Part two of this interview series with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone , guests at Heartland Spirit Festival , this continues from the first portion of our interview. This section of the interview focuses on the current practice of Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone, what they have experienced with deity work and integrated.
Nels (N) :Is it easier to speak to the deities now?
Gavin (G) : Something interesting is going on, as Pagans we have been waking the gods since the 1950’s. Voudon and the Caribbean traditions has a few hundred years on us! When you go to a Voudon Bembe, with its ecstatic drumming and dancing, they come through really strong, riding (possessing) the participants. We are now reaching the point where this beginning to happen now in modern neo-paganism, even though it has only been fifty years. This is because we have been waking the gods up. We have noticed something interesting as we have done the work. We are forming a Neo-Pagan pantheon. We only have a finite amount of energy to give the gods as spirits as they wake up. You see the same gods and goddess coming up all the time in our community. Hecate, Brid, Isis, Morrigan, Freja, Odin, Diana etc. Because there is only this finite amount of energy for them, they are congregating and forming a new pantheon. All awakened gods from different cultures forming a pantheon, and redefining roles.
Over the years as we done trance possession we have kept having Hecate appearing, even though neither of us have felt inclined to work with her, but now it seems we haven’t got much choice! As we did the trance prophesy she started coming through at almost every event and public workshop. We had strange occurrences. On one occasion we started conversation wither her in Connecticut through a priestess in trance, and she finished with us, unprompted with a priestess in California. Now it has reached a point where when she comes through somebody, I will know if it is Hecate, because she will burst into fits of laughter when she knows it is me!
Janet (J) : The last time it happened in America she turned around and said to Gavin, “Oh God, it’s not you again”.
G: She has been developing and evolving and has taken on the role of teaching trance with in this new ‘pantheon’.
J: She is taking on the role of a psychopomp for trance, quite fascinating.
G: This does mimic what happens in voudon. She is taking the same role as Elegba/Ellegua. You also have other deities fulfilling other roles as well. That is what is starting to occur, as simple as that. You see it where Brid is taking over the healing role. Brid is forming into three Brid’s, the triple goddess Brid consisting of the original Celtic Brid, Saint Bridget, and Maman Bridget from Voudon. Every priestess we know who works with Brid has found that is what is occurring. Suddenly they get this dark aspect of Brid, this dark earth goddess, the Maman Bridget from Haiti. It is getting drawn to them to balance the other two aspects.
J: There is the Brid of fire, who says right, you are going to be my priestess but I am going to put you through hell, put you on my anvil and beat the shit out of you! She is an initiatory type of goddess.
G: The Morrigan is a protective type of goddess, the Macha. We are also seeing that Freya, who is taking on a different type of role. She is a goddess of journeying. Which is how this all started for us, by working Freya.
(N) : Is it possible to awaken gods that don’t have a cultural, mythological base?
G: Many of them start of as ancestors. Then through worship they become gods.
J: Odin is a classic example.
G: You see a process that occurs like this in several places. You see it in Japan; in Shinto you have the concept of the honored ancestors. Odin is a good one to understand because was thought to have been a real person, like Christ, the other example of a real person. What happens is he does something for his people. In the case of Odin, it wasn’t the runes, it was a set of laws, the Havamall. He is recognized after he dies for that, they set up shrines, and because he is an ancestral spirit start to worship and deify him. They seem him aligned, as the hindu often do, as an avatar for the old god Wode, and the two become combined. That is what happens to ancestral gods.
J: We have one here on site (at camp Gaia) a shrine to Stewart, which I am delighted about. There are around this country people who have also set up shrines to Gerald Gardner, and Alex Sanders. Stewart was has often been described as the midwife of the craft, because of A Witches Bible. After Stewart died, a friend of ours in Connecticut, her name is Elizabeth Guerra, wrote a book about his life called, “Writer on a Broomstick” which is still out there, and about to be republished. His story is not just about witchcraft. He was a man from the first days of flight, to see a man land on the moon. He went from an interested agnostic, from Christian Science parents, to becoming during the second world war and after it, a member of the communist party, and then he found the craft and spiritually opened up. I wanted a book to tell his true story. I didn’t want him to just be put on an ancestor shrine in that way, the way people have treated Garner and Sanders. I wanted people to see him with all his faults and failings, what he went through in the last years of his life. He was a human being like the rest of us. That is what she did in the book, she took all his diaries, went back and forth across the Atlantic, and went though them and wrote the book. I was so proud of what she wrote.
(N) : Are there craft ancestors that are worthy of being deified?
G: Well I can imagine some wanting Crowley being deified, but I don’t think they are going to get what they expect! I can tell you stories about him. The people wanting to channel him are going to get a shock, because he is going to tell them off!
Crowley is so misunderstood because he always played the showmanship card. Many of the stories coming down are really not what happened. There is a lovely story about him that gives you an idea of his mentality, this comes from Ireland. Crowley when he lived in Dublin had all these young men who wanted to be his neophyte. Crowley invited them all ’round for a curry. In the Edwardian era, curry was a quite exotic meal. They all arrived in tuxedos, it was black tie. They were let in all asked to be seated. Crowley greeted them in an apron and declares he will serve them personally. He goes to the kitchen and serves them all individually, and goes back to the kitchen and gets his serving. They all start to eat it and it is so hot it is burning their mouths and there is no water on the table. Crowley is bust eating his curry. On of the young men whips around as says, “Mister Crowley, I can not eat this”. Crowley just glares at him and everyone else knows he must be in trouble now. After dinner they move to the drawing-room as they did in those days for having brandy and cigars. Crowley then begins wishing them farewell as they gather their hats and coats. Crowley singles out the young man who refused the curry and says, “You are staying behind!” The remaining men seem confirmed he will feel Crowley’s wrath later. After they all leave, Crowley sits him down and offers a cigar, and brandy and says, “I am going to teach you”.
J: Of course Crowley had served himself a mild curry and this young man was the only one who dared to figure it out for himself.
G: I think Crowley would be stunned that many people, and many in the OTO, are doing the exact same ritual. They do it as an honor to him, but he wouldn’t have been honored, he was against dogma. This story is of a test, he wanted people to challenge him. That is the real Crowley. If he came through, well no, it takes a long time for deities to develop. I think it would take at least several hundred years, it is an ongoing process.
This process of deification does of course take a long time. The energy has to come from the divine, it is not coming from us. We are just shaping the energy, making a relationship with it.
(N) : What have you kept, what have you purged from your past?
J: Although we have generally dumped everything that is Judeo christian and mystical, like the Qabalah, etc. if people in my group want to learn the Qabalah, I will teach them the Qabalah, because I was a Qabalist. My attitude is, the same as Doreen’s, if you want to learn from it, and it works for you, use it. I do believe it is very important for every coven, to understand psychology, particularly Jungian. Although we do not get too caught up in seeing the gods as being purely archetypes as some have done.
G: We have been trying to get rid of Christian dogma, regarding that horrible G-O-D word. If we went back to our ancestors, how they regarded the G-O-D word would be very different from how we would. They would regard them as they do in Santeria, they do not see them as G-O-Ds. You have to see them as spirits when you work with them, which means communication. And they are not necessarily omnipotent.
(N) : Is this what your new book is about?
G: We are changing publishers because of editing problems. The publishing industry is in flux. We are working with a smaller, more responsive publisher. Our new project has been in the works for long time, getting on ten years now. If we did not have the experience we needed, we went out and found it. It is a book about trance prophecy, and trance possession.
It started off by looking at drawing down the moon and wondering why it was failing for some people. Really it gets back to training. You need medium-ship training for it to work, unless you are a natural medium of course.
(N) :Is trance possession best accomplished within a ritual context?
G: At this time, for us, in this culture,…yes. We need to be working on a controlled form of it, although later on it might be different. One of the reasons we went on this path was because we saw almost a hemorrhage of people from paganism into Voudon and Santeria, because they wanted the experience of that connection. The problem is that unless you are connected in some way to that culture, and understand it, you can get burned because it is very intense. A lot of Westerners who are going into these African diaspora religions don’t realize the level of commitment you have to make. Once you are in, you cannot walk away, the Orishas and L’was are not going to let you.
J: If you are going to be a true priestess of Erzulie, for example you have for a whole year shave of every bit of hair on your body and dress in white. Not many people from a western culture would be willing to do this.
G: We were looking at methods of training people in Drawing Down the Moon, but it quickly evolved into something else. We created the system called The Four Keys; Four systems of knowledge that you needed to integrate to make the trance possession work. The Four Keys also worked for ecstatic ritual. Once you start to do this work, you can’t just focus on deities, because the moment you go down this path you start to work with medium-ship. One moment you are working with a deity, working in a true medium-ship state, which means you are connecting with them with the mediums minds eye. The next thing you know, someone’s Granny has appeared and you are talking with the dead. So you have to understand them as well, and be able to tell the difference.
The book we are working on, provisionally called, “Lifting the Veil”, which has two meanings. It is focuses on a way of teaching people a safe method of doing this work. As we studied what happened at Delphi, we realized there was something older. They were not originally in temple in the valley, but originally in a cave in Lykoria doing ecstatic ritual. We also started moving toward that practice as well, using trance dance. We realized quickly it was resembling a Voudon Bembe, but we were using techniques that allowed for more control. The book is about this journey.
(N) : It is kind of a cross between an ecstatic and a shamanic experience?
J: They are very similar
G: It isn’t that much different.
J: There are a lot of Wiccans who are very wary of what we are doing.
G: It does frighten some people, because that is the job of the ego, to not allow is to let go of control, and explore the shadow path. We have found that sometimes react very badly, feeling quite threatened by what we are doing.
J: Not by us, but they are scared of what they might experience.
(N) : What does your ecstatic ritual look like?
G: When we do ecstatic ritual we start from a framework you would recognize. We create what you would recognize as a circle. We put up the quarters, we cast a circle. But then our analogy is that we create a chalice. What we do when we cast a circle before an ecstatic ritual is creating a chalice. The chalice is of course water, it is feminine, it is creativity. If there isn’t a structure, well it becomes the structure to allow the chaos to occur that is a trance ritual. Otherwise it like, well you can’t drink wine without a chalice or a cup, it is a vessel. You would recognize it, there is a circle cast, and a small ritual as a focal point, and then it goes into the trance work and the drumming. Specific things happen, particularly in the waves of energy. It tends to go up to a crescendo, and drop, up again and drop throughout the evening. It is at those points where it drops that usually someone gets a possession. At which point you focus on that person.
J: We also have the equivalent of the psychopomp, which you find in the craft as the guardian of the North (Boreas). Specifically, as Stewart put it, in the guardian of death and initiation. He has got to open the doors to the world of spirit. You find it in Hinduism as Ganesha, in Bembe’s it is Papa Legba, or Elegba, we use exactly the same thing, he opens the door.
G: As in Wiccan drawing down the moon you see it, but often you don’t realize it, there are two defined roles. There is the person going into trance, which is the high priestess, the seer-ess. Then there is the high priest who is acting as the trance guard, the ritual psychopomp, whose job is to protect the person going into trance. You see the same thing in Vudun. You see the priestesses around the edge. They are the ones who have organized the ritual, made the sacrifices. They are the ones on the edge watching people dance. They are in the same role, two defined roles. When you get into full ecstatic ritual you find there are three. In the middle of the dancers you would find the priest and priestess, and then watchers around the edge. They are just people making sure all are ok. Janet and I go in because we are experienced enough in the energy that when we see someone going we can focus everything on them. Generally though there are just two roles. The first role involves safety. Safety is very important for people from Western culture who are not used to it. In the states you find at Pagan festivals as a whole that people may have had some experience with Voudon bembes, but in Europe it is not the case at all.
J: In Britain it is still the stiff upper lip, everything has to be done by the book!
G: We do this with Italian initiates as Dionysian rituals.
J: The Dionysian ritual are amazing because it is all wine oriented.
G: It would be a problem in America because unlike the British, Irish, and Italian cultures, there is an underlying stigma regarding alcohol going back to the days of prohibition.
J: Where we first did this ritual, in Tuscany the first time round, we had a beautiful young gay Adonis perform the role of Dionysus. He was taken by the women chosen as the Maenads up to a bedroom where he was dressed in a leopard skin print, instead of a real leopard skin. He had everything he needed. We told the Maenads to not wear ritual robes, but to wear togas, because we had gallons of wine that we knew would get over everything.
J: We had the traditional chant, “Dithram, Dithrambus, Dithram, Dithrambus“. They chanted this as they brought him down the stairs. He was getting more and more tranced out by this as they led him round the circle. I spoke as Diana with her hunting hounds, and I am going to hunt down Dionysus, “Dionysus, this is your night!” He does the traditional thing, he roars like a lion. We tie him to the grape vines, and he is surrounded by hundreds of pounds of grapes. The maenads come along whipped to a frenzy with wine, they are pouring it over themselves, down their faces. Dionysus opens his mouth and they pour it down his throat as he tries to roar again. After all are whipped up, he is tied tight to the vines as the sacrifice to the wine god, he is the wine god.
G: The maenads are given ‘cart blanc’ to do whatever they want during the ritual.
J: They kiss, they dance, they drink.
(N) : Do you try to control the ritual?
G: I am in charge of the safety of this ritual. There are always safeguards. Many are making sure there is safety, and it is not getting out of control completely.
J: Nobody is using drugs, or anything like that, it is just wine, for people who do not drink they are literally high on the atmosphere. Then the maenads go wild, and charge in and literally rip him apart from the vines. They are stomping the grapes into the ground with their bare feet.
G: People are high as kites! People are having ecstatic experiences and trancing out.
J: He then comes forth as the living Dionysus and walks round the circle, remember this guy is gay, and he walks up to the ladies, kissing them, holding them, embracing them. The next day the poor bastard wakes up and says, “What happened last night?” The robes are all soaked with the blood of the grapes, the juice is all over the ground. Dionysus was the only one drunk that night, drunk on the ecstasy of the experience. We have done this twice, once in this country.
We did it in a vineyard in northern New york. The owner there is a witch. We had the maenads running though all the vines, touching them, blessing them as they go. We made him [the owner] Dionysus.
G: It is all being done for a purpose, it was all about blessing the vines. It has an interesting effect because they had some flooding there, and in the vineyards they had very little. It has become a ritual with a purpose, and it is done every year now.
J: Now, one priest, who doesn’t know he will be chosen, becomes the living Dionysus. Year after year, the vines are blessed. It ends up with all coming into the longhouse and they bring out the most beautiful wines.
J: It is so exciting running your hands along the vines and watching them respond when you touch them. It is lovely because we blessed the whole vineyard, and the vines that should have died in the flooding shot back up just like that. They had one of the best harvests imaginable. To me that is what we should be doing. We have to really DO ritual, really do ritual for purposes like that!
Watch for part three of this interview next week, …where does the future take them, and the pagan movement.
A Witches Bible – Janet and Stewart Farrar (Phoenix Publishing)
The Witches Goddess – Janet and Stewart Farrar (Phoenix Publishing)
The Witches God – Janet and Stewart Farrar (Phoenix Publishing)
Spells and How they Work – Janet and Stewart Farrar (Phoenix Publishing)
The Pagan Path – Janet and Stewart Farrar, and Gavin Bone (Phoenix Publishing)
The Healing Craft – Janet and Stewart Farrar, and Gavin Bone (Phoenix Publishing/Acorn Guild Publishing)
The Inner Mysteries – Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone (Acorn Guild Publishing)