Do Janet and Gavin need an introduction? Even people with only a passing knowledge of Wicca and witchcraft know their names. Together, Janet and Gavin have dedicated their lives to the gods by serving spirit and healing others. They are true elders of the community.
We set up Anima Monday as a kind of virtual cafe where people could gather together to think about and share our experiences of animism. We hope you will enjoy this interview with a couple of true trail blazers. Not only have they already walked well ahead of us on this path but along the way they’ve discovered new openings and possibilities. How have they kept themselves from getting lost? Through listening to divinity, one can find the way.
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview! Maybe we can start by looking at the connections between animism and Wicca. What is the place of animism within Wiccan theology and witchcraft? Do you understand a god like say, Poseidon to be the consciousness of the Ocean itself, or more like an outside guardian spirit? Something else?
Wicca is a revival of witchcraft which occurred in the 1950s. Initially it modelled itself on Ceremonial High Magick practises rather than native folk magic or animistic philosophies which existed in the British Isles before the medieval period. These did survive as the belief in faery; the Irish Sidhe, and of course in folk stories. Wicca tended to focus more on a duo-theistic deity model: the ‘God’ and the ‘Goddess’ and higher elemental forms such as ‘The Lords of the Watchtowers’.
From the late 1960’s into the 1980’s many in the modern witchcraft revival began to realize that this aspect was missing from the magical practises of witchcraft through academic, but more importantly through spiritual contact with them. This reconnection with named cultural deities and the spirits of nature continue until this day within many Wiccan’s practises incorporating connection with the spirits forms of nature on all levels. For many practising Wiccans they are no longer duo-theistic in practise, but have become truly polytheistic and animistic in belief. Deities continue to play the more important part for most though with the belief that deities are entities, personalities in their own right.
You mentioned Poseidon, for example. From the polytheistic/animistic viewpoint which we teach he originated as the un-named spirit of the Ocean. He was what we call a Primal Deity. He was eventually moulded by cultural worship which drew more divine energy into the Greek sea god we know today; a super charged thought form whose energy originates from the divine. He is the consciousness of the Ocean which is capable of manifesting as a spiritual entity, a real personality, a deity-spirit form. This realization among many in the witchcraft movement that deities are real spirits, not just archetypes has resulted in a revival of interest in experiencing divinity through expanding the Wiccan practise of Drawing Down the Moon into Trance-Prophesy and Trance-Possession work, something we have specialized in for the last 20 years.
In ritual, how important is the ‘spirit of place’? Does it in any way play a role in supporting or guiding your magic?
Again, the necessity to recognize spirits of the place was often ignored in the revival of witchcraft. We learnt very quickly in Ireland that it was necessary to make offerings to honour the local spirits first. Ireland is a place which is alive with spirits, not just at the Local Holy Wells or Neolithic sites but everywhere in the countryside, every hill top, every piece of woodland and every river and stream. Every magical practitioner we know who works in Ireland knows the consequences if this honouring doesn’t take place. It’s not a matter of them supporting or guiding your magic, it’s a matter of necessity to make sure things run smoothly! We have often been called out to deal with “Fairy Activity.” Such is the strength of their presence and belief in the land and culture and Ireland. We quickly learnt a belief in animism in Ireland was an absolute necessity to function as a witch on the emerald Isle.
How do you connect to the tools you use in magic? Do you understand them as being inspirited? How does that influence the way in which you work with them?
The whole process of traditional magic consecration in Wicca is really the ritual imbuing of the magical tool with energy to create an astral double of it. This is really creating a spirit for it; a thought form. Often a magical tool will often develop its own ‘personality’ as a result but this can often take a long period of time if it isn’t intentional; and in most cases in Wicca it isn’t. The exception of course is in creating thought forms as Guardians. Often a witches bottle or a similar vessel is used to hold it. In this case the creation of a personality and purpose for it is intentional. You find a similar practise in African Diaspora religions such as Haitian Vodoun where an “Obi Ori” is created in a similar fashion. This creation of thought forms in this way is one of the traditional magical practises of witchcraft you find in Wicca.
You have unapologetically spoken about how Wicca and witchcraft are evolving traditions – that growth and change are a strength rather than a weakness. We all started with a kind of two dimensional magical space: four elements and a circle. Then you travelled the world. Listened. And expanded that initial magical space into a cosmology, a system of mapping the realms of reality. Are we there yet or do you imagine there might be more ahead?
We will never be “there yet”! We are a nature based, mother earth based religion and nature itself is evolving all the time. Likewise nature loves diversity. Mother nature has not created one species of tree, but many to suit different circumstances. Some function in damp soil, others in dry etc. Also, you can have a forest of all the same species of tree, but not one is the same. They have also all grown differently to suit circumstances. Likewise, many different folk magic traditions such as Wicca have developed to suit different social, cultural and geographical circumstances. This is not its weakness but its strength. Such diversity will allow the survival of Wicca and Paganism for centuries to come, although we may very well not recognise many aspects of those traditions in the future, in the same way that the Stone Circle builders of neolithic Europe would recognise Wicca, but from our experience of contact with aboriginal magical practitioners such as the (South African) Sangoma they will recognize why you do it.
Our purpose is to serve the divine and change the world around us for the better.
Lately I keep hearing from elders about the importance of being genuine and authentic. That being true to the past or authority is much less important than being true to the self and spirit. I see this as a re-wilding of the human spirit and it fills me with great hope. Such a stance may have the potential to embolden a new generation into really pushing back against the mass destruction of life. Do you see the craft playing an important role in this extinction emergency?
We ask our students two questions. The first is “Why are you doing this?” Is it to better yourself personally or to better the world around you? The two are not always exclusive as first we have to remove all the irrelevant aspects of our cultures norms and values which have been projected onto us. Once we are passed that stage then we truly become a Priestess or Priest, and these are not titles they are job descriptions. Our purpose is to serve the divine and change the world around us for the better. This is being “authentic” and “genuine” not being able to show your descent from one individual who created a tradition in the past. This obsession with authentic lineage and harking back to archaic magical practises is a hindrance which prevents us from doing the work that needs to be done NOW! All the Witches we come across out on the front lines; taking political and social action to prevent damage to the environment, and the biosphere all have one thing in common. They have rejected dogma and listened to divinity; their own gods who have directed them to this work.
You communicate with the gods through trance prophecy. Have you lately received messages from them regarding our relationships as humans with the natural world? What is your landscape saying to you these days?
To be blunt, it’s been warnings, but warnings are there to give us the opportunity to change, if they do not allow this, what is the point of them? They are divine direction, not omens of doom. This means we still have time, but people need to realize that the darker goddesses are on the rise. We like to think that we are trying to save the environment, that we are trying to save Mother Nature. The reality is slightly more harsher and often clouded by ego. Regardless of what we think Mother Nature will survive, even with the extinction of some species of animals. Ever noticed we are always more concerned about the extinction of the larger animals, such as the cute and cuddly ones we relate to, but we hardly ever hear about the extinction of a species of spider or centipede? Mother Nature will just evolve another creature to fill these niches over millions of year; time wise a drop in the ocean for her. She will also unfortunately make a point of making the creature who created this disaster extinct – in this case it is ourselves. But there is still time for us to make some areas of humanity realize that we are in a symbiotic relationship with nature; we can still have an impact on changing the materialistic, disposable society we live in to allow this balance to continue.
Readers interested in learning more about Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone may enjoy exploring their hugely influential writings. Janet co-authored A Witches’ Bible: The Complete Witches’ Handbook. Their most recent title is the highly regarded Lifting the Veil: A Witches’ Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual. They continue to travel to offer lectures and workshops from time to time. Don’t miss out! Keep on eye on meet ups in your area.