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Janet Farrar


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Progressive Witchcraft:
Lilitu Babalon Talks to
Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone


About this Interview

In January/February 2001 I organised a tour of Australia for Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone which included Sydney - New South Wales, Melbourne - Victoria, Brisbane - Queensland and Canberra - Australian Capital Territory. As part of the tour this interview was conducted at ArtSound FM 92.7 (in Canberra) for my radio program, OzWrite, a program about writers and writing. As both Janet and Gavin are published authors, it fitted in quite well, despite the fact that OzWrite is not a specifically Pagan program, just produced by a Pagan. Parts of the interview appeared in the now defunct Witchcraft Magazine, and in the Australian Church of All Worlds journal, The Emerald Egg of Oz. The following is a transcript of this interview.

 Lilitu Babalon:   I thought we would start off talking about the early history of Wicca inBritain - the beginnings with Gerald Gardner and a bit later with Alex Sanders. Letís start with the way in which Gerald Gardner began the Craft, as we know it today. 

Janet:  Thatís difficult because itís hypothesis. Thereís no factual basis, thereís only hypothesis to go on. We believe and I think a lot of other people out there believe that he actually didnít really find Witchcraft. He believed heíd found Witchcraft but youíve got to remember that during that period people studying the occult were very upper class. People like ourselves and your self wouldnít have had a hope in Hel of being involved in the occult scene. We are talking of the wealthy; the elite. Gerald had been a tea planter out in Malaya and when he returned toBritain it was just after the First World War. Youíve got to remember how many people inEurope died in the trenches in the  1st WW and as a result of that there was a revolution going on. People wanted a spirituality; theyíd  lost it. So many people became involved in the occult via things like Rosicrucionism, Theosophy and so on. It would have appealed to these upper class people. We think that  what Gerald actually found when he went to theNew Forest when he discovered the Rosicrucian Theatre, wasnít a coven of Witches but a group of Theosophists. He so wanted to believe they were the remnants of an old religion that he actually said to them, ďYou are a coven of witches.Ē I think
itís very possible that they turned around and said to him, ďNo, weíre not,Ē and tried to explain to him what they were, but he wouldnít have it. 

For Gerald, he really believed this was Witchcraft. Back then if you read tea leaves it was Witchcraft. If you read the cards it was Witchcraft. If you dabbled in crystal balls it was Witchcraft. Everything was labeled Witchcraft. It was certainly known that he really upset them in the end and so much so they asked him to leave. We always joke that he was the first Witch ever banished from the Craft.  

Gavin:   One of the interesting things about the Rosicrucian  Theatre, thereís no doubt some of them were Theosophists. We know that Annie Bessant Smith, a well-known Theosophist at the time, was involved in the group. There were also people who were part of another organisation called the Fellowship of Cretona. Theyíre interesting because thatís co-Masonry and we believe what they were doing was a Gnostic Mass where man and woman took an equal part. So you had a priest and a priestess. Now that would certainly to Gerald Gardnerís mindset, have indicated there was a form of Witchcraft going on; a balance between the sexes where women were just as much part of the spirituality as the men. We think thatís another factor to be taken into account. 

Janet:   The one woman he talks about who is mentioned a lot in the history of Gardnerian Witchcraft is Dorothy Clutterbuck. According toGardner, Dorothy ran the coven in theNew Forest. She was a very, very wealthy woman. During the latter part of her life, the history of Dorothy Clutterbuck does not make sense if she was a Witch. She married a man called Rupert Fordham. Theyíre obviously very in love with each other. Rupert Fordham is very high up in the Salvation Army. If you look at the cross on his grave, itís  a Salvation Army cross. What would a high-ranking gentleman in the Salvation Army  be doing married to a Witch? On the day he died, he was killed in a car accident, they were on their way to church. Whatís more Dorothy was known because of later diaries that were discovered about her with nothing to do with Witchcraft in them, that she worked for the Womenís Guild of the local church. None of it makes sense if she was a Witch. I think it is possible (and this is purely hypothesis) that she and Gerald clashed with each other, and that after her death Gerald pointed the finger at her and made her high priestess of a coven when in actual fact she was probably a good Christian woman. It was his little tongue in cheek joke. The interesting thing is, it worked. Whether she ran that coven or not, it doesnít matter a damn. What does matter is it inspired him to start a philosophy, and I prefer to call it a philosophy than a religion - it is not an old religion, itís an old philosophy - that has spread and grown and become very healthy since those days. 

Gavin:   What we think Gerald Gardner did was create a myth. If you look at all religions, new religions are based on a myth. Take Christianity, itís based on the myth of Jesus Christ, that he was the son of God. Now Christ was a real figure but a lot of things have been attributed to him which arenít true; heís become mythologised and we think this is what Gardner did consciously or unconsciously, he realised there needed to be a myth if the new modern movement of Witchcraft was going to survive. What he didnít foresee was what started as a Witchcraft movement, a Wiccan movement, was going to blossom into a Pagan movement with Wicca being just a small part of it. I donít think he saw that at all. 

Lilitu:  What would he have thought about that do you think?  

Gavin:  I think he would have been absolutely amazed. I think her would have been very impressed in the way Wicca has developed. 

Janet:   Certainly in his lifetime, by the time he met Doreen Valiente who really was the true mother of Witchcraft, and she started working on the rituals, because he had very little in the way of rituals, and most of what he did have was blatantly Christian I hate to say, had nothing again to do with Paganism. Doreen Valiente started to put the Pagan touches in. Gerald turned to Doreen and said, ďI do not think the Old Religion will survive to the 21st century.Ē If he lived today he would love whatís happening in the rest of the world. He would want to join theChurch ofAll Worlds because for him, as far as he would be concerned, it would be an ideal place for him to just be what he wanted to be, a sort of grandfather, elder figure of the Craft.  

Lilitu:   Really and truly we can say the Craft is 50 to 60 years old, Gardner developed it in the beginning.

Gavin:   Yes, itís like the Hare Krishna movement, which started in the late Ď60s. Yes, itís modern but by its very nature Paganism must be modern. Itís an evolving tradition. 

Lilitu:  Gardner was there at the right time wasnít he? What was it that held the craft together in later years? You were saying earlier that it was just after the 2nd WW; people were looking for something. Fifty years have passed - whatís kept the Craft alive?

Gavin:   I think itís a realisation that religion doesnít have to be dogmatic. It doesnít have to be based around a doctrine. One of the things that happened with the major monotheistic religions, patriarchal religions is they sunk very quickly into dogma and doctrine which was totally inflexible. Because of that, they lost their spirituality. What draws people towards Wicca and modern Paganism is the spirituality; itís the connection not just with the land but with everyday life.

In Christianity you go into church on a Sunday and thatís it - youíre a Christian. Itís like saying if you go to a garage that makes you a car. It doesnít. Pagans have realised itís in everyday life, that spirituality must be grounded in everyday life. Thatís what attracts people to it.

Also the mysticism attracts them because a lot of mysticism and mythology is based around psychology so there is a strong component of a person wanting to find out things about themselves, which attracts them to Paganism and Witchcraft.

Lilitu:   Other people have kept the craft alive, such as Alex Sanders, Doreen Valiente and yourselves for example.

Janet:   The problem I think, with modern Witchcraft, is that to a certain extent the past has become the be all and end all for some of us, and that is not the way it should be. InBritain for example, for many years, no Gardnerian would talk to an Alexandrian, except Doreen Valiente who did not believe there should be a gulf between us. The reason for that is Doreen knew the truth. Amongst her possessions were letters from Gerald Gardner and in there is no doubt he totally accepted Alex Sanders being initiated. Doreen had those letters in her possession and thatís why she knew there was no need for a rift between the two sides. Gardner himself, during the time he had initiated Priestesses, like every single example you find, there had to be a Witch war. One priestess didnít get on with another; some priestesses had run-ins withGardner, including Doreen Valiente herself.

One of those priestesses, Patricia Crowther had a renegade priestess, Pat Kapinsky who left Crowtherís coven and went off to work by herself. During that period Alex Sanders came along. First of all he approached Pat Crowther. She refused him initiation. Then he approached Pat Kapinsky and Pat Kapinsky introduced him to a mysterious  woman called Medea. We do not know who Medea was, but we do know thatGardner knew who Medea was. As a result of that introduction, Alex Sanders was initiated by Medea into Witchcraft. In his early books, Sanders claimed himself the title King of the Witches. There are no kings and queens of the Witches and there never have been. Only the God and Goddess themselves have that title, but Sanders claimed that and he also claimed that he was initiated by his grandmother at the age of 13 and it was semi-sexual. Well, Iím sorry,  thatís child abuse and it was a blatant lie. Sanders made the story up because the real truth was he was a Gardnerian initiated by a renegade Gardnerian. Gerald Gardner himself, Iím not sure if they ever met, certainly approved of Alexís initiation so there should never have been a rift in the first place.

The other thing you find with ďold traditionalĒ Gardnerians and Alexandrians - the Witchcraft they practise tends sometimes to become stagnant because they do not want to see further. They donít want to see how the rest of the world works Witchcraft. The true Magick, the only ancient part of Witchcraft left today that you will find anywhere in the world is the Strega, the Italian or Sicilian Strega because they have kept their religion alive disguised with saints. Anywhere you go in the world if you find a religion hiding behind saints, you can pretty well guarantee youíre talking of something which is very, very old. Otherwise, it would not have survived with the impact of Christianity. You had to be a good Christian and you might be out on the hills dancing after dark but you had to be in church on Sunday, worshipping alongside every other Christian. The Italian Strega have always done this.

Gavin:   One of the problems that occurred very early on was that people were trying to practise a Pagan religion but it wasnít what they were brought up with culturally. They were still hanging on to Christian morality, Christian socialisation, norms and values. WhenGardner created the book of shadows, the main liturgy for Wicca, people saw it as another Bible and it became a sacred book which it wasnít supposed to be. For people of the time and even up to the 1980s, brought up on Christian religion, when they were over to Witchcraft and became interested in it, they saw the book of shadows as another one of the sacred books such as the Bible, the Torah, the Koran because they were brought up as children of the book. As time has gone on, this has gone away.

Another problem people ran into was the need for validation; to claim the way they were working was far older than it really was. Thereís been a lot of social pressure amongst Wiccans to say, well my tradition is a family tradition, and it goes back to my Grandma. That was again pressure put on by Christian socialisation, that you had to claim there was some form of Apostolic succession as they say in the Christian church. In factGardner introduced that idea by passing power on from the initiated to the initiate and that caused several problems. In Paganism that isnít actually required and people are beginning to realise that now. Wicca is beginning to change considerably. People now, rather than feeling they need to claim ancient lineage are saying, no, Iím connecting directly with Spirit, directly with God and Goddess. Thatís the true nature of being a priest or priestess.

Lilitu:   Thatís something thatís  only come forward in the last ten or fifteen years. One of the first people that said that in books, was the late Scott Cunningham - that you can self-initiate and self-dedicate.

Janet:   Doreen Valiente also said the same thing.

Gavin:   She was saying that in the early Ď80s  in the book Witchcraft for Tomorrow, and a lot of people were saying that at the same time because things were evolving. Janet and Stewart were saying that as well. Ray Buckland was saying it as early as 1969-1970. One of the reasons that started to occur was the influence of the United States because you had groups of people spread out all over the country who couldnít get to each other. There were small pockets of Pagans and Witches with nobody else around so they self initiated and when other people bumped into them, they were just as much a Witch as anyone else. In fact in many cases, self-initiating and doing the path  by yourself actually produces far better Witches because thereís no doctrine and dogma forced on them - they have to learn it for themselves. This is one of the other things weíre finding.

Janet:   One of the biggest problems when people claim lineage from different traditions, they say, well my people come from so-and-so, and they choose a famous name from occult history. What they donít realise is that Doreen Valiente led a very busy life. She knew many of those people and has letters from then, and they werenít Witches. Again we go back to them being things like Theosophists, Rosicrucians; one of them was even a Knights Templar, but they are not Witches.

Gavin:   What people have forgotten, or havenít realised is theyíre doing something quite natural when they do the lineage thing, except theyíve got it wrong slightly. Lineage only exists within a family if youíre blood kin. Whatís happening is people are trying to trace ancestry via people theyíve never known and are not connected with. Within Paganism itself, youíll always find this idea of ancestry, connecting with your ancestors. Lineage came about and really supplanted that idea but itís a false idea; itís a Christian idea. Rather than people tracing their ancestry back, instead theyíre trying to produce a false history of themselves and thatís also been one of the problems. People are now feeling the need to connect to their ancestry and youíll find that around the world, if you look at ancient forms of Pagan practise. Shinto is an ancient form of Pagan practise where you give reference to your ancestors.

The other problem thatís occurred is people see the deities within Paganism as Gods and Goddesses in the same way they saw the Christian god, and theyíre not. A lot of Gods and Goddessesí origins are as ancestors. We know this from Christian writings. A good example from Anglo-Saxon England is stuff written by the Venerable Bede in the 9th century and he mentions that the Kings of England all had to take an oath when they were christianised that they would forsake and not worship the Devil, Woden, Thunor and Saxniat. They werenít told that they couldnít revere those deities as ancestors, obviously apart from Satan, but they were told they couldnít be worshipped as gods any more. If you check the royal families ofEurope, they still link their ancestry back right the way into the past to god figures. These are seen as ancestors.

We start off with an ancestor who has done something positive for their tribe, family, community or clan. As time goes on they become a mythological figure, and then they become deified, highly revered as a spiritual figure. No different to the Buddha, no different to any avatar in Hindu tradition.

Lilitu:   Itís similar to the way in which ordinary people who do extraordinary things become saints in the Catholic tradition.

Gavin:   John Lennon [laughs]. There are shrines permanently to John Lennon around the world. The most interesting thing that happened was after the death of  Diana Princess ofWales: shrines began to appear to her and there are web sites revering her as a Goddess. This is the same process in action. Within Witchcraft the whole idea of lineage is actually false. It only exists if youíre in a family tradition but not in any other.

Lilitu:   Why the need to have a Godhead?

Gavin:  When you look at deity you see a face of the divine and everybody needs a face to identify with. Stewart Farrar used to have a good way of explaining this. He used to say if I was a horse, my god would be a horse, so within Wicca and within Paganism, when we look at deities we are seeing faces weíve put on. Weíve given them 50% of the power they have. The other 50% of the power comes from the Divine because of the way we treat them. You very much have to work with deities, thereís no bowing or groveling as in the patriarchal religions, itís a working relationship with them.

Lilitu:  And in a sense youíre working with a part of yourself, not with something external.

Gavin:   The Divine comes through you as well; itís inside and outside you. Thatís also summed up in the old occult maxim, ďAs above, so belowĒ. Just because it works, youíre part of the Divine. You could also argue that youíre part of the Divine through your ancestry as well. I link to an Anglo-Saxon goddess because I have strong English roots. Thereís something genetic going on here as well.

Lilitu:   Iíve seen that with a lot of people in the Pagan community. Iíll take my own example - Iím very attracted to Lilith and Kali. To Lilith because it reflects my Jewish heritage but the dark goddesses because I think often theyíre fiery troublemakers and that reflects a bit of me. Other people in the community do that too - others are attracted to the Irish myth cycle or the Welsh Mabinogion.

Gavin:  We unfortunately do also have a fashionable element where people get drawn to something as a fashion. Iíll quite openly admit that for a long time I fell victim to that and tried to work with Celtic. It just wasnít the same and finally I did actually give in and started to work with Anglo-Saxon. Everything clicked because there was something in me that had that yearning. Saying that, I also work outside with deities of other pantheons. At home we have a shrine to Ganesha because heís very powerful. Heís the most worshipped deity in the world.

Janet:   We call our house the house of a hundred gods and believe me weíve got more than a hundred gods there now. In the morning when I first get up, the first duty I have is to light incense to the Durga which of course incorporates Kali, who is one of my deities too. Then I have to light a candle on the cat altar, covered in statues of Bast, and Bast also gets her saucer of milk. Then I have to go to Freyaís altar because she is my deity and Freya has to have fresh flowers every Monday morning, as by the way does Bast. They liked to be preened and nurtured and loved, and we even went through a stage when Ganesh was demanding milk and this was a phenomena happening all over the world, the statues were drinking milk and our Ganesh was doing exactly the same.

Gavin:   The psychologist Jung tried to explain the idea of Deities: Gods and Goddesses, as numinous archetypes but the same as a biologist trying to explain what life is by taking apart the brain, trying to explain what consciousness is by looking at the anatomy. All Jung was doing was looking at the anatomy; he couldnít explain how it worked. So you can put forward the idea that deities are numinous archetypes, but they also have a personality of their own and this is the trick magically. The trick magickally is to actually be able to believe in them as individual personalities as well as realising that they are something psychological going on, numinous archetypes for example, and balancing the two; walking between the two.

Lilitu:   They exist on many levels.

Gavin:   Yes, realising that both statements are true. Weíre brought up in monotheistic religion to believe that there is only one truth, thereís only one way, thereís only one God, but within paganism itís polytheistic so there are many truths. The answer may be 4, but 2+2=4, 1+3=4, 1+1+1+1=4 and thatís how Paganism works. In monotheistic religions itís purely 2+2=4. 

Lilitu:  To go back to what you were saying before, for example, you relate best to the Anglo-Saxon, I relate best of all to the dark Goddesses and so on. When you have larger groups of people, covens or groups up to 20 or larger organisations, how do you manage that where you may have a group of 100 plus people at a public ritual?

Janet:   You just refer to the Lord and Lady.

Gavin:   Or for example if youíre doing a Summer Rite, take the deity of Summer back to her origins. Invoke the Goddess of Summer. Invoke the horned god of the forest. Invoke Mother Earth. Itís an archetype which is above all culture. If weíre at big gatherings and we do any invocations, we will invoke images that everybody understands. If they decide to put personal names on that: Cernunnos, Herne, whatever, that is going to be up to them. The main thing is everybody gets the same image.

Lilitu:   What about smaller groups where you need to work more closely together?

Janet:   Where we work at home, all of our Craft people have their own names for their own deities but if we are working inside the temple in the house, we refer to just the Lord and the Lady. If weíre working outside we have a genus loci and her name is Tlachta.

Gavin:   Genus loci by the way means spirit of the land and again, itís a big problem within modern Paganism as we see all Gods and Goddesses as Gods and Goddesses in the Christian vein whereas in many cases theyíre just higher forms of Spirit, related to areas, for example Tlachta was a Goddess figure of a particular area of land in Ireland where we live. So if weíre working with the land we work wherever possible with the spirits of that land. Itís not ancestral. We live inIreland so we work with the Irish deities when weíre working on the land. They canít be ignored, theyíre in the land and you pay respects to the land, to the deities of the land which are the spiritual manifestation of the land.

Lilitu:   InAustralia for example where we may not know who the spirits of the land are, either because thatís been lost or the local indigenous people are not able to share the knowledge, how can we overcome that? I know itís a tough question to ask.

Gavin:    It is a tough question. I think over time people will go and find them. I think itís in the nature of people to go out into the land and see the land and anthropomorphise the spirit of it in some form or produce an animal form representing. Rivers have traditionally been associated with snakes because they serpentine. Iím pretty sure to Aboriginal people the idea of the rainbow serpent, thereís this thing of the river. Rivers are very important to people. Every major city is built on a river in the world. Thereís a good reason for that because itís water supply and water is vital. You have to look to the land itself and see whatís there, and talk to it. After a while it will talk back.

Lilitu:   How do people do that?

Gavin:   [laughs] Aaah! Really itís about going out there and spending time and working with that land, connecting with it, meditating at the quiet places - not doing full scale rituals, you just need to sit quietly and feel it, listen to it. To use a term I donít like using, itís a shamanistic experience.

Lilitu:   Thatís not a bad way of describing it.

Gavin:  No itís a good way but I have a problem with using the word shamanism too much because itís too much of a buzzword nowadays.

Lilitu:  I guess the way more new age oriented people describe such an experience is channeling.

Gavin:   Spiritualists used to call it mediumship. Channeling is a new-age word for mediumship or psychically connecting. In the past mediumship was a very strong word. If youíre a medium, youíre a medium, thereís no doubt about it, so channeling is easier. It can mean a whole lot of things. Could you call it channeling? No, I donít call it channeling. My idea of channeling is when you are bringing through an entity. This isnít about bringing through an entity; this is about connection actually with the land itself - you going out to meet the land and the land meeting you halfway. 

Lilitu:    Thatís a much more authentic experience than going to a ritual where someone else has created something that you don't relate to.

Gavin:    Yes it is. Itís something weíll do with initiates in our group, which is basically throw them out in the countryside for a night. The Norse had a term for that which was called the sit out where you spend 24 hours in the middle of nowhere and you connect with the land. Itís very surprising what just going out into a piece of forest or woods for 24 hours, right through the night with nobody else. Suddenly you are alone with nothing but the land and what happens is the darkness reflects your own shadow or your oppressed fears, and all your fears come out. After youíve dealt with all of those you suddenly realise the world around you is alive. The stones are alive; the ground is alive; the air is alive; the trees are alive. All those norms and values have told you, you shouldnít see this. As a child weíre told initially to believe there are fairies and then we get to a certain age and fairies donít exist. Itís repressed. Shamanistic work is shadow work where you pull away all the expectations; all the things that youíve repressed and been told not to believe in; you pull all those away. You pull away all the norms and values which have stopped you connecting with nature in this culture.  

In other cultures, in Indian culture, itís taken for granted there are fairy folk who are devas in the flowers, in the plants and animals. The Greeks took it for granted. In Ancient Greece there were dryads; there were water nymphs. 

Janet:  And the Irish still take it for granted.