Sunday, June 24, 2012

Initiation of Janet Owen (1970)

Janet Owen, now Janet Farrar, was a member of the coven of Alex and Maxine Sanders. Her initiation into the Sanders’ coven was recorded and photographed. The LP A Witch is Born (1970) contains some of these photos on the sleeve, others have appeared in various books in the years since. Janet is beautiful. She can not have been more than twenty when these photos were taken, but she is just as gorgeous in later photos.

According to his own account, Stewart Farrar met Alex and Maxine Sanders on Saturday 20 December 1969 at the release of Legend of the Witches. On Saturday 21 February 1970 he was initiated into the Sanders’ coven. Four months later it was reported in Rolling Stone (25 June 1970, p.18) that the Sanders’ had recently completed an album. Done in one take, 50 consecutive minutes, it is an actual initiation ceremony as performed by Alex and Maxine and five others. There is a spoken narrative to describe the physical trappings and occurrences.

The same issue of Rolling Stone contains the following advertisement for A Witch is Born:

The participants are named on the album cover as Alex Sanders (High Priest); Maxine Sanders (High Priestess); Janet Owen (Initiate); Stewart Farrar (Narrator, and author of the Liner Notes); Charles Mitchell, Elaine Ferguson, Nicola Kozak, Rollo Maughfling (Coven members) (this information is also online on Discogs).

A Witch is Born has three tracks 1 “Initiation” (24:42); 2 “The Legend Of The Goddess” (5:19); 3 “The Great Rite” (9:01): representing a first, second and third degree initiation (as Stewart states on the liner notes). At 24.30 of Track 1 Alex says to Janet “I now salute thee … newly made priestess and witch”; at 8.40 of Track 3 Alex says to Janet “I bring before you, Janet, duly consecrated, a priestess of the Goddess.” That is, Janet has been given a first, second and third degree initiation in an “actual” (i.e. genuine) initiation ceremony. (An mp3 audio file of Janet making her vows has been posted here, where you can listen to the short clip, or download the audio file).

However, Janet tells us that she was initiated to the Second Degree on 17 October 1970 by Alex and Maxine “in an unoccupied house in Sydenham” (from coven records and documented history) and to the Third Degree on the 24 April 1971 in the Sanders’ Notting Hill flat.

Also, confusingly, it seems that Janet acted as Maiden at Stewart’s initiation, suggesting that her first degree initiation occurred before Stewart’s on 21 February 1970. In What Witches Do (1971) Stewart describes the Maiden [p.25] as “a shapely girl, almost as tall as [the author]; a Highland Scot, having that unique femininity which goes with soft accents, hard landscapes, and the title ‘lass.’ In fact, everything which would normally stimulate him.” This last bit being a reminder that the pair were naked, and in an embrace. Janet, is one of only two women that were in the Sanders’ coven at the time [pp.72-73], though she is not Scottish (she is of “mixed English, Irish and Welsh descent” according to Wikipedia).

So, while it is not clear whether the pictures below are of the “actual initiation” of Janet; Janet was undoubtedly initiated - eventually - and photos were taken by Stewart of the event recorded on A Witch is Born. The LP was issued by A&M Records [AMLS 984], London, the day after Janet turned 20 and this album was reissued in 1994 by Grey Matter as a CD [GM06CD]. Photos also appear in Stewart’s What Witches Do (1971), Douglas Hill’s Witchcraft, Magic and the Supernatural: The Weird World of the Unknown (1974), and Nevil Drury’s Magic and Witchcraft: From Shamanism to Technopagans (2003).

Altar ready for Initiation
Alex and Maxine prepare cords for binding Janet
Alex and Maxine - The invocation of the Goddess
Invoking the Lords of the Watchtowers
The Challenge
Binding the Initiate
Taking the Measure
The Ritual Scourging
Janet receiving her Ritual Tools
Enacting the Legend of the Goddess


  1. Oh my. This is a breathtaking post. I am very happy to have stumbled here. Let's be friends.

  2. Fantastic! I really enjoy black and white photography!