Following up on Helix’s challenge for us to write an article on each of the principles, this piece addresses Principle Five: We honor our oaths to aid and defend our brothers and sisters.
In 2011, the Feri Tradition split. Why that happened will be attributed to as many causes as there are initiates. I have heard people claim that the division is a false one, because we share the same Mystery and Current and we share the same gods. But this is not entirely true. For whatever reasons I hear others give as to why Anderson Faery and Feri split, for me it was that we did not share a crucial mystery. We did not share the Oath as a value across the tradition.
I say this because for me the Oath is a mystery. When we receive the Great Mystery that makes us a Faery witch at initiation, it changes us. It makes us something else. You can see it when you circle with initiates. At some point in the circle, their facial features change. Their eyes become longer; their teeth sharper. They look feral, a word that shares a root with our very name. The Mystery awakens something in us that culture has tried to breed out of us, something precious and terrible.
But the Oath is a mystery of its own, a private mystery that is internal to the initiate. It is a transformation born of submission, the willingness to bend the knee and swear allegiance with powers that are wild beyond imagining, and to the others who have done so before you. It is not surrendering your life force, it is offering it as an act of power, affirming that you are the only being in all the universes who is able to do so.
Doing this transformed me. Where the Mystery that we share made me something else, swearing the Oath made me something more. The Oath bonds the initiate to the tradition and makes that initiate part of something greater than themselves. For those who want to never have to consider others in their actions, or enter into the social contract of a tradition, it is the wrong thing to do. It should never be sworn. But for those who want to be part of something larger, it is the right thing to do, and cannot be omitted.
My Oathmother used to tease me about my initiation. When the time came for me to take my oath, she began the preamble about what I would be swearing to. She asked me if I was willing to swear this Oath. And I just stood there. And stood there. And stood there. She laughed that they were going to grow old there waiting for me to step up and speak. Keep in mind that I had already studied for 7 years in this tradition. Initiation had always been my goal. But in that moment, I still had to think about it. I mean, if you are going to swear to something forever, five minutes might be understandable!
As I heard her speak it, for some reason it occurred to me for the first time, that this was for real. An Oath is a magical act. It would seal my fate forever. The Oath was not a collection of pretty words. It is not a formality. For me, it was offering up all I had and was to the gods I had come to know and adore as my own. It would tie me to a tradition of lore, spirits, and initiates. After I said the words, I would belong to them. They would belong to me. I would never be alone.
My tradition has seen some hard times. Infighting, court trials and issues of sexual exploitation are just a few things that have challenged us. The fighting had grown endless and the lack of accountability was making us hopeless. People had decided to post lore online, were turning Feri into a business, and laughed that none of us could stop them. This was true, we could not. One person had even laughed that my students would be sworn to aid and defend him, but he and his would not have to reciprocate. Which, of course, is not how oaths work.
I will admit that I had a crisis of faith at that point. Was I the only initiate who believed in my Oath? Yet, I knew that something had moved in me, something had happened. I had experienced a mystery. In the end, it did not matter what others thought. In that moment, I understood something that changed how I thought about this forever. The truth came to me as a whisper, and it broke my heart. I realized that this person was not my kin. I was not sworn to him for the very reason that he was not sworn to me. That he and I were different. We were both witches, but we were different kinds of witches. We belonged to different traditions and had a different experience of what it meant to belong to a tradition. When I swore, I had experienced a mystery. I had embraced the part of me that could swear forever and defend with my life. And he had not.
In all the upheaval that happened at this time, it became apparent that I was not alone. There were others who also took their Oath seriously. For all these people, the Oath was a mystery. They too had come away in a sense of wonder, not at some magical happening, but at a realization about themselves. They had found a commitment and ferocity they had not really understood before. That clarity moves something deep inside. You realize in those years you were studying, you had changed. You had become someone you had hoped you would become. You stood there to swear on your own damnation because you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were up to it.
There are lots of people in the Feri tradition who keep their Oaths. The great majority of them are unaligned Feri who wanted nothing to do with this split. There are many still there who I respect deeply, and many whom I still call friends, even in our difference. At the same time, the lack of accountability in the face of very real crisis saddened me. So, when an elder of the craft bid us to secede, we did. We could no longer conscientiously allow what was happening to go on in our name.
If you think it was easy, you are wrong. If you think it was done in a fit of pique, you are also wrong. It was done in sorrow and despair and was something that should have happened much earlier. It was the effort of last resort, and it took courage to leave. The Oath is for forging those bonds that hold a tradition together, and those bonds were absent. Honestly, if folks had not been so open about how little they valued their Oaths, we would likely still be there fighting. For me the split meant that I knew where I stood and who I could count on. I admit that I was surprised both by those who swore, and those who felt that speaking those words were a formality. It felt right to me. It felt like I could finally stop fighting.
If you do not have what is required to swear the Oath and mean it, you will break when things get hard. That is also what the Oath is for. It is for making a witch who cannot break. It is for making us stronger, a blade of the Star Goddess, forged in a star and doused in the great abyss. So, yes, I took five minutes. And then my eyes grew long, and my teeth grew sharper. And I said, “Yes. Yes, I will swear.”
So no, we do not share all the mysteries. We worship the same gods. We have some lore in common, and some lore that is different. Both traditions are home to poets and bards and sorcerers. The more time we are apart, the more we grow into different cycles. We hold the same Current, we keep the same Names, and have known the same Mystery. But in the end, the difference is woven into our skin and flesh. We are not made of the same stuff. This does not make me their enemy, nor does it make me their kin. What it makes these witches is different. And what it makes me is a witch of my word.
[originally published 2007 – reprinted by permission of the author]
I’m occasionally puzzled by assertions that Feri is amoral, or alternately lacking in moral substance. This statement is made either as a criticism (we don’t have Rules, therefore we don’t have ethics, therefore Horrible Things Will Happen) or in defiance (you can’t tell me what to do, because we don’t have rules). I think both of those attitudes are rooted in a very basic misapprehension: Rules don’t equal ethics.
As it happens, following rules is a stage of moral development, but not a very advanced one.[i] Rules are nothing more nor less than received authority, either from society or from some posited divine influence. It should be immediately apparent why Feri doesn’t have many of those.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time in my life organizing groups in person, and moderating communities online. The very first Pagan-ish group I was ever in, there was this one guy… I’ll call him Dave. Every single rule we had… from “Discuss what you are doing with the group and make sure your ‘experiment’ is okay with them BEFORE you lead everyone through a meditation” to “Please do not tell people they can join the group before the rest of us have even met them”… was because of something Dave had done. The trouble was, he kept thinking up new things to do. We were always one calamity behind.
One tidbit of wisdom I gleaned from this is that while clear expectations and goals are useful if you want a group of people to work together, rules are almost useless. Bluntly put, grownups don’t need rules, and the individuals who do need rules won’t follow them, plus they will always think up stuff that would never cross a sane person’s mind. You can deal with that problem in various ways, but if someone’s mama didn’t raise them right, you aren’t going to be able to. In other words, if they haven’t internalized certain values, they will not act according to them.
It’s true that there is no way to enforce ethics in Feri from outside. Feri expects you to be a grownup. It does occasionally happen that we get someone whose mama didn’t raise them right. The appropriate response from a community of equals when a member misbehaves is disapprobation. It need not even be unanimous censure, though it helps when we discuss such things openly. What we can’t do is un-Feri someone, or impose sanctions on them, because there is no organization or decision-making body to do such a thing, and I think personally that creating one would prove to be a cure worse than the disease. (Nor will it solve the problem, as the world is full of structured organizations with clear ethical rules that nonetheless have members who behave unethically.) It’s entirely possible for a Feri initiate or otherwise affiliated person to behave very unethically indeed… or simply act like a jackass… and get away with it. I will refrain from offering examples.
I wish to offer here the very radical notion that the primary purpose of an ethical system is not to set down rules covering every possible circumstance or to enforce punishment of infractions, but to allow those who are interested in behaving ethically to find sustenance. In that, I have found Feri to be extremely successful. That is because it offers several methods of internalizing certain values about human beings, what they are and how they should interact with the world around them. Those methods are in fact at the core of the tradition… the Iron Pentacle, the Pearl Pentacle, and the notion of the Three Souls. Notice those are not discussions of values, but the values themselves. They are also meditative tools which many of us work with every day. They are both the principles and the means of internalizing them. The basic underlying value is integrity: The point of our practice is to be a whole person, and a whole person will behave ethically.
I’m not sure what we can do about the other problem anyway without undermining very important values that we do have, such as autonomy. The radical independence of each initiate is part and parcel of the expectation that we will act like grownups and therefore don’t need rules. What we can do with someone who isn’t and does is… well, a matter for discussion. I won’t attempt to embark upon that discussion right now; I will merely point out that it can’t be scotched or dismissed or despaired of on the premise that we don’t have any ethical principles to begin with. We certainly do have principles, and they’ve been right out there on the living room table the whole time. I’m often perplexed as to why they aren’t obvious to everyone. Perhaps the elephant sat on them.
…Wait, I was going to talk about those. Principles. We have several that are explicitly about how you act towards (or with) other people. They are five in number: Love, Knowledge, Wisdom, Law, and Liberty, the points of the Pearl Pentacle. There are also five points in the Iron Pentacle which describe the forces which drive the human psyche: Sex, Self, Pride, Passion, Power. The PP, roughly speaking, is about your relationship with the not-merely-human world around you, and the IP is about your relationship with yourself. Of course, they are intertwined; if you value Pride or Passion, for example, you don’t just value it in yourself. Honoring the pride, passion, selfhood, sexuality, and power of others goes along with honoring your own. That is what seems to trip most people up; they can see how valuable some of those traits are in themselves, but the way it makes other people act seems to perplex them.
Steve Hewell believes, and I tend to agree with him, that if you work with the Iron Pentacle enough the Pearl will unfold from it automatically; however, sometimes we need to grease the hinges a little. I hesitate to even attempt to explain the points as I see them because I’m equally afraid of someone either arguing with my interpretation of them or taking them as a directive. The point is to work with the Iron and Pearl until you embody those traits, as fully as possible and in your own unique way. But here goes:
Sex as a virtue? Well, how do you think you got here? Remember that we Feri folk believe that the primary creative force is erotic. The universe came into being because the Star Goddess experienced divine, er, joy. We also don’t believe in original sin of any description. We reject the notion that matter is dead, or wrong, or inferior. Life is good. Therefore, existence, the universe, other people, the whole shebang, are all in a sense fundamentally good, and also worthy of love just by virtue of being here. That doesn’t mean love everyone you meet in an intimate or emotional sense, but it does mean that you recognize their basic worth.
Your unique self is valuable. So are all the other unique selves. Self is inherently paradoxical: “God is Self and Self is God and God is a person like my Self”[ii] doesn’t quite mean what it appears to mean. Self is an illusion, but a useful one. It’s a big universe; one of the ways to express joy in it is to know things about it. Knowledge also brings clarity: it makes a difference what the truth is, especially in your dealings with others. Knowledge as a virtue also means not fudging the facts, because lies distort knowledge. Know thyself, know the truth; as best you can.
But intellectual knowledge, demarcated by the boundary of the self, can become a bit detached. Passion is about connection; wisdom about understanding on a visceral level, whole understanding based on having experienced something rather than only observing or reading about it. Again, it’s an expression of being in love with the world. (Com)Passion and Wisdom also grant empathy with the experiences of others.
Pride is the absolute knowledge of your own worth and the worth of your place and work in the world. Law is that knowledge plus the understanding of the worth of others, plus the comprehension that “the moral arc of the universe… bends towards justice”[iii] in your dealings with them. Act from centered self-worth, and recognition of the worth of others.
If you are worthy, so are your actions in the world. We don’t shy away from power; many of our meditations and aphorisms are aimed at gathering it and conserving it: “Never submit your life force to anything or anyone for any reason.”[iv] This is the one that makes people twitchy the most; we all have images of abuse of power in our heads. However, if you value Power and Freedom as ideas, you must value them in others as well as yourself. Empowerment is not just for you, but for other people. Freedom is for everyone. Liberty for all.
__________ [i] See Lawrence Kohlberg’s work on the stages of moral development, as well as criticism of it by Carol Gilligan.
[ii] Victor Anderson
[iii] The full quote is, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” There are some other quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. in the same speech that are very interesting from a Feri point of view:
Now power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political and economic change. Walter Reuther defined power one day. He said, “Power is the ability of a labor union like the U.A.W. to make the most powerful corporation in the world, General Motors, say ‘Yes’ when it wants to say ‘No.’ That’s power.”
Now a lot of us are preachers, and all of us have our moral convictions and concerns, and so often have problems with power. There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites – polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.
It was this misinterpretation that caused Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject the Nietzschean philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on.
– Speech to the Tenth Anniversary Convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, August 16, 1967
As part of my daily practice of devotion to the Star Goddess, I have said the following Faery Tradition prayer nearly every morning for over ten years. There are days when I have blithely taken the words for granted as they flew out of my still sleepy mouth. But there are glorious mornings when these words reverberate through and awaken my sluggish spirit.
“Holy Mother, in whom we Live, Move and Have our Being, from You all Things emerge and unto you all things return.”
This morning was one of those thrilling mornings when I keenly felt my connection to the ALL. The living vibrancy of this prayer suffused my body in warmth and happy joy. To live in accord with these words means that I have consideration for the place I live, my environment, and the landscape upon which I carry out the routine of my days.
The outside is not just a place for me to get through on my way from Point A and B after I leave my house and get into my car to go somewhere. I’m most comfortable, at ease, happy, and myself when I am outside. I live upon and with the earth. We as humans are the earth. Our bodies are not separate from this planet we inhabit. The matter that makes up our flesh comes from the earth.
I emphatically equate the Earth, all the plants, and every particle of matter with our Holy Mother, the Star Goddess. She is star matter, the elements, and all that I can comprehend.
It is all such a wonder: we humans, animals, plants, and beings come from the earth which spills out of and into the complex universe. We all fold into the cleft of the earth, the universe, and our Holy Mother.
Our emotions, feelings, and thoughts flow into and out of her. She is vast and can feel distant to our human perception of her. But she is always with us, the breath woven into the very fabric of our beings. Immanence through and through…
Beauty, Darkness, Light, Sound, Movement, Energy, and Love.
For me she is the wild, rabid soul of our Earth’s Nature and the Life Giver of the Universe.
Faery is not academic training. Faery isn’t beginner witchcraft training – though sometimes brand new witches cut their teeth here. Faery isn’t advanced witchcraft training, either; many craft traditions offer powerful access to craft training and currents. How Faery differs from some other traditions is its shamanic, ecstatic, and rather primal current. There are shifting forms here, and while there is a rich body of liturgical material within Faery, this current spills out of containers.
Faery is a peculiar and particular WAY of working magic, and the only way into it is through initiation.
Some traditions are training traditions, in that they prepare students to be witches; Faery is not that. While some traditions view initiation as stepping into acceptance and acknowledgement of yourself as a witch, Faery initiation is not that, either. There may be traditions that offer initiation after a year and a day of training, or in exchange for regular circle attendance; Faery does not. Initiation for some occurs after learning certain liturgy or ritual roles; Faery doesn’t do this either.
How in the world, then, does someone enter in to Anderson Faery?
Well, if you want to learn Faery, there are several things you must do:
Find a teacher.
Ask the teacher if they will teach you.
If the teacher says yes, ask what you need to do.
Do what the teacher asks and report back.
Diligently repeat steps 3 and 4.
Faery initiates are not going to push you to do anything. In fact, most Faery initiates will not set clear expectations or give much in the way of direct instruction. What they will do is sit back and watch what you do. Remember, Faery is not a training tradition but a WAY of working magic. An initiate who has taken responsibility for possibly shepherding you to the Gate is looking for signs. They will give you exercises and material that may foster this WAY of working magic, or strengthen it, but only if asked.
Faery initiates want to see your compatibility with the current. Beating down doors, and risking rejection, is something we look for. You’re welcome.
Once you have a teacher, they are still going to largely sit back and watch what you do with what they tell you. If you do nothing, they will not email, phone or otherwise check-in to see why you are doing nothing. Faery initiates are not your parents. If you need them to be, I suggest you seek therapy first, and then come back to witchcraft.
If you want to learn Faery, you need to push, you need to ask, you need to keep at it, you need to do the things you are given, you need to tell the initiate you did the thing, you need to keep asking for more. And after all that, you still have to ASK for the initiation. Remember, Faery isn’t a tradition that offers initiation after a year and a day, or a day and seven years. When you do finally ask, the initiate may say no, off hand, to see how you handle that, to test if you will ask again. Yet even if you ask again, and again, and again, the initiate may still say no, because they may not see the signs. There is no guarantee of initiation in Faery. That does not mean you are less of a witch. It just means the “fit” for the “family” WAY of working isn’t there. You may be family elsewhere.
Did I mention that Faery initiates are not your parents? We aren’t your High Priestesses, either. We are Witches, and we seek other Witches who are Peers with the Gods.
Do you think you might be a Peer? Get ready to beat down some doors.
“God is Self and Self is God and God is a Person like my Self.” –Victor Anderson
Victor Anderson: An American Shaman is a candid look at the Feri tradition’s most important teacher. The book is loosely arranged into two parts. Part I contains a series of interviews with Victor and Cora Anderson conducted around 1999, about two years before Victor’s death. The interviewer is Cornelia Benavidez, the Andersons’ friend of two decades and an initiate of Victor’s. (Charmingly, the book opens with a copy of a letter of reference for Benavidez from Victor, recommending her as “an honorable person and good witch.”) Victor’s remarks are interspersed with explanatory notes from Benavidez to provide context and additional information. Part II contains supplementary material, including an account of Victor’s last days from Benavidez, an essay by Sara Star that attempts to historically contextualize Victor’s initiation story, comments by Benavidez on the development of Feri after the deaths of the Andersons, and extensive genealogical information on Victor compiled by researcher William Wallworth.
Those who have read earlier interviews that Victor gave over the course of his life will find many of the thoughts recorded here to be familiar. However, in response to Benavidez’s clarifying questions, Victor unpacks many of his views in more detail than was previously available in print and clears up potential areas of ambiguity. Further, since most of the earlier interviews were published in zines or now-out-of-print collections, many readers will be encountering this material for the first time. This factor alone makes An American Shaman an important primary source for the study of Victor and Cora’s lives.
Readers who have primarily encountered Feri witchcraft through websites or in books put out by large publishing houses may be surprised at how little of the material frequently presented as “the Feri tradition” appears in Victor’s final statements of his views. The plain-spoken interviews focus on the Andersons’ core values of love and respect for others and the importance of sexual ethics. Many pages are spent on Victor’s complex ancestry and his relationships with indigenous people. The Andersons’ opposition to American racism and what we would now call cultural appropriation are major emphases, but as a person born during World War I, Victor’s framing of these issues is very different from those of twenty-first century activists. New readers may struggle greatly with his words, finding Victor confusing or downright infuriating.
For the reader who is willing and able to encounter Victor Anderson as a whole human being, however, there is a great deal of insight, humor, and hope recorded in this text. Victor’s Feri tradition is not a set of doctrines or an ideology, nor is it an elite occult club for the sexually alternative. Rather, it is a craft of relationship, devotion, creativity, and joy that the Andersons hoped would help lead humanity away from its most destructive tendencies.
The individual captured in this book’s pages (however incompletely) was a person of striking uniqueness. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strain of witchcraft that he helped to create continues to be rich, vital, and extremely contentious. As the years pass and the initiates that knew the Andersons pass away, documents that preserve Victor and Cora’s voices as complex, idiosyncratic human beings become ever more important. Within any group, there is always a temptation to simplify and sanitize the life and views of deceased leaders, lest their inconvenient human realities damage the group’s public face. Yet Feri has a deep commitment to authenticity, and its practice demands great personal intimacy between practitioners. Allowing Victor’s humanness to be forgotten, therefore, would betray our most deeply held values.
As Feri initiates, it is our loving duty to remember Victor honestly and to continue to learn from his teaching. Accordingly, Victor Anderson: An American Shaman is a text recommended for any Feri seeker or student—one that must be read slowly, struggled with, questioned, laid aside and taken up again.
“There are many things I would still want to learn, I’m willing to learn from anybody regardless of their degree of initiation […] I still am anxious to learn anything I can, and apply it and see if it works. If it works I will use it. This is our science and this is how we learn and grow.”
Bardic, Shamanic, Ecstatic: these are the three adjectives that introduce AndersonFaery.org at the top of every page. All three are commonly used by initiates to describe Anderson Faery witchcraft. What do they mean?
Historically, a bard is a traveling poet who composed and recited epic poetry, usually while playing an instrument. Over time, the term has loosened to include poets in general, with “THE Bard” often referring to William Shakespeare, a word artist of both poetry and prose.
Poetry, song, storytelling, and drama are ways in which a group performs its shared values. Our ancestors both entertained themselves and learned about who they were through group gatherings where stories and songs were shared around a fire. Many of the world’s religions continue these practices of singing and storytelling, though in the West they have become more structured. A visit to nearly any Christian church, for example, includes reading of scripture (much of which is narrative) and singing of hymns; similarly, historical and mythic narratives and traditional songs are key elements of most Jewish holidays.
Poetry and song have always been an important part of Faery Craft. Part of their importance is to retain knowledge of history, myths, and lore, an understanding of which connects Faery witches to the past and ties them together in relationship. Gwydion Pendderwen, one of the Andersons’ first and most influential initiates, recorded two albums of music that celebrated nature spirituality, folk lifeways, and the Gods. He also penned liturgical pieces for use in private rituals. Faery witches continue to sing Gwydion’s songs and recite his poetry, both to connect with the ancestral traditions that Gwydion felt called to, and to connect with the memory of Gwydion himself.
Poetry was also a passion of the Andersons. In 1970, with Gwydion’s logistical support and Cora’s life savings, Victor published Thorns of the Blood Rose, a passionate book of poetry that led many future initiates to seek the Andersons out for teaching. Victor’s poetry celebrates the natural world, the Gods, and sexuality; but like those of Yeats, the great occult poet of the twentieth century, his poems are also densely layered with meaning and can act as keys to occult revelation. Victor’s poetry rewards the patient and careful reader who is willing to read and reread, recite and contemplate again and again.
Victor was adamant that the images in his poems were not intended metaphorically. Poetry is a way of expressing realities that cannot be captured by linear thought and plain speaking; it is a way of gesturing toward mysteries that are beyond our rational understanding, but that we can experience in our bodies as beings of flesh and spirit.
Cora was also a poet. Some of her simple, striking verse is included in her memoir Childhood Memories (now out of print, but a version of the book called Kitchen Witch is still available). When I met Cora near the end of her life, she spoke with great pride of the poetry that she and Victor had written. She clearly considered this creative work to be one of the great achievements of their lives.
Though not every Faery witch need be a poet themselves, Faery witchcraft cannot be worked without poetry. Poetry and song bind us together. Through them, we share our innermost dreams, longings, and desires; we connect to the ancestors and the Gods; and for those with ears to hear, we convey our most precious truths.
A shaman is a healer and spiritworker who is in service to their local community. On behalf of that community, the shaman seeks altered states of consciousness in order to communicate and negotiate with spirits. Shamanic practice may include the use of local plants to heal and work magic, as well as magical practices based on spirit relationships. Although the term “shaman” probably originally came from the Tungusic Evenki language of North Asia, in Western religious studies it is now used to describe this kind of spiritworking cross-culturally.
Faery witchcraft is worked in a container of beloved relationship. This includes relationship with one’s human community, but even more importantly, it includes the local plants, animals, streams, and hills in all their aspects (physical and spiritual), as well as the Gods who manifest through the land and through our flesh.
Third Road founder Francesca De Grandis wrote, “A healthy priest makes all things sound.” Faery witches seek harmonious relationship with the land and people where they live. We seek to be whole and balanced in ourselves so that our positive influence ripples outward through all we touch. At times, of course, seeking harmony may require conflict, as we are called to defend human or other-than-human beings in our community who are in danger. A witch’s action to restore harmony may take place in the human realm, in the newspapers in the courts; or it may take place in privacy, through magical intervention or one-on-one negotiation with humans or spirits. In any case, right relationship is the source of a witch’s power. A witch’s work involves constantly strengthening ties and setting boundaries—but our responsibilities are not just to the human community.
Serving in a shamanic role is not easy. The conflicting needs of humans and other-than-human beings can lead to difficult decisions, and as a result the witch may not always be appreciated or loved by other humans. When we serve as mediators between humans and spirits, between the wild world and what we speak of as “civilization,” we put ourselves outside of ordinary human society, and we may suffer for it—if not through persecution, then through being treated as an outsider or a fool. To serve as a shaman means having knowledge that others do not, and this state can be uncomfortable and isolating. It is not a glamorous role, though the moments of beauty and connection it brings may be worth the pain.
Like the rest of our society, twenty-first-century Faery witches struggle with environmental damage and community erosion caused by the ways we have chosen to use technology. Some of us were lucky enough to be raised with a spiritual awareness of the land where we live; others, having grown up disconnected and rootless, must work hard to form the relationships that make a powerful witch. But without being integrated into a community of all types of beings—without, in other words, taking on a shamanic role—a Faery witch’s work is not complete.
Ecstasy is a rapturous state of altered consciousness where the usual boundaries of the self are left behind. The original Greek term, ekstasis, translates as something like “standing outside oneself.” Ecstasy is a sensual, embodied, fleshly state; it is not one where we transcend the body. However, it is transcendent because in this state, our awareness of our individuality and our boundedness from other beings falls away. We transcend our everyday selves and experience communion: with other Selves, with the Gods, with God Herself.
Allowing ourselves to experience ecstasy can be a difficult and even frightening process. In order to freely let go of one’s ordinary everyday self, one must be comfortable with that self and know it well. Our society, however, often does not support individuals in forming a healthy, stable self. Mainstream society is full of casual boundary violations, especially of the bodies and selves of marginalized people, as well as complicated social expectations that may encourage inauthenticity or even be actively exploitative and damaging. If a person is struggling to build good boundaries and experience healthy relationships with other human beings, it is natural that they may cling to whatever sense of identity they have already built—in fact, it is probably healthy to do so!
Ecstatic experience loosens and breaks down individual identity. It may change small elements of our personalities, like preferred hobbies or tastes; or it may leave us questioning elements we thought were foundational and defining, like sexual orientation or professional calling. Ecstasy can be a joy so big it bursts the heart open, leaving pieces that no longer seem to fit neatly together. It offers us freedom, but at the cost of structure we may have come to depend on.
Ecstasy is life force itself. If we are willing to let it flow through us undammed and be changed by the flood, our ability to contain that force expands. We become more powerful witches—but “power” rarely looks like what we imagine beforehand. There is no predicting where ecstasy will take you, or how it will leave you when its surging waters recede from the banks. Those who stay out of the way of the flood—either out of fear, or because they genuinely love themselves the way they are—are not unwise. But for Faery witches, there is no life without ecstasy. We embrace its risk, and its freedom.
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.”)
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.
Sex is not a doorway leading to something else, nor is it a metaphor for so-called spiritual love, but a sun and moon lit path leading across the sea of life to an infinite horizon.
Introduction to Part One
In Part One, I briefly put forward ideas of how the Witch power operates with Qwyr people in the context of Faerie Witchcraft. I then discuss and contrast ideas of how the Witch Power is believed to work in some other modern Witch traditions in the context of polarity. I show how polarity works not only as a model for heterosexual couples but also for Qwyr couples. Then I introduce an ancient idea of non-gendered polarity and how that exists and functions in our world today in the context of creation. Later, I delve more deeply into Faerie Witchcraft ideas about how the Witch Power moves within a magic circle based upon our mythology. I give the examples of gravity and plasma as to how the Witch Power moves within nature and mimics its natural movement within the circle.
Attitudes about Qwyrness in Faerie Witchcraft culture
Believing as they did in both the autonomy and the empowerment of each individual was the exquisite beauty of the Anderson’s teachings. The Tradition can morph to fit and empower the individual, but at the same time there are some items that clearly distinguish Faery from Wicca.
Faery meetings might look a great deal like a Wiccan coven’s, but the informing principles are quite different. Victor and Cora dismissed the physical polarization of Deity by gender as an oversimplification of the Divine’s multiple manifestations of every conceivable mixture of gender. (Gander: 2010, 3)
I feel that the power in an Anderson Faerie Witch circle doesn’t flow only between men and women or even simply between individuals. Like life-giving dew forming from moist air, sexual attraction between people makes the Witch Power condense onto their bodies, giving them a feeling of pleasure in the other’s company. I feel the power raised in a circle before it is formed into a spell or cone to be like a bubbling cauldron: full of potential yet free flowing throughout the cauldron of the circle and freely available to every member in circle regardless of sexual proclivity.
The common understanding of Wicca tends to stress the importance of male-female workings and focus on fertility. Anderson Faery magic has always had a primary focus on ecstasy instead of fertility. This may be due in part with the plurality of Deities we work with. As a result, sex of any stripe is honored as a gift from and to the Gods. Homosexuality, heterosexuality, bisexuality, polysexuality, transgendered sexuality, in short all of sexuality, is our holiest mystery. We have no reason to simplify the profound mystery of sex into redundant and meaningless roles. The Anderson Faery Witch is complete in herself, needing no other to complete her magic (Johnson: 2001, 3).
Gender and Polarity in Wicca
Polarity can mean a lot of things to different people, but to many modern Pagans it means that magic is believed to work by raising energy from paired couples of men and women. Thus it is sometimes believed that, in order to properly raise power, it must flow only between alternating male and female partners. Some covens insist on alternating men and women in their seating or standing arrangements. Some covens will also only pass initiations or magical tools from men to women or women to men. Some covens also believe polarity to mean a division of labor based upon sexual characteristics and they have fixed roles for priests and priestesses in ritual. What are the principles underlying such ideas?
From talking with those who work magic in a format of gendered polarity, I learned that underlying the idea of polar gender-oriented ritual is the desire to maintain a literal interpretation of a symbol set and the use of a sexually charged atmosphere. This atmosphere is charged by the release of psychic energy, subtle and obvious sexual signals, pheromones and possibly other bio-chemicals.
“Polarity” has been the term used to denounce the workings of same-sex couples, while at the same time shoring up the privileges of non-gay couples. “Polarity” is the “reason” why gay people cannot work together in a Gardnerian circle. If one were to ask what “polarity” is, one gets conflicting answers. One well-known and highly respected Priestess in the Long Island line of Gardnerian Craft once explained “polarity” with a scientific sounding proof. She said that “polarity” operated like pheromones in that they flowed from male to female or female to male and caused an excited state which could be tapped into as a source of magical power.
However, pheromones are a specialized type of hormone. They act like hormones in that only an extremely small amount of the chemical is needed to have a great effect on the body and they actonly on specific receptor sites. Pheromones spread throughout the entire environment in all directions, like hormones which spread equally throughout the whole body and its tissues. As one’s body emits pheromones, they do not flow through the air only to one receptor site (an opposite sex body), but are available to everyone in the area equally, regardless of sex. However, only those people who are susceptible to the pheromone would be affected. Heterosexual people are affected by the pheromones of the opposite sex and homosexual people are affected by the pheromones of the same sex. The same man in a circle can affect the bodies of both heterosexual women and homosexual men. The effect is not determined by the preference of the emitter of the pheromones but by those who react to it.
The Gardnerian Priestess’s explanation wasn’t an explanation in favor of “polarity” working only for non-Qwyr people or a “reason” why same-sex working couples were taboo! Using pheromones as a model to explain “polarity” actually shows why “polarity” would work for Qwyr working couples as well as non-Qwyr couples. A gay man would be affected by the pheromones of any man in the circle that he found attractive! Thus, I have come to believe that “polarity” is simply the same thing as good old sexual attraction. It is the sexual attraction felt between two people that acts as a source of magical power. It is sexual attraction that makes the working “juicy.” It can be physically felt only between those who are attracted to each other. “Polarity” would not work between a non-gay and a gay man, but only between gay or bi-sexual men. It makes sense that Gardner as a heterosexual would feel “polarity” only with a woman, and write about it as such. It is incorrect, however, to assume it is the same for everyone in all Gardnerian circles.
Looking at “polarity” from an electrical theory viewpoint, between two separated poles there exists a gap that can become charged. When the charge becomes intense enough or when the poles connect, they discharge the force collected between them. When there is sexual attraction between people, the attraction can build until it is released with orgasm, which is like discharging a charge. The charging and discharging of a space is like raising a cone of power which is sent to the target upon total relaxation of the coven members.
This ancient idea of a gap of charged atmosphere as the source of manifestation was known by the folk of Scandinavia. They called it the Ginnungagap and it was seen as the source of all creation. The word Ginnungagap comes from the old Norse ginning which means a charged potential and gap which has the same meaning as in English – a space in-between. This primal space was charged with a mighty, magical force and is from whence all reality springs. This primal place was not formed, it just existed.
Fire and ice were formed billions of years later as the extremes that defined the outer limits of the Ginnungagap. The northern part was frozen, solid and dark whereas the southern part was molten, flowing and glowing with light. The middle was as mild as the warm air of a summer’s evening. Due to the warm breath in the middle – from the melting ice the first life arose from the mists. Life arises from the middle not at the extreme poles of fire and ice. The proto-space filled with magic power moves from formless potential into form, in this case as the giant Ymir: “He incorporates the double function of creation – conception and birth” (Lindow: 1988, 467).
“But it is said that while he his legs got a son with the other, and that is where the families of the frost ogres come from. We call that old frost ogre Ymir” (Sturluson: 1973, 34). Snorri refers to two groups of beings created by Ymir – men and women from His arm pit as well as a son produced independently by His two legs. Perhaps this son of the primordial bisexual Giant was Qwyr. The myth of Ymir can be seen as an ancient reason why gender variant people are associated with creation and thus fertility. Similar tales of creation arising from a hermaphrodite progenitor are found not only in Norse myths but also in ancient Iranian, Egyptian and Indian cultures. Even though sometimes the Gods rose up against Their progenitor and killed Him/Her, They still bear the marks (genes?) of Their Giant ancestry. As we are children of the Gods, then all people must also bear the marks of the first born bisexual progenitor. Thus it makes sense why heterosexual relations give rise to bisexual and homosexual people, because they carry the genes for it!
Although the Alexandrian tradition was started by a bisexual man and they have historically been much more welcoming of gay men and lesbians as equals in their circles, in America this seems to be changing. Apparently, some American Alexandrian Witches are introducing alternating male-female partners in their circles. One Alexandrian Priestess once told me in her experience and the experience of her coven, power only flowed from a woman to a man to a woman in a straight line across the circle. I think this is a worthwhile observation, but I wonder if these observations are related to the sexual orientation of the group members or simply their expectations. Ironically, I have seen this bias insisted upon in circles where two men are not allowed to stand or sit together while at the same time everyone on the other side of the circle are women. Three to five women for every man – talk about gender imbalance! However, it only seems to bother the “polarity” people when two men are together!
It doesn’t bother some gay men to only work with a woman as a partner in circle; they follow the rules and they are happy. They have told me that it is no big deal to work magic with a woman for only a few hours a month. I understand, as I have worked magic with women to wonderful effect. However, it is my feeling that when one is in the sacred circle and in the presence of the Gods, it is the most important time to be honest about your true self! To play the role of a heterosexual so the other people in the circle feel okay about me is not what I want to do in the Gods’ presence. I feel it belittles my relationship with the Gods to try and trick Them by playing the role of something I am not.
In the lore of ancient peoples all over the world, Mountain and Lake were primal polarities that manifested the genesis of our world and were primeval symbols of fertility. However, the Holy Mountain and Sacred Lake are polar fertility symbols that are not gender specific. Mountains and lakes are often viewed by local peoples as having a particular sex, but the same sex is not allotted to either mountain or lake. Sexual characteristics ascribed to masculine or feminine traits are not the same for all people.
Some of the surviving ancient images of the Goddesses Astarte, Tiamat, and Aphrodite include apparently masculine traits, even those most strongly associated with the male, such as a beard or penis. Likewise Baphomet, Agditis, the Hurrite God Kumarbi, Zarvan of Akkadia, the Hittite Teshub, the Hindu Shiva Ardhanarishvara and the wooden God image from Somerset, England also display breasts and vaginas. Even the sacred island of the most masculine of the ancient warrior Hawai’ian God, Ku is named the “Vagina of Ku.” Since primary sexual characteristics such as a penis or vagina are displayed as both characteristics of Goddesses or Gods, then surely They share secondary and tertiary sex characteristics such as hair, hair styles, clothing and gender roles.
The ancient non-gender specific model of polarity has been almost forgotten in our modern Pagan world. However, since the universe is infinite and unlimited, the generative power of creation must also be unlimited. Since the blinders of religious prejudice have been dissolving before our collective eyes, it is possible to see that in nature heterosexuality is not favored over homosexuality. It is very common for animals and humans to be sexually attracted to members of their own sex at least once in their life. Some try to insist that nature conform to their way of thinking, but it does them little good.
Polarity and Gender in Faerie Witchcraft
In Faerie Witchcraft we do not talk about “polarity” as if it were a process that demanded women and men alternate positions. Victor Anderson himself was bisexual, and he never said anything that could be construed as homophobic or heterocentric to me during the many years I visited him and Cora. In their opinion, a man was equal to a woman in power and could do anything a woman could do except give birth. They told me that of course a man can cast circles, initiate and work with another man, and it is the same for women working together. This is the general consensus of our tribe: that all are equal in the circle of initiates regardless of gender. As it is for the Faerie Witch, so do the Gods display every combination of gender, just as humans in diverse cultures have done for centuries. In our tradition the extreme points of masculine and feminine (on a sexual spectrum) are respected and honored and They are seen as the exception that They are in life.
Just like us, the Gods can assume a multiple variety of gender roles. They do this to meet the needs of the people. In Faery Witchcraft we say: “God is self and self is God and God is a person like myself.” We do not have to fit ourselves into outdated gender role models to connect with the Gods, we just need to be ourselves. For this reason Lesbians, Gay men, and Transgender folk often feel comfortable in working Faerie magic, because they don’t have to pretend to be something they are not.
There are many forces like polarity that are mysterious to us. For instance, gravity is strange to us. It doesn’t come in discrete little packages of energy. It seems omnipresent and it is totally continuous without break. If there is no break in the force of gravity, then there can be no gravitational polarity. Gravity is the origin of our world and universe – the origin of duality. If the origin of duality is ceaseless then it is non-dual. In the same way that an apple seed produces only an apple tree, then a fundamental force of nature that is non-dual can only produce a non-dual reality. This pointing out of the identity of non-dual and dual modes of reality is exactly what the image of the gender-variant individual is alluding to.
If the point of polarity is to explain how we raise power from our bodies within a sexually charged space to empower a spell, then it seems it is most important to raise our libido. This can be enhanced in many ways, such as through movement, hearing, smell, taste, touch or sight. There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the sexual arousal of homosexuals and heterosexuals, so the power raised is the same. How would the power move in a circle of people if the popular model of an electromagnetic field was not used to explain the phenomena of polarity? Even without any explanatory concepts, power would still rise with the libido of the coveners. Libido is usually defined as sexual interest, but it is also the passion for life and life’s experiences, as well as a driving force behind all kinds of creativity.
Most of us are familiar with three forms of matter: solids, liquids and gasses. But there is a fourth form of matter that is found in the dark heart of stars and also within the huge gas clouds that move between the stars. This is a form of matter that starts as a gas but becomes ionized by extreme heat and is called plasma. If the temperature of the material is very high, all the electrons separate from their nuclei. The particles which make up the gas are split apart into smaller positively and negatively charged particles. In plasma, the electrically charged particles moveindependently of each other, not in a linear fashion like electricity.
Instead of marching in line, these independent particles move wildly in any direction, pervading the entire plasma field. Plasma has diametrically charged particles and so is a phenomena of polarity, but the charged particles do not move in a predetermined configuration based on detached opposites. Plasma is a substance which demonstrates non-dichotomized polarity. Due to the electrical charge which pervades plasma, it behaves differently than a gas and is also affected by electromagnetic fields. Although on earth we are often not familiar with this substance, it is by far the most common state of matter in the universe. Plasma is a primal form of matter from which all the atoms in the universe congeal.
The reality of plasma can be used as a model for understanding how power moves and works in a magic circle. Instead of conceiving that an electric-like charge flows from one person to another in a straight line, the charged particles released from our bodies move about freely within the circle. As water brought to a boil inside a cauldron where the molecules move in every direction, so too particles of pheromones from our bodies rush in every direction within the confines of the magic circle. By intensifying the libido thus increasing the pheromones, the contents of the charged atmosphere in the circle is brought to a “boil” that allows the power to build to the pitch necessary to manifest magic. If pheromones or other bio-chemicals are a part of the process of raising power, then a model based upon the roiling movement of power as with a boiling cauldron makes more sense than an electrical linear movement of power in a circular space. The bio-chemicals wouldn’t move in a linear fashion but pervade the air like a fragrance smelled by all present.