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.
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.