Lifting the Veil

Title: Lifting the Veil: A Witches’ Guide to Trance-Prophecy, Drawing Down the Moon, and Ecstatic Ritual
Publisher: Acorn Guild Press
Authors: Janet Farrar and Gavin Bone. Forward by M. Macha NightMare.
Pages: 252pp
Price: $19.95

My interest from an early age has been to understand spiritual and psychical practices in any form that they might appear, including ritual connections and what are these days called paranormal abilities or events, et cetera. 

Lifting the Veil deals with many strands, practical and historical, that have led to the current proliferation of neo-Pagan, Wiccan, and other spiritual movements. The specific focus of the book is a method for teaching trance-prophecy, but there is a lot of discussion on the use of psycho-physical experience in ritual and practice that can give the reader valuable insight into the relationship between mind and action in any personal interaction with deity. Many today, however, would see practices involving spiritualism, ritual magic, and perhaps even witchcraft as being other than what they understand as their own pagan pathways, though the history of many strands of modern spiritual practice and neo-Paganism are inextricably woven together.

Janet Farrar (active in Wicca and neo-Pagan circles since the 1970s, and with her current husband Gavin Bone since the 1980s) is very well known as the author with her late husband Stewart Farrar of A Witches’ Bible, which is an excellent reference for Wiccan practice, even though for the most part the content has all been absorbed throughout modern movements. Sorita d’Este noted this in one of her Children of the Earth interviews on her Patheos Pagan blog, Adamantine Muse. “We might look at books like The Witches Bible today and say “its the same as everything else“, but that is because the everything else we perceive as being the same was inspired and informed by the work they published.”

With her current husband, Gavin Bone, she has laid out the experiential fundamentals of psychic practice related to what they see as the core of Witchcraft, “the experience of divinity, of God and Goddess, the union, both personal and divine, with the Ultimate, the Divine Spirit, which manifests around the world as the many faces of the divine: the gods and goddesses who gave birth to the cosmos.” (It would be interesting to comment further on this statement, which some would call henotheistic, but that is beyond the scope of this review.) At any rate, the authors treat all Gods individually and there is much on various deities and the ways through which They can be experienced.

As said, the book has much to say both practically and historically in giving the reader a greater understanding of how we function psychically, either personally or in ritual, in oracular or divinatory practice; it basically recounts the elements of a method used for several years now to successfully teach trance prophecy based on the authors’ own experiences of such states. It took some time for these ideas to develop, and besides what is said in the introduction to the current title, there is an article by Janet Farrar on how it all came about in Priestesses, Pythonesses, Sybils. The Sacred Voices of Women who speak with and for the Gods (edited by Sorita d’Este, published by Avalonia in 2008). In lieu of this the ultimate seventeenth chapter in Lifting the Veil is titled And now a word from our sponsors: the Gods Speak. 

That chapter contains discussions along with transcript accounts of trance contacts with a number of Gods, such as Aphrodite, Apollo, Brid, and Freya, among others. Earlier in the book an amusing anecdote was told concerning a contact with Aphrodite. The authors were at a Pagan gathering in Belgium with several of their students who were to contact their specific deities in a public trance-prophecy ritual. Some weeks beforehand, the students were asked to contact their specific deities in order to ascertain whether or not the deities in question would wish to come through, and along with this request the Gods were asked what form of dress would be appropriate for the mediums. “One of the seeresses found herself in an embarrassing situation having to negotiate with her deity, Aphrodite, who wished her to go naked in front of two hundred people. It took some negotiation until finally Aphrodite agreed it would be acceptable for her to wear a very revealing cerise-coloured open-cut dress” (94). The Gods do not always cooperate with the situations in which humans find themselves.

This also brings up an interesting element of the current practice, since the authors are well-known to work their own coven rites naked, or “skylclad”, a term from Jain mystical practice; as the saying goes, we find that nudity is not for every occasion. Along with these transcripts the fourth chapter is made up of personal accounts of several individual trance mediums concerning what they do and how they came to be involved with trance prophecy.

Otherwise, the book is divided into 3 sections: I. The History of Trance in Ancient and Contemporary Pagan Spiritual Tradition (5 chapters); II. The Four Keys to Trance-Prophecy: The Methodology of Oracular Work (6 chapters); III. The Practice of Trance, Prophesy, and Possession in Modern Paganism and Witchcraft (6 chapters). Along with these sections there are three Appendices, 1. Leviter Veslis (Lift up the Veils) which is a tract developed by Gerald Gardner from Aleister Crowley’s Gnostic Mass (itself a lovely ritual); 2. The Rite of Drawing Down the Moon and the Charge of the Goddess; and 3. Prayer to Selene (PGM IV.2785-2890), along with a very useful Glossary of the terminology used, and a Bibliography. An index would have been helpful, but one cannot have everything.

Farrar and Bone, like many Wiccans, tend often to take the deities they worship in the most ancient form available. This is because psychically women are closer to the earth and are generally more aligned to trance and similar techniques, and that prior to the Bronze Age female deities were far more common, as were female seeresses. In the first section on history it would be useful to note here that in discussing the Delphic Oracle and its importance for understanding dictation in trance, there is a very good account of the original development of oracles from before the time of the classical religions of Greece, Rome, and Persia. It has much to do with the universe as a Living Entity, though the term is the more commonly used “animism.” The feminine element also comes up in her discussion of Aleister Crowley’s Scarlet Women, his name for the mediums he worked with. Crowley’s Babalon is modelled after the “Whore of Babylon,” the “Mother of Abominations” from Revelations 17: 4-5. The Biblical Whore was of course the Great Mother Goddess, a fusion of several deities such as Ishtar and Lillith often associated with sexuality, and the woman “clothed in scarlet and purple” was modeled by the Christian authors of the text after the scarlet clad sibyls of classical fame.

The authors of Lifting the Veil also outline the use of trance prophecy in terms of Shamanic Withcraft, Siedr, and Vodoun, along with several definitions of various types of mediums. The second section of the book, The Four Keys to Trance Prophecy: the Methodology of Oracular Work, begins with the relationship between the Seer and the Ritual Psychopomp, or guide. The Seer is very often a woman, though not always, and the Psychopomp is most often her partner. (This relationship works somewhat differently in Vodoun, a system of practice that the authors have been initiated into.) Since the seer is entranced she tends to wander off from the focus necessary in delivering prophecies, so a guide who understands the psychic processes is needed both to keep her focused and to organize and manage the situation with the querents.

The first of the four keys, Understanding Spiritual Cosmology and Psychology, has to do with the irreducible link between the personal psyche and the universe in which one finds oneself. This link is understood as that between macrocosm and microcosm. The realms of spiritual experience are given mostly in terms of Norse cosmology, and there is much that is valuable on the psychology of spirituality in this section. The second key is Understanding Spiritual Energy. It has mostly to do with the ways in which energies manifest through the physical realms (earth and body, for example), and work through the emotions and mental processes. Ideas from Quantum theory and Jungian psychology are brought to bear here, as they are in other parts of the book, but for the most part spiritual energies are seen in terms of Kundalini practice and the chakras. The centers used for trance work are those in the head, Vishuddhi; in the throat; and Ajna, the brow center or third eye; along with Sahasrara, the point at the top of the skull where spirit enters and leaves the body. Along with these it is necessary to “open” the Root center, or Muladhara chakra, to allow the seer to remain grounded. There is a wealth of practical information on opening and closing the centers as well as the ways in which spiritual energies circulate through the body. The third key is Understanding Trance and its Techniques. There is a discussion of scientific accounts of brainwave activity and how it is related to changes in consciousness and trance along with much on ritual and ceremony, visualization/pathworking, invocations of Gods, sexuality (also brought up elsewhere in terms of sex magic), and various techniques such as drumming and dancing. The fourth key is entitled Understanding Spirits and Divinity. It has much to do with the many ways in which spirits, angels, demons, elementals, and others might manifest to human awareness, as well as discussion of natures of individual Gods. 

 The third section on modern practices contains a number of rituals and firsthand accounts of practices and possession. The chapter dealing with the origins and history of the ritual Drawing Down the Moon, including a transcription of the rite itself, is interesting in terms of the rite as a “genuine development of shamanism,” including the presence of such deities as Bendis, Artemis, Diana, and Hekate, in ancient Thessaly and Thrace (the reader might consult Georgi Mishev, Thracian Magic, Avalonia 2012 on some of these practices). There is also an account of the modern history of the rite from Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon through Robert Graves in The White Goddess, along with much else of a practical nature. The chapter Divine Mysteries: Sex with the Gods might also be of interest to many. The book contains many accounts of firsthand experience and several rituals are given in full throughout.

Lifting the Veil is an extraordinarily rich, insightful, and well researched book. I have only given a taste of it here, but this is certainly a work of great interest to any who are involved in any sort of spiritual practice.

[Tom Cabot writes: Since early realizations in childhood I have relied on the arising of what seemed to me determinative subliminal (or subconscious) feelings to guide me on my spiritual way. I have thus travelled from spontaneous images of various Gods through studies in occultism, magic, Tarot, Hermetic Qabalah, and on to Greek and Indian philosophies and religion, primarily the myths of Hekate on the one hand and S’iva on the other, and finally to Tantric and Neoplatonic works. I have not left any of this behind, however, and work to reconcile all facets of my inner experience.]