From the 1950s to the late 1970s, when he turned more toward writing purely Wiccan books in collaboration with his wife Janet, Stewart Farrar put his hand to everything: occult thrillers, magazine journalism, television screenplays — even a pseudononymous bodice-ripper romance, just to see if he could do it. His novel The Sword of Orley remains one of my favorite examples of how reincarnational memories ought to be, if only life were more like books.
I got to know Stewart around 1977, and at some point suggested to him that Dion Fortune’s book of short stores about an English magus, The Secrets of Doctor Taverner, ought to transfer well to “the box,” as he called it.
He went so far as to investigate who held the copyright — which was her esoteric order, The Fraternity of the Inner Light, and its directors apparently had no interest in licensing a television adaptation.
A pity — they would have made a perfect 1970s TV show, when occult topics were in vogue.
Some of the links that I saved that never turned into blog posts . . .
• The Internet loves quizes, so “What Kind of Witch Would You Be?” (answer: hearth witch). I always suspect that the answer is based on just one question, while the others are there just for fluff and decoration.
This is, indeed, one of the roots of many problems in modern polytheism – people being unwilling to wait and let things naturally evolve. My biggest concern here isn’t the specific examples of mis-assignment (though they do exist, and are indicative of a serious lack of understanding in some cases). It is the fact that these folks are sitting around trying to artificially assign gods to places and things as if it’s just a game, or at best an intellectual exercise.
So they have had at least four thousand years to accrue folklore, not to mention for the name to change from an Old English meaning of “the land of Hrolla,” referring to the surrounding area, to something suggesting rolling. For example, they are often seen as “the king” and his “knights,” all turned to stone. The ceremonial magician Wiliam Gray, who was creating rituals and texts in the 1960s and 1970s, with some overlap with new Wiccan groups, wrote a book of ritual based on them, The Rollright Ritual.
Comes now a metal detector hobbyist who finds an ancient (but not as ancient as the stones) skeleton there. This news story gets a lot wrong: the stones are Neolithic, not Bronze Age (big differenceBut see Ethan Doyle White’s comment ), a patera Since the patera was used for pouring ritual offerings, I have long assumed that it is the direct ancestor of thepaten, which holds the bread in the Christian Eucharist. is not both Saxon and Roman, but Roman (but not for “cooking wine”), and there is absolutely no reason to say that this is the “Rollright Witch.”
No wonder archaeologists mistrust the news media.
But here is something interesting: the reporter — who cannot even be bothered to Google “patera” or “Neolithic”—a fully willing to buy into the “ancient witch” myth, to the point of quoting unnamed “experts” that this apparently high-status person was the legendary witch, in other words, that there were 7th century or whenever, high-status female witches buried among standing stones. All it lacks is some sort of Marion Zimmer Bradley-esque college of priesteesses. Maybe this is the Bradley-ization of archaeology reporting in the popular press.
Excavation within the Henge will focus on the surface of what is thought to be one of the oldest houses in Britain, a Neolithic building revealed during earlier excavations. The people who used this building will have seen Stonehenge in full swing, perhaps even helped to haul the huge stones upright.
Dr Jim Leary, from the University of Reading’s Department of Archaeology and Director of the Archaeology Field School, said: “This excavation is the beginning of a new chapter in the story of Stonehenge and its surrounds. The Vale of Pewsey is a relatively untouched archaeological treasure-chest under the shadow of one of the wonders of the world.
Archaeologist Jim Leary told his audience at Devizes town hall on Saturday that the chalk foundations contained a sunken hearth that would have given out intense heat. “It brings to mind the sweat lodges found in North America,” he said. “It could have been used as part of a purification ceremony.”
Dude. You are in Europe and you have to reach for a North American image? Hello, what does “indigenous” mean to you? Sauna? Banya?
On 4 December 1969 a press party was held for a documentary film on Witchcraft, Legend of the Witches, directed by Malcolm Leigh. Among the media types attending was a magazine writer on assignment, a fifty-something man named Stewart Farrar, but that is another story.
Legend of the Witches offers a very Margaret Murray-style reading of the “Old Religion” — which everyone in the Craft wholeheartedly believed in then, I think — complete with the “Plantagenet dynasty as pro-Pagan sacred kings” legend, the bit about Joan of Arc being “really a witch,” and the alleged founding of the Order of the Garter as a group of covens with royal patronage.
One cult-movie site says, “Legend Of The Witches remains one of those films so ephemeral and so synonymous with the very concept of ‘collectable’ that you sometimes wonder if people are refusing to buy it or maybe even refusing to acknowledge its availability in order to preserve the legend.”
It is all presented very seriously:
The narrator (whose name does not seem to appear on the credits, and who employs the quintessentially polite, Ealing-trained yet slightly foreboding tone of voice so beloved of most contemporaneous documentaries, not too dissimilar to the camp voiceover that links the tracks on the equally-legendary 666 album by Greek prog-rockers Aphrodite’s Child) delivers several pieces of information which, although maybe not entirely grounded in fact, seem well-informed and at least blessed with a certain degree of enthusiasm for the subject.
The star is Alex Sanders, assisted by his Witch Queen, his wife Maxine in her bleach-blonde days. Sanders leads coven ritual, sacrifices a rooster and divines from its entrails, performs poppet magic at great length, and officiates at a Luciferian Mass, thus indulging his love of ecclesiastical vestments.
That era was the peak of his publicity seeking, and Maxine was the most photographed nude Witch of the 1960s. In her autobiography, Fire Child, she writes,
[In 1969] the requests for interviews and documentaries continued; filming took priority over ritual wrok. The new flat was constantly abuzz with people who wanted to know the witches for one reason or another. If we were not filming or appearing on some television show, people would crowd into the living room to listen to Alex talk. They were beginning to worship him. Alex was, in my opinion, developing megalomaniac tendencies. He began to use tacky shock tactics that did not portray the Craft in a true light (p. 159).
The video is available on YouTube, as linked, and elsewhere. You can also buy it on Amazon. I would not show it to new students without a lot of explaining, but then I am one who is more offended by historically unsupported statements than by chicken sacrifice.
This “cold” English murder case caught my attention because of the involvement of Professor Margaret “Grandmother of Wicca” Murray, who apparently injected herself into it, somewhat after the fact, with tales of witches.
(Never mind that “wych elm” does not mean “witch elm.”)
Some British writers have attempted to cast the geographically close murder of Charles Walton as a “ritual sacrifice.”
But wait, maybe it’s not witches, maybe it was Nazis!
At Bad Archaeology, a skeptical look at Alfred Watkins and the “discovery” of ley lines:
According to a later account, all this [discovery of a hidden web of straight lines in the English countryside] came to him “in a flash” on 21 June 1921 during a visit to Blackwardine; according to his son Allen, this happened while poring over a map. A variation on the ‘origin myth’ quoted by John Michell holds that the revelation happened whilst out riding in the hills near Bredwardine in 1920, observing the Herefordshire landscape he loved. It is unclear why there are two different versions of the story; Tom Williamson and Liz Bellamy note wryly in their excellent Ley Lines in Question (Tadworth: World’s Work, 1983) that John Michell’s version reflects how “ley hunters would like to think it happened”.
Speculations about “trackways” and astronomical alignments go back well into the nineteenth century, before even Watkins’ time.
A critique of the Wikipedia entry for ley lines is included.