Editor’s Note: I am pleased to say that Willow Moon has granted us permission to share articles written by himself and his late husband Niklas Gander (also known as Tom Johnson) in the early 2000s. Willow and Niklas have been important mentors to me and many others in our beloved Feri tradition. Their generosity in sharing their knowledge, wisdom, and experience has touched many of us over the years, both those who have been their students and those who have corresponded with them from a distance. Their thoughtful contributions to the Witch Eye zine and to online discussion lists helped make them two of our most respected elders. We are deeply grateful that Willow Moon has continued to share his work here on the Anderson-Faery.org blog.
Niklas was a scholar of the Swedish grimoire tradition and an initiate of multiple lineages of witchcraft. He crossed over in 2014 and was beautifully memorialized in The Wild Hunt. Niklas is very much missed, and we are blessed to honor him as one of our ancestors in the Craft.
How many Feri witches does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Only one, so long as you yearn for the feeling of the curve of your own bulb, radiant in your own darkness–just as She did as She first turned on the Light.
How many Feri witches does it take to screw in a light bulb?
An infinite number, for all life in all the worlds screws in Her womb, Her radiantly dark/light bulb.
How many Feri witches does it take to screw in a light bulb?
There is no simple answer, as there is significant dispute among the various lines of the tradition about the exact number required. The discussions about this issue are often heated and even acrimonious. However, all agree that the current is dangerous, and that in changing light bulbs, one will become either dead, mad, or an electrician.
The word ‘intercourse’ is used for both speech and sex. This is no coincidence, and for those who practice magic, it points to deep truths about our interconnectedness, the relationship between witchcraft and shape-shifting, and the mystery of our embodiment at this difficult point in history. I offer this essay to you in the hope that it will change your shape to be a bit more like mine, that you may experience some of the blessings I have gathered in my sixty-nine years in this life.
But I’m running ahead of myself. We were talking of speech, and sex!
When I touch my lover, we are in dialogue. I enlarge and open my entire body, my hands and mind as much as my sex. In response to my touch, their breath changes: perhaps they sigh, or they reach to kiss; perhaps they arch their back. My touch arises when I imagine what my lover will become in response to my touch. Will they change with my touch, becoming like my internal image of their future? What I do next is guided by their sigh, or the change in their pulse, or what I hear in their breath, for this listening influences my image of what they are becoming, and this image dictates my body’s shape—that is, the entire constellation of my sense of self changes in response to this dialogue, and thus my hands and my body move. As my lover touches me, my breath changes: perhaps I sigh, or I reach to kiss; perhaps I arch my back in response to their touch. I change, and I become more like them.
Yet if my lover and I were talking, and I apprehended that which they meant to convey, how would this dialogue, in its bodily and mental essence, be any different from our lovemaking? In speech, meaning is conveyed by so much more than the dictionary meaning of the words. The shape of your bodymind when you speak conveys meaning, and I receive that meaning through the shape of my bodymind when I am touched by the sound of your words. As my bodymind apprehends your thoughts, in response to your words, I become more like you were when you spoke.
It was on the day of the solstice that I stood by my friend’s pond in New Mexico and watched the dragonflies make love. It was a warm day, and I watched for several hours as they hovered, remaining connected. Yet to say they ‘made love’ is presumptuous, anthropomorphic, because it assumes their experience of coupling parallels mine when I am with a lover. If I say ‘the dragonflies were making love,’ versus ‘the dragonflies were mating,’ I am implying that the dragonflies were not only having an experience, they were aware of that experience. I am even suggesting that the dragonflies were communicating their experience to me because I was able to watch them. I imagined that the shapes that I saw on that hot summer day meant the same to them as they would to me, were I to hold my body in a similar way.
Watching, I saw their slowly changing cojoined shape, and I remembered. I have been privileged to hold a similarly changing conjoined shape when receiving, when giving, while touching and being touched. And as I watched, my imaginal body, my palpable sense of ‘what could be,’ took on the dragonflies’ shape as I remembered communications of hands and lips and skin: how my body arched, and how my lover’s body arched; how their touch and my touch made us take on the same shape as these insects. More than that, however, I knew this: to have that shape was what told me (and perhaps also my lover) that the sex was love.
Was what the dragonflies were experiencing also love? Did my watching mind, taking on their trembling shape, allow me to become more like the dragonflies?
Sharing a Shape
You have a thought and you decide to speak to me. You speak words and I hear them, and I am changed by the meaning of the speech. Your desire that I comprehend your words suggests a desire that I become more like you. Your speaking does not necessarily involve a wish that I accept what you have said as truth. Rather, it is a wish that upon hearing your words, I will have thoughts and see imagery that reflects your own imagery as you spoke. Your desire, perhaps, is that my bodymind should hold a shape that resonates with your shape when you spoke, and that we might become more similar in the shapes we each hold.
What has happened to both of us to allow meaning to be shared? Observe as your speech arises in your mind and your breath, tongue, and lips move in concert; observe how meaning develops as your senses and mind receive and interpret my words. The process between us that we call conversation or dialogue is largely invisible to the inner-eye of the conscious mind. Yet larynx, lungs, diaphragm, tongue, eardrum, and middle ear are as much involved in speech as my hand and sex are when making love.
I feel a scintillation here in my bodymind as I speak words. The words direct how I shape the tissues and organs of my body to emit a sound that moves through the air to touch your ear. Upon hearing, you also create within yourself a similar scintillating structure, and this structure carries the meaning.
I have tried to catch the moment where sound becomes meaning and I have never succeeded. I hear the words and something happens within me: perhaps mind’s-eye images appear; or as you yell ‘Stop!’ I cease to move; or my own wordy thoughts bubble forth from my mouth in response. What occurs appears instantaneous and without an intermediate step. An internal dictionary does not seem an appropriate explanation; I can find no a priori mapping between word and image. Rather it seems that the process of conversation pervades my bodymind. It has no location and seems to have no clearly defined steps. Emotional affect, metaphorical imagery, and intellectual meaning all emerge and develop simultaneously within me when I either speak or listen.
The meaning of language, then, resides not in the words themselves, but rather in their effect on my embodiment. By sharing language, we share our bodies.
It is a commonplace to say, regarding relationships, that opposites attract. As with magnets, our differences connect us and bind us. Gravity, however, is a non-polar force: like attracts like. Language seems more like a type of gravity than a type of polarity. In dialogue, the desire for similarity, to become the other’s mirror, provides the binding force. The Moon and Earth are in their joint and loving orbit around the Sun because of a three-way mutual attraction due to gravity. In this oversimplified metaphor, they all love each other and dance together because they share a similarity, the state of having mass.
For there to be communication, both speaker and listener must also share a similarity. Perhaps communication is possible because language preserves memories of the shared history of our separate embodiments—in other words, we create a shared narrative to contain both our personal histories and the history of the relationship. A friend prefers another metaphor for this kind of non-polar, gravitational attraction: we resonate together, like affecting like, as sounds do. If I play a guitar in a room full of unattended guitars, all the guitars will sing, though more quietly than the one I am playing. Instead of sharing “mass,” the guitars share vibration.
Is dialogue, then, not so much a process where those involved become ‘like each other,’ but rather ‘in resonance, they create something in each other that has never existed before’?
A Shape-Shifter’s Blessing
I am a witch, and I cast spells. The words of my spells are crafted and spoken with careful intent, sometimes with a particular gesture or a specific breath pattern. My careful intent, the words, my gestures, this dance, all form my shape. When I speak a blessing, someone listens, and the world is touched, and the world’s shape is changed.
Speech, sex, magic: we are shape-shifters, ever-changing our shapes in response to the speaking world, and causing changes with our speech. This is witchcraft, and intercourse; and in the full bloom of our practice, perhaps it is also love.
For the sake of the union of Shekinah with her Holy-and-beloved-hidden-face-of-the-divine, We take upon ourselves the mitzvah (performing the beautiful deed), “That we love our neighbor as ourselves,” And by this merit We accept the gift Of our heartbeat and our breath, And we act within the world, As we open our mouths and speak.
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.
“The old Kahunas would transmit their power from one to another via sperm. To be a Kahuna was to be bi-sexual because their relationships with their Gods was sexual. Homosexuals are so greatly feared in our culture because of an ancient memory of the awesome power of homosexual sorcerers.” –Victor Anderson 2/21/1995
The so-called “laws” of magic are descriptions of how magic works. There are many laws which are used singly or in combination to produce spells. The law of polarity is one description of the way in which magical body force is generated. Magic, in the traditions I am heir to, is of the body. The body is the battery, conduit and shaper of the power of the witches. So, it is no surprise that polarity is grounded in the body and is such a wonderful, delightful and powerful force. Freely accessible to all, everyone has the potential to feel it; the only requirement is to have a living body.
The Law of Polarity, like sex, is a straightforward function of the body. Unfortunately, it seems that many people make it more complicated than it is. By straightforward, I mean it’s easy for people to understand once the complicated social issues are stripped away.
The conceptual edifice that often accompanies the word “polarity” is fraught with emotional tensions. Rigid social conventions around gender and gender roles are overlaid onto a simple sexual attraction. The way that polarity is explained in some circles causes some to freeze their understanding of power into a small box and others to feel that it is a ridiculous concept that alienates many worthy people.
My understanding of the Law of Polarity is simply that it describes how sexual attraction can generate a lot of power. By power, I mean the energetic juice that exudes from our bodies and flows throughout the world around us. It is a power which fuels our magics. When there is sexual attraction between people, a joyful force is generated by the bodymind which is noticeable: noticeable in facial expressions, movements, and other changes in their bodies. The power is palpable to others. It’s called “polarity” because it’s like charged electrodes which are separate and yet emit a force around them. It is in the magically charged gap between the poles where the discharge happens, releasing the built up charge. When the charge is released, the deed is done and the spell is sent.
Simple biology! However, as humans, we have a need to elaborate, which in this case often confuses the issue. Some conflate the build-up of sexual tension and its release with unrelated issues of gender and sexuality. Yet power is power no matter what form it takes, and no matter what human form we happen to be in. In the womb, each and every one of us starts out as female in form. All the diverse bodies we see around us are manifestations of the female body, even the most apparently male ones. This reality is also expressed by the simple fact that every body contains both female and male sex hormones. Each person, of course, has their own unique mix.
A well-respected American Gardnerian high priestess of the most conservative line once used pheromones to explain why polarity must alternate only between females and males. As a medical professional, I kindly explained that in fact pheromones are a good explanation for why power doesn’t only flow between females and males. Pheromones are hormones that are excreted into the air around us. Pheromones work like hormones. Hormones are spread throughout the whole body equally. They operate in specific locations in the body because that’s where the receptors for the hormones are located. In terms of sexual attraction, the sexual pheromones emitted by every person present permeate the whole room equally. Pheromones do not travel in a straight line from person to person; they disperse into the whole space. Yet they only activate sexual/emotional feelings in those who have the proper receptors. Homosexual men and heterosexual women have receptors that are activated by male pheromones, so naturally both might experience sexual attraction for a male. Sexual attraction is sexual attraction regardless of gender.
An Alexandrian priestess once told me that her coven felt the energy of a circle moved only between the women and the men of their circles. It seems natural to me that would be the case in groups of heterosexuals, who are attracted to the opposite sex, but it isn’t natural for non-heterosexual members. Preconceived and learned ideas of social relationships come into play when we perceive power and may prevent us from perceiving realities we do not expect.
Some practitioners of witchcraft believe that the Goddess can only possess a female body. This belief seems to me to be based on the same narrow view of gender polarity that I have questioned above. It seems inconsistent to me to believe that the Great Goddess, who is the mother of all, can be found everywhere and in everything, except inside a man’s body! In fact, I know from experience that the Goddess can be wherever She wants! In Faerie witchcraft, which is historically older than Gardnerian witchcraft, it is common for both men and women to be possessed by both Goddesses and Gods. This practice does not harm them, it enriches their lives and the lives of those around them.
Some may wonder how non-gendered roles would work in traditions that have specific roles for women and men. In Feri witchcraft, there are typically no specific roles based on gender or sex. In some traditions of witchcraft, however, it is believed that women and men must fulfill certain ritual roles in order for the rite to be effective. Although women are allowed to fulfill the role of a man, men are forbidden to fulfill the role of a woman. Some have said in the past that women must rule the circle to counteract the harmful effects of living in a male-dominated society. That surely has a healing effect on the psyches of both women and men. For women to claim power and men to release control is most certainly an important part of healing our society by redressing wrongs. However, I personally feel that at this time in our history, equality is a more powerful longing and a greater force of positive and deeper change in our social structures.
One advantage of conceiving the power generated by Polarity as based on something broader than gender or biological sex is that power can be generated and recognized by everyone present regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. There is no need to try to trap the power into flowing in narrow lines between specific participants. Power can thus be raised exponentially because there are no barriers to power. Energetically, pheromones cause the power to boil like water in a cauldron, roiling in all directions! Thus trans, non-binary or intersex members of the circle can fully participate.
In popular imagination, Gardnerians are famously connected to the concept of alternating female/male polarity. Once, I was in a California-Gardnerian coven meeting with some friends. The tradition is one that allows same-sex initiation. In that circle was a woman (a guest, not a priestess in the circle) who insisted that my male lover and I should not stand together even though she was standing next to four other women. Niklas and I refused to separate; the circle continued, and the Gods were pleased. The enforcement of the alternating female to male “rule” is an example of how these guidelines are social rather than magical or spiritual: it is as unequal as the distribution of women and men in that circle. Too often, such policing of behavior in witchcraft circles only pertains to and affects queer men.
Some say alternating female participants with male participants is the tradition that Gardner passed and thus it must be adhered to. However, what Gardner “passed” and what he did were not always the same. I once had the chance to ask Dayonis, who was for a time the high priestess of Gardner’s coven, if a man could cast a circle. She replied, “Of course; Gardner did!”
Clearly, such “rules” are adapted to suit an occasion. They can be used to uphold the integrity of a tradition or to denigrate and disempower members. The reality is that each of us is unique and valuable. What does it mean for our integrity if we don’t uphold that belief when we stand before the Gods?
Some covens hold the belief that a woman must teach a man and vice versa. If that is the case, then a woman must know the man’s parts and the man, the woman’s. A part or role cannot be known by reading it a few times. In order to know a role, one must perform it repeatedly. So, ironically, the only way for a woman to teach a man or a man to teach a woman is for there to be no gender-based roles at all.
Social concepts and rules that deny reality do not last. The Law of Polarity as I teach it acknowledges the power of people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations. I am confident that this view is the future of witchcraft.
“Our Pagan community is growing and showing much bright promise. The Craft is a tough weed that will grow many strange flowers and bear strange fruits, so we must try and tolerate different ways of practicing it. Learn from what we see and if we cannot use it, let the others try, even if they eat bad fruit and go balls up!”
Feri can seem eclectic because it is still an oral tradition. We don’t use a book as a standard. As an oral tradition, our circle casting rite changes with each performance. The tradition morphs and grows as each initiate makes it their own and adds their own knowledge.
However, as all initiates know, there are basic understandings/approaches/exercises passed from one Feri practitioner to the next. That is the definition of a tradition. Yet our tradition is not static or stale; it lives and puts forth shoots from deep roots. Our roots are Feri’s cultural milieu.
The basic psycho-physical exercises passed from one generation to the next are like the scales in music which make further musical development possible. Without the experience of scales as a muscle memory, there is no musical creativity. Different cultures have different scales which inform their musical forms and thus their culture. Our traditional psycho-physical basic training informs and is informed by the cultural milieu of Feri. The basics provide a structure upon which creativity can thrive and yet still be a part of the traditional milieu. That is what is meant by a “living tradition.”
Of course, there are those within the circle of initiates who say this or that teaching of some initiates isn’t Feri. They may not recognize other lineages as kin. That is to be expected with any group of folks. To me, it seems to simply boil down to “How big do we want our community to be?” Some opt for a smaller group; some are more inclusive. As with any community, each of us has to figure that out for themselves depending upon what one finds comfortable and sustainable. However we may squabble among ourselves like a family, like a family we all have one thing in common. For a blood family, that is DNA; for us, it’s initiation.
Andy Goldsworthy – Montage by iuri – Sticks Framing a Lake (CC BY 2.0)
Feri is different from an eclectic tradition. Eclectic, I define (based on Merriam-Webster’s dictionary) as a collection of various diverse cultural artifacts. It has the connotation of being an indiscriminate mishmash of unrelated elements. Although Feri folds various cultural artifacts into our milieu, for those who are well trained in Feri, items are not added indiscriminately, but with a purpose. Typically additions come from a personal gnosis based on knowledge gained with integrity: that is, knowledge based in traditional forms that the initiate is heir to, not something solely gleaned from a book.
Feri is also different from a literary tradition. Literary traditions often judge inclusion into the corpus of a tradition by how closely the accepted literary forms are followed. Some literary traditions do not allow for changes in the corpus (in other words, the corpus is closed and new works cannot be added). In Feri, we do not use a book as an arbitrator of inclusion. However, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t literary folks. In fact, we don’t have one Book of Shadows, we have many! In Feri, any initiate can add to the corpus of their lineage.
We also have diverse lineages, some of which practice and teach in radically different ways. Yet, in the same way that one can recognize a story to be of the Arthurian legend milieu, even though the individual stories can be very different as told from different characters’ points of view, Feri initiates can recognize each other. In this way, Feri is similar to a literary tradition.
According to Albert B. Lord in The Singer of Tales, literary traditions arise from the belief that one specific performance of an art form is a “real” form of the art, even though the form changes with each performance. This is just like life: even though something may appear the same from day to day, each day that thing is subtly different, even if the difference isn’t noticed. The real form of the art is in its performance.
I don’t understand Feri to be an eclectic tradition, but instead a multicultural one. Perhaps because it has thrived in American soil for so long, Feri is yet another manifestation of America’s multicultural identity. For thousands of years, many various and diverse cultures have found a home here. Maybe Feri is a reflection of that. Or perhaps, Victor Anderson was correct when he suggested that Feri is the source of all magic, and its repository.
We like to pride ourselves (often with good reason) on our ability to effect a change in our situation. Cora Anderson, shortly before her death, told me that the purpose of Feri witchcraft is to become a better person, which is to effect a change in ourselves.
I was talking with some Feri initiate friends the other day and the idea was expressed that this is a good time to do some collective magic to help heal the earth and our societies. Our societies are not separate from the earth because it is through our societies that we affect the earth.
To that end, it was proposed that those who are so inclined and able perform rites around this time of Earth Day and Beltaine for making right with our relations. Since all living beings are children of the Great Goddess, we are all relatives.
By this, I mean rites of offerings to nature spirits, rites of reconciliation of differences and atonement for mistakes. Many societies that still maintain a close connection to nature contend that when we pollute the environment, we harm the spirits of nature who then retaliate, in an attempt to stop the damage.
It is often believed that making appropriate offerings to the nature spirits and asking for forgiveness for our species’ harm to the natural world can help to heal the spirits and our relationship to nature. This in turn is a balm to the spirits of the world who then cease their justified attacks of pestilence and natural disasters.
However, it doesn’t stop there, because we also need to correct our relationships with each other as individuals, as societies, and as countries. Hatred and fear poison our relationships which then kill people. This is true on a personal level and a governmental level. Thus, it was proposed that we include working for establishing right relationships between nations: to encourage cooperation between countries, since each country is affected as well as their people. Cooperation is our only path forward from the path of destruction.
This includes justice for criminals regardless of their influence, because justice for one is justice for all. This also includes governments fulfilling their mandate to protect and benefit their citizens to reestablish harmony within their borders. Harmony within a society can only happen when its citizens are respected, treated fairly and with dignity by those in power. Thus authoritarian administrations must be dismantled by the people they wish to dominate and destroy.
For those who wish it, I offer the following prayer to accompany this work.
From primordially pure basic space
The unceasing magical display of your desire
Appears as a Great Queen, enthroned
Whose toes are strong roots deep in the earth
Whose coal black hair streams with stars
All appearances arise as your glorious body!
From your heart, flames flash out, burning all ideas about the offerings into ash
From your heart, wind blows the ashes of doubt far away
From your heart, water washes the offerings clean from limitations
From your heart flows rays of rainbow lights, touching and changing the offerings into the nectar of your wisdom, a balm to all ills!
[pour out fluid offerings onto the earth and burn fragrant wood/herbs, raising the smoke to the sky while chanting IAO for a while. For best results, pray with strong emotions and if possible, mingle your tears with the fluid offerings]
Please accept these offerings as a healing nectar, healing all hurt, all ill intent
Be satisfied with these offerings, all you spirits of the sky, land and sea
Clouds of offerings, as limitless as the sky and pleasing to the senses
Are the form of the wisdom of Godhirself and swell throughout the phenomenal world!
They are all that could be desired for the Gods, spiritual caretakers of the land and to those whom we owe debts of nourishment, home or wealth
To those harmful spirits who create disharmony and pestilence
To those who steal life force, those who cause insanity and fatal accidents
To those who take the essence of wealth and health
To those hostile spirits who live in cities and in the wild!
As the red flames burn and smoke arises, debts are repaid, whatever is desired instantly arises
As long as space endures, we give inexhaustible offerings to all those to whom we are connected and to those we have harmed whether intentionally or not
The evil deeds and harmful actions we have accumulated, may they be purified by these offerings of generosity
May all beings awaken to their original nature and live free from conditioned existence!
May illness, evil spirits and pollutions be purified
May plagues, famine, warfare and natural disasters be pacified
May all enemies and dangers be averted
May calamities and misfortune cease!
May this offering clear mental cloudiness, dullness and agitation
May this offering clear the conflicts of people and nations
May this offering repair mistakes
May this offering clear bad dreams and omens
May this offering clear the quarreling of peoples!
As the smoke fills the sky, it is offered to all the Gods and spirits who fill space
May their afflictions due to our negligence from today onward be cleansed!
As the flames and sparks shoot into the space between heaven and earth, they are offered to all the Gods and spirits who remain between heaven and earth
May their afflictions due to our negligence from today onward be cleansed!
As the flames swirl upon the earth, they are offered to all the Gods and spirits who live under the earth
May all their afflictions due to our negligence from today onward be cleansed!
May obscurations from harmful magic and incantations be cleared!
May obscurations from broken connections with Gods and spirits be cleared!
May obscurations from authoritarian destructive forces be cleared!
May obscurations of demonic possession be cleared!
May all broken and weakened words of honor be cleared!
In this way, all Gods and spirits cleared from the fog of afflictions experience supreme well being
May they all be pleased with these offerings and may their desires be fulfilled
May past debts and stubborn habits be released
Through the power of this generosity, may we all be filled with ecstatic wisdom!
May harmful spirits who remain here
Whether on the earth, above it or below
Always be loving toward beings
May we practice kindness both day and night!
To be Faery is to fall in love with your Self as you run straight toward that which you most fear.
Most adults move through the world in a state of internal conflict. Their thoughts run in circles of preoccupation with the past or the future; they have emotions but avoid expressing them, or they let them build up until they are expressed abruptly and unconstructively; and they abuse their bodies with drugs, unhealthy food, or lack of movement. Accordingly, their ability to set an intention and follow through on it, or to accurately identify and act on their deepest desires in a sustained way, is severely lacking.
One cannot be an effective witch in this state of affairs. A witch must be able to focus all their energies in a single direction, to pursue goals both mundane and lofty with consistency and passion. This is one of many reasons why the Andersons emphasized integration work, where we return to a natural state where the physical, animal, human, and divine parts of us are aligned. (For an introduction to what is often called “Triple Soul” work, see the Andersons’ book Etheric Anatomy.) Only when the many parts of the self are entwined in an erotic embrace and moving in concert can the witch manifest their Self in the world.
It can be difficult to begin this work when so many of us have been raised to be divided from ourselves. Our families or religions of origin may have taught us to repress our emotions or condemn some of them as wrong; we may have been led to believe that some desires are “spiritual” and good while others are dangerous, destructive, or downright evil. This kind of upbringing leads many of us to hide what we really think and feel, even from ourselves. Others may rebel against such systems by chasing desires willy-nilly, allowing our animal selves to run wild without guidance from the human self about how to tend to our own well-being or that of others. Neither of these approaches arises from integration and alignment. An aligned witch should evaluate and govern their own actions, but they are able to accept their emotions and desires without judgment. Without this open-eyed compassion, we cannot fully know ourselves.
Whether you are studying Faery with a teacher or are simply a seeker, one of the ways to begin the work of integration is to identify fears and desires. For those who have been conditioned to hide their desires from themselves, fears are often easier to identify, since anxiety is what haunts and motivates so much of modern life.
Faery initiate and Reclaiming co-founder Starhawk has often been known to say, “Where there is fear, there is power.” Fear is one way the animal self signals that we have given our power away to an external force. The most persistent fears are often the most productive to explore.
I should emphasize, however, that I am speaking here mainly of irrational or exaggerated fears. There are good, rational, survival-based reasons for avoiding dangerous situations or for engaging in them only while carefully calculating risks. The fears that are most productive to run toward are often interpersonal or those that invite creative self-expression. For some people, the fear will be expressed as intense and obsessive disgust. Our aversion to those externalized parts of ourselves can manifest as monomaniacal focus on manageable risks—for example, avoiding sexual relationships out of a debilitating horror of sexually transmitted infections. The persistence and intrusiveness of an aversion is a clue that it is concealing a lost part of the self.
For some of us, fear will manifest as anger or hatred. In my own sheltered youth, witchcraft and Paganism were targets of my contempt and anger. I was articulate and critical and able to find a thousand faults with the people who practiced these traditions. Yet my rejection of these forms of spirituality was actually a rejection of myself. The harder I fought them, the more those traditions appeared synchronistically in my life, attracted and tantalized me. When I recognized this and (initially holding my nose with disdain) began to read books, go to Pagan campouts, and participate in rituals even when doing so caused me anxiety, discomfort, and downright irritation, paths began to open up for me. I found friends who practiced those traditions whom I could respect; I found an ethical, talented teacher I could look up to. I started to make progress and become a bit less divided against myself.
Strong emotions of this type give clear indications of where the risky but growthful path lies for a given individual. Tackling these fears should never be rushed, however, nor should anyone pressure you to engage them prematurely. Claiming the power and Self that you have externalized in what you fear takes time, care, and careful engagement with the rejected object. To prepare, a meditative practice that gives you experience with tolerating uncomfortable emotions is essential. Buddhist or Western mindfulness practice can help us to regulate our emotions enough to curiously discover what is hidden behind our fear. If our fears are associated with trauma, it is a good idea to enlist the help of a trauma recovery therapist when beginning this kind of work.
To fall in love with our Self, we must also unfailingly respond to desire. Integration requires the gentle work of allowing the human self to befriend the animal self, and vice versa. Only when they are in a close, loving, and erotic relationship will the human self become consistently and completely aware of the animal self’s desires. These desires must be acted upon if the trust of the animal self is to be maintained—but they should be pursued with wisdom and guidance from the divine part of the self. Acting on desire should not result in behavior that is careless toward self and others.
However, if ever you find yourself struck speechless, burning with hunger for a new experience, or feeling yourself to be alive in a way you never have before: if you cannot safely move in the moment, you must make a plan to act. Wrap up or put on pause whatever stands between you and the desire. If the desire is inaccessible in some way, reflect: is there some other way you can approach the essence of the desire? If the desire is for a person who is not available for relationship, what elements of that person attract you, and are there other ways to bring those elements into your life? If the desire is to make music or art, are there ways you can lower your cost of living or survive on less in order to spend more time on projects? What loving risks can you take to manifest the desire? Such decisions feed our animal selves and allow the free flow of life force through all our parts—and cultivating the free flow of life force is an essential part of Faery.
Making a commitment to run toward fear and desire is a simple thing on the surface, but if we practice it in earnest, we will experience moments of towering joy and ego-destroying terror. Life will become vivid—and dangerous.
Are you seeking a Faery path? Make your promise now: never turn away from Self.
What occurred at my initiation caught me by surprise. Until I entered ‘the room’, I did not know the rubric, the appearance of the room, what my Oathmother and their assistants would do, nor what I would be called on to say or do. No one had told me how it would feel or how I would feel afterwards, other than cautions not to expect ‘wonders’. During my studies I desired initiation, too strongly perhaps, yet I worked quite hard not to find out any of the secrets of that ritual in advance. My Oathmother and those who mentored me obliged by not spilling their beans either. Because I had few expectations beyond ‘this will be important’, I was shocked by the beauty of the ritual, one that began a recrystallization of the sense of my life. Yet was it surprise that made the beauty shocking and provided fuel to power that magic?
More than seven years earlier I received a call from a divinity. It was an instruction, not a command, perhaps best seen as an offer that would be made only once: “In order to [address a very mundane issue] you must learn use your intensity with ultimate skill.” Accepting that god’s direction led to my taking up study of the Anderson Craft. With considerable serendipity, I connected with a skilled and compassionate teacher, a fine match perhaps not because of our similarities, but because of our differences.
I was not a particularly wise student and the seven-year process was not easy, nor did this training match what I thought it would be like when I began. My assumed strengths so often were identified as peripheral, even detrimental to my goal, and the areas where my teacher and my mentors focused my training were so often not my strengths but rather where I was, in their judgment, weakest. My multiple decades studying hermetic Qabalah with a skilled adept became beside the point. My skills were worthy of respect, and my teachers were pleased to acknowledge my prior diligence. Yet it was my teacher’s continually frustrating role to keep saying, ‘NO! Qabalah is not Feri’, or to emphatically demand I re-do work, because, ‘Rudolf Steiner is not Feri!’ If I anticipated the next piece of work, rather than just doing it, it could simply fail and need to be redone later.
During my seven years as a student, I was nearly dropped by my teacher more than once. These explosions always occurred when I presumed I knew beforehand what was being taught, why it was being taught, and what I was going to learn. I may have been wise enough to not delve too much into the secrets of initiation, yet I had to be hit by the teacher’s stick again and again to learn a great secret: I was a student because I did not know the Craft, while my Oathmother-to-be had been ordained by ‘Our Line’, both the living and those mightily dead, and the Gods, to take me down paths that I simply could not travel myself – that I had to learn to listen!
And I found out the only reason to walk those paths was to know myself. Yes, I made friends (the closest ever in my long life), learned lore and even a few secrets, grievously hurt and lost friends because of my ego, and even began to learn a bit of how to use my intensity with skill (if not yet ‘ultimate’). But that skill was so often not how to enlarge myself, to become more intense, but rather right-sizing, a surrender, above all how to listen and …
… trust in my teacher was required. I was handing parts of my Souls into my teacher’s hands. For though I felt this burning need to study, if I thought I knew where I was going, I would not get there. No, my teacher was not perfect, we argued, I felt they dropped my souls more than once, even broke my heart as I sometimes broke theirs. Yet this surrender to my teacher’s guidance, of allowing them to surprise me, was the essence of being trained in our tradition and the only possible path to initiation.
Shortly after my initiation, I commented to a friend, now a fellow initiate, “This cannot be taken away.” They responded, “No, it cannot.” Have there been ‘wonders’ since my initiation? If by ‘wonders’ one means many shattering spiritual events, I would have to say no. My teacher and mentors were right to say, “Do not expect wonders.” However, the winds of the world seem to blow more strongly, or perhaps I just pay more attention. Intuition arises more easily, synchronicities are more common. Emotions and the effect of what is said and done in relationships on myself and on others are far brighter, and sometimes far darker. Words spoken and actions taken seem to pack more clout. It is both easier to speak truth, and not doing so has deeper consequences. These changes continue and seem to be increasing over time. Perhaps my training is what allowed me not to expect wonders, but rather to gain the strength to navigate the changes in me that continue to evolve and to emerge—and, perhaps, to remain open to being surprised.
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.