TWH Greatest Hits: Interview with Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone

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[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.