“There are no secrets better kept than the secrets that everybody guesses.”
─George Bernard Shaw
“Mrs. Warren’s Profession”, act III
“But unfathomable secrets are the best kind!”
─Blooregard Q. Kazoo
“The Trouble With Scribbles”
Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends
Secrets and Faery tradition, at first glance, seem to go hand in hand. How often have we heard that ours is a secretive tradition; a path that is best left to those few who have passed the trials that their training has offered? On one hand this is quite correct, for deeper aspects of our tradition can only be understood by those who have undergone the experiences that are brought about by nothing other than personal practice, and direct encounter with Mystery. On the other hand, there are aspects of our tradition that can be useful to all who would seriously adopt them regardless of religious affiliation or initiatory status.
But why are we asked to keep certain things secret? What purpose can it possibly serve? To begin to answer these questions we must look to the different categories of secrecy that are commonly employed in the Craft.
One form of secrecy can be better described as being an experiential mystery, which by its very nature it cannot be revealed with mere words. It must be experienced; truly felt. It is more than just information; it is the feeling just as much as it is any detail that it encompasses. In this it is quite true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Another type of secrecy involves the restriction of dangerous material. If we honestly believe in the powers that we wield as Faeries, then we must be prepared to accept that not every aspect of our tradition is nice or even safe. Aside from the possibility of external harm potentially wrought by some of the more nefarious materials available to initiates, on a more personal level Faery can be dangerous to the individual as it involves confronting some deeply hidden parts of ourselves in order to reclaim our power and become purified. Often these confrontations can be quite intense, leaving the practitioner unstable and vulnerable. One of the main jobs for a teacher is to support their students through such times by giving feedback and even providing energetic interaction. Few would argue that Faery is ‘safe’ and in fact the opposite is usually touted whenever seekers attempt to wrest even more materials and insights from the initiates around them. Good things come to those who wait, the saying goes. If one learns the Craft gradually over time then, as with any skill, one will be able to practice it with a level of accuracy and maturity that only comes from hands-on experience. To forgo this delicate learning process is somewhat akin to jumping out of an airplane without first learning how to fasten and use your parachute.
A third type can be understood less as hard-core secrecy, and more as intimacy. As a Faery initiate I now know certain names and have experienced energies and practices that I had previously not when I was a student. This knowledge and experience greatly enhances and deepens my own power and practice. I do not speak of the details of them in mixed company because on one level there is no need to; even were I to reveal what I now know it would do no good to anyone who had not had the same experiences along the way. On another level it is personal and private. Just as I do not generally speak to strangers or even casual acquaintances about the specifics of what I do in my bed, I do not speak to them of the specifics of what I do in circle either. These specific details, besides being ritual and liturgical, also include the personal information of others in our Craft who might not be known for their Craft affiliations in the public light. A strong traditional taboo forbids us from revealing the names of others in our Craft as to do so, besides being rude, may also place them in danger depending on their personal situation.
All this talk of not discussing certain specifics shouldn’t imply that I feel that all aspects of our tradition should be held secret. Far from it. I strongly feel that there are certain elements in our tradition that many people could genuinely benefit from, and as a priest whose job it is to mediate divine presence into the world, I have made it my mission to talk about those things that I feel are of benefit to my fellow human. Often these are tools of Faery practice because I have found them to be powerful and transformative.
Keeping all this in mind, where do we then draw the line between materials that are, for whatever reason, best kept secret, and others which may be openly shared? In traditions of the Craft which have a Book of Shadows detailing the rules, rituals, and finer points of their path this question is easier to answer, but in Faery we are afforded no such safety net. The source of the Faery tradition as we know it, Victor Anderson, saw fit to teach wildly divergent practices to his students according to what he perceived they needed to learn, so much so that when comparing the material from different students it becomes difficult, though certainly not impossible, to reconcile these practices into one cohesive unit. And yet they are all Faery. Some people were taught material rooted in various cultures, usually the culture of their own genetic heritage. Some people were taught only certain exercises, while others learned entirely different ones, or worked with the same concepts but with different details or nuances attached to them. When confronted with his seemingly paradoxical behavior, Victor reportedly responded that in doing so he was keeping the tradition “authentic”; that is to say that he was trying to steer clear of codified dogma, and was instead trying to instill in his students an experiential understanding of the Faery mystery; the practice of wielding its creative and magical current of power. Faery, at its most fundamental level, is not a set of practices or lore. Faery is a worldview. It is the ability to shift one’s perception to allow for the greater mysteries of life, sex, and death to be made manifest through the individual practitioner thus bringing her or him closer to the source of all creation. It is a path that is—and must always be—fiercely individual. With such a lofty goal in mind it is no wonder why Victor seemed to believe that it was best to avoid dogma altogether.
While Victor may have felt an aversion to codifying practices there are others who do not share this view. While it is certainly true that many positive developments have been the direct result of the efforts to record, develop, and codify Faery’s practices, we have seen that this urge has sometimes moved into extremism. Sometimes lore and exercises that were once openly available have later been deemed as secret material, not to be shared with outsiders. Administering oaths of secrecy to new initiates have been made a common practice in some lines of Faery, despite Cora Anderson’s insistence that they are not a part of our Craft. In many of these cases the individuals involved have even gone so far as to put forth sets of specific lore and practices in an attempt to define the “true” Faery tradition, using these markers as “proof” that other lines that do not share them must, by their definition, be invalid in the eyes of Faery. Often the charge of “defending the tradition” is sounded as justification for how one can attack one’s brothers and sisters of the art. Certainly to preserve the traditions of the Craft is a spiritual goal worthy of each of us, but does the end justify the means?
A closer look into the history of these attacks reveals a decidedly more mundane explanation. Over the years several rationalizations have arisen as to why certain lines and individuals “aren’t really Faery”. In many of these cases these reasons morph and change over time. Take for example a charge that had been leveled against one of the oldest lines of the Faery tradition. Certain individuals have repeatedly charged that this line was not true Faery because they do not use some of the training materials that their own line was taught. Curiously, the list of accepted core materials that supposedly decide this has changed over time. At one point it was the absence of the Pearl Pentacle in their practices that made the difference. At another it was the absence of certain otherworldly contacts, and still another it was the presence of some ideas and rituals that are usually found in traditions of modern Wicca.
In another case, the teachings of a currently popular Faery teacher were called into question simply because her line’s interpretation of one of the points on the Pearl Pentacle didn’t match what some others had been taught. In each of these cases the culture of secrecy was skillfully employed to prevent a larger audience from hearing the charges so that a movement would be allowed to grow quietly, like an infestation underneath the surface.
While one might be forgiven this divisive opinion given the possible ignorance of the great diversity in Victor’s original teachings, that this fact has been patently revealed to all parties involved and still these charges are made it can only be because of personal and/or political motivations. If one is successful in convincing others that theirs is the only valid expression of the path, then they have effectively built themselves a kind of power-base. Even if the motivations to do so are not conscious the end result is the same. It’s the same old story that every religious movement has faced throughout history. It’s a game I like to call “I’m Faerier than Thou”. And believe me when I say that there are never any winners.
This is made all the more frustrating when one considers that many students on all sides have gone on to teach others, now creating entire lines of Faery which may or may not share practices between each other, each with their own sets of rules, rituals, and ideas about what materials may be shared openly, if at all. This, of course, is a double-edged sword; the diversity involved I believe is a good thing, but it is precisely these differences which have spawned many heated disagreements and even Witch-wars within our community. And that’s not good for anybody.
This should not imply that I believe all Faeries mimic the mistakes and prejudices of their teachers, far from it. If anything, the history of our tradition shows a natural impulse toward innovation and creativity. It has been referred to as “the religion of art”, and it is at least partially for its bardic power that Faery is often sought out. On one level Faery is the power of creation, and as such needs an outlet, usually in the form of ritual, of art, or poetry and dance, or any number of innovative expressions. As such it often runs counter to secrecy, seeking the light of day, wanting to take on new forms, and connect to new people who can create those forms. Faery is deep primal wisdom, that awakens in your skin and connects you at once both to something very, very old, and to something very, very new. The power we draw from is ancient indeed, and every time we sip of it are we changed. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not.
I have often felt intuitively that Faery is like an expanding sphere. On one side we can imagine the growing concept of secrecy and elitism, while on the other, openness and egalitarianism. By striving to be a “pagan elite” Faery serves a much needed purpose in that it provides a space for the mastery of skill that can only be achieved by hard work. One cannot pick up a book on Faery and by reading its pages and following its exercises, become a Faery initiate. It is a process that takes time, effort, and a lot of soul-searching under the guidance of a teacher. But even in the midst of our own elitism there is room for altruism. If we hold the belief that our traditional tools can be the catalyst for our own spiritual evolution and growth, then how can we with clear conscience keep these tools to ourselves like misers fiending over stashes of gold? If this is a concern for any Faery practitioner then clearly some decisions need to be made as to what can be shared and what should not. Certainly there are aspects to our tradition that, by their very nature, need to remain secret, if for no other reason than to both keep the dangerous material from leaking into a wider audience, as well as to keep the overall experience fresh for the new initiate. But if those of us who believe that it is our job to do what we can to assist in the evolution of humanity then it becomes clear that both secrecy and openness are needed if Faery is to remain viable. And in this a paradox is revealed.
Faery seems to love paradoxes. When we journey into the underworld we are greeted ultimately not with darkness, but with the shining stars of Faery that remind us of the spirit that burns in the heart of all matter. When we journey into the microscopic realms between our own atoms we can find entire galaxies spinning and dancing. Likewise the very planets that revolve around the sun comprise the smallest parts of an even larger body of celestial manifestation. The Star Goddess encompasses all of creation along this golden thread of existence, separated only by our own inability to see how it is really all a part of the same boundless being. As above, so below.
With this particular paradox before us, we begin to see the complexity of the issue at large. We can begin to understand that with traditional secrecy, as in all things, we must learn to think for ourselves and resist the urge to rely on dogmas to make the decisions for us. In certain branches of Faery new initiates take oaths that prevent them from revealing certain elements of the tradition openly. In most cases these oaths are actually quite vague and have been the point of many (often heated) discussions amongst initiates. I myself took an oath in which, among other things, I promised to not reveal the details of the initiatory experience, as well as to protect my “brothers and sisters of the Craft”. The unspoken assumption was that whatever “new” material I was exposed to in that circle (and to a very limited degree shortly thereafter) was now brought under the auspices of “Faery secret” and so would remain off-limits when sharing with larger (non-initiated) audiences. And so, for me, it has been.
This was actually quite difficult for me in the beginning but not for the reasons that one might immediately suspect. While true that I have made it something of a point of pride in openly discussing certain aspects of Faery tradition and practice, I took no issue with the initiatory secrecy that I had agreed to uphold when it applied to the public. As noted before I believe there to be strong reasons to keep certain things secret until after initiation. Instead my difficulty arose from the fact that my husband, who had also been training in Faery, was not yet an initiate and so I was unable to discuss these new revelations with him even though I so desperately wanted to. For almost two years I bit my tongue and remained silent until such time as he too was brought into the presence of the Mystery and I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
During that time I began to consider my silence about these details to be a part of my daily practice and indeed this is the way I feel on the matter today. Here we see another form of magickal secrecy in the form of inward silence. My conscious (and in some ways unconscious) decision to not discuss certain details and experiences with non-initiates is part of an inner working that helps to generate around them a charged sense of sacredness. When certain things are only discussed with certain people or under special ritual circumstances, then they are effectively removed from the realm of the mainstream and are thus kept special. Yet even in those cases where the secret I am keeping is revealed by another this sense of sacredness is not diminished. It makes no difference to my practice whatsoever that a secret might be revealed by another. My practice is still my practice. The actions of another do not affect that. But is secrecy always needed to engender the sacred? No, but it is a method that is proven to work and to throw it away unexamined is perilous.
Since the time of my initiation I have noticed that certain aspects of the tradition that I have considered secret are not considered such by some others in the community. I have also met with others who strongly believe that most, if not all, of the Faery material should never be spoken about in public. While these differences in traditional perspective have been catalysts for hurt feelings and attacks in the past, I make it a part of my practice to engage them with a warrior’s heart; a heart that I believe to have at its core, compassion. When I have encountered materials in public that I consider secret I make a mental note of it and move on. I do not expect others to have the same relationship to the materials that I do. When I encounter another who holds more materials secret than I do, especially those materials that I strongly feel should be shared with a wider audience, I can do my best to respect their boundaries and feelings even if I will not adopt their restrictions. This is tricky, to say the least, and there are no easy answers.
When I approach these situations with compassion, what I am first doing is recognizing that someone who holds different values is really no different than I am, even if I disagree with their approach. This is especially important if I strongly disagree with their position. I can look into their eyes (or imagine that I can) and see myself reflected, much as in our myth of the Goddess as she gazes into the curved black mirror of space. She looked, and saw Herself, and fell in love. When I take the time to feel this love for another as if they were myself, then I can dismiss the smaller concerns and trust in the Goddess that as long as they are not preying upon others then they are entitled to have a different relationship to the material than I do, and in giving them this space I believe the tradition is made stronger. It is through this compassion, uneasy as it may feel at times, that can ultimately provide the stability in the community that we often crave.
Some have said that compassion does not make its presence known in the lore and practices of Faery, but to this I must take exception. For true compassion is what fuels the Black Heart of Innocence and allows us to be truly free from the oppressive restraints that have been placed upon us since birth. It is this compassion that is seen in the fierce protectiveness that the Goddess Nimüe holds for those who have been hurt or abused. It is seen in the burning openness of the Blue God who challenges us to look within our own hearts and to face whatever we find there. Compassion, though it may not be verbalized in certain sects, is alive and well in Faery and it is through this often-not cited concept that we may well find the answer to so many problems that plague us today.
So far we have examined several forms of secrecy and their genuine uses within the context of the Craft, but there is another more insidious form that often rears its ugly head. When secrecy is used merely as an excuse to retain power and knowledge from others, or when it is used in order to conceal damaging or illegal behavior, then it has no legitimate place in a spiritual tradition. Before I came into the Faery tradition I heard horror stories from other members of the larger Craft who fell victim to this type of secrecy. How many of us have head stories of individuals being coerced into sexual situations with their priest/esses or teachers while being sworn to secrecy in the context of Craft learning? One good friend of mine, a Gardnerian priestess of the 3rd degree, related to me an account of her own initiation in which we was coerced into sex with her High Priest and was then sworn to keep it secret as an Oath to her Craft. That she carried this secret for years with heaviness is a testament to both her commitment to her own ideals, as well as to the damage that it had done to her. This type of secrecy is invalid and is indeed toxic to the Craft as a whole. It is this type that actually poisons us from being able to see the very real usefulness that legitimate secrecy can hold for us when used with responsibility and respect. When we have to safeguard against those who would use secrecy as a cover for their own dangerous behavior then we are more likely to see all secrecy as being manipulative, coercive, and insidious even when it is not intended to be so. Here we run the risk of throwing the baby out with the proverbial bathwater.
Fortunately these types of indiscretions and betrayals are not common in our Craft, although they have —and do— occur. We must remember that we are all human and so we can easily fall into destructive patterns that may become abusive if we do not safeguard against them. Again I find myself returning to the concept of compassion, for ourselves, and for each other.
It should be understood that true compassion bears little resemblance to the supportive hand-holding that we in our society usually think of when considering the subject. True compassion, while it can and does encompass that manifestation, is also fierce. Compassion is the burning courage to speak the truth, even if it may be uncomfortable, for ourselves as well as those around us. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility as priests and priestesses, as mediators of divine presence, to speak the truth as we see it and to do what we can to prevent harm and protect the innocent. The banner of secrecy, however innocently or naively employed, should never prevent us from doing so.
Yes, there are secrets in our Craft. Some are kept to protect the innocent. Some are kept to protect the guilty. Still others we simply keep inside ourselves allowing them to grow and flourish into something new and wonderful. Whatever the reason we keep, or don’t keep, our secrets we should at least know why we do what we do. “Perceive first, then determine what is to be believed”. Each us of are called to look upon what we have been handed and now we must make the decisions for ourselves. Do we keep it all secret because that’s what we were taught? Do we share it all because we see no reason to keep it secret anymore? Or do we find a middle ground, sharing what feels appropriate and holding close what is more intimate? Whatever we decide it is our decision —as individuals— to make. May we all have the strength to trust in the Gods that we may also trust each other.