"When Does Feri Stop Being Feri?"
This was the gist of the question asked of me recently while I was a guest on Hex Education last week. A caller, referencing T. Thorn Coyle's statement that she was no longer teaching Feri because she had added so much outside material to her teachings, wanted to know --if we continue to add additional practices and teachings to our work-- how can it still be "Feri"? Wouldn't it now be something else?
On the surface this would appear to make sense; if we're making a pumpkin pie, then the addition of, say, apples would dramatically change the recipe making it unrecognizable. It would cease being one thing and would have become another.
But what if I'm not adding apples. Perhaps I'm adding a bit of ginger... or some maple syrup... or even cloves. These are common ingredients for pumpkin pie, although not all recipes call for them.
OK... I can hear you saying, "But Storm, we're not talking about pie recipes, we're talking about a tradition of witchcraft, and in a tradition things are handed down unchanged in an unbroken line!" Well... in Feri at least this is really not true.
Victor himself taught different things to different people. Consider that most of the wildly divergent practices in Feri today can be directly traced to Victor himself. Take a look at the two basic (pre-BlueRose) systems of the Wands; two different arrangements with slightly different lore attached, but both coming directly from Victor (see my article, The Colors of Power for more info). Then there's the cultural diversity. Depending on who he was talking to he might reference Celtic lore... or African... or Polynesian... or South American. Some thought that he was guilty of cultural appropriation. Others accused him of "making it all up". He said that he was keeping the tradition "authentic".
Don't get me wrong; the core of what he taught everyone was the same... but the forms were certainly diverse. He reportedly exacted Oaths of his earlier initiates; a practice he would abandon later in life (to the extent that Cora herself proclaimed on more than one occasion that "there are no Oaths in Feri!".) Some people learned elaborate rituals while others were taught simple observances. All of these things were in resonance with each other, but if one were to pay them only a cursory glance one might be tempted to see them as entirely different things. Oh, Victor... you trickster, you. :)
From the very beginning of my training in Feri I was taught that we were a wild, ecstatic, shamanic, and Bardic tradition, and as such outer forms were far less important than inner experiences. Indeed, one of the things that drew me to Feri in the first place was the fact that those who were writing about it at the time (late 80's/early 90's) described the common practice of initiates taking the tradition in various directions, using divergent materials, and focusing on different pieces of lore passed down from Victor, or Cora, or Gwydion, their own UPG ("Unverified Personal Gnosis"), and even the works of artists and fiction authors (popular ones include the works of H.P Lovecraft and Frank Herbert's Dune series) as a sort of spiritual otherworldly compass, directing the practitioner toward how they should practice and teach.
The tradition of Feri witchcraft is far more diverse than many people seem to realize, and some of those who do realize this diversity are (unfortunately) made uncomfortable by it. After all, other witchcraft traditions (such as Gardnerian Wicca) have established rituals that are copied from their Book of Shadows, ensuring that these rituals will remain the same even as they are passed down for several "generations" of witches. Feri has no Book of Shadows and the only ritual lore that is shared by ALL lines of our shared tradition is so very small that it could easily fit on a 3"x5" index card. One sided. With 14pt font. With room for doodles. With such an infinitesimal amount of "traditional lore" comprising the "core" of Feri tradition, one then begins to wonder why ANY of the exercises and lore that had been written about in the past 20-30 years or so is given spiritual authority over that material which has been developed in recent years.
The answer, in my opinion, lies squarely in the comfort zones of the practitioners themselves. What was taught in one line as "traditional" is enshrined as such by those who practice it. On the surface this is fine and dandy, but the problem emerges when more than one set of "traditional" material bumps up against another set of likewise "traditional" stuff. Surely they can't both be traditional, right?
Actually, they are. The Guardians espoused by most of the lineages of Feri are no more or less valid than the totemic beasts that the Vanthi line uses in their stead. Just as the White Heart is as traditional as the Black Heart. (What? You never heard that little bit of lore... Victor talked about it at Pantheacon, 1996).
Some initiates and teachers have recognized that some practices from other magical traditions resonate with the core principles, energetic Current, and goals of Feri tradition, and it is this perceived resonance with which we are most concerned with here. Victor himself drew no distinction between what has in the modern age become known as "F(a)eri(e) tradition" and the earliest forms of human magic. He drew from many sources as he saw fit; a practice that is encouraged by the work and energy at the heart of our tradition. Some see Feri teachings in the workings of the Qaballah. Some see them in Thelema. Even others might see them in cultural shamanism, the writings of fantasy authors, folk-magic practices, or other witchcraft traditions. Whatever the source the deciding factor of whether or not it "fits" into the Feri worldview lies in the heart of the initiate. If I perceive that a "new" exercise resonates with the principles and Current of Feri, then it can be adopted into the Feri work that I practice and teach, becoming part of the tradition in a very real sense. This is, in fact, how our tradition was formed in the first place and I see no reason to change this very basic tenant of our tradition: if it works, use it.
I draw from many sources in my own work: Bloodrosian Feri teachings, lore from the Andersons, shamanic techniques, folkloric-faery practice, Eastern energy practices, and bits from various other witchcraft traditions that I have been initiated into. ALL of the practices and techniques that I have adopted I have perceived to resonate with the core and Current of Feri, and therefore have become Feri through my practice. In this I am practicing the same way that Victor, Cora, and my other spiritual ancestors did: I do what is needed in the moment to achieve the results desired, in concert with my own Holy Daemon and the Gods to whom I am priest.
So, "when does Feri stop being Feri?" When I feel it does. When Thorn feels it does... as so with any who have received the Current. Until then, Feri simply grows, and evolves. And that's the point of a living tradition, isn't it?