Farrar, Janet (1950- ) and Stewart (1916-2000)
Two English Witches that have done much to illuminate Witchcraft to the general public, and to the practitioners of the Craft. Both were initiated into the Craft by Alexander Sanders. They remained in Sander’s coven until they went onto form their covens in England and Ireland. Their form of Craft worship has been referred to as “reformed Alexandrian” and “post-Alexandrian.” However, the Farrars steadfastly avoided applying the sectarian label to their approach of Wicca. They simply refer to themselves as Witches.
Both Janet and Stewart shared pre-Wiccan backgrounds. She was born Janet Owen on June 24, 1950, in Clapton, London. Her father, Ronald Owen, was of English and Welsh descent; her mother, Ivy (nee Craddock), was an immigrant Irishwoman. Both of them belonged to the Church of England and were hospital workers. When Janet was five her mother died.
Jant attended the Leyton Manor School in London and Royal Wanstead High School for Girls in Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire. Following her graduation, she worked as a model and receptionist. In 1970 she was initiated into Alex and Maxine Sander’s coven where she met Stewart Farrar.
Stewart was born on June 28, 1916 in Highams Park, Essex. His father, Frank Farrar, was English and employed as a bank official; his mother, Agnes (nee Picken) was Scottish and a school teacher. Stewart was raised as a Christian scientist, but by the age of 20 he had became an agnostic, which he remained until initiated into the Craft in 1970.
Stewart received his education at City of London School and University College, London, where he studied journalism. He graduated in 1937, having served as president of the London University Journalism Union and editor of the London Union Magazine.
He volunteered for service in the army, in 1939, and became an instructor in Gunnery, Anti-Aircraft. He was discharged in 1946 with the rank of major. Then he worked until 1947 as a civilian public relations and press officer for the Control Commission for Germany.
Then from 1947 to the present he embarked on a long and varied career as a journalist, author and scriptwriter. He worked as a sub-editor and night editor in the Reuter’s London office from 1953 to 1954. Then he was employed as a reporter by the Communist Party’s Daily Worker. Being disillusioned he left it and the party in 1954. From 1956 to 1962 he worked as a scriptwriter for Associated British-Pathe, working on television documentaries and a feature film, and on television dramas for the company’s associate A. B. C. Television, now known as Thames Television. His freelance work included radio dramas for the British Broadcasting Company, short stories for magazines and books. His first detective novel The Snake on 99, was published in 1958.
From 1969 to 1974 Stewart was a feature writer for the weekly Reveille, a job that got him his introduction into Witchcraft. Late in 1969 he was assigned to attend a press preview of the film, Legend of Witches, for which Alexander and Maxine Sanders had given technical advice, and who were present at the preview. Reveille was interested in the story. Stewart was skeptical about Witchcraft but was interested in Sanders upon meeting him. Sanders invited Stewart to attend a Witchcraft initiation, which Stewart did. He found the ceremony both dignified and moving. He wrote a two-part feature story on it for the magazine, which gained him Sanders’ favor. Sanders informed him that the publisher of his own biography King of the Witches was looking for an author to writer another book on modern Witchcraft. Stewart got the contract for What Witches Do. Also, he begun attending Sanders’ training classes. At first he was sympathetic, but a skeptical outsider. However, the instructions struck a personal chord within Stewart, and on February 21, 1970, Maxine Sanders initiated him into the coven, where he met Janet Owen.
On December 22, 1970 the Farrars formed their own London coven. The Sanders separated separated shortly afterward. The final time which the Farrars saw Sanders was in 1971 when What Witches Do was published. The book clearly established Farrar as a voice that promoted the Wiccan community. However, the book was controversial in that it included incidents which Sanders fabricated about himself plus Farrar’s insertion that he ranked Sanders above Gerald B.Gardner and alongside of Aleister Crowley and Eliphas Levi in terms of magical achievement. Later Farrar admitted that he had been too credulous and no long placed Sanders on the same level as Crowley, Levi, and Gardner. Farrar, nevertheless, refused to disparage “the enfant terrible of British Witchcraft,” adding that Sanders had made significance contributions to the Craft.
The Farrars built up their own coven from 1970 to 1976. On January 31, 1974, they were handfasted in a ceremony attended by Stewart’s two sons and two daughters from a previous marriage who also took part in the ceremony. They were legally married on July 19, 1975. Stewart left Reveille in 1974 to become a full-time freelance writer.
When moving to Ireland in 1976, the Farrars turned their coven over to Susan and David Buckingham. In Ireland they formed a new coven from which several more hived off of it. They returned to England in 1988.
The success of What Witches Do resulted in the generation of many requests from persons seeking help in joining the Craft. Following nine years of running a coven and giving advice, the Farrars coauthored two books of ritual and nonritual material: Eight Sabbats for Witches (1981) and The Witches’ Way (1984). In the United States both books were combined and published as A Witches Bible Compleat. The books include rituals created by the Farrars plus much material concerning the religion of the Craft.
The Witches’ Way provided the first thorough reconstruction of the evolution of the Gardnerian Book of Shadows, as it was developed by Gardner and Doreen Valiente, including contributions by Valiente herself.
The Farrars, like other Witches who have written about the Craft, have been criticized for revealing too much. They disagree with the false secrecy mandate of the Craft, saying that it promotes distorted information. They do not feel they have revealed any essential secrets, but merely clarified and illuminated material which has already been made public.
The Farrars also coauthored The Witches’ Goddess (1987); Life & Times of a Modern Witch (1987); The Witches’ God (1989), a companion to The Witches’ Goddess.
Stewart Farrar’s other fiction works include two detective novels, Zero in the Gate (1960) and Death in the Wrong Bed (1963); a romance novel, Delphine, Be a Darling (1963); and seven occult novels; The Twelve Maidens (1974); The Serpent of Lilith (1976); The Dance of Blood (1977); The Sword of Orley (1977); Omega (1980); Forcible Entry (1986); and Blacklash (1988). A.G.H.
Source: 4, 122-124.