For the Centre For Pagan Studies (Compiled by Richard Levy)
1 – Could you tell us a little about how you got started in Wicca and why you were drawn to it?
Janet: When I came into the Craft, It was 1970. I was 19 at the time. I’d grown up through the ‘60’s; I was a flower child, I was a hippie, I also, though work knew the Beatles, Eric Clapton and Brian Epstein. But at the same time, I was also a Sunday school teacher. I was from a good Christian background.
I became interested in witchcraft after a friend of mine read June John’s King of the Witches, and wanted to visit Alex and Maxine Sanders. I had ‘heard’ all about witchcraft, I knew it was all about sex and drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll! Well, I went to bail her out of Alex’s coven. Now Sanders was the gentleman who called himself ‘King of the Witches’. I hasten to add that he was not accepted generally as the ‘King of the Witches’. He could be a bit of an old rogue, but was a brilliant showman, and yes, he was a very, very good Ritual Magician.
When I met him I was quite surprised, because I found that under the showmanship was a very genuine spirituality. He started talking about ‘the Goddess’, and I had never heard of ‘the Goddess’. She meant actually nothing to me at this stage, but I rather liked the idea of being involved in the healing aspect, because, although I had never wanted to be a healer, it was the remnants of my hippie attitude ‘Let me heal the whole world’.
Gavin: I have a much more eclectic background than Janet and Stewart did. I first became interested in witchcraft in the early 1980’s. Initially I was going to the local Spiritualist Temple in my hometown of Portsmouth and was interested in the Healing Practises there. I picked up my first book on Wicca about that time. I had always been interested in occult subjects; I brought my first Tarot Pack when I was 16 and use to attend festivals on the unexplained (Surrey Puma, Loch Ness, UFO’s, the paranormal etc.) I had developed my own ‘system’ of beliefs. The book, which changed everything for me, was Doreen Valiente’s ABC of Witchcraft. Well, that’s when I knew what I was – a Wiccan. There in the book was everythin I already believed in.
I joined my first magical group in 1985. This was an eclectic magical group and it’s members consisted of a Ceremonial Ritual Magician, a Norse Shaman, a couple of traditional spiritualist mediums as well as a Sufi practioner. It worked from the back of an Occult Shop in Portsmouth called Fifth Dimension. The group practiced a mixture of magical practises including Earth Magic, the clearing of ley lines etc, and Ceremonial Ritual. It was from one of its members, the Norse Shaman that the Seax-Wica coven was formed. I had been the youngest member of the eclectic group and had started to become a focus for a group of younger people interested in Wicca in my hometown, so in early 1986 these people were all brought together, and were formally initiated into the coven.
I should point out that although we based our initial coven work on Ray Buckland’s book The Tree: The Complete Book of Anglo-Saxon Witchcraft, we quickly went beyond it. It was a good base to start from, but we wanted more. We started to work more with the material from Janet and Stewart’s books and started to create our own rituals and system of working. Because of this, this group also became quite eclectic in it’s approach. None of us saw anything wrong with this as it worked.
Ray Buckland (31 August 1934 – 27 September 2017) Museum is set up in his honour – http://bucklandmuseum.org/
2- Is there anything in The Craft you recall seeing more of when you were younger and you would like to see return?
Janet and Gavin: To be honest, we don’t think there is? People always look back at the past as a “Golden Age”, but the reality is the Craft has actually evolved so much today.
3 – Who in the Craft would you say influenced you the most?
Janet and Gavin: Doreen Valiente!
Janet: I’ve always considered her my spiritual mentor. She was humorous, educated and down to earth. I don’t think Eight Sabbats for Witches and The Witches Way (compiled as A Witches Bible) would have been as successful as they were without the input and support we received from Doreen. She helped us through the maze of writings and contradictory histories of modern wiccan and the Book of Shadows, so that we could produce something which was genuinely of benefit to those out there searching for Wicca.
Do you know, that in all the years I had known Doreen Valiente, I never once heard her say a bad word about any other member of the Craft, and there was some of them she disliked immensely. One of them was Alex Sanders; she didn’t like him at all as a person, but her only comment, with a chuckle was ‘Oh Mr. Sanders, he’s still alive is he?’ It was a joke, and that’s the nearest I have ever heard her say anything nasty about anyone. It was my deepest regret I never managed to get her and Maxine together, although I nearly got a meeting between the two of them. It would have been interesting to see how they got on with each other, but sadly she died before that could ever happen.
4 – Are there any must read books you would always recommend?
Janet and Gavin: Doreen’s books remain some of the ones we recommend the most. There are so many books out there with little substance, many of them repeating the same material over and over again. Unfortunately many coming into the Craft rarely go outside these modern books. We do of course, generally recommend the classics in Wicca, such as Gardner’s, Raymond Bucklands, and Pat Crowther’s but also suggest people look for real classics which include Andrew Alfoldi’s Diana Nemorensis, Iamblichus On the Mysteries, Ogden’s Greek and Roman Necromancy and Magic, Witchcraft, and Ghosts in the Greek and Roman Worlds. With a bit of research on the internet you can find some really useful classics full of useful in-depth information.
5 – What other traditions influence your practice? / do you work with?
Janet and Gavin: Witchcraft has always been eclectic, so at different times we have worked with other spiritual traditions according to need. Gavin was heavily influenced by the teachings he learnt as a practising Spiritual Healer – Chakras, Aura, and working with spiritual energy. This has become an important part of our understanding of magical energy. As we both have Freya as our patron deity, we also took on aspects of Anglo-Saxon/Northern Tradition in our practise, particularly the practise of Seith/Seidr, Nothern European |Shamanism/Witchcraft.
6 – Do you have a favourite Sabbat and why?
Janet and Gavin: Ah, that’s a difficult one! So many to choose from! Are we supposed to have favourites? Well, we do anyway. We can’t really say that there is just one: Samhain for the partying, Lughnasa for the drama of the ritual and the thanksgiving, and the Equinoxes for the raw energy! At present we have to say it’s Spring Equinox. Our coven is named after the Callaighe and for the last few years the has climbed our local ancient site Slieve na Callaighe (Hill of the Witch), which is part of the Lough Crew range of mountains, to watch the sun rise. On top is a sacred site, an ancient 5,000-year-old burial mound. As the sun rises its rays hit the decorated stone at the back of the chamber illuminating it with golden light. At present, this has to be our favourite experience of the year when it comes to the festivals.
7 – As time has gone on has your approach to magic changed and does it continue to change?
Janet: We weren’t really encouraged to look beyond what was being taught within the Alexandrian Tradition at that time. I should point out that it wasn’t that we were discouraged in anyway, just that Alex’s teachings at that time were purely based on High Magic. Stewart and myself wanted to go beyond that.
When we moved to Ireland in 1976 we fully broke from many of the magical Alexandrian Traditions teachings. They were just not appropriate to the ‘Celtic Twilight’ of Ireland; the mythology, the folklore and the landscape. I like to call myself just a ‘witch’. My, and my covens practices are eclectic, but then, if you know anything about the history of Wicca so are all the other traditions. Stewart and myself did keep the basic Alexandrian framework for many years, but had already started to adapt it when Gavin came into our lives.
Gavin: My background in spiritual healing; the use of energy, the connection to divinity (sourcing) was an important part of my practise preceeding my initiation into the Craft. My other influence was the Anglo-Saxon traditions of magic, specifically Seith; a form of shamanism which taught a system of realms or worlds with which you could travel to. This came after researching the old English traditions after my initiation into Seax-Wica, a tradition which was really basic in it’s approach but a good base to work from.
With my initiation into the Alexandrian Tradition with Janet and Stewart we began to combine what I had learnt and that influenced our system of training. As our new coven grew we realised it wasn’t enough to teach our students ‘to know how to drive the car’ and that it was becomingly increasingly important that they also knew ‘how the engine worked’. The teachings Janet had received on Caballa simply weren’t doing this. It gave no explanation that covered both the simplest and more advanced of magical practises at the same time as any integrated system should. The first component of the system we developed was a base energy system – a development of the vedic Chakra system I had learned and practised with as a Spiritual Healer. We used this because ultimately everything from the point of physics is energy. From one point you can say that we were teaching the purest form of hermetics; it even included aspects of modern chaos and quantum theory. The system encompassed Magical Practise, Drawing Down the Moon and Deity Connection, and of course how to approach The Mysteries. The other component which supported this was drawn from my previously mentioned Anglo-Saxon practises. A mythological Cosmology, a system of mapping the realms of reality; the astral and spiritual levels, which could be used both internally in pathworkings and trance, and as a basis for ritual practise. This was also sadly lacking in mainstream Wicca, which relied purely on a cosmology based around the Circle and the Four elements.
8 – What are some of the lessons training others has taught you over the years?
Janet and Gavin: Easy! You don’t know everything and even after so many years in the Craft collectively we are still learning. We’ve learnt to be open to new ideas, and to look forward rather than backwards. We’ve also learnt that sometimes people will come to you that you aren’t suppose to train; that the Craft isn’t for them. That’s not being elitist. The Craft is a vocation and it just doesn’t suit some people, but that doesn’t mean they can’t follow other paths. We’ve also learnt that everyone has a different path even if they are in the Craft, everyone has a speciality and this should be encouraged.
9 – What general advice would you give a novice?
Janet and Gavin: When we both came into the Craft, it was a lot more underground. There were no contact networks in the UK, so you joined whatever coven or group you could find. The number of sensible books on witchcraft you could find in an occult bookstore often took up less than one shelf. So much has changed since before the 1990s. There are now contact networks for witches advertising both in magazines and on the world wide web. There was also an explosion of covens and open groups. Anyone interested in the Craft now has a choice of so many books and so much material on the net compared with what we had. Our advice to seeker, don’t join the coven you find. Join an open group, work solitary for a while and find a coven or magical group that suits what you practise. Read as much as you can, but be critical of what you read. Now, for every good book on Wicca/Witchcraft out there, there are at least three which aren’t so good! Stick to your original vision of what the Craft is, and don’t be swayed by those who try to shoe horn you into their form of practise. Most of all be true to yourself and what you believe
10 – What is the main kind of work you do now? Are you writing or training or trying to be less busy?
Janet and Gavin: We’re continuing to write and do workshops abroad. Janet also does Tarot Readings from home, and Gavin is doing healing work. Craft wise we are at a definite different stage in our lives. We no longer run a coven, but instead do what we call “Elder Support”; we support the existing heads of covens providing our experience and hopefully our wisdom. It’s based on our current system of training. When we were approached to do a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2002 we decided that we would adapt and open up our system of teachings around magical energy work and cosmology to everyone. We felt many solitaries and self-initiated covens would benefit from having this system, which gave them grounding in experiential magical practises they could use. From this concept was born The Inner Mysteries Intensive.
Of course, these workshops have evolved over the years and they have developed considerably since that first tour, so much so, that we found that it became necessary to teach the mechanics of Drawing Down the Moon as a separate one day Trance-Prophesy Workshop. Eventually, the Trance-Prophesy became our major focus and it took on a life of its own. It has had a major impact on the way we view our work. Dealing with deities actually manifesting and talking through people will do that to you, particularly when again and again they make it clear that they want to be heard and want to teach directly. We have had some experiences during these workshops, which go beyond belief. Having a particular goddess say the same things almost word for word through different people on different sides of the world is quite mind blowing! Such experiences have in fact inspired us to put this at the centre of our work. Of course this became the basis of our latest book Lifting The Veil: A Witches’ Guide to Trance-prophesy, Drawing Down the Moon and Ecstatic Ritual.