Two roads diverged in a wood and I
Today I am writing about the changes occurring in the Feri Tradition community. I imagine most readers of my notes here will already be aware of the tradition; if not, then this post will probably not be of interest to you. For an excellent overview of the tradition, check out this article by Niklas Gander. The changes in the tradition I refer to are summarized here by Jason Pitzl-Waters, here by T. Thorn Coyle, and here by another group of Feri initiates.
I hesitated to say anything public about these changes. I have felt some pain at seeing the process we are going through hit the sphere of internet news and blog discussion at this stage. It’s not that I think people shouldn’t know about it, it’s just that I feel it’s premature to try and say anything definitive about what the landscape will ultimately look like. I think that much is still unformed in this process, and I would have preferred to let it settle on its own terms. Annie Dillard, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, tells a story about a giant Polyphemus moth emerging from its chrysalis in a schoolroom. In order to display it so the schoolkids can watch, the teacher puts the moth into a bottle while its wings are still wet; but the wings cannot unfold, and they harden in the confined shape given to them by the bottle. Making public statements at this point about the new forms the Feri community is shifting into feels like putting the moth into the bottle. And so, rational or not, I was reluctant. But as I have waited, I see the speculative discussion broadening about the internet, with bloggers who have no direct connection to the tradition announcing opportunistically that we’re “falling apart”. So I am here to share my own perceptions of the ‘split’ in the Feri tradition; what it is and what it is not in my view, and where I think we go from here.
First, I wish to say that what the initiates of the Feri tradition are experiencing is not just another witch war. It is not a petty personality conflict – it is the fruit of long-standing, deep-seated and substantive differences in philosophy and practice. Some kind of change or divergence of paths was probably inevitable for a tradition growing as fast as ours. In the minutia of the process, of course personal conflicts have arisen, but that is not what’s really driving this, and I feel like it would be demeaning and harmful to our process to frame this as a Big Personality Conflict between two opposed sides. “The Sundering”, as it’s being called, is not nearly as severe as that title implies. The reality is, people are still in communication across all sides of the philosophical debate, and the community as a whole is far from divisible into two camps.
At the heart of the issue is the tension held between our nature as an initiatory mystery cult, and the urge to share our wisdom as widely as possible. The central question, I think, is whether or not it is possible to transmit the Mysteries of the tradition through mass methods, or whether this approach by its very nature alters what is being transmitted into a fundamentally different Mystery than the one that can be shared in a more intimate context. The group of initiates who have announced their separation from ‘public Feri’ on the new websites, are doing so to demarcate themselves from the most extreme examples and consequences of the open approach, but in fact there are a great many more than two answers to that central question. And not all who disagree about the answer are in conflict over that difference. I think most of us are striving to hold the view that we have become different breeds of the same species, and the stable, peaceful place will be found by acknowledging both breeds for what they are and are not. Thus the ‘split’, in the big picture, is less a tearing apart than a recognition of divergence. It is primarily a matter of putting a name to what is – this is a Pippin and that is a Red Delicious – so that we need not argue about what an apple should be.
I think in the long range, after we get through this winnowing or distillation process and the accompanying distress and discomfort, what we will see is the emergence of a nested anatomy within the tradition, like the way a cell holds a nucleus within it. The larger exterior body of practice being an exoteric tradition, which is accessible to the public and can be shared via mass means such as books, websites, distance courses and the like. Within that, there will be an esoteric tradition, a much more occult, closely held and mystery-based practice which is shared intimately via the initiatory method. You see this within various world religions – the Buddhist and Hindu paths, for instance, typically have a more public school and within that a more hidden or Tantric school. Likewise Judaism and the esoteric Qabalah. I am sure there are other good examples.
In many ways, Feri is very like a Tantra; it is a body of spiritual practice which delves into those things which threaten our power and autonomy – those things that tend to overwhelm, addict, or frighten us, those things which are either obsessions or taboos of our culture. A Tantra is a practice which seeks liberation from a thing’s power over us through delving deeply into it, rather than through aversion or negation. This is by its very nature a psychologically and spiritually risky form of practice, and thus in most religions, the esoteric or Tantric form of practice is usually closely guarded and shared under very intimate supervision by the teacher. Feri tradition, until very recently, was so small and hidden that there was no need for an outer and an inner tradition; it might be argued that Feri tradition itself has functioned in some ways as the esoteric school of the broader Craft revival. But this has been changing. In the last half-decade or so the rapid growth of publicly accessible material and mass teaching methods have created a large population of students of Feri who are not on an initiatory path and lack access to a teacher who can provide for them that intimate initiatory context for transmission of the Mystery. Thus we are being pushed toward that two-tiered or nested structure that characterizes the larger religions.
There is of course more to it than this, in terms of precipitating events, but that is the essence of it from my perspective. As the forecasters say, I reserve the right to be mistaken, and to change my opinion if conditions warrant. For the sake of transparency, here is a bit about my place within the tradition. I have been an initiate for about 13 years or so. I came in through Vanthe coven, which represents one of the smallest and most reclusive lineages within the tradition. My line tends toward the secretive, mystery-cult system and coven structure rather than the public method. However, I have alliances and close friendships among the very public teachers and lines as well, and as readers may know from my involvement with American Mystic, I am open in some ways myself. I seem to occupy a middle ground or third place and it has become my work to support the initiate community as a whole and try to foster communication and shared culture across lines. I am continuing that work as best I can through the present changes.