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.