Why You Should Hide in Plain Sight (by Maya Grey)

As we navigate through our occult and especially our witchcraft studies, we often hear the phrase “to be hidden in plain sight.” For some of us, this philosophy passes as a side note about times past, when witches needed to be careful not to attract violence from the ignorant banal masses. But for others, it is a practice of perseverance in today’s so-called “modern age.”

Conflict around the idea of hiding in plain sight seems to arise from initiates and students who, having had to be “closeted” all of their lives, want to be free and to express who they are. And why should they not? After all, many have worked hard to leave toxic families and religions who view them as undesirable outliers that need to conform (or worse). They, as gay or trans or poly or merely called to The Work, have left much behind to create new family and community. So why should they not be loud and proud? Perhaps they should while living in the vast and crumbling empire that is America, where they can do so in relative safety in certain areas. I would not suggest such actions in places like Afghanistan, India or Ethiopia.

While Feri/Faery does accept and honor all of our “strange flowers,” as Victor put it, identity politics does not a witch make. A witch is fluid and transforming, walking the hidden roads, the roads “out of sight”: the moonlit roads of shadow, not the bright glaring sunlit roads of religious conversion. A witch may be many things, but many things are not a witch.

Now don’t hear me saying that you should repress yourself. I am not. What I am saying is that a witch needs to have the skill of being visible in either terror or beauty, or completely invisible depending on the situation at hand. Dear witches, most of this country does not like you, indeed fears you, and we all know where that can lead.

What does it mean to practice being hidden in plain sight? Unlike the color of our skin, we can hide our philosophies and religion much more easily. I believe that in order to practice this, we must go into “hostile territory”: places where we can practice not being seen, and then pushing that to being accepted and thought of as “one of the in crowd.” This can be different for everyone, but it is best practiced outside of toxic families of origin where one can be triggered and where the family knows of your past and your triggers. It may be that you join a group or club which interests you, say of gardeners who are mostly Christian, or a bowling league that is frequented by people who voted for the opposite candidate that you did. Whatever you choose, the possibilities are endless in this society.

Being hidden in plain sight also gives us a chance to push our comfort level in various social situations. For me, it was my job at a very conservative institution, where all the people who held power over me (from my immediate boss to the executives) were conservative Christians. Every board meeting was started with a Christian prayer. If I paraded into work demanding my “Pagan rights,” insisting on my high holy days of Beltane and Samhain, and waving around all my pentacle jewelry, how long do you think I would have lasted? The benefits of being in that job meant that not only did I not lose my job during the COVID pandemic (still raging as I write this), but I actually paid off all my debt AND got a raise AND was able to work from home. This benefited my family greatly, as I have a small child whom I must feed, and others who depend on my income.

I have been thought of as “one of them” for years. Is this my end goal? To be here in this environment? No. I have other plans that required these steps and which I will be keeping close and secret. My plans are my own.

Hiding in plain sight also is the practice of the fourth power of the Sphinx, “To Be Silent.” I have written other articles about this much-ignored power, and I find that it is often the hardest one for my brethren to follow, as one of the gifts of our tradition is glamour. Sometimes, the glamourer is themselves glamoured as they hold the dark mirror too close to their face! I will never understand those who post images of altars on Instagram or who “seek” students. But I digress.

In terms of application, the power “To Be Silent” and being “Hidden in Plain Sight” work well together. Think of the example I gave of my own situation, where I am thought of as belonging to a group that in all reality would fear and loathe me if they knew the true me. Most witches who follow “To Be Silent” think this means not sharing their workings or spells publicly or even talking about them at all until the Work is finished. Indeed, it does mean that, but it also means not attracting large amounts of negative energy while just merely living your life. Large amounts of negative thought from people will make it harder for you to navigate your life and workings. If all of the people around you, especially those responsible for your income or other necessary areas of life, hate you, then you can consider yourself all but cursed, even if they have no actual ability in that department. Constant hate or prayer has an effect. Being hidden helps to negate the unwanted influences of others, and if you need to strike an enemy or sweeten a boss, no one will see it coming or suspect you. People in the African Traditional Religions (ATRs) know this well.

This brings me to the main reason you should hide in plain sight — Climate Change.

No, really, hear me out.

The humorist Mark Twain is quoted as saying that “History doesn’t repeat, but it often rhymes.” I have found this strangely comforting during the times we live in as I have tried to make sense of the Trump presidency, the pandemic, and worsening climate change. Our times won’t be identical to historical times, but they will rhyme.

So how will history rhyme for us? How will our rhyme effect people like us and what can we do about it? Scientists are saying that by 2030, we will experience an increase in global temperatures by 1.5 degree Celsius or possibly 2 degrees, and it will be catastrophic — hell, it already is. So what happened to humans when we had a similar occurrence? Our last major shift of this kind is called the “Mini Ice Age” and the global temperatures dropped 1 degree Celsius, causing catastrophic climate change in vast areas of the globe, but especially in the Northern Hemisphere and Europe. This period lasted from around 1303 to 1860, and scientists have various theories as to why it happened. Decreased summer solar radiation? Volcanic pollutants? Both? Regardless of the reason, it happened, and society was never the same thereafter. Advancing glaciers destroyed farms in the Swiss Alps, ice seas surrounded Iceland for much of the year, severe famines occurred as traditional ways of medieval farming were challenged and had to be adapted, bread riots occurred, and people experienced mass hypothermia in winter due to the lack of fire fuel, as forests had long since been felled. Winter sucked during these centuries, and people dreaded it much as people are now dreading our summers as we warm the planet. We now have fire and smoke season in the West and flood season in the East.

Due to lack of understanding about climate combined with magical thinking in the majority of the populace, violent scapegoating occurred during the Mini Ice Age. This period was the height of the Inquisition. This was when the Malleus Maleficarum or Witches Hammer was written. (They really REALLY hated and feared our kind back then!) This was the period of the witch trials where witchcraft was seen as a major crime, unlike in the early Middle Ages where it was a minor crime largely ignored by the powers that be. According to the thinking of the time, who controlled the weather and made it bad? Witches. Who made the cows’ milk dry up? Witches. Who made women die in childbirth or not bear children at all? Witches. Who stunted crops or called in locusts? Witches. Many women died as a result of these issues, which were likely to have occurred due to climate change — not by the hand of the old midwife widow at the edge of town that no one liked because she cussed a lot and no man told her what to do.

But you know the story. Of course you do.

This was also a time of religious fervor and change in the West. The period started with the Protestant Reformation and a seemingly endless eruption of cults followed. Many people were persecuted, most notably in wars between Catholics and Protestants, but there were also other victims. Some were horribly killed, from old widows to Jews to foreigners, by the torch and pitchfork mobs that tried to relieve their collective fear, grief, and frustration with the spectacle of violence. How many of these victims were actual witches?  Probably not many… or, not the smart ones anyway. The smart witches knew how to hide in plain sight. As the mobs progressed, the smart witches were packing up their wagons and going in the opposite direction!

In addition to the religious crazies (will they ever go away?), this was also a time of forward thinking, science, and enlightenment. In fact, one period is literally called “The Enlightenment,” and there are many influential occultists who emerged during these times. We often look to them as historical Mighty Dead: people such as Bruno, John Dee, Dr. Rudd and H.C. Agrippa, to name a few. Indeed, this was the Golden Age of the Grimoire!

Today, we are facing climate change so extreme that we may not make it through, as well as more dumb-ass magical thinking religionists. We see them from a distance now through the news media or social media; the torches and pitch forks are not quite in the rear-view mirror yet. These low-information religionists disavow actual science for the false prophets of YouTube. They scream that the COVID vaccine will microchip us and 5G cell service will fry our brains. They worship Donald Trump as a God emperor savior of America and Christianity. They have many new/old cults: new in name, old in flavor. There is the cult of Yoga Karen whose adherents eat organic food and try to get Black people killed by invoking the Old South trope of the “violated White woman.” There are the angry cults of the hypermasculine man which worship guns and rape and believe themselves to be heroes fighting against all evil. (I call them the Beer Belly Brigade.) And of course, let us not forget the cult of “Republican Jesus” who came to make us (well, White men) rich.

The mind boggles, but it also rhymes. We are back here to a place we have known before: climate catastrophe. Who are the scapegoats now? Jews, of course. Immigrants. Women, especially feminists. Gays, clearly. People of color. Liberals and Democrats. Could witches also be lumped in with these other scapegoats? Perhaps not in the same way we were hundreds of years ago, but if you look at the rhetoric of QAnon, you will see the “cannibal, devil worshiping” labels being applied to Democrats, Jews, feminists, gays and immigrants the same as they once were to witches. My guess is that we will be lumped in, especially those of us who happen to be gay, immigrant, witch women of color! I think that checks all the boxes, don’t you?

Many, many people believe in these conspiracy theories, and many of them have guns. They are extremely afraid because they are ignorant and they feel that they are losing control. But who can actually control Mother Nature?

The torches and pitchforks are sharper and hotter now, the weapons more devastating. Think tanks have concluded that the main driver behind the January 6 capital rioters was the fear of “being replaced” by people of color. Most of the rioters were upper middle class or elite White men.

In America, we have become fat on ignorance and empire as it crumbles around us. We are a people completely dependent on corporate food and shelter and work. Once those systems are disrupted more acutely (we saw this in 2020, and I guarantee you they will be again in the future), we will see these low-information, magical thinking, angry, fearful people come at us in unimaginable ways. We must not be targets. We must learn how to hide in plain sight. Don a red hat, camo shorts and wear a cross? Gross. But okay, I will do it if it means I can live and get the fuck out of Dodge. Know thy enemy and be clever. Be strategic. There are too few of us as it is.

In addition to hiding in plain sight, there is another concept that has been used to keep witches in the modern era safe, that of the “dual faith observance.” This practice was widely utilized by various witches and covens in England prior to the removal of the witchcraft laws in 1951. (The mediumship/fortune telling laws were not repealed in the UK until 2008. As of this writing, there are still anti-fortune telling laws in some US states.) Dual faith observance is the perfect way to hide in plain sight. Many witches and occultists attended church in the early 20th century. Some were even model citizens that were never suspected. Dual faith observance was also practiced in Europe after the Christian conversions. During the Mini Ice Age, occultists were priests, minor lords and extremely talented craftsmen. They attended church on Sunday, and then on the full moon they did other things.

I am not saying you need to adopt a dual observance and go to church, but it is a tactic, something to think about. The fact that anti-fortune telling laws are still on the books tells you that our kind are still feared. We could be perfect scapegoats for mobs, don’t you think?

Don’t be a scapegoat. Be able to hide. Be able to thrive. Be able to be a safe place/space for others of our kind in need. Don’t “die on your pentacle” as it were. We are not martyrs. We have done many things to survive and we will have much to do to help the Mother and our kindred before we leave the coil of this incarnation.

I write this to tell you that I want you to survive. Initiate, student, seeker, other: I WANT you to survive. More than that, I want you to thrive.

In order to do this, you will have to wear many masks. You will have to be quick and clever, and you will have to learn skills you never thought you would.  You are going to have to be agile and not static in the coming days. You are going to have to gauge your enemy and the landscape around you. The plan for your life may not be the one you had in mind. Mine isn’t, but I plan on surviving. I plan on thriving, and I plan on helping this beautiful hurting Earth we all reside and depend on.

I also want to say that even though I may have had difficulties with brethren in the past or we did not see eye to eye, we are still of Her. I offer my hand and a knowing eye to show that I Will Be Silent, and I will help you should you ever find your way to my door in need.

To Will. To Know. To Dare. To Be Silent. Walk in Power. Walk in Her Bright Darkness.

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.

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.

__________
[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.

Pursuing Faery Training: or, Beating Down the Doors (by Traci)

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:

  1. Find a teacher.
  2. Ask the teacher if they will teach you.
  3. If the teacher says yes, ask what you need to do.
  4. Do what the teacher asks and report back.
  5. 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.

Image by El Grafo via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

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

Bardic, Shamanic, Ecstatic? (by Helix)

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?

Bardic

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.

Gwydion Pendderwyn
Gwydion Pendderwyn

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.

Shamanic

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.

Image by David Revoy via Wikimedia Commons. Artwork for the Durian-Project of the Blender Foundation (durian.blender.org).
Image by David Revoy via Wikimedia Commons. Artwork for the Durian-Project of the Blender Foundation (durian.blender.org).

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.

Ecstatic

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.

Image by Ryan Somma via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cave painting, dance scene. Taken at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
Image by Ryan Somma via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0). Cave painting, dance scene.
Taken at the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.

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.

Bardic. Shamanic. Ecstatic.

Faery.

Merlin’s Way: Apprenticeship and Faery Training (by Shimmer)

Among the core principles agreed to by the Anderson Faery initiates represented on this site is this statement:

We prefer to teach individually or in small groups. In all our teaching, direct personal contact between teacher and student is essential.

Witches are above all things practical. My preference for the apprentice method of teaching comes primarily from practical considerations.

In giving my views about this point, I need to underline at the outset that what follows very much reflects my personal experience and the guidelines I follow in my own work. Although we in this group have agreed to stand by these principles, each of us has different ideas about how to teach. Some of the differences are subtle, and others are dramatically different.

Both the apprentice method and the coven model are rooted in strong mythic, archetypal patterns that recur in many streams of magical teaching. For apprenticeship, one of the most familiar examples is the story cycle of Myrddin instructing the young Arthur. Images of the coven seem to echo the somewhat more mysterious circle of the Nine Maidens. (The Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s Scottish play may have their origin in the legends of the Sacred Nine.) Madeleine L’Engle played with this latter archetype in her book A Wrinkle in Time and the ways in which the Three interacted with Meg on her journey. In some of the legendry around Myrddin (or Merlin)’s instruction of the boy Arthur, the child experiences shapeshifting into different animal forms. According to some, these experiences represent in symbolic form an apprentice’s journey through different phases–or processes–of Initiation and deepening realization. (A recent exploration of the apprenticeship archetype was offered in episode 3, “The Nightcomers,” of the second season of the series Penny Dreadful, featuring Patti Lupone’s brilliant performance as the Cut Wife.)

Teaching Faery brings with it many challenges. Even in the world of initiatory systems, it must be acknowledged that Faery—Wild Faery, as a dear Sister of the Art has called it—is in its own category. After many years of study, practice, and teaching, I have had to conclude that the Faery current truly has a mind of its own. I have known a number of cases where those who have not gone through the Initiation, or even had any formal training, have been touched with the Faery Gnosis. Some have even manifested the Faery Power. You are truly riding a bucking bronco if this happens to you. But some find great joy, beauty, and clarity in the Mystery of this untrammeled wave.

Each Teacher has to ask hirself the question: what are my goals in taking on the task of teaching an individual the Craft? Another of the shared Principles is that teaching is always with a view toward initiation, although there is no guarantee that every student will be initiated. Many of us say that we will only consider teaching a person who “smells like Faery” or “feels like kin.” In other words, the evaluation process involved in taking on a student is visceral, gut level, heavily involving the Fetch and thus, intensely physical. Witchcraft itself is an intensely physical Art, deeply rooted in the Body and hir Mysteries. So, we take on the teaching with the idea that the goal is Initiation. I would add that there are further goals I look towards beyond the point of Initiation–but this is ultimately a separate topic.

For a student to come through the long, difficult, painstaking journey to stand before the Gate requires shepherding through several phases. In the legends about Myrddin and Arthur, the wizard’s magic catalyzes the child’s experience of taking wing into the element of Air as an eagle. He dives into the Waters of a mighty river as a fish. He roams through the Earthy realm of the Forest as a young buck. And he may even have danced in the mystic Fires as a dazzling salamander.

On a less mythic level, a teacher needs to listen, observe, question, moderate, challenge, push, nurture, and remonstrate with the student at various moments. In some cases their lives will become deeply intertwined; in nearly every instance, there will be spaces, sometimes lengthy ones, where the teacher leaves the student to get on with things and make hir own way with the work in hand.

(My own late Teacher almost invariably spoke of himself as a tour guide. He liked to remind us that the map is not the terrain. And Faery is not “information.”)

Chiron and Achilles. Lithograph after J.B. Regnault. Public domain. Via Wellcome Images. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Chiron and Achilles. Lithograph after J.B. Regnault. Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
Chiron instructing Achilles. Lithograph after J.B. Regnault. Public domain. Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images. (CC-BY-4.0)

Willow Moon provides a nuanced appraisal of the work shared by a teacher and apprentice in his beautiful 2003 essay, “Is Feri an eclectic system or a Tradition?” (originally published in Witch Eye issue 8). Willow thoughtfully observes:

A personal communication or instruction on an ordinary subject would be conveyed by much more than words. There are facial expressions, tones of voice, cadence, gestures, designs, postures, pauses, etc. that make a complete packet of information along with the instructive words. How much more important is this non-verbal part of communication when trying to learn something as unusual as Feri? That is why I think Feri can only be learned by hanging out, sharing food, magics and stories with one’s teachers in a warm, caring manner.

Later in this article, Willow offers a valuable insight into Victor’s teaching methodology:

Even though Victor applied diverse methods to working and describing Feri, he was consistent in his approach and style. After listening to him teach for seven years, I concluded that although he talked about Feri in many different ways, they were congruent. His consistence lay in his emphasis on basic self-respect. Respect for the world, its places and its powers flows naturally from the spring of self-worth.

The magical techniques taught in Faery to bring the Triple Self into alignment (or harmonious convergence) are the foundation for true self respect and self realization. In this work, the true inner Reality of a human–sometimes expressed magically as the true Will–is brought into harmony with the outer lived experience. Cholla Soledad expresses this journey brilliantly and beautifully in her essay “Ecstasy and Transgression in the Faery Tradition” (Witch Eye ​7, 2003):

Commonly, the personality clouds the true desires of our souls. … For the most part, people have no idea of what they want. Ecstasy peels off those layers of societal conformity and the need to please others. What is revealed underneath is the soul and divine will. …. Feri witches practice aligning the three souls. In an ecstatic state, with an open heart, the soul is revealed in its true form. … Suddenly, what was hidden by expectations and good manners is revealed to the self, and we can know ourselves in our most innocent state. It is a state of grace in which we can truly be free. In that state, we recover and have compassion for the parts of ourselves we have rejected, and in that moment, all three souls are right within us. We become part of the pattern of God Herself.

In my own experience, it is the teacher’s job to mentor a student as safely and smoothly as possible through this process. Faery by definition isn’t safe. Perhaps no true practice of Witchcraft is. But as a teacher, I have to do what I can to guide the traveller through the most perilous streets and across the most sharply cracking ice. I have to shepherd her towards the next challenge brought by the Work, to the best of my ability. And this requires building relationship with the student in a manner most aptly characterized as the apprenticeship model. The coven model works well too; in some ways, it may be superior, since the tapestry of the student’s experience of the Art is woven by many hands and sung through many voices.

It all begins with what you decide is your goal, or sequence of goals, in teaching. My goals are to mentor the student towards initiation, to offer spiritual direction and what guidance I may have to give, and to witness the student coming into the full awareness of hir own Power, the complete realization of hir fully aligned Self, and the beautiful accomplishment of hir true Will.

Owning It: Autonomy, Accountability, and Liberty in Faery (by Moriquendi)

Those of us who identify as Faery share, among many other things, a statement of principles of conduct and affirmations about what the Tradition is, who can teach it, and how. One of those principles reads, “We recognize the value of individual autonomy, but we also recognize and honor the fact that our choices affect the choices of others.” The two clauses that make up this statement establish a balance between autonomy and accountability, where neither one trumps the other, but are seen as part of an integral ethical whole.

I’ve heard it said that, unlike some forms of modern Pagan spirituality, Faery lacks a guiding set of ethical principles. This is, of course, nonsense. To be sure, we do lack anything as pithy and quotable as the Wiccan Rede or the Ten Commandments, but I would suggest that, taken together as a unified whole, the powers and principles encapsulated in the Iron and Pearl Pentacles form the basis of a truly Faery system of ethics or moral philosophy. The trick is, of course, that they are the basis of that philosophy, not an explicit statement of that philosophy, nor a collection of instructions on how to enact it. As with so much else, one must do the work of putting it together oneself, or with the help of one’s teachers and fellow students and initiates. (That can be a pain in the ass, to be sure, but anyone who says that Faery is “easy” or “convenient” is lying to you, and shouldn’t be trusted.)

The Faery Pentacles are multifaceted, fulfilling multiple roles within the practice of Faery, and I won’t presume here to give instruction on the use of these most holy symbols, meditative tools, and complex magical sigils. I will restrain myself to mentioning that one of the points of the Pearl Pentacle—and, therefore, one of the key principles of Faery—is named sometimes as Liberty, sometimes as Power. I’m quite sure most folks interested in Faery are familiar with both concepts. I’m equally sure that most readers have an idiosyncratic and deeply nuanced definition of, and relationship with, those concepts. While I’m focussing on the point as Liberty, I want to keep us aware of its equally valid identity as Power; indeed, as mentioned later, an awareness of the relationship between Power and Liberty can usefully inform how we approach either concept.

What I mean when I use a conceptual term like “liberty” is not, and cannot be, identical to what you mean by that same term; even if we agree on the denotative meaning, our individual personalities and histories will give us connotative meanings that cannot be equated. I do think it’s reasonable, though, to start with agreed-upon denotative meanings and work from there. More than reasonable, I think it’s necessary. We need to talk about liberty, autonomy, sovereignty, and accountability: what those words mean, how they’re related, and why understanding those ideas is important, not only for Faery, but for life in general. The trouble is, these are pretty heavyweight concepts, better suited to university-level philosophy courses (or late-night pub sessions) than to necessarily-brief blog posts. Nevertheless, if we’re to have any real grasp of what Faery looks like in practice, of how to walk as a Witch in the real world of actions and choices and responsibilities, we need to understand them as well as we know the sound of our own hearts beating.

And to do that, we need to talk about Westphalia.

Westphalia is a region of Germany known for producing camper vans. It’s also known as the place where, in 1648, three treaties were signed in the cities of Münster and Osnabrück. At the time, Europe was in the midst of throwing, not one, but two wars (designated “the Thirty Years’ War” and “the Eighty Years’ War” by historians) which were ravaging the populace and destabilizing the whole region. These three treaties, collectively known as the “Peace of Westphalia,” ended both of them.

They also created the modern political world in which we live, move, and have our being.

In other words, it was created by these dapper gents. Ponder that for a moment. "The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster," 15 May 1648 (1648) by Gerard ter Borch. Public domain. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
In other words, it was created by these dapper gents. Ponder that for a moment.
“The Ratification of the Treaty of Münster,” 15 May 1648 (1648) by Gerard ter Borch. 
Public domain. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

To unpack that a bit: the Peace of Westphalia established the concept of “the state” as an independent entity with total and unquestioned control over its own internal affairs, free from any external influence. In the Westphalian system, each state is equal to all others, no matter how great or small, and no state is permitted to impose its will on another merely by dint of force. This concept, referred to as “sovereignty,” became a central component of international law in Europe and, later, throughout the world.

Sovereignty is a tricksy concept. It seems quite simple on its surface: “supreme power or authority,” as the Oxford Dictionary would have it. The nuances are where it becomes interesting, and harder to nail down. Following Westphalia, the term took on a particular set of connotations: independence, freedom from coercion, absolute control over one’s own actions and interests. Sovereignty is also applied to people at times, often people wearing funny hats: emperors, kings, bishops, and the like. The meaning is quite the same: a sovereign is someone over whom no one else has power, someone who has total and final control over their own actions and lives. When speaking of a head of state, or (as some Christians do) of a Supreme Being, it carries with it the implication of control over the lives of everyone under that individual’s power, as well.

It’s a compelling idea, as you’d expect from anything that’s been the core of modern geopolitics for going on 400 years. At its best, sovereignty supplies the logical foundations for self-determination and resistance, enabling a small nation to tell to a larger nation, “No, you may not invade us and take our goods, our land, or our lives, because we are us and they are ours.” At its worst, it tacitly supports the worst atrocities the state can bring to bear on its own people, as in the U.S. massacre and genocide of Native Americans, or the Nazi genocide of German Jews.

So, a bit of a mixed bag, as it were.

Autonomy is similarly tricksy and complex. The word, from the Greek αὐτο (auto, self) + νόμος (nomos, law), literally means “self-legislating,” as in “being a law unto oneself.” In ethics, it refers to the ability of an individual to make unhindered, un-coerced choices. Like sovereignty, though, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Deriving in great part from the work of Immanuel Kant, autonomy specifically refers to an individual’s ability to make moral choices: to choose to act in a manner consistent with an objective or outside moral standard, regardless of any desire to the contrary, precisely because that choice is consistent with the moral standard. To be autonomous, in other words, is to have moral agency, to be able to choose to do the right thing… even if you don’t necessarily want to.

In modern parlance, autonomy has taken on some of the characteristics of sovereignty, to the point that many people equate the two. For the purposes of this essay, however, I suggest that they are quite different things: related in their approach to questions of power, coercion, and self-determination, but ultimately referring to two different categories of entity: states (to include autocephalous entities such as churches) and individual people. Simply put, only states (and heads of states, who are effectively the State personified) have sovereignty. Likewise, only people can have autonomy.

“What’s the difference,” you may well ask, “and what the hell does any of this have to do with Faery?” Valid and valuable questions, both of them.

Sovereign Westphalian states exist in relationship to one another, but as separate entities without interconnectedness; in other words, they may have foreign policies and treaties with their allies, but their internal affairs and sovereign conduct are intrinsically isolated from the opinion and coercion of other states, even their allies. This is why, for instance, the United States can criticise other countries for their shabby treatment of children or the environment, but has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Kyoto Protocol, the tossers. They’re sovereign, which means they can do as they bloody well like within their own borders, even when doing so ultimately hurts everyone else.

Autonomy, by contrast, exists in the context of an interconnected moral universe. I can choose to act or to refrain from action, to speak or to remain silent, based on my estimation of the ethical weight of the choice, which necessarily incorporates the effect of my words or actions, or of my silence or inaction, on the world around me. Autonomy requires responsibility as an intrinsic component of moral agency. In other words, there is no autonomy without accountability. Thus, whatever autonomy means, one thing it cannot mean is “license,” defined as “I do whatever I want, whenever I want, without regard for the outcomes of my actions.”

cartman
NOT this. Pretty much the converse of this. Just… no.
Image from South Park.

South Park references aside, I hope the relation of all this philosophical blather to Faery is beginning to come clear.

What we’re talking about when we talk about “autonomy” is not merely Liberty, but the interrelation and interconnection of Liberty with all the other points of the Pearl Pentacle, and with Power, its own other name and its corresponding point in the Iron Pentacle. Liberty is an essential core principle of a truly Faery ethic… but no greater than any of the other points. It does not trump Knowledge and Wisdom, nor Love and Law, and without them it becomes nothing more than license, which is not a magical virtue, no matter what that one pseudo-Thelemite guy at the pub meet tried to tell you, all the while staring at your ass and offering to buy you drinks. In fact, even Aleister Crowley—that noted proponent of license, impropriety, and Doing What Thou Wilt—made it quite clear in his writings that there was a bloody great difference between “doing one’s True Will” and “doing whatever the hell you want.” Faery can, and should, have at least as solid a grasp on that distinction as Crowley did.

Blessedly, we do… and characteristically, perhaps even frustratingly, it doesn’t express well as a sound-bite.  If I have learnt anything at all about Faery (an open question, surely, but go with me on this), it’s that Faery is about relationships, about being in relationship: with Gods, with spirits, with our kinfolk, with our families and friends and neighbors, with the worlds around us and within us.

A central part of the work of being in relationship is being aware of how what I say and do affects those around me, and accepting responsibility for that: accountability, or as some would say, “owning it.” Sometimes, owning our words and actions means apologising and attempting to make amends. Other times, it means arguing, negotiating, or standing on our principles and refusing to budge, even in the fact of conflict with those we love. Sometimes, it’s mildly uncomfortable. Others, it’s excruciating, or joyful, or dull drudgery. In all cases, it’s about being authentically we you are, exercising moral agency, and accepting responsibility for what that means.

Accountability is the other half of autonomy, without which there can be no autonomy. Lacking accountability, the individual believes itself to be sovereign, as a state or a Supreme Being is sovereign, and inflates its own ego to the point of collapse (or prolapse, if you like). From there, everything else—magic, relationships, personality itself—follows suit. Accountability is what connects us to the world around us, what enables the very relationships that lie at the heart of Faery. To whom are we accountable? Why, to those with whom we’re in relationship: Gods, spirits, our kith and kin, the world in which we live and move and have our being. If we treat with them, we do so with the force of our very beings, and in so doing, we make ourselves accountable for what we do. This is why our oaths are sacred, why our words are imbued with power and meaning, why our actions cause change far beyond the range of our sight: because through them, we are accountable. If we are not accountable, we betray our words and actions, and the power leaks out of them as through a hole in our cup.

Or, you know, whatever vessel you put power in.
Or, you know, whatever vessel you put power in.
The Leaky Cauldron. Harry Potter film set at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, UK. Image by Jack1956.

In the context of Faery, let’s look again at that statement from the beginning: “We recognize the value of individual autonomy, but we also recognize and honor the fact that our choices affect the choices of others.”

Viewed through the lens of autonomy and accountability, as defined above, this statement begins to unfold to us. After all, I cannot make a choice that changes the world without, y’know, changing the world. Of course, some choices are more impactful than others, and affect others’ choices to a greater degree.

Let’s say, for instance, that I decide to eat an orange. No one else may eat that orange, but that’s unlikely to cause much strife even in my home, where we lurve oranges. If there are no other oranges in the house, I can always pop out to market and pick some up. However, should I be amongst a group of friends when I decide to, say, spoil the new Star Wars film, my behaviour would get me tossed out on my ear, and rightly so. In both cases, I am accountable to those with whom I am in relationship, and to the fact that my choices affect theirs. If I eat the last orange, I merely need to pick up more oranges at market, but if I choose to spoil a movie (or book, or whatever) for someone, I’ve permanently ruined an experience for them, which is potentially an unforgivable offense. At the very least, it reveals me to be a churlish boor, and I’d have no leg to stand on if they chose not to invite me to future engagements… or to take a poke at me, for that matter.

So, then, how much more so with Faery? What if I wish to publicly reveal some shared material of the tradition considered by other initiates, folk I consider “kin,” to be oathbound? Or, if not oathbound, then “merely” sacred, to be held in confidence and secrecy? What if I should suggest to students, seekers, or other interested parties that my particular, idiosyncratic take on Faery is normative, and that Faery who practice in some other way are somehow beyond the pale? What if I decide to charge students money to be “initiated” into Faery, or to demand sexual favors from students, or to dox my fellow initiates, publishing their names and personal details for the world to see? When someone (or, more likely, several someones) comes to me with criticisms, grievances, even outright anger, how should I receive that?

Well, if we are in relationship to one another, as suggested by the term “kin,” then I am accountable to them. If it is my claim that we are part of the same tradition, I owe it to them—I am obliged—to hear their words, to consider their counsel openly and honestly, and to allow that counsel to inform the choices I make. If someone with whom I am in a relationship tells me that my choices are impeding or harming their own choices, I have a responsibility to take that seriously, to consider the possibility that I am behaving in an immoral and unethical fashion, and to modify my behaviour accordingly.

Why?

Because at the end of the day, as a wise woman once said to me, we are the choices we make and the stories we tell. The choices we make show us what kind of people we are; the stories we tell shape the choices we believe we have, and put those choices into some kind of context. If my story is that I’m wholly independent, beholden to no-one and nothing—save, perhaps, the Gods—then my choices I perceive will be limited in scope, and will tend to reinforce that worldview. If I see myself as sovereign, as hermetically isolated from other initiates, I am denying our kinship, spinning a story in which we have no relationship, and in which I’m therefore not accountable for how my choices affect theirs.

At the risk of belaboring an obvious point: that’s magic. It’s a spell… or, if you prefer, it’s a glamour, an illusion. It’s illusory, because sovereignty is a delusion. What we have, instead, is Liberty: power and agency. We have autonomy. We exist in a moral context, in relationships with others of our lineage and with the world around us. Our choices change the world, and affect the choices others can make, which makes us accountable.

At our initiation into Faery, we formally acknowledge and accept both our autonomy and our accountability, each as part and parcel of the other. However, being an initiate doesn’t grant autonomy; we have it merely by being human. As such, it shouldn’t require an oath to enforce accountability. All it should take is a basic level of consideration for others: Say “please” and “thank you.” Don’t steal somebody else’s things. Ask before you use them. Don’t spoil the movie. Share nicely, and without pouting. You know, the things we expect children to learn before they leave primary school.

After all, if we cannot be at least that accountable, if we cannot own our own words and actions, however do we expect to treat with spirits, Gods, or our own shadows?