By: Tommie StarChild 1/12/09
There is a coming together of Radical Faeries and Reclaiming witchcraft. Reclaiming was formed from a combination of anarchist politics, feminist spirituality and some of the tools and concepts from the Anderson Feri Tradition. Starhawk a well-known activist witch, having written many prominent books, and performed publicly, is a Feri initiate. She has shaped her practice of Feri with emphasis on community, and creating balance within the larger paradigm of mainstream society. She has utilized some of the Feri material in the tradition she co-founded, working to reclaim ones personal power and reclaiming ones power within society. Faery has often developed community through their rallying around social causes i.e. social/political activism playing a particularly large role in within the Radical Faeries.
I intend to take a look at the similarities and differences between Radical Faery and the Anderson Feri tradition. The objective here is to bring to light the bridge between these two pagan paths. This is a personal perspective, because as soon as someone tries to define Radical Faery, there is another Radical Faery that will have a completely differing of opinion. As too, in Anderson Feri, there are many lineages with priests that would have differing opinions as to what is the practice of Feri. For the sake of article, I wish to define the usage of the two spelling varieties of Faery, Feri will only refer to the tradition of Anderson Feri, and Faery will only refer to the movement of Radical Faery. I will look to traditional beliefs as well as personal experience.
Radical Faery grew as a movement from its auspicious first gathering in Arizona in 1979. This was a coming together of like-minded gay men with a belief in something different than the hetero-male dominated society. There was, also, recognition of a goddess based perception regarding the order and origins of life. At this time, Harry Hay (considered to be a father of Radical Faery) introduced his concept – subject-subject consciousness, in contrast to the hetero-male dominated subject-object consciousness. He held the belief that gay men had the innate ability to view the world through this consciousness; not all do, as they subscribe to the subject-object consciousness that dominates society. Harry Hay spoke about loving ones partner as subject, just as self is subject, the couch is subject, and the stars are subject; none of which are objects. This is in contrast to what society teaches (i.e. that one loves their partner as object, the couch is object, and nature is object; and objects are things to be controlled).
Victor Anderson is considered the father of what is –today- knows as Feri; he “…was a blind poet and shaman who began teaching the Feri Tradition (then reportedly known variously as Vicia or simply “The Craft”) more or less in its modern form in the 1940s. He began initiating people into the tradition on an individual basis before the 1950s. According to Cora Anderson, Victor received a letter in 1960 from several witches in Italy, among them Leo Martello, asking him to form a coven in California. Victor taught openly for several decades before dying in 2001” (Kalessin; 2001; “Memorial for Victor H. Anderson”). Feri is based on the practice of communing with deity, working with multiple deities who play a major role it the religion. The Feri tradition has had a history of attracting individuals who are attracted by its androgynous nature, a belief that all gods exist with their either male of female (primary origin) as well as characteristics of the opposite gender. It is an oral, initiatory tradition, with an ecstatic practice, rather than a fertility based practice. “Strong emphasis is placed on sensual experience and awareness, including sexual mysticism, which is not limited to heterosexual expression” (Korn, Anna; 1988, 1995, 2000; “The Faery Tradition”).
Radical Faery is not limited to its original gay male manifestation. It is widely believed that you are Faery when you say you are. This means, it is open to individuals of all sexual persuasions, as well as, gender identity. “We are a network of faggot farmers, workers, artists, drag queens, political activists, witches, magicians, rural and urban dwellers who see gays and lesbians as a distinct and separate people, with our own culture, ways of being/becoming, and spirituality. We believe that, as a people, we have unique and necessary contributions to make, ones that we must make to help regain the lost balance of the larger human community here on the planet” (Cain, Joey; ”Who are the Radical Faeries”; http://eniac.yak.net/shaggy/faerieinf.html).
A common element between these two communities is their belief in the ecstatic expression of self. Both have recognized sexual expression to be sacred, and should be practiced often. There is an embracing of all sexual expressions as a means of connecting with some form of divinity. Through Feri, I have learned that all things start and stop with sex, and sex connects us with our god self. It was the Radical Faeries that taught me how to remove the attachment to the outcome of the sexual experience, freeing me up to love fully in the moment, and experience my god self. Neither belief systems remove love from sex, but do not exclusively link the two together in the form that our society teaches. One can love fully, without attachment. I have experiences an intimacy in both these communities that at least owes a part of its origin to this common perspective. In Faery this perspective is birthed out of the subject-subject consciousness, and in Feri it is rooted in the ecstatic expression of the religion.
Ritual plays a strong role in Feri, while in Faery; ritual is often practiced in a less formal manner. Yet, in the early days of Feri, there was much less formality, acts of magic can be done when one is in communion with their god self. This is achieved when all Three Souls are in alignment – a foundational belief in Feri. It is said that a person has Three Souls (or selves). The Talker is the self that interacts with the world around you, dealing with intellect, and language; the Fetch that is pre-verbal, primal, emotional, child-like; and the High Self that is our god self. I do not find such a belief within Faery, yet there is a common observation that a Faery moving within a space of magic seems to have an open line of communication between the three souls, expressed in their connection to the fae; there is a sense they are living within the Fetch.
It can be argued, that since Faeries exist in the in-between, and their sexual expression is not, innately, rooted in the objective of producing life, it too, is not a fertility-based movement. In contrast, Radical Faery is a movement of like-minded individuals (not a religion) who in their personal spiritual practice may utilize fertility based practices, even though reproductive fertility isn’t the objective. This use of fertility-based practices can be said to be paradoxical, and in many ways these fertility practices are used in a manner more consistent with ecstatic tradition, and this may well be one of the main bridges between Feri and Faery. Ecstatic sex is practiced within the context of subject-subject consciousness.
Feri does not have such a teaching, yet it has the practice of the Iron Pentacle. This pentacle is a symbolic, energetic tool that consists of the points – Sex, Pride, Self, Power, and Passion. When one has these points in balance in their personal and energetic life, they find power. Power comes from self, not drawn from an outside source. It can be said that when the Iron Pentacle is in balance, one views the world within subject-subject consciousness. I have learned in my practice, that my power comes from my purification of self (through use of the Iron Pentacle) as opposed to power obtained through power over.
Faery has a strong sense of community, as a result of their concept of existing within the greater community (society) with a role to play – the role of bringing balance. Sanctuaries were never an original concept within Radical Faery, as one must engage the greater community if you wish to bring balance. The dominant paradigm has brought war, conflict, control, and destruction, and the role of the Faery is to mediate between subject and object to bring balance. We, Faery, do not exist, as an island, outside of greater society, but rather, neither within or without, but as combination of something in between – walking between the worlds. I have learned (from the Radical Faeries) that I must find a way strike a balance, with one foot on one plane and one foot on the other plane. In this case these planes might be said to be subject and object. I have learned through Feri that I also walk with one foot on this plane and one foot on the other – one plane being the earth plane, and the other the astral plane.
The Feri tradition is an oral, initiatory religion, meaning it is taught from teacher to student, which may lead to initiation. There are no degrees, once initiated you are a priest of Feri. Feri community is primarily teacher and student, initiates with initiates, and students with students. Since a primary objective of this religion is to commune with deity, it is less focused on its role within the greater social structure. Also, being a priest based religion, it is not uncommon that is practiced more within a solitary craft. Initiates take pride in tracking their linage back to Victor. It was around Victor and Cora that the community coalesced. Since their passing, the initiates have worked to reform that which they coalesce around, becoming more a community of initiates. As noted earlier this religion does not have an edict that dictates its role within society at large.
When I first entered the Faery community I heard a whispering of “bringing Feri back to Faery.” This may have been a reference to bringing more focus to ritual. Ritual is an amazing force for developing community, and Faeries could use the application of some structure to strengthen its sense of community. Community is vital to both Feri and Faery for their preservation, relevance, and longevity. As new folk enter into each community, it is important that those who have walked the road before them, to teach the concepts that these two belief systems are founded in. Frivolity can be a powerful generator, yet when it lacks focus, or structure, the energy created is released in all directions and its purpose may be lost, and/or it misses its mark. Ecstatic energy can still be generated through the use of frivolity that has a design or structure. Fun is not sacrificed for efficacy, rather harnessed, confined through structure, to increases its strength, fine-tune its focus, and clearly define its intent. It might be said that Feri takes itself too seriously, and could learn from the Faeries how to apply frivolity within its rituals, to lighten up, while maintaining, and possibly growing the strength of its energy. Both utilize ecstatic energy and frivolity is a great mode to create ecstasy.
I was born Faery, and Feri provided the forum to reconnect me to my heritage, the fae. I cannot imagine what my life would be like without both. Studying and being initiated in Feri dramatically changed my life, as did that very first Faery gathering. I am therefore driven to create a sense of community here in San Diego, around the marriage of both Feri and Faery. There is an inseparable connection between the two in my psyche that influences every aspect of my daily life. There is strength derived in identifying the similarities, rather than the isolating effects that are the result of focusing on the differences. This has been the result in my life, as I walk a path between Feri and Faery.