundamentalist Christianity coming into power?

Some populist fundamentalists have actually criticized The Family for their willingness to make peace with and conference with those whom they lump under the label of “New Agers.” That was years ago, when Family leaders, like many conservative evangelicals, saw the wide array of beliefs they lumped under “New Age” as a threat to Christianity. They don’t, anymore – not because they’ve made their peace with those beliefs but because they don’t think those followers of those beliefs have much power. Ultimately, the inner circle of The Family considers all non-monotheistic beliefs “demonic.” At their C Street House for congressmen, they used to have a prayer calendar listing spiritual war targets for the day – Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, etc.

In an interview with Alternet you described The Family as “ultimately something worse” than fascism. Since “fascism” is usually considered the ultimate manifestation of political evil, on the right and left, what makes this group worse?

The fact that it’s far more effective. Fascism, properly understood, was a relatively short-lived European ideology. There have been other examples of it since, but by far the most powerful ideology since 1945 has been not fascism, but empire. One church historian says of The Family that they’re not right-wing and certainly not left-wing, but “empire-wing.” Fascism may be a purer evil, but empire is a more pervasive one, and ultimately more dangerous because it’s able to call on the loyalties of well-intentioned people who’d never go near fascism. But if you’re a Vietnamese kid napalmed in 1968, or an Iraqi kid with your hands blown off in 2008, empire is every bit as bad as fascism. Or, for that matter, if you’re a Bangladeshi or a Chinese sweat shop worker or an Afghani forced to grow and process heroin to survive, the economic ramifications of empire are as bad as the explicit political repression of fascism. And for decades, what traditional fascism has cropped up around the world – in Central America, in some African nations, for instance – has been made possible only through the support of empire.

On point you make in the book is that secular America keeps trying to announce the death of fundamentalism, of conservative Christian power, but that these frequent declarations are rarely real. That the “defeats” are merely part of a natural ebb and flow of fundamentalism in America. Instead of shrinking, conservative “muscular” Christianity grows ever stronger and is very much a part of the American fabric. Is the much-touted recent “evangelical crack-up” just another natural ebb? Will we see audacious power-grabs by fundamentalist forces in the near future?

We see audacious power-grabs right now! For instance, Rwanda has recently become the first official “Purpose-Driven Nation,” remade in the image of evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s bestselling “Purpose Driven Life” with the support of U.S. dollars and faith-based initiatives. Closer to home, the Justice Department is supporting a program called “Fugitive Safe Surrender,” in which U.S. Marshals go into a low-income community and for four days move the entire legal apparatus into a megachurch, encouraging anyone with legal problems to sort them out under the sign of the cross. I attended one in Akron; church greeters talked to you about Jesus in the parking lot, then you walked through a metal detector, then you met a sheriff with a gun and a pastor with a Bible. Take your pick. And this program has Democratic support! Chuck Schumer’s gone on record saying it’s great, because it gets potential criminals off the street and allows poor people who’d be screwed by the justice system to have the help of the church. “Church-court” – that’s audacious. There’s no “evangelical crack-up,” no matter how much the New York Times may wish it so. Rather, there’s an evangelical transformation – and an expansion. Evangelicals are addressing issues liberals thought they owned, such as poverty and AIDS. That doesn’t make evangelical conservatives less conservative; it makes their agenda more far-reaching, for better or worse.

Some of the old lions of the Christian Right are dead or are dying. The new generation is softer-toned in style. But conservative evangelicalism has been a huge part of American life for 200 years. It’s not going away just because Jerry Falwell went to heaven. Or wherever.

So how do those opposed to what The Family is trying to do fight back? What is this groups Achilles heel? Is there anything anyone can do to minimize their influence on America and the world?

Of course! The first step is what we’re doing right here: talking about these issues, educating ourselves. The Family prospers when the public doesn’t pay attention. One of my favorite examples of a public fighting back occurred in 2004 in Norway. After I first wrote about The Family for Harper’s, some Norwegian journalists noticed that their new, socially conservative prime minister was jetting around the world to prayer breakfasts on the public dime. So they came to America and investigated. They discovered that this social conservative movement had strong ties with The Family, that their ambassador was taking policy meetings with John Ashcroft at The Family’s headquarters. So they put it on the front page of the paper, for two weeks. A mini Norwegian Watergate. And that government got the boot. That expose wasn’t the only factor, but it was one of them. When Doug Coe showed up in Norway this spring to talk with the king of Norway, the papers responded again, with a banner headline and a picture of Coe: “Hitler-admirer received by King.”

THAT’S public accountability. Let’s try it in America! Let’s tell Obama that we respect his desire to include people of faith – all faiths and no faith – in the public square, but we want him to recognize that not everybody is operating in good faith. Let’s pay attention to our local representatives. In 2004, a Democratic challenger to Rep. Frank Wolf, a longtime Family associate and conservative Republican from Northern Virginia, publicized Wolf’s Family ties. The Washington Post immediately editorialized that such a connection was impossible – and THEN sent a reporter to prove it so. So we need to hold the media accountable, too. We need them to ask smarter – and tougher – questions about religion. When we encounter monotheist politicians – that is, those who consider only monotheism legitimate – we need to give them loud refreshers in the history of the Founders, who were quite clear that they meant the First Amendment to extend to everyone, regardless of their beliefs.

I’m not a Pagan, but I’d also love to see some Pagan candidates for office. We’ll all benefit from that. Even if Pagans don’t win major offices – and they won’t, at least for awhile – their very presence in the public square helps everybody think about what pluralism means, what democracy means. Democracy isn’t something we HAVE, it’s something we make. The Family doesn’t like it. They call it “the din of the vox populi.” The din of the voice of the people. So we know what we need to do: Let’s make some noise.

Previous Wild Hunt interviews: Starhawk, Gus diZerega, Jeff Sharlet, Brendan Cathbad Myers, Rita Moran, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, Phyllis Curott, Tim Ward, Lupa, J.C. Hallman, Margot Adler.

[I’m away at the Florida Pagan Gathering, and won’t return to normal blogging activity until November 10th. In the meantime, I’m presenting some of my favorite posts to tide you over, consider it a “greatest hits” of The Wild Hunt. Today, I’m re-printing an interview I did back in 2008 with Pagan elders & teachers Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, both of whom are also currently presenting at the Florida Pagan Gathering. Enjoy!]

Authors, teachers, and elders, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone have had an indelible influence on the modern Paganism movement. With her late husband Stewart Farrar, Janet helped pen some of religious Witchcraft’s most well-regarded tomes, including “Eight Sabbats for Witches” and “The Witches’ Way” (subsequently re-released as one volume entitled “A Witches’ Bible”). Towards the end of Stewart Farrar’s life, the couple were joined by Gavin Bone, a Pagan and registered nurse who entered into a personal and professional relationship with the couple.

Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone

Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone

Today Janet and Gavin are championing a new “Progressive Witchcraft”, teaching classes, and running workshops around the world. I recently had the opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview with Janet and Gavin about their current projects, the recently released biography of Stewart Farrar, and living the Pagan life in Ireland.

Both of you have been living and working in Ireland for some time now. What changes and progress have you noticed among Pagans in your adopted homeland? I suspect that when Janet and Stewart first moved to Ireland in 1976, there were few “out” Pagans of any sort, or any “Pagan community” to speak of.

Ever since Gavin moved to Ireland in 1993 we have seen a lot of changes in the Pagan community in Ireland. Before ’93 there were probably only about two covens, including our own. The other one, believed to be Gardnerian, we had little contact with and it disappeared by the mid ’90’s. The big hub of activity up until then was the Fellowship of Isis, at Clonegal Castle, which of course, is still running. From that several groups began to spring up in the mid to late ’90’s including the Druid Clan of Danu, the first serious neo-Druid organisation in Ireland and the Grove of Sinann which became associated with it.

The real changes took place around about 1998. By this time the first pagan moots came into being and a conference of ‘interested parties’ took place in Dublin. The movement was beginning to blossom, but it was noticeable that the majority of the ‘movers and shakers’ were not Irish but ‘blow ins’ to use the Irish vernacular; they were English, Swiss, Scottish, and American. The real change has taken place in the last 5 years where we have really begun to see a real Irish pagan movement as such, with multiple paths appearing including a Druid and shamanic revival.

Janet, you have recently co-authored a book on the life of Stewart Farrar with Elizabeth Guerra entitled: “Stewart Farrar: Writer On A Broomstick”. Could you tell us a bit about the book, and the process behind getting it written?

Stewart had started to write his own autobiography with that title Writer on a Broomstick, back in the late ’90’s. This was only really a brief sketch of his fascinating life, he never, before his death got round to putting the ‘bones’ on it so to speak. So, a couple of years ago we approached Liz Guerra, a friend of ours for some years to write his biography. We decided to honour Stewart by using the original title he had decided upon and we went about, with Liz putting together all the research on his life.

Stewart being a professional journalist most of his life, kept a daily diary and habitually filed all the letters and replies he had ever written. The first year was taken up by Liz Guerra and ourselves going through all of this and recording the major events in his life from childhood, through his serving as an officer in the army during the second world war, through to his meeting with Alex and Maxine Sanders and joining the Craft, his writing career and finally up to his death.

We had to make some difficult decisions, one of these being whether we put everything in. We wanted to portray the real Stewart ‘warts and all’ so people could recognise him as a human being. In the end I believe we struck a good balance and people will be able to identify with him, not as a well known pagan author but as an individual like themselves who was lucky enough to have a fascinating life.

Speaking of Stewart Farrar, I understand that his novels (“Omega” being a personal favorite of mine) are in the process of being put back into print. Is there any definite word on when we might see them in our local bookstore or available for order?

Unfortunately, there have been some delays on publication of his novels. The publishing industry has suffered greatly from the current recession, so their publication has been on hold. We hope to have them republished in the next year though.

The two of you are now doing online seminars and classes with The College of The Sacred Mists. Can you describe what these classes entail? What are your opinions concerning the recent explosion of online schools? Do you feel this is a generally positve trend?

The decision to enter into online teaching wasn’t taken lightly. We wrestled with the concept for a while going through the ethics of it, and whether you could actually teach magical subjects in this way. In the end we decided it was no different to writing a book, except there was more interaction. It was this that eventually made our minds up to do it, and the fact that we had some positive experiences teaching one off online seminars.

Our current course has several different facets to it: Including written Lessons, practical exercises, regular chat room sessions to answer questions and discuss topics and the use of MP3s for teaching, which we have just incorporated in to the course. There is also homework and students are expected to keep a Course Diary which everyone can read online. This has resulted in a community feel to the course, with ourselves and the students interacting and assisting each other on a daily basis, something we really enjoy! To be honest, once this started to happen all our doubts about its viability as a method of teaching went out of the window – it began to feel like we were teaching in a college. The technology may be different but the experience is the same.

To answer your question as to whether it is a ‘positive trend’. Just as there are really good books out there, there are really good online courses, and likewise there are some really bad books written by authors with little experience. It isn’t a positive or a negative trend, its just a trend and it isn’t new. Correspondence courses on magic have been around since at least the early 1980’s, the difference is the technology being used which opens up new possibilities. In the end the community will decide whether they will work or not. If a course is bad, the word will get around the community really quick and people will simply stop signing on to it.

On the College of the Sacred Mists web site, it says that your current practical work is in the area of Spiritism and Trance Prophesy. Could the two of you touch a bit on these explorations for my audience?

First, we should explain, so that there is no misunderstanding, that this is not what the course with College of Sacred Mists is about. With the College we’re doing a seven month course called Progressive Magic. There are some things you can teach on line and other things you can’t, and this is definetly a subject which requires a ‘hands on’ approach.

I (Janet) have always been a natural medium. When I came into the Craft and was taught Drawing Down the Moon I went to it like a ‘duck to water’. I always assumed that everyone had the same experience as myself; going completely into deep trance. As Stewart and myself started to travel in the 1980’s we found that this was not the case and that I was luckily naturally gifted.

Gavin and myself started to explore this more deeply in the mid 90’s. Experimenting with different techniques including traditional Drawing Down where you use a silver bowl, and several trance induction techniques. Both of us had an interest in the Norse and Anglo-Saxon techniques used in what is called Seith or Seidr, and after seeing Diane Paxson; one of the foremost exponents of Seidr trance practise, at work with one of her trance groups, we became inspired to do more. We ended up studying other traditions including Shamanism, Santeria and Voudon (‘riding the Loa’), to understand how these traditions used and induced trance and brought deity-spirits through.

It became very clear to us that there were some inherent problems with the current Drawing Down the Moon ritual used in modern Wicca, the main one being an actual lack of trance technique. So we went about creating a safe generic technique to teach trance-prophesy using what we have called The Underworld Descent Technique. Part of this process is using energy (Chakras) and visualization pathworking using a hypnotic induction technique.

We also teach that the Gods and Goddesses are REAL, not just Jungian archetypes. That they are spirits with their own personalities, capable of communicating with you through trance and in some cases positively possessing you when the circumstances are right. We have had quite a few seers and seeresses possessed by deities at different times. Originally we taught this as part of a weekend workshop (The Inner Mysteries) but it has become so successful that we now teach evening and one day sessions.

Aside from your publishing, teaching, and spiritual pursuits, are either of you involved in any activst or charity-related projects? If so, could you talk a bit about that? In a related note, what is your collective take on the M3 expansion through the Tara valley? I know that at least one member of Teampall Na Callaighe is actively involved in direct actions to help stop the current progress.

We’re not involved as much as we’d like in activist activities. Unfortunately the current situation since 911 has made it difficult for us to be involved in direct action, particularly regarding the M3, as we cannot afford to be arrested or ‘black marked’ by the authorities, as this would affect our ability to gain entry into the US for tours. Most American citizens are unaware that if you are arrested as a political activist outside the US you will be denied a visa and entry.

The whole situation with Tara and the M3 is part of bigger problem currently occurring in Ireland with the conflict in the Irish psyche between spirituality and materialism. In the 1990’s we had an upsurge of economic expansion, and at the same time the decline of the influence of the Catholic Church here. The Irish have always been a very spiritual people, but the scandals around the Church here, have resulted in a cynicism taking its place, and movement towards more materialistic values. Now every family wants two cars which they can replace every year and a new house. To quote Francesca Howell: ‘they have a nasty dose of affluenza!’. This conflict between the material and the spiritual in the culture has over flowed into the Irish countryside and the M3/Tara Valley conflict is symbolic of this change in social perspective.

Many people outside of Ireland are unaware of the other problems we face here: Peoples rights are being eroded and we widespread corruption in the Government. It is common for Government bodies to go through ‘processes of consultation’ with local communities to give an impression of democracy and then totally ignore that communities wishes. At present we are involved (alongside the M3 campaign which is linked) with a campaign to stop Eirgrid, the electricity provider putting up monster pylons across the countryside. Nobody wants them, they are a risk to the environment, wildlife, people’s individual health and the archeology. But, any complaint against this damage is ignored. We are pleased to say that this has resulted in a groundswell of public dissension – Irish people are beginning to realise that they have power at a grass roots level.

While I’m on the subject of Ireland’s spiritual landscape, I notice that you do tours of ancient sites in Ireland, and Janet has produced a DVD of Celtic fairy stories. Is Ireland’s pre-Christan past a big influence on your spirituality and practice?

Pagan tour groups started approaching us several years ago, in fact one of the first groups was one run by Starhawk as far back as the early 1980’s. It seemed natural to advertise that we were ‘open for business’ in this area. So far we have toured groups from the United States, Mexico and Australia. We have an advantage in this area as we live central to most of the major ancient sites in Ireland, and we also know where all the lesser known, more intimate ones are which attract ‘activity’ of a spiritual nature.

When you live in Ireland you can’t ignore the heritage around you. If you are a pagan or a witch you certainly can’t ignore. Just about every coven we know links itself to the spirituality of its environment. Our coven is linked to Slieve na Callaighe (The Hill of the Witch), part of a series of hills in County Meath known as Lough Crew which has neolithic burial tombs stretched across them. Only just recently we went up at dawn to watch the sunrise on this hill as the tomb on top is aligned with the Spring Equinox.

Many of our coven, including ourselves link to deities outside of Ireland, including Freya, and Diana, but we do not ignore the heritage of this land or the ancestral spirits of it. At Imbolg we make offerings to Brid and at Lughnasa to Lugh and also throw offerings into our local river to our local river goddess Boann. Witchcraft here is linked very much to the land here, and the mythology of the Irish can be found in every hill and at every ancient site.

What new books and other projects can we expect on the horizon from the two of you?

You may not see any new books from us for a while. We do have one book being written at the moment on our experiences with trance and psychism but its publication is a long way off. At present we are concentrating on the practical workshops and the online courses. We are touring again this year, and will be in New York State, Connecticut and Washington DC towards the end of August and September.

As both of you continue in your roles as elders and teachers within the wider Pagan community, what do you think will be your greatest legacy to the modern Paganism movement?

That’s a good question, and we’re not really sure that it is our place to say! In the end I think we will be judged on what effect we have had, what we have done, rather than any claims we have made about ourselves. If we have changed one person, and allowed them to find their spirituality and connection to divinity then we are happy that we have achieved something. It only takes one person to change the world.