This interview was conducted while Janet and Stewart were on a tour of the US in the summer of 1991, doing research on a planned book on the Craft in America. Rhea caught up with them during a stop in Seattle, where they held a large open ritual and attended a local composer's performance of original Pagan liturgical music.
Stewart: It's becoming more public and there are more festivals out in the open with two or three hundred people and that sort of thing. There are more get-togethers than there used to be, certainly. And I think that is the main change, wouldn't you say, Janet?
Janet: Yes. And also I think there is the old way. There are a lot of Pagans in Britain who don't really approve of the United States, and this is one of the reasons why we're over here. We want to write a book about it, because they don't feel there's enough training in covens over here. And, therefore, you're all a happy load of Pagans and not true Craft. And this is in a lot of cases true, but in a lot of cases untrue. It's got to grow and develop in Britain or it's just going to kill itself off with stagnation. In England, the more intelligent and advanced in the Craft are saying: "Right, fine. We've got to do something about this, to make it grow." There's a whole load of bright new names, like Vivienne Crowley, who are coming to the forefront. And I won't say changing the face of the Craft, but making it much more united on a worldwide scale.
Rhea: I've heard she was doing a lot of work in Germany too. and had learnt the ritual in German.
Janet: Yes, she does. A very nice, very intelligent woman.
Rhea: What do you identify as the most significant difference between Craft in Britain and Craft in America?
Stewart: Sheer size. The explosion of Paganism in the United States is something quite staggering, it seems to us. The Wicca is having to work very hard to keep up with it and basically give it leadership. We found it a very healthy movement on the whole. I think there's too much tendency to tie labels round their necks: Gardnerian, Alexandrian, Algard, Georgian and now Majestic - a whole series of names. If anyone asks us what our path is we say Wicca. The particular form, the basic forms of ritual with which we feel happy, are just a matter for us, for our coven. It isn't the philosophy or the spiritualism. That's the path, the essential philosophy, the essential attitudes. The central purpose of it is all.
Rhea: That's something we'd always dealt with in Australia too - more following the heart of the Craft. People were Craft or they weren't Craft. It didn't really matter terribly much what flavour somebody was.
Stewart: You're still a musician, whether you play Beethoven or Chopin.
Rhea: Or jazz.
Stewart: Yes, except that a lot of it there isn't even that much different. I mean, all the Books of Shadows that we've been shown with half a dozen different labels on them are basically Gardnerian.
Janet: And, unfortunately, there are some that are basically Gardnerian and we spotted one or two things which we only discovered by accident. They are using what they were trained in as an "archaic language" - and this particular tradition was told that [a certain piece] was a blessing. In actual fact, it's a curse on the Goddess! We only discovered this by accident by doing our research and finding that this particular phrase is the first syllables in the names of three of the Archangels. And these three Archangels were actually invoked against Lilith to (supposedly) stop her eating babies ...
Stewart: ... after Lilith, the Goddess Lilith, had been turned into a demoness. And there's a tradition in this country solemnly using that phrase in the belief that it means "Blessed Be".
Janet: To people like this, I would say: "If you've got archaic language, then research it. Find out what the hell it does mean." For example, the "Bachabi lachabi lamach ... karellyos". Nobody knows what that really means, and the nearest we've been able to get to it is by having a Basque dfriend show it to her husband, who is a linguistics expert, and she said that some of it is Basque and some of it is Hungarian. And once we found we were getting basically nowhere with this, except what he believed the translation was, we dropped it out of our rituals. Because I don't like saying something I don't understand, it's a simple as that.
Rhea: A bit like doing something in Latin or Greek and not understanding it or thinking in it.
Rhea: Do you both speak Irish?
Stewart: No. We speak a few phrases and we understand some of the commonest phrases and know enough of it's structure to look it up in the Irish dictionary, that's all. We don't live in an Irish speaking area. There's only a narrow fringe of Ireland where Gaelic is still the first language.
Janet: So if we use that in a ritual, what we do is get a linguistics expert to check it out before we put it down.
Stewart: Another thing about this problem of training. It's an understandable problem [given] the rate the movement is growing, but I think some peoplke are tackling it the wrong way. We've had one initiate show us the book - well, rather three immense files of typewritten materials that you have to learn for each degree. And that's not what it's all about. There's no holy writ in Wicca. It is understanding the spirit and significance of things. All right, there's an awful lot written about it. So tell people to go and read it. And come back and ask questions, and see if they've understood it and if there are points of disagreement with it. But handing out thousands of words of holy writ to be learned by heart is not a good idea.
Rhea: Some of the best work is original work that students come back with. It demonstrates that they have made that connection and are living the Craft.
Stewart: "That, if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee." Jesus of Nazareth said the same thing: "The kingdom of Heaven is within you." Which some of his alleged followers seem to have forgotten along the way.
Rhea: What is the relationship between Gardnerians and Alexandrians in Britain?
Stewart: Quite simply, I think the difference is vanishing a lot in England. Alex tried very hard to get initiated into a Gardnerian coven, and quite what he managed in the end I don't know. It is said that he was initiated by one of Pat Crowther's priestesses.
Rhea: Pat Kopanski, wasn't it?
Janet: That's right, yes.
Stewart: And the copy of the Book of Shadows as he gave it to us had been rather carelessly copied. Like this name "Karnayna", which I've never seen anywhere else. And we certainly don't use it anymore. And so, once we realised this - particularly as we got to know Doreen Valiente and she caused the record to be put straight on Gardnerian rituals - we just say that we use rituals in the general Gardnerian/Alexandrian tradition. We've adapted them, we've expanded them ourselves a number of times - it's a flexible system. It calls for expansion and adaptation.
Janet: It's like a lovely story we heard over here from our own publisher. That in the early days he wanted to take paperback rights on Eight Sabbats for Witches and the Gardnerians here turned to him and said: "You can't do that. They're giving away all the secrets of the Craft." While they were all warring with the poor publisher (Phoenix), they lost out on a good deal. The Gardnerians in England turned around and said: "Wonderful, you've expanded on the material." So it was only the American Gardnerians who were fighting about it. Not the European ones.
Stewart: And the secrets we were charged with having given away could be found in any decent library of mythology.
Janet: And they were never part of the Gardnerian original Book of Shadows. They were our own work, except for the First, Second and Third Degree [initiation] rituals.
Rhea: One of my teachers once said to me that there is a difference between mysteries and secrets. Mysteries, you couldn't possibly reveal anyway. The secrets were procedural things to do with the Mysteries.
Stewart: Very well put.
Janet: Whoever that was: Congratulations, darling!
Stewart: As Alex himself put it - you can tell somebody everything and give nothing away. Because it isn't words on paper. It's experience. The Mystery or even the Secret is the experience, and you have to find that for yourself.
Rhea: You would have met people from all kinds of traditions. Did you see any that didn't look like they were derived from Gardnerian Craft?
Janet: Not in practice.
Stewart: I think there are so very few genuinely hereditary people who had acquired [their Craft] from their grandmother or someone. But often their grandmothers would not have called themselves witches. They may have had the gift of the Sight, and herbalism and maybe read cards and things like that. There are not nearly as many traditional or hereditary witches as claim it. I won't say all of them are lying. Some of them believe it because Granny read tealeaves.
Rhea: I hear increasing numbers of claims from people who say their line goes back to the New Forest.
Janet: This is bullshit!
Rhea: It must've been a very busy place is all I can say!
Janet: Doubtless most of them don't come from the kind of background to have any connection. Because - I hate to say it - Old Dorothy's lot and the ladies she had around were all "fraffly, fraffly". You just didn't get into what was termed the "New Forest Coven".
Stewart: That's probably true. On the other hand, she and her ladies worked very hard in London during the raids of the Second World War. And [the tradition] may well have evolved then. But I don't think of it as a continuing tradition. It may have been an amalgam of various bits of folklore, bits of inherited tradition from one person to another, put together. And Gardner added chunks of freemasonry and Aleister Crowley and what have you. And, thank God, Doreen Valiente helped him produce the final version of the Book of Shadows, in which she toned down some of the excessive Crowleyana. As she tactfully put it: "Some of it is very beautiful poetry but not quite the thing for the Craft of the Wise." I think if nothing else than she'd produced the current Charge of the Goddess in its form, she would have made a major contribution.
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