“British Traditional Witchcraft: Bull-Crap”: a PNC look at Janet Farrar

I’m all hopped up on caffeine and homegrown honey this fine Independence Day.

I was invited to three cookouts today but given this tropical-whatever that’s making life wet and muddy and the lake too rocky for safe-sailing, two were cancelled. One was moved indoors–but with it’s oversized guest list–I’m thinking that’s too close for comfort. So, I’m landlocked with nothing planned but wood-burning, fun-reading, and Big Love. I think I might make a sundress since my Singer is already out and set up from the costumes I made for a Monty Python party this weekend (a gumby, a Spanish inquisitor–no one will expect that, a recovering newt, Sir Robin, and The Black Beast of Arrgghhh).


As it goes, I was reading this thing–which lead me to that thing–which caused me to cross-reference–and then I found one of those precious nuggets of wonderfulness that fill my mind with rainbows and kittens and unicorns. What makes a scholar with a cynical streak happy? Let me show you.

It’s almost a year old but a post by Zan Fraser at The Juggler (linked below) explores some revelations made at  “Progressive Witchcraft: A Lecture with Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone,” discussing “the Evolution of Witchcraft in the 21st Century.” (For a more, see Pagan Newswire Collective‘s recent interview with Farrar.)  Fraser, an “Eclectic Witch,” lends a refreshingly honest perspective to contemporary Witchcraft and Alexandrian Wicca specifically. His article reveals that participants at the Farrar/Bone lecture “were both kind-of amazed and delighted that these words came out of Janet Farrar’s mouth.”

I get the joy-joy-joy-joy-down-in-my-heart when folks tell the truth.

I’m particularly tickled by this article because it uses Farrar’s direct authority to reveal what many of us have known/suspected all along: “apparently Mr. [Alex] Sanders, in particular, would tell the most outrageous lies to American Witches about the ‘authenticity and antiquity’ of his Tradition, and then have a laugh over the ‘stupid Americans’ when they had leftThe problem became, these Americans would bring these stories home, and apparently some of them are now enshrined in American Traditional Witch-Lore- this stuff that Alex Sanders ‘made up’ in a prankish mood.”

The kind of honesty Farrar engaged in during her New York minute really makes me wish that other “trads” would come as clean. I mean, if I were a flamboyant European (that’s polite; apparently, “Ms. Farrar and Mr. Bone described Sanders as a ‘complete whack job'”) with plenty of time on my hands and a scad of Continentals lining up to be jabbed, I might’ve just grabbed a pole too. I like a good prank as much as the next fella. But eventually, I’d like to give the world a big “JK!”

Given that since the 90s, when I first started studying paganism in earnest, witches in the UK and US have acknowledged the unlikelihood of Gardnerian Wicca being pre-War “traditional,” it’s no surprise to most of us. “[B]ut how bracing,” Fraser agrees, “to have it acknowledged so forthrightly by such a notable Elder in the Witchcraft Movements.” Fraser maintains that, “first Gerald Gardner, and then Alex Sanders, ‘made up’ a fictitious, non-existing ‘history’ of Traditional British Witches.” He says:

British Traditional Witchcraft is a “load of bull-crap.” Well, a load of bull-crap in the sense that, there are no British Traditional Witches to be found before Gerald Gardner, and certainly no British “Traditional” Witches to be found in the Witchcraft Traditions of British Culture before Gardner. (There are plainly British Witch “Traditions” to be seen in the British Isles before the 20th century; none, however, correspond to the Gardnerian- and subsequently Alexandrian- Traditions of Witchcraft, which again, as Ms. Farrar noted, do not exist prior to Mr. Gardner.)

And this is not to say that Wicca isn’t valid–just that it’s history is, um, muddled–we’ll go with muddled. You’ve heard me say it at least a dozen times. Any way to the divine is awesome as heck. But blindly following the path set forth by another is just daft. If you *like* Wicca or Wicca-based (and these are far and wide) traditions and they work for your spirituality–by all means, follow them. Just, please, try to *know* what’s actual history and what a group of folks invented for a lark.

Have a look at my post “Wannabeathens“–and don’t skip the comments; Cin makes a great statement from the Wiccan inside POV. It’s my prolonged argument that some “witches” out there “want to claim a non-Wiccan practice and yet temper all of their practices with the commodified tenets of Wicca. . . . If you [claim one tradition], bother to find out what [that tradition’s] practices and values are. Don’t be oblivious and think that you can just ‘substitute’ Wicca for [other traditions].” And that, “If you are Wiccan, practicing Wiccan practices and valuing Wiccan values, call yourself Wiccan, for pete’s sake. There’s no problem with those who choose that path. Owning it is certainly more respectable than hiding behind [another tradition] while deriding and yet perpetuating . . . Wicca.”

And for those few of you still resistant to reality, there’s no need to send me a message telling me that Gardner didn’t make it all up. I’ve already seen Jack Green’s comment: “As usual the basic logical flaw is Absense of Evidence = Evidence of Absence. Not True. At most it indicates rarity. . . . Janet is correct that most ‘trads’ out there are quite new and cobbled up and that sincerity is more important than historicity. But that is not the same as ‘all trads’. Even Hutton admits there were pre-Gardnerian practioners that we know so little about that no real comparison can be made.”) I will only reply (if at all) that there is evidence of witchcraft before Gardner–just not a witchcraft that looks anything like Wicca.  

Q: "What do you burn apart from witches?" A: "MORE witches!!"

Q: “What do you burn apart from witches?” A: “MORE witches!!”

And don’t take my word for it, try to get your hands on a copy of Ethan Doyle White’s “The Meaning of ‘Wicca’: A Study in Etymology, History, and Pagan Politics” from Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies (Vol 12, No 2: 2010). If you have access to EBSOhost, here’s a link. You can use his list of historical resources–many of which are from the progenitors of BTW–as a decent place to start.

Here’s the link to the full article: “British Traditional Witchcraft: Bull-Crap.”




10 thoughts on ““British Traditional Witchcraft: Bull-Crap”: a PNC look at Janet Farrar

  1. I don’t claim that Wicca is “omg so old!”. To me it started in the 50’s. That doesn’t make it any less valid for me. As you say, whatever gets you to the divine. I just can’t stand the elitest attitude about “We’re this trad so we are the best ever and we’ve been around since the earth was born” Bah. Solitary, coven-trained, book-trained, spirit trained, whatever. As long as you are happy and finding the divine and you call yourself a witch then coolio with me. Just don’t start claiming to hold ranks in trads you haven’t been trained in.

    I don’t know many who will read through Hutton’s The Triumph of the Moon, but it was full of so many interesting bits. Some of which may or may not be true, but at least it hopefully opens the eyes of those who believe the stories.

    I have been blessed enough to sit around with Elders who are serious scholars and listened to what they have to say about our roots. There are no stars in my eyes about the roots of my faith.

      • The main links to the three part PNC interview is in my comments before the beblog. I like TWH’s weekly news round-up the best. Also if you do a search at my blog for Farrar you can find an old video interview with Janet and Stewart where she really gives ’em hell.

  2. Reblogged this on Blau Stern Schwarz Schlonge and commented:
    I love that 3 part interview Janet and Gavin gave to PNC and have links to them on a recent post. http://blausternschlonge.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/britains-wicca-man-video-about-gerald-gardner-reblogged-from-the-wild-hunt/ And Ehsha Apple here gives another link about that event where the interview took place. I went many years without finding any new books on witchcraft of interest, but found Progressive Witchcraft to be fascinating and refreshing and a way to move forward. And regarding Janet Farrar, well hey, she was there, so she should know.

  3. I see so many children whining about how old Wicca is and the Burning Times that it makes me want to cry for their idiocy. At least, now, when I’m crying for the next generation, I can give them links.

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