JANET FARRAR TIMELINE
1950 (June 24): Janet Owen was born in Leyton, Essex, United Kingdom.
1970: Owen was initiated into Alex and Maxine Sanders’ Alexandrian Wiccan coven in West London; later that year she was upgraded to the second degree in its tripartite ritual system.
1971: Janet Owen and Stewart Farrar “hived off” of the Sanders’ coven to form their own, which met in Leyton and Wood Green. Owen left the group later that year and started working with a Qabalist ceremonial magic group.
1972 (January 1): Janet Owen married Victor Ewer. She broke from the Qabalist group and re-joined Farrar’s coven in June.
1974 (January 31): Janet Owen and Stewart Farrar entered a handfasting, a Wiccan marriage ceremony.
1975 (July 19): Owen and Farrar were legally married, both having divorced their previous spouses.
1976: Janet and Stewart Farrar relocated to County Wexford in Ireland, where they established a Wiccan coven.
1978: Janet and Stewart Farrar moved to County Mayo.
1980: Janet and Stewart Farrar moved to County Dublin.
1981: Eight Sabbats for Witches published, co-written by Janet and Stewart Farrar.
1982: Janet and Stewart Farrar moved to County Louth.
1984: The Witches’ Way was published, co-written by Farrar and Farrar.
1985: Janet and Stewart Farrar moved to County Meath.
1987: The Witches’ Goddess: The Feminine Principle of Divinity was published, co-written by Farrar and Farrar.
1989: The Witches’ God: Lord of the Dance was published, co-written by Farrar and Farrar.
1990: Spells and How They Work was published, co-written by Farrar and Farrar.
1992: The Magical History of the Horse was published, co-written by Janet Farrar and Stewart Farrar with Virginia Russell, although Stewart’s name was not included as author
1995: The Pagan Path: The Wiccan Way of Life was published, co-written by Janet Farrar, Stewart Farrar, and Gavin Bone. That year Janet and Stewart joined the Church of All Worlds.
1999: The Healing Craft: Healing Practices for Witches and Pagans was published, co-written by Janet Farrar, Stewart Farrar, and Gavin Bone.
2000 (February 7): Stewart Farrar died.
2000: The Complete Dictionary of European Gods and Goddesses was published, co-written by Janet Farrar, Stewart Farrar, and Gavin Bone.
2001: Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone were handfasted. That year they established a new coven, the Coven Na Callaighe.
2004: Progressive Witchcraft: Spirituality, the Mysteries and Training in Modern Wicca was published, co-written by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.
2008: Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone were made honorary elders by a group of sangoma in South Africa.
2013: A second edition of Progressive Witchcraft was published, retitled The Inner Mysteries: Progressive Witchcraft and Connection with the Divine.
2014: Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone were legally married.
2016: Lifting the Veil: A Witches’ Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual was published, co-written by Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.
Janet Farrar [Image at right] is one of the most significant figures among the third generation of Wiccans. Through a series of books co-written with her second husband, Stewart Farrar, during the 1980s, she played a prominent role in popularizing this Pagan new religious movement across a wider, international audience. With Stewart, she was also responsible for establishing what is probably the first Wiccan coven in the Republic of Ireland. Through her writing and later her public speaking, she became a key voice for reform within the Wiccan movement, arguing for its democratization and urging its practitioners not to blindly follow the ritual liturgies and systems set forth by the religion’s founders. Through her publications, she also became one of the earliest figures to promote historical scrutiny of Wicca’s origins. Probably the most famous British Wiccan alive today, she is an internationally known and well-respected figure in Pagan circles.
Janet Mary Owen was born June 24, 1950 in Leyton, Essex, an area that would be absorbed into Greater London during the following decade. Her father, Ron Owen, was from a working-class English background and was then employed as a care assistant at the Royal Free Hospital in London. Her mother, Ivy Owen (née Craddock), was of Scottish ancestry; she died in 1955, leaving Janet with very few memories of her (Guerra 2008:73–76). Ron Owen was a practicing Protestant but was tolerant and interested in religions other than his own, adopting something of a universalist attitude that all religions ultimately led to the same God. His own father, who played a major role in Janet’s upbringing, took a similar attitude (Guerra 2008:76–77). After her earliest years in Essex, Janet was sent to a state-funded boarding school, the Royal Wanstead School in Hertfordshire (Guerra 2008:79–80). On graduating at the age of sixteen, she returned to Greater London to secure work, initially in a furrier’s shop and then for a succession of music companies, supplementing this with occasional modeling work.
It was at this point in her life that she became involved in Wicca. One of Janet’s friends had read King of the Witches, a book by the journalist June Johns. Published in 1969, it provided a biography of the prominent Wiccan high priest Alex Sanders (1926–1988). With his wife Maxine (b. 1946), Sanders had moved from Manchester to the Bayswater area of West London in 1967, where they established a coven of practitioners. Intrigued, Janet’s friend decided to go along and meet the Sanders. Janet was concerned about this and decided to accompany her friend, largely to try and keep her safe. To her surprise, Janet was attracted to Alex Sanders’ ideas and decided to start attending his twice-weekly classes (Guerra 2008:90).
Sanders was the founder of the Alexandrian tradition, now one of the best-known forms of Wicca. A new religious movement that had arisen in the early to mid-twentieth century, Wicca drew on the (since discredited) claims of the Egyptologist Margaret Murray (and others) that the alleged witches of early modern Christendom had been members of a secretive pre-Christian religion revolving around the worship of a horned god. Although there is much diversity among Wiccans, most practitioners call themselves witches and Pagans, venerate deities whose names and identities are (at least partly) drawn from those of pre-Christian Europe, celebrate seasonal festivals known as Sabbats, and cast spells utilizing what they regard as magic (Doyle White 2016). Sanders appears to have been initiated into an older form of Wicca, the Gardnerian tradition, in 1963. He had subsequently used its liturgies and ritual structure as the basis for his own, Alexandrian system, which he then falsely claimed had been passed down to him by his grandmother (Hutton 1999:320–24; Di Fiosa 2010:51–64).
Sanders was very keen to attract as many new recruits as he could. A running joke emerged among his followers that even the milkman would get initiated into Wicca if he stood on Sanders’ doorstep for too long (Farrar and Bone 2004:31). Janet was initiated into his coven early in 1970 (Guerra 2008:97). In the coven she met Stewart Farrar (1916–2000), a journalist, novelist, and television scriptwriter who had been initiated into the Alexandrian tradition not long prior, and they began working together in a ritual capacity. On October 17, 1970, in a house in Sydenham, South London, Sanders oversaw a rite during which both Janet and Stewart were upgraded to the second degree. This was a step up in the Masonic-derived threefold initiatory structure used in both Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca (Guerra 2008:103).
Janet Owen and Stewart Farrar [Image at right] then “hived off” of Sanders’ coven to form their own group, of which they served as the presiding high priestess and high priest. This initially held its meetings at both Janet’s home in Leyton and the Wood Green home of two of their initiates, Barbara and Don Pleasance (Guerra 2008:103). Not long after, on April 24, 1971, Sanders oversaw a rite to upgrade both Janet and Stewart to the third and final degree of his tradition. At the time, both Janet and Stewart were in relationships with other people, but Stewart began to develop romantic feelings towards his high priestess, who was thirty-four years his junior. Learning of this, Janet decided to leave the coven in September; she then married her fiancé, Victor Ewer, in January 1972 (Guerra 2008:110–12).
No longer working with her Wiccan coven, Janet began conducting rituals with an occultist group in London that mixed Qabalah with a system of ceremonial magic drawing on the imagery of ancient Egypt. It was run by Walter Johns, who regarded Janet as a gifted spirit medium whose powers could assist his activities. Janet and her husband Victor moved in to live in the lower half of Johns’ house. However, Janet’s relationship with Johns grew strained and after the latter tried to ritually invoke an “Angel of Death” against Stewart Farrar, she cut all contact with her new mentor (Guerra 2008:111–12, 114–15). In June 1972 she re-joined the coven she had founded with Stewart, resuming her role as its high priestess.
Much as Sanders had sought to attract publicity for his tradition (and himself), so Janet and Stewart Farrar began engaging with the media, giving a number of television and radio interviews about Wicca, as well as several public lectures on the topic. Their approach, however, tended to be less overtly sensationalistic than that of their initiator. As the historian Ronald Hutton later commented, Janet and Stewart demonstrated themselves to be “the most articulate” of the Sanders’ initiates (Hutton 1999:338; Hutton 2019:351). Stewart also began drawing on Wicca for his novels; one such example was his 1973 book, The Twelve Maidens, which he dedicated to Janet.
In December 1973, Janet and her husband Victor agreed to a divorce. Soon after, in January 1974, Stewart moved in with Janet and her father in Leyton; it was at this point that the relationship between the two friends took on a romantic dimension (Guerra 2008:117). On January 31, their initiates Don and Barbara Pleasance oversaw a “handfasting” ritual (a form of Wiccan wedding ceremony) between Stewart and Janet. After their respective divorces were formally confirmed, they legally married on July 19, 1975. To please Christian relatives, they also had a nuptial mass overseen by a friend who was a priest of the Liberal Catholic Church and an occultist. Their honeymoon was then spent in Egypt, where they believed that they had both previously lived in past lives. There they met Olivia Robertson (1917-2013), the co-founder of a Goddess-worshipping occult order called the Fellowship of Isis (Guerra 2008:118, 120–21).
Growing dissatisfaction with Sanders’ behavior led the Farrars to increasingly distance themselves from him and by 1974 they were no longer referring to themselves as “Alexandrians.” They decided to move away from London, relocating to Ireland in May 1976 and bringing Janet’s father with them. Initially settling near Ferns in County Wexford, it was here that they launched a new coven, the first known Wiccan group to be established in the republic (Guerra 2008:122, 125–27). They were not Ireland’s only modern Pagans, however, and in the 1970s and 1980s they regularly visited the Fellowship of Isis’ headquarters in Clonegal Castle, County Carlow, becoming members of the group (Farrar and Bone, personal communication). Reflecting a growing divergence from more dominant views in the Wiccan community, the Farrars began initiating gay individuals into their coven, something strictly prohibited by many other groups (Farrar and Farrar 1984:170; Farrar and Bone 2012:25). In December 1978, they relocated again, this time to Ballycroy in County Mayo, where they lived with their friend Virginia “Ginny” Russell and her mother. Their economic situation became strained; Janet contributed to the group’s finances with occasional tarot readings. They faced some local opposition, and in April 1980 they moved near Swords in County Dublin (Guerra 2008:130, 133).
In March 1978, Stewart first began corresponding with Doreen Valiente (1922–1999), [Image at right] a prominent Wiccan who had played an important role in editing and expanding the Gardnerian liturgy. As well as becoming a friend of the Farrars, she confirmed Stewart’s suspicions that much of what Sanders had presented as his own family tradition was simply taken largely wholesale from the Gardnerians (Guerra 2008:130–32). In 1981, the publisher Robert Hale released Eight Sabbats for Witches, co-written by Janet and Stewart. In this book, the Farrars highlighted that the traditional Book of Shadows used in Gardnerian and Alexandrian covens gave little detail regarding how to celebrate the eight seasonal festivals known in Wicca as “Sabbats” and so set out to provide ritual exemplars that the Farrars had largely devised themselves (Farrar and Farrar 1981:15).
The Farrars continued to move around Ireland, in 1982 settling in Beltichburne, County Louth, and in 1985 in Ethelstown, County Meath. Janet’s father, Ron, lived with them until his death in 1987. In 1984, the Farrars’ second co-written book, The Witches’ Way, was published. This incorporated much of the Gardnerian-Alexandrian Book of Shadows, discussed its chronological development, and then outlined the Farrars’ own thoughts on a wide range of issues, from reincarnation to the practicalities of running a coven. Next came The Witches’ Goddess (1987) and The Witches’ God (1989), perhaps the earliest concerted explorations of Wiccan theology. They followed this with Spells and How They Work (1990), which was one of the earliest focused studies of magic from a Wiccan perspective. With Stewart, Janet then co-wrote The Magical History of the Horse (1992). Janet had originally planned to write the book with Virginia Russell, who had a great deal of experience with horses, and the latter’s name remains on the cover despite the fact she did not involve herself heavily in the project (Guerra 2008:142–43).
The Farrars accompanied these literary projects with personal appearances, lecturing in various parts of Europe and speaking to the media. In September 1989, they lectured at the first open Pagan Festival to be held in Britain, the Link Up ’89 near Leicester, and in 1991 they embarked on a four-month lecture tour of the United States. There, they first met Oberon Zell-Ravenheart (b. 1942), one of the founders of the Church of All Worlds, an influential American Pagan group established in 1962. They would subsequently join his Church in 1995 (Guerra 2008:190–91). Although they would be listed as one of the Church’s “nests,” they took little active role in its activities (Farrar and Bone personal communication). Another U.S. organization that the Farrars engaged with was the Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC), a Wiccan group based in Index, Washington that had been established in 1979 and which was known for its attempts to secure legal recognition for Wicca. They attended its Rites of Spring in 1991 and 1993 and later that decade were appointed third-level clergy in its hierarchy. Through the ATC, they were later able to help secure legal recognition for Wicca in Ireland (Farrar and Bone personal communication).
The Farrars had struck up a friendship with Gavin Bone (b. 1964), an English Pagan who visited them in Ireland on several occasions. Aware that he was entering his own twilight years and would be unable to care for his wife, Stewart encouraged Janet and Bone to establish a romantic relationship, a situation he called “Pan Fidelity.” A trained nurse, Bone moved in with the couple and helped to care for Stewart, while Janet slept with each of them on alternating nights (Guerra 2008:150–51). The trio embarked on U.S. lecture tours in 1993, 1995, and 1996, meanwhile co-authoring The Pagan Path: The Wiccan Way of Life (1995), and then The Healing Craft: Healing Practices for Witches and Pagans (1999). In deteriorating health, Stewart died on February 7, 2000. The Complete Dictionary of European Gods and Goddesses, the final book co-written by Bone and the two Farrars, appeared that year.
Janet Farrar handfasted Gavin Bone in 2001 and they legally married in 2014. The same year as their handfasting, they established a new coven, the Coven Na Callaighe, around which was also established an “outer court” group with a broader membership, the Teampall Na Callaighe (Farrar and Bone, pers. comm.). Through this group they focused on the development of what they called “Progressive Wicca,” viewing this not as a distinct tradition (akin to Alexandrian, Gardnerian, Dianic, etc.) but as a general ethos or approach to the religion. Their co-written book, Progressive Witchcraft: Spirituality, the Mysteries and Training in Modern Wicca, came out in 2004, with a retitled second edition in 2013. With other Wiccan groups that shared their perspective, they launched the Alliance of Progressive Covens, although this proved short-lived (Farrar and Bone, personal communication).
Farrar and Bone [Image at right] placed an increasing focus on practical workshops as a means of disseminating their ideas and experience throughout the international Pagan community. By the latter part of the 2000s this included online courses that they were teaching through the College of the Sacred Mists (Farrar, Bone, and Pitzl-Waters 2008). One of their workshops, The Inner Mysteries, was launched in 2002, subsequently taking place in various parts of Europe as well as in the United States and Australia (Farrar and Bone 2004:14). In 2008, they started undertaking intensive workshops in Italy, with some of their Italian followers subsequently establishing the Tempio di Callaighe, named in honor of the Irish group that Farrar and Bone had established several years prior (Farrar and Bone, personal communication). The duo’s travels took them to new parts of the world, including Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, where they participated in ceremonies conducted by a range of indigenous communities (Guerra 2008:164; Farrar and Bone personal communication). While in South Africa in 2008 they were made honorary elders by several Transki-Lesotho sangoma (traditional healing) elders as part of a two-day ceremony. During their travels in North America, they participated in rituals by practitioners of African diasporic traditions such as Santería and Vodou (Farrar and Bone personal communication). Informed by these encounters, they took a growing interest in the role of trance, the process by which gods or spirits are perceived to possess a human in order to impart messages to practitioners. Their book Lifting the Veil: A Witches’ Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual (2016) reflects this influence.
Janet Farrar was originally initiated into Alexandrian Wicca, a variant of the religion developed primarily by Alex Sanders in the 1960s. Sanders was probably an initiate of the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca, and Alexandrianism largely used Gardnerianism as a basis, although added further elements drawn from the ceremonial magical systems in which Sanders was interested. As the Farrar couple established their own coven, they used the Alexandrian system as a basis but also introduced their own innovations and alterations. By 1974, they were no longer comfortable referring to themselves as Alexandrians (Guerra 2008:118–19), although they continued to do so, for instance in their first book Eight Sabbats for Witches. They nevertheless noted that some had referred to them as “reformed” Alexandrians, a description “which has some truth,” but that more importantly they were “unsectarian by temperament” and preferred to simply be called “witches” (Farrar and Farrar 1981:17).
By the early twenty-first century, Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone were describing their approach to Wicca as “Progressive.” In their understanding, this did not designate a distinct tradition in its own right, but rather characterized “a way of seeing the spiritual truths that underlie all nature based religions, especially the truth that they must be able to adapt if they would cater to the spiritual needs of the individual” (Farrar and Bone 2004:10). For them, the “Progressive Witch puts spirituality and therefore divinity at the centre of their practice.” Thus, in their view, Wicca’s future lay more in “a spiritual rather than a magical direction” (Guerra 2008:166). In this sense, Janet Farrar emphasized Wicca as a theologically-oriented tradition rather than as a system of operative magic. Janet and Stewart Farrar believed that the purpose of Wicca was to “put the individual and the group in harmony with the Divine creative principle of the Cosmos, and its manifestations, at all levels” (Farrar and Farrar 1981:12). Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone affirmed that at “the core” of Wicca is “reverence for Nature and the belief that we are not separate from it” (Farrar and Bone 2004:43), underscoring Janet’s view that Wicca was “above all a natural religion” (Farrar and Farrar 1981:154). This idea of Wicca, and modern Paganism more widely, as a form of “nature religion” or “earth religion” was one that had emerged in the United States during the 1970s before spreading rapidly to Western Europe (Clifton 2008).
While expressing a belief in a singular, “ultimate Creator” (Farrar and Farrar 1989:51) or “Ultimate Divine” (Farrar and Bone 2004:86), Janet Farrar has argued that this is an entity so complex that we cannot possibly comprehend it. To attempt to do so, humans must turn to “aspects of Divinity” (Farrar and Farrar 1987:52), such as the various deities found in the world’s many mythologies. In her 1980s writings, Farrar highlighted a gendered polarity with a division between a Goddess and a God, the standard duotheistic system found in Gardnerian and Alexandrian Wicca. Following the example set by the influential British occultist Dion Fortune (1890–1946), Farrar took the view that different deities of the same gender are ultimately reflections of the same entity; that “All Gods are one God, all Goddesses are one Goddess” (Farrar and Farrar 1989:67). Drawing on ideas that were prevalent in various occultist and feminist circles in the twentieth century, she claimed that humanity originally worshipped a Goddess, with veneration of the God coming later (Farrar and Farrar 1987:7–8). While European and European-derived societies have long been patriarchal and focused on a male God monotheism, she held the view that they are increasingly restoring the gendered balance by embracing a Goddess as part of their worldview (Farrar and Farrar 1987:1–2).
By the twenty-first century her approach to theology had shifted. Janet now criticized the duotheism she had formerly adhered to as exhibiting the same problems as God-oriented monotheism: “It tries to make a faceless God and Goddess” that was simply not relatable for most humans (Farrar and Bone 2004:87). Instead, she and Bone embraced a more “polytheistic/animistic” approach to their deities, for instance by affirming the importance of honoring the “spirits of the place” where one is performing ritual (Farrar, Bone, and DF 2019). This was informed by increasing knowledge of living polytheistic traditions around the world, such as Hinduism, Shinto, and African diasporic traditions like Vodou, accompanied by an awareness that these religions probably better capture the attitude to deity that would have been present across pre-Christian Europe than the traditional Gardnerian/Alexandrian duotheistic system (Farrar and Bone 2004:82–83). While engaging with a broad range of deities from various different cultural and geographical backgrounds, Farrar and Bone have described Freya, the goddess drawn from Norse mythology, as their “principal deity” (Farrar and Bone 2004:78). Although very interested in the idea of Jungian archetypes, Janet Farrar has maintained that these entities nevertheless have an independent, objective existence of their own (Farrar and Bone 2004:87).
Adopting the attitude of universalism and religious pluralism that she inherited from her father, Farrar has argued that Wicca and modern Paganism should not be seen as some sort of one true religion. Rather, with Stewart she has written that “all religions are different ways of expressing the same truths” (Farrar and Farrar 1981:154). This tolerance has facilitated various friendships and close relationships with practicing Christians, although it has not stopped her from being highly critical of certain tendencies within Christian thought. References to Christianity in her writing are often negative, connecting it with misogyny (Farrar and Farrar 1981:74; Farrar and Farrar 1987:18–19; Farrar and Bone 2004:17–18, 20), the suppression of sexuality (Farrar and Farrar 1981:74), and the rejection of science (Farrar and Bone 2004:42–43). She has nevertheless spoken positively of Jesus himself, suggesting that he might be a bodhisattva (Farrar and Farrar 1984:121–22), an interesting syncretization of Christianity, Mahayana Buddhism, and Wicca.
Janet Farrar, along with her second and third husbands, has never been a figure to accentuate tradition for the sake of tradition when it comes to Wicca. Opening their book on Progressive Witchcraft, Farrar and Bone stress Wicca’s capacity “to change with the times, to evolve and adapt culturally and socially” (Farrar and Bone 2004:9). Perhaps not surprisingly, they describe how as time went on they found themselves drawing greater inspiration not from the evidence for Europe’s pre-Christian past (the traditional storehouse of imagery which gave birth to modern Paganism) but from living traditions elsewhere in the world, such as Santería and Vodou (Farrar and Bone 2004:12).
In part, this willingness to adapt the tradition stems from Farrar’s longstanding acknowledgement that a great deal of Wicca was created in the mid-twentieth century by Gerald Gardner (1884–1964) and Doreen Valiente. Initially, she retained a belief that Gardner had inherited a core of genuinely traditional material passed down by Wiccans through the centuries. In The Witches’ Way, she and Stewart wrote that the Gardnerian initiation rites represented something that had been “carefully preserved, probably for centuries,” before Gardner received them in 1939 (Farrar and Farrar 1984:3). As belief in the historic witch-cult has eroded in much of the Wiccan community, in large part due to the popularity of Professor Ronald Hutton’s 1999 work The Triumph of the Moon, Farrar has come to reject this belief. In more recent writings, she has acknowledged Wicca as a new religion rather than as the survival of any pre-Christian witches’ cult (Farrar and Bone 2004:13). Linkages with the pre-Christian past nevertheless remain important for her, as for virtually all Pagans, and more recently she has characterized Wicca as “the reconstructed remnants of Western European Shamanism” (Farrar and Bone 2012:27).
Just as Janet Farrar and her working partners have been open to shifting away from the beliefs that she inherited from their Alexandrian initiators, so they were also interested in developing new rituals. [Image at right] One of the central rites within the Alexandrian tradition, as in the Gardnerian tradition before it, is that known as “drawing down the moon.” This entails the high priestess invoking the Goddess to come down and enter her (Doyle White in press). The Farrars developed a counterpart to this rite that they called “drawing down the sun,” which involved the God then being invoked into the body of the high priest (Farrar and Farrar 1984, 68–70). This new addition demonstrates the importance that they placed on a gendered polarity in their theology at that time.
While innovating, Farrar has nevertheless maintained many core elements of Wiccan practice. She has for instance observed and celebrated eight festivals throughout the year, known as Sabbats, which are collectively termed the Wheel of the Year. The idea of witches celebrating “sabbaths” was one that derived from early modern stereotypes and was subsequently absorbed into Margaret Murray’s argument that the witch-cult was a pre-Christian survival. Gardner had drawn this system of seasonal festivals into his Gardnerian tradition, celebrating the four cross-quarter days (May Eve, August Eve, November Eve, and February Eve). In 1958, members of his Bricket Wood coven decided to add the equinoxes and solstices to this list, creating the eightfold system that has since proved popular not just among Wiccans but also various other Pagan groups (Hutton 2008). In Eight Sabbats for Witches, Janet and Stewart drew upon folkloric associations linked with the changing seasons in Irish and British folklore so as to flesh out the rites that can take place at these Sabbats (Farrar and Farrar 1981).
Janet Farrar has also stressed that Wiccans should not follow the ritual liturgies for the sake of form alone. Arguing that the Book of Shadows, a liturgical collection deriving from Gardnerianism, should not be blindly followed as if it were a sacred text, she has declared: “We’re not People of the Book—we’re free thinkers!” (Farrar and Bone 2015).
Although it is as a writer that she has exerted the greatest impact on the wider Wiccan community, Janet Farrar has been involved in running a coven since the 1970s. In this capacity she has served as a high priestess, a role initially operating parallel to her husband Stewart as high priest. As noted above, this was based on the Alexandrian model, itself based on the older Gardnerian model, although Janet and her respective high priests have introduced changes to the way that the coven operates.
Both Gardnerianism and Alexandrianism traditionally operate on a three-degree system, with each degree conferring greater knowledge and responsibilities on the initiate. This tripartite system can be traced to Gardner’s borrowings from Freemasonry, although it also parallels the multi-degree system evident in those ceremonial magic orders (such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Ordo Templi Orientis) which influenced the formation of early Wicca. Deeming this system to be excessively hierarchical, in the 1990s Janet Farrar and her partners tried to do away with the three-degree system although found that many of their coven members continued to think of themselves along these traditional lines (Farrar and Bone 2004:50).
While it is not difficult to find accolades proclaiming her importance within the modern Wiccan community, Janet Farrar has typically responded to such adulation with modesty. Unlike Wiccans such as Alex Sanders, she has not sought any title such as “Queen of the Witches.” She has stressed that like all practitioners, there is still a great deal that she has to learn (Farrar, Bone, and d’Este 2019). The lack of arrogance or self-importance on Farrar’s part, coupled with her significant and influential publication output, has earned her a considerable amount of respect within Wiccan circles. It has also perhaps ensured that, although sometimes adopting perspectives and reforms that some practitioners dislike, she has escaped the levels of lasting internal vitriol that sectors of the community directed toward both Gardner and Sanders.
During the 1970s, a major area of dispute within the Wiccan community focused on how the religion should correctly be transmitted to new converts. Gardnerian Wicca, and subsequently Alexandrian Wicca, were initiatory traditions. One could only become a member by undergoing an initiation ritual overseen by a pre-existing initiate, usually (although not always) by joining the latter’s coven. This system was never going to adequately cater to the growing number of people who wanted to be Wiccans, geographically dispersed and isolated from existing groups as they often were. The only way to reach this broader pool of interested persons was to give them the material through which they could self-initiate (or self-dedicate) and establish their own covens from scratch. To this end, various books were published in the 1970s that outlined how readers could set themselves up as Wiccans.
Some, like Raymond Buckland’s The Tree (1974), promulgated altogether new traditions distinct from Gardnerianism and Alexandrianism. Others, most notably The Book of Shadows (1971) of Lady Sheba (Jessie Bell), just published much Gardnerian ritual liturgy wholesale, albeit concealing its true pedigree. Many members of the established initiatory traditions were incensed by this new trend. They felt that this sullied the religion and encouraged disturbed or inexperienced individuals to dabble in things that could prove dangerous. Along with her husband Stewart, Janet Farrar was among those who disagreed with such an exclusionary approach and argued in favor of allowing anyone to set themselves up as a Wiccan should they wish to do so. Their view was in some respects pragmatic. As they noted in their 1980s publications, most of the Gardnerian-Alexandrian ritual liturgy had already been “leaked, plagiarized . . . or distorted either deliberately or by careless copying” (Farrar and Farrar 1984:1) in books like Lady Sheba’s Book of Shadows, the latter of which they called “garbled, illiterate and better ignored” (Farrar and Farrar 1981:179).
They went beyond this and provided a self-initiation rite for any readers who wanted to begin practicing Wicca without access to an existing coven (Farrar and Farrar 1984:248–50). Like their friend Doreen Valiente, they were advocates of the idea that anyone should be able to set themselves up as a Wiccan if they wanted to become one and that Gardnerians and Alexandrians should not claim that they were the only “true” Wiccans. Farrar and Bone later described themselves as being among those who “have challenged whether lineage, which is of Christian origin, has any place in modern witchcraft” (Farrar and Bone 2004:32). In a sense, Janet Farrar and her partners were aligning themselves with the inevitable. Books teaching the reader how to become a Wiccan would proliferate in increasing numbers over subsequent decades, having a huge impact on the demographics of the Wiccan community. By the early twenty-first century, the majority of Wiccans were self-initiated solitary practitioners (Berger 2019).
Janet Farrar represents an interesting case study for scholars exploring the role of women in religions. It is significant that all of her books have been co-written with a male partner, even when (as in the case of The Magical Hero of the Horse), this was not publicly declared at the time. In certain respects, this is an unusual position to be in, at least within the remit of Wicca and related forms of modern Paganism. In Wicca, women have tended to either establish themselves as prominent authors in their own right (for example, Sybil Leek, Starhawk, Silver RavenWolf) or have had their contributions to literary projects overlooked in favor of their male co-author (as with Doreen Valiente’s contribution to The Meaning of Witchcraft, which was published only under Gerald Gardner’s name). Janet’s role in co-authoring books with her male partners has thus demonstrated a collaborative ethos and clear message of gender equity, one which is in accordance with the traditional gendered duotheism of Wiccan theology.
Image #1: Janet Farrar, photographed in the 1970s or early 1980s.
Image #2: Janet Farrar with her second husband, Stewart.
Image # 3: Janet with her second husband Stewart and Doreen Valiente (left), circa 1989.
Image #4: Janet Farrar with her third husband, Gavin Bone.
Image # 5: Janet at a ritual overseen by Alex Sanders (right), probably performed for publicity purposes.
Berger, Helen. 2019. Solitary Pagans: Contemporary Witches, Wiccans and Others Who Practice Alone. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
Clifton, Chas S. 2008. “Earth Day and Afterwards: American Paganism’s Appropriation of ‘Nature Religion.’” Pp. 109–18 In Handbook of Contemporary Paganism, edited by Murphy Pizza and James R. Lewis. Leiden: Brill.
Di Fiosa, Jimahl. 2010. A Coin for the Ferryman: The Death and Life of Alex Sanders. N.p.: Logios.
Doyle White, Ethan. Personal Communication with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. 14 December 2020.
Doyle White, Ethan. 2016. Wicca: History, Belief, and Community in Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press.
Doyle White, Ethan. In press. “Drawing Down the Moon: From Classical Greece to Modern Wicca?” In Fictional Practice: Magic, Narration, and the Power of Imagination, edited by Bernd-Christian Otto and Dirk Johannsen. Leiden: Brill.
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. 1990. Spells and How They Work. London: Robert Hale.
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. 1989. The Witches’ God: Lord of the Dance. London: Robert Hale.
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. 1987. The Witches’ Goddess: The Feminine Principle of Divinity. London: Robert Hale.
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. 1984. The Witches’ Way. London: Robert Hale.
Farrar, Janet, and Stewart Farrar. 1981. Eight Sabbats for Witches. London: Robert Hale.
Farrar, Janet, and Gavin Bone. 2016. Lifting the Veil: A Witches’ Guide to Trance-Prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual. Portland, OR: Marion Street Press.
Farrar, Janet, and Gavin Bone. 2015. “TWIH Episode 29: The Evolution of Progressive Witchcraft with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.” This Week in Heresy. January 31. Accessed from https://thisweekinheresy.libsyn.com/webpage/twih-episode-29-the-evolution-of-progressive-witchcraft-with-janet-farrar-and-gavin-bone on 15 March 2021.
Farrar, Janet, and Gavin Bone. 2012. “Witchcraft and Sexuality: The Last Taboos.” Pp. 25–28 in Gender and Transgender in Modern Paganism, edited by Calyxa Omphalos, Jacobo Polanshek, Gina Pond, Philip Tanner, and Sarah Thompson. Cupertino, CA: Circle of Cerridwen Press.
Farrar, Janet, and Gavin Bone. 2004. Progressive Witchcraft: Spirituality, Mysteries, and Training in Modern Wicca. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books.
Farrar, Janet, Stewart Farrar, and Gavin Bone. 2000. The Complete Dictionary of European Gods and Goddesses. Chieveley, U.K.: Capall Bann.
Farrar, Janet, Stewart Farrar, and Gavin Bone. 1999. The Healing Craft: Healing Practices for Witches and Pagans. Blaine, WA: Phoenix.
Farrar, Janet, Stewart Farrar, and Gavin Bone. 1995. The Pagan Path: The Wiccan Way of Life. London: Robert Hale.
Farrar, Janet, Gavin Bone, and DF. 2019. “Interview with Janet Farrar And Gavin Bone.” AnimaMonday, February 20. Accessed from https://animamonday.wordpress.com/2019/02/20/interview-with-janet-farrar-and-gavin-bone/ on 15 March 2021.
Farrar, Janet, Gavin Bone, and Sorita d’Este. 2019. “Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone – Children of Earth Interviews.” Patheos, June 10. Accessed from https://www.patheos.com/blogs/adamantinemuse/2019/06/janet-farrar-gavin-bone-childrenofearth/ on 15 March 2021.
Farrar, Janet, Gavin Bone, and Jason Pitzl-Waters. 2008. “Interview with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone.” The Wild Hunt, March 30. Accessed from https://wildhunt.org/2008/03/interview-with-janet-farrar-and-gavin.html on 15 March 2021.
Farrar, Janet, and Virginia Russell. 1992. The Magical History of the Horse. Chieveley, U.K.: Capall Bann.
Guerra, Elizabeth, with Janet Farrar. 2008. Stewart Farrar: Writer on a Broomstick. Arcata, CA: R J Stewart Books.
Hutton, Ronald. 2019. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. New edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hutton, Ronald. 2008. “Modern Pagan Festivals: A Study in the Nature of Tradition.” Folklore 11, no. 3: 251–73.
Hutton, Ronald. 1999. The Triumph of the Moon: A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Buckland, Raymond. 1974. The Tree: The Complete Book of Saxon Witchcraft. York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser.
Lady Sheba [Jessie Bell] 1971. The Book of Shadows. St Paul: Llewellyn.
Farrar, Stewart, 1973. The Twelve Maidens. London: St Martin’s Press.
Teampall Na Callaighe: The Website of Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. Accessed from https://www.callaighe.com/ on 23 February 2021.
18 March 2021