Introduction: View Teachings as the Basis of Conduct
Conduct, or the way one comports oneself, is critical to building community. One’s conduct will either build bridges or burn them. Our conduct is as inescapable as our shadow, and it flows from our worldview.
As Helix wrote in “Feri and View Teachings,” worldview orients practitioners of religious or spiritual paths in their lives. It describes what right relationship with natural and divine forces looks like by giving us examples. Worldview, in other words, is a kind of belief, a belief that is based on anatomy and physiology. Each animal has their own particular sense organs that determine what is possible to perceive. However, it is our habits both physiological and psychological that determine what we actually perceive. We can alter our view of the world by changing what we pay attention to, thus developing new neuropathways that change our experience. In biology, this is called neuroplasticity. What we believe in drives what we pay attention to; thus, belief is the foundation of our worldview.
Our worldview shapes what is possible for us and determines how we will act. For instance, if we view ourselves as independent individuals in a competitive, hostile world, it could make sense to harm others to better one’s own lot. If we instead see ourselves as cells in an integrated living body that is the earth, we are more likely to behave cooperatively.
Feri is an extremely diverse tradition, and our rituals, our gods, and even our initiations vary from line to line. Yet our story of creation—which is the basis of our worldview—is one of the core things that unites us. Although each telling of the story is different and emphasizes different elements while omitting others, we all still recognize and treasure the origin myth of the Star Goddess (one version of which is quoted here). Helix explains:
The creation myth conveys much about the qualities of Feri. Ours is an embodied, fundamentally relational tradition that affirms the erotic nature of being in all things, especially the interdependent ecosystem of which humans are a part. The life force that we move in our practices arises from love and desire between Self and Other, who are part of each other, reflections of a divine and holy birth. We know that the universe began in lovemaking, not by word or commandment. We honor these ways of being not just in our overtly spiritual practices, but in every breath and moment of our lives. To practice Feri is to seek the constant awareness of God Hirself’s unfolding in us.
We are a relational tradition in that we relate to our world with pride and care. We recognize that we live in an interdependent ecosystem from which we are never separated for a moment, even after death. We can fantasize about the past and future, but we can never leave the present moment. Since the present is inescapable, we must live in and relate to it, including the environment of which we are a part.
When we retell our creation myth, we remind ourselves of how it feels to embody our tradition. It gives us an anchor point that keeps us from losing ourselves in philosophical speculation that leads away from the deeper experience of Mystery. When we teach students, our worldview also acts as a signpost along the path. It keeps us pointed in the direction we want to go and helps us recognize our destination. That recognition can be felt in our bodies as a current of life force. Body sense connects us to the present and to the presence of the Feri current. The flow of the current doesn’t stop where our bodies end, but rushes ever onward into the future.
The Feri current is a mighty river of life itself. Tumbling and surging with desire, we learn to subtly seduce the raging raw power of sex that flows through the land. Unapologetically and with delight, we skillfully steer the course of our own boat through the rapids and eddies of life.
Recognizing this inherent blissful life force, we don’t need to coerce spirits to cooperate with us, and we instead engage them with a lover’s tenderness. The universe is that which desires, and like responds to like. Do we not feel deep in our bones that the greatest gift we can give to the gods is to honor ourselves and each other? Not only in the lofty space of spirit, but in everyday life as well.
Ritual is the pillow talk of the witch with the world. The rites of witchcraft are our way of talking to nature, the divine, and each other. The world’s response is found in subtle signs and omens: a look, an offhand comment, a suddenly rising wind, the moon revealed from behind a cloud, or any of a range of natural human or other-than-human expressions. When we understand the part we play in the dance of life, we are able to talk with our world as an expression of our spirituality.
Our spiritual practice is embodied because our world is itself spiritual. Our breath synchronizes naturally with the rhythm of our hearts and the beating pulse of the earth. Resting in being, there is no greater seduction, and no greater honor.
Photo by Zongnan Bao on Unsplash
Conduct: The Self and the Other
How does the worldview described in our creation myth lead us to interact with others?
1. Mutual, Consensual Relationships
In our creation myth, the Star Goddess, complete within Hirself, looks into the curved black mirror of space. This alone tells us that the universe is a reflection of Godhirself. At the very core of our being is Godhirself; what we experience is our own reflection. Considering this makes sense of the phrase, “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” Mutuality is the basis for all authentic interactions. If you want respect, give respect.
By hir own light, Godhirself sees hir reflection and falls in love, desiring Hirself. This part of our creation story shows us that love of the other flows from the feeling of love within. It also calls us to honor desire as the driving force of creation, without which we would not be. Love and the desire to unite with love is holy. Sex is holy just by itself.
Of course, sex must be completely consensual, or it not an expression of love, but of power. Victor Anderson saw sexual predation as the worst sort of violation against humanity and condemned it vigorously. He insisted those who sexually prey on others for whatever reason or in whatever way are anathema to the Goddess of all creation. They must be held accountable regardless of their status in the community. When consensual, however, sex is to be celebrated as a divine act. That includes sex in all its forms. Thus Feri witchcraft celebrates all diverse gender expressions and sexualities.
The way we treat others is encapsulated in our hospitality, or lack thereof. How we welcome people into our home or community reflects how we welcome people into our coven or indeed, into our hearts. Do you want your guests to have everything they need to be comfortable? Do you want everyone to be respected and listened to? Being conscious about welcoming guests and seeing to their needs helps to create warmth and respect among all people in the home, whether they are newcomers or old friends. Hospitality also plays a part in public places, whether physical or electronic. We can choose to be hospitable by co-operating with others as siblings of the Star Goddess, or we can have a hostile attitude by viewing our interactions as competitive.
Hospitality is not a difficult practice. Simply ask yourself how you would like to be treated as a guest, and be curious about your guests to learn how their needs may differ from yours. The opportunity to welcome a guest well is an opportunity to honor Godhirself in all hir mystery, as it honors yourself.
3. Responsible Power Dynamics in Teaching
As an initiate of several witchcraft traditions, I have led training covens for decades in traditions that are based on a degree system of initiation. I was fortunate to have been trained by a dedicated and professional teacher in these systems, and I have experienced harmonious coven dynamics in the various covens I have led.
However, I have also witnessed damage done to covens and coven members from authoritarian behavior within these hierarchical systems. Although authoritarianism is not necessarily inherent in hierarchy, I have seen how easily it can arise as an expression of fear. Fear and its subsequent desire to control another often drives the complexes of superiority/inferiority which can interfere with healthy relationships.
In hierarchical coven structures, the teacher rules the circle, but the teacher must always understand the value of their students: not for their skills, but for who they are. If the teacher doesn’t recognize the inherent value of the student from the beginning of training, then the teacher will never fully accept their equal status later.
The Feri creation myth informs the responsibility Feri teachers have toward their students. As children of the Star Goddess, we are all equal and deserve equal respect, although we may not have equal levels of skill or knowledge. As teachers, if we want to produce the best sorcerers, then we have to support our students in developing their maximum ability. One cannot fully develop one’s capabilities from a sense of being “lesser than.”
If the student’s value is diminished by the teacher, then the teacher is restricting them by encouraging a lack of self-esteem. The student can maximize their potential only if they can feel their worth and that they are capable of meeting their goals. The teacher’s confidence in the student is infectious. It is part of a teacher’s job to encourage their students by helping them change their thoughts of “I can’t” into “I can.”
Thus the dilemma of training someone with lesser skill to become one of greater skill than yourself! If one starts the training emphasizing the lesser ability of the student, then one needs to ask, at what point does the student become a master? Is that at initiation? After a certain number of years or amount of skill and wisdom developed? What is the test and what are the necessary skills?
The benchmarks to assess this must be based in reality and appropriate to each student. They need to be definitive and expressed openly so that there are clear goals and boundaries. Otherwise, there is the danger of the student never gaining the status of an equal in the mind of their teacher. However, if the teacher simply focuses on teaching to the best of their abilities instead of being overly concerned with the status of the student, then the learning process develops naturally to nurture the student.
We are fortunate in Feri witchcraft not to have a degree system of initiation with its potentially incumbent hierarchy. Theoretically, this means that helping a student to develop their sense of empowerment should be less encumbered. A good teacher will rejoice when their student exceeds them. For is that not why we teach—so our traditions will thrive and flourish?
4. Ethical Community Relationships
Occasionally, a situation develops where a student who is studying with a teacher of the Craft expresses interest in studying with another teacher. If we respect all seekers and students, as well as our fellow initiates, as children of the Star Goddess, it follows to handle all involved with tact, courtesy, and care.
Firstly, before taking on a student, it’s helpful to protect yourself by doing some research. As a prospective teacher, it’s a good idea to talk with others who know the potential student. If they were previously studying with another teacher, it can be useful to talk with that teacher to learn about possible pitfalls the student may be prone to.
If the student is still studying with a teacher, it’s especially important to get feedback from their teacher, not only to avoid possible conflicts of interest, but to show respect for the teacher themselves. Perhaps there is a good reason why the student wants to change teachers, or perhaps not. In either case, talking with their current or previous teacher can help to avoid problems with their training.
It may be that asking questions reveals that the teacher was exploiting or abusing the student, either sexually, financially, or for labor. Teaching someone is a lot of work, which can lead teachers to feel that they must be due some compensation. However, Victor and Cora Anderson never required any form of payment, labor, or other compensation for their teaching. They are the source of every Feri lineage, and I follow and recommend their example in this matter.
For me, the best “payment” a teacher can receive is for the student to practice well and then to ensure that the teachings are properly passed on. This is the only energy exchange that is necessary for a healthy teacher/student relationship. In my opinion, the continuation of the tradition is why teachers teach: because we recognize that it is valuable for our traditions to continue, and we wish to pass on the benefit that we were freely given.
Abuse or exploitation of students is never okay. If I became aware of such a situation, I might not be able to change the behavior of the teacher, but I would consider helping the student to circumvent that behavior.
5. Equality Among Initiates
My initiator Niklas Gandr often said: “All are equal within the Feri circle of initiates because all points of the circle are equidistant from the center.” This means to me that no Feri initiate has authority over another. One’s teacher or oath mother may feel protective and wish to guide the new initiate, but that has to be done while recognizing the initiate as an equal. After initiation, it is not appropriate for a teacher or oath mother to try to restrict the behavior of their initiates or exert authority over them. Every initiate is autonomous and free, bound to other initiates only by love.
As members of a diverse tradition, different teachers and Feri lines train students differently. Accordingly, we often have different understandings of what lore is held secret based on the ways we were trained. This can cause friction when initiates gather together with students to discuss our tradition.
When in a forum where a teacher expresses a desire not to share certain lore with students, I respect their wishes. What is the harm of deferring to that other teacher so that one doesn’t interfere with their students’ training? There seems to be only benefit from showing respect to them and to their teaching process, even if it is different from one’s own methods. Showing respect makes it more likely that one will be treated with respect in return.
We all know what respect does and doesn’t feel like. It is obvious when an initiate treats others as reflections of Godhirself, and it is also obvious when they treat others as a mere means to benefit themselves. Healthy relationships between initiates are based not on power or control, but on co-operation and respect for self-determination.
6. Respectful Treatment of Creative Works
Feri initiates and their students have responsibilities to other initiates surrounding their original contributions to the tradition, such as ritual, poetry, and liturgy. If our rituals are the pillow talk of the witch with the gods, our poetry and liturgy are our love letters. If the appropriate boundaries around a piece of liturgy are unclear, then if possible, ask the creator or their close Craft kin what they would want. After asking for advice, then respect their wishes – or else, why bother to ask?
In the past, original liturgy and other materials that my late husband Niklas Gandr gave another initiate in confidence were published without his permission under that person’s name. We were deeply hurt by this person’s choice to steal our creative work and others’ in this way. Additionally, because of this violation of trust, traditional training materials that we believe require person-to-person context and guidance have now entered the public domain, where they may be easily misunderstood, exploited, or used unethically.
Ethical behavior toward others simply requires treating other initiates as you would want to be treated. Would you like it if material you created were published and copyrighted by someone else who makes money from your work? How would you feel if a prayer that was special to you was taken out of context, commercialized, or used against its intended purpose? Respectful treatment of ritual, poetry, and liturgy helps to maintain the integrity of our tradition, as well as to preserve harmonious relationships between initiates.
7. Integrity in Diversity
Different rivers take different courses. Each river traverses different terrain and has its own beauty; each is fed by many tributaries, and each creates their own rich mud. Yet a river with many sources and traversing many environments is still called by one name. So it is with the many lines within a tradition of witchcraft.
The various branches of the traditions of witchcraft are like a tree rooted deep in the earth. Like a thicket of hazel trunks arising from a single root of wisdom, traditions of witchcraft arise and branch abundantly. All are equal in value and splendor, in that they all can entice and seduce the divine through ritual.
It can be difficult to determine what is and isn’t specifically Feri as opposed to simply witchcraft or esotericism. However, our tradition does have a distinct flavor. It is different from other witchcraft or magical traditions in certain ways, particularly in its co-operative approach to spirits and magic. Although we are incredibly diverse, kin can be sensed. Some initiates say that Feri initiates have a certain glint in the eyes or scent about them that is recognizable.
As a bardic tradition, creativity is encouraged in Feri, but there is a recognizable cultural milieu which is passed in training. This milieu, which we express as the Iron and Pearl Pentacles, is based in a self-empowerment that recognizes the value of others. As teachers we each must decide for ourselves whether or not certain creative output should be recognized as Feri. My test is simple: Does it resonate with my Feri worldview? Does it teach the skills necessary to practice Feri witchcraft? If it was adapted from another tradition, was that tradition learned in an authentic and appropriate way? We return to our creation myth as our anchor point in order to maintain the integrity of our tradition while also celebrating its many expressions. In the same way, the multitudinous variety found in nature and in human culture remains connected to its source and is thus integrated within Godhirself.
The Ethics of Interconnection
This article is written in the hopes of encouraging discussions. We don’t need to tell each other what to believe or do, but discussion helps us come to a greater understanding of our role in making our world a better place. Although Feri is amoral, our ethics are based on our creation mythos of a mirror-gazing Star Goddess. These ethics are not a set of rigid moral rules, but instead are principles of conduct. We recognize as sorcerers that our actions have effects. If we want a certain effect, we must pay attention to our actions to discover for ourselves their real consequences. Otherwise, we stumble through life blind.
As part of a tradition that emphasizes the importance of embodiment, we draw some of our understanding of ourselves from the life sciences. Biologically speaking, we are holobionts: in other words, we have evolved as discrete biological entities composed of many different organisms, each with their own consciousness. Within, on and around our bodies live communities of many diverse organisms that help make our bodies functional. Forests with matrices of mycelium and oceans teeming with life are holobionts, as are human societies and earth Hirself. Our inherent interconnectedness within a complex web of life is the reason why we feel enjoyment in harmonious natural settings and in harmonious interactions with other humans and non-humans. That interdependence is the basis of our biology and a source of basic satisfaction and strength, particularly in times of difficulty.
When we acknowledge our interdependence, forming communities of initiates and students can be of great benefit to us all. Talking with community members can help us develop appropriate boundaries, deepen one-on-one relationships, and learn more about our customs. A community can be relied upon in times of need, which helps us survive individually and as a tradition. Additionally, supportive bonds between Feri witches help us to be of service to our friends, family, and larger communities. We are interconnected, and we cannot survive isolated or cut off from the world of people, politics, and societies.
If a view of Feri based in our creation myth and in interdependence naturally leads to appropriate conduct, then conduct is the glue that holds communities of Feri witches together. Having codes of conduct that are based on core beliefs can strengthen Feri communities, but only if transgressions carry consequences. We obviously cannot police such codes with force or law. However, in addition to encouraging appropriate behaviors through training and community norms, ancient methods of discouraging harmful behaviors such as shunning can be applied. These tools are not used lightly; careful discernment is necessary for how we hold each other accountable.
Conclusion: Kinship Among Initiates
Though our creation myth continues to connect Feri witches in spirit and guides our conduct and ideals, our tradition has grown rapidly and our practices have become ever more diverse. There are now many lines and communities of Feri witches that have little to no direct communication with each other. As a result, our assumptions about what it means to be an initiate among initiates have diverged.
When relationships deepen between initiates of different lines, we have found it helpful to create rituals that align our expectations. To close, I leave you with this Affirmation of Kinship written by Shea. It articulates the joys and responsibilities we celebrate between initiates who have become close kin. We offer it to the community of initiates, that we might better recognize each other, stitch the fabric of our tradition together where it has become frayed, and strengthen our bonds as bearers of our beloved Mystery.
I recognize each of you as Kin,
And affirm each of you in both Divinity and Discernment
As a reflection of God Herself.
I state now that I trust you implicitly:
I trust you to keep faith with Family, Fae and Ancestor;
I trust you to hold in confidence what is freely given;
I trust you to preserve the Mystery, whether by sharing or withholding.
In community, I offer to advise you as best I am able,
And to mentor you and your students after you, for the asking.
In fellowship, I offer comfort, honesty, and insight.
In liberty and right relationship, in Iron and in Pearl,
I commit to assist and support you however I am best able,
In keeping with my own wisdom.
I give you now the name by which I am known to the Gods!