Cora Anderson’s birthday is next week (January 26), and I have been thinking about her. Not just because of her birthday, which I usually celebrate with poetry or pie (both if possible!). But also because of this week’s presidential inauguration, in which Joe Biden was sworn in as our 46th president, and Kamala Harris as our vice president—the first woman, the first Black woman, and the first person of Indian descent to hold so high an office in our country.
Yet the height of the inauguration for me was the poem read by 22-year-old Black poet laureate Amanda Gorman, a long spoken-word piece that rang with hip-hop rhythms. I kept thinking, Cora would have loved this.
Victor too, I’m sure. But I never met Victor. For that matter, I only met Cora once, when she was bedridden and near the end of her life. Though the Andersons are my great-grandparents in the Craft, I know them mostly through family stories: tales told of their wisdom and their foibles, shared by initiates who knew them whenever we gather.
If you are looking for a witchcraft tradition to connect you with an international community of people who share a consistent philosophy—sorry, this isn’t it. Faery is a family. Families are messy and organic; family members fight with each other fiercely and love just as fiercely. We don’t hang together because we’re developing an ideology or creating an organized religion. We’re together because we recognize each other on a soul-deep level.
Victor Anderson approached the world as a multiracial person. He condemned American racism in interviews and celebrated the cultures and spirituality of Indigenous people and people of color. Learning from world cultures, especially marginalized world cultures, was one of the Andersons’ core values.
But Victor Anderson was not a guru to whom we can abdicate our moral responsibility. I cannot, on the basis of Victor’s life, tell you that “Faery is an essentially anti-racist witchcraft tradition” or give you a ten-step checklist for how to be properly anti-racist. (You can find such materials on your own in any case!)
We look up to the Andersons as we look up to beloved ancestors of blood. They were teachers and our grandparents in the Craft; to some of us, they were cherished friends. Therefore, though we take their teachings seriously, we don’t look to the Andersons to tell us our ethics, beliefs, or political philosophy. Those are our responsibility as individuals, as people who are living in the 21st century. It would be presumptuous for me to try to speak for the Andersons, even if I quoted their interviews. Like all people, they were dynamic and evolving. I know their views changed with the times, and neither of them saw more than a few years of the 21st century. I cannot know how they would have reacted to any current events.
And yet… I think Cora especially would have loved this year’s inauguration.
When I visited Cora, I hoped to ask her about her and Victor’s poetry, and to hear something about her experience of witchcraft. Sadly for me, she was often in and out of her body at that time, and conversation was difficult. But there was one thing that Cora definitely wanted to talk about: the potential election of Barack Obama. She was tremendously excited by the prospect and wanted to know that we shared that excitement.
I can only imagine that the inauguration of Kamala Harris would have thrilled the Andersons. Perhaps they would have seen in her the face of our Star Mother, whom Victor sometimes described as a lovely Black woman wrapped in the imagery of the American flag. As poets, perhaps they would have wept—as I did—at the sight of Amanda Gorman elegantly performing her poetry, calling us through pride into love:
It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it
I am thinking of Cora today, and of Victor too. And so I suggest—if you are seeking Faery, if you might want the Andersons to be your teachers, your grandparents in the Craft, or your friends and guides—honor Cora on her birthday next week. Read Amanda Gorman’s poem aloud. And pray that our nation and our leaders be held under the hand of Love.
To be Faery is to fall in love with your Self as you run straight toward that which you most fear.
Most adults move through the world in a state of internal conflict. Their thoughts run in circles of preoccupation with the past or the future; they have emotions but avoid expressing them, or they let them build up until they are expressed abruptly and unconstructively; and they abuse their bodies with drugs, unhealthy food, or lack of movement. Accordingly, their ability to set an intention and follow through on it, or to accurately identify and act on their deepest desires in a sustained way, is severely lacking.
One cannot be an effective witch in this state of affairs. A witch must be able to focus all their energies in a single direction, to pursue goals both mundane and lofty with consistency and passion. This is one of many reasons why the Andersons emphasized integration work, where we return to a natural state where the physical, animal, human, and divine parts of us are aligned. (For an introduction to what is often called “Triple Soul” work, see the Andersons’ book Etheric Anatomy.) Only when the many parts of the self are entwined in an erotic embrace and moving in concert can the witch manifest their Self in the world.
It can be difficult to begin this work when so many of us have been raised to be divided from ourselves. Our families or religions of origin may have taught us to repress our emotions or condemn some of them as wrong; we may have been led to believe that some desires are “spiritual” and good while others are dangerous, destructive, or downright evil. This kind of upbringing leads many of us to hide what we really think and feel, even from ourselves. Others may rebel against such systems by chasing desires willy-nilly, allowing our animal selves to run wild without guidance from the human self about how to tend to our own well-being or that of others. Neither of these approaches arises from integration and alignment. An aligned witch should evaluate and govern their own actions, but they are able to accept their emotions and desires without judgment. Without this open-eyed compassion, we cannot fully know ourselves.
Whether you are studying Faery with a teacher or are simply a seeker, one of the ways to begin the work of integration is to identify fears and desires. For those who have been conditioned to hide their desires from themselves, fears are often easier to identify, since anxiety is what haunts and motivates so much of modern life.
Faery initiate and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk has often been known to say, “Where there is fear, there is power.” Fear is one way the animal self signals that we have given our power away to an external force. The most persistent fears are often the most productive to explore.
I should emphasize, however, that I am speaking here mainly of irrational or exaggerated fears. There are good, rational, survival-based reasons for avoiding dangerous situations or for engaging in them only while carefully calculating risks. The fears that are most productive to run toward are often interpersonal or those that invite creative self-expression. For some people, the fear will be expressed as intense and obsessive disgust. Our aversion to those externalized parts of ourselves can manifest as monomaniacal focus on manageable risks—for example, avoiding sexual relationships out of a debilitating horror of sexually transmitted infections. The persistence and intrusiveness of an aversion is a clue that it is concealing a lost part of the self.
For some of us, fear will manifest as anger or hatred. In my own sheltered youth, witchcraft and Paganism were targets of my contempt and anger. I was articulate and critical and able to find a thousand faults with the people who practiced these traditions. Yet my rejection of these forms of spirituality was actually a rejection of myself. The harder I fought them, the more those traditions appeared synchronistically in my life, attracted and tantalized me. When I recognized this and (initially holding my nose with disdain) began to read books, go to Pagan campouts, and participate in rituals even when doing so caused me anxiety, discomfort, and downright irritation, paths began to open up for me. I found friends who practiced those traditions whom I could respect; I found an ethical, talented teacher I could look up to. I started to make progress and become a bit less divided against myself.
Strong emotions of this type give clear indications of where the risky but growthful path lies for a given individual. Tackling these fears should never be rushed, however, nor should anyone pressure you to engage them prematurely. Claiming the power and Self that you have externalized in what you fear takes time, care, and careful engagement with the rejected object. To prepare, a meditative practice that gives you experience with tolerating uncomfortable emotions is essential. Buddhist or Western mindfulness practice can help us to regulate our emotions enough to curiously discover what is hidden behind our fear. If our fears are associated with trauma, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a trauma recovery therapist when beginning this kind of work.
To fall in love with our Self, we must also unfailingly respond to desire. Integration requires the gentle work of allowing the human self to befriend the animal self, and vice versa. Only when they are in a close, loving, and erotic relationship will the human self become consistently and completely aware of the animal self’s desires. These desires must be acted upon if the trust of the animal self is to be maintained—but they should be pursued with wisdom and guidance from the divine part of the self. Acting on desire should not result in behavior that is careless toward self and others.
However, if ever you find yourself struck speechless, burning with hunger for a new experience, or feeling yourself to be alive in a way you never have before: if you cannot safely move in the moment, you must make a plan to act. Wrap up or put on pause whatever stands between you and the desire. If the desire is inaccessible in some way, reflect: is there some other way you can approach the essence of the desire? If the desire is for a person who is not available for relationship, what elements of that person attract you, and are there other ways to bring those elements into your life? If the desire is to make music or art, are there ways you can lower your cost of living or survive on less in order to spend more time on projects? What loving risks can you take to manifest the desire? Such decisions feed our animal selves and allow the free flow of life force through all our parts—and cultivating the free flow of life force is an essential part of Faery.
Making a commitment to run toward fear and desire is a simple thing on the surface, but if we practice it in earnest, we will experience moments of towering joy and ego-destroying terror. Life will become vivid—and dangerous.
Are you seeking a Faery path? Make your promise now: never turn away from Self.
What occurred at my initiation caught me by surprise. Until I entered ‘the room’, I did not know the rubric, the appearance of the room, what my Oathmother and their assistants would do, nor what I would be called on to say or do. No one had told me how it would feel or how I would feel afterwards, other than cautions not to expect ‘wonders’. During my studies I desired initiation, too strongly perhaps, yet I worked quite hard not to find out any of the secrets of that ritual in advance. My Oathmother and those who mentored me obliged by not spilling their beans either. Because I had few expectations beyond ‘this will be important’, I was shocked by the beauty of the ritual, one that began a recrystallization of the sense of my life. Yet was it surprise that made the beauty shocking and provided fuel to power that magic?
More than seven years earlier I received a call from a divinity. It was an instruction, not a command, perhaps best seen as an offer that would be made only once: “In order to [address a very mundane issue] you must learn use your intensity with ultimate skill.” Accepting that god’s direction led to my taking up study of the Anderson Craft. With considerable serendipity, I connected with a skilled and compassionate teacher, a fine match perhaps not because of our similarities, but because of our differences.
I was not a particularly wise student and the seven-year process was not easy, nor did this training match what I thought it would be like when I began. My assumed strengths so often were identified as peripheral, even detrimental to my goal, and the areas where my teacher and my mentors focused my training were so often not my strengths but rather where I was, in their judgment, weakest. My multiple decades studying hermetic Qabalah with a skilled adept became beside the point. My skills were worthy of respect, and my teachers were pleased to acknowledge my prior diligence. Yet it was my teacher’s continually frustrating role to keep saying, ‘NO! Qabalah is not Feri’, or to emphatically demand I re-do work, because, ‘Rudolf Steiner is not Feri!’ If I anticipated the next piece of work, rather than just doing it, it could simply fail and need to be redone later.
During my seven years as a student, I was nearly dropped by my teacher more than once. These explosions always occurred when I presumed I knew beforehand what was being taught, why it was being taught, and what I was going to learn. I may have been wise enough to not delve too much into the secrets of initiation, yet I had to be hit by the teacher’s stick again and again to learn a great secret: I was a student because I did not know the Craft, while my Oathmother-to-be had been ordained by ‘Our Line’, both the living and those mightily dead, and the Gods, to take me down paths that I simply could not travel myself – that I had to learn to listen!
And I found out the only reason to walk those paths was to know myself. Yes, I made friends (the closest ever in my long life), learned lore and even a few secrets, grievously hurt and lost friends because of my ego, and even began to learn a bit of how to use my intensity with skill (if not yet ‘ultimate’). But that skill was so often not how to enlarge myself, to become more intense, but rather right-sizing, a surrender, above all how to listen and …
… trust in my teacher was required. I was handing parts of my Souls into my teacher’s hands. For though I felt this burning need to study, if I thought I knew where I was going, I would not get there. No, my teacher was not perfect, we argued, I felt they dropped my souls more than once, even broke my heart as I sometimes broke theirs. Yet this surrender to my teacher’s guidance, of allowing them to surprise me, was the essence of being trained in our tradition and the only possible path to initiation.
Shortly after my initiation, I commented to a friend, now a fellow initiate, “This cannot be taken away.” They responded, “No, it cannot.” Have there been ‘wonders’ since my initiation? If by ‘wonders’ one means many shattering spiritual events, I would have to say no. My teacher and mentors were right to say, “Do not expect wonders.” However, the winds of the world seem to blow more strongly, or perhaps I just pay more attention. Intuition arises more easily, synchronicities are more common. Emotions and the effect of what is said and done in relationships on myself and on others are far brighter, and sometimes far darker. Words spoken and actions taken seem to pack more clout. It is both easier to speak truth, and not doing so has deeper consequences. These changes continue and seem to be increasing over time. Perhaps my training is what allowed me not to expect wonders, but rather to gain the strength to navigate the changes in me that continue to evolve and to emerge—and, perhaps, to remain open to being surprised.
Faery/Feri is an ecstatic tradition of witchcraft. That means it’s an embodied tradition, and it’s a lineage passed physically. By its very nature it requires in-person transmission. But many of us, for various reasons, will never live near an initiate or be able to travel to visit one. What do we do if this flavor of the craft speaks to us and we find ourselves without access to a teacher?
The first big thing we must do is let go of expectation. A sure way to get ourselves into the weeds is by trying to compel something to happen. To learn any esoteric system, but especially one that is left-hand, a trustworthy, responsible teacher with integrity is paramount. If you try to force your access to a teacher you will end up settling — and that’s a bad, potentially even dangerous idea.
So, just take a deep breath and let it go. Let go of your expectation around Anderson Faery. Let’s do it together. Ready? Deep breath… and let go.
Now let’s chat about some things you *can* do.
Work on Your Self
A key tenet of Anderson Faery is the divine nature of the human self in its multi-part form. The self can be developed and explored through many systems and practices. This is not dependent on Faery. Start here. Begin the tasks of self-reflection, personal development, and resiliency training. You might find an established meditation group nearby, search for a good therapist to explore with, or ask like-minded friends to form a regular sitting group with you. A healthy, balanced Self is the cornerstone for any human, Faery witch or otherwise.
If you’re struggling to find an open-minded therapist in your area, look for therapists who advertise a specialty in LGBTQ+ issues. Many of these therapists are also familiar with alternative spiritual paths and will not pathologize or be put off by your spiritual interests.
Deconstruct Your Worldview
The dismantling of the conventional worldview to intentionally cultivate an enchanted, embodied, interconnected worldview is a foundational practice within Anderson Faery. A good way to go about this is through study. There are many books available that will let you see a little more sideways and question aspects of culture you may not have before.
A list of reading material that might be helpful is below. Don’t rush these books. Instead go slowly, contemplatively, making notes as thoughts arise. It’s by spending time with mind-expanding concepts that transformation occurs. Maybe that sitting group you formed could read through these together?
The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-than-Human World by David Abram
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich
The Joy Diet: Ten Daily Practices for a Happier Life by Martha Beck
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha by Tara Brach
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessell van der Kolk
Eros and Touch from a Pagan Perspective: Divided for Love’s Sake by Christine Hoff Kraemer (contact the author if price puts it out of reach)
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
The Reenchantment of the World by Morris Berman
Fiction and poetry can also be powerful tools for re-orienting yourself to the world. Both Victor and Cora Anderson were poets. Their seriousness about poetry was such that Cora spent their entire life savings to publish Victor’s first book of poetry, Thorns of the Bloodrose. Good poetry can encourage us to think non-linearly and open us to subtle experiences that can only be pointed to with words; good fiction can challenge us to see layers to the world that we never guessed at before. Read widely: classics, speculative fiction, mythology, anything that shifts your perspective or makes you jump out of your seat with sudden recognition. We can’t tell you which writers will open your heart and blow your mind, but Helix loves Steppenwolf and The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, and Traci loves Fiona Macleod (William Sharp) and The Wood Wife by Terri Windling.
Get to Know Your Ancestors
Like many ecstatic traditions, Anderson Faery has a strong thread of Ancestral veneration. Whether you have a nurturing or harmful relationship with ancestors of blood, their genetic heritage is still yours. The work of a witch is to explore those threads, heal them so S/He Hirself is healed, and strengthen their resiliency for the benefit of our descendants. Yet this is not purely imaginal. If you aren’t up to date on the new science of heritability, you might look at It Didn’t Start With You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are And How To End The Cycle by Mark Wolynn.
A practical first step in the process of forming relationship with your ancestors is to create a dedicated space for offerings. This can be as simple as a clean surface with a little cup for water. Add family photographs or heirlooms if you like. Pour fresh water in the cup and say a little blessing over it, such as, “May my ancestors be blessed, may my descendants be blessed.” There is more elaborate and complex work that can be done, but this small step will take you far.
Leave Your House
If this all sounds very heady thus far, it has been. An educated witch is a prepared witch, but the body is included in that. Get out of your box — out of your car, your room, your apartment, your house — and put your feet and elbows in the grass. Explore the land around you. This may be a city park, a strip of wild grasses along a curb, or rambling lanes in the deep countryside. You don’t need to do anything out there, just observe. Be polite. Say hello to other living beings you meet — in your out-loud voice. Witches may be uncanny, quirky, and psychic, but we rarely read each other’s minds, so don’t expect other-than-human persons (big or small) to read yours.
Observe the clouds and the winds where you live. From which direction do they predominantly blow? What does the wind from those different directions feel like on your skin, what sensations do you get, is there a taste? Record your observations in some way. It doesn’t have to be with words. Use movement, poetry, painting, clay, or music. Continue these observations for other living beings, like animals, rivers, birds, insects, trees, flowers. Pick up rubbish (as an offering and act of service) and spend time with the persons you meet. You’ll be surprised at the strong friendships you build by just showing up and sitting with someone, whether they are human or not.
Speaking of art, explore yours. How do you express your creativity? Do you move your body, perhaps through ecstatic dance, yoga, line-dancing, or ballet? Do you paint, draw, sew, or knit? Dedicate time to the cultivation and expression of your creativity. Creativity is life force, and Anderson Faery focuses strongly on feeding and expressing this part of our Self. You don’t need to spend money on this pursuit, but it should be something you create a regular practice around. Allowing creative expression to flow keeps our channels of life force open and clear.
This is a sex-positive tradition because Sex is Life. Have sex not for procreative purposes, but for pleasure, either with yourself alone, with an enthusiastic partner, or through deliberate erotic connection with the land.
We value pleasure, just as we value personal responsibility. We value knowing and owning our choices, behavior, and actions. Hopefully part of your study on dismantling worldview has led you to question cultural norms around sexuality and to ask yourself what your own authentic views are. What is the nature of your sexuality, and how can you nurture it and express it in healthy, responsible ways?
Try taking a bath or shower while fully focusing on the feel of the water moving over your skin. Simple, huh? Really experience it. What does the water trickling over your ankle bone feel like, or the small of your back, or your shoulder? Better yet, go outside: lie on the ground under the full sun. Spread your body out, expose a bit of skin, and feel the rays of the sun absorbing into the flesh of your bicep, your thigh, your stomach: the fleshy parts. Breathe. Can you let your full attention rest with the sensations of your body, its pleasures and its pains? Can you love your own flesh, and the flesh of the land, the way you might adore a human lover?
If That Which You Seek You Do Not Find Within, You Will Never Find It Without
You might not know it, but you have just learned some of the mysteries of Anderson Faery. Hold them with care, cherish them, and let them unfold in your life.
May it be so.
Those who are seeking more information about Faery witchcraft and the writings of the Andersons are invited to join the Seekers of Faery Google group.
[originally published 2007 – reprinted by permission of the author]
I’m occasionally puzzled by assertions that Feri is amoral, or alternately lacking in moral substance. This statement is made either as a criticism (we don’t have Rules, therefore we don’t have ethics, therefore Horrible Things Will Happen) or in defiance (you can’t tell me what to do, because we don’t have rules). I think both of those attitudes are rooted in a very basic misapprehension: Rules don’t equal ethics.
As it happens, following rules is a stage of moral development, but not a very advanced one.[i] Rules are nothing more nor less than received authority, either from society or from some posited divine influence. It should be immediately apparent why Feri doesn’t have many of those.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in my life organizing groups in person, and moderating communities online. The very first Pagan-ish group I was ever in, there was this one guy… I’ll call him Dave. Every single rule we had… from “Discuss what you are doing with the group and make sure your ‘experiment’ is okay with them BEFORE you lead everyone through a meditation” to “Please do not tell people they can join the group before the rest of us have even met them”… was because of something Dave had done. The trouble was, he kept thinking up new things to do. We were always one calamity behind.
One tidbit of wisdom I gleaned from this is that while clear expectations and goals are useful if you want a group of people to work together, rules are almost useless. Bluntly put, grownups don’t need rules, and the individuals who do need rules won’t follow them, plus they will always think up stuff that would never cross a sane person’s mind. You can deal with that problem in various ways, but if someone’s mama didn’t raise them right, you aren’t going to be able to. In other words, if they haven’t internalized certain values, they will not act according to them.
It’s true that there is no way to enforce ethics in Feri from outside. Feri expects you to be a grownup. It does occasionally happen that we get someone whose mama didn’t raise them right. The appropriate response from a community of equals when a member misbehaves is disapprobation. It need not even be unanimous censure, though it helps when we discuss such things openly. What we can’t do is un-Feri someone, or impose sanctions on them, because there is no organization or decision-making body to do such a thing, and I think personally that creating one would prove to be a cure worse than the disease. (Nor will it solve the problem, as the world is full of structured organizations with clear ethical rules that nonetheless have members who behave unethically.) It’s entirely possible for a Feri initiate or otherwise affiliated person to behave very unethically indeed… or simply act like a jackass… and get away with it. I will refrain from offering examples.
I wish to offer here the very radical notion that the primary purpose of an ethical system is not to set down rules covering every possible circumstance or to enforce punishment of infractions, but to allow those who are interested in behaving ethically to find sustenance. In that, I have found Feri to be extremely successful. That is because it offers several methods of internalizing certain values about human beings, what they are and how they should interact with the world around them. Those methods are in fact at the core of the tradition… the Iron Pentacle, the Pearl Pentacle, and the notion of the Three Souls. Notice those are not discussions of values, but the values themselves. They are also meditative tools which many of us work with every day. They are both the principles and the means of internalizing them. The basic underlying value is integrity: The point of our practice is to be a whole person, and a whole person will behave ethically.
I’m not sure what we can do about the other problem anyway without undermining very important values that we do have, such as autonomy. The radical independence of each initiate is part and parcel of the expectation that we will act like grownups and therefore don’t need rules. What we can do with someone who isn’t and does is… well, a matter for discussion. I won’t attempt to embark upon that discussion right now; I will merely point out that it can’t be scotched or dismissed or despaired of on the premise that we don’t have any ethical principles to begin with. We certainly do have principles, and they’ve been right out there on the living room table the whole time. I’m often perplexed as to why they aren’t obvious to everyone. Perhaps the elephant sat on them.
…Wait, I was going to talk about those. Principles. We have several that are explicitly about how you act towards (or with) other people. They are five in number: Love, Knowledge, Wisdom, Law, and Liberty, the points of the Pearl Pentacle. There are also five points in the Iron Pentacle which describe the forces which drive the human psyche: Sex, Self, Pride, Passion, Power. The PP, roughly speaking, is about your relationship with the not-merely-human world around you, and the IP is about your relationship with yourself. Of course, they are intertwined; if you value Pride or Passion, for example, you don’t just value it in yourself. Honoring the pride, passion, selfhood, sexuality, and power of others goes along with honoring your own. That is what seems to trip most people up; they can see how valuable some of those traits are in themselves, but the way it makes other people act seems to perplex them.
Steve Hewell believes, and I tend to agree with him, that if you work with the Iron Pentacle enough the Pearl will unfold from it automatically; however, sometimes we need to grease the hinges a little. I hesitate to even attempt to explain the points as I see them because I’m equally afraid of someone either arguing with my interpretation of them or taking them as a directive. The point is to work with the Iron and Pearl until you embody those traits, as fully as possible and in your own unique way. But here goes:
Sex as a virtue? Well, how do you think you got here? Remember that we Feri folk believe that the primary creative force is erotic. The universe came into being because the Star Goddess experienced divine, er, joy. We also don’t believe in original sin of any description. We reject the notion that matter is dead, or wrong, or inferior. Life is good. Therefore, existence, the universe, other people, the whole shebang, are all in a sense fundamentally good, and also worthy of love just by virtue of being here. That doesn’t mean love everyone you meet in an intimate or emotional sense, but it does mean that you recognize their basic worth.
Your unique self is valuable. So are all the other unique selves. Self is inherently paradoxical: “God is Self and Self is God and God is a person like my Self”[ii] doesn’t quite mean what it appears to mean. Self is an illusion, but a useful one. It’s a big universe; one of the ways to express joy in it is to know things about it. Knowledge also brings clarity: it makes a difference what the truth is, especially in your dealings with others. Knowledge as a virtue also means not fudging the facts, because lies distort knowledge. Know thyself, know the truth; as best you can.
But intellectual knowledge, demarcated by the boundary of the self, can become a bit detached. Passion is about connection; wisdom about understanding on a visceral level, whole understanding based on having experienced something rather than only observing or reading about it. Again, it’s an expression of being in love with the world. (Com)Passion and Wisdom also grant empathy with the experiences of others.
Pride is the absolute knowledge of your own worth and the worth of your place and work in the world. Law is that knowledge plus the understanding of the worth of others, plus the comprehension that “the moral arc of the universe… bends towards justice”[iii] in your dealings with them. Act from centered self-worth, and recognition of the worth of others.
If you are worthy, so are your actions in the world. We don’t shy away from power; many of our meditations and aphorisms are aimed at gathering it and conserving it: “Never submit your life force to anything or anyone for any reason.”[iv] This is the one that makes people twitchy the most; we all have images of abuse of power in our heads. However, if you value Power and Freedom as ideas, you must value them in others as well as yourself. Empowerment is not just for you, but for other people. Freedom is for everyone. Liberty for all.
__________ [i] See Lawrence Kohlberg’s work on the stages of moral development, as well as criticism of it by Carol Gilligan.
[ii] Victor Anderson
[iii] The full quote is, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” There are some other quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. in the same speech that are very interesting from a Feri point of view:
Now power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change. Walter Reuther defined power one day. He said, “Power is the ability of a labor union like the U.A.W. to make the most powerful corporation in the world, General Motors, say ‘Yes’ when it wants to say ‘No.’ That’s power.”
Now a lot of us are preachers, and all of us have our moral convictions and concerns, and so often have problems with power. There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites – polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.
It was this misinterpretation that caused Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject the Nietzschean philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.
– Speech to the Tenth Anniversary Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967
As part of my daily practice of devotion to the Star Goddess, I have said the following Faery Tradition prayer nearly every morning for over ten years. There are days when I have blithely taken the words for granted as they flew out of my still sleepy mouth. But there are glorious mornings when these words reverberate through and awaken my sluggish spirit.
“Holy Mother, in whom we Live, Move and Have our Being, from You all Things emerge and unto you all things return.”
This morning was one of those thrilling mornings when I keenly felt my connection to the ALL. The living vibrancy of this prayer suffused my body in warmth and happy joy. To live in accord with these words means that I have consideration for the place I live, my environment, and the landscape upon which I carry out the routine of my days.
The outside is not just a place for me to get through on my way from Point A and B after I leave my house and get into my car to go somewhere. I’m most comfortable, at ease, happy, and myself when I am outside. I live upon and with the earth. We as humans are the earth. Our bodies are not separate from this planet we inhabit. The matter that makes up our flesh comes from the earth.
I emphatically equate the Earth, all the plants, and every particle of matter with our Holy Mother, the Star Goddess. She is star matter, the elements, and all that I can comprehend.
It is all such a wonder: we humans, animals, plants, and beings come from the earth which spills out of and into the complex universe. We all fold into the cleft of the earth, the universe, and our Holy Mother.
Our emotions, feelings, and thoughts flow into and out of her. She is vast and can feel distant to our human perception of her. But she is always with us, the breath woven into the very fabric of our beings. Immanence through and through…
Beauty, Darkness, Light, Sound, Movement, Energy, and Love.
For me she is the wild, rabid soul of our Earth’s Nature and the Life Giver of the Universe.
Faery is not academic training. Faery isn’t beginner witchcraft training – though sometimes brand new witches cut their teeth here. Faery isn’t advanced witchcraft training, either; many craft traditions offer powerful access to craft training and currents. How Faery differs from some other traditions is its shamanic, ecstatic, and rather primal current. There are shifting forms here, and while there is a rich body of liturgical material within Faery, this current spills out of containers.
Faery is a peculiar and particular WAY of working magic, and the only way into it is through initiation.
Some traditions are training traditions, in that they prepare students to be witches; Faery is not that. While some traditions view initiation as stepping into acceptance and acknowledgement of yourself as a witch, Faery initiation is not that, either. There may be traditions that offer initiation after a year and a day of training, or in exchange for regular circle attendance; Faery does not. Initiation for some occurs after learning certain liturgy or ritual roles; Faery doesn’t do this either.
How in the world, then, does someone enter in to Anderson Faery?
Well, if you want to learn Faery, there are several things you must do:
Find a teacher.
Ask the teacher if they will teach you.
If the teacher says yes, ask what you need to do.
Do what the teacher asks and report back.
Diligently repeat steps 3 and 4.
Faery initiates are not going to push you to do anything. In fact, most Faery initiates will not set clear expectations or give much in the way of direct instruction. What they will do is sit back and watch what you do. Remember, Faery is not a training tradition but a WAY of working magic. An initiate who has taken responsibility for possibly shepherding you to the Gate is looking for signs. They will give you exercises and material that may foster this WAY of working magic, or strengthen it, but only if asked.
Faery initiates want to see your compatibility with the current. Beating down doors, and risking rejection, is something we look for. You’re welcome.
Once you have a teacher, they are still going to largely sit back and watch what you do with what they tell you. If you do nothing, they will not email, phone or otherwise check-in to see why you are doing nothing. Faery initiates are not your parents. If you need them to be, I suggest you seek therapy first, and then come back to witchcraft.
If you want to learn Faery, you need to push, you need to ask, you need to keep at it, you need to do the things you are given, you need to tell the initiate you did the thing, you need to keep asking for more. And after all that, you still have to ASK for the initiation. Remember, Faery isn’t a tradition that offers initiation after a year and a day, or a day and seven years. When you do finally ask, the initiate may say no, off hand, to see how you handle that, to test if you will ask again. Yet even if you ask again, and again, and again, the initiate may still say no, because they may not see the signs. There is no guarantee of initiation in Faery. That does not mean you are less of a witch. It just means the “fit” for the “family” WAY of working isn’t there. You may be family elsewhere.
Did I mention that Faery initiates are not your parents? We aren’t your High Priestesses, either. We are Witches, and we seek other Witches who are Peers with the Gods.
Do you think you might be a Peer? Get ready to beat down some doors.
“God is Self and Self is God and God is a Person like my Self.” –Victor Anderson
Victor Anderson: An American Shaman is a candid look at the Feri tradition’s most important teacher. The book is loosely arranged into two parts. Part I contains a series of interviews with Victor and Cora Anderson conducted around 1999, about two years before Victor’s death. The interviewer is Cornelia Benavidez, the Andersons’ friend of two decades and an initiate of Victor’s. (Charmingly, the book opens with a copy of a letter of reference for Benavidez from Victor, recommending her as “an honorable person and good witch.”) Victor’s remarks are interspersed with explanatory notes from Benavidez to provide context and additional information. Part II contains supplementary material, including an account of Victor’s last days from Benavidez, an essay by Sara Star that attempts to historically contextualize Victor’s initiation story, comments by Benavidez on the development of Feri after the deaths of the Andersons, and extensive genealogical information on Victor compiled by researcher William Wallworth.
Those who have read earlier interviews that Victor gave over the course of his life will find many of the thoughts recorded here to be familiar. However, in response to Benavidez’s clarifying questions, Victor unpacks many of his views in more detail than was previously available in print and clears up potential areas of ambiguity. Further, since most of the earlier interviews were published in zines or now-out-of-print collections, many readers will be encountering this material for the first time. This factor alone makes An American Shaman an important primary source for the study of Victor and Cora’s lives.
Readers who have primarily encountered Feri witchcraft through websites or in books put out by large publishing houses may be surprised at how little of the material frequently presented as “the Feri tradition” appears in Victor’s final statements of his views. The plain-spoken interviews focus on the Andersons’ core values of love and respect for others and the importance of sexual ethics. Many pages are spent on Victor’s complex ancestry and his relationships with indigenous people. The Andersons’ opposition to American racism and what we would now call cultural appropriation are major emphases, but as a person born during World War I, Victor’s framing of these issues is very different from those of twenty-first century activists. New readers may struggle greatly with his words, finding Victor confusing or downright infuriating.
For the reader who is willing and able to encounter Victor Anderson as a whole human being, however, there is a great deal of insight, humor, and hope recorded in this text. Victor’s Feri tradition is not a set of doctrines or an ideology, nor is it an elite occult club for the sexually alternative. Rather, it is a craft of relationship, devotion, creativity, and joy that the Andersons hoped would help lead humanity away from its most destructive tendencies.
The individual captured in this book’s pages (however incompletely) was a person of striking uniqueness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strain of witchcraft that he helped to create continues to be rich, vital, and extremely contentious. As the years pass and the initiates that knew the Andersons pass away, documents that preserve Victor and Cora’s voices as complex, idiosyncratic human beings become ever more important. Within any group, there is always a temptation to simplify and sanitize the life and views of deceased leaders, lest their inconvenient human realities damage the group’s public face. Yet Feri has a deep commitment to authenticity, and its practice demands great personal intimacy between practitioners. Allowing Victor’s humanness to be forgotten, therefore, would betray our most deeply held values.
As Feri initiates, it is our loving duty to remember Victor honestly and to continue to learn from his teaching. Accordingly, Victor Anderson: An American Shaman is a text recommended for any Feri seeker or student—one that must be read slowly, struggled with, questioned, laid aside and taken up again.
“There are many things I would still want to learn, I’m willing to learn from anybody regardless of their degree of initiation […] I still am anxious to learn anything I can, and apply it and see if it works. If it works I will use it. This is our science and this is how we learn and grow.”
Bardic, Shamanic, Ecstatic: these are the three adjectives that introduce AndersonFaery.org at the top of every page. All three are commonly used by initiates to describe Anderson Faery witchcraft. What do they mean?
Historically, a bard is a traveling poet who composed and recited epic poetry, usually while playing an instrument. Over time, the term has loosened to include poets in general, with “THE Bard” often referring to William Shakespeare, a word artist of both poetry and prose.
Poetry, song, storytelling, and drama are ways in which a group performs its shared values. Our ancestors both entertained themselves and learned about who they were through group gatherings where stories and songs were shared around a fire. Many of the world’s religions continue these practices of singing and storytelling, though in the West they have become more structured. A visit to nearly any Christian church, for example, includes reading of scripture (much of which is narrative) and singing of hymns; similarly, historical and mythic narratives and traditional songs are key elements of most Jewish holidays.
Poetry and song have always been an important part of Faery Craft. Part of their importance is to retain knowledge of history, myths, and lore, an understanding of which connects Faery witches to the past and ties them together in relationship. Gwydion Pendderwen, one of the Andersons’ first and most influential initiates, recorded two albums of music that celebrated nature spirituality, folk lifeways, and the Gods. He also penned liturgical pieces for use in private rituals. Faery witches continue to sing Gwydion’s songs and recite his poetry, both to connect with the ancestral traditions that Gwydion felt called to, and to connect with the memory of Gwydion himself.
Poetry was also a passion of the Andersons. In 1970, with Gwydion’s logistical support and Cora’s life savings, Victor published Thorns of the Blood Rose, a passionate book of poetry that led many future initiates to seek the Andersons out for teaching. Victor’s poetry celebrates the natural world, the Gods, and sexuality; but like those of Yeats, the great occult poet of the twentieth century, his poems are also densely layered with meaning and can act as keys to occult revelation. Victor’s poetry rewards the patient and careful reader who is willing to read and reread, recite and contemplate again and again.
Victor was adamant that the images in his poems were not intended metaphorically. Poetry is a way of expressing realities that cannot be captured by linear thought and plain speaking; it is a way of gesturing toward mysteries that are beyond our rational understanding, but that we can experience in our bodies as beings of flesh and spirit.
Cora was also a poet. Some of her simple, striking verse is included in her memoir Childhood Memories (now out of print, but a version of the book called Kitchen Witch is still available). When I met Cora near the end of her life, she spoke with great pride of the poetry that she and Victor had written. She clearly considered this creative work to be one of the great achievements of their lives.
Though not every Faery witch need be a poet themselves, Faery witchcraft cannot be worked without poetry. Poetry and song bind us together. Through them, we share our innermost dreams, longings, and desires; we connect to the ancestors and the Gods; and for those with ears to hear, we convey our most precious truths.
A shaman is a healer and spiritworker who is in service to their local community. On behalf of that community, the shaman seeks altered states of consciousness in order to communicate and negotiate with spirits. Shamanic practice may include the use of local plants to heal and work magic, as well as magical practices based on spirit relationships. Although the term “shaman” probably originally came from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia, in Western religious studies it is now used to describe this kind of spiritworking cross-culturally.
Faery witchcraft is worked in a container of beloved relationship. This includes relationship with one’s human community, but even more importantly, it includes the local plants, animals, streams, and hills in all their aspects (physical and spiritual), as well as the Gods who manifest through the land and through our flesh.
Third Road founder Francesca De Grandis wrote, “A healthy priest makes all things sound.” Faery witches seek harmonious relationship with the land and people where they live. We seek to be whole and balanced in ourselves so that our positive influence ripples outward through all we touch. At times, of course, seeking harmony may require conflict, as we are called to defend human or other-than-human beings in our community who are in danger. A witch’s action to restore harmony may take place in the human realm, in the newspapers in the courts; or it may take place in privacy, through magical intervention or one-on-one negotiation with humans or spirits. In any case, right relationship is the source of a witch’s power. A witch’s work involves constantly strengthening ties and setting boundaries—but our responsibilities are not just to the human community.
Serving in a shamanic role is not easy. The conflicting needs of humans and other-than-human beings can lead to difficult decisions, and as a result the witch may not always be appreciated or loved by other humans. When we serve as mediators between humans and spirits, between the wild world and what we speak of as “civilization,” we put ourselves outside of ordinary human society, and we may suffer for it—if not through persecution, then through being treated as an outsider or a fool. To serve as a shaman means having knowledge that others do not, and this state can be uncomfortable and isolating. It is not a glamorous role, though the moments of beauty and connection it brings may be worth the pain.
Like the rest of our society, twenty-first-century Faery witches struggle with environmental damage and community erosion caused by the ways we have chosen to use technology. Some of us were lucky enough to be raised with a spiritual awareness of the land where we live; others, having grown up disconnected and rootless, must work hard to form the relationships that make a powerful witch. But without being integrated into a community of all types of beings—without, in other words, taking on a shamanic role—a Faery witch’s work is not complete.
Ecstasy is a rapturous state of altered consciousness where the usual boundaries of the self are left behind. The original Greek term, ekstasis, translates as something like “standing outside oneself.” Ecstasy is a sensual, embodied, fleshly state; it is not one where we transcend the body. However, it is transcendent because in this state, our awareness of our individuality and our boundedness from other beings falls away. We transcend our everyday selves and experience communion: with other Selves, with the Gods, with God Herself.
Allowing ourselves to experience ecstasy can be a difficult and even frightening process. In order to freely let go of one’s ordinary everyday self, one must be comfortable with that self and know it well. Our society, however, often does not support individuals in forming a healthy, stable self. Mainstream society is full of casual boundary violations, especially of the bodies and selves of marginalized people, as well as complicated social expectations that may encourage inauthenticity or even be actively exploitative and damaging. If a person is struggling to build good boundaries and experience healthy relationships with other human beings, it is natural that they may cling to whatever sense of identity they have already built—in fact, it is probably healthy to do so!
Ecstatic experience loosens and breaks down individual identity. It may change small elements of our personalities, like preferred hobbies or tastes; or it may leave us questioning elements we thought were foundational and defining, like sexual orientation or professional calling. Ecstasy can be a joy so big it bursts the heart open, leaving pieces that no longer seem to fit neatly together. It offers us freedom, but at the cost of structure we may have come to depend on.
Ecstasy is life force itself. If we are willing to let it flow through us undammed and be changed by the flood, our ability to contain that force expands. We become more powerful witches—but “power” rarely looks like what we imagine beforehand. There is no predicting where ecstasy will take you, or how it will leave you when its surging waters recede from the banks. Those who stay out of the way of the flood—either out of fear, or because they genuinely love themselves the way they are—are not unwise. But for Faery witches, there is no life without ecstasy. We embrace its risk, and its freedom.
Using historical references found within Gardnerian and Wiccan mythology, I will demonstrate how history supports the inclusion of Qwyr folks in Gardnerian and Wiccan circles as working partners. Based on ancient folk customs, I show how transvestites are explicitly connected to fertility rites still performed in our modern world. Finally, I explore how modern Witch mythology informs the intimate connections between ecstasy, fertility and creativity and what that could look like in Qwyr ritual magic. In addition, I explore the benefits to our society of the collusion of Qwyr magic with non-Qwyr magics.
A historical basis for including Qwyrs in Wiccan circles
Despite institutionalized homophobia and the heterocentric notion that the God/Goddess pairing is the only way to operate within a Gardnerian or Wiccan coven, there is a liturgical and historical basis for including Qwyr people in these rites. Wiccans often use a well-known piece of liturgy called the “Charge of the Goddess.” This liturgy is published in the Farrar’s book Eight Sabbats for Witches and starts with the words: “Listen to the words of the Great Mother…” The Farrars write:
In the [what the Farrars describe as an Alexandrian] Book of Shadows, another sentence follows here: “At her altars [of Artemis] the youth of Lacedemon in Sparta made due sacrifice.” The sentence originated from Gardner, not Valiente. (Farrar: 1985, 42)
According to the Farrars, most covens omit this historical reference, considering it to be too “gruesome” for modern Craft practices. Oddly, this same piece of information that points to a historical antecedent of modern Witchcraft is also a precedent for including sexually active Qwyrs as working partners in Wiccan circles. Curiously, in Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance this historical reference is omitted in her version of the Charge. In most Faerie circles the Charge of the Goddess isn’t traditionally used, but it is still loved and preserved by many Witches of different traditions who feel it expresses their concept of the Goddess.
Shedding light on the Charge of the Goddess
The early Dorians in the 12th century BCE established their capital at Sparta. They maintained many of the most ancient traditions of earlier ages, especially with respect toward women. Spartan women wielded the power to compete with, publicly praise, or censor men, and they had greater authority over property than anywhere else in Greece. Elsewhere in Greece, women were only allowed to call their husband “Lord,” were not allowed to eat meals with their husbands and only lived inside the house. In addition, Plutarch wrote in his 1st century CE book Lives that “the unmarried women love beautiful and good women” (Evans: 1978, 34).
Homosexuality had a high status among the Dorians. In fact, homoerotic activity was more highly regarded in Sparta than in Athens during the later classical period. Male homosexuality often took the form of paiderestia – the love of an older experienced man and a younger, more inexperienced man. Paiderestia was a form of religious, military, educational and sexual training. The experienced man initiated the younger man into men’s mysteries. The holy act of transferring semen conveyed an older man’s soul power to the youth and was called “inspiring” the inexperienced man (Evans: 1978, 34). In fact, this is still practiced to this day by some of the Kahunas of Hawai’I as explained to me by Kahunas I met there.
Doric paiderestia is a continuation of familiar shamanic and religious concepts that date back to the Stone Age. The Dorians, though coming later than the Mycenaeans, remained much closer to the earlier sexual traditions. According to the German scholar Bethe, the myth that homosexual men are always contemptuous toward women flounders on the fact that precisely in Sparta and Lesbos, where man-love and woman-love are best documented, the sexes associated more freely and women had more economic and political power than anywhere else in the Greek city-states (Evans: 1978, 33-35).
Historically, social acceptance for homosexuals is associated with a high social status for women. Patriarchal authorities have always oppressed both women and men who “act like women.” Therefore women and homosexuals often have a natural bond born from a personal understanding of the nature of oppression. Witches often tout that the Craft is female affirming; according to this historical reference, the Craft is also homosexual affirmative. Although in Faerie Witchcraft, the Charge of the Goddess is not used much, we do often work with the Divine Twins who are intimately connected to worship in Sparta. The Divine Twins Castor and Polydeuces, the youths of Zeus, are native to Sparta. They grew up with Helen in the house of King Tyndareos, and They fetched Their sister back from Aphidna in Attica.
In the ancient Greek world, these Gods were referred to as Dios Kouroi, Kouretes or Kabeiroi. The worship of heavenly riders of white horses clearly derives from a much older common Indo-European heritage, paralleled in Vedic mythology by the shining horse-owning brothers called Asvin. Twin horsemen who rode white horses were also the legendary founders of ancient Thebes. These divine Twins, found in various cultures, are described as being in the service of the Goddess. The Dioskouroi were called Tyndedaridai in Sparta and had a special relationship to the dual kingship of Sparta. The Spartan cult of the Divine Twin lovers flourished in the context of a warrior society in which initiations included an encounter with death (Burkert: 1985, 212).
In another rite, young Lakedaimonian males, in preparation for combat, flagellated themselves and engaged in same-sex eroticism at a festival honoring Diana (Conner: 1997, 69). [i]
The worship of the Brauronian Artemis by homosexually active men was brought from Tauris (Taurica Chersonnesus or Crimea) to Attica by two male lovers called Orestes and Pylades ”whose romantic attachment to each other has made their names synonymous for devoted self-sacrificing friendship.” Orestes was the son of Agamemnon, who had incurred the wrath of the Furies by avenging his father’s death. The Oracle at Delphi told him the only way to pacify the Furies was to bring the statue of Taurian Artemis from Tauris to Attica. Upon arriving on Tauris, Orestes and his faithful friend Pylades were seized to be sacrificed; however, Orestes’ sister Iphigenia happened to be the officiating Priestess of Artemis there (Berens: 95).
Previously, Iphigenia was to be sacrificed by her step-father Agamemnon prior to the Trojan War, but Artemis transported her to Tauris on the north shore of the Black Sea and left a deer in her place to be sacrificed instead. She became one of the legendary women called aoroi, or those who die before their time. These immortal female attendants of Artemis are often renamed Hekate (Von Rudloff: 1999, 43-70).
With the help of his male lover, Orestes and Iphigenia recognized each other and they all escaped back to their homeland. They stole the statue of Taurian Artemis and carried it with them to Brauron in Attica. Thus She became known as the Brauronian Artemis and human victims were bled to death in both Athens and Sparta (Berens: 96). The sacrifice to Artemis in Sparta at the Ortheia festival was scouring until blood came (Burkart: 1985, 152).
The revolting practice of offering human sacrifices to her continued until the time of Lycurgus, the great Spartan lawgiver, who put an end to it by substituting in its place one which was hardly less barbarous: namely, the scourging of youths, who were whipped on the altars of the Brauronian Artemis in the most cruel manner. Sometimes they expired under the lash, in which case their mothers, far from lamenting their fate, are said to have rejoiced, considering this an honorable death for their sons (Berens: 96).
It is interesting that initiations into the religion of the Divine Lover-Twins were associated with an encounter with death. This is similar to the modern Craft traditions where initiations are also associated with an encounter with death. This may reveal a connection between Spartan traditions and modern Wiccan traditions, referred to by a published Book of Shadows.
According to the Heritage dictionary, “youth” means a young person; especially a young man. So it seems that the “youth of Lacedemon in Sparta” refers to homosexuals and that the “due sacrifice” to the Spartan Artemis was scouring. If this historical reference was meant to include cross-sex flagellation, then surely the word maiden would also have been included to make clear the scourging was only with male and female partners.
The Charge of the Goddess says the youth made due sacrifice, and Berens states that the youth were the sacrifice. So in Sparta, in worship of Artemis “due sacrifice” was young men scourging other young men! Even though scourging was later introduced in Sparta to replace human sacrifice to the Goddess, sometimes the scourging was so severe that the Lacedemonian youth would perish. Presumably, this is what the Fararrs considered to be too gruesome to mention. Later in the Charge, the Goddess says She demands no sacrifice and so it is in modern times – but She will accept a sacrifice given freely with love.
Not only is Artemis mentioned in the Charge of the Goddess, but so are Diana and Aphrodite. Diana was famous for Her loving attachment to Her female attendants. Diana’s religion was organized like a bee hive, Her priestesses were called melissae or “bees” and Her high priestess was the queen of the bees. Diana was also served by a special class of antineirian priestesses. These particular priestesses were women who rejected marriage, loved hunting, were skilled warriors, hated patriarchal values, and enjoyed the company of other women and gender variant men. These priestesses danced around a sacred oak or beech tree at Ephesus in a circle with their shields and swords (Conner: 1997, 69). [ii]
Portraits of the gender variant priests of Diana called the megabyzoi were hung in Diana’s temples and in tombs contrary to the wishes of Quintillian, a Roman rhetorician of the 1st century CE. He insisted that painters and sculptors refrain from depicting any megabyzoi on aesthetic and moral grounds. Apparently, Quintillian thought these priests were ugly and indecent (Conner: 1997, 229). [iii] Unfortunately, Quintillian was not the last, frightened male to object to the flamboyant freedom of Qwyrs.
The megabyzoi wore a mixture of feminine, masculine and priestly articles of clothing. They shaved, powdered and painted their faces. They wore their hair in a feminine style by looping one lock in front of each ear. They also wore long-sleeved murix-purple garments decorated with golden circles, meanders, diamonds, swastikas, flowers and animals which were all sacred to the Goddess. The color of purple they wore was associated in the Greco-Roman empire with both royalty and effeminacy (Conner: 1997, 229). [iv]
The megabyzoi and melissae were not the only gender variant priests and priestesses who honored Diana with cross-dressing. In the kordax, a religious dance-drama, women dressed as men and wore lombai or “enormous artificial phalli” which they used for penetrating the male dancers who were dressed as women. Not only is the Goddess Diana homoerotic friendly, historically She is bisexual. Britomartis, Cyrene, and Anticleia were Diana’s female lovers who were the first to wear Diana’s gallant bow and arrow-holding quivers on their shoulders. So wrote Callimachus, the royal poet and lover of Pharaoh Ptolemy Philadelphus in his hymn to Diana (Conner: 1997, 69).
Aphrodite was above all a Goddess of love in all its forms, so much so that She was nicknamed Philommedes, “genital loving.” In fact, the Greek term aphrodisia, meaning the “things of Aphrodite,” refers to sexual intercourse according to the classical scholar K.J. Dover (Conner: 1997, 64). [v] Aphrodite has Her own bearded gender variant forms and through Her association with the castrated Cronus is linked to gender variant males. It is She who gave birth to Hermaphroditus, the essential divine form of gender variance. Her beloved priest Cinyras, a legendary ruler of Cyprus, was a transvestite and lover of Apollo. Even the apparently heterosexual favorite of Aphrodite and abductor of Helen, Paris was said to be “unwarlike and effeminate.” He was so favored by Aphrodite that She blessed him with a retinue of eunuchs (Conner: 1997, 64). [vi]
Since ancient times, the Goddess of Love — especially in Her form of Aphrodite Urania, or Heavenly Aphrodite — has been known as a patron of men-loving-men. K.J.Dover points out that in the homoerotic verse of Theogenes, his beloved is considered to be a “gift of Aphrodite” (Conner: 1997, 64). [vii] When Aphrodite appears as a hermaphrodite with female breasts and an erect phallus, She was called Aphroditos or Bearded Aphrodite. She was associated by the ancient Greeks not only with the planet Venus but also with the moon (Conner: 1997, 64). [viii]
In ancient times, this Goddess mentioned in the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess was certainly a patron of sex, one who did not discriminate based on who entered whom. Gardner’s fear and the inclusion of the condemnation of homosexuality in the brand of the Craft which bears his name was contrary to the way his own Witch teachers did things. Gardner’s initiator Dorothy Clutterbuck lived with Elizabeth Slatter instead of with her husband. Elizabeth was described by locals as Dorothy’s “companion” and she went by the name of “John.” Dorothy also wrote passionate love poetry to mysterious women (Hesselton: 2000, 126-176). Perhaps Gardner was caught up in the Christian moral of hating homosexuals, or perhaps he found Dorothy’s lesbianism to be sexy and only condemned male homosexuals.
The sexiness of lesbianism (making it tolerable) may be the reason why some Wiccans insist that two men cannot stand next to each other in circle or work together as partners while at the same time allowing women to stand and work together. Conceivably, it is merely practical for women to be together as there aren’t enough men to go around. However, if Wiccans were really serious about the “rule” for alternating men and women, they would only allow equal numbers of both sexes in circle. There have been many times that I have been in Wiccan circles where the women outnumbered the men. There seem to be objections only when two men stand or work together. Like so many other such “rules,” they are only enforced when useful. Regrettably, too many people still think for a man to emulate a woman is unnatural – that it is improper for a man to relinquish his privileged status. Regardless of prejudged attitudes, the Wiccan Goddesses’ all-encompassing, libertine-loving nature is still remembered in Wiccan circles every time She says, “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.”
The ancient association of transvestites with fertility
Perhaps the rule that men and women should stand alternating in a Wiccan circles is a mis-remembering of the tradition of cross-dressing in connection to fertility rites in ancient Britain.[ix] Those individuals who say that there is no place for sexually active homosexual priests or priestesses in a fertility religion should give more thought to the purpose transvestites played in most fertility folk customs throughout Britain. Of course not all transvestites are homosexual, but the language of queerness is applied to both and they both express a non-standard gender.
In Britain, the horse was the most frequent animal disguise used to promote fertility in humans, the earth and in animals. Appearing frequently along with the sexually endowed horse was a man dressed as a woman. In 33 ancient sites in eastern and northern Kent, the transvestite “Mollie” carried a broom and appeared with the “Hooden Horse.” In southern Wales, a black-faced transvestite called “Judy” also with their broom cavorted with “Punch” during the appearance of the Mari Llwyd or “Grey Horse” previously called the Aberyn bee y Llwyd or the “Bird with a grey beak.” In villages around Sheffield, the broom-wielding, black-faced transvestite was called “Our Old Lass.” He took on the role of an old woman appearing in a hero-combat play between the butcher and the sheep-headed horse called “Old Tup.” Even today during the Horn Dance, which still takes place at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire in early September, there is a transvestite called “Maid Marian” who carries a collecting ladle as a token of their sacred office and appears with the “Hobby Horse.”
The sacred transvestite did not only appear with holy horses, they appeared as an important figure in all manner of fertility rites. In Kent, during the Horn Fair at Charlton, any man could appear in public dressed in women’s clothing. On May Day the lucky London sweeps celebrated with “the Lord and the Lady,” who was, of course, a transvestite. In the May Day battle between the Queen of May and the Queen of Winter on the Isle of Man, the Queen of Winter was a man.
“Moggies” together with his husband can still be seen during the fertility rites on May Day at Ickwell in Bedfordshire. In north Wales the principal character of the fertility dances held in May was the transvestite “Cadi.” The transvestite “Bessie” blessed the ceremony of Plough Monday while the transvestite “Betty” carrying a broom sanctified the Goathlan Plough Stots in north Yorkshire the following Saturday. Ritual cross-dressing for the purpose of promoting fertility was a worldwide folk custom of antiquity which was first recorded in Europe around 400 CE by Severian when he wrote about the kalends (Bord: 1982, 201-218).
Cross-dressers appeared at many fertility folk customs throughout ancient Europe. Sometimes the man (like the Cadi) was dressed as a woman only from the waist down. The image of a man dressed as a woman (in part or completely) carrying a broom was an essential ingredient in most rites to invoke fertility. Feasibly, this is in honor of the role that the mythic bisexual progenitor played in the creation of life on earth. Similar to the image of the brush and pole of the broom which they carried, the image of a single person embodying both sexes implies the psychological/physical/energetic/mystic union of male and female. This is not the union which comes after creation, but their union prior to the forming of men and women that is the source of maleness and femaleness. Thus gender variant individuals participate naturally in the source of creation. To honor them is to honor the act of creation itself thus promoting fertility for man and beast.
What could Qywr magic look like in today’s world?
The Holy loves us with the same love with which we love each other, but raised to the level of the Divine.
–Victor H. Anderson
The Minoan Brotherhood and Sisterhood were created in the 1970s by Edie Buczynski and Lady Miw because they were frustrated with the homophobic attitudes enshrined within the Gardnerian tradition. Part of the Minoan tradition’s mission was to do magic to promote the social acceptance and legal equality of GBLTQ folks. In the Minoan Brotherhood, the Great Goddess of our people is the Mother of the Divine male Lover-Gods. This is similar to the Faerie Tradition of Witchcraft which views the Star Goddess as the progenitor of all life in the universe. Her first born are the Divine Twin-Lovers who can be male-male, female-female, or male-female pairs. They switch gender at will to appear to us in the most suitable and helpful form. They also appear in diverse shapes, sometimes terrifyingly awesome or stunningly beautiful. They always appear in the form which has our best intentions at heart.
This mythology is similar to many different cultures throughout time and in diverse places. Many ancient peoples not only recognized the social reality of homosexuals born of heterosexuals but also recognized their value to society as well. In the recent past, Qwyrs had lost all standing in society but were still valued for their entertainment and decorating skills. Now that the will to oppress homosexuals/bisexuals/transsexuals/queers is lessening in society because of the weakening power of religious ideologues, once again gender variant people can be valued for the multi-skilled talents they so often possess, as well as for simply being who they are.
The mythology of a Mother Goddess and Twin-Lovers is ideally suited to informing Qwyr religion, myths, customs and magic, not only because of its venerable history but also because of its simplicity and beauty. The mythos of a primal Goddess giving birth to Divine Twins of indeterminate gender is so powerful because such a mythic arrangement naturally participates in the magical triangle of manifestation. The power of the One becoming Two and the Two becoming One is the power of creation itself!
The fact that Divine transsexuals such as Ymir, Vishnu as Mohini, Shiva Ardhanarishvara, Baphomet, Hermaphroditus, Mollie, Judy or Bessie are associated with creation and fertility is because They can bridge the gap between women and men and directly show us that within every man and woman lies the power of creation. Every man has female hormones, and every woman has male hormones, each person with their own unique balance.
Utilizing the power of creation — which is the power of love and desire — provides the ecstasy that raises power directly from our bodies and feeds our spells and magics. The use of ecstasy as a main path to the Witch Power is a specialty of gender variant covens. Qwyr folks are adept at ecstatic states which bridge the gap and discharge the force needed for spells because we naturally understand in our guts the intimate connection of ecstasy and creation. This may be why even during the worse times of our persecutions, Qwyr folks were often associated with creativity. This would explain the prevalent folk custom of including a transsexual in fertility rites to represent the ecstasy of union that empowers all kinds of fertility and creativity.
Qwyr culture not only has a spiritual role but also has a supporting role for heterosexual culture. Heterosexual pairings can create families based on bonds of love and caring for each other. However, it is the bonds of love and caring between men and other men as well as women with other women that creates community. It is the circle of community that surrounds the family units to protect them and provide services. Perhaps it is the Great Goddess’ design that we help each other. Heterosexual people give birth and nourishment to Qwyr people who in turn provide multiple services that enriches and enlivens society.
In today’s modern times we can forgo human sacrifice. Our Gods no longer demand blood sacrifice, as ancient Pagan societies started changing their beliefs in the need for and efficacy of blood sacrifice, in addition to recognizing its cruelty. Governments are now the arbitrators of human sacrifice, demanding their populace (but not the politicians) sacrifice their lives and livelihood to their gods of war.
We also don’t need paiderestia as an accepted social institution any more. Now we know the damage done to children from abuse by adults in power is counterproductive to healthy minds and normal social relations. In turn, the damage done to pedophiles destroys their sense of compassion, social appropriateness and their ability to relate to others without controlling them. This type of behavior can lead to abuse of power over others because that is what sex with students by their teachers is often based on. Those with smaller, less encumbered egos tend to try to please those they perceive as more powerful. This kind of abuse of power over others is passed by example onto other generations, destroying slowly the social fabric of community. One cannot build community while hiding sexual misconduct; eventually it will destroy any trust upon which a community is built.
Besides a mythology to help build forms of worship, one needs a healthy understanding of the relationship of sex and love. Victor Anderson used to say that if we had a real understanding of sex, we would feel no dichotomy between love and sex. Our sexual sense is one of our natural senses. It is just as natural as seeing something beautiful and feeling pleasure in the sight of it, or hearing a beautiful sound or music and being transported to an ecstatic state. In today’s world most of us are sexual cripples, crippled by religious morals, sexual predation, a lack of sexual education and a true understanding of sexual abuse as a power play. Most people in the societies of today are taught to ignore or be afraid of our sexual urges that separate our bodies from our nature and the nature of the world. It is no wonder why many people feel disassociated from others and the world.
Victor also said that the association of sex with guilt was accomplished by men who wanted all the power they could grab. They betrayed women and girls by enslaving the weaker willed into submission and taught this perversion down through the generations. Because people were not allowed to choose their own sex partner, but were told who they could and couldn’t have sex with by men in authority, sexual predation and abuse has been nourished up till modern times. Masses of people have easily become perverted into hate which has fed racism, intolerance and the belief that greedy men are natural rulers that ought to be emulated. Because love and sex have become separated, the natural urges that drive evolution became separate from natural sexuality. Our sexuality, once separated from our natural urges, became associated with violence and war. This is the force behind the world’s ubiquitous rape culture that blames women for the indiscretions of men.
Sex magic, on the other hand, can change all that because of its marvelous healing and creative power! It is wonderfully healing, self-empowering, and creative, because rites of sex can allow us to remove the fear, confusion, guilt and shame that authorities use to control us. The Divine desire to create the universe is reflected in our own personal desire for sex. When we realize that we as animals have the right to have sex with any consenting adult, we are naturally closer to the Divine power of creation because we are exercising our own choice rather than someone else’s.
In the ancient Pagan cultures, there are many examples of both acceptance and tolerance and in some cases an elevated status for Qwyr people. These attitudes were reflected in the myths of their Gods and in their laws. It isn’t until more modern times that homosexuality was raised from an ordinary Christian sin, like eating shrimp, into a crime that exceeds the prohibitions of even the 10 Christian Commandments. Consider how often some fundamentalist monotheists bear false witness with the lies they spread about Qwyr folk.
Modern Witchcraft culture itself has struggled with acceptance or tolerance of gender variant behavior. On the one hand is the libertine nature of the Goddess accepts all love and pleasure, which translates into a respect for all of human nature. On the other hand are the centuries of accrued prejudice layered onto the psyches of people by authorities. However, even Gardernians who had no problem with Qwyrs would often bend the rules of conduct because they recognized how ridiculous the rules were. It just wasn’t talked about, like so many other Qwyr things. However, not all Traditional Witchcraft traditions view Qwyrs with the same ambivalence. Some still remember the traditional inclusion of the transvestite in fertility rites to invoke the power of creation.[x]
Berens, E.M. Myths and Legends of Greece and Rome. Clark and Maynard: New York, n.d.
Bord, Janet and Colin. Earth Rites: Fertility Practices in Pre-industrial Britain. Granada Publishing: London, 1982.
Burkert, Walter. Greek Religion. Trans. John Raffan. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, 1985.
Conner, Randy; David and Mariya Sparks. Queer Myth, Symbol and Spirit. Bath Press: Bath, 1997.
Evans, Arthur. Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture. Fag Rag Books: Boston, 1978.