Farrar/Bone Lecture Review
Last night I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Gavin Bone and Janet Farrar in Parramatta (Australia). I was sceptical before I went, expecting at worst some fluffy nonsense about white light and dancing around a fire naked, and at best a common set of philosophies or a talk about simple magickal methods. But the two of them completely surprised me, and spoke about virtually NONE of those things! Some of the first words out of Janet's mouth were, "Does anyone have any cows with them tonight? Has anyone brought any cows? If not, then we won't have any for the slaughter…tonight we're going to slaughter quite a few Sacred Cows." I knew I was going to like them right away when she went on to say very bluntly in her opening monologue, "I don't give a fuck what tradition you all come from…You've all been the victims of an elaborate game." (I don't recall if the actual word was game or lie, but that was the gist of the message.)
They both went on to discuss the real history of modern Wicca starting with Gerald Gardner and how Wicca did not exist prior to about 1950, and went in detail about the original 'Books of Shadows' that they'd been lucky to see over the years. Their insight from having worked with the likes of Doreen Valiente, the writer and reviser of most of the original Wiccan rituals, was also impressive and informative. I liked Gavin's notion that if modern practitioners were able to see back in time to the original Gardnerian groups in action, they'd probably think them to be ignorant kids playing games heheh. Apparently the original Gardnerian information was founded heavily by ideas from Co-Masonry ('Old Dorothy' appears to have been a rich Co-Masonic Christian woman - certainly not a 'witch' from the evidence that was dug up on her i.e. her husband was buried with a Salvation Army cross on his grave, and they were both in a car accident on their way to church when he died), some Gnosticism, and bits and pieces of Irish/Scottish folklore. According to them, the real history of Wicca seems to be a long list of people with romantic ideas who were oath breakers and individuals. Each of them ended up splitting with whatever original coven they were with, beginning with Gardner who was apparently shunned from his New Forest group of non-witch Co-Masonic Rosicrucians (some of that could be conjecture, I don't recall everything perfectly so you'll have to wait until Bone/Farrar publish their info on this). Each time someone would split from a group, such as one of Gardner's priestesses (I loved the term used for his later ideal priestess heheh - "a woman of negotiable affection" - he kept pressing to get women who would perform the Great Rite in full and women kept refusing), he/she would create his/her own new 'Book of Shadows'. Farrar/Bone said that there is no 'real' Book of Shadows anywhere. Supposedly the very first one was just a mismatched notebook full of bits and incomplete pieces taken from folklore, personal notes by Gardner (including grocery lists heheh), and Christian magick traditions (the conjuration they mentioned in support of this made explicit reference to 'father son holy spirit' stuff).
A few other basic ideas from the first part of the discussion:
1. 'Witches' as we know and think of them today didn't really exist in the past. Many of the people who were punished as witches were just folk herbalists who would've considered themselves good Christians.
2. They mentioned that there was one historical reference to a woman 'witch' of sorts back in the 1300's who had a group of people around her, but that she appears to have been practicing a form of Norse magick and religion.
3. Much of the information that was passed down and considered secret or magickal was just stuff that we all now know and take for granted i.e. medical remedies or other practical information. Performing an old cumbersome remedy today is silly when you can just get some pills that'll do the same thing.
Because the primary topic of the lecture was Witchcraft in the New Millennium, they eventually tied their historical background into a talk on where they think we're heading next in pagan witchcraft and religious practice (by the way, the term 'witchcraft', or wiccacraeft from the Anglo-Saxon, traditionally refers to a set of methods/practices of magick, and does not indicate a religion as such). They discussed the eclectic nature of paganism in the past, with practitioners traditionally absorbing whatever they came in contact with. I especially liked their information on Hinduism based on their experiences with people in that area. The gist of that part of the discussion was this:
1. As pagans (if you are a pagan, that is), we should think for ourselves and avoid dogma. Pagans of the past weren't traditionally 'people of the book'. They did whatever worked, and everything was open to individual interpretation. True spirituality of any form comes from actually contacting the Spirit/deities personally and experiencing them directly.
2. Systems are just that - a framework for practice and learning. Janet said that although she had been an Alexandrian initiate, at no point had she ever bothered to copy out Alex's Book of Shadows to the letter as per his instructions (she left that task to her then husband Stewart). Again, dogma is unnecessary when it creates inflexibility and inhibits personal growth. (I'm personally not against learning things a certain way for the creation of a good foundation, but once you know the basics you're pretty much free to do what you want and it's expected that you'll do so. That appears to have been their sentiment as well since they mentioned that a system can bring you through a series of experiences, but that ultimately it was your own personal effort and experience in the end that counted most.)
3. No one really initiates anyone but the gods themselves. Ideas such as apostolic succession - the transfer of power from High Priest to new higher Initiate - are actually Anglican Christian. This is especially true in the way that Wiccans perform their transfer of power in initiations i.e. left hand under knee and right hand on head etc. - that comes right out of the Anglican Church.
4. Life is an initiatory experience. If someone tells you that you weren't properly initiated, they're usually full of shit. If 'deity' (by whatever name/names you know and commune with it) is in contact with you and you know it, and if it's helping you in your life, then that's all that matters.
5. Ranks and titles mean nothing. They said they've seen 1st degree initiates that they'd trust to run large organizations and 3rd degrees that they wouldn't trust to feed their cats! The biggest mistake of any tradition is believing that once you get to a high rank that you're done learning or that you 'know it all' now. We're all just students and people regardless of rank/degree (in Janet's words "dirty bottoms, spotty faces and all" - at no point are we ever 'better' than anyone else). They expressed an extreme dislike for elitism.
6. If you want to find out what the spirit of REAL paganism is and was, then they suggest that you study old folklore (and history) from many traditions and talk to actual practitioners of surviving pagan religions. Someone asked about their opinion of Ronald Hutton's book "The Triumph of the Moon", and they mentioned that they thought very highly of it, and that it was one of the things that started them on their recent path of historical research and fact straightening.
7. Paganism differs from the other 'book' religions in that in the past there wasn't so much of a tendency to categorize and place things in little boxes with terminology. Such thinking is more Judeo-Christian than it is pagan, and it causes us to miss the point. (I can agree with this since I was just reading the other day that pagan cultures such as the Romans were in the habit of adopting neighbouring gods and the gods of people whom they'd conquered. There was a lot of borrowing of ideas and similarity between Celts and Romans apparently, although the Romans sought to describe the Celts as barbarians while refusing to admit those similarities.)
8. Us versus Them philosophies need to stop. Christianity isn't 'the enemy'. In fact, they mentioned they ran into more anti-Christian fundamentalist pagans than fundamentalist Christians during their trip to this country (Australia). Fundamentalism is an unhealthy philosophy in any religion.
9. An observation of Gavin's was that the majority of covens work for the purpose of healing - whether it be social healing (getting a job/money to live would be classed as social healing), mental healing, or physical healing.
10. There was a question and answering session, and some general discussion that went into topics such as the use of masks in ritual for the purpose of changing consciousness and invocation, references and methods of researching various traditions (which Janet likened to attempting to slowly unravel a large ball of string with many interconnecting strains), and Jungian psychology (and how quite a few practitioners should study it to increase their self-knowledge/understanding and get their ego/personality problems worked out somewhere along the way). There was also some discussion of pagan groups that don't allow their members to mix with other groups and learn from other people, which they viewed as just wrong and self-limiting (not to mention a bit cult-like).
That's about all I can remember offhand at the moment. On the whole, I liked the two of them. I found their demeanour very earthy, blunt, approachable, and honest. They weren't afraid to joke about themselves or to be honest about their past experiences. On a more metaphysical note, psychic/clairvoyant observation of the room and the two of them was also interesting. I found Janet's aura to be quite empowered (thick/bright yellowish orange and jutting out about 18 inches all around her) from years of obvious practice. It wasn't set up quite the same as a ceremonial practitioner (had slightly different energy structures, though still very organized - I thought I could recognize large compartments of energy that might correspond to sephiroth, which would suggest she had worked with that in the past), but it was obvious that she was very accustomed to frequent energy work. Gavin had quite a column of bluish energy beaming down into the top of his head as he spoke. As I sat in the lecture room waiting for everything to begin, I noticed that a basic group egregore was forming quickly. The majority of people in attendance were intelligent and well-read practitioners 30+ years of age, so the overall energy level raised to much higher levels than you'd normally expect of a group that size. I found that interesting as well - normally, in a crowd of a thousand people or more I have to close down my head chakras to avoid feeling like I'm mentally swimming or light-headed (usually I get annoyed trying to swim in a sea of other people's thoughts and energies), but I initially got a similar effect in a room of only 34 people. I had to adjust a couple times to keep auras and light trance states from distracting me away from paying attention to the lecture. Additionally, the effects of the types of energy raised by the presence of that many experienced practitioners in one place were different from that of several hundred non-magickal people in that the vibratory rate was higher and more pure (lots of whites, oranges, dark blues, and greens mingling together with transparent 'spiritual' stuff), and overall potency/force much greater.
Anyway, that's enough from me for now. Hope you enjoyed hearing about last night's lecture from my perspective, whether you agree with their (or my) ideas or not :)