Intercourse, Shape-Shifting, and the Witch (by Peaseblossom)

The word ‘intercourse’ is used for both speech and sex. This is no coincidence, and for those who practice magic, it points to deep truths about our interconnectedness, the relationship between witchcraft and shape-shifting, and the mystery of our embodiment at this difficult point in history. I offer this essay to you in the hope that it will change your shape to be a bit more like mine, that you may experience some of the blessings I have gathered in my sixty-nine years in this life.

But I’m running ahead of myself. We were talking of speech, and sex!

Dialogue

When I touch my lover, we are in dialogue. I enlarge and open my entire body, my hands and mind as much as my sex. In response to my touch, their breath changes: perhaps they sigh, or they reach to kiss; perhaps they arch their back.  My touch arises when I imagine what my lover will become in response to my touch. Will they change with my touch, becoming like my internal image of their future? What I do next is guided by their sigh, or the change in their pulse, or what I hear in their breath, for this listening influences my image of what they are becoming, and this image dictates my body’s shape—that is, the entire constellation of my sense of self changes in response to this dialogue, and thus my hands and my body move. As my lover touches me, my breath changes: perhaps I sigh, or I reach to kiss; perhaps I arch my back in response to their touch. I change, and I become more like them.

Yet if my lover and I were talking, and I apprehended that which they meant to convey, how would this dialogue, in its bodily and mental essence, be any different from our lovemaking? In speech, meaning is conveyed by so much more than the dictionary meaning of the words. The shape of your bodymind when you speak conveys meaning, and I receive that meaning through the shape of my bodymind when I am touched by the sound of your words. As my bodymind apprehends your thoughts, in response to your words, I become more like you were when you spoke.

Dragonfly Love

It was on the day of the solstice that I stood by my friend’s pond in New Mexico and watched the dragonflies make love. It was a warm day, and I watched for several hours as they hovered, remaining connected. Yet to say they ‘made love’ is presumptuous, anthropomorphic, because it assumes their experience of coupling parallels mine when I am with a lover. If I say ‘the dragonflies were making love,’ versus ‘the dragonflies were mating,’ I am implying that the dragonflies were not only having an experience, they were aware of that experience. I am even suggesting that the dragonflies were communicating their experience to me because I was able to watch them. I imagined that the shapes that I saw on that hot summer day meant the same to them as they would to me, were I to hold my body in a similar way.

Watching, I saw their slowly changing cojoined shape, and I remembered.  I have been privileged to hold a similarly changing conjoined shape when receiving, when giving, while touching and being touched. And as I watched, my imaginal body, my palpable sense of ‘what could be,’ took on the dragonflies’ shape as I remembered communications of hands and lips and skin: how my body arched, and how my lover’s body arched; how their touch and my touch made us take on the same shape as these insects. More than that, however, I knew this: to have that shape was what told me (and perhaps also my lover) that the sex was love.

Was what the dragonflies were experiencing also love? Did my watching mind, taking on their trembling shape, allow me to become more like the dragonflies?

Sharing a Shape

You have a thought and you decide to speak to me. You speak words and I hear them, and I am changed by the meaning of the speech. Your desire that I comprehend your words suggests a desire that I become more like you. Your speaking does not necessarily involve a wish that I accept what you have said as truth. Rather, it is a wish that upon hearing your words, I will have thoughts and see imagery that reflects your own imagery as you spoke. Your desire, perhaps, is that my bodymind should hold a shape that resonates with your shape when you spoke, and that we might become more similar in the shapes we each hold.

What has happened to both of us to allow meaning to be shared? Observe as your speech arises in your mind and your breath, tongue, and lips move in concert; observe how meaning develops as your senses and mind receive and interpret my words. The process between us that we call conversation or dialogue is largely invisible to the inner-eye of the conscious mind. Yet larynx, lungs, diaphragm, tongue, eardrum, and middle ear are as much involved in speech as my hand and sex are when making love.

I feel a scintillation here in my bodymind as I speak words. The words direct how I shape the tissues and organs of my body to emit a sound that moves through the air to touch your ear. Upon hearing, you also create within yourself a similar scintillating structure, and this structure carries the meaning.

I have tried to catch the moment where sound becomes meaning and I have never succeeded. I hear the words and something happens within me: perhaps mind’s-eye images appear; or as you yell ‘Stop!’ I cease to move; or my own wordy thoughts bubble forth from my mouth in response. What occurs appears instantaneous and without an intermediate step. An internal dictionary does not seem an appropriate explanation; I can find no a priori mapping between word and image. Rather it seems that the process of conversation pervades my bodymind. It has no location and seems to have no clearly defined steps. Emotional affect, metaphorical imagery, and intellectual meaning all emerge and develop simultaneously within me when I either speak or listen.

The meaning of language, then, resides not in the words themselves, but rather in their effect on my embodiment. By sharing language, we share our bodies.

Creative Resonance

It is a commonplace to say, regarding relationships, that opposites attract. As with magnets, our differences connect us and bind us. Gravity, however, is a non-polar force: like attracts like. Language seems more like a type of gravity than a type of polarity. In dialogue, the desire for similarity, to become the other’s mirror, provides the binding force. The Moon and Earth are in their joint and loving orbit around the Sun because of a three-way mutual attraction due to gravity. In this oversimplified metaphor, they all love each other and dance together because they share a similarity, the state of having mass.

For there to be communication, both speaker and listener must also share a similarity. Perhaps communication is possible because language preserves memories of the shared history of our separate embodiments—in other words, we create a shared narrative to contain both our personal histories and the history of the relationship. A friend prefers another metaphor for this kind of non-polar, gravitational attraction: we resonate together, like affecting like, as sounds do. If I play a guitar in a room full of unattended guitars, all the guitars will sing, though more quietly than the one I am playing. Instead of sharing “mass,” the guitars share vibration.

Is dialogue, then, not so much a process where those involved become ‘like each other,’ but rather ‘in resonance, they create something in each other that has never existed before’?

A Shape-Shifter’s Blessing

I am a witch, and I cast spells. The words of my spells are crafted and spoken with careful intent, sometimes with a particular gesture or a specific breath pattern. My careful intent, the words, my gestures, this dance, all form my shape. When I speak a blessing, someone listens, and the world is touched, and the world’s shape is changed.

Speech, sex, magic: we are shape-shifters, ever-changing our shapes in response to the speaking world, and causing changes with our speech. This is witchcraft, and intercourse; and in the full bloom of our practice, perhaps it is also love.

For the sake of the union of Shekinah with her Holy-and-beloved-hidden-face-of-the-divine,
We take upon ourselves the mitzvah (performing the beautiful deed),
“That we love our neighbor as ourselves,”
And by this merit
We accept the gift
Of our heartbeat and our breath,
And we act within the world,
As we open our mouths
and speak.


All images by Peaseblossom.

 

 

 

 

The Law of Polarity (by Willow Moon)

“The old Kahunas would transmit their power from one to another via sperm. To be a Kahuna was to be bi-sexual because their relationships with their Gods was sexual. Homosexuals are so greatly feared in our culture because of an ancient memory of the awesome power of homosexual sorcerers.” –Victor Anderson 2/21/1995

The so-called “laws” of magic are descriptions of how magic works. There are many laws which are used singly or in combination to produce spells. The law of polarity is one description of the way in which magical body force is generated. Magic, in the traditions I am heir to, is of the body. The body is the battery, conduit and shaper of the power of the witches. So, it is no surprise that polarity is grounded in the body and is such a wonderful, delightful and powerful force. Freely accessible to all, everyone has the potential to feel it; the only requirement is to have a living body.

The Law of Polarity, like sex, is a straightforward function of the body. Unfortunately, it seems that many people make it more complicated than it is. By straightforward, I mean it’s easy for people to understand once the complicated social issues are stripped away.

The conceptual edifice that often accompanies the word “polarity” is fraught with emotional tensions. Rigid social conventions around gender and gender roles are overlaid onto a simple sexual attraction. The way that polarity is explained in some circles causes some to freeze their understanding of power into a small box and others to feel that it is a ridiculous concept that alienates many worthy people.

Image by Filter Forge via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

My understanding of the Law of Polarity is simply that it describes how sexual attraction can generate a lot of power. By power, I mean the energetic juice that exudes from our bodies and flows throughout the world around us. It is a power which fuels our magics. When there is sexual attraction between people, a joyful force is generated by the bodymind which is noticeable: noticeable in facial expressions, movements, and other changes in their bodies. The power is palpable to others. It’s called “polarity” because it’s like charged electrodes which are separate and yet emit a force around them. It is in the magically charged gap between the poles where the discharge happens, releasing the built up charge. When the charge is released, the deed is done and the spell is sent.

Simple biology! However, as humans, we have a need to elaborate, which in this case often confuses the issue. Some conflate the build-up of sexual tension and its release with unrelated issues of gender and sexuality. Yet power is power no matter what form it takes, and no matter what human form we happen to be in. In the womb, each and every one of us starts out as female in form. All the diverse bodies we see around us are manifestations of the female body, even the most apparently male ones. This reality is also expressed by the simple fact that every body contains both female and male sex hormones. Each person, of course, has their own unique mix.

A well-respected American Gardnerian high priestess of the most conservative line once used pheromones to explain why polarity must alternate only between females and males. As a medical professional, I kindly explained that in fact pheromones are a good explanation for why power doesnt only flow between females and males. Pheromones are hormones that are excreted into the air around us. Pheromones work like hormones. Hormones are spread throughout the whole body equally. They operate in specific locations in the body because that’s where the receptors for the hormones are located. In terms of sexual attraction, the sexual pheromones emitted by every person present permeate the whole room equally. Pheromones do not travel in a straight line from person to person; they disperse into the whole space. Yet they only activate sexual/emotional feelings in those who have the proper receptors. Homosexual men and heterosexual women have receptors that are activated by male pheromones, so naturally both might experience sexual attraction for a male. Sexual attraction is sexual attraction regardless of gender.

An Alexandrian priestess once told me that her coven felt the energy of a circle moved only between the women and the men of their circles. It seems natural to me that would be the case in groups of heterosexuals, who are attracted to the opposite sex, but it isn’t natural for non-heterosexual members. Preconceived and learned ideas of social relationships come into play when we perceive power and may prevent us from perceiving realities we do not expect.

Some practitioners of witchcraft believe that the Goddess can only possess a female body. This belief seems to me to be based on the same narrow view of gender polarity that I have questioned above. It seems inconsistent to me to believe that the Great Goddess, who is the mother of all, can be found everywhere and in everything, except inside a man’s body! In fact, I know from experience that the Goddess can be wherever She wants! In Faerie witchcraft, which is historically older than Gardnerian witchcraft, it is common for both men and women to be possessed by both Goddesses and Gods. This practice does not harm them, it enriches their lives and the lives of those around them.

Some may wonder how non-gendered roles would work in traditions that have specific roles for women and men. In Feri witchcraft, there are typically no specific roles based on gender or sex. In some traditions of witchcraft, however, it is believed that women and men must fulfill certain ritual roles in order for the rite to be effective. Although women are allowed to fulfill the role of a man, men are forbidden to fulfill the role of a woman. Some have said in the past that women must rule the circle to counteract the harmful effects of living in a male-dominated society. That surely has a healing effect on the psyches of both women and men. For women to claim power and men to release control is most certainly an important part of healing our society by redressing wrongs. However, I personally feel that at this time in our history, equality is a more powerful longing and a greater force of positive and deeper change in our social structures.

One advantage of conceiving the power generated by Polarity as based on something broader than gender or biological sex is that power can be generated and recognized by everyone present regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. There is no need to try to trap the power into flowing in narrow lines between specific participants. Power can thus be raised exponentially because there are no barriers to power. Energetically, pheromones cause the power to boil like water in a cauldron, roiling in all directions! Thus trans, non-binary or intersex members of the circle can fully participate.

In popular imagination, Gardnerians are famously connected to the concept of alternating female/male polarity. Once, I was in a California-Gardnerian coven meeting with some friends. The tradition is one that allows same-sex initiation. In that circle was a woman (a guest, not a priestess in the circle) who insisted that my male lover and I should not stand together even though she was standing next to four other women. Niklas and I refused to separate; the circle continued, and the Gods were pleased. The enforcement of the alternating female to male “rule” is an example of how these guidelines are social rather than magical or spiritual: it is as unequal as the distribution of women and men in that circle. Too often, such policing of behavior in witchcraft circles only pertains to and affects queer men.

Some say alternating female participants with male participants is the tradition that Gardner passed and thus it must be adhered to. However, what Gardner “passed” and what he did were not always the same. I once had the chance to ask Dayonis, who was for a time the high priestess of Gardner’s coven, if a man could cast a circle. She replied, “Of course; Gardner did!”

Clearly, such “rules” are adapted to suit an occasion. They can be used to uphold the integrity of a tradition or to denigrate and disempower members. The reality is that each of us is unique and valuable. What does it mean for our integrity if we don’t uphold that belief when we stand before the Gods?

Some covens hold the belief that a woman must teach a man and vice versa. If that is the case, then a woman must know the man’s parts and the man, the woman’s. A part or role cannot be known by reading it a few times. In order to know a role, one must perform it repeatedly. So, ironically, the only way for a woman to teach a man or a man to teach a woman is for there to be no gender-based roles at all.

Social concepts and rules that deny reality do not last. The Law of Polarity as I teach it acknowledges the power of people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations. I am confident that this view is the future of witchcraft.

Feri and View Teachings (by Helix)

In religious studies, a cosmology is a collection of sacred stories and philosophical teachings about the origin and nature of the universe. A cosmology helps practitioners of that religion to orient themselves in their lives. It describes what social harmony and right relationship with natural and divine forces look like. For example, many traditional Christians look to the biblical book of Genesis for their cosmology. The creation stories of Genesis tell them that the world is good, that human beings are caretakers of that world, and that humans get themselves into trouble when they violate the edicts of the biblical god.

For better or worse, beliefs such as these help many people navigate the confusing, inconsistent, and often unjust mess that is an actual human life. Cosmologies help the world feel like it makes sense even when the facts before our eyes do not. In this way, religion can help people deal calmly with adversity, or it may keep them passive when they should demand change.

Feri as an esoteric spirituality

Esoteric spiritualities like Feri (or tantric Buddhism or Western ceremonial magick or alchemical Daoism) also have cosmologies, but they function differently. These spiritualities are non-ideological in nature and are often critical of social norms and conventions. Their teachings are meant to be conveyed mouth to ear or in small groups, and they are easily distorted when co-opted by broad social or political movements.

Concepts that may be liberating for individuals in a particular time and place may have a different, even destructive resonance if they become part of a rigid ideology that is meant to order a whole society. A famous example of such distortion is the use of Friedrich Nietzsche’s esoteric notion of the will to power by German fascists. Nietzsche, a sensitive and passionate literary artist and thinker, is often remembered for his confrontational remark that “God is dead,” but he also wrote that he would only believe in a God who dances. His ideas, which were framed in the Romantic tradition of seeking individual freedom and artistic expression for the self, were part of his personal search for spiritual, intellectual, and artistic freedom. Nietzsche’s writings were published as part of his ongoing relationship with other artists and philosophers who were on a similar journey. They were never intended to prop up a political party or justify mass violence or warfare. I can only imagine the ugly use to which his writings were put was terribly painful to those who loved him and had benefitted from the artistic risks he took. [EDIT: An initiate friend tells me that Nietzsche’s sister, a proto-fascist and anti-Semite, inserted her own political statements into some of his works before publication. This occurred while she was his caretaker and literary executor and he was not able to handle his own affairs. I was not previously aware of this particular history and am saddened to hear it, though it expands my point.]

Like Nietzsche’s philosophy, esoteric teachings are high-context concepts that are meant to be conveyed within a framework that is not solely, or even primarily, intellectual. Esotericisms are not primarily systems of belief, but of practice informed by thought. Esoteric ideas conveyed outside of a container of guided practice can easily be misconstrued.

Sacred stories and philosophical concepts have a symbiotic relationship with practice in esoteric traditions. Esoteric concepts inform, support, and correct practice, and practice produces an embodied state that allows esoteric concepts to be understood in a way that deepens that practice. Additionally, healthy esoteric traditions are often said to have a “current” that can be received or experienced in a variety of ways. The experience of a tradition’s current awakens the understanding of the student or initiate, not intellectually, but through embodied knowing. The presence of such a current in the student helps them to encounter the tradition’s teachings in a life-affirming way, one that is harmonious with the tradition’s understanding of the universe.

View teachings

In some Eastern esoteric traditions, the vision of reality that practice harmonizes with is called the view. The view is similar to a cosmology in that it presents a model of the universe. Unlike in religious traditions, however, the view is for use on an individual spiritual path; it is not intended to help maintain social stability.

Christopher Wallis, a Western practitioner-scholar of nondual Śaiva Tantra, emphasizes the concept of the view in Tantra Illuminated. He writes:

In the Indian tradition, the first and most crucial step is getting oriented to the View (darśana) of the path that you will walk. The Sanskrit word darśana is often translated as “philosophy,” but the connotations of that English word miss the mark. Darśana means worldview, vision of reality, and way of seeing; it is also a map of the path you will walk. We may understand the importance of View-orientation through an analogy: You might have all the right running gear, a snappy outfit and the best shoes, and you might be in great shape, but none of that will matter if you are running in the wrong direction. (Second edition 2013: 51)

In Feri, our creation myth is a view teaching. Because Feri is an oral tradition, there are many versions of this myth, but the most famous was published by Starhawk in her 1979 book The Spiral Dance:

Alone, awesome, complete within Herself, the Goddess, She whose name cannot be spoken, floated in the abyss of the outer darkness, before the beginning of all things. As She looked into the curved mirror of black space, She saw by her own light her radiant reflection, and fell in love with it. She drew it forth by the power that was in Her and made love to Herself, and called Her “Miria, the Wonderful.”

Their ecstasy burst forth in the single song of all that is, was, or ever shall be, and with the song came motion, waves that poured outward and became all the spheres and circles of the worlds. The Goddess became filled with love, swollen with love, and She gave birth to a rain of bright spirits that filled the worlds and became all beings. […]

All began in love; all seeks to return to love. Love is the law, the teacher of wisdom, and the great revealer of mysteries. (20th anniversary edition, 41)

Hubble Telescope: The Butterfly of the Galaxies (Public Domain)

The Feri creation myth and practice

At the risk of repeating myself, I want to emphasize again that esoteric teachings are non-ideological. They are not meant to be the philosophical basis of widespread political or social movements (although they may inspire or empower individuals within those movements). Esoteric teachings and lore are easily distorted when co-opted for ideological purposes.

The Feri creation myth does not present a philosophy or moral system by which people can be judged as worthy or unworthy. It is meant as a frame for practice that leads into the mystery of our embodiment.

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.

In Feri as I learned it and as I teach it, spiritual practice is at minimum a daily setting of intention that the whole human, embodied self be aligned with and under the guidance of the Godself, the individual’s reflection of God Hirself. What we are each doing on this earth is manifesting our individual divinity, as collectively all of being is manifesting divinity.

Spiritual practice does not always have to be complex or formal. In fact, during the householder phase of life, when we are focused on professional and family responsibilities, by necessity it is often quite ordinary: a morning prayer, a quick breath directed to the Godself in a spare moment, an offering made with minimal ceremony, or mindfulness practiced during a commute. It is not always a good time for the formalities of “witchcraft” to be a major life focus, with all the ritual and spellwork and trance journeys and other elaborate practices that can entail. But the commitment to manifesting the Godself must be consistent. Only regular contact with the Godself gives us a choice to do something other than simply recapitulate the patterns received from our families of origins or our life experiences (especially traumatic life experiences).

Refining the self to allow one’s divinity to manifest is not about spiritual accomplishment or impressing others or being a “priest” or a “witch” or an “adept” or any such social or intellectual achievement. It’s about being present to this one precious life, to the one unique manifestation of God Hirself that only you can bring through.

The role of view teachings in practice innovation

Many parts of the Feri tradition were held close by the Andersons and only shared in one-on-one or small group conversations in their home. However, they published their practices for aligning the parts of the human self with the Godself, initially in an article and later in the book Etheric Anatomy. I believe this reflected their feeling that these practices can be widely helpful for people, regardless of whether they are studying with a teacher of Feri. In my own training, I also benefited from the alignment exercises given by T. Thorn Coyle in Evolutionary Witchcraft.*

As my practice has deepened, I have come to understand the importance of view teaching in the evolution of an esoteric tradition. View teachings help to form the container of a tradition’s practice. They shape our creativity and help initiates to ensure that any new practices they innovate will help other initiates and students to embody the tradition’s current.

Some new practices, while not “wrong” per se, can be incompatible with the existing body of practice and can undermine students’ progress toward initiation. This is particularly common when non-initiates, or initiates who have not allowed their initiation experience to settle, attempt to create practices to teach to others.

At the risk of calling out a well-meaning but misguided teaching effort, I will give an example that illustrates my point. I once was given a handout written by an initiate of different witchcraft tradition, one that was heavily influenced by ceremonial magick. The handout appeared to be a variation on a chakra-aligning technique, except instead of chakras, the exercise used the names of the Feri parts of the self. The exercise instructed the student to “align and purify themselves” by running elaborate bridges of energy, not in a single line from root to crown, but up and down the middle pillar of the body, looping back and forth between different energy centers.

While this may have been a fine ceremonial magick exercise—I am not familiar enough with that system to know—it badly misconstrues how Feri understands the relationships within the human self. Alignment with the Godself is not a strenuous, mysterious, or difficult-to-achieve state requiring occult knowledge of energy centers or a specific pattern of visualization. It is a natural human birthright, one our dense and energy bodies are inclined to return to with gentle intention and presence. Alignment is also not a process of purification. Alignment, instead, is a state of communication and communion—warm, embodied, erotic relationship. To seek alignment is to evoke love, mutuality, and pleasure within and among the parts of the self.

In our natural human state, all our souls “speak as one” because they ARE one. No elaborate energy bridges or secret techniques are needed to connect them. They are not separate or alienated from each other; instead, they permeate each other. As Victor Anderson remarked to Willow Moon, “Talking to the Unihipili [Fetch] is like talking to yourself, because you are!” (personal communication 4/25/1995)

Every time we return to a view teaching like the Feri creation myth, we remind ourselves of what the experience of embodying our tradition feels like. Such teachings provide anchors that can keep us from getting lost in elaborate theological models which may titillate the Talker, but do not lead us deeper into the mystery of Self. Keeping the view in mind helps us to retain the energetic integrity of our tradition and ensure that, when we choose to guide students along this uncanny path, the transmission of our gifts will be robust and of benefit to all.

Love is indeed the law. Let us walk this path with all the care, grace, and attention we can muster.


* If you desire to train with a Feri teacher, it is best to avoid reading books or websites on how to practice the Feri tradition. A good teacher will tailor your training to your particular needs, and any habits you have developed from attempting to practice out of books will have to be undone. If you must read books from the Feri tradition, I recommend Etheric Anatomy by the Andersons, Cora Anderson’s autobiography Kitchen Witch, Cora’s biography of Victor In Mari’s Bower, and Victor’s two books of poetry, Thorns of the Bloodrose and Lilith’s Garden.

Is Feri an eclectic tradition? (by Willow Moon)

“Our Pagan community is growing and showing much bright promise. The Craft is a tough weed that will grow many strange flowers and bear strange fruits, so we must try and tolerate different ways of practicing it. Learn from what we see and if we cannot use it, let the others try, even if they eat bad fruit and go balls up!” 

Victor E. Anderson, copyright © 1993, 2001, 2004. First publication in Green Egg, Vol. XXVI, No. 100, Spring 1993.

Feri can seem eclectic because it is still an oral tradition. We don’t use a book as a standard. As an oral tradition, our circle casting rite changes with each performance. The tradition morphs and grows as each initiate makes it their own and adds their own knowledge.

However, as all initiates know, there are basic understandings/approaches/exercises passed from one Feri practitioner to the next. That is the definition of a tradition. Yet our tradition is not static or stale; it lives and puts forth shoots from deep roots. Our roots are Feri’s cultural milieu. 

The basic psycho-physical exercises passed from one generation to the next are like the scales in music which make further musical development possible. Without the experience of scales as a muscle memory, there is no musical creativity. Different cultures have different scales which inform their musical forms and thus their culture. Our traditional psycho-physical basic training informs and is informed by the cultural milieu of Feri. The basics provide a structure upon which creativity can thrive and yet still be a part of the traditional milieu. That is what is meant by a “living tradition.”

Of course, there are those within the circle of initiates who say this or that teaching of some initiates isn’t Feri. They may not recognize other lineages as kin. That is to be expected with any group of folks. To me, it seems to simply boil down to “How big do we want our community to be?” Some opt for a smaller group; some are more inclusive. As with any community, each of us has to figure that out for themselves depending upon what one finds comfortable and sustainable. However we may squabble among ourselves like a family, like a family we all have one thing in common. For a blood family, that is DNA; for us, it’s initiation. 

Andy Goldsworthy – Montage by iuri – Sticks Framing a Lake (CC BY 2.0)

Feri is different from an eclectic tradition. Eclectic, I define (based on Merriam-Webster’s dictionary) as a collection of various diverse cultural artifacts. It has the connotation of being an indiscriminate mishmash of unrelated elements. Although Feri folds various cultural artifacts into our milieu, for those who are well trained in Feri, items are not added indiscriminately, but with a purpose. Typically additions come from a personal gnosis based on knowledge gained with integrity: that is, knowledge based in traditional forms that the initiate is heir to, not something solely gleaned from a book. 

Feri is also different from a literary tradition. Literary traditions often judge inclusion into the corpus of a tradition by how closely the accepted literary forms are followed. Some literary traditions do not allow for changes in the corpus (in other words, the corpus is closed and new works cannot be added). In Feri, we do not use a book as an arbitrator of inclusion. However, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t literary folks. In fact, we don’t have one Book of Shadows, we have many! In Feri, any initiate can add to the corpus of their lineage.

We also have diverse lineages, some of which practice and teach in radically different ways. Yet, in the same way that one can recognize a story to be of the Arthurian legend milieu, even though the individual stories can be very different as told from different characters’ points of view, Feri initiates can recognize each other. In this way, Feri is similar to a literary tradition.

According to Albert B. Lord in The Singer of Tales, literary traditions arise from the belief that one specific performance of an art form is a “real” form of the art, even though the form changes with each performance. This is just like life: even though something may appear the same from day to day, each day that thing is subtly different, even if the difference isn’t noticed. The real form of the art is in its performance. 

I don’t understand Feri to be an eclectic tradition, but instead a multicultural one. Perhaps because it has thrived in American soil for so long, Feri is yet another manifestation of America’s multicultural identity. For thousands of years, many various and diverse cultures have found a home here. Maybe Feri is a reflection of that. Or perhaps, Victor Anderson was correct when he suggested that Feri is the source of all magic, and its repository. 

Running toward Fear, Falling in Love with Self (by Helix)

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.

“Desire” by Worak via Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

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.

Surprise: An Initiate Looks Back on Studentship (by Peaseblossom)

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.

Queen of Cups, author’s design, from their personal tarot deck. (c) Peaseblossom 2018

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.

The Dread Oath: A Different Mystery (by Cholla)

Following up on Helix’s challenge for us to write an article on each of the principles, this piece addresses Principle Five: We honor our oaths to aid and defend our brothers and sisters.

In 2011, the Feri Tradition split. Why that happened will be attributed to as many causes as there are initiates. I have heard people claim that the division is a false one, because we share the same Mystery and Current and we share the same gods. But this is not entirely true. For whatever reasons I hear others give as to why Anderson Faery and Feri split, for me it was that we did not share a crucial mystery. We did not share the Oath as a value across the tradition.

I say this because for me the Oath is a mystery. When we receive the Great Mystery that makes us a Faery witch at initiation, it changes us. It makes us something else. You can see it when you circle with initiates. At some point in the circle, their facial features change. Their eyes become longer; their teeth sharper. They look feral, a word that shares a root with our very name. The Mystery awakens something in us that culture has tried to breed out of us, something precious and terrible.

But the Oath is a mystery of its own, a private mystery that is internal to the initiate. It is a transformation born of submission, the willingness to bend the knee and swear allegiance with powers that are wild beyond imagining, and to the others who have done so before you. It is not surrendering your life force, it is offering it as an act of power, affirming that you are the only being in all the universes who is able to do so.

Doing this transformed me. Where the Mystery that we share made me something else, swearing the Oath made me something more. The Oath bonds the initiate to the tradition and makes that initiate part of something greater than themselves. For those who want to never have to consider others in their actions, or enter into the social contract of a tradition, it is the wrong thing to do. It should never be sworn. But for those who want to be part of something larger, it is the right thing to do, and cannot be omitted.

My Oathmother used to tease me about my initiation. When the time came for me to take my oath, she began the preamble about what I would be swearing to. She asked me if I was willing to swear this Oath. And I just stood there. And stood there. And stood there. She laughed that they were going to grow old there waiting for me to step up and speak. Keep in mind that I had already studied for 7 years in this tradition. Initiation had always been my goal. But in that moment, I still had to think about it. I mean, if you are going to swear to something forever, five minutes might be understandable!

As I heard her speak it, for some reason it occurred to me for the first time, that this was for real. An Oath is a magical act. It would seal my fate forever. The Oath was not a collection of pretty words. It is not a formality. For me, it was offering up all I had and was to the gods I had come to know and adore as my own. It would tie me to a tradition of lore, spirits, and initiates. After I said the words, I would belong to them. They would belong to me. I would never be alone.

My tradition has seen some hard times. Infighting, court trials and issues of sexual exploitation are just a few things that have challenged us. The fighting had grown endless and the lack of accountability was making us hopeless. People had decided to post lore online, were turning Feri into a business, and laughed that none of us could stop them. This was true, we could not. One person had even laughed that my students would be sworn to aid and defend him, but he and his would not have to reciprocate. Which, of course, is not how oaths work.

I will admit that I had a crisis of faith at that point. Was I the only initiate who believed in my Oath? Yet, I knew that something had moved in me, something had happened. I had experienced a mystery. In the end, it did not matter what others thought. In that moment, I understood something that changed how I thought about this forever. The truth came to me as a whisper, and it broke my heart. I realized that this person was not my kin. I was not sworn to him for the very reason that he was not sworn to me. That he and I were different. We were both witches, but we were different kinds of witches. We belonged to different traditions and had a different experience of what it meant to belong to a tradition. When I swore, I had experienced a mystery. I had embraced the part of me that could swear forever and defend with my life. And he had not.

In all the upheaval that happened at this time, it became apparent that I was not alone. There were others who also took their Oath seriously. For all these people, the Oath was a mystery. They too had come away in a sense of wonder, not at some magical happening, but at a realization about themselves. They had found a commitment and ferocity they had not really understood before. That clarity moves something deep inside. You realize in those years you were studying, you had changed. You had become someone you had hoped you would become. You stood there to swear on your own damnation because you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were up to it.

There are lots of people in the Feri tradition who keep their Oaths. The great majority of them are unaligned Feri who wanted nothing to do with this split. There are many still there who I respect deeply, and many whom I still call friends, even in our difference. At the same time, the lack of accountability in the face of very real crisis saddened me. So, when an elder of the craft bid us to secede, we did. We could no longer conscientiously allow what was happening to go on in our name.

If you think it was easy, you are wrong. If you think it was done in a fit of pique, you are also wrong. It was done in sorrow and despair and was something that should have happened much earlier. It was the effort of last resort, and it took courage to leave. The Oath is for forging those bonds that hold a tradition together, and those bonds were absent. Honestly, if folks had not been so open about how little they valued their Oaths, we would likely still be there fighting. For me the split meant that I knew where I stood and who I could count on. I admit that I was surprised both by those who swore, and those who felt that speaking those words were a formality. It felt right to me. It felt like I could finally stop fighting.

If you do not have what is required to swear the Oath and mean it, you will break when things get hard. That is also what the Oath is for. It is for making a witch who cannot break. It is for making us stronger, a blade of the Star Goddess, forged in a star and doused in the great abyss. So, yes, I took five minutes. And then my eyes grew long, and my teeth grew sharper. And I said, “Yes. Yes, I will swear.”

So no, we do not share all the mysteries. We worship the same gods. We have some lore in common, and some lore that is different. Both traditions are home to poets and bards and sorcerers. The more time we are apart, the more we grow into different cycles. We hold the same Current, we keep the same Names, and have known the same Mystery. But in the end, the difference is woven into our skin and flesh. We are not made of the same stuff. This does not make me their enemy, nor does it make me their kin. What it makes these witches is different. And what it makes me is a witch of my word.

So You Want to Learn Faery, But You Can’t Find a Teacher? (by Traci and Helix)

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.

John_Downman_Witches_from_Macbeth
The Witches from Macbeth, by John Downman

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.

Make Art

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.

Have Sex

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.

The Pentacles as a Virtue-Based Ethical System (by Sara Amis)

[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.

Symbol Green Mystical Pentagram Fire

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.

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[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

[iv] Victor Anderson

Our Holy Mother, the Star Goddess (by Swansister)

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.”

“Rose of Galaxies.” Photo credit: NASA, ESA, and
the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

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.