IN HONOUR OF JEAN M. WILLIAMS
On Saturday August 20, 2016 I gave a presentation in honour of Jean Williams at the PF LONDON CONFERENCE.30 minutes was far too short to include all the tributes and memories of this extraordinary lady so I promised that I would make the presentation into an article for Wiccan Rede Online.
Good afternoon, thank you for allowing us to share some of our memories of Jean, in her honour. And what wonderful memories we have! I first met Jean at the Quest Conference in about 1982. We had a little chat, but the only thing I can remember of that meeting was “Thank goodness! There are some normal people in the pagan community!” She was wearing normal clothes, spoke normal English – and that is how I will always remember Jean. She was never pretentious or bombastic – but my, did she have presence!
Perhaps I related to Jean because we were both small in stature. I know that I saw her as a role model, especially when I met her again a number of years later as a PF Officer. Jean, who actually introduced herself as Elen, was so modest that it was quite a while before I realised who she was in a Wicca context!
That was so typical of Jean – she knew how to keep things private, and also not use her position to intimidate, or impress, people.
In the late 1990’s when PFI was being established as a district of PF Jean & Zach were so helpful with the administrative side of things. At that time everything was done by snail mail – we had some difficult moments sorting out what people really wanted – we had some weird requests, believe me! As we became more cyber-based, poor Jean must have pondered on the variety of names and addresses being sent for the mailing lists for “Pagan Dawn”. Only very occasionally would a PD be returned because the address was incorrect.
At Council Meetings it was wonderful to see how Jean could diffuse a potentially explosive situation. I know she dealt with many more “situations” behind the scenes.
In 2004 we ran a 2-part interview with Jean for the magazine “Wiccan Rede”. It was entitled “Pathfinder Extraordinaire”. When I think about how I would like Jean to be remembered, then that still seems to me the best way to describe her. She was indeed extraordinary!
For the purpose of this presentation, I decide to asked some of Jean’s closest friends and PF colleagues to say a couple of words about her. The response has been fantastic! 30 minutes is far too short to even give a hint of how well-loved and appreciated Jean really was. So I will write a new article later dedicated to Jean – to include more contributions. But for now a couple or so impressions…
I had the great pleasure of talking with Ruth Bayer a couple of weeks ago.
Ruth met Jean & Zach in the mid 1980’s and subsequently moved into their house as a lodger. She is still living there. She, more than most people, saw the ‘everyday’ Jean. She recalls how committed Jean was as a pagan but also how much fun she derived from her involvement in paganism. Starting “Pagan Pathfinders”, with help from Zach, in the 1970’s, she influenced many people, introducing them to the techniques of pathworking, of mediation and so on. Ruth remembers how Jean would teach the “Golden Bubble”, where one would float off to different worlds. Always gently encouraging people to find their own way.
Ruth; I think I just would like to express that when I attended Pagan Pathfinders I loved the relaxation exercise of the Golden Bubble. You imagined that you were surrounded by a bubble of glorious golden light shot through with efflorescent sparkles of energy and eventually this energy was flowing through me. I am still doing the exercise to this day. I would also like to stress how committed Jean was, not only as a pagan but also as an activist and campaigner. Jean represented the goddess in how she related to her different charities (Friends of the Earth and Green Peace) Jean’s garden represents that so beautifully. She and Zach were highly organised, working together and complementing each other. She had this lovely, calm charisma – but above all a great sense of humour. She loved to garden and the cats were also very important. Her love for Nature and the Gods was echoed in the garden with the all the shrines dotted here and there. She really was “Elen of the Ways”.
(Ruth Bayer (illustrator) with Jean & Zach, at the launch of their book “The Play Goes On.”- 2015)
Sylvia Gibson, a very old friend, remembers Jean being involved in many different groups, including “The Rainbow Bridge”. Founded in 1977 by Zach, it has been” modestly described as a ritual drama training group”. The rituals were recorded in the book “The Play Goes On”, published in 2015. Sylvia also noted Jean’s eye for detail, remembering the small vase of fresh flowers Jean would put on the altar.
(Jean, as “the Victrix with the Cup, symbol of Water” – from “the Play Goes On”)
A review of the book can be found here: https://wiccanrede.org/2015/11/review-the-play-goes-on/
One of Jean’s old friend’s is Clive Harper. He recalls; “I’m fairly sure I met her circa 1975 at one of the early Humanistic Psychology centres in London. On the esoteric front, I used to see her at conferences in London in the late 1970s and then got to know her better in the 1980s, when I had friends in the Rainbow Bridge. “
When asked how he remembers Jean, he answered: “I remember her gently dismissing me from her bed-side in the Whittington Hospital. She had spoken with me for a while and then said something like “Well, how the time has flown, I suppose you’ll have to go soon if you’re going to be able to see Zach” [Zach was in the same hospital but on a different floor and ward] I found myself out in the corridor suddenly aware that I had been told to leave in the most charming manner possible!
As a strange anecdote for your article, I can say that about 30 years after first meeting her, I found out that we had a family connection. The reissue of the Pagan Pathfinders book of God and Goddess Evocations had a biographical introduction, from which I learned that she had studied Psychology at University College London in the late 1940s. My grandfather had been at University College at that time and it turned out that not only had her taught Jean, but that he had been her personal tutor.”
It is however “Pagan Pathfinders” for which Jean will probably be remembered most.
Described in the 2004 interview as a “Humanistic Outer Court” Jean talks of how PP began – in the mid 1970’s:
“How did you come to start Pagan Pathfinders?
Jean: I think it was Fred’s first wife said to me, “When are you going to start teaching some of the things you’ve been learning?” “Um, um, um, what am I going to do with this?” I thought well, the Humanistic Psychology people really need some sort of a link with indigenous British spiritual paths, and not always have to go off to the Far East. At the time I could see there were Wiccan groups falling out with each other and splitting up and members not speaking to each other, and things like that, so I thought, “They need Humanistic Psychology”. So I thought I’d try to make a sort of blend of the two. So Pagan Pathfinders became our exoteric training and sieving process, because we got quite a few members who came through Pagan Pathfinders at that time.”
In 2008 The book “The Gods Within – the Pagan Pathfinders Book of God and Goddess Evocations” by Jean & Zach was republished. It had been “first published as a small booklet by the Neopantheist Society in 1979.”
(See review elsewhere in WROnline.)
Ian Paul, who has continued in Jean’s footsteps recalls how he got involved; “I first met Jean in 1994, when I was new to paganism. Meeting pagans via PP, it was a very good place to meet people. It started in 1975 and was very much Jean’s thing.
She would try and put people off. You had to be there at a certain time with a packet of biscuits. The first thing she did was the exercise with the Tree. If they couldn’t be a tree, they didn’t come back. It was Jean’s way of filtering people.
She did say that the aim of PP was to combine Humanistic Psychology with paganism. So she was certainly using her background as a psychologist. She used it in such a subtle way that most people would never have even noticed. She could lead very quietly. She had a quiet, gentle authority. She made suggestions where others would command. Psychic mugging as Jon Freedman would fondly call it.
PP was always held at their home, which was a very magical place. It was filled with cats. The rituals were always indoors. The circle was oval and was affectionately called the “PP sausage”. The Altar in the centre. The PP weapons, were often quite quirky, touristy souvenirs.
However, the garden was used once a year, they had the Blind Walk. People would pair up with someone else and then be lead around the garden to smell, or touch the flowers, the bark of the tree etc.
Jean would never talk about Wicca at PP. That was a big no-no. We would meet once a week, continuous from 1975 until about 2007 (?) There was a summer break though. She would start late September – to the Christmas party, with traditional games etc. Then a summer party in July, followed by a break.
PP was for beginners but also people who were very experienced would go as well, which would include Wiccan initiates. They would go along because it was just a very good group.
On asked how he would like her to see her remembered, he said; “They lived in Crouch End, quite an expensive area, but with a vilagey feel. At Beltane she would go out dressed as a little old white-haired lady in a t-shirt with the words “Hooray, hooray, it’s the 1st of May, Outdoor fucking starts today”.
Her life was very, very wild. J She always had that sparkle in her eyes. She had very blue eyes.
The way she led the rituals was superb. Sometimes PP did the open seasonal ritual for the PF. There would be 70-80 people attending. She was amazingly good at running larger rituals like that as well. Directing the energy, the way she did.
I think if I had to symbolize her it would have to do with cats. She really loved her cats; her house was full of statues and things to do with cats. Photos of past cats, cats stealing biscuits from the table… cats jumping through the window, battling foxes in the garden. So yes, there were always cats around.”
(Jean, visiting sacred sites was also a joy for her. Photo Ian)
Jon Freedman, who knew Jean for many years and was a member of PP for much of the time recalled many fond memories of working in the group. “The group was very committed, it obviously changed over the years but Jean was an incredible facilitator. She was someone who could bring out the best in people; she was able to give people confidence in what they did. She had a very gentle and non-intrusive way of doing it so for me when I joined PP, the last thing I would have thought of was becoming a witch. If someone had said that to me I would have laughed, thought they were joking.
Jean never preached Witchcraft, by-the-way. She didn’t even preach paganism. She gave you experiences. ‘You come along, work with me’. It felt very natural, almost like kid’s games. We did polarity healing, read cards. Some of it was quite funny, some was quite deep. It was very dependent on who was there at the time. Jean facilitated and I didn’t realise at the time just how profound it was.”
The one thing that did strike me about Jean though was her voice. Her voice was incredibly magical. She could do a pathworking and send people on a journey that they would become totally immersed in. She did it in such a way that I can’t think of anyone else who managed it. Jean’s ability to take people on a journey was absolutely magical. And even now I am not quite sure how she did it, apart from her hallmark of visualising the Golden Light, or the Golden Bubble. This technique effectively re-vitalised you. Learning how to do this was quite profound.
I went there for over 15 years and each session was unique. There were new exercises, or variations on a theme. But one of the things Jean did for me, which helped me immensely was understanding the Elements.
In PP the way you would invoke elements wasn’t the way you would do it in most magical systems. You would build up a very clear visualisation and then share it with everyone in the group. At first PP could be quite intimidating but after a while it became very natural. The elemental visualisations were different every time – even if they were from the same person because they were telling what they saw. In effect they had a much stronger elemental contact than in most conventional magical systems. It was in effect elemental discovery from an intellectual, emotional, physical sense and how you could use it within you for elemental balancing. Jean was an absolute master in this and yet at the time it almost seemed like a game. It wasn’t “now we are going to do some profound magical work…” – Jean would say, “now we are going to do a little exercise…”
She also did exercises – for example – imagine you are a tree. In fact, there were many exercises. We are currently trying to remember what we did and compile a new PP book.
Where do you think Jean got her inspiration from?
I think she used her background in Humanistic Psychology, the structure, but she was also incredibly intuitive. In this sense she was a true witch, really in touch with herself and the astral and she was able to draw down energies and derive inspiration from it. She seemed to use the filter of Humanistic Psychology so that she could devise exercises and training programmes.
(A quote from Jean on a T-shirt, 2016)
What I really liked about PP was that Jean never once talked about the theory of magic, or whatever. Everything was about experience. In a way you built up your own theory during the experience. Only when we talked/evaluated things would we write thing down. Only then would we collectively come to some kind of theory. We might have an idea of ‘the best techniques’ about understanding the polarity of healing.
About polarity healing. You could do that physically by, for example, rubbing your hands together. Or by visualising energy being drawn into you and taking it through into your hands. Or a combination of both. Then you’d place your hands on the person and literally massage their aura. You’d then focus on the spot that needed attention. It was a very simple, natural form of healing.
Very few people at PP thought of themselves as healers. A few may have thought that they had had a bit of experience of healing – but they didn’t consider themselves healers.
What it may you realise was that everyone has the gift of healing. What we don’t have is the confidence to use it, or any idea of how to bring it out. I found that PP gave me the confidence to do quite a bit of healing, through polarity healing, using hands and direct touch and massage – and a combination of both.
We also learnt how to give massages at PP, often in a meditative state, often releasing tension. There were many exercises done at PP. They were not just designed to help people but also to help people develop their own skills, and confidence. Some exercises helped people to develop their psychic abilities – for example by reading psychically cards other people were holding. None of the exercises were long and there was a fair bit of dancing, stomping and physical exercise.
At PP we would always start with an attunement where people would start with a particular note, and then bring it up. It was a very powerful way of getting the group mind working.
Even though the people changed over a period of time there was always a very strong group mind. It felt like a safe and sacred place to work in, even though it wasn’t a group of initiates. The power of Jean’s personality created such a strong bond between the people that it felt like a very good place to work in. A place where you could take risks, expose yourself and your personality, and really go outside your comfort zone within a context that people wouldn’t laugh at you, or ridicule you.
That was another thing about Jean; she made this possible. It was her personality – I don’t think these people would have been so comfortable without her. I don’t think we can model her personality but many of the techniques she taught can be learnt and replicated.
On Jean’s work within Pagan Federation Jon said, “What was unique about Jean as a group leader was that she wasn’t intrusive in any way. She managed to lead, very clearly, in such a gentle way that no one felt they were being made to do something they didn’t want to. They were being facilitated – not ordered around, or commanded. She was the least bossy High Priestess I know. She was incredibly good at getting people to do things because they wanted to do it, not because they were being told to do it. She used this talent to full effect at the Pagan Federation. For many, many years she held the PF together. She was often in the background, when there were squabbles and bickering. Jean would be there smoothing things out and getting things solved. She was amazing like that!”
Sally Fisher wrote: “1 first got to know Jean when I was appointed as Secretary of the PF – nearly 20 years ago. Both she and Zach were so welcoming and helpful it was easy to feel “part of the family”, as it were. Jean’s total commitment to the PF, and making it work for all its members, was the most important thing all the time I was working with her.
But she was also a supportive friend. When one of my cat’s was diagnosed with a fatal – and rapidly fatal – illness, Jean’s gentle understanding was a tremendous support through the dark days. And even after I ceased to be involved with the PF in any way, Jean was always willing to talk things through with me. I shall miss just knowing she was there, at the other end of the phone.”
(Jean and Zach)
Mike Stygal, former President of the PF recalls; “I was first introduced to Jean in 2005 by Mani, who had captured me at an event and dragged me over to Jean as a prospective Interfaith officer for PF London. I can only remember thinking that Jean seemed a very quiet and unassuming woman, but that there was something about her that suggested she could also be an extremely powerful advocate for Paganism.
(Jean leading the attunement at the PF National Conference, Fairfield Hall, Croydon, about 2002)
2 weeks after I had been appointed as interfaith officer, I was introduced as the PF London community services officer…. My job title had expanded without my knowing. I asked Jean about it. She explained what it involved and said she was sure I could cope. I agreed. My first occasion of being caught at a moment of weakness. That became a running tale between Jean and I. Jean would say to me ‘I’m hoping to catch you at a moment of weakness’ and would then outline the next development of my role within the PF. I became Jean’s deputy district manager as Jean had said she wanted to retire. When Jean DID retire, she still offered her lovely home for us to hold district team meetings and was always available for advice on the end of the phone. Jean continued to attend open rituals, although not quite so frequently. When Jean was there, new attendees would be guaranteed a warm, gentle and enthusiastic welcome.
Jean seemed to have a gift for understanding how people ticked. She’d certainly worked me out very early on and knew exactly how to get me doing things… and also exactly what I would enjoy doing. I have no doubt I am not the only person Jean ‘caught at a moment of weakness’, propelling them into the perfect area of service for the PF.
My last memory of Jean is very dear to me. I last saw Jean on the evening of the launch of her book with Zach- The Play goes on. Jean was her typical unassuming self during the launch event, including all those who had shared the journey of ritual group work that had culminated in the book. At the end of the evening, when almost everyone had gone home, I remember the beautiful sight of Jean and Zach walking hand in hand down the road, away from the shop where the launch was held. Both of them still very much in love. It strikes me now, just how privileged those of us who knew Jean were to have been held in her love and esteem. ”
How does one end a presentation about someone as clearly loved as Jean? When asked how we could remember Jean, one person said “As a shining star”. Yes, she was that … and so much more!
Thank you, Jean for making our world a better place – may you dance, sing, love and make merry in the Summerlands!
With love and
(Jean & Morgana, 2008)
October 31, 2016 Oracle TV published this video: “Oracle TV’s Halloween Special – a Tribute to Jean Williams at Samhain”
With thanks to Ruth Bayer, Sylvia Gibson, Clive Harper, Ian Paul, Jon Freedman, Sally Fisher & Mike Stygal.
Quote Jean M. Williams on a T-shirt designed by Alberto Calvanese, Italy (from “The Gods Within” p. 109, Pan)
Review of the book “the Play Goes On”
“The Gods Within – The Pagan Pathfinders Book of God and Goddess Evocations” – Jean M. Williams and Zachary Cox ISBN; 978-0954-7498-11
Pagan Pathfinders on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PaganPathfinders/
Also on FB, Jean Williams Memorial Page.
(Jean modelled for the cover of Pagan Dawn Yule 2009)