The Faery Tradition

an interview with Andraste by Leah Samul

reprinted from the Compost Newsletter

Q: Each different tradition in the Craft has its own distinguishing features; what is it about the Faery tradition that makes it different from other traditions in the Craft?

A: Fifteen Faery tradition practitioners met in June of 1988 to discuss this and other questions. What they agreed upon as Faery Tradition essentials comprises the following. Many of these features can be claimed by other traditions as well, and various Faery practitioners may accent some of these more than others.

A belief in a particular Faery Power which can be accessed characterizes the lineage, which exists as an ecstatic, rather than a fertility, tradition. A strong emphasis is placed on sensual experience and awareness, including sexual mysticism, which is not limited to heterosexual expression. In this, as in the general spirit of a spiritual exploration, there is more risk-taking encouraged than in other Wiccan traditions which have specific laws limiting behavior, and there is a certain amorality historically associated with the Tradition. We see ourselves, when enchanted, as "fey"--not black, not white, outside social definitions, on the road to Faeryland, either mad or poetical. We are aware that much of reality is unseen, or at least has uncertain boundaries. As in all the Craft, there is a deep respect for the wisdom of Nature, a love of beauty, and an appreciation of bardic and mantic creativity. There is a specific corpus of chants and liturgical material, much of it stemming from Victor and Gwydion, which provides a frame for Circle-workings, but poetic creativity is highly valued. The practice is heavily invocatory, with encouragement of deity possession, which relies mainly on psychic talent or sensitivity to occur, rather than the existence of a specific induction technique. Rites are stylistically diverse, and may draw from many sources.

There is an initiatory lineage, traceable to Victor, Cora, or Gwydion, although Victor tells of antecedents of the present tradition in the coven in which he was involved in the 1920's and 30's in Oregon. Aspects of the tradition are possession of secret names, the practice of energy-working using the pentacles, a body of poetic and liturgical material, information on the Deities; many archetypes are recognized which are specific to the Tradition, the doctrine of the Three Selves, a cingulum of a specific color, a "tribal" or "clan" feel to the coven, the use of the horned (sometimes called "inverted") pentagram, and to some extent the honoring of a warrior ethic, rather like bushido. For example, we are urged not to coddle weakness, support others in insincerities or self-deceptions, and never submit one's own Life force to anyone or anything, ever, which leads to a fierce openness called the "Black Heart of Innocence."

Perhaps what has gained the most attention is that the Faery Tradition is gender-equal, and all sexual orientations seem to be able to find a niche. For many, there is a strong identification with the realms of Faery and with shape-shifting.

Q: Many members of the Craft would freely admit that modern day Witchcraft has been "put together" from a variety of sources by the leading members of the individual traditions. Gerald Gardner, Raymond Buckland, and even Starhawk have definitely created traditions that bear their own individual stamp. Do you think this is true for Victor Anderson in the Faery tradition? Or more pointedly: is there a Faery tradition separate from Victor Anderson's own writings and influence? Are there other visionaries in the Faery tradition besides Anderson? How much of the Faery tradition do you think that Victor Anderson "made up" by welding ancient sources to his own personal vision?

A: Although Victor is universally recognized as the founding teacher of the tradition, it is possible to identify influences which shaped the tradition before its present form evolved. There is a strong African diasporic influence, primarily Dahomean-Haitian, and the Three Selves theory is an outgrowth of Huna, as described by Max Freedom Long. Further, there are elements from fiction, including Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and the Necronomicon. Neither is Victor the only source for material presently within the tradition. Each initiate seems to draw the tradition in a somewhat new direction and uncover new ground. According to Gwydion, the early Faery Tradition had much in common with the published materials of the Farrars' accounts of outer-court Gardnerian/Alexandrian rituals. I have not seen this today. Some practitioners, such as Gwydion and Eldri Littlewolf, went deeply into shamanic forms. Gwydion also worked extensively with Celtic religion, even learning Welsh, as did Gabriel (né Caradoc) in the early part of his Wiccan training.

Other influences entered as Gabriel began teaching: Arica training, Tibetan meditation, and a modicum of Ceremonial Magick are all elements. According to Eldri, Caradoc has written some beautiful poetry, both ritual and otherwise, but I have seen little of it. Gabriel's classes are one of the best extant trainings in magical visualization I have encountered. Brian Dragon and members of his lineage have contributed darkly powerful poetry and ritual liturgy, though he was "excommunicated" from the tradition by Caradoc, his initiator, with Victor's assent. This excommunication is not recognized by all members of the tradition. Though there is much borrowing, a central vision is maintained, and this has grown as liturgical material has been amassed. More recently, initiates such as poet Francesca Dubie and songwriter Keara West have added their inspiration to the corpus of material. Since many of the present day initiates have had minimal direct exposure to Victor's presence, and Thorns of the Blood Rose is often out of print, there has been less reliance on Victor's teachings than in earlier days, when Gwydion studied with him for many years, starting at the age of thirteen. Aspects of Victor's practice, such as the African-diasporic tradition, are being strengthened and re-woven into the tradition by initiates with cross-training and initiations in Santeria.

Starhawk has used elements and concepts developed in the Faery Tradition in expressing her beliefs and practice, and in many cases has given the world some of the clearest explanations currently available of concepts such as the Three Selves or the Iron Pentacle.

Q: Looking at the modern day Craft, it seems that there are two main points of focus or approaches to it: one is the shamanic approach, the other is the ecological approach. For example, many covens are active in non-violent action involving the fate of the earth. It seems to me that the Faery tradition is quite shamanistic. Is it at all concerned with the ecological focus that one sees in other branches of the Craft?

A: As the question is posed, I'm not entirely certain what you mean by "ecological" versus "shamanistic" approaches, and I have interpolated that you mean the distinction between political approaches to magickal activity and religio-magickal approaches. It's hard to answer in general terms for the tradition as a whole, since this topic becomes a spectrum of motivations for magickal workings, rather than a strict dyad between political and religious. Individuals will naturally range themselves along the spectrum, according to their wills and karmic tendencies. Also, the people with whom I prefer to work tend to share my perspectives, and will color my impressions. I wouldn't say someone is not a Faery Tradition practitioner because s/he supported or didn't support a particular political stance. Victor and Starhawk, for example, became estranged over politics and particularly over the issue of nuclear power plants and nuclear research. Political magick of the Reclaiming or Earth First! type often makes "traditionalist" witches uneasy, but this is probably more of a challenge to their political worldview, than a critique of magick as a tool.

Other than the Reclaiming branch of initiates, it is probably safe to say that many of the current practitioners are not openly politically active in demonstrations, civil disobedience, and so forth. But this does not mean that the focus of their magick, or the content of their communications are any less political or even less radical. Politics and religion are not mutually exclusive. The environment is a focus for magickal work throughout the Pagan movement, and the Faery Tradition is no exception. For most of us, our politics grow out of our spirituality, and the mysteries we have experienced, rather than vice-versa.

Q: What is your sense of the place and direction of the Faery Tradition within the neopagan movement?

A: Gods are not just constructs or psychological forces from the collective unconscious. The Gods are real, with a system of morality different from our own, and we have a responsibility to them. The Faery Tradition, in common with initiatory lineages of the Craft which practice possession, is a mystery tradition of power, ecstacy, and direct communication with divinity.

This is in contrast to traditions which practice psychodrama or psychotherapy through ritual. The negative side of this (the Faery) style of working is that we have a lot of initiates who might be classed as "burnouts", who did not return unscathed from between the worlds. the tradition is not for everybody; it is certainly not amenable to mass attendance, like many other Pagan paths. Gabriel has been trying to evolve an outer court and a system of degrees in what was originally a one-degree system. There are more interested seekers than openings with teachers.

Q: If you had a "wish list" for the future of the Faery Tradition within the Neo-Pagan movement, what direction would you like the Faeries to go in?

A: I would like to see a rejoining and sharing among the many "lone-wolves" making up the tradition. It would be nice to able to learn from one another, to discuss liturgy and magickal techniques, and to cast off the divisions and old feuds that kept our elders from functioning well together. I would like to see the cultivation of high standards of teaching, ritual practice, and ethics. I would like to see some more of the solitaries starting to teach.