Monday, September 27, 2010

The F(a)eri(e) "Community" (and why I am against it)

It happens every so often; an issue rises to the attention of some Feri initiates that ruffles their feathers and soon people are grabbing torches and pitchforks. It's a pattern. It's predictable. You can practically set your watch by it.

This latest incarnation of ego-driven fundamentalism deals with an essay written by a Feri student. One of my students. Entitled "The Beast and the Bride: The Divine Marriage, Fetchwork, and the Feri Tradition" it is an exploration of "hedgeriding" of traditional witchcraft and how the heirogamos intersects with the Feri world view of the Three Souls and recently published in "To Fly By Night" by Pendraig Publishing. (Available from Amazon by following the link.) It is a thought-provoking piece that serves to draw comparison between myth, magic, and the practices of pre-Gardnerian witchcraft, of which Feri is most definitely a part. I read the article soon after he submitted it for the collection and, finding it to be both accurate and insightful, I gave my approval (though I let him know that my approval was not required for him to speak his truth).

Months pass. Maybe a year. Now that the book has been published it draws the attention from some Feri initiates who express outrage that a non-initiate would be speaking about the Feri tradition publicly. As a footnote, I myself spoke and wrote publicly about Feri tradition for years before I was an initiate --(See Witch Eye #1, "What is the F(a)eri(e) Tradition?") and no one ever said "boo" to me. This, in turn, spawns a discussion about secrecy in the tradition and that those of us who are moved to be more public should, "out of respect", curtail our drive toward openness and adopt a more restrictive view. It's an argument that has been around for years, and will never go away. I used to participate in the discussion, but after having been attacked and slandered several times have learned that this particular online initiates "community" is anything but. With 130+ members (and now dropping) only about half of the known Feri initiates are there anyway, and yet discussions there tend to be seen as representing the tradition as a whole, especially when accentuated with insults, lies, and rhetoric.

Often, when the issue of how the different lines of Feri should approach the issues of what is secret and what is not, the following story is invoked: In February of 2002 a meeting of Feri initiates occurred in which many things were discussed, mainly the issue of secrecy, since the various lineages each hold different material to be secret. During this meeting, one initiate (whom I love and respect) spoke from her heart about how certain liturgy was sacred to her line and only used at the initiate level but that she had encountered it outside of Feri and that it had caused her distress. In response to this another initiate stood and proclaimed that since it caused her sister distress that she now would hold this as secret as well, out of respect for her sister. Much rejoicing was made.

It was a wonderful gesture and many people felt empowered by it. But now I find that this wonderful gesture has been corrupted into a tool of manipulation and control. Let me explain...

Now, when the issue of secrecy arises this particular event is cited as being THE ONLY ONE TRUE AND RIGHT WAY that those of us trained and initiated into more open styles of worship can adopt in order to remain "respectful" of those who do not share our open view. When those of us are more open with what we share we are told that we are "going against tradition"... never mind that this IS traditional for us as this was how we were taught! We are "asked" to remain quiet and to take down liturgy, exercises, and other materials without regard to our personal drives, inspiration, or gnosis. It's a demand veiled as a request. It's bullshit, plain and simple.

The argument has been made that since some hold certain pieces of the tradition to be secret (such as the Goddesses of the Elements that were published in The Spiral Dance more than 30 years ago) then if, for example, I was to write about them publicly then it is automatically a disrespect to those who hold it as secret. I think that is quite a leap.

I have heard a lot from the side of secrecy. My general attitude has been to let people do what their true Will dictates, without judgment. This is not a value that some others seem to share. So to this I want to be very clear about my view: I think that the mindset that would encourage individuals within our tradition to demand that others adopt their world view is actually a harmful one, and because of this I wholeheartedly and proudly stand against it.

I mean no disrespect to anyone in the tradition. I love the Feri tradition and it is precisely because of this love that I teach publicly and share the tools with whomever will take the time to listen and do the Work.

I often warn my new students about "the Feri community", letting them know that there are a lot of really dysfunctional people operating within it. I'd like to think that if only they would practice the tools and philosophies that they give lip-service to then things would be better... but perhaps that's wrong. "The Feri community" is really no different than, say, "the academic community"; there is quite a large spectrum of ideas and opinions within and it would be foolish to think that there ever could be consensus.

If we think of "community" as a group of people with shared interests who also look out for each other, then Feri is a tradition that encompasses several different communities. There are major differences that go beyond even just the issue of what is secret and what is not... some lines of Feri administer Oaths upon initiation (while others do not) and yet there are those amongst those of us who did take Oaths who regularly demand that it is "the" Oath that binds us together and even use their Oath as an excuse to manipulate, berate, and intimidate those who do not share their view. (In one creepy case at least one initiate has proclaimed that they would "kill" in order to protect fellow initiates. No, I am not kidding.)

When Feri is seen as a singular community then inevitably there are those who feel that whatever anyone else in the cult is doing is "their business" regardless of whether or not it affects them personally. But we are not a singular community. In a post elsewhere Feri Priestess Valerie Walker (aka "Veedub") used the phrase "co-religionists" to describe our ilk. I think that this describes us much better without the creepy family metaphor that is often used to excuse bad behavior. 

So where is the mutual respect that is supposed to be at the heart of our "brothers and sisters of the Craft"? I've tried respectfully expressing my personal views... and listening to theirs... but the end result is always the same: "Storm, if you really respected us and the tradition then you would become secretive, too."

I do respect the tradition. Enough to transmit it just as I was taught it: as a relatively open system of tools and practices that leads (for some) into a mystery priesthood. I submit that there are many paths to respect, but denying my personal gnosis in order to make those whom I strongly disagree with more comfortable in their fundamentalism is not an option for me. If you want to be secretive... be secretive. If you want to be open... be open. If you want to be a radical, or a follower, or a leader, or a fundamentalist.. then, hell.. do what calls to you. But DO NOT expect that I will adopt your views just because you are loud and think you have numbers on your side. Even if I was the only one who felt that way that I do I would still do it all the same way. Why? Because THAT'S Feri to me. Do what thou wilt. All else is simply a distraction from the Work.

This idea that the entirety of Feri has always been secret until recently is quite frankly, revisionist history. When speaking to Cora Anderson in the years before she passed she was quite clear that there were very few secrets in Feri; that if people were more secretive in the past it was mainly due to practical concerns: back in the 50's and 60's if people knew you practiced witchcraft then there was a very real concern of you being targeted with violence. Thankfully, in the bubble that I live in (the Bay Area of California) we no longer live in that world and as a result have the ability to be more open about who we are and what we do.

As I bring this to a close let me state once again that I love the Feri tradition. It provides a system of tools and practices for cultivating one's Divine Authority, which in the end is all that really matters. Agree, disagree, try to shout me down... it doesn't matter. I return to my work and continue to do my True Will. And whether or not you agree with me I will stand up for your right to cultivate your own Divine Authority as it manifests for you.


michaelsylvan said...

What a wonderful surprise - to open to my friends page and see this refreshing (and careful) commentary on the latest rumblings. I've been turned off from too much reading in such places where talk is thick, but try to remain open to how important such matters are to others - in ways, like you, that I try to hold even while disagreeing - Sylvan

veedub said...

well put.

garan_du said...

Secrecy is often, though not always, used as a shield for abusive personalities to hide behind. The occult community in general, not just Feri, has always had a lot of dysfunctional personalities operating within it. It comes with the territory. Nevertheless, I've never been particularly open to the dictates of people whose personal lives are such an utter wreck. I empathize with you.

epinoid said...

Thanks Storm, your words are helping me understand some other challenges. The pattern is one that goes far beyond Feri and spirituality. Control of knowledge and imposition of mindsets is unfortunately embedded into politics and corporate culture to name a few. Lack of respect for the variation in perspectives and our ability to change between them often brings us into severe dysfunction. People who speak up are often attacked when they should be thanked.

inflectionpoint said...

thank you.
I understand mystery (as much as one can), I feel the Current, and I am not happy with fundamentalism.
I appreciate information being available to help newer people learn and understand in a good way. In some ways, it's similar to coming up in BDSM - if one doesn't have information, one is in a poor place to look at and judge how much of one's experiences are just part of doing BDSM, how much is doing BDSM with a particular person, and how much of it is just not OK.
I think that information being out there is especially important with the way Feri has become popular or cool lately - there's so much rumor and ooga booga nonsense out there, I often forget how blessed I've been to have access to Teachers and to straightforward truth.

pitch313 said...

The Community Maybe Not
The way I see it, there is NO good way to keep other people's secrets--and especially when their secrets may be common knowledge to the rest of the interested world.
Besides, if Faery counsels its practitioners "not to coddle weakness," what do we accomplish by even trying to keep somebody else's secrets? Isn't that coddling some sort of weakness?
More to the point, for me, is the understanding that the unveiling of very few secrets come anywhere near breaking the world or its living processes. (I'd say "none," but I don't know everything, after all.) If all this secret stuff were written across the sky in flames, I don't call that "armageddon." I figure most folks would never even notice.
But that's a different thing than all the DRAMA some practitioners gotta have around what they do or how they live...

warjustice said...

This article is made of awesome.

loreleyjacob said...

If (at least some) Feri material wasn't hadn't been available publicly, then people like me, who happen to live in far away corners of the world, would have been doomed to search, search, search for their spiritual anchor for years and years... without finding it.

faerygurl said...

I am not in the Feri Tradition....I am one of Orion's students...I find that in many other traditions this very argument always comes up! I agree about what Cora Anderson said that teachings were held secret for more practical reasons that don't apply (as much) anymore. I think as long as people are willing and able to do the work...then teach it to them! I think that sometimes people need to prove that they are ready for certain information but that is part of the process...and that is why initiates have mentors. I find that over the years I have become more tolerant and open and I think this also holds true for most of the known Elders in the craft is about sharing knowledge not keeping it from each other....I would love for you to post this on I said it is true wisdom for all traditions......

happydog said...

My understanding as well. It's one that I stick to a lot these days.

loveandpower said...

In case I haven't told you in a while, I love you Storm. Thanks for this very clear, heartfelt and honest look at the issue(s).

Anonymous said...

"If that which you seek you find not within yourself, you will never find it without - for behold I have been with you from the beginning.." -- The Charge of the Goddess.
"Grok that thou art God." -- Michael Valentine Smith (paraphrase).

Anonymous said...

I'm not optimistic Bella.. After more than 10 years in the stands the game is pretty boring to watch the Nth time around. There are much more important matters to be concerned with than fighting each other over trivialities. As it's stated so well in the Percy Jackson novels, the Wild needs us.. the Wild within us and the Wild all around us. It's like the Roman soldiers who squabbled and cast bets over the clothing of Jesus at his legendary crucifiction. They were in the presence of God and haggled over rags. We must cultivate our garden as Candide said.

Anonymous said...

I came to Feri with this understanding already. Did not, and still do not need others to remind me of my own divinity. Alas, to me it wasn't enough. I needed other things as well. Other people, shared texts, a certain current of power, and a working framework that was unavailable to me alone, however godly I am.

Anonymous said...

You would have found it. It would have found you, come creeping into your life like vines cracking stone, like water bubbling through the desert heat, like butterflies flying a thousand miles to meet their true mates.
You are *OURS*, however long it takes, whatever side-turns the path contains.

rideout_dbza said...

Thanks man, since you described what happened (which I swore I didn't wanna know, but like a car accident, had to look) it makes more sense now. And control that isn't self control, secrecy that isn't privacy or respect, and craziness/insanity that seem to be peculiarly 'family style' are toxic. It's good to leave such and develop a culture and a body of work elsewhere.
I wondered what the problem was and then the 'vows' vs. 'no vows' thing kind of rang a bell ... Feri has indeed gotten big enough and been around long enough that not everyone's being initiated in precisely the same way or even taught the same things. I know Cora openly published some things that would freak some folks out if it was ME publishing them!! :)
I would love for us all to be a huge tribe, and I can feel that yearning in every one of us when we are all at big gatherings and eagerly reciting 'Holy Mother' in a full voice... the one tiny scrap that we all have in common, in the presence of the One who witnesses all this hoop-de-do and who knows that change is constant...
but co-religionists, as clinical as it is, is ok too! I can't say 'tribe' (singular) at this time. Maybe someday, the Tribes...

rideout_dbza said...

Props to Faery from Feri!! *waves*

Anonymous said...

On Disfunctional people in Modern Paganism
Just a note;
Here's my thing. I believe in all sorts of things. Demons (per se), ghosts, spirits of all sorts and other not so tangible things. I believe magick is true and that there are forces all around us that can be used towards our benefit or harm, depending on how I choose to use them.
I mention this because we live in a world that, by and large, no longer believes in these things.
This has the effect of my being viewed by this mass-non-belief culture as crazy. This in turn, could (if I let it) make me feel crazy and not be able to seek support because anyone who would "support" me would advocate I let go of these beliefs and probably that I be put on psychoactive medication.
All this to say, yah, we do have more than our share of nutjobs in the community. Using the DSM (as illustration only) we can find a whole host of our brothers and sisters with literally every kind of so called mental illness; not to mention the many of us with social and sexual disfunctions that go far beyond the pale of your average Sunday morning crowd at Our Lady of The Perpetually Ridiculous.
However, that this isn't a phenomenon which is "treatable" in the traditional sense of the word. I'm suggesting that a goodly portion of the people might just snap right into the well-adjusted category if we can do a few things to help them.
1. Help them realize that part of what they're feeling is an unspoken isolation brought on by a decidedly monotheist world.
2. Magic will not make you cool.
3. There are pagan therapists who won't deride or try to medicate you for making offerings to the faeries on your back porch.
4. The pagan community does not need you to be a violent zealot.
5. Social skills have to be learned regardless of who or where you are. Being pagan will not change the fact that you feel uncomfortable in your own skin.
FW, This subject is something you may want to do some more expounding on as you have a large audience.

dietrich said...

Re: On Disfunctional people in Modern Paganism
Fantastic response to a fantastic article.

loveandpower said...

And, you are aware of my feelings concerning all of this. Just to be clear, I love YOU, Storm, the person. And I apprecaite that you stand up for your thoughts and beliefs even if I disagree with you on some points.
I have thanked you for putting together a clear look at the issues which comes from YOUR heart.
This has been a public service announcement.